Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Chen Nan-jung, Yeh Chu-lan, and the Presidency

Last week saw another anniversary of the death of a major opposition figure, Cheng Nan-jung, who burned himself to death on April 7, 1989, as authorities closed in to arrest him for the terrible crime of publishing a draft constitution. That was two years after martial law had been lifted -- people have forgotten that for many years afterward independence and democracy activism was still suppressed, and that the government had passed national security laws that were martial law again in all but name. Cheng's tale is summarized in a Taiwan Communique from many years ago:

Ten years ago, in the early hours of the morning of Friday, 7 April 1989, a major opposition journalist in Taiwan died. Mr. Cheng Nan-jung, publisher and chief-editor of Freedom Era Weekly, set himself on fire rather than be arrested by police, who had cordoned off his office, and who were forcing their way into the office to arrest him on "sedition" charges for publishing a draft-Constitution for a new, democratic and independent Taiwan.

Mr. Cheng had been at the forefront of the democratic movement in Taiwan. In May 1986 he organized the first "Green Ribbon" demonstration against Martial Law, which was still in force in Taiwan. The "Green Ribbon" campaign would last through the summer of 1986, and would eventually lead to the establishment of the opposition DPP-party on 28 September 1986, and to the lifting of Martial Law in July 1987.

Mr. Cheng was born in Taipei in 1947. he was actually half Taiwanese, half mainlander: his father came from Fukien, while his mother was native Taiwanese from Keelung.

Mr. Cheng majored in philosophy at National Taiwan University, and during his college days was already an innovative entrepreneur. In 1984 he started publishing his Freedom Era Weekly Magazine, which became a leading magazine in the budding democratic opposition movement.

It also became a lightning rod for the Kuomintang's secret police, which started to censor and confiscate the magazine. Until the time of Mr. Cheng's death, Freedom Era Weekly had published 270 issues. It was the only opposition publication to have succeeded in publishing continuously, in spite of heavy censorship by the Kuomintang authorities. Before the end of Martial Law in July 1987, some 95% of the individual issues published by Mr. Cheng were banned or confiscated by the secret police.

Still, Mr. Cheng never lost a beat, and the following week a new issue would find its way to the readers again. For this, Mr. Cheng did not make use of the postal system or the bookstall along the streets (where the magazines were very susceptible to confiscation), but a private distribution system. he also had 17 magazine titles registered, so that each time the authorities suspended a title for a year, he would continue with the next title as if it were a spare tire.

Mr. Cheng is survived by his wife Yeh Chu-lan, who is presently a prominent DPP-member of the Legislative Yuan, and his daughter Chu-mei.

Cheng's wife is now a very prominent politician. As this article on Frank Hsieh's visit to Taiwan's coffee growing center of Gukeng notes:

Hsieh later presided over the opening of a local campaign office to further his presidential bid, accompanied by former Vice Premier Yeh Chu-lan, Su, Gukeng township chief Lin Hui-ru and local community representatives.

Both Yeh and Su publicly displayed their backing for Hsieh's presidential ambition, and called for widespread public support of the former premier, who stepped down from the premiership in early 2006 after serving for less than a year at the post.

Yeh said she fully backs Hsieh in the DPP's presidential primary because she was greatly impressed by Hsieh's management of Kaohsiung City when he served as mayor of Kaohsiung from 1998-2005.

As to the question of whether she would team up with Hsieh to form a presidential ticket should he win the DPP's nomination, Yeh was reserved and said only that there are many capable talents within the DPP.

Why the ceremony the other day for Cheng? Yeh is a rising star who would make an excellent choice for Veep. She has impeccable credentials as the wife of a major democracy figure, plus several years of experience in government, including time as a cabinet minister and as vice premier. She was acting mayor of Kaohsiung after Hsieh stepped down. She is also a Hakka, former head of the Council for Hakka Affairs -- and in the bitter identity politics that this election is likely to see, every ethnic edge will be necessary for victory.

No comments: