Su Beng: Historic Figure of Taiwan Independence Passes
Su Beng, the historic figure of Taiwan Independence, has passed away at the age of 100.
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This is not a political post, nor does it present any of my political views.
All this post is an obituary, you can call it a short report related to our recent travels about a fascinating historic figure’s life. Su Beng is a historic figure who created a movement in Taiwan that is still alive and well today and now has spanned over 6 decades and 4 generations.
A historic figure we both knew, and one which my partner is his personal biographer.
Oddly, his passing turned our 3 week adventure in Taiwan into a unique celebration which made this a truly a historic trip to Asia. It is something that took on a life of its own, and created unexpected opportunities for us while we visited Taipei and Tokyo.
This began as a trip where we were supposed to once again meet this legendary figure for the final time. I met the man in 2011 at a special event in NYC while he was doing his last tour of America. At the time he was 92.
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Moved Our Flight to One Month Earlier
We were supposed to leave on a flight in late October to his home city of Taipei, but as soon as we heard his health was swiftly failing, we raced to change our flight plans to move them to leaving one month earlier on September 22.
We planned to visit him at the hospital during his last hours. Unfortunately even after moving our flight to leave for the earliest time possible, what started out as a race against time was a race for time which we lost.
But in the end, this was all part of the lore what made our 3 week trip to Taiwan truly historic.
As we readied to take our flight on 9/22, on the eve of 9/20 we heard from his assistant that the legend had just passed away. Surrounding his hospital bed, there were 20 people gathered around him when he passed.
He opened his eyes one final time to acknowledge the love in the room before he decided to let go. Earlier that same day, the President of Taiwan made her last visit to see him.
Now who is this legend who led such a fascinating life might you ask?
The Legend Revealed
Su Beng was 100 years old. He passed away just short of his 101st birthday on November 9. He led a fascinating life. One can even say that he had “9 Lives”.
However to go into great detail about such a life would require several book volumes let alone one long blog post. So I will only scratch the surface and give you the main highlights here.
He was considered the grandfather of Taiwan independence. In 1962, he published the seminal work on Taiwanese history called “Taiwan’s 400 Year History”. It was originally written in Japanese, and years later in 1980 was translated to Chinese. Last year, the book was transcribed into an English version.
He was born in Taiwan in 1918, then later became a Marxist upon his move to mainland China soon after finishing his studies at Waseda University in Tokyo. After becoming disillusioned by the Chinese communists, after WWII he later renounced them and moved back to Taiwan where he led an underground movement and fought for Taiwanese independence.
Due to a major plot that was discovered by the KMT to assassinate Chinese Nationalist leader Chang Kai-Shek, he became a most wanted man, and in 1952 after being “tipped off” he had to make his escape on a banana boat back to Japan. By a series of chance events, after being detained in Japan for several weeks he was later granted political asylum there.
Once living in Tokyo, he would soon open a noodle shop. This noodle shop on a street corner near the Ikebekuro train stop, started out as a noodle vending stand for the first year, and soon thereafter became a very successful business for the next 40 years. This noodle shop still exists today albeit under new management.
When we visited Japan during our recent trip, we visited this historic noodle shop. It was very difficult to find, but the business was still booming!
While serving as the owner of this successful noodle shop, he lived upstairs where it took him 10 years to write “Taiwan’s 400 Year History”, now considered the seminal work of its kind.
During the years Su Beng ran his noodle shop in Tokyo, exiled Chinese Nationalist leader Chang Kai Shek (whose royal palace as shown above still exists in Taipei today - here is our photo as we drove by it) who was banished to Taiwan after losing to the Chinese Communists, would institute a Marshall Law in Taiwan which brought about a White Terror Era that would last from 1949-1987.
After Marshall Law was lifted in 1987, a few years later Su Beng moved back to Taiwan where he has lived ever since. By this time it had been over 40 years since he lived in Taiwan.
In his later years, he became a legendary teacher, activist, and beloved grandfather of the Taiwan independence movement. His teachings spawned many new generations of devout followers.
Until a few months prior to his passing, he continued to speak, educate, and inspire younger generations of Taiwanese activists who to this day continue to demonstrate peacefully for Taiwan independence. He remained optimistic about Taiwan’s future despite opposition from mainland China.
Su Beng: His Legacy
His legacy lives on through many generations young and old, including the ones comprised of college students who participated in the Sunflower Movement of 2014.
For the entire 3 weeks during our visit in Taipei there was a daily gathering “wake” where those who knew him came to pay their final respects and offer gifts.
He was cremated in an unusual ceremony all-day ceremony attended by hundreds on September 28, where we were invited guests. It was truly amazing. This cremation ceremony alone could be the topic of an entire separate blog post.
This all was culminated on October 13 with a Huge Parade, attended by the current Taiwan President, distinguished speakers and politicians, the Taipei news media, and with bicycles and propaganda trucks rolling down the main avenues, which disembarked at the place of his actual funeral “celebration.”
In the end, this historic trip led to several unexpected offspring projects, such as an article obituary in the New York Times that used my partner's original photography, and my partner being interviewed by the BBC that I filmed while we were in Asia.
This is Mr. Su Beng, right, in 2014 during a protest rally against the government at the time. Late in life he remained optimistic about Taiwan’s future despite the rising threat posed by Beijing, across the Formosa Strait. This was from an article recently published in the New York Times - Photography by Felicia Lin
I will write about these special events in my next upcoming posts.
If you are new to all of this and would like to familarize yourself with Taiwan's convoluted political history, click the link below to read my older post.
Passport to Taiwan Festival: A Brief History of Taiwan
We honor Su Beng for his incredible life and service for Taiwan independence.