Sunday, April 6, 2008

What is the ultimate sacrifice?

TAIPEI, Taiwan--I’ve been thinking about the Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮). As she nears the end of her term, now what? I know that she has purchased a place close to where I’m living now, and it’s a lot of space for just one person. At the end of the day, are there really no regrets that she spent the prime of her life fighting for Taiwan? I’ve seen her shed tears talking about not being able to attend her mother’s funeral because she was imprisoned. She has certainly paid her dues in other ways for a noble cause. At the least, she was rewarded with the vice presidency for 8 years.

I can’t help but notice that the DPP is much more sympathetic towards women (and other marginalized groups for that matter) than the KMT. You could tell that there were far fewer women involved in the higher-ups of Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) campaign (not talking about his fans here). Yet, somehow this was all overlooked when just one woman, Ma’s wife Chow Mei-ching (周美青), finally came out of hiding.

I also can’t help but notice that in addition to Lu, there are several other female DPP politicians who are single. After Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was elected in 2000, I read a book entitled “不一樣的女人”, which roughly translates to A Different Type of Woman. In it were the stories of the 10 or so female members of the new Cabinet. It was inspiring in a professional career kind of way but not too optimistic for personal development.

Of course, marriage is by no means the magic key to having it all. Just look at the President’s daughter Chen Hsin-yu (陳幸妤). Chao Chien-ming (趙建銘) was a handsome, orthopedic surgeon from the nation’s best medical school and from Tainan, the same city as her parents. At first, she seemed content with her new life. Who could’ve known that he would turn out to be such a thug?

There must have been warning bells. His father Chao Yu-chu (趙玉柱) was an elementary school principal who already had a reputation for having sub-par character. Could she really not have known? Or did she want to escape the life of being a politician’s daughter that badly?

Who can blame her?

As a young girl, her mother Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍) was run over in a KMT-motivated accident, paralyzing her from the waist down. To add to the trauma, her father was sent to jail shortly after. He certainly wasn’t the only one. The history of Taiwan’s democratic movement is like an episode of “Where have all the fathers gone?”

I went to middle school with a girl whose father was sent to prison. Years later, I was flipping through one of his books. In the section with all the photographs, I was rather touched by this one drawing he made. It was a depiction of his cell, and it was also her birthday present. Growing up, you’re taught to be good and that it’s the bad people who get sent to jail. Only now can we say that it’s a bad government that sends the good people to jail.

In 1989, Cheng Nan-jung (鄭南榕), the husband of Yeh Chu-lan (葉菊蘭), committed suicide rather than be arrested, leaving behind an infant daughter. February 28 is a sore spot in Taiwan’s history. In 1947, thousands of Taiwanese people were killed by the KMT regime. On the same day 33 years later, the emotional toll for former DPP chairman Lin I-hsiung’s (林義雄) family would become much greater. How could he have imagined that while he was imprisoned, his mother and twin daughters would be brutally murdered inside their own home?

On the day before the 2008 election, Judy Linton (林奐均), Lin’s sole surviving daughter, wrote this letter to Ma supporters: (in Chinese and English)

The sacrifices made by the previous generation of activists, whether it was with part of their life or all of it, have allowed us to be the nation that we are today. I’ve only mentioned the well-known stories. There are too many other unsung heroes…


Daphne said...

Was watching the news today. Had no idea that the day after this post (April 7) would be the 19th anniversary of Cheng Nan-jung's death.

YJ said...

I have always been in awe of the progressives who've helped push forth democracy in Taiwan. How can someone keep on believing in ideals when in reality the toll is so huge? I am especially moved by Lin I-hsiung's story. I don't understand how he could keep on fighting for what he believes in even to this day.

Their actions are true selflessness and true selfishness all rolled into one. Selfless towards their country, yet selfish in regard to their families.