Freedom Calling – American Journey of a Taiwan Expatriate
By Jay Loo
I was born in 1932 in the southern city of Tainan, Taiwan, into a Presbyterian family of modest means. My elementary school education was in Japanese. After Japan’s defeat in 1945, I endured six years of high school taught in Mandarin. In December 1951 I travelled to Saint Paul, Minnesota to study pre-med at Macalester College. In the fall of 1955, I arrived in Philadelphia to attend Temple University Medical School. After one year, I dropped the study of medicine, transferred to the University of Minnesota to major in political science, and graduated with a BA summa cum laude in 1957. I won a fellowship to attend the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and won a Master in Public Affairs in June 1960.
I married Helen Wong, also from Tainan, in January 1960. Our first son Leon arrived in December 1960 and second son Jeffrey in July 1962. To support the family, I got a job as an actuarial student at the Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company, located right behind Independence Hall. I earned my Fellowship in the Society of Actuaries in 1973. After working for a few prestigious actuarial consulting firms in the Philadelphia area, I established my own pension consulting practice with an office in Lansdale, Pennsylvania in 1978. From 1997 on, I have virtually retired to devote my time on advocacy work related to Taiwan, often travelling to Washington, D.C. with Helen to visit Capitol Hill and attend think tank conferences.
I am a Distinguished Fellow of the International Assessment and Strategy Center, a Washington, D.C.-based research institution.
Resentment of Repression
So why did I spend so many years of my life striving for democratization and independence for Taiwan? The motivations come from my life experience in Taiwan and in America and my Christian upbringing.
While in elementary school I have witnessed Japanese teachers chastising Taiwanese pupils. In one instance teacher Simizu slapped a nine-year old kid so hard, the pupil fell to the ground. Simizu forced the child to stand up and then slapped him down again and again. Many Japanese teachers witnessing the brutality looked uncomfortable but none intervened.
After World War II, the Japanese left and Chiang Kai-shek’s troops were assigned the task of administering Taiwan by the Allied Powers, pending final disposition of the island’s legal status. I attended a Presbyterian missionary junior high school where each morning a ceremony to raise the Kuomintang (KMT) national flag was imposed on the school. The KMT government also required the school to hire a Chinese military officer to serve as watchdog and to make sure the students were taught the Three People’s Principles and the worship of Chiang Kai-shek, the supreme leader of the Republic of China (ROC). One morning a classmate was late for the flag raising. The KMT officer slapped the student hard, repeatedly.
Both the Japanese and Chinese rulers looked down on the native Taiwanese, trampled on their human dignity. I have also seen my own parents slighted by the Japanese policemen and Chinese soldiers. I found these experiences repugnant. Contrary to official propaganda, I came to believe that the islanders are neither Japanese nor Chinese but Taiwanese, entitled to our own dignified existence.
After my arrival in America, I was impressed by the way people treated each other as equal individuals and the freedoms they enjoyed. I began to wonder will it be possible for Taiwan to be like the United States, where people can think and speak freely, and the government leaders are selected by the people in free and fair elections?
While at Macalester College, I learned about Taiwan’s political, economic and military affairs by devouring books and literature banned in Taiwan. Joshua Liao’s booklet Formosa Speaks (Hong Kong Press, 1950) was especially enlightening. His view that Taiwan’s 400-year history is an incessant struggle of the people against alien intruders was impressive. I agreed with his proposal that the Taiwanese should be allowed to determine their own future, after a suitable period of UN trusteeship.
George Kerr, a former US diplomat long stationed on Taiwan, published two articles in the 1947 fall issues of Far Eastern Survey: “The February 28 Incident” and “The March Massacre” which opened my eyes to the depth of KMT atrocities.
At Northwestern University, I read Ignazio Silone’s fiction Bread and Wine, where the main character opposed the Nazi occupation of Italy. I came to the conclusion that a good Chrisitan cannot hide in the church and pray while injustice rages outside in society. He must resist the repression.
So how did I end up initiating the first Taiwan independence movement in North America?
Launching Formosans’ Free Formosa (3F)
One evening in early September 1955, Dr. Tom Yang came to visit at my room near the Temple University Medical School in Philadelphia and introduced himself. He was nine years ahead of me at Tainan First High School and he came at the behest of another alumnus from Tainan.
We then took the subway to West Philadelphia to meet three Taiwanese students pursuing graduate work at the University of Pennsylvania.
Dr. Yang was a radiology resident at Abington Memorial Hospital on the northern outskirts of Philadelphia. Edward Chen and Echo Lin were three years and two years ahead of me at Tainan First High. John Lin was from Taipei and five years my senior. Edward and John were studying International Relations and Echo was pursuing a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry. Tom and John arrived at the University of Pennsylvania two years before me and Edward joined them a year later. Echo and I had just arrived that fall.
So the five of us gathered virtually every weekend, to share meals in Chinatown or nearby restaurants, often ended up in Echo’s apartment to shoot the breeze. The conversation was heavy on venting of anger at the Kuomintang government’s corruption and repression of the Taiwanese people. After several weeks of heated discussions, one day I said it was not fruitful to keep criticizing the KMT. Why don’t we do something to improve the situation? “What can we do?” John asked, and I blurted “we can advocate Taiwan independence.”
Tom was familiar with the Taiwan independence movement started by Dr. Thomas Liao’s group in Tokyo. But the concept of Taiwan independence was new to John Lin and Edward Chen. John asked: “How can Taiwan become independent? Aren’t we all Chinese?” “No, we are all Taiwanese. We are not Chinese,” I replied. I then explained. Race can be an element of national identity but it is not the dominant factor. What constitutes a national group is the love for the homeland, common political and economic interests, shared historical memories and the desire to build a great nation in the future. “We owe our allegiance to Taiwan, never to China, which is a foreign country.”
John again. “But didn’t the Cairo Declaration give Taiwan to the Republic of China?” My answer was that the Declaration was a mere press release, which was not legally binding. Taiwan’s legal status was undecided. In the 1951 San Francisco peace treaty, Japan gave up its title to Taiwan and the Pescadores but no beneficiary was named. The Republic of China never gained title to Taiwan. The PRC’s claim of sovereignty over Taiwan lacked any legal or historical ground. Under the UN Charter, the people of Taiwan have the right to determine their own future peacefully and without outside coercion.
Edward queried, “Taiwan is a small island without many resources. How can it survive as an independent country?” My answer: “Taiwanese are well-educated and industrious. Taiwan can be a prosperous nation exporting manufactured goods to the world. Japan is also small and has a large, educated population. It is thriving. So can Taiwan.”
In these discussions, I ran into much resistance because John and Edward were older and they were studying political science while I was a young medical student in a different field. Whenever we ended up in a stalemate, it was Tom who came to the rescue. He would say “What Jay says makes sense. I agree with him.” Since Tom was respected by all of us, due to his seniority and strength of character as a devout Christian, Tom was critical in keeping the harmony and cohesion of our group.
In December I formally proposed to form a group which I labeled Formosans’ Free Formosa (3F) to advocate Taiwan independence among some 200 Taiwanese students in the US through a newsletter, and to seek the support of US government and media.
So, 3F was launched effective January 1, 1956. Two months later Thomas Liao’s provisional government of the Republic of Taiwan issued a Declaration of Independence in Tokyo on February 28, 1956. 3F was reorganized as United Formosans for Independence (UFI) in January 1958 and I was elected its first president. UFI became a nationwide organization UFAI in 1966. The global World United Formosans for Independence (WUFI) was founded in 1970, which exists to this day.
In the fall of 1956, I gave up the study of medicine and enrolled in the University of Minnesota to major in political science. Dr. Thomas Liao asked the 3F group to file a UN petition for the provisional government. So one night in late October I finally found the time to draft a petition to the UN on behalf of the Provisional Government. I started after supper on the 2,500-word document and by the time I finished typing and proofreading the early light of dawn was coming through the window. This was the first time I stayed up all night to work on a project.
The first section of the petition read as follows:
The Petition of the Provisional Government of
The Republic of Formosa to
The Eleventh General Assembly of the United Nations
The Provisional Government of the Republic of Formosa proposes that the United Nations, the primary purpose of which is to protect the fundamental human rights, maintain international peace and security, and to promote the self-determination of peoples, pass a resolution declaring:
Whereas the occupation of Formosa by the Nationalist Government of the Republic of China (ROC) is without legal sanction, and the rival claim of the Government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) over Formosa is likewise historically and legally groundless; And
Whereas such contention by the two governments constitutes an imminent threat to the peace and security of the world; And
Whereas the people of Formosa have been deprived of their basic human rights and suffered gross injustice as a result of the Cairo decision;
Therefore be it
Resolved by the Eleventh General Assembly of the United Nations
That the United Nations is hereby authorized to inaugurate a form of trusteeship with the explicit purposes of 1. taking over the government units from the present
regime in Formosa, 2. disarming the Chinese troops there and employing them for labor services pending their repatriation or any other arrangement that may be agreed upon, 3. releasing all Formosans arrested on the charge of political treason, and 4. holding a plebiscite under neutral supervision for those who had been citizens of Formosa before VJ Day to determine the permanent status of Formosa, the outcome of which to be guaranteed by the United Nations.
The rest of the petition talked about the principle of self-determination, the KMT government’s repression and the history of Formosa to support the case for a UN trusteeship followed by a plebiscite to determine Taiwan’s status.
The petition was then forwarded to the UN on November 3, 1956, under the signature of Peter Ong, Special Envoy of the Provisional Government. In the cover letter, we requested an appointment with Dag Hammarskjold. On November 24, 1956, UN Legal Counsel Constantin A. Stavropoulos acknowledged receipt of the petition. He then continued, in part:
No Member of the United Nations has, to the knowledge of the Secretary-General, recognized a “Provisional Government of the Republic of Formosa,” and it is the view of the Secretary-General that he should not take any action in receiving a Special Envoy which might in any way prejudice the attitude of Member States with respect to the status of such a government.
Two publications in 1958
In 1958 I published two important essays. A condensed version of my summa cum laude graduation thesis appeared in the April issue of Foreign Affairs titled “The China Impasse- A Formosan View.” This paper placed the idea of Taiwan independence in the world forum. The New Republic magazine featured a series of essays by prominent scholars from the UK, US and Australia, discussing the future of Taiwan. I was attending the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University then and I contributed the concluding essay “The Formosans Do Know What They Want,” asserting that the Taiwanese would want a free and democratic government of their own if given the chance (November 24, 1958). For this and the Foreign Affairs article, I used my penname of Li Thain-hok to protect my family in Taiwan.
I left the UFI in June 1961 to concentrate on my work at the Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company and to study for the Society of Actuaries’ long and rigorous examinations. In 1997, I joined WUFI-USA and chaired its Diplomacy Committee from 1997 to 2012. I have also worked with Formosan Association for Public Affairs (FAPA) in various capacities to advocate for the preservation of Taiwan’s freedom.
In June 1998 I delivered the keynote speech at the annual meeting of the North American Taiwanese Professors’ Association (NATPA) at Santa Clara, California. The speech was later published by World Affairs quarterly journal featuring articles by political science professors in its Winter 1999 issue, under the title “Why America Should Support Self-determination for Taiwan.”
In March 1999, I met Professor Koh Sekai, then the chairman of the Taiwan Independence Party (TAIP) in Taipei. He asked me to co-author an article with him for the UK quarterly journal Defence Review, which was planning a special Taiwan issue to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act. Our article appeared in August, under the heading “Keeping the Peace.” My original title was “How to Deter a War in the Taiwan Strait.” Authors in the same issue included Casper Weinberger (US Secretary of Defense 1981-1987), Richard Bush (AIT Director), Tang Fei (ROC Minister of National Defense) and several other ROC cabinet ministers.
From 2000 to 2020 I have written op-eds for the Taipei Times, English editorial for the Pacific Times (1999-2008) and articles for the Taiwan Tribune (the publication of WUFI-USA). My essays also appeared in China Brief, a digital journal of the Jamestown Foundation. During the 2004 US presidential campaign I published an op-ed in the Asian Wall Street Journal, criticizing Senator John Kerry’s support of China’s “one country, two systems” proposal (“Kerry’s Flip-Flops on Taiwan,” August 9, 2004). Later, Kerry did reverse his position.
I gave speeches to many Taiwanese American groups at the various summer conferences, academic meetings, at the National Constitution Center and other venues.
Helen and I have attended conferences on Asian and Taiwan-related issues at numerous think tanks, including the Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, Brookings Institution, Hudson Institute, George Washington University Elliot School, and the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., the Foreign Policy Research Center and University of Pennsylvania Law School in Philadelphia and the Okazaki Institute in Tokyo.
In our grassroots diplomacy work, we met many US Senators and other luminaries. At a reception at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. I had a cordial and candid conversation with then Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe regarding Article 9 of Japan’s constitution and the possibility of Japan going nuclear, in Japanese. Once I called on Under Secretary of State John Bolton with my IASC colleagues and had an hour-long discussion about Taiwan issues. This meeting led to Taiwan’s participation in the US Nonproliferation Security Initiative, an act which later prompted President Barack Obama’s rare praise of Taiwan.
In February 2001, I debated then Senator Joe Biden regarding the relevance of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA). At a Delaware Chamber of Commerce meeting, I asked Biden about the prospect for the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act, which was passed by the House but stalled in the US Senate. Instead of answering me, Biden turned to the other side of the audience and said “Are any of you willing to send you son or daughter in harm’s way to defend Taiwan?” He implied that Taiwan was not important enough to warrant US intervention. I got mad and shouted “Senator, you didn’t let me finish my question.”
So I got the floor. I recited the key provisions of the TRA: the US policy is to protect the human rights of the people of Taiwan, the US shall sell to Taiwan defensive weapons and services, any PRC resort to military coercion will be a matter of grave concern to the US, and the US will maintain sufficient capacity in the Western Pacific to resist any Chinese resort to force. Then Biden repeated the same provisions to the audience and said he actually supported TRA and voted for it. So he made a 180 degree turn and admitted the United States’ moral obligation to help defend Taiwan.
Afterward, we went up to shake hands and Senator Biden was gracious and all smiles.
U.S. China policy has long been dominated by an assumption that friendly engagement calculated to make the PRC a responsible stakeholder in the global order would make China a more liberal, free and peaceful society within and respectful of existing national boundaries abroad. This presumption has turned out to be grossly off the mark.
Over the past two decades, I have been warning about the threat China’s rise will pose for the homeland security of the United States. Fortunately, there is now growing awareness among U.S. government and academia regarding the rising threat of PRC’s chauvinistic expansionism.
The ascension of Xi Jinping to a lifelong supreme leader of China adds volatility and danger to world politics. Devoid of checks and balances, Xi’s one-man rule is bound to result in greater repression at home and riskier military aggression abroad. Hopefully my work has served to awaken the U.S. elites and general public to the urgent need to strengthen the nation’s value system, economy, and military power, including the capacity to wage cyber warfare and the coming war in outer space. The Western and other democracies must counter China’s insidious infiltration and its propaganda efforts to promote the Chinese brand of authoritarianism as a more efficient model of governance.
Whether the U.S. and its allies can take effective action in time to thwart China’s dream of ruling the world as the sole, supreme power is uncertain. What is certain is that the survival of the U.S. as an independent democracy and the fate of mankind hang in the balance.
AIT American Institute in Taiwan
FAHR Formosan Association for Human Rights
FAPA Formosan Association for Public Affairs
IASC International Assessment and Strategy Center
KMT Kuomintang, i.e., Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Party
NATPA North America Taiwanese Professors’ Association
PRC People’s Republic of China
ROC Republic of China (Taiwan)
TAA Taiwanese American Association
TAUP Taiwanese Association of University Professors
3F FFF, Formosans’ Free Formosa
UFI United Formosans for Independence
UN United Nations
WUFI World United Formosans for Independence
WUFI-USA US Branch of WUFI
- For the full text of the 1956 UN Petition and response, see Free Formosa – The Beginning 101-109. (Xlibris, 2021, www.Xlibris.com)
- For a fuller exposition of my views on the inseparable link between US national security and Taiwan’s survival as a free democracy, read America’s Security and Taiwan’s Freedom (Xlibris, 2010, orders@Xlibris.com)
- For a fuller account of my American journey, including a journal of grassroots diplomacy, see Free Formosa – A Memoir (iUniverse, 2019, iuniverse.org)
- For the activities of 3F and UFI and the early history of the Taiwanese American diaspora, read Free Formosa – The Beginning (Xlibris, 2021, orders@Xlibris.com)
© Jay Tsu-yi Loo
August 20, 2023
Posted on 01/30/2024