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Political hit-jobs. The mob and the military in cahoots. Welcome to 1980s Taiwan.
"When it became clear that some Taiwan authorities were willing to export dirty tricks to American soil, that raised alarm bells," wrote Liu in an email. "Taipei's supporters in Washington could not easily defend murder and other violations of American laws when they occurred on U.S. turf."
The U.S. Congress became more active in pressing for human rights in Taiwan, and passed a resolution that Henry Liu's killers be extradited to the U.S. for trial (Taiwan rejected that). Such pressure helped nudge Taiwan toward democracy.
Will Tiao, one of the actors and producers of "Formosa Betrayed," helped raise more than $6 million for the movie from Taiwanese in the United States and Canada. He said the film had touched a nerve in the community.
"Many of the investors and supporters of the film were directly affected by the events of the White Terror period," wrote Tiao, himself a Kansas-born Taiwanese-American, in an email. "Most of them were spied upon or asked to spy upon others. Many were blacklisted. Some
were arrested or their families arrested. And some had worse things happen to them."
"So this film is very personal and emotional to them because it's really the first time they have gotten a chance to tell their story to a worldwide audience. For some, it's been a healing process."
In Taiwan, people still can't agree on how to heal. Some in the old KMT's machine of repression have reinvented themselves as democrats. Their supporters say Taiwan should move on. Cynics say past KMT sins are too often used by the opposition to score political points. And for most young people, it's all ancient history.
But the era is still fresh in many people's minds. Social work professor Karleen Chiu recalls how scared she and other students were in 1981 when a visiting Taiwanese-American professor was found dead on her college campus in Taipei, just hours after a marathon interrogation session by KMT secret police. (An official probe ruled the professor's death a suicide or accident, which many found hard to swallow.)
Later, Chiu was a graduate student at Ohio State University when Henry Liu was murdered. Even on American soil, Taiwanese students were scared silent, afraid to talk to other Taiwanese who might be KMT informants.
"You didn't even talk to your roommates about that (Liu's murder) because you didn't know which side they were on," said Chiu. "You didn't want to be blacklisted. You might not be able to come back to Taiwan. The fear was always there."
Historian Chen Yi-shen said that government files that could expose the truth of cases such as Henry Liu's remain sealed; only those pre-1980 have been opened. Chen is among those who aren't willing to simply forget the past.
"Only if you know the truth can you have forgiveness," said Chen, of Academia Sinica's Institute of Modern History in Taipei. "If you don't have the truth, how can you resolve this history?"
Chen said there wasn't enough known evidence to prove that high level KMT politicians ordered Henry Liu's murder. It's possible that over-zealous military officials acted on their own.
"It's like raising a dog to be very fierce," said Chen. "Sometimes you can't control it, and it can run off and bite people."
KMT military intelligence's role in the killing only came to light because one of the gangsters, Bamboo Union leader Chen Chi-li, aka "King Duck", made secret tape recordings to protect himself, and gave them to a friend in Texas. King Duck served less than six years in jail, and later lived high on the hog in a luxury home in Cambodia.
Liu's murder, and similar cases, led professor Chen and a group of others to quit the KMT, and publicly burn their party membership cards.
"We all changed in the 1980s," said Chen. "How could the government kill people like this? We thought staying in the KMT would be shameful."
In addition to opening government files, Chen and others have pressed for a national human rights museum funded by the sale of KMT property, not taxpayer money (KMT legislators cut funding for that project, he says). He says Taiwan needs special legislation for trying White Terror abuses as government crimes against the people.
And he points to South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a possible model for Taiwan to follow.
He and others had high hopes in 2000 when a government of former democracy activists and human rights lawyers took power, only to be disappointed by that government's inaction. He says the current president, the KMT's Ma Ying-jeou, only pays "lip service" to the subject with ritual apologies. "No power transfer, no transition, no justice," said Chen, shaking his head.
Now, Chen says he's on Beijing's blacklist for his pro-Taiwan independence views. He's barred from visiting China, and says a technician traced spyware on his computer back to Beijing.
"Now the CCP is doing what the KMT did," said Chen. "They're just lagging behind by 30 years."