Su Beng has passed to the ancestors at one hundred years of age after living a full and interesting life. Born Lin Chao-hui in 1918, Su Beng adopted his pen name which means “clear history” to help promote his historical works on Formosa. I am fortunate to have crossed paths with this living legend.
Su Beng was my first teacher of Taiwanese history. Deprived by my education and the American news media of virtually any knowledge about Taiwan, my search for information led me to Su Beng’s landmark book 400 years of Taiwan History. Through the English translation I learned of Taiwan’s four centuries of colonial occupation and America’s shameful conduct installing Chiang Kai-shek’s regime after World War II and then letting his exiled Republic of China troops commit atrocities on the island.
I published a series of articles paraphrasing and summarizing each chapter in Su Beng’s book. My efforts gained his attention and approval. Thus began a decade long acquaintance. We lived a world apart and did not share a common language. We were limited to sharing articles and keeping updated on each other through translators. One day a box arrived from Taiwan, inside was Su Beng’s complete works, a welcome gift from the author. I still can’t read a word in them but they sit prominently on my bookshelf to this day.
On my first trip to Taiwan we both tried very hard to get together but full schedules prevented our meeting. On my second trip to Taiwan we both made sure to see each other. My wife and I spent an afternoon at Su Beng’s apartment in New Taipei City. We still had to rely on translators and were kept to polite small talk while he and I both wanted a deep conversation with each other.
The apartment had a large room that doubled as living room and office. A copy machine was next to the couch. Political banners filled the walls and mementos crowed the shelves. People came and went performing various tasks while we chatted. One thing that stands out in my memory is the reverential way Su Beng was regarded by all.
Su Beng did consent to a recorded interview and we were able to explore some issues of common interest. “The international news media neglects Taiwan’s political theater. They just get some information but are not very knowledgeable about the Taiwanese public. Without real information people just do not understand.”
Su Beng talked about the trial of former ROC President Chen Shui-bian who had just been convicted of alleged corruption. “The trial definitely was not fair. Human rights are part of the law but not in Abian’s case. The lack of a jury system is totally unfair.”
“The Republic of China is not our country, there is no room for Taiwan. My views are different from the standard views, my views are for Taiwan. Taiwan is not China. People accept “Chinese Taipei” but it is not the feeling in their heart. People are very bitter about Chinese Taipei. People do not want Taiwan to be a colony.”
“Our history is always fighting to be a country but now is a special time. The time now is favoring Taiwan. The Taiwanese don’t have to say the ROC is our country. Chiang Kai-shek’s fascism hangs like a shadow over Taiwan.” Su Beng explained that the “one China” policy means Taiwan has two Chinese enemies, one on the mainland and one entrenched in Taiwan.
Su Beng closed the interview with a compliment. “We are very thankful for your work. There are not many foreign people with dedication like you. We agree that the work of a democracy belongs to the citizens.”