Sun, Dec 09, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: A political activist’s journey to the West

Lin Hsien-tang, a tireless champion of Taiwanese autonomy during the Japanese colonial era, embarked on a 378-day journey across the world, hoping to apply what he learned in the West to the struggles back home

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

A National Geographic map of the world in 1922, around the time that Lin Hsien-tang traveled the globe.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Dec.10 to Dec.16

After several setbacks — including falling off a donkey and injuring his arm — Lin Hsien-tang (林獻堂) finally set out from Keelung on May 15, 1927 with his second son in tow. With his oldest son studying in London, Lin felt that this was the best time to fulfill his longtime dream of visiting Europe and the US.

Lin, a prominent political activist under Japanese colonial rule, was urged by his comrades not to take the trip. It was a crucial moment for Taiwan’s autonomy movement, as Lin’s faction had just quit the leftist-dominated Taiwanese Cultural Association (臺灣文化協會) in January, and was planning to form Taiwan’s first political party.

Lin writes in his diary that it was now or never for his journey, departing just two weeks before his associate and revered democracy pioneer Chiang Wei-shui (蔣渭水) founded what would become the Taiwanese People’s Party (台灣民眾黨).

Lin spent 378 days visiting more than 16 countries and 60 cities. His detailed travel accounts first appeared in the Chinese-language newspaper Taiwan Minpao (台灣民報) in August 1927, and ran until October 1931. Lin attempted to turn the material into a book, but died midway through the editing, leaving his secretary Yeh Jung-chung (葉榮鐘) to finish compiling Lin Hsien-tang’s Travel Writings from around the Globe (林獻堂環球遊記).


Lin was heavily influenced by the travel accounts of Qing Dynasty scholar and reformist Liang Qichao (梁啟超), who fled China after his failed efforts to modernize the nation. When the two met in Japan in 1907, Lin asked Liang for his opinion on the future of Taiwan.

Liang suggested that Lin emulate the Irish struggle against British rule. This idea of taking inspiration from other countries’ experiences undoubtedly fueled Lin’s desire to see the West for himself.

Liang visited Taiwan in 1911 and further advised Lin to expand his horizons beyond literature, to closely study politics, economics and social thought.

Lin was one of the few Taiwanese who had the money and status to travel to the West, but he was not the first to write about his experiences.

Huang Chao-chin (黃朝琴), who would become Taipei’s first mayor under Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) rule, studied at the University of Illinois in 1923 and also published an account of his travels in Taiwan Minpao.

Yan Kuo-nien (顏國年), a wealthy businessman from New Taipei City’s Rueifang District (瑞芳), set out from Keelung in 1925 but took the opposite route from Lin, heading east to the US first, circumnavigating the globe in about 220 days.

According to the book The Traveler’s State of Mind (旅人心境) by Lin Shu-hui (林淑慧), Yan’s account largely contains matter-of-fact observations of the economic, industrial and material development of the countries he visited. In contrast, Lin’s humorous and introspective prose focuses on values such as freedom and equality. This makes sense when considering their goals — Yan wanted to expand his coal-mining empire, while Lin had dedicated his life to the struggle for Taiwanese consciousness and autonomy.

“Lin’s prose reflected his deep feelings toward living under colonial rule,” Lin Shu-hui writes.

However, Yan’s book was meant for family and friends and was not widely publicized, whereas Lin’s book had “considerable influence” on Taiwan’s social and political movements, writes historian Hsu Hsueh-chi (許雪姬) in her introduction to the 2015 edition of Lin’s book.

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