Beyond the well-deserved praise heaped on Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) as Taiwan’s father of democracy lies another tale, of the dedicated men and women without whom democratization could never have occurred. This is the story of one of them, Jay Loo (盧主義), also known as Li Thian-hok. The book is both a personal memoir and a history of the democratization process with whom Loo’s life has been so closely intertwined.
Born in Tainan in 1932 as one of six children to the poor and devoutly Presbyterian parents to whom he dedicates the book, Loo went to school during the Japanese occupation and delighted in reading Japanese novels, though realizing that Taiwanese were not regarded as equals by their colonial masters.
Loo entered the Presbyterian Missionary High School in 1945, the year the defeated Japanese left. He was astonished to find that lectures were given in Hoklo (more commonly known as Taiwanese). Later, however, Mandarin was imposed and Loo discovered that another group of overlords, Chiang Kai-shek’s (蔣介石) Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), had arrived from China to replace the first.
With the help of Presbyterian mentors, he became one of the last of the students able to study abroad without first serving in the military, and received a scholarship to Macalester College in Minnesota. Later transferring to the University of Minnesota, Loo proved to be a polymath, mastering calculus, pre-med studies and English literature while washing dishes and, during the summer, working as a field hand to make ends meet.
Meeting for political discussions with other young Taiwanese, Loo became convinced that, in order to evolve into a free and democratic nation, Taiwan must become independent of Chinese rule, whether the KMT or People’s Republic of China (PRC). The students formed the 3F — Formosans’ Free Formosa — in 1956, with Loo somehow finding the time to draft a petition to the UN. Not surprisingly, it was rebuffed by UN General Secretary Dag Hammarskjold. Loo gave up his medical studies in favor of political science and economics, taking six to seven courses each semester to meet the requirements and again washing dishes.
Not only did Loo graduate summa cum laude, but his senior thesis was chosen best in the university — an incredible honor at an institution that graduates 10,000 students a year. It’s all the more remarkable considering his native language was not English. Loo also won a fellowship to study at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School.
Encouraged to submit his senior thesis to the prestigious journal Foreign Affairs, where it appeared in April 1958 under the title “The China Impasse: A Formosan View.” This is an honor that most political science professors can only dream of. Others who appeared in the same issue included former US secretaries of state Dean Acheson and Henry Kissinger, and several international luminaries. Loo was only 25.
Turning his attention to job hunting, Loo found a position as an actuarial clerk where his ability to master complex mathematical tables turned into a lifetime profession. Later, he would begin his own highly successful actuarial practice. He continued his political writing, liaising with prominent figures in the nascent Taiwanese liberation movement such as Thomas Liao (廖文毅), and meeting and courting his wife, Helen, also from Tainan.
Together the couple became active participants in organizations such as the Formosan Association for Public Affairs (FAPA) and WUFI-USA (the American branch of the World United Formosans for Independence). As such, they lobbied congress to promote passage of resolutions and bills to support Taiwan while cultivating friendships with prominent congressional aides with ties to influential administration figures. These aides can then serve as conduits for messages to high officials.
Together, Jay and Helen attended briefings and conferences relevant to Taiwan at major think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute, Heritage Foundation and Hudson Institute in Washington and the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia. Jay also continues to advocate Taiwan’s cause in magazines, journals and books, of which this book is number two in a trilogy.
With their two sons successfully launched on careers of their own and now retired from their respective professions, the couple continue to participate actively in lobbying for Taiwan and have taken up a variety of hobbies ranging from gardening and water aerobics to target shooting.
As he looks back on the more than half a century of his life in the US, Loo is gratified that there is now a consensus among concerned Taiwanese Americans that Taiwan needs to preserve its democracy and independence from China. Within Taiwan, there has also been a remarkable rise in the perception of Taiwanese identity. Yet Taiwan’s status as a de facto independent nation is increasingly at risk.
Whether military threats and psychological warfare from China, domestic subversion from the KMT and People’s First Party, the pro-PRC media and business interests or, most perilous of all, the Democratic Progressive Party’s lack of a clear vision for Taiwan’s future and consequent inability to implement policy measures that will safeguard Taiwan’s freedom over the long term.
In concluding, Loo vows that, whatever the future holds, he and his wife will continue the work of grassroots diplomacy in trying to help Taiwan preserve its freedom. Though never becoming household names or attaining the status of a Lee Teng-hui, it is through the efforts of Loo and others like him that Taiwan has been able to democratize and to maintain its separate existence. This beautifully written memoir will give readers a sense of what this process was like, and the importance of continuing Loo’s work.
June Teufel Dreyer is a political science professor at the University of Miami, senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and a former commissioner of the United States Economic and Security Review Commission.
Free Formosa: A Memoir
By Jay Loo
Sifting through the last week or so of writing on Taiwan in the major media, the original title of this piece was going to be “Three Cheesy Pieces.” But in truth, the flow of effluent from the media exceeds my ability to represent it in a single pithy headline. It seems that the output of bad writing on Taiwan is equal to the square of the amount of attention our island nation receives. TRIFECTA OF TURGIDITY Leading off a terrible 10-day of prose on Taiwan was the The Economist’s piece, “The Most Dangerous Place on Earth” with Taiwan on the cover. The
After a rebellion decimated the Fongshan County (鳳山縣) capital in 1721, the Kangxi Emperor finally decided to allow the construction of walled cities in Taiwan. The following year, with the completion of an earthen wall surrounding it, Old Fongshan City (鳳山舊城) became Taiwan’s first walled city. Over a century later, the wall was replaced with a stone one, much of which remains standing today. To walk the length of this wall is to walk through centuries of history in just one afternoon, as modern-day amenities intermingle with traces of Taiwan’s past. Any visit here should begin at the Center of Old
People living in Taiwan’s cities hope for many things. Some might put cheaper housing or quieter neighbors at the top of their wish-list. Quite a few surely dream of more orderly, less congested roads. To get an international perspective — and find out what a specialist thinks could be done to make driving and riding less stressful and the streets safer — I reached out to Chiu Bing-yu (邱秉瑜), a PhD student in City and Regional Planning at the University of Pennsylvania. Chiu’s research focuses on how the supply of public transportation and land-use planning affect travel behavior, with particular attention
Prison books are a semi-major literary genre. Works such as Solzhenitsyn’s The First Circle, flanked by One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, are classics, with Dickens, Genet and Nelson Mandela also featuring. Most of them are at least partly autobiographical, and Tehpen Tsai’s (蔡德本) Taiwan White Terror novel, Elegy of Sweet Potatoes, is no exception. It was originally written in Japanese (Tsai was brought up during Japan’s occupation of Taiwan), then translated into Chinese. An English version, finely crafted by Grace Tsai Hatch, appeared in 1995 and now re-appears from Taiwan’s Camphor Press. The author, who helped with the