Sun, Jun 24, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: A phoenix among dragons

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

A statue of Hsu Shih-hsien stands in the middle of Zhongzheng Park in Chiayi City.

Photo: Yu Hsueh-lan, Taipei Times

June 25 to July 1

As a high school student, she confronted her Japanese principal over punishing another student who had been overheard speaking Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese) outside of school.

Decades later, Hsu Shih-hsien (許世賢) was fearlessly grilling Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) officials as one of six Taiwan-born members of the Provincial Assembly.

These six, called the “Five Dragons, One Phoenix,” were known for their firebrand questioning style and relentless pursuit of democracy and Taiwanese self-rule.

In 14 years with the assembly, Hsu proposed or co-proposed 335 motions and questioned various officials 154 times and was especially concerned about women’s rights such as adopted daughters and prostitutes.

Politics was not Hsu’s only strong suit. She also found success in medicine and education, blazing the trail for women as Taiwan’s first female doctor of medicine, high school principal, city councilor and mayor. She also founded Taiwan’s first post-war women’s association, served four consecutive terms in the provincial assembly and received the most votes in a legislative election.

At the end of it all, she had earned the moniker “The Matsu of Chiayi” (嘉義媽祖婆), a nickname bestowed upon individuals who dedicated their lives to helping others.


Born in 1908 under Japanese rule, Hsu was never shy to express her contempt toward the colonizers, reportedly getting in trouble in school for refusing to write a letter to Crown Prince Hirohito to commemorate his birthday.

She initially welcomed the KMT, and even toured the battlefields in China during the Chinese Civil War to boost army morale. But by early July of 1958, Hsu was one of 78 charter members of the the Chinese Local Autonomy Research Society (中國地方自治研究會), whose application was rejected by the government.

Her involvement led to her expulsion from the KMT, but in fact she had already broken ties with the party two years earlier over the suspension of then-Chiayi County Commissioner Lee Mao-sung (李茂松), who was accused of corruption.

When Hsu questioned the government — including why Lee was suspended before the court made its ruling — she was told that KMT members should not question such matters. That night, she mailed her party resignation letter and membership card to KMT headquarters, only to have it returned. This happened three times, and Hsu, fed up, ran as an independent candidate in the April 1957 Provincial Assembly elections.

Some of her talking points during this new term included adding native Taiwanese to the National Assembly, allowing people to study abroad, admitting women to the National Defense Medical Center’s doctorate program and popular elections for provincial governor to achieve democratic self-rule.


The Five Dragons and One Phoenix were all reelected to office in 1960. Just a month into the new term, former KMT official Lei Chen (雷震) ran an editorial in his Free China (自由中國) magazine calling for a strong opposition party.

“Facing the KMT’s manipulation and dishonesty during elections, we need a strong opposition party to prepare for the next election to break the current situation of the KMT dominating the government. Without a healthy party system, there cannot be true democracy, and without a strong opposition party, there cannot be a healthy party system.”

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