Tue, Dec 01, 2009 - Page 3 News List

FEATURE: Su Beng: Staying true to the fight for independence

By Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  STAFF REPORTER

Former vice president Annette Lu, center, shakes hands with independence activist Su Beng, right, as they attend a fundraising party for the Taiwan Republic Campaign on Oct. 24 in Taipei.

PHOTO: CHIEN JUNG-FONG, TAIPEI TIMES

Wearing blue jeans and a blue shirt while making his weekly trip around the country to promote Taiwanese nationalism, Su Beng (史明) is widely revered as a man of action devoted to socialism and Taiwanese independence.

Born in 1918, Su is expected to be released from a hospital in Japan where he has been treated for uremia and kidney problems since late last month, with a group of activists planning to greet him at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport on his return.

Su has been in Tokyo since late October to supervise the reopening of the New Gourmet (新珍味), a noodle shop he opened in 1954 as a way to earn a living and as a base for training staff who carried out anti-government arson attacks in Taiwan in the 1970s.

The noodle shop had since become the main source of funding for his endeavors before it closed for renovation for much of the past year.

In 1952, Su was a fugitive wanted by the Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) regime because of a plot to assassinate the dictator.

Disguising himself as a worker at Keelung Harbor, Su managed to stow away on a boat to Japan — where he attended Waseda University in the 1940s, with a degree in political science and economics — and sought political asylum.

The years spent in exile further shaped Su’s interest in socialism after seeing the masses’ frustration with communist rule in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, as well as China. He completed his classic book on the history of Taiwan, comprehensively formulating his theory of building Taiwan as an independent nation-state with an equitable distribution of wealth.

Originally named Shih Chao-hui (施朝暉), he changed his name to Su Beng — which means “historically clear” in Hoklo — to underline the importance of getting a clear understanding of history.

Taiwan’s 400 Years of History (台灣人四百年史) was first published in Japanese in 1962 and helped raise Taiwanese consciousness among his generation. The Mandarin and English versions were published in the 1980s, while the updated edition that included the period 1980-1998 came out in 1998.

Liao I-en (廖宜恩), a professor of computer science and engineering at National Chung-Hsiung University and vice chairman of the Taiwan Association of University Professors, was one of his followers.

“Since the 1980s, Su has traveled regularly between Japan and the US to lecture Taiwanese students abroad about [Taiwanese] history at his own expense. I met him nearly every summer,” Liao said.

To reach as many as students as possible at different US campuses, Su learned how to drive in his 60s and commuted frugally using an old vehicle.

“Su enlightened us on the repressed history of Taiwan and told us that the first step to establish an independent country was to shed the Chinese nationalism deeply instilled in our brains under the Chinese Nationalist Party [KMT] regime,” Liao said.

Su’s ideas on Taiwanese nationalism grew partly from his experience in joining the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) fight against Japanese forces in the War of the Pacific between 1942 and 1945 and the following years when he came back to Taiwan under Chiang’s rule.

Against a backdrop of a new wave of states formed on the basis of national identity and ethnicity after World War II, Su came to believe that there was a fundamental difference in national identity between Chinese and Taiwanese.

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