This psycho-political portrait concerns Hsieh Tsung-Min, also known as Roger Hsieh. Hsieh is a key leader of the Taiwanese liberation movement. There were several motivations for the decision to choose him as a subject.
The arduous struggle of the Taiwanese to free itself from oppressive Nationalist Chinese rule is a story that few people know well. Shedding some light on the turbulent decades of Taiwan leading to its break from oppressive dictatorship to incipient democracy in the 1990’s was thus the first mission I hoped to accomplish in the course of this study. I have embarked on this study in the hope that the 28,000 Taiwanese massacred in 1947 and those who were oppressed and tortured in the years that followed did not suffer in vain: Never again should these events happen again in Taiwan.
But before we can say “never again”, we must know what exactly happened, and this exact story is what few people know, and is the raison d’être of this study.
When I had the chance to meet Hsieh in Taipei in 2003, I suspected that he had suffered some physical injury from his torture in prison. Although I wanted to know about his torture experience, I was not exactly sure how to approach the topic with him. This time around, I did not want to miss a chance to learn about his experience in a very dark period of Taiwanese history. Moreover, while there exists some publicly-available information on the recent activities of Hsieh in the French and English media, information on his involvement in the liberation movement is lacking, although he is the principal author behind the Declaration of Formosan (Taiwanese) Self-Salvation.
This study serves as a modest tribute to those such as Hsieh who have made tremendous sacrifices to make Taiwan the free democracy that it is today. For the Taiwanese who are too young to have experienced the oppressive Nationalist regime, it is difficult to understand what a privilege it is to be able to experience democracy. I myself, having grown up in the democracy of the United States, experienced this revelation when I went to work in one of the former opposition newspapers in Taiwan in 2002. I realized that just a few years earlier, working for such a paper could have resulted in imprisonment. I hope that this study will be humbling in the sense that it will illustrate the brutal sacrifices that have been made to obtain the free society that the Taiwanese can enjoy today.
2 / METHOD
The bulk of the information of this study is based on two interviews that I conducted with Mr. Hsieh. The interviews were conducted in English, and flowed rather smoothly. The first interview, which lasted three hours, followed the chronological order of the events in Hsieh’s life. Clarifications were obtained during the second interview, which was conducted a week later and lasted two hours.
3 / THE PORTRAIT
Before his birth
Roger Hsieh was born in 1934 in Erlin, a town with a population of 20,000 in central Taiwan. However, the story of his political involvement begins before his birth. In the 1920’s, sugar cane harvesting was a major economic activity in Erlin. The farmers usually had to borrow money from the nearby sugar cane factory, which also controlled the prices, far lower than what other sugar refineries paid. Taiwan being a Japanese possession at the time, Japanese businessmen controlled the sugarcane industry. The local Taiwanese protested the unfair practices to the factory, and the farmers went on strike. Since the Japanese occupation in 1895, this was the first strike in all of Taiwan. The farmer’s resistance became a symbol of anti-Japanese imperialism.
Many of Hsieh’s relatives, who were local leaders, were arrested by the police. In a show of solidarity with the Taiwanese, some lawyers from a Japanese opposition party came to Taiwan to defend the farmers and local leaders. Through this Erlin Incident, Taiwan learned what resistance meant.
Disappointment with the KMT regime: Intellectual preparation
When Hsieh was a young boy he heard stories of the Erlin sugar cane incident. In his childhood, his parents ran a convenience store which was next to his house and which faced a 200-year old temple in the middle of town. This temple was a lively place. It was a place for praying, for hosting shows, and for meeting. As the temple was just across the house and family store, the young Hsieh was able to observe what went on in the temple. Before World War II and the Nationalist Chinese regime, Taiwanese advocating democracy would go to this temple to discuss with their fellow townsmen. Although Hsieh does not remember the particulars of what they talked about in these meetings, their image remains ingrained in his memory: They symbolized a democratic moment in the life of his town.
While Hsieh was in elementary school, World War II started. The Japanese victories at the beginning of the war were followed by the American victories. Erlin thus saw American planes bombed its sugar cane factories. At the end of the war, the Japanese left Taiwan, and the Chinese Nationalist soldiers came.
While Taiwan had born witness to American military strength in the war, it had seen nothing of Chinese military strength. This, in addition to the discovery that the Nationalist Chinese soldiers who then came to Taiwan were without discipline and were extraordinarily filthy (in both the physical and figurative sense), left a particularly poor impression on the Taiwanese.
The Nationalists brought with them wide-scale corruption that Taiwan had not known under Japanese rule. When the Japanese held court trials in Taiwan, they were fair. With the Nationalist Chinese court, the judges as well as the policemen had to be bribed, and the property of prisoners had to be given to the government. Under Japanese rule, ten months was considered a long prison sentence for creating political unrest; under the KMT, sentences could be as long as ten years. Even in the school classroom, the difference could be felt. In contrast to the high quality of the former Japanese teachers, the incompetence of the Nationalist Chinese teachers stood in stark contrast.
In fact, at the beginning of the war a number of local leaders from the Hsieh’s hometown had left to fight for China, as they did not want to cooperate with the Japanese empire. Upon returning to Taiwan from the war, these former soldiers realized that the Nationalist Chinese government in Taiwan was so corrupt that staying in Taiwan left no future for them. These Taiwanese thus left Taiwan again, this time to go to Communist China.
When the young Hsieh was in middle school, the 2-28 Incident shook Taiwan. On February 28, 1947, the Nationalist Chinese (KMT) police savagely beat an elderly Taiwanese lady who was selling cigarettes without a license. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and the frustrations of the Taiwanese people burst out in a wave of riots. After a tense calm briefly resettled over Taiwan, the KMT set out to terrorize Taiwan’s intellectual and social elite, for fear that they would contest the legitimacy of their regime. This was the beginning of what is called the White Terror in Taiwan. This period of terror was inaugurated by the massacre of an estimated 28,00O Taiwanese in the space of just a few weeks in 1947.
Hsieh attended high school in Taizhong in central Taiwan. As the best high school in central Taiwan, it admitted only the brightest students. During the White Terror, a number of Hsieh’s fellow students and townsmen were arrested and put in prison for terms ranging from one year to ten years. Most of those who were arrested were not involved in any sort of political activity. What often happened is that if a teacher in a school was arrested, the students close to the teacher were arrested for having simply listened to that teacher in class.
The young Hsieh was fortunate to be able to complete high school education in 1954, without being arrested. He chose to study law at National Taiwan University. He was inspired by the example of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the U.S. who taught himself law and used it as a tool to defend the oppressed. Hsieh believed that law could be used as an instrument to speak for the people. In university, he had the opportunity to read and purchase books on democracy, and to study the Taiwanese movement for democracy under Japanese rule. As it was also the moment at which China became the People’s Republic of China, Hsieh’s interest in communism was aroused.
During his law studies, Hsieh had the opportunity to meet the philosophy professor Yin Hai-Kuan who wrote editorials for the opposition magazine The Free China Fortnightly. The publisher of this paper, Lei Cheng, was arrested and jailed. With this incident, Hsieh was able to grasp the nature of the KMT: the KMT was an oppressive dictatorship. World War II having just passed, Hsieh drew a parallel between the KMT regime and that of the Nazis.
While Hsieh cites a number of political papers and books which influenced him, he particularly highlights Karl Popper’s The Open Society and Its Enemies, which he read during his time at National Taiwan University. While a number of university students of Hsieh’s age went to the U.S. to study, few thought about going to China. Many Taiwanese could not understand China and were confused about the concept of communism. However Hsieh, having read the work of Popper and the Communist Manifesto of Marx, was clear: Hsieh was looking for democracy, not communism.
In a paper that he wrote in law school, Hsieh criticized how the law in Taiwan at the time was stripping Taiwanese of their human rights. Realizing that the fundamental issue in Taiwan was politics, he resolved himself to study the workings of totalitarianism. Hsieh thus went on to pursue his masters studies at Cheng-chi University, the school of the KMT party, and the only graduate school of political studies in Taiwan at the time. Although few professors there lectured on democracy, Hsieh took advantage of the library resources to learn more about it.
The army-people relationship: Educating the Taiwanese
Having made a very favorable impression among the Chinese faculty at Cheng-chi University, Hsieh was recommended as a political science instructor at the Feng-Shan military academy in Kaoshiung, which was the academy for training the KMT army in Taiwan.
At the military academy, Hsieh befriended Tsieu Hen, another instructor at the academy. They became very close and shared many happy moments together. Tsieu, from China, had been appointed by General Sun Li-Jen to train a special unit composed of officers entirely from Taiwan. This was quite unusual, as normally the officers—the superiors—were from China, and the soldiers—the subordinates—were from Taiwan. Both General Sun and Tsieu had studied at Tsinghua University in China, before studying in the U.S. and going to Taiwan to train the soldiers. General Sun subsequently went to Taipei, where he was arrested on accusations of instigating a coup d’Etat. General Sun was then put under home arrest in Taizhong.
The house arrest of General Sun left a deep impression on General Tsieu, who then decided that it would be safer to retire from the army and become a teacher of natural sciences at the military academy. At the time, news of the French-Algerian war was in the papers every day, and Hsieh took an interest to the Algerian movement for independence.
In the midst of these events in Algeria, Tsieu, during one of his regular meetings with Hsieh, announced that he would like to serve asTaiwan’s General La Fayette. Like La Fayette, the French general who helped the U.S. to fight for independence, Tsieu, a Chinese, wanted to help the Taiwanese to obtain their independence. For Tsieu it was clear that the Nationalist Chinese regime was hopeless. Tsieu thus asked if Hsieh could introduce him to Taiwanese leaders, to help mobilize an independence movement for Taiwan.
Hsieh was very surprised that someone from China would have such ideas. When Hsieh asked Tsieu why he was telling him such stories, Tsieu responded by saying, “Hsieh, you are Taiwanese, you have studied political science, you teach at a military academy. If you have not come here for independence, what have you come for?”.
Prior to this, Hsieh had planned to teach at the military academy for ten years or so, to give the soldiers an idea of what democracy is about. This conversation with Tsieu marked the beginning of the radicalization of his political activism.
As Hsieh could trust Tsieu because of their close friendship, he did not doubt Tsieu’s sincerity for one moment. Hsieh however warned Tsieu against sharing further plans with him, for fear of treason charges that would lead to punishment.
Hsieh then went to Taipei to meet Peng Ming-Min, his former professor at National Taiwan University, to tell him about Tsieu’s request to meet Taiwanese leaders. Peng told Hsieh to leave Kaoshiung, as he would be suspected of plotting an uprising at the academy. Hsieh thus left the academy but remained in contact with Tsieu.
Hsieh continued to study how an army can change politics through a coup d’Etat. He was very influenced by Max Lerner’s paper which analyzed why, during the same historic period, the French Revolution succeeded while the attempted coup d’Etat in Austria-Hungary failed. According to Lerner, it was because the French army came from the French people, and could not fire against its own people. This stood in contrast to the empire of Austria-Hungary, who sent Austrian soldiers to fire on the Hungarians, and Hungarian soldiers to fire on the Austrians. Hsieh thus realized why General Sun had wanted to create an army unit composed of uniquely Taiwanese officers, and why he was subsequently arrested. Sun, like Tsieu, wanted to train a unit of Taiwanese officers to overthrow the Nationalist regime.
As the soldiers and the officers in the Nationalist army were usually not of the same people, this meant that if the Chinese officers could not sympathize with the people, the Taiwanese soldiers could. Hsieh therefore decided that before he could do anything, he had to first teach his people why they would have to fight for democracy. To this end, he drafted the Declaration of Formosan Self-Salvation, to be distributed to the Taiwanese people. Hsieh wanted to send the message that Taiwan could only count on itself to save itself from KMT oppression.
The first imprisonment: The beginnings of human rights work
The year was 1964. After the copies of the declaration were printed, and before they were able to be sent out, Hsieh, along with his colleagues Peng Ming-Min and Wei Ting-Chao, reunited in a secret hotel room. The police burst unannounced into this room, giving Hsieh a particularly bad beating. The three of them were arrested. Hsieh felt that the whole world was coming down. He had channeled all his energy into giving his people the courage to stand up for their rights. Under the KMT’s White Terror, Taiwan lost its freedom of speech. Any hint of discontent was automatically condemned as a sign of pro-communism. Hsieh wanted to break the taboo for his people, and felt that he had failed.
Hsieh was sent to the headquarters of the secret police at the military garrison. At that time, all political prisoners were sent to military prisons. Hsieh was interrogated for three days and nights, thus not being able to sleep. As was common practice, he was often slapped by the interrogators.
During this time, Hsieh was very worried about Peng, who was being questioned in another room. The interrogators wanted to put the full responsibility on Peng. Because Peng enjoyed a certain prestige and had foreign friends that could help him and thus help Taiwan, Hsieh did everything he could to allow Peng have a chance to leave prison, so that he could continue the work for Taiwan’s liberation. Thus during the interrogation, Hsieh took all the responsibility, saying that he had furnished the money for the printing, and had only shown the declaration to Peng, and asked Wei to help. Although Hsieh was offered food to eat during this time, the continuous questioning, and his deep disappointment and fatigue were such that he could not find the strength to eat. He directed all his remaining strength to his defense of Peng during the interrogation.
For the next four months, Hsieh continued to be questioned. Hsieh was then sent to martial court. Hsieh protested that he should not be sent to martial court because he was not a military man, and thus should have been sent to a civil court. It was unconsitutional, even according to the KMT’s own constitution. However, all political cases at that time were tried in martial court, and Hsieh’s pleading was ignored. Hsieh was declared guilty, and was sentenced to ten years of imprisonment, a sentence whose severity surprised even the prison warden.
Realizing that the majority of those imprisoned were not guilty at all, Hsieh spent the following years in prison working on human rights, to help those who had been unjustly imprisoned. Many had been put in prison simply for having been found in the same photographs as suspects.
In an effort to prevent Hsieh’s intermingling with the other prisoners, he was kept in a cell apart. However, he still managed to find a way to communicate with the others. He soon realized that there were two networks in the prison. The first network was the official one, consisting of the warden, the officers, and the soldiers. The second one was the network of working prisoners, who distributed food and cleaned the prison cells. Hsieh was thus able to use this latter network to communicate with the others. For example, he would arrange for the working prisoner to sweep up small notes in his dustpan, before being swept into and re-deposited in other cells. In this way, Hsieh gathered information on the cases of the other prisoners in the prison.
In 1969, Hsieh was released from prison. Public pressure on his case had managed to bring about a reduction in his sentence from ten to five years. Out of prison, Hsieh managed to find employment at a company. However, just a few months later, the police discovered that Peng had managed, despite his home arrest, to escape from Taiwan. Enraged, the secret police took revenge on Peng’s family and on those who had gone to jail with Peng. Thus Hsieh was put under house arrest.
During his house arrest, Hsieh met the Secretary General of Amnesty International, who came to visit him from London. Hsieh then provided Amnesty with a list of the prisoners and the details of their cases. Much of this information had been gathered by Hsieh during his time in prison. Hsieh also obtained assistance in gathering information from other political prisons outside of Taipei.
During his house arrest, the police planted some false evidence in his house, which was simply a copy of a speech of an American representative in the U.S. Congress. This false evidence, along with Hsieh’s reports on the conditions of the political prisoners served as the pretext for the second imprisonment of Hsieh. Thus after just a year after leaving prison and going into house arrest, Hsieh was back in prison again, sentenced to nine years and nine months.
The second imprisonment: Heavy torture & Strengthened resolve
During his second imprisonment, Hsieh was tortured heavily. His body was twisted in such a way that was not able to sleep during the first eight days. His arms were put behind his back, with one hand handcuffed in an upward position and the other one handcuffed in a downward position, in such a fashion that his arms formed a straight line, as if his two arms formed a sword that he was carrying behind his back. Hsieh’s torturers then proceeded to rotate his arms as if they were the spokes of a wheel, nearly breaking his hands. Hsieh’s spine, twisted into an S-shape, was snapped. Hsieh was also given injections which were supposed to “help” him to bring back his memory to answer the questions of his interrogators.
One weekend Hsieh’s torturers announced to him that that had come to his cell to have a fun weekend. In the chilliness of the winter, the torturers had turned on the air condition. While the torturers were wearing coats to protect them from the cold air that they had deliberately put in the room, Hsieh was left almost naked, wearing only shorts. They punched his face and beat his legs, as if he were a boxing bag. His torturers, taunting him, asked if he was having a good time. When he had the chance to look at his legs afterwards, he found that the cloth of his shorts had sunk into the open wounds in his flesh. His legs were red with blood and blue with bruises. He thought that he would never be able to walk again.
After this most unhappy weekend for Hsieh, his legs were fettered for ten months. He thus had to relearn how to go about the daily motions with fettered legs. In a humid room with no light, many bugs crawled about, and mice would run over his head. Hsieh had difficulty breathing and began to experience serious stomach pain. He could not even eat because eating would worsen this stomach pain. Although his family had sent him chicken soup to help relieve his stomach pain, even this was too painful for his stomach.
Hsieh thus asked to have his stomach problem checked by a doctor. Hsieh was sent to a military hospital, where the doctor said that there was no problem. This doctor said that when people lose their minds, they often experience imaginary pains.
However, as a petition had been sent to Amnesty International in London, Amnesty sent for a Nobel Prize doctor to check Hsieh’s stomach. This caused quite a stir for the KMT government, who did not allow this foreign doctor to come. Hsieh was then sent to the civilian hospital of National Taiwan University, where the doctor found a gallstone.
For his operation, Hsieh was then sent to the military hospital. After the doctors opened up his stomach area, they discovered another problem in his long intestine. Thus Hsieh’s pain was coming from both his gall bladder and his long intestine. Hsieh was told that without an operation on these two organs, he would die. Hsieh thus feels quite fortunate that the doctors had opened his stomach area and were able to find his intestinal problem, a discovery which saved his life.
Back in his prison cell, Hsieh received the book Man’s search for meaning by Victor Frankl. One of his supporters had sent it to him. Like Frankl in the Nazi concentration camp, Hsieh found that the life of political prisoners so miserable, like that of the proletariats in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. Hsieh realized that the only way to survive in such conditions was to find meaning. Feeling that he had lost almost everything, he felt that what remained was God. During Hsieh’s first imprisonment, he had discovered the Bible because another prisoner had a copy of it. During his second imprisonment, he received his own individual copy from a supporter. The notion of God thus gave Hsieh the strength to carry on.
In fact, in contrast to his court trial during his first imprisonment, during the second imprisonment, the martial trial was completely closed to the public. Six American journalists who came to this second trial were turned away, with the false explanation that the trial concerned military affairs, which meant that the trial was not open to the public. The interest of the foreign journalists may have pressured the KMT into reducing Hsieh’s sentence, which they reduced by one-third.
Thus in 1977, Hsieh left prison, but went back to house arrest again. He was followed 24 hours. The policemen had set up house in his building, and they constantly phoned in updates on Hsieh’s status to the headquarters. Pictures were snapped of anyone Hsieh would talk with or shake hands with. People who were seen with him were subsequently interrogated.
Exile in the U.S.: Attacks, Freedom, & Separation
To get away from the restrictiveness of his house arrest, which did not allow Hsieh to efficiently conduct political activities, Hsieh sough political asylum in the U.S.. However, if he could find more freedom in the U.S. than he had than under house arrest in Taiwan, the KMT still managed to bomb his home in the U.S. and set fire to his house, in two separate attacks. As it was obvious to the police that the bomb had not been planted by U.S. interests, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) came to record the incident.
In the U.S., Hsieh realized that democracy, beyond a political system, is also a way of life, of controlling individual destiny. For example, in Hsieh’s generation in Taiwan, the parents decided the fate of their children, including who they could marry. Today, in a democraticised Taiwan, such an idea seems unthinkable. Hsieh himself met his wife while he was in New York, and married her despite opposition from his wife’s family.
Hsieh’s father passed away while he was in the U.S.. This was very difficult for Hsieh as he as not able to say any words to him before his death. As Hsieh did not want to cause trouble to any of his friends or loved ones in Taiwan, he did not make any calls to Taiwan when he was in the U.S.. Moreover, he could not go back to Taiwan as long as the KMT imposed martial law: Hsieh would have certainly been imprisoned yet again and would have never been allowed to leave Taiwan again.
In 1987, martial law was lifted and Hsieh returned to Taiwan. Even though martial law was lifted, in many people’s minds, the threat of the Taiwan garrison command lingered. A generation of Taiwanese had come of age in a totalitarian state, and it would take time for the Taiwanese to accept the genuineness of their new liberties.
Back to Taiwan: Transitional justice & Taboo
Back in Taiwan, Hsieh has been working on transitional justice. As a congressman and as a private citizen, he has worked for reparation for political prisoners and for justice on the Lafayette frigate case, where large-scale government corruption and murder is suspected.
However, there remains a conception in Taiwanese society which makes former political prisoners taboo. Thus, because of his political activism, many of Hsieh’s former friends have deserted him. He has relatives that are still angry at him because of his activism. Both before and after Taiwan became a democracy, many tried to stop Hsieh from working towards a more just society. Some ask why he should seek recognition of political prisoners if Taiwan has already become a democracy.
In fact, there are still some political prisoners from the 1960’s who have not yet been able to begin a normal life. Their mental degradation has become such that their families can no longer accept them. Thus these former political prisoners live their lives in a psychiatric hospital. Their only crime however, if they did indeed commit a crime, would have been to have the courage to free the Taiwanese from oppression. These former prisoners risk to be forgotten, while the other Taiwanese are able to enjoy the fruits of democracy.
Hsieh himself still bears the physical and psychological consequences of his torture. He has nightmares of torture. When his torturers come back to him in his nightmares, he finds himself screaming and physically punching his virtual torturers when he is in bed.
If bitter memories remain, Hsieh has never stopped working for his ideals. Starting from his primary school years, Hsieh lived in a Taiwan which had no freedom of speech. Today the Taiwanese have this freedom, and can even impeach their own president.
Some say that freedom and human rights are not compatible with oriental culture, but Hsieh would like tell others that the Taiwanese were able to attain their freedom. Anyone who has ever set foot in Taiwan can bear witness to it. When Hsieh started his work, very few would have imagined that Taiwan could free itself and become a democracy. Today it is a reality.
4 / ANALYSIS OF PORTRAIT
Political activism: Collective and individual history
Hsieh’s involvement in the Taiwanese liberation movement was something that grew over time. Hearing stories of his relatives who had stood up in the first strike in Japanese Taiwan must have had some influence on him. Seeing his school friends imprisoned during the White Terror and seeing opposition voices jailed, Hsieh had the vague idea that he wanted to do something for his people. This led first to his pursuit of law studies, and then of his political science studies. In the course of these studies he avidly sought out literature to teach himself more about political regimes than he could have ever learned in the classroom.
It is noteworthy that during the 1925 Erlin Incident, Japanese lawyers came to defend the Taiwanese against the Japanese empire. Afterwards, Tsieu, a retired general from China who was supposed to train the Nationalist Chinese forces in Taiwan, confided to Hsieh that he would like to help the Taiwanese to obtain their freedom. Thus Hsieh had encountered two examples of foreigners from the country holding power in Taiwan—first the Japanese, and then the Nationalist Chinese—who found the situation for the Taiwanese so unjust that had to work against the regime. The second time around, with Tsieu, the message was brought home and it was the beginning of Hsieh’s full-fledged political activism. Hsieh surely must have posed himself the question: If foreigners find the situation of the Taiwanese unbearable, what does he, as a Taiwanese, think of it?
Imprisonment: Staying active
Concerning Hsieh’s time in prison, it seems that he was able to keep his mind and spirit active, even when he was brutally tortured. Hsieh was able to find ways to communicate with the other prisoners and thus start his human rights work, and was able to read some thought-provoking books which kept his mind active and his spirit alive in the most devastating of circumstances. I highlight this because it suggests that the keeping the mind and spirit active under harsh prison conditions is a crucial element in being able to rebound from the experience.
The taboo of the political prisoner: An individual denial of collective history
It is striking to note that in Taiwan in 1925, at the time of the Erlin incident, association with former political prisoners was not taboo. Today, in 2006, there are still a number of Taiwanese who consider association with former political prisoners is taboo. Although we can not say that the Erlin political prisoners are equivalent to prisoners under the White Terror, we can still note that what has happened between 1925 and 2006 is the installation of the repressive KMT regime that massacred 28,000 Taiwanese and forbid freedom of speech. Even though today all Taiwanese have won the right to say what they think, some of those who grew up in the generation silenced by the White Terror still prefer to keep silent. Thus taking radical political stands such as associating with ex-political prisoners becomes taboo for certain Taiwanese.
This phenomenon seems to be what has happened with those who refuse to associate with Hsieh and continue to be angry at him for his activism. However it is precisely Hsieh’s activism that helped bring about the democracy in Taiwan today, and it is doubtful that there would be anyone in Taiwan sincerely hoping a return to a totalitarian state. Thus it seems that, for those individuals who consider ex-political prisoners taboo, this attitude is a direct result of denial of these individuals about their collective Taiwanese history.
5 / COMMENTARY
During the first interview, we spoke for one hour before taking a 45-minute break for strictly personal reasons, and then continued to speak for two hours after that.
Just before the break, we started talking about Hsieh’s first arrest and imprisonment. After the break, I tried to go back to some details of his arrest and his treatment during his interrogation. At the beginning of this second part of the interview, I felt a change in tone on Hsieh’s part. During the first part of the interview, Hsieh had spoken very freely, and when we talked about his first imprisonment, the words came more slowly and were more measured. This might be due to the emotional intensity of the memory, or because he is not accustomed to people asking him about the details of his imprisonment—or maybe simply because when we spoke, it was getting rather late in Taipei already. If I had been able to conduct the interview in person, I would have been better able to assess the situation.
I was surprised that he did not mention the brutal beating that he received upon his first arrest, or the physical abuse that he received during his first interrogation. As Hsieh did not bring up the topic of these first physical abuses, and I was aware that they had happened, I asked him to confirm that they actually happened. He confirmed without commenting further on them. The absence of further elaboration may be because these abuses appear so insignificant compared to the brutal torture he was to suffer later.
Indeed, when it was time to talk about the second imprisonment, there was no hesitation on Hsieh’s part: He described the torture with strong emotion in his voice. When asked if he had ever gone into such detail of this torture with others, whether it might be a friend or a psychologist, he replied negatively, and said that he was telling them to me because he found that this study, on violence and politics, very interesting.
In fact, when asked if he had ever seen a psychologist, Hsieh seemed very surprised at this idea, as if seeing a psychologist would be a sign of a serious weakness. I also sensed that Hsieh might have considered seeing a psychologist as a sign of suffering, and, although there is no doubt that he was terribly tortured, he does not want to be seen as someone who has suffered.
Critique of interview method
My manner in posing questions about Hsieh’s relationship with one of his brothers was perhaps too intrusive. Although Hsieh did not mention anything at all about his siblings, I knew that one of his younger brothers had also been tortured in prison.
After Hsieh’s first imprisonment, this brother tried to print and distribute a document similar to Hsieh’s Self-Salvation Declaration—however, like his elder brother Hsieh, he was imprisoned before it could be distributed. When Hsieh informed me that he had never gone into such detail of his torture with anyone else, I thought that he and his younger brother might be able to identify with each other because they had both been tortured for political reasons. My interest in his brother was not so much the fact that he was a relative of Hsieh, but more for the fact that they had both shared, to some extent, a similar intense experience that very few other people have known. When asked about this brother, Hsieh insisted that he didn’t want his brother to be bothered. With such a sensitive topic, I could have perhaps introduced my question about his brother with an explanation of why I was asking it.
6 / CONCLUSION
Hsieh cited several works of literature which helped him to develop both a political position and a personal position on life. I found this particularly striking because it is a remarkable example of the power that ideas can have, and that ideas can prevail even under a regime where there is no freedom of speech.
Hsieh’s experience is also an extraordinary example that the physical body can be broken, but, with courage, the spirit can not be broken. Hsieh’s arms, legs, hands, back, intestine, and gallbladder have been mutilated, but he his spirit remains strong.
Lastly, this study has demonstrated the role that clinical psychology can play as a tool for peace. It is difficult to construct a sustainable peace without being aware of what has happened in the dark moments of the past. Where these stories have never been shared with others before, clinical psychology can offer the space for these historically important moments to be uncovered.
Synopsis of the Declaration of Formosan Self-Salvation
Below is a summary of the declaration, for which Hsieh was the principal author, and for which he was arrested. Under the KMT dictatorship, this document was not able to be distributed in Taiwan.
Eight principal points:
1. The world must recognize that there is one China and one Formosa. The Chiang regime has been able to survive only because of American support; nevertheless American policy is moving toward recognition of Communist China, and uses the Formosa issue as a bargaining point.
2. Return to the mainland is not even remotely possible. The military forces under Chiang's control are a defensive force, entirely dependent upon the United States for supplies. It is too small to conquer the mainland, and much too large for peacetime purposes, consuming eighty percent of the budget. While preaching freedom and democracy Chiang Kai-shek violates basic human rights at will, monopolizes political power, and through use of secret police imposes dictatorial rule. The political commissar system weakens the military organization and reduces its efficiency. Formosan conscripts drafted to replace aging continental Chinese soldiers must wear the Nationalist uniform, but they remain Chiang Kai-slek's silent enemy.
3. The slogan "Return to the Mainland" enhances the position of the Chiang regime externally by exploiting an American neurosis concerning communism and Communist China, and as an excuse internally for martial law, enables the Chiangs to enforce dictatorial rule.
4. The Nationalist government represents neither the people of continental China nor those on Formosa. The Generalissimo's regime was driven from the continent only two years after the elections of 1947. The Formosans who constitute eighty-five percent of the population have less than three percent representation in the national legislature Although for external propaganda purposes, the government says that the continental Chinese and the Formosans must cooperate, in practice it employs every means possible to divide them and set them against one another in order that they will not unite it overthrowing the dictatorship. Chiang's manipulation of factions within the ruling party is here extended to the general population.
5. A top-heavy military expenditure and a high birthrate are the two greatest internal problems. Chiang's own statistics in this year (1964) showed that military expenditures account for more than eighty percent of the budget but this does not include many hidden or indirect costs. Unemployment daily grows worse. Advocates of birth control are considered as defeatists, and a high birthrate is encouraged only to produce conscript soldier's for Chiang's armies twenty years hence.
6. The army and party elite, under Chiang's direction, pursue policies designed to eliminate opposition leadership by destroying the economic base of the middle class. When community leaders everywhere rose in 1947 to protest economic exploitation after the first eighteen months of Nationalist rule, about 20,000 were killed or imprisoned on Chiang's order. This was followed, in 1950, by the so-called land reform, manipulated to impoverish the well-educated middle class.
7. Economic policy is irrational, designed to support the huge military establishment rather than to develop a healthy agricultural and industrial life suited to Formosa's resources and manpower. The farmer, heavily taxed in an artificial price system, produces principally to feed the army rather than the productive laborers. Genuine tax reform would necessitate a reduction in the military budget. Social instability is growing acute as a few collaborators become very rich and the farmers and laborers remain impoverished and driven to meet the tax burden.
8. Can Formosa be an independent country? Since 1949 the island has in fact been independent. On the basis of population Formosa ranks thirtieth among the members of the United Nations. We must cease imagining ourselves to he a big power and face reality, establishing a small but democratic and prosperous society. Some say that Chiang has become an emperor, and we must only wait until he dies. But we must not overlook the possibility of a desperate young Chiang handing Formosa over to Communist China, nor should we even for a moment forget that Formosa may become again the victim of international power politics. We cannot wait passively for "progressive reform"; the history of the Nationalist party and government clearly shows that any form of compromise with Chiang is either an illusion or a deception designed to trap the intellectual appeasers who hope that the passage of time will bring an ultimately peaceful transfer of government to Formosan hands. Formosans who collaborate with the party government for economic gain must be warned that they may pay a heavy penalty one day at the hands of an angry people.
Three principal objectives:
1. To affirm that return to the mainland is absolutely impossible, and by unifying the island population, regardless of place of origin, to bring about the overthrow of the Chiang regime, establishing a new country and a new government.
2. 1. To rewrite the constitution, guaranteeing basic human rights and obtaining true democracy by establishing an efficient administration responsible to the people. 3. To participate in the U.N. as a new member, establishing diplomatic relations with other countries striving together for world peace.
Some key works which have influenced Hsieh:
The Bible, Book of Job ------- Biography of Abraham Lincoln ------- Communist Manifesto Karl MARX The Diary of Anne Frank Anne FRANK A History of Western Philosophy Bertrand RUSSELL Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning Viktor FRANKL Les Misérables Victor HUGO On Liberty John Stuart MILL The Open Society and Its Enemies Karl POPPER The Social Contract Jean-Jacques ROUSSEAU Fig WU Zu-Liou Orphan of Asia WU Zu-Liou Paper on the Coups d’Etat Max LERNER in Austria-Hungary and in France
Reference used for this study:
A Taste of Freedom PENG Ming-Min
The link between clinical psychology and preventing future atrocities: Some last thoughts
There is no doubt about the abominable nature of Hsieh’s torture. His body was held permanently in grotesque positions for days at a time, and then twisted and turned as if he were an object and not a human. While de-humanization is a common torture tactic, there are two elements that are particularly disturbing.
The first disturbing element is the case of the most unhappy “happy weekend”, where Hsieh’s torturers visibly were having a good time torturing him. If one, with a stretch of imagination, might be able to understand that when the torturer tortures, he is “simply” executing orders, it is much more difficult to understand how a human could visibly take pleasure in inflicting such cold-blooded torture. Thus, ensuring that such horrors do not happen again in the future demands that, after understanding the story from the victim’s point of view, we must understand the story from the torturer’s point of view. What kind of system was put in place so that a human could take pleasure while torturing in such a brutal manner?
The second disturbing element is that not only did such torture happen, but this torture was the result of a political strategy, of policy. It thus can not be considered as an isolated event, which makes it all the more important to study what exactly happened and why it happened.
If we can understand how the torturer was fabricated, it is first step toward the prevention of such future atrocities.