Taiwan's Human Rights Struggles, 1960--1980, a New Book

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Sunday July 06, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

Anyone involved in the Civil Rights Movements in the United States would scoff at the suggestion that the South intended all along to give blacks equal opportunity. The South was just waiting for the right moment. Anyone who knows the struggles against apartheid in South Africa would scoff at the suggestion that the Afrikaners were also just simply waiting for the right moment to share power with the majority of the people. So too, anyone who knows Taiwan will laugh at implications that the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) was working hard to share power and to extend human rights to all citizens including the right to a representative two or more party system, the right to freedom of the press, freedom to assemble, the right to a fair trial etc. in sum the basic rights of a democracy. Against despotic, autocratic rulers who strive to cling to their self-justified power, privilege and sense of entitlement, such rights can only be won by the sacrifice and struggle of the people. The grass roots work involved in wringing such rights from the self-appointed elite in Taiwan, is the subject of a new book, "A Borrowed Voice, Taiwan Human Rights through International Networks, 1960--1980" written and edited by Linda Gail Arrigo and Lynn Miles, Hanyao Color Printing Co. 2008, Taipei.

The title "Borrowed Voice," comes from the fact that while the KMT was doing all that was in its power to suppress the voices of the Taiwanese fighting for their rights, there were foreigners willing to lend their voices in speaking out for Taiwan internationally. The book contains such first hand, on the scene accounts from over forty foreigners who observed, experienced and documented this struggle for human rights against the KMT's one-party state rule from 1960 to 1980. The reader should note that Taiwan's democracy did not come in full for another sixteen years after 1980, but by that time Taiwanese were able to make their own voice heard overseas.

Through the book we get a look at what was going on at ground level with the numerous imprisonments, torture and even killings of that time; we also learn of the extent of the KMT spy network in Taiwan and on campuses in the United States and its efforts to keep any unfavorable information about the country leaking out. Present too are numerous characters who today are household names in Taiwan. They range from the GIO's chief propagandist, James Soong to the ever cantankerous Li Ao to the authors Linda Arrigo and Lynn Miles both of whom have become permanent residents of Taiwan. All involved in this book are real people and still available to be questioned about their actions. Who profited most during the KMT rule is also evident.

The public has long heard the KMT's propagandized interpretation of this period; this book presents the experience and views of those struggling against that regime. For students of Taiwan's immediate past it provides a strong counter-point to the KMT's claim that it was working for Taiwan's democracy all along and that it was simply a matter of timing, the timing of forty years of martial law and white terror and a half of a century before the people won their right to democratically elect their president.

There is a current irony as well at the timing of the publication of this book. When it had a one-party state rule, the KMT fought long and hard to suppress the Taiwanese voices; at the same time it kept a policy of three noes (no-contact, no-compromise and no-negotiation) toward the one-party People's Republic of China (PRC) across the Strait. Now however once the KMT experienced democracy and the democratic loss of the presidency in 2000 and 2004, it is now falling all over itself to make contact, to negotiate and to compromise with that same autocratic PRC. The KMT claims it is now doing it for Taiwan's betterment but Taiwanese should take note for "those that forget the past are condemned to repeat it."