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Dr. Peng Ming-min, A Democracy Pioneer Passed Away Last Month

When I borrowed “Limichen Taiwan zi liao xuan ji” 禮密臣臺灣資料選集 (Parallel title in English: From province to republic to colony: the James Wheeler Davidson collection on the origins and early development of Japanese rule in Taiwan, 1895-1905) last month at Tateuchi East Asia Library, I saw a book called Xie gei Taiwan de bei wang lu : Peng Mingmin jiao shou wen ji” 寫給台灣的備忘錄: 彭明敏教授文集, A Memorandum for Taiwan. After borrowing this book, I started to learn about Dr. Peng Ming-min ’s views on Taiwan’s politics. Furthermore, I’ve learned about his efforts for his ideal of a free and democratic Taiwan during the martial law period of the Republic of China from online materials. However, Dr. Peng passed away at the age of 98 in Beitou, Taipei City, on April 8, 2022.

Dr. Peng Ming-min (彭明敏) was born in Taichung, Taiwan under Japanese colonial rule, and his beliefs on Taiwan’s future were deeply influenced by the books he read in high school. He loved French literature and yearned for the free thought he found in French literature. He witnessed the historic event of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. Before this event, he lost his left arm after being bombed by the US military on his way from Kyoto to Nagasaki to meet his brother in 1943.

Dr. Peng was best known for his writing of the “Declaration of Formosan Self-salvation” 台灣人民自救宣言 with two graduate students, Wei Ting-chao and Roger Hsieh (魏廷朝, 謝聰敏) when he was the dean of the Department of Political Science at National Taiwan University. The Declaration of Formosan Self-salvation was published in the New York Times on November 20, 1966, and the translator was Dr. Edward I Chen (陳以德). This declaration advocated the protection of the people’s basic human rights, that the future of Taiwan should be determined by the people, and that Congress must be re-elected. Dr. Peng believed that the government of that era didn’t give the people the right to freedom of speech and fairness and justice, so he proposed that Taiwan should go on a path of freedom, democracy and respect for human rights. Since the Declaration of Formosan Self-salvation wasn’t recognized by the government at that time, he and two students were prosecuted for rebellion on September 20, 1964. Dr. Peng fled Taiwan to seek political asylum in Sweden in 1970 where he would spend 22 years in exile. He was secure in Sweden, but he wasn’t satisfied. He traveled to many countries to speak about his declaration. He always insisted on his perspectives on the future of Taiwan. He went back to Taiwan in November 1992 following the democratization of Taiwan, and after the revocation of his arrest warrant by Taiwan’s Supreme Court. The president of Taiwan was Mr. Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), a Democratic presidential representative known as Quiet Revolution. Also, Dr. Peng attended the Sino-US Cultural Cooperation Conference at the University of Washington in 1960, and Hu Shi was the chairman of the conference.

It is difficult to imagine how Dr. Peng was sentenced for his own speech. Hsu Yu-Hsiu (許玉秀), a former Justice of the court in Taiwan once said, “If you can’t speak freely, you won’t think freely.” In Dr. Peng’s era, there were many people like him who were dissatisfied with the loss of human rights. However, many people choose not to comment and discuss unequal events out of fear of the consequences of free speech. Peng Ming-min, Wei Ting-chao, and Roger Hsieh became the democracy pioneers of that era. They made many students begin to care about social issues in Taiwan and aroused the yearning of many descendants for a democratic and free society. Dr. Peng’s life was full of controversy. In addition to seeing the faults of individuals from history, we can also study their perspectives and ideals from historical events. As students, after we clearly understand those historical events from unbiased sources that do not attempt to revise history to suit its narratives, we are able to view people’s rights and wrongs from an objective perspective.

Annie is majoring in Environmental Studies and Society, Ethics & Human Behavior at the University of Washington, Bothell. She is passionate about environmental justice, political science, anthropology, and postcolonialism. During her free time, she enjoys watching movies, getting lost in a book, and visiting museums.
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