Lu Hsiu-lien’s journey is the story of Taiwan. Through her successive drives for gender equality, human rights, political reform, Taiwan’s independence, and, currently, environmental protection, Lu Hsiu-lien (who also goes by Annette Lu) has played a key role in Taiwan’s evolution from dictatorship to democracy. Unlike such famous Asian women politicians as Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi, India’s Indira Gandhi, and Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto, Lu grew up in a family without political connections. Her impoverished parents twice attempted to give her away for adoption, and as an adult she survived cancer and imprisonment, later achieving success as an elected politician—the first self-made woman to serve with such prominence in Asia. Below we feature an excerpt from My Fight For a New Taiwan: One Woman’s Journey from Prison to Power, which Lu coauthored with Ashley Esarey.
The wail of a thousand air horns, the crackling shower of fireworks, the undulation of a sea of banners greeted us as we left our party headquarters and approached the stage. A crowd stretched for half a mile in every direction, claiming streets and sidewalks, jamming intersections on Minsheng East Road. Bottle rockets shrieked from the windows of nearby apartment buildings. To an outsider observing the revelers on the night of March 18, 2000, the crowds in the streets could have been celebrating the Taiwan national team’s victory in some sort of world championship, but the pride of the Taiwanese was participatory, not vicarious: They had voted to remove the Nationalist Party (Guomindang) from the nation’s highest office after its fifty-five years in power and had stood up to China despite its threats to invade Taiwan if they dared vote this way. They had cast aside the successors of a regime that had ruled Taiwan by force and fiat, by threat and murder, by corruption and co-optation, by autocracy and exploitation. On March 18, the Taiwanese had, through their vote, peacefully “changed the heavens” in their homeland, as the saying went, and given birth to the feeling that Taiwan was experiencing its finest hour, that the wrongs of the past could be righted.
What a coincidence it was! On the very same day twenty years before, March 18, 1980, I stood in a military courtroom as one of the eight main defendants charged with sedition for leading a demonstration on Human Rights Day. An intense man unknown outside legal circles, Chen Shui-bian, had been among our legal defense attorneys.Even our lawyers’ valiant efforts had not prevented the court from sentencing us to lengthy prison terms on the basis of confessions elicited through torture. Who would have dared predict that two decades later, one of the defense lawyers and one of the codefendants would be elected president and vice president of the country at the crowning moment of Taiwan’s struggle for democracy?
The hope that the Nationalists would one day be turned out of power had sustained me while I served five and a half years in prison for criticizing their authoritarian regime. I had been waiting for the celebration of March 2000 since my childhood, when I had denounced my schoolteacher for changing the grades of the daughter of a Nationalist official because the teacher wanted to ingratiate himself with the government. Since my recovery from cancer in the 1970s, I had sworn to dedicate my life to equal political participation for all members of Taiwanese society and for all ethnic groups. I had prayed for the replacement of the Nationalist government with a democratically elected opposition since my realization, in prison, that the shock of my incarceration had cost my mother her life.
Although I had dreamed of such a moment, somehow I’d never imagined how victory might feel when it blossomed like a flower more fragrant than the evening primrose. Certainly not during the long months of campaigning in 1999 and 2000, when I’d appeared with Chen Shui-bian at six political rallies each night, speaking until my voice grew hoarse and cracked— I was too busy fighting to win the election. Yet the moment did come, with the decisiveness of nightfall in the tropics. From school yards and post offices across the island, election volunteers counted the votes signaling the Nationalists’ defeat. The Democratic Progressive Party had captured the presidential palace, formerly the bastion of power for Chiang Kai-shek and the symbol of authority for Japanese colonial governors. On the night of March 18, 2000, the specter of foreign dominance departed with the defeat of the Nationalists, a political party transplanted to Taiwan from China after World War II. For the first time in the history of Taiwan, a native Taiwanese man from a poor, landless family had become president. For the first time in five thousand years of Chinese history, I, a woman from an ordinary family, had been elected by the public to serve the number-two position in an ethnically Chinese nation [. . . .]
This is the story of how Taiwan came to such a crossroad in history, as well as the story of how a girl who was twice nearly given away as a child discovered a love for her country that would change her life. It is the story of how a woman who suffered from cancer, imprisonment, and torture found ways to love her country through democratic politics and to advance the cause of freedom in the world. This is the true story of my life.
Lu Hsiu-lien (Annette Lu) is a graduate of National Taiwan University, the University of Illinois, and Harvard Law School. She was vice president of the Republic of China from 2000 to 2008 and currently is president of Green 21 Taiwan Alliance.
Ashley Esarey, a former journalist, held the An Wang Postdoctoral Fellowship at Harvard University and currently is visiting assistant professor of political science and East Asian studies at the University of Alberta.
Hear Annette Lu and Ashley Esarey discuss the book at the following events:
- Pomona College, Claremont, California, April 17 at noon
- University of California Santa Barbara, April 18 at 11:00 a.m. with book sales by Chaucer’s Bookstore
- North American Taiwanese Women’s Association, New Orleans, LA, April 19 at 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. with book sales by Garden District Books
- Harvard Law School, Cambridge, Massachusetts, April 22 at noon with book sales by Harvard Book Store
- Columbia University, International Affairs Building, New York City, April 23 at noon
- New York University, New York City, April 23 at 2 p.m.
- Georgetown School of Foreign Service, April 25 at 12:30 p.m.
- Town Hall Seattle, April 28 at 7:30 p.m. with book sales by Elliott Bay Books