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In remembrance of Wei Ting-chao

By Lynn Miles
 

When the chronicle of Taiwan's post-war human rights movement is presented for final review, the name of Wei Ting-chao (魏廷朝) deserves to be writ large.

Until now his exploits have gone largely unnoticed by the public at large because he was not given to advertising them himself.

I first met him in the apartment of Lee Ao (李敖), when Lee, Wei and Hsieh Tsung-min (謝聰敏) had already been under house arrest for a year, following Peng Min-ming's (彭明敏) January 1970 deliverance from the same fate by slipping into exile abroad.
"Whether climbing Yangmingshan or putting pen to paper, to the KMT he was a formidable foe for whom surrender was an alien concept." 

Deprived of his editorial job and his friends, who dared not continue open acquaintance with him for fear of being drawn into the same circle of official disfavor, Wei, Hsieh and Lee were thrown together in a bond that certainly would not have held under freer circumstances.

Lee was then unstinting in his praise of Wei, so strong and so tough. According to Lee, it was only Wei who did not break under torture during his first prison term.

Lee delighted in telling how, during their days of house arrest, Wei would often take to the mountains for several hours of vigorous hiking, putting the physical stamina of his surveillance squad to the ultimate test (he'd often do this on the last hour of some poor plainclothes team's shift, delaying their return to headquarters by hours).

For Lee, Wei provided a shining example of anything-but-passive resistance in the face of illegally constituted authority.

By the late seventies, when the Tangwai (黨外) or "outside party" movement had finally begun to emerge from the shadows to challenge the regime in open intellectual combat, Wei had long since attained veteran status, having served two prison terms.

This did not prevent him from returning to the fray, as he involved himself in the editing of Formosa Monthly (美麗島月刊) -- at the risk of exactly what terrors, perhaps only Wei had more than a rumor-fed inkling.

Fluent in Hakka, Hokkien, Mandarin, Japanese and English, Wei had the intellectual stature to go with a swarthy physical form that suggested more aboriginal blood than Hakka.

Whether climbing Yangmingshan (陽明山) or putting pen to paper, to the KMT he was a formidable foe for whom surrender was an alien concept.

In the nineties he made a run for a legislative seat, but lost.

When the election results were announced, his campaign manager and good friend Lu Hsiao-chih shook his head and said, "Lao Wei! Too humble, he did not know how to advertise himself, how to let his audiences know of his staying power over the long haul. Too intellectual, not a politician."

It is true that Wei lacked the public pluck and braggadocio that characterized his grandstanding peers, and it may also be true that, unable to whip up the crowd, he would not have made a good politician.

But in his quiet, unassuming way he was very much a leader.

His contributions were many and great, and he shall be sorely missed as one of those few who, in the darkest and loneliest of times, stood tall for what he knew to be true.

Lynn Miles is a freelance writer based in California.
 


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