Sun, Nov 05, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Centenary for veteran Taiwanese activist

Along with Lee Teng-hui and Peng Ming-min, Su Beng played a long and important role in Taiwan’s democratization

By Jerome Keating  /  Contributing Reporter

Su Beng, left, at his home with Jerome Keating last week in New Taipei City.

Photo: Jerome Keating

Su Beng (史明) is starting his 100th year on Wednesday but the celebration will begin today so more people can join the festivities. Born in 1918 during the Japanese colonial era, Su is part of what I would term Taiwan’s “democratic triumvirate.”

The two others are Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), born on Jan. 15, 1923, and Peng Ming-min (彭明敏), born on Aug. 15, 1923. All three grew up during the Japanese colonial era, attended university in Japan and are most comfortable speaking Japanese. Most important, they are important contributors to Taiwan’s democracy.


Lee studied at Kyoto Imperial University, and fought for Japan in World War II before graduating in 1946. Peng attended Tokyo Imperial University (now the University of Tokyo); visiting Nagasaki, he would lose the use of his left arm during a US bombing raid and return to Taiwan to finish schooling after the war.

Lee flirted with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) but later joined the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). He eventually became vice president under Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) and then president, holding that position from 1988 to 2000.

Peng was initially a darling of the KMT until 1964, when he was arrested for penning a manifesto on democracy. He would make a dramatic escape to Sweden in 1970 and returned after martial law was lifted in July 1987.

Lee and Peng would square off against each other in the 1996 presidential elections with Peng running for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Lee won, but would be later blamed by many within the KMT for the DPP’s 2000 electoral victory, which ushered in a new era with Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) as president. Lee was then unceremoniously kicked out of the KMT. Both Chen and Lee continue to actively support Taiwan’s sovereignty.


Su, however, avoided politics through all these years. As a man of direct action he was never drawn to any party. Instead he remained a rebel with a cause (Taiwan’s freedom) and consistently and ceaselessly acted in its support.

Su’s life reads like a script for an action movie. He immediately went to fight Japanese imperialism in China after he graduated from Tokyo’s Waseda University in 1943, fighting along side the communists, but never joining the party.

While working as a secret agent for the CCP, he was sent on a mission with a female comrade. Knowing that many of these relationships resulted in romance, he got a vasectomy because he didn’t want a family to distract him from his mission.

Disillusioned with the Communists, Su returned to Taiwan in 1949 with Chiang Kai-shek’s (蔣介石) followers and formed active resistance and plotted Chiang’s assassination.

When these activities were discovered, he escaped to Japan, where he found asylum, opened a noodle shop and continued to train Taiwanese revolutionaries. He wrote his influential Taiwan’s 400-Year History in Japanese (1962), and in Chinese (1980). This work, which spelled out Taiwanese identity, was translated into English in 1986. Like Peng, he returned in the early 90s when restrictions were lifted.

I met Su in 2005. The occasion was China’s “Anti-Secession” Law. Now 88 years old, Su was still spending 12 hours a day protesting in front of National Taiwan University, willingly discussing Taiwan’s cause with anyone who would listen.


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