Photographs and a report are available here from the April 23, 2014 event My Fight for a New Taiwan: One Woman’s Journey from Prison to Power, which featured the former Vice President of the Republic of China Annette Lu (Lu Hsiu-lien) and was moderated by Weatherhead East Asian Institute professor Andrew J. Nathan. The event was co-sponsored by the APEC Study Center and Taiwan Focus.
Former Vice President of the Republic of China Annette Lu spoke at Columbia University on April 23 about her new book My Fight for a New Taiwan: One Woman’s Journey from Prison to Power. The standing-room only event, held in the East Gallery of Buell Hall, was co-sponsored by the Weatherhead East Asian Institute (WEAI), the APEC Study Center, and Taiwan Focus. Her lecture was moderated by Andrew Nathan, the Class of 1919 Professor of Political Science at Columbia University. The book’s co-author, Ashley Esarey, who earned his Ph.D. in political science from Columbia, also spoke. Lu—who has experienced imprisonment as well as election to the vice presidency– spoke candidly about her life, saying “everyone has stories to tell, some good, some bad.”
Lu said that her career in politics began in Harvard Law School when word spread about the United States ceasing its diplomatic recognition of Taiwan and her law professor, Jerome A. Cohen, urged her to return to Taiwan. When she arrived in Taipei, she helped found the magazine Meilidao (Furmosa Magazine) in opposition to the Guomindang Party (KMT). KMT crackdowns on the magazine sparked a pro-democracy movement.
At a pro-democracy protest, which coincided with an International Human Rights Day rally, Lu was arrested along with other leaders of the opposition. Eventually, 152 were arrested and 51 were sentenced to prison. Her twenty minute speech at the rally resulted in a twelve year jail sentence. “I didn’t expect the price to be so high,” she said. On the first day of the trial, she said that she retracted her testimony, “a watershed moment” that shocked the media and encouraged other defendants to overturn their testimonies. Before the trial, they were criticized by the journalists and public, but after, journalists reported truthfully about what they heard in the court. Their testimonies, according to Lu, “opened people’s eyes to the injustice of autocracy.”
Lu said that the trial inspired more men and women to become active in politics, culminating with the establishment of the first opposition party: the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Twenty years later, in 2000, she campaigned with Chen Shui-bian and won the election. “People used to see economic prosperity as a miracle, I will say that Taiwan’s democracy is another miracle,” she said in relation to Taiwan’s history.
Looking back on Taiwan’s history, she discussed the Treaty of Shiminoseki, which– until the end of World War II–marked Japanese occupation of the country. Chiang Kai-shek’s arrival brought war and economic depression, where martial law was established and used by the KMT to monitor its citizens. Political discussion and activities were inhibited due to the presence of KMT spies. Lu mentioned being spied on by one of her classmates while studying at Harvard in 1977. “It was amazing how horrible it was,” Lu said about that period of time. She described how journalists and intellectuals were all repressed.
Lu reflected on this grim history in order to contrast it with the present. She said that the Sunflower Student Movement has begun a new phase of Taiwanese democracy. The movement has opposed the current president Ma Ying-jeou’s secret negotiations for a cross-strait agreement with the People’s Republic of China. Additionally, she said that the recent annexation of Crimea has revived fears of a Chinese annexation of Taiwan. At a time when “Taiwan had almost been forgotten,” the movement made headlines internationally. There were moments of confrontation in the movement, but, according to Lu, it has remained largely peaceful. She said she spent a night with the protestors, “watching and listening, rather than speaking.” Lu said she was very proud of all their achievements, especially the achievements of women.
Lu has long been an advocate for women in Taiwan, even running a coffee shop to provide a center for women’s activity and founding the “good housekeeper’s project.” She said that there have been massive gains in women’s rights during her lifetime, during which the numbers of women with a college education in Taiwan have increased ten-fold. Women’s participation in business and politics has increased concurrently. Leaders have taken a number of measures to protect women legally and to create more equitable policies, she noted.
Lu concluded by saying she is very proud of Taiwan’s development in two specific areas: nonviolent democratization and women’s emancipation. She said in this five-decade struggle, “the process was bitter, but that the fruit was delicious.” Although she has faced a number of difficult challenges, including an assassination attempt, cancer, and prison, she said that “I’m proud that I have never surrendered.”