Growing up in Taiwan

I left Taiwan for the US to study in the 1980s, when Taiwan was still under the rule of KMT’s Chiang Ching-Kuo. I was not particularly concerned about politics, as Taiwan was a prosperous society and I didn’t really experience any hardships during my growing up years.

When I went home for holidays in-between school terms, I noticed my younger brother’s computer monitor was draped with all sorts of head bands he had collected from attending various public protests, be it for “amendment of the Constitutions”, “calling for direct Presidential elections”, or “anti-nulcear plants”.

I was extremely uncomfortable seeing those colourful head bands and asked him, “Is it safe to go for those protests?” My brother laughed and said, “Time has changed! It’s no big deal now.”

I asked my brother how he got “involved” in politics, or at least how he started to get interested in it. He told me that he was “too free” during his NS days and was reading newspapers all the time. It happened to be the booming period of many independent newspapers in Taiwan after the amendment of Newspaper and Printing Presses Act.

In addition to head bands, my brother collected T-shirts worn during public protests. According to him, those T-shirts worn during the initial protests were collectors’ items now because there were very few people who dared to participate. Protests were illegal then, much like it is now in 21st century Singapore. Subsequently, T-shirts from later day protests were less sought after as they were printed by the thousands.

It seemed that I had missed the whole transition of Taiwan’s democratization process.

The present Singapore is the place many of my Taiwanese relatives praised as “very clean and orderly”, whereas my husband is in jail for the 5th time for speaking in public without a permit.

Although Soon Juan’s non-violent campaign has always been misinterpreted as “courting trouble”, the purpose of his civil actions is to make a simple point that “if you are not prepared to go to jail, how do you stage a public protest when one day, there is a need to do that in order to put pressure on the government to change laws that actually work against the people”.

Many Singaporeans have expressed their amazement to me about how we cope with such kind of circumstances. Actually, the political struggle we are in does not prevent us from leading as normal lives as any other family. Our kids know that this is part of their father’s work, it’s nothing frightening at all. Earlier this year, when my eldest daughter told her teacher that “my father is in jail”, her teacher was rather embarrassed. She told her quietly that “you don’t have to tell me everything, I will read the newspapers myself”.

After Soon Juan’s passport was taken away and he was prevented from leaving Singapore, I told my parents that he probably won’t be able to visit them in Taiwan for the rest of his life. Surprisingly, my mother said, “Don’t worry. It won’t be a permanent situation. No authoritarian government is going to last forever.”

I certainly hope she is right.


* 1st published in

Dr. Huang Chih Mei
Mother of 3 lovely children
Wife of Dr. Chee Soon Juan

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