Sun, Dec 16, 2018 - Page 8 News List

The ‘big cannon’ educator

Fu Ssu-nien took over National Taiwan University during a chaotic time for both the school and country, and was greatly respected by students, who marched to the Taiwan Provincial Assembly after his questionable death

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

A portrait of influential National Taiwan University president Fu Ssu-nien.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Dec. 17 to Dec. 23

Fu Ssu-nien (傅斯年) had just returned to his seat after answering questions from Kuo Kuo-chi (郭國基) at the now defunct Taiwan Provincial Assembly. Kuo had grilled the National Taiwan University (NTU) president on a number of questions, including scholarship funds, to which Fu loudly responded, “I will do all I can to support those students who are poor but talented and intelligent!”

According to the state-run Central Daily News (中央日報), assembly secretary-general Lien Chen-tung (連震東) walked over to shake Fu’s hand, and noticed it was cold. Lien asked if he was okay, and Fu suddenly exclaimed, “I’m done! I’m done!” and collapsed. He died later that night, on Dec. 20, 1950.

Fu was already in poor health, and most sources attribute his death to overwork. But at a press conference the next morning, interim assembly chairman Lee Wan-chu (李萬居) meant to say that Fu qishi (棄世, left this world), but his heavy Taiwanese-accented Mandarin made it sound like qisi (氣死, died from anger). Since Kuo and Fu were both known as “big cannons” (大砲) for their outspoken nature, this led to the rumor that “Big Cannon Kuo caused Big Cannon Fu to die of anger.”

Then-minister of education Chen Hsueh-ping (陳雪屏) was quick to clarify that there were absolutely no tempers lost during the session.

Nevertheless, a furious group of about 400 teary-eyed NTU students marched to the assembly headquarters after paying their respects to Fu’s body. Lien came out to meet them, and asked them what they wanted. “Give us Kuo Kuo-chi!” they demanded. It was only after Lien and Chen clarified the situation and told them Kuo had already left the building, that they walked back to the campus.

This incident shows the respect the students had for Fu, despite only holding his post for less than two years, amounting to his entire time in Taiwan. The landmark Fu Bell (傅鐘) on campus still rings 21 times at the beginning of each class period, as Fu once said, “There are only 21 hours available per day because the remaining three hours are reserved for self-reflection.”

RELUCTANT APPOINTMENT

A student-activist leader in his early days, Fu began his academic career in 1926 with the National Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou. He founded Academia Sinica’s Institute of History and Philology in 1928, serving as director as it moved through Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, Changsha, Kunming, Sichuan, back to Nanjing and to Taiwan in 1948.

After Japanese defeat, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) took over Taihoku Imperial University, renaming it National Taiwan University in December 1945. Except for Taiwan-born Tu Tsung-ming (杜聰明), who served as interim president for a month in 1948, all early presidents were academics sent by the KMT from China, and Fu was no exception.

By the time Fu arrived in Taiwan, the university had gone through seven presidents in just over three years. His predecessor (not including two interims) Chuang Chang-kung (莊長恭) served for just six months before resigning.

“Because of my lack of ability and support, I barely accomplished anything during my half-year at NTU. I am utterly exhausted and have grown ill as a result, and I don’t have the will to carry on. I’ll be returning to Shanghai to recuperate,” Chuang wrote to Fu.

Chuang never returned to Taiwan, continuing his career under the Chinese Communist Party.

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