2002 / 11月
Eric Lin /tr. by Phil Newell
The "Lei Chen Incident," which is seen as the beginning of the democracy movement in Taiwan, has always been one of the most sensitive and difficult pages in modern Taiwan history. Although much historical data has surfaced over the years, a comprehensive work on the subject has yet to appear.
This September, a compendium of historical documents on the Lei Chen case, made public by the Academia Historica, revealed that the "judgment without trial" which resulted from the accusations of rebellion against Lei in 1960 was the result of a direct order from then-president Chiang Kai-shek. The history of the first wave of Taiwan's democracy movement, in which Lei played a leading role, again became for a time the focus of general attention. Now comes the publication of Taiwan's Early Democracy Movement and the Lei Chen Incident, personally written by an important participant in the Lei Chen era democracy movement, former Taiwan Provincial Assembly member Hsieh Han-lu. Because this book contains firsthand information and comprehensive treatment of the subject, it is a standard against which other works must be compared.
Perhaps because of a lack of historical materials, or because of political taboos or concerns among participants for their personal safety, Taiwan's Early Democracy Movement and the Lei Chen Incident is, in the words of Tseng Hsian-to, a professor of history at Soochow University, "the only testament produced by a direct participant" in the events surrounding Lei Chen. This suggests just how precious this book is.
In the 1950s, facing the Communist threat from the mainland, the Kuomintang imposed authoritarian rule on Taiwan. They manipulated and cheated in local elections in order to ensure total regime control, generating resentment in Taiwan society. Various opposition forces coalesced in 1960, marking the first wave in Taiwan's democracy movement. This has come to be known in Chinese as "the Lei Chen Incident."
Hsieh Han-lu describes three separate opposition forces. The first was led by the Free China Semimonthly, founded by Lei Chen and supported by Hu Shih and other intellectuals including Fu Ssu-nien, Mao Tzu-shui, and Yin Hai-kuang. Free China espoused liberal democratic theory, raised issues, and commented on current events. It was the pioneer of democratic discourse in Taiwan, and gained considerable attention home and abroad.
The second opposition force consisted of the Chinese Democratic Socialist Party and the Chinese Youth Party. Although these two parties, the only legal minority parties at the time, played only a marginal role as "tokens" of democracy under Kuomintang authoritarianism, nonetheless thanks to the idealism of key members like Chiang Yun-tien and Kao Yu-shu, and to popular disaffection with the KMT, the CDSP remained active in local elections and constituted a force outside the KMT.
The third stream of the opposition consisted of local Taiwanese politicians participating in the democracy movement at the county and city level. Demanding "clean elections," they included Shih Hsi-hsun, Ho Chun-mu, and other "Tangwai" (non-KMT) figures. They created the opportunity for the other two opposition forces to coalesce.
During the 1960 local elections, KMT manipulation and cheating went from bad to worse. The three opposition forces sponsored a seminar to discuss the elections, producing an "election reform association."
The founding of the election reform association sparked a wave of calls for democracy and for founding "a genuine opposition party." Action soon followed. However, after only four months, when the group's spiritual leader General Lei Chen was arrested and moreover charged-totally without foundation-with being a Communist spy, this first wave of Taiwan's democracy movement quickly came to an end.
For Hsieh Han-lu, the scenes from these four months, though more than 40 years ago, are "as fresh in my memory as if they were yesterday." As a result, the description of events in Taiwan's Early Democracy Movement and the Lei Chen Incident is astonishingly detailed and comprehensive, and sure to leave a deep impression on readers.
Hsieh notes that at that time he was executive secretary of the election reform association, and personally participated in everything. He still has detailed notes from many election reform association activities and thus offers primary source materials as well as in-depth description.
However, while Hsieh was certainly a direct participant and the book contains his experiences and memories, this is more than a simple memoir. Taiwan's Early Democracy Movement is a work of history that happens to have been written by a firsthand participant, but that also encompasses a large number of other figures, making the book even more valuable.
Professor Tseng says that most writers of history color it with their own evaluations. Hsieh, however, has transcended his personal biases and simply gives a description of events and of the various views and ideas of people from the time when history was actually unfolding. Thus the book is of great academic value.
Tseng adds that from the long view of history, Taiwan's Early Democracy Movement also helps clarify one particular point: In contemporary discussions of Taiwan's democracy movement, it is customary to draw a straight line from Lei Chen to later activists. But in fact the opposition party organized by Lei Chen was an attempt to realize the idea of "Free China" in practice, making it very different from the later democracy movement founded on the idea of Taiwan's independence. The information provided by Hsieh offers considerable testimony in clarifying this historical evolution.
The writing of works of history is not only to set the record straight, but to allow ourselves to see our current position more clearly. Although Hsieh's book is the first work by a direct participant in the democracy movement of the Lei Chen era, seeing that many of the figures of that era are still alive and well, we hope that Taiwan's Early Democracy Movement and the Lei Chen Incident will also be just the beginning of the revelation of more historical materials.
Title: Taiwan's Early Democracy Movement and the Lei Chen Incident
Author: Hsieh Han-lu
Publisher: Laureate Book Co., Ltd.
Publication date: September 2002