Let Me Stand Like a Taiwanese!

-A Cafe Philo Event in NY-

National Day has come and gone, but the memories of Taiwan linger. Treasures in of themselves, they serve as the medium to view the past as well as provide a small answer to the big question, “What happened?”.


On the cloudy blustery day of October 11th, Patrick Huang (黃再添) and Martha Wang (鄞美珠) gave a talk recounting their experience of being on the blacklist. The blacklist existed during the Martial Law period of Taiwan’s history (1949-1989). While the true start date of the blacklist is still unknown, what is known is what it did. The blacklist was a list of overseas Taiwanese who were denied re-entry back to Taiwan since they were considered “a threat to the national security or social peace”. Primarily targeted at dissidents, it essentially was a form of imprisonment.

Because of their activism in pro-democracy and pro-independence groups, Patrick and Martha both were put on the blacklist. Once on the list, one is always under government supervision, never able to speak to one’s family or to see one’s homeland again. Thankfully the blacklist was removed a few years after martial law was lifted in 1989, but it had costed them dearly.

Trailblazer – Paving Freedom on the Airwaves

Taken at the square in front of the Plaza Hotel
Patrick Huang speaks of the plotting that took place in front of Plaza Hotel in 1970

Patrick Huang was a student in the United States when he was blacklisted from 1972-1989. The reason was due to his affiliation with people who disagreed with the government; he lived, exercised, and was close friends with them. The damage done to him was more psychological and mental rather than physical. He could not return to Taiwan; he would face charges of treason if he did. His family faced huge pressure from the government; contact was few if non-existent. His girlfriend at the time was jailed for eight years while his younger brother could not get a promotion in his governmental position – all due to their association with Mr. Huang. His memories of Taiwan and his hometown of Tainan were all he had during those years. He remarked with great sadness about how upon returning to Taiwan he could not find his home or the Taiwan that he remembered. It all changed in to something he did not recognize.

During the 1980s, he was active in providing the means and know regarding how to establish underground television stations in Taiwan. Martial law forbade the establishment of non-government television programs or stations; only censored programs and propaganda existed. While Mr. Huang was in the United States, he learned how to establish underground channels. Proponents of the “dangwai” movement, which eventually combined to form the Democratic Progressive Party, had heard of his experience and asked him for help in establishing such stations in Taiwan. Driven to topple the government, he snuck back to Taiwan and taught other Taiwanese about how to establish and broadcast underground stations. He had also brought the equipment required as well. The ROC cracked down on such stations but eventually relented since pirate stations were created faster than being shut down. The first formal non-governmental television station was established soon after licensing had expanded; the station was Formosa TV or FTV which the “dangwai” movement used to voice their agenda and opinions.

Even though Taiwan had democratized, Mr. Huang believes Taiwan is not truly free; China’s influence on the ROC government is rising while the ROC government still maintains control of Taiwan. To be considered truly free, Taiwan has to be independent from both governments. He continues to fight for Taiwan by participating in several Taiwanese-American organizations such as World United Formosans for Independence and Overseas Taiwanese for Democracy. He fights for true democracy in Taiwan, one without interference from China and its influence.

Martha Wang holding her late husband's book on civil disobedience during Cafe Philo
Martha Wang holding her late husband’s book on civil disobedience during Cafe Philo

It’s a Trap

Martha Wang recounted her experiences of being blacklisted with her husband, Dr. Wang Kang-lu (王康陸), while they were in Kansas State University. They were put on the list in the mid-1960s due to their efforts in creating a Taiwanese Student Association. Creation of such organizations were viewed as treason since it was considered anti-government to not consider themselves “Chinese”. She mentioned about how the government used their family members by asking them both to return to Taiwan to face the charges. Her mother, in a message sent via family friends in Japan, told them that it was a trap and to not return. Spanning three decades of being blacklisted, they both still continued onwards in their activism of Taiwan independence. Dr. Wang had written a book about non-violent civil disobedience, its methodologies, and its strategies to teach the Taiwanese on how to rebel against the ROC.

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Dr Wang’s book – Students of the recent Sunflower Movement read this book for insight and tips on peaceful protests.

In the late 1980s, Dr. Wang received word that his mother was ill. He applied for a return permit to Taiwan to see her. It was denied due to him being on the blacklist. His mother passed away without seeing her son; Dr. Wang unable to say his final goodbyes to her. On October 1991, he had returned to Taiwan via boat, smuggled himself in to the company of pro-independence activists. By then, people had read his book and protests were abundant in Taiwan. The day after he arrived, he went to a rally and spoke out against the government. Arrested while speaking out by military police, he was charged with treason and jailed. His story ended on a tragic note; he was killed in a car accident in the mountains in 1993 – the circumstances of his death in which points towards homicide rather than just an accident. A memorial foundation was made in honor of Dr. Wang in 1998 to honor others who loved Taiwan like how he did.

Both of the speakers reflected on the atmosphere and the actions of the government at the time. They had to tread carefully both on their exposure and who they were meeting with. Discussions of pro-independence or pro-democracy nature were always held in secret; even the office location of their movements were kept in secret. They knew the government (then ran by the Chinese Nationalist Party, Kuomingtang, also known as, KMT) were watching them as well as other dissidents. The spying apparatus was both sophisticated and enormous; the KMT maintained a large overseas affairs division of spies keeping track of the Taiwanese. The so-called spies usually were plain-clothed students who benefited from the KMT through scholarships or other maneuverings in academia.

Taken in front of the Plaza Hotel after Cafe Philo of Oct 11 2014
The site where the shooting took place

When Cafe Philo talk was over, Mr. Huang took members of the talk to the square in front of the Plaza Hotel. He explained that a plot to kill Chiang Ching-Kuo (蔣經國) happened at this very spot on April 24 1970. Chiang is the son of Chiang Kai-Shek (蔣介石), the leader of the ROC at the time and what the Taiwanese saw as the cause of their misery. Chiang also was the head of the Taiwan Garrison Command, the ROC equivalent of the Gestapo or any other secret police organization. To the dissidents both overseas and in Taiwan, Chiang was Public Enemy #2. Public Enemy #1 was reserved for his father.

The assailants were Peter Huang (黃文雄) and Deng Zi-Cai (鄭自才), both of whom were blacklisted. When Chiang arrived, they had split from a Taiwanese protest group protesting there and tried to shoot him. It was unsuccessful; the police and Secret Service stopped them before they could accurately shoot. While being escorted away, Peter Huang cried out “Let me stand like a Taiwanese!”

The fact that this had happened speaks volumes about the Martial Law era and the frustration of the Taiwanese. The anger that dissidents had from being blacklisted, compounded by the repressive actions conducted by the government both in and out of Taiwan, had reached its boiling point. Identity politics played a big role in the democratization of Taiwan; being able to say “I am Taiwanese” used to be treasonous until the removal of martial law.

Chanting his words along with Patrick in front of the Plaza Hotel, one saw the memories of Taiwan linger not only within the victims but also within those that wish to preserve it. Preserving the memories of the older Taiwanese is key to learning about the past; the memories serve as the tool to understand what it means to be Taiwanese. Learning about the past, especially subjects once taboo such as the White Terror or the 228 Massacre, opens a path ensuring that history would not repeat itself. After all, it still is not too long ago that martial law was lifted and democracy took hold in Taiwan.

Live Stream of Event (in Mandarin)

Live Stream of Plaza Hotel Meeting (in Mandarin)

For more information:

Short piece about Dr. Wang by his son, Alvin Wang

Newspaper article of the attempted assassination