Fri, Dec 22, 2006 - Page 3 News List

NewsMaker: Mayor-elect Chen is a crusader in curls

TOUGH JOB Chen Chu has a long history as a social and human rights activist; now she has to prove her worth as an administrator who can work with her opponents

By Flora Wang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Kaohsiung mayor-elect Chen Chu waves to supporters on Dec. 10.


A chubby, smiling woman with curly hair that resembles an Afro is the image that usually comes to mind when one mentions Democ-ratic Progressive Party (DPP) Kaohsiung mayor-elect Chen Chu (陳菊).

This is largely thanks to the successful marketing of the "Mother Chu (菊媽媽)" image designed by her camp during the recent campaign.

"I tried to emphasize what people see in her appearance -- amiable and accessible, just like a next-door mom," said art designer Chung An-jung (鍾安榮), who designed magnets portraying Chen.

The magnets, which showed a cartoon "Mother Chu" with free-flowing curly hair and dressed in 12 different ethnic and professional outfits, were a hit campaign product.

However, the cartoon caricature only touches the surface of Chen's persona.

A long-term human rights activist, Chen spent the past three decades defending minority rights in Taiwan.

Born in 1950, Chen grew up as a farmer's daughter in Sanhsing Township (三星), Ilan County.

One of the major turning points in her life came when, at the age of 19, she worked as a secretary to then-Taiwan Provincial consultative councilor Kuo Yu-hsin (郭雨新). Kuo made a name for himself as an advocate of farmers' rights during the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) authoritarian era.

From that period on, she has been an active participant in many social movements.

On Jan. 20, 1979, Shih Ming-teh (施明德) and Lin I-hsiung (林義雄) -- who would both later become DPP chairmen -- and herself took part in the first major demonstration against the KMT since Martial Law took effect in 1949.

The Kaohsiung Incident, in which a pro-democracy protest turned into violent clashes with the police, occurred the next day, and she was imprisoned for six-and-a-half years for her involvement. Despite being threatened with a possible death penalty, she remained an active advocate of human rights after she was released from prison.

Chen Chu

* Date of birth: June 10, 1950.

* Place of birth: Ilan County, Taiwan.

* Party affiliation: Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)

* Education: MA from National Sun Yat-sen University's Institute of Public Affairs Management.

* Background/Career: Political prisoner jailed for her role in the Kaohsiung Incident (1980-1986); founding member of the DPP (1986), secretary- general of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights (1990-1992); president of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights (1992-1994); director-general of Taipei City's Social Affairs Bureau (1994-1998); director-general of Kaohsiung City's Social Affairs Bureau (1998-2005); chairwoman of the Council of Labor Affairs (2000-2005); and Kaohsiung mayor-elect (2006).

She worked with the Taiwan Association for Human Rights (TAHR) after she left prison and, as a result, was invited by former German president Richard von Weizsacker to attend a 1988 rally to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the announcement of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Chen won an award from the Formosan Association For Human Rights in 1989, and became secretary-general of the TAHR in 1990. She attended the Davos Summit in 1992, and was invited by the UN to participate in the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in 1993.

During her trial for her involvement in the Kaohsiung Incident, she said: "In my belief, the majority's domination or oppression over the minority is intolerable. I dream of a fair and just society."

"Chen was born with enthusiasm for the minorities and the unwanted," DPP Legislator Tien Chiu-chin (田秋堇) said.

Tien has been friends with Chen since she was 19.

"Her mother always said Chen was sympathetic by nature. She always regards other people's business as her own," Tien told the Taipei Times.

Even after Chen was imprisoned, Tien said she never heard Chen complain about the hardships she endured as a result of participating in social movements.

Chen served in various capacities in the government, notably as chairwoman of the Council of Labor Affairs from 2000 to last year. When the Kaohsiung Rapid Transit Corp (KRTC) scandal broke last August, which began with a riot by Thai laborers over poor working conditions at the Kaohsiung mass rapid transit construction project, Chen was heavily criticized for her handling of the tender for the construction project and attacked by members of several DPP factions. To assume responsibility for the riot, Chen resigned one month later from the council.

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