Thu, Sep 05, 2002 - Page 3 News List

One man's struggle for a nation's freedom

Lei Chen was someone who believed in establishing a `Free China' on Taiwan, but his dream had to be delayed, as the KMT worked its will on an oppressed nation

An official document marked "highly confidential," reports a meeting convened by Chiang Kai-shek in 1960 on Lei Chen's case. The document states that Chiang wants judicial authorities to sentence Lei to a jail term of at least ten years, and that the high court must not change decision if Lei appealed.

A full 42 years after Lei Chen (雷震) was arrested and thrown in jail, the Academia Historica yesterday published three volumes of formerly classified documents regarding the handling of Lei and others who were charged with involvement in rebellion, together with copies of part of Lei's memoirs, written in jail and previously rumored to have been burned.

The arrest and trial of Lei in 1960 is one of the many emotionally-charged tales considered elemental to Taiwan's democracy movement. Lei's case is important because it allows for a better understanding of the KMT's tight control over what people said and thought, as well as the worries and expectations of liberals who pondered Taiwan's future.

The documents verify that Chiang Kai-shek played a key role in Lei's case, on several occasions calling meetings with high party, government and army bureaucrats, instructing them that the handling of Lei's case was as serious as waging war. On the day of the verdict, Oct. 8, 1960, Chiang gave clear instructions that Lei's sentence must not be less than 10 years, and that the appeal verdict must not alter the original trial verdict.


Lei Chen was born in China's Zhejiang Province in 1897. He studied in Japan, graduated from Kyoto Imperial University, and went on to postgraduate school there to do research on constitutional studies.

Lei's relationship with the KMT ran deep. He held many important party and government positions, including secretary-general of the Political Consultation Conference, deputy and secretary-general of the National Assembly that created the ROC Constitution, minister without portfolio and national policy advisor to the president. He also participated in the KMT's Taiwan reform programs and was an ardent supporter of Chiang Kai-shek's (蔣介石) anti-communism.

After the KMT lost the mainland to the Communists, he launched the Free China (自由中國) biweekly journal in Taipei around the end of 1949, hoping that Taiwan would become a stronghold for freedom and democracy and accomplish the mission of toppling the communist Chinese.

Unfortunately, the KMT exercised one-party authoritarianism after consolidating its rule on Taiwan, severely suppressing press and political freedom. Lei then turned from pro-Chiang and anti-communist to opposing both Chiang and the communists. It wasn't long before he was expelled from the KMT as both he and his Free China journal began actively criticizing Chiang's authoritarian rule and demanding reform.

While criticism from intellectuals like Lei stirred debate, it failed to shake KMT rule. To try and overcome the difficulty, Lei gradually allied himself with local Taiwanese political figures. During elections he sponsored campaign rallies and after elections he held seminars on local autonomy.

Working with a number of friends, Lei planned to establish the "China Democratic Party," but the KMT, which was extremely sensitive to gatherings of dissidents or any hint of political opposition, arrested Lei on charges of spying for the communists. His arrest silenced his colleagues, who dispersed and fled in all directions. The China Democratic Party died before it was born.

The KMT's suppression of [other] political parties destroyed any chance for mainland-born democrats to unite with local Taiwanese politicians. If the China Democratic Party had been successfully established, it may have reduced the alienation felt between mainlanders and local Taiwanese. It would have promoted reconciliation between ethnic groups and mitigated the later radicalization of the independence-unification debate, thereby hastening the arrival of democratic politics.

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