Back to list

Chiang Ching-kuo's would-be-assassin publishes memoir

2018/01/14 19:52:49

Deh Tzu-tsai (鄭自才)/CNA file photo

Taipei, Jan. 14 (CNA) The failed assassination attempt on late president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) in 1970 is a "painful" memory to recall for Deh Tzu-tsai (鄭自才), one of the individuals involved, but he expressed no remorse about his role.

"I was doing what a Taiwanese was supposed to do," Deh told CNA in a recent interview about his memoir which was published on the 30th anniversary of the death of Chiang on Jan. 13, 1988.

The assassination attempt took place on April 24, 1970 in front of the Plaza Hotel in New York city, when Chiang, then vice premier and heir apparent to Chiang Kai-shek of the Kuomintang (KMT), was on a visit to meet then U.S. president Richard Nixon.

Peter Huang (黃文雄), his brother-in-law and then a graduate student at Cornell University, pulled out a gun to shoot Chiang when he was being escorted to a luncheon but a member of Chiang's U.S. security detail struck Huang on the elbow, causing the shot to miss.

Deh and Huang, both 33, were arrested on the spot but later jumped bail separately and lived in exile for more than two decades, though Deh did eventually serve 22 months in jail for his part in the assassination, before returning to Taiwan in 1991.

Some have argued that the attempted assassination galvanized overseas Taiwanese to call for independence and forced Chiang, who became president in 1978, to promote more Taiwanese to higher government positions to consolidate the regime's legitimacy and to be more lenient towards opposition figures before the lifting of martial law in 1987.

Had Huang not fired the shot, the changes that happened to Taiwan in the subsequent years "would not have come so soon," Deh said when reflecting on the significance of their mission.

"When I cast my mind back to this, my heart bleeds. It's not a sweet memory. It's a painful one," said Deh, then an architect living in the U.S. with his wife, Huang's younger sister and two children.

Deh, who at the time also served as secretary-general of World United Formosans for Independence (WUFI), an alliance of overseas Taiwanese independence activists, described Chiang's trip as "serendipitous" and what followed as in a sense "inevitable."

The idea to assassinate Chiang popped into his head almost immediately on learning of Chiang's planned visit to the U.S., Deh said.

It was one of the many actions which Taiwanese independence activists were prepared to do in pursuit of the cause and "I was just doing what a Taiwanese was supposed to do," Deh said.

However, the plan was not well thought through with only two weeks to prepare, Deh said as he recollected that Huang, WUFI member Lai Wen-hsiung (賴文雄) and himself all fell silent the night before when they were talking about who should pull the trigger.

According to Deh, he first volunteered to undertake the task, but Huang took it upon himself and said that he should do it because he, unlike Deh, was single.

During the years of his exile, Deh said he stayed in several countries, including the United Kingdom, Sweden and Canada to advocate for Taiwan independence.

In 1991, Deh, who was on a KMT blacklist barred from returning to Taiwan because of his involvement in the overseas Taiwanese independence movement, managed to get back to attend his father's funeral, but was sentenced to one-year in prison the next year for entering Taiwan without a visa.

Since then, Deh has dedicated his life to painting and architectural design, although he tried and failed to seek the Democratic Progressive Party's nomination for the Tainan mayoral election in 1993 and to be a lawmaker-at-large in 1995, shortly after his release.

The 228 Memorial Monument in 228 Peace Memorial Park in Taipei, Taiwan's first monument memorializing the 228 Incident, the 1947 uprising against the KMT regime, was designed by Deh who won the competition when he was still in jail.

Deh said the reason he is publishing his memoir now, 48 years after the assassination attempt, is to shed light on the history of the KMT's repressive rule in Taiwan.

With the publication of the memoir, "I feel that a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders," said the 81-year-old Deh.

(By Cheng Chin-wen and Shih Hsiu-chuan)