Chen was among those arrested and she was tried in a military court on charges of rebellion. She was found guilty and sentenced to 12 years in prison but was released in 1986 after serving six years of her sentence.
In May 2019, Chen’s record of conviction on rebellion charges was wiped out by the Transitional Justice Commission appointed by President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) administration.
Despite the high price Chen paid for her participation in the democracy movement, she has no regrets.
“It was the best choice of my life,” she said.
Nonetheless, when Chen’s criminal record was expunged, it was a relief, although it was 40 years late, she said.
The early years
Chen first got involved in democracy activism at the age of 19, when she working as secretary to provincial councilor Kuo Yu-Hsin (郭雨新), who was regarded by some historians as one the pioneers of Taiwan’s democracy movement.
A provincial young woman at the time, she joined the democracy movement, not out of courage, but rather due to a lack of fear, she wrote in one of her books.
As a public servant, she said, she has encountered many challenges and difficult issues but the most painful incident was the gas explosion in Kaohsiung five years ago that killed 32 people and injured more than 300, when she was mayor of the southern city.
“As an activist, you are responsible only for staying true to your ideology, but when you enter political leadership, you’re responsible for everyone in your city or country,” Chen said.
In a revolution or social movement, what is at stake is one’s own life and the lives of fellow activists, but in government reform, every step has to be made carefully because millions of lives are affected, she said.
From that perspective, “reform is more difficult than revolution,” Chen said.
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