Saturday, March 5, 2011

Taiwan's "Anne Frank" Story

When I lived in Taiwan in the 1960s and early 1970s, I learned that people like Shih Ru-chen were in hiding from Chiang Kai-shek's secret police. In time, I learned that over a hundred and forty thousand political prisoners were held without trial, tortured, and often murdered.

In retrospect, I wonder now how so many U.S. citizens lived in Taiwan in the time of White Terror (from 1947 to 1987) and knew so little about it. Both Chiang's regime and the United States government (who believed that support of Chiang essential in the fight against Communism) were good at keeping such unpleasant realities from public view. But I think it was more than that; I think individuals not wanting to know had a lot to do with it.

Personal friends in Taiwan were imprisoned and tortured. I knew families who had one or more members simply disappear forever. When I think of them now I still shudder. I have only recently learned the story of Shih Ru-chen. Professor Shieh Jhy-Wey at Soochow University in Taipei and well-respected television talk show host, has said that this is Taiwan's "Anne Frank" story. Read the story as it is told on a website created for English readers:
Everyone now knows the story of Anne Frank and her indominitable spirit in the face of sadness, loneliness and the Nazi occupation of Holland. She died during WWII, killed by the Nazis, but Anne Frank also remains alive even today through literature, art and......yes......memory!

Did you know that Taiwan has its own "Anne Frank" story about a man in Hsinchu who hid in small, secret hiding place -- a thin space between two walls, with no room to even stand up -- for 18 years during the White Terror period?

His crime? He committed no crime at all, but the government's secret police at that time were looking for him, and rather than risk being arrested, tortured and perhaps killed, Mr. Shih Ru-chen decided to find a hiding place. This is a true story, and it goes like this:

Mr Shih was a man who lived in Hsinchu with his family, a wife and a young daughter. He also had an open mind, a freedom-loving mind, and this sometimes got him into trouble with the miltary authories of that time.

Because of something he did or said or whispered, or because of some friends he had or some meetings he attended, the secret police were looking for him.

They wanted to arrest him, interrogate him, maybe even torture him and kill him. Mr Shih decided that, if he wanted to live, the best course of action would be to try hide from the secret police. So he left his home and walked to his brother's house, asking if he could find a hiding place there.

Mr Shih's brother, Shih Ru-chang, built a new wall in his house next to an old wall, and in the small space between the two walls, there was just enough space for a grown man to sit down and crouch -- but not stand. This is where Mr Shih Ru-Chen hid ... for 18 years!

Mr Shih did the same thing that Anne Frank and her family did during WWII. Rather than give in to the forces of darkness and evil, he decided to find refuge in a secret hiding place in his brother's house. And of course, in order to keep the police away, everyone had to keep the story very very hush hush ... for 18 years!

Every night, Mr Shih's brother, Ru-chang, would remove some bricks from the new wall and let him get out to stretch his legs, eat and get some well-needed exercise. Then after a short time, back into the hiding place went Mr Shih. This didn't go on for just one week, or one month, or even for a year. This went on for ... 18 years.

When Mr Shih began his ordeal, he was 37 years old.

This story is an amazing story of courage and a secret hiding place, of secret police and an extended Taiwanese family who loved a very good man, husband and father. Mr Shih was never famous duirng his lifetime, of course, and even after he died, at the age of 55, very few people in Taiwan knew about him or his amazing 18 years in hiding. Only his family knew!

Even the ''funeral'' for Mr Shih had to be kept secret, so the secret police would not know about it. To tell the truth, dear Readers, there was no funeral for Mr Shih. Let us now remember his life gently in these pages.

For today, in telling and retelling this story, we readers, in Taiwan and overseas, revive his memory, salute his steadfastness and admire his courage. The Jewish people in Holland gave us Anne Frank. The Taiwanese people have given the world Shih Ru-chen as an example of deep personal courage and conviction. Let us never forget him.

Shih died in 1970 at the age of 55. He had been in hiding during the first four years I lived in Taiwan, and fourteen years before that. He died while I lived less than fifty miles away in Taipei. When I made my frequent train trips to Tainan, I must have passed within a mile of where Shih was in hiding. That sends chills down my spine. But more, I wonder how many others in hiding there were close around me in Taipei.

If you are not one of the hunted and despised, living in a police state can seem normal. I suspect that there were neighbors of the Anne Frank family who gave little thought to the plight of the Jews in their community and across Europe, and who chose not to open their eyes to the reality around them. 

Long live the memories of Anne Frank and Shih Ru-chen!
 - Milo


1 comment:

dan said...

A very thoughtful and moving post, Rev. Thornberry. Yes, it's to understand this number -- 18 years in hiding, 18 years! EIGHTEEN! -- and not under house arrest or living in a comfortable cottage -- but hiding in a cramped crawl space built by his brother between two walls, and spending most of the day in that tiny space, and only getting out into the house to wash or use the WC or quickly see his children sleeping and chat with his wife, but only at night, when the military police could not see into the house so well -- and not just a year or for 5 months but for 18 years, i don't think most people can UNDERSTAND this figure,,,,,18.......YEARS! a cramped crawl's UNHUMAN...and yet he endured with the help of his brother and wife and family and then he died in that same hiding space because he could not get proper medical care as a MAN IN when Dr Hsieh at Soochow University speaks of this case as the Anne Frank story of Taiwan, he has something to say there. OUCH! The world SHOULD know about this someday. Even today in Taiwan, 95 percent of the public does not know this case, nor has it ever been reported other than one article in a freedom-minded newspaper and an oral history book published by his family survivors. 18 years! I still find it hard to believe. and yes, your train went right past that area in Hsinchu back then. ...