Focus Taiwan: Taiwan’s martial law victims urge young people to cherish democracy

One of the survivors, 81-year-old Yang Tien-lang (楊田郎), said he was arrested in 1955 at the age of 17 for allegedly “spreading propaganda for traitors,” while working as a newspaper delivery boy.

His superiors reported that he had scrawled subversive slogans such as “overthrow Chiang Kai-shek” and “join the Communist Party” on the wall of a theater, Yang said.

“I was taken to a police station in 1955 on the back of a police bicycle,” he said, at the Human Rights Day celebrations at the National Human Rights Museum in Taipei.

Yang said that during questioning at the police station, he was tricked into signing a confession, when his interrogators told him that if he confessed they would let him go because he was a minor. Instead of being released, however, he was put in jail, he said.

“You should cherish Taiwan’s hard-earned democracy and live well,” Yang said, addressing the young people at the Human Rights Day event.

Some Taiwanese historians refer to the period of martial law as the “White Terror” era, in which tens of thousands of citizens were imprisoned or executed on false accusations.

One of those citizens is 80-year-old Chen Chiu-hsiung (陳久雄), who said he was arrested in 1952 at the age of 13, along with other villagers suspected of being communist guerrillas in a mountainous area in northern Taiwan.

“Almost all the villagers were apprehended, and I was the last one arrested,” Chen said.

At that age, he said, he had no idea what was happening and only wanted to learn self-defense skills and sing with the older villagers in their straw huts.

Another White Terror victim Huang Hsin-hua (黃新華) said she was born in prison in 1952 after her mother was arrested and jailed.

Huang said when she was nine months old, her father was executed on accusations of involvement with communist groups.

She said that regrettably, over the years, she never tried to understand or comfort her mother, who died two years ago.

“It is painful because she never received a hug from me,” Huang said. “But I know she will forgive me. She taught me how to see the world with love.”

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