By Felicia Lin
When I first heard about Su Beng, a lifelong Taiwan independence activist, former undercover Chinese Communist agent, would be assassin of Chiang Kai-shek, historian and author of Taiwan’s 400 Years of History, in 2003, I was intrigued. I wondered what would motivate a man like this and quickly decided that I wanted to meet him because I knew that his was a story to be told. What began as a simple idea to write a story based on his life has grown into a project to document it. Three years after I started documenting the life of Su Beng, I started to blog about it and now I’ve created a website dedicated to this project: www.aboutsubeng.com
It’s been nine years now since I began working on writing the biography of Su Beng and documenting his life in 2004. The incredible thing about this journey is that initially, I did not set out to write this man’s biography, in fact I resisted the whole idea at first, because I thought, I am no historian; I am no Taiwan expert.
Actually, the first time I met Su Beng, I asked him if I could interview him to get some ideas to write a story. I really had no intention of writing his biography. I will always remember his answer to me that day. He simply said, “Yes, if it’s for the good of Taiwan.” And I think, that sentence pretty much summarizes the motivation behind much of what he does.
So we began meeting every other month or so and I’d diligently record our interviews on camera and with a digital audio recorder. After about six months, of this, I was reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X when I realized that I had already taken on the responsibility of being Su Beng’s biographer, so I decided to do it and formally asked him if I could write his biography in English.
Who am I and why does this project matter so much to me?
I am a second generation Taiwanese Canadian/American who is simply interested in increasing awareness and understanding of Taiwan.
Growing up, in Ottawa, Taiwan was this mysterious, distant land that my parents were from, where the other half of my relatives, my Dad’s side lived. While my cousins frequently went back to Taiwan to visit their grandparents and relatives there, my family never did. I remember asking my cousins to tell me what it was like. And even though they described it as a hot, stinky, dirty place, I was still curious about it.
In bits and pieces I learned that after my parents got married, they were separated for nearly a year since my Mom was not allowed to leave Taiwan to join my father in the U.S. She wasn’t able to leave Taiwan until my father and a few Alaskan senators put pressure on the Kuomintang government to allow her to leave. Because of this experience, my parents were afraid to return to Taiwan for years. As a child I just couldn’t understand how a government could restrict someone’s right to come and go as they pleased. I also learned about something called a black list, which was a list of people who were considered troublemakers and not allowed to return to Taiwan.
The first time my parents applied for our visas to return to Taiwan, my sister and I had our passports returned with a visa granted within a month, but there were suspicious delays in the processing of my parents’ visas. Finally, in 1988, a year after martial law had been lifted in Taiwan, my parents, sister and I finally visited Taiwan together. By then, my parents had been away from Taiwan for over 15 years.
My parents instilled a strong sense of Taiwanese identity in my sister and I, and they have always adamantly identified themselves as Taiwanese and not Chinese. But it wasn’t until I went to the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana that I met other second generation Taiwanese Americans who had parents or relatives who’d also been black listed. I still remember the day I received a flyer in my campus mailbox inviting me to attend a meeting to form a Taiwanese American students’ club. It was during this time, of the late 1980s and early to mid 1990s that many Taiwanese American student associations and clubs started forming at college campuses across the country. What many of us had in common was the understanding and experience of Taiwan being under martial law with no civil liberties and certainly no democracy. It wasn’t until after many of us had already graduated from university that Taiwan actually had its first direct Presidential election in 1996.
The Intercollegiate Taiwanese American Students Association (ITASA) was conceived out of this need to connect Taiwanese American students across the country and to share our experiences. For me, my experience in forming ITASA and running an ITASA conference was key in developing my leadership skills. Things have really come full circle since ITASA celebrated its 20th anniversary this year and I was invited speak at the conference in New York about my work as a writer. I spoke about my personal struggle to get on the path to write and my project to document the life of Su Beng. In fact, I am currently running a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to complete the biography of Su Beng, and my campaign pitch video opens with a video clip from my talk at the ITASA Conference in February of this year.
As Su Beng turned 95 this year, I have felt an increasing urgency to complete his biography. So I have decided to quit my job and take three months to go back to Taiwan to gather the remaining research needed. When I thought about this late last year, I wasn’t sure how I was going to make this happen until I realized that I should reach out to the community and the world at large for support on this. So I decided to launch the crowdfunding campaign to raise $15,000 to cover the expenses for me to spend 3 months in Taipei 1) to do the additional research needed to complete the book and 2) to produce a short documentary about the life of Su Beng.
Learn more about my crowdfunding campaign pitch video and/or make a contribution here: http://igg.me/at/makinghistory/x/5122304
I feel like I am in a really unique position to be able to tell Su Beng’s story and to share it with the world. In a way, all the years of my involvement in the Taiwanese American community have led me to this point and have given me the resources needed to bring this project to fruition. I see Su Beng’s struggles, as the struggle of the people of Taiwan. As a writer what drives me is the wish to leave a legacy, make a mark, to inspire and motivate. And I believe that telling the story of Su Beng will do just that.