Spending NT$2 Million to Tell a Story

The 78-year-old Taipei mayoral candidate Chao Yan-ching doesn’t stand a chance and will lose his life savings in the election. But he wants to leave his mark
Chiang Ping-lun
By

As I was browsing through the election bulletin of the Taipei mayoral race, I happened upon the name and résumé of one Chao Yan-ching (趙衍慶). Academic history: “Shandong Joint High School” and “Yuanlin Experimental High School.” And then just that: “Exiled Student.” Reading these few key words was like plugging in a power line. Mixed-light lamps suddenly lit up the stage of the white terror.

To run for mayor of Taipei, a candidate must pay a NT$2 million (roughly US$66,000) deposit. And if said candidate doesn’t receive more than 10% of the vote, the money will not be returned. Uncle Chao Yan-ching is definitely not getting his NT$2 million back. So the question on everyone’s mind is: “Why is he running?”

The Chinese-language Apple Daily described Chao as follows:

“He was born in 1936 in Cao County of Shandong Province. After graduating from military school, he became an exiled student on account of the Chinese Civil War, following the Republic of China Army to Taiwan. As a youth, he participated in major Taiwanese infrastructure projects such as the development of the Central Cross-Island Highway and the Daxue Mountain shipping road. Since his retirement, he has depended on his veterans’ allowance, picking through garbage, and scavenging recyclables to support himself.”

Actually, Chao didn’t graduate from military school before becoming an exiled student: He was forced to become a soldier when he was still only halfway through his studies. And the story behind this is as heavily steeped as Penghu’s coral stone in the vicissitudes of time. It’s a tale of deep grief that’s still only coagulated into scabs. How to begin? We can only resort to the history books.

In 1949, Shandong Joint High School principal Chang Min-chih (張敏之) brought some 8,000 students from northern China to Taiwan in order to escape the Chinese Communist Party. They first settled in the Fisherman Islands, Penghu, and waited for the government to arrange for the youths to move on to Taiwan for study.

Instead, Penghu military commander Li Chen-ching (李振清) forced all the male students to join his unit. Principal Chang would not obey this order, and was therefore falsely accused of espionage and imprisoned along with more than 100 innocent students. Some, including Chang, were executed by firing squad; others vanished into the sea by night.

The female and youngest male students were finally moved to Changhua’s Yuanlin Experimental High School to study in 1953. It was not until 2007 that the Republic of China government established the 713 Penghu Incident Monument and publicly acknowledged this history.

It later became known as the 713 Penghu Incident, or “the 228 of the mainlanders” [Editor’s note: See here for counterclaims regarding Chao’s role in all this]. Perhaps, if we could speak with Uncle Chao, he’d remember it like this:

“I’m from Shandong. That year I was 13. When I was in high school, one day we had an assembly, and the principal said … When we went with the principal to Taiwan, we didn’t have much time to say goodbye to our families. When some people left their homes, their family members were still working in the fields … The weather in Penghu was torrid, and the sea wind was strong. All the male students were assembled in the playground, and anyone taller than a rifle was taken away to become a soldier … The principal was arrested, and some of the students who were taken to the boats by the soldiers never came back.”

The history of 1949 is being reinterpreted by the people of 2014. One candidate’s camp has said that unless its man is elected, the ROC will soon perish. Another camp has asked if we can make a fairer evaluation of history. Then these two camps publicly debated how the discussion of history should be employed in politics. All along, another candidate for the same office, who should have received equal treatment, was himself living history — history that we have been too ashamed to speak of.

I think I know what Chao Yan-ching is trying to realize. Besides the political views he espouses and the fairness and justice he seeks for ordinary residents — that anyone, even one of the many whose daily income isn’t enough to buy a boxed lunch, can be chosen as a leader — I suspect he is trying to tell his story.

Uncle Chao has described his motivation for running as follows: “I know very clearly that I’m not getting my election deposit back. But I’m doing this to make an imprint with my life.”

Must one pay so much to leave one’s imprint? Or could it be that this is not just the story and memorial of one person, but the deposition of a tragedy that occurred several years ago, for the sake of countless people who are unable to express innumerable nightmares?

Chao Yan-ching used his life savings to buy a column in the election bulletin. He was, according to principles of fairness, lined up together with the other candidates, including the scion of a high-ranking official of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). He may not know how to express it, but he’s hoping that eventually someone will see his history. Then, at least, the stories of the eight thousand behind him, and the soul of principal Chang Min-chih — long scattered to whereabouts unknown — will all be acknowledged.

Perhaps Uncle Chao is also using his life savings to buy a dream. In the dream, they’re all still young. A group of 13-year-olds who love to swim takes advantage of the inattention of a prefect to run down and play in the ocean. The dark skin of the tallest boy (his name forgotten) shines in the sunlight. He loves to stick his neck out and always speaks out for what’s right. He roars at the commander, “We came here to study!”

The first gunshot goes right into his chest.

He leaves everyone behind, but then he becomes a seabird of Ju Island. Riding the wind, he travels back north. He’s the first of his classmates to return to his hometown.

We’d almost forgotten them, but there are always souls moving restlessly.

 

Chiang Ping-lun, a pen name, is a regular contributor on 想想, where this article originally appeared.

4 Responses to “Spending NT$2 Million to Tell a Story”

November 20, 2014 at 10:12 pm, Wayne said:

I hope Mr. Chao’s anguish is assuaged and feels his money was well spent when all is said and done.

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November 21, 2014 at 5:45 am, Axel Schunn said:

It is about time that those mainlanders tell the true story of the ROC and not glorified school propaganda, people were brainwashed with!

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November 29, 2014 at 11:54 am, Tom Kuleck said:

Those who make up the story of history will be swallowed by it. Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Bless Uncle Chao and those like him. They are the story of the ‘new Taiwan’.

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November 03, 2015 at 7:12 am, Yung-Chieh Liu said:

My Father was from Yentai, Shangdong Province. I’ve heard parts of the story from him growing up. He was one of the unlucky ones that got detained and beaten, but was not killed. He eventually moved to Canada, and passed away in September 2014. I recently came across the name Penghu Island and did not know the significance. I’m just starting my research and this is the first link I’ve found. I’m interested in learning more.

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