About 200 members of the Taiwanese-American community gathered in Washington over the weekend for a memorial service to honor former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislator Chai Trong-rong (蔡同榮), a longtime democracy and independence activist who died last month.
Two members of the US Congress, a number of top Capitol Hill staff members and former American Institute in Taiwan chairman Richard Bush sent video tributes.
“He was a true leader of the people of Taiwan and a familiar face to so many of us on Capitol Hill,” said US Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, former chairwoman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
A Democrat, Ros-Lehtinen said Chai’s talent and dedication to fighting for a free and democratic Taiwan would be missed.
US Representative Steve Chabot, chairman of the House’s Asia subcommittee, said he had known Chai for many years and that he was “a true Taiwanese patriot.”
A Republican, Chabot also praised Chai’s total commitment to the Taiwanese cause.
Bush, now with the Brookings Institution, emphasized that Chai understood that the US Congress could play an important role in bringing about political change in Taiwan.
“He was able to recruit people like senators Claiborne Pell and Ted Kennedy and congressman Steve Solarz and Jim Leach to shine the light on the martial law system, and talk about the fact that Taiwan was ready for democracy, that it had all the prerequisites in terms of social and economic progress,” Bush said.
“I would say that part of his contribution was his relentless dedication and that is what I most admired about him,” he said.
“Once he decided what needed to be done, he would keep doing it and get others to help him do it until it was accomplished,” he said.
After moving to the US to attend graduate school, Chai ended up spending almost the next three decades in exile because of his advocacy of democracy.
The memorial service was told that Chai’s major contributions to Taiwan took place overseas. He was a driving force establishing the World United Formosans for Independence in 1966 and the Formosan Association for Public Affairs in 1982.
Mike Fonte, director of the DPP’s Washington office, said that Chai’s contribution to Taiwan’s democracy was “enormous.”
Fonte said Chai was “irrepressible and unstoppable” and that his persistence was legendry.
“Chai’s legacy will live on in future generations,” he said.
Chai died on Jan. 11. He had been hospitalized for several weeks after suffering a stroke at home on Dec. 18 last year and lapsing into a coma.