2002 / 11月
interview by Eric Lin /tr. by Phil Newell
In 1960, during the pro-democracy movement led by Lei Chen, Hsieh Han-lu, then a member of the Taiwan Provincial Assembly, became executive secretary of the "election reform association." As a result, during those four critical months in the history of Taiwan, he not only participated in this effort among intellectuals to do something for their country, he personally experienced the atmosphere of fear of a Kuomintang purge. Today, more than 40 years later, how does he see those events?
Q: You have written a book about the history of the democracy movement in Taiwan in 1960, more than 40 years after the event, with you now in your 80s. Looking back and knowing that what you attempted was impossible, would you be willing to do it all again?
A: Everything that happens in history has causes and consequences. Although the democracy movement at that time lasted only for a very short period, it had been brewing for a long time before that.
I remember in 1945, when the eight-year War of Resistance against Japan ended in victory, Dai Jitao, one of the elders of the KMT at that time, said proudly: "In Chinese history, the Zhou dynasty ruled China for 800 years, but our party will break that record." Yet only three years later the mainland had fallen to the Communists. After coming to Taiwan, despite advice from many quarters, Chiang Kai-shek continued his authoritarian rule. Even after 1950, when the US military came to the defense of Taiwan, the KMT should have recognized that its past failures were due to its inadequate respect for democracy, and that they should turn Taiwan into a real "Free China" in contrast to the mainland. But Chiang Kai-shek did not choose to do so.
I still recall what Mr. Lei Chen was like in those days, with his warm smile and his idealism. He was a real Confucian gentleman who genuinely wanted to use his pen to promote reform. I think the fact that this kind of individual was pushed forward to lead the pro-democracy movement makes it obvious that the democracy activists at that time were not "rebelling" to replace the Chiang Kai-shek regime, but were only intellectuals with expectations and a sense of responsibility toward their country.
You asked me if I would do it again despite knowing that it was impossible. In fact even in those days I often asked myself whether in such an evil environment I would wake up one day to find that everyone had scattered like birds. But in fact that did not happen, and everyone went ahead and did what we did. The sense of responsibility that intellectuals should have has remained the same over the centuries.
Q: You personally experienced the KMT purge of the democracy movement. Did this have any impact on your philosophy of life afterwards?
A: Before the democracy movement, I was not attracted by the KMT's inducements. After it, I did not join the "anti-China" democracy movement led by Yin Hai-kuang. I have always been passive, and I ended up in a political wave just because of circumstance. But this is my personality. I don't take the initiative to demand anything, and I am not easily influenced by the outside world.
In those days whenever the police on Wuchang Street had nothing better to do they would come to my house and make a search, claiming they were looking for deserters from the military. Rule based on terror must adopt terror methods to test whether you are afraid. But so long as you are not afraid, what's the use of terror?
Q: Can you talk more about why you did not later join the opposition movement led by Mr. Yin Hai-kuang?
A: I always believed that so-called "local self-rule" could only genuinely conform to the spirit of self-rule if local people participated in elections. In those days there were many talented Taiwanese; Wu San-lien and Kao Yu-shu were both good men. But I think that the idea of Free China was to use Chiang to oppose communism and have anti-communist democracy. But there's always something that leaves one disappointed in the course of history. Chiang Kai-shek caused a series of democracy movements in Taiwan to end in failure and disappointment, so the opposition movement moved in the direction of Taiwan independence. But that was not my goal. After Fu Cheng joined the Taiwan independence movement, I no longer had anything to do with him. How could he support Taiwan independence just to get back at the KMT? People should act according to their ideals.
Q: Have you ever thought of writing something autobiographical and more subjective to describe your views on history?
A: I am already in my 80s. The enormous work of writing The Early Democracy Movement in Taiwan and the Lei Chen Incident has made me feel that I am at the end of my working days, and I've decided not to write any more books. Although I'm still not satisfied with this book, at least I am leaving behind some historical testimony. Looking back over this life, I can say to myself that I made a small contribution to the democracy movement in Taiwan. There's no need for an autobiography.
Hsieh Han-lu, now in his 80s, has been through the Lei Chen Incident, the White Terror, and the recent turbulent wave of democratization. He has truly been a witness to an important page in Taiwan's history. Still vigorous, he remains concerned about his country. (photo by Jimmy Lin)