Wed, Apr 30, 2008 - Page 1 News List

Dissident, writer, activist Bo Yang dies

THE UGLY TRUTHBo Yang was perhaps most famous for writing ‘The Ugly Chinaman,’ but his life and writing captured much of the essence of Taiwan in the 20th century


Bo Yang talks to the media after being presented with an honorary doctorate by National University of Tainan on Dec. 12, 2006. The acclaimed human rights activist died yesterday morning, aged 88.


Writer, human rights activist and former political prisoner Bo Yang (柏楊), who infuriated both the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party with his tart critiques of Chinese culture, abusive leaders and anti-democratic behavior, died early yesterday morning of complications from pneumonia. He was 88.

Bo had been receiving treatment for pneumonia at the Cardinal Tien Hospital in Sindian (新店), Taipei County, since February.

Born in 1920 in Henan Province, China, Bo authored more than 200 works. One of the most prominent was The Ugly Chinaman (醜陋的中國人), in which he pilloried Chinese culture as dirty, noisy, divisive, obsequious and vainglorious.

The book came as a shock when it was first published in Taiwan in 1984. Although it was banned in China until 2000, underground copies were widely available.

Last August, Bo began planning a comic-strip version of the book, saying that it could reach out to young people today who tend not to read.

The New York Times once called Bo “China’s Voltaire.”

Bo, whose real name was Kuo Yi-tung (郭衣洞), followed the KMT government to Taiwan after the KMT lost the Chinese civil war.

He found work as a columnist for the Independence Evening Post, a small liberal newspaper, but quickly ran foul of the KMT dictatorship after he blasted Chiang Kai-shek’s (蔣介石) government over corruption and abuse of power. One of his more controversial pieces of writing at the time was Foreign Land (異域), a study of the KMT soldiers stranded in what would become the Golden Triangle after they were unable to join their compatriots in Taiwan. His reporting on their destitution embarrassed senior military officials who escaped from the area.

He was then jailed in 1968 following a translation of the American comic strip Popeye, which was interpreted as criticizing Chiang’s refusal to conduct free presidential elections.

He served nine years in prison, mostly on Green Island (綠島), after being convicted of acting as a communist spy — a government catchall for dealing with troublemakers during the Martial Law era.

Aside from managing a prolific writing career, which included historical studies, short fiction, journalism and translations of classical Chinese works, Bo was keen to advocate human rights and served as Amnesty International’s Taiwan office director from 1994 to 1996.

Bo’s health began to deteriorate in September 2006 and he had been in and out of hospital several times since then, eventually forcing him to stop writing.

Despite his illness, Bo followed politics closely.

He said he was disappointed at the record of the Democratic Progressive Party administration, but also worried about the KMT’s return to power.

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) yesterday expressed his “deepest regret” over Bo’s death.

Chen said he would confer a posthumous medal on Bo and asked government agencies to assist Bo’s family with funeral arrangements.

The Presidential Office statement described Bo as a modern thinker who had been eminently capable of representing Taiwan. The president said Bo exerted a great influence on contemporary Taiwanese literature and was held in high esteem in literary circles, both domestic and international.

The statement added that Chen was grateful for the advice Bo gave him during his stint as senior presidential adviser.

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