About Shih Ming-Teh.
Shih Ming Teh was born on 15 January 1941 into a wealthy family in Kaohsiung, a city in southern Taiwan.His father,Shih Kuo-tsuei, a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine as well as a believer in the Roman Catholic faith,was rather successful in his medical practise which very quickly translated into several pieces of ral estate. His wife had given birth to three sons and five daughters, with the sons all dying when they were still infants.
Notwithstanding his Christian beliefs and in full observance of that most contentious of traditions where boys are preferred, Shih Kuo-tsuei took a young second wife, who bore him another six children,this time all but one of them boys, Shih Ming-teh squeezed in at number four.
The Portuguese had named Taiwan ‘Formosa’, or Beautiful Island,when they first set foot there in the eighteenth century.Long considered an inconsequential island compared to the vastness of the Asian continent,Taiwan lies like loose change falling out of the hip-pocket of motherland China. With a mountain range fo a spine, the island is muscularised with fertile pockets of loam on the coasts.
As early as the Ming Dynasty, peasants from Fujian province on the mainland came across in search of arable land. Since then,generations have settled on the western half of the island, with few traversing the mountain range to the eastern coast. Taiwan was already inhabitated by natives of Polynesian stock,who possessed a darker complexion and altogether distinct culture. For centuries these shandiren, or mountain people as the Taiwanese call them,coexisted peaceably with the early settlers.
Someone in Taipei hit the plunger and the bomb went off on 28 February 1947 with such fury that its effects are still left half a century later. An elderly woman was hawking contraband cigarettes when police officers accosted her and tried to confiscate her goods,whereupon she put up a fight.
The officers, unaccustomed to such effrontery,charged her with resisting arrest,convicted her of the offence and sentenced her to a beating (though not necessary in that order) which they proceeded to administer on the spot. Bystanders came to woman’s aid, and a scuffle developed. Suddenly a shot rang out and before anyone could make sense of the situation, a civilian lay dead.
This event, which came to be known as the 2-2-8 Incident (named after the date on which it occured), triggered widespread protests among the Taiwanese. The disquiet between the locals and their mainland rulers now turned into hatred,and rapidly engulfed the major cities.
Governor Chen Yi cabled the mainland Government for reinforcements for his diminutive garrison. When they arrived, the full force of the military was unleashed on the people.The bloodletting spread mercilessly across the country;by the time situation was brought under control, it was estimated that between 10,000 and 15,000 civilians had been killed.
Martial law was imposed and the army like a hateful headmaster, set out to teach the locals a lesson that they would remember forever. Those convicted of taking part in the uprising, often in dubious legal proceedings, were publicly executed.The grisly show-and-tell became a routine event across the whole country.Before each execution, a gong would be sounded to signal that class was about to begin.
When he was six years old,Shih Ming-teh slipped out of his house to witness one such session.The executioner steppedup to the condemned man, who was kneeling with hands bound behind his back, pointed the rifle to the back of his head and pulled the trigger. Bones and brain littered the pavement. One eyeball flew off and impaled itself on the branch of a tree close to where Shih was standing,staring bitterly at him and permanently scarring his psyche.
His own father was not sparedthe Government’s wrath. Suspected of taking part in the uprising,Shih Kuo-tsuei was imprisoned and subjected to interrogation which maimed him physically and psychologically. He was released a few months later when no evidence was found against him, but never recovered from the trauma and died two years later.
With martial law,political parties were banned as they had been under the Japanese,even more books were deemed ‘undesirable’ and declared illegal, and Mandarin became the official language which, like the Japanese language,was not the mother tongue of the Taiwanese who spoke Taiyu, aprovincial dialect.’When we were in school,we had to wear a big label which read:”Please speak Mandarin.”Those who used Taiyu were fined,” my Taiwanese mother-in-law recalled.