Wed, Feb 07, 2018 - Page 3 News List

FEATURE: Activists who tried to kill Chiang tell of inspiration

By Chen Wei-han  /  Staff reporter

“Had [former president] Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) been taken care of, the infighting within the Chinese Nationalist Party [KMT] would have restarted and the KMT’s super-stable regime would have been destabilized. The idea was a great temptation to me,” said Peter Huang (黃文雄), the man who attempted to assassinate the then-vice premier and heir to Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) in New York City on April 24, 1970.

Huang, 80, made the comments at a salon, titled “From the Assassination of Chiang Ching-kuo to the Sunflower Movement: Individuality in Historical Events,” on Feb. 2 in Taipei.

Huang and his brother-in-law, Cheng Tzu-tsai (鄭自才), now 81, carried out the assassination attempt. They were caught, but jumped bail after pleading guilty and fled the US.

Huang returned to Taiwan in 1996 and has since worked as a human rights advocate. Cheng returned in 1991 and has worked as an architect, artist and independence campaigner.

The salon was a rare occasion that saw Huang and Cheng together discussing their motivation to kill Chiang Ching-kuo.

The unfolding of the assassination attempt is well-known — Huang was about to shoot Chiang Ching-kuo as he was entering his hotel, but a security agent knocked his arm upward, and the bullet missed.

Huang began his talk at the salon by telling a personal story, which eventually led to his assassination plot.

One of the first political enlightenments Huang had was in 1963, when he was a graduate student of journalism at National Chengchi University.

He confronted a foreign friend who was reading a magazine about the free world, or the Western bloc, during the Cold War, with Huang mockingly saying that the Republic of China (ROC) was part of the free world.

The friend told Huang that Francisco Franco’s Spain was as much a part of the free world as the ROC under the dictatorship of Chiang Kai-shek.

This worldview and the comparison between Franco and Chiang Kai-shek have stayed with him ever since, Huang said.

He began his studies in the US in 1964, first at University of Pittsburgh and later at Cornell University, where he was exposed to the free speech movement launched by students at the University of California, Berkeley, and different social movements in the US and other countries, including the opposition to the Vietnam War, Black Power movement, the feminist movement and Prague Spring.

“None of the students of my generation was insusceptible to the influence of the 1960s, and students coming from authoritarian countries to the Free World often shared their experiences living under authoritarianism,” Huang said.

Cheng, who studied at Carnegie Mellon University and later worked as an architect in New York City, was similarly exposed to the social movements of the time and was personally involved in protests against the Vietnam War, Black Power movement and student movements, he said.

Democracy, freedom and citizen empowerment were a real culture shock to the “Sputnik generation” — a term that Huang used to describe overseas students sent to the US since the 1960s as part of the space race against the Soviet Union — and the relentless social movements opened the eyes of people who had spent all their lives in a closed society muzzled by dictatorship, Cheng said.

Huang said he also joined the Taiwanese independence movement launched by US-based Taiwanese students, but was not actively involved because he was more preoccupied with street activism and because some Taiwanese independence supporters “harbored no suspicion at all about the US,” which aligned itself with dictators like Chiang Kai-shek and Franco, and had “unrealistic fantasies” about US assistance to Taiwanese independence.

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