Free speech hero remembered PDF 列印 E-mail

Published on Taipei Times

Free speech hero remembered

MARTYR TO A CAUSE: More than 10 years after Deng Nan-jung's self-immolation while facing charges of sedition, his family and friends have opened his office to the public as a monument to the man's courage and vision of a brighter future
By Irene Lin
Saturday, Dec 11, 1999, Page 3
Yeh chu-lan and her daughter, Cheng chu-mei, pose in front of their picture taken 10 years ago. Yesterday was the opening day for a memorial hall dedicated to Deng Nan-jung, Yeh's husband, who burned himself to death 10 years ago as a protest for freedom of speech.

"Dear dad, I hope you are okay in heaven. Don't have too much candy and smoke too much. This is a drawing for you, hope you like it. And the two balls are also for you. The green one represents a new country which you always wanted Taiwan to be," reads a letter from the little daughter of Deng Nan-jung (鄭南榕), on display at a new memorial gallery that opened yesterday.

Coinciding with International Human Rights Day, Deng's now-grown daughter, his wife -- DPP legislator Yeh Chu-lan (葉菊蘭) -- and his friends and followers of his belief in an independent Taiwan packed the small apartment unit where Deng burned himself to death 10 years ago after being surrounded by armed police officers, who arrived to arrest him.

Since his death, Deng's office has been preserved. Burned, but unmoved, a writing desk, typewriter, fax machine and even an exercise bike remain just as they did when Deng was alive.

Jointly started by Deng's friends and proponents of freedom of expression, the Deng Liberty Foundation (鄭南榕基金會) decided to grant public access to the site and display Deng's publications, letters, and other memorabilia.

Francis Bunki Dew (張文祺), director of the foundation, said the gallery is designed to be a public forum where group discussions on subjects such as art, literature and architecture can take place.

"We don't want to get involved in political affairs. The foundation wants to help introduce and develop Taiwanese culture at home and abroad," Dew said.

Born in Taiwan in 1947 to parents of mainland Chinese descent, Deng overtly articulated his support for Taiwan independence on numerous public occasions in the 1980s, when a charge of sedition was used against proponents of the independence issue.

"I'm Deng Nan-jung. I am a Chinese descendent. And I support Taiwan independence," Deng used to exclaim in public rallies.

A follower of liberalism, Deng had a deep faith in freedom of expression and established a popular opposition magazine, Freedom Era Weekly (自由時代雜誌), in 1984, in pursuit of what he termed "one hundred percent freedom of expression."

It was publication of the draft of a "Taiwan Republic Constitution," by pro-independence author Hsu Shih-kai (許世楷), in the December 1988 issue that prompted the government's to file sedition charges against Deng.

Protesting the charge, Deng shut himself in his office, where three barrels of gasoline and a lighter had been prepared for his suicide attempt. His 71-day self-imposed isolation ended on April 7, 1989, when he set himself on fire facing an imminent break-in by heavily-armed police. He was 42 at the time.

When he was sued over the anti-government stance of his magazine, Deng hired Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) -- currently the DPP's presidential candidate -- as his defense attorney. Both had previously spent time in jail together.

During a visit to the gallery yesterday, Chen recounted memories of Deng's days campaigning for Taiwan independence. His mainlander background did not have any influence on his love for the island, Chen said.