Portrait psycho-politique de : Hsieh Tsung-Min 4-6

Jean Lin






Before his birth
Disappointment with the KMT regime : Intellectual preparation
The army-people relationship : Educating the Taiwanese
The first imprisonment : The beginnings of human rights work
The second imprisonment : Heavy torture & Strengthened resolve
Exile in the U.S. : Attacks, Freedom, & Separation
Back to Taiwan: Transitional justice & Taboo


Political activism : Collective and individual history
Imprisonment : Staying active
The taboo of the political prisoner : An individual denial of collective history


Countertransferential elements
Critique of interview method


Synopsis of the Declaration of Formosan Self-Salvation

Some key works which have influenced Hsieh

The link between clinical psychology and preventing future atrocities :
Some last thoughts



Political activism:
Collective and individual history

Hsieh's involvement in the Taiwanese liberation movement was something that grew over time. Hearing stories of his relatives who had stood up in the first strike in Japanese Taiwan must have had some influence on him. Seeing his school friends imprisoned during the White Terror and seeing opposition voices jailed, Hsieh had the vague idea that he wanted to do something for his people. This led first to his pursuit of law studies, and then of his political science studies. In the course of these studies he avidly sought out literature to teach himself more about political regimes than he could have ever learned in the classroom.

It is noteworthy that during the 1925 Erlin Incident, Japanese lawyers came to defend the Taiwanese against the Japanese empire. Afterwards, Tsieu, a retired general from China who was supposed to train the Nationalist Chinese forces in Taiwan, confided to Hsieh that he would like to help the Taiwanese to obtain their freedom. Thus Hsieh had encountered two examples of foreigners from the country holding power in Taiwan-first the Japanese, and then the Nationalist Chinese-who found the situation for the Taiwanese so unjust that had to work against the regime. The second time around, with Tsieu, the message was brought home and it was the beginning of Hsieh's full-fledged political activism. Hsieh surely must have posed himself the question: If foreigners find the situation of the Taiwanese unbearable, what does he, as a Taiwanese, think of it?

Staying active

Concerning Hsieh's time in prison, it seems that he was able to keep his mind and spirit active, even when he was brutally tortured. Hsieh was able to find ways to communicate with the other prisoners and thus start his human rights work, and was able to read some thought-provoking books which kept his mind active and his spirit alive in the most devastating of circumstances. I highlight this because it suggests that the keeping the mind and spirit active under harsh prison conditions is a crucial element in being able to rebound from the experience.

The taboo of the political prisoner:
An individual denial of collective history

It is striking to note that in Taiwan in 1925, at the time of the Erlin incident, association with former political prisoners was not taboo. Today, in 2006, there are still a number of Taiwanese who consider association with former political prisoners is taboo. Although we can not say that the Erlin political prisoners are equivalent to prisoners under the White Terror, we can still note that what has happened between 1925 and 2006 is the installation of the repressive KMT regime that massacred 28,000 Taiwanese and forbid freedom of speech. Even though today all Taiwanese have won the right to say what they think, some of those who grew up in the generation silenced by the White Terror still prefer to keep silent. Thus taking radical political stands such as associating with ex-political prisoners becomes taboo for certain Taiwanese.

This phenomenon seems to be what has happened with those who refuse to associate with Hsieh and continue to be angry at him for his activism. However it is precisely Hsieh's activism that helped bring about the democracy in Taiwan today, and it is doubtful that there would be anyone in Taiwan sincerely hoping a return to a totalitarian state. Thus it seems that, for those individuals who consider ex-political prisoners taboo, this attitude is a direct result of denial of these individuals about their collective Taiwanese history.


Countertransferential elements

During the first interview, we spoke for one hour before taking a 45-minute break for strictly personal reasons, and then continued to speak for two hours after that.

Just before the break, we started talking about Hsieh's first arrest and imprisonment. After the break, I tried to go back to some details of his arrest and his treatment during his interrogation. At the beginning of this second part of the interview, I felt a change in tone on Hsieh's part. During the first part of the interview, Hsieh had spoken very freely, and when we talked about his first imprisonment, the words came more slowly and were more measured. This might be due to the emotional intensity of the memory, or because he is not accustomed to people asking him about the details of his imprisonment-or maybe simply because when we spoke, it was getting rather late in Taipei already. If I had been able to conduct the interview in person, I would have been better able to assess the situation.

I was surprised that he did not mention the brutal beating that he received upon his first arrest, or the physical abuse that he received during his first interrogation. As Hsieh did not bring up the topic of these first physical abuses, and I was aware that they had happened, I asked him to confirm that they actually happened. He confirmed without commenting further on them. The absence of further elaboration may be because these abuses appear so insignificant compared to the brutal torture he was to suffer later.

Indeed, when it was time to talk about the second imprisonment, there was no hesitation on Hsieh's part: He described the torture with strong emotion in his voice. When asked if he had ever gone into such detail of this torture with others, whether it might be a friend or a psychologist, he replied negatively, and said that he was telling them to me because he found that this study, on violence and politics, very interesting.

In fact, when asked if he had ever seen a psychologist, Hsieh seemed very surprised at this idea, as if seeing a psychologist would be a sign of a serious weakness. I also sensed that Hsieh might have considered seeing a psychologist as a sign of suffering, and, although there is no doubt that he was terribly tortured, he does not want to be seen as someone who has suffered.

Critique of interview method

My manner in posing questions about Hsieh's relationship with one of his brothers was perhaps too intrusive. Although Hsieh did not mention anything at all about his siblings, I knew that one of his younger brothers had also been tortured in prison.

After Hsieh's first imprisonment, this brother tried to print and distribute a document similar to Hsieh's Self-Salvation Declaration-however, like his elder brother Hsieh, he was imprisoned before it could be distributed. When Hsieh informed me that he had never gone into such detail of his torture with anyone else, I thought that he and his younger brother might be able to identify with each other because they had both been tortured for political reasons. My interest in his brother was not so much the fact that he was a relative of Hsieh, but more for the fact that they had both shared, to some extent, a similar intense experience that very few other people have known. When asked about this brother, Hsieh insisted that he didn't want his brother to be bothered. With such a sensitive topic, I could have perhaps introduced my question about his brother with an explanation of why I was asking it.


Hsieh cited several works of literature which helped him to develop both a political position and a personal position on life. I found this particularly striking because it is a remarkable example of the power that ideas can have, and that ideas can prevail even under a regime where there is no freedom of speech.

Hsieh's experience is also an extraordinary example that the physical body can be broken, but, with courage, the spirit can not be broken. Hsieh's arms, legs, hands, back, intestine, and gallbladder have been mutilated, but he his spirit remains strong.

Lastly, this study has demonstrated the role that clinical psychology can play as a tool for peace. It is difficult to construct a sustainable peace without being aware of what has happened in the dark moments of the past. Where these stories have never been shared with others before, clinical psychology can offer the space for these historically important moments to be uncovered.


Synopsis of the
Declaration of Formosan Self-Salvation

Below is a summary of the declaration, for which Hsieh was the principal author, and for which he was arrested. Under the KMT dictatorship, this document was not able to be distributed in Taiwan.

Eight principal points:

1. The world must recognize that there is one China and one Formosa. The Chiang regime has been able to survive only because of American support; nevertheless American policy is moving toward recognition of Communist China, and uses the Formosa issue as a bargaining point.

2. Return to the mainland is not even remotely possible. The military forces under Chiang's control are a defensive force, entirely dependent upon the United States for supplies. It is too small to conquer the mainland, and much too large for peacetime purposes, consuming eighty percent of the budget. While preaching freedom and democracy Chiang Kai-shek violates basic human rights at will, monopolizes political power, and through use of secret police imposes dictatorial rule. The political commissar system weakens the military organization and reduces its efficiency. Formosan conscripts drafted to replace aging continental Chinese soldiers must wear the Nationalist uniform, but they remain Chiang Kai-slek's silent enemy.

3. The slogan "Return to the Mainland" enhances the position of the Chiang regime externally by exploiting an American neurosis concerning communism and Communist China, and as an excuse internally for martial law, enables the Chiangs to enforce dictatorial rule.

4. The Nationalist government represents neither the people of continental China nor those on Formosa. The Generalissimo's regime was driven from the continent only two years after the elections of 1947. The Formosans who constitute eighty-five percent of the population have less than three percent representation in the national legislature Although for external propaganda purposes, the government says that the continental Chinese and the Formosans must cooperate, in practice it employs every means possible to divide them and set them against one another in order that they will not unite it overthrowing the dictatorship. Chiang's manipulation of factions within the ruling party is here extended to the general population.

5. A top-heavy military expenditure and a high birthrate are the two greatest internal problems. Chiang's own statistics in this year (1964) showed that military expenditures account for more than eighty percent of the budget but this does not include many hidden or indirect costs. Unemployment daily grows worse. Advocates of birth control are considered as defeatists, and a high birthrate is encouraged only to produce conscript soldier's for Chiang's armies twenty years hence.

6. The army and party elite, under Chiang's direction, pursue policies designed to eliminate opposition leadership by destroying the economic base of the middle class. When community leaders everywhere rose in 1947 to protest economic exploitation after the first eighteen months of Nationalist rule, about 20,000 were killed or imprisoned on Chiang's order. This was followed, in 1950, by the so-called land reform, manipulated to impoverish the well-educated middle class.

7. Economic policy is irrational, designed to support the huge military establishment rather than to develop a healthy agricultural and industrial life suited to Formosa's resources and manpower. The farmer, heavily taxed in an artificial price system, produces principally to feed the army rather than the productive laborers. Genuine tax reform would necessitate a reduction in the military budget. Social instability is growing acute as a few collaborators become very rich and the farmers and laborers remain impoverished and driven to meet the tax burden.

8. Can Formosa be an independent country? Since 1949 the island has in fact been independent. On the basis of population Formosa ranks thirtieth among the members of the United Nations. We must cease imagining ourselves to he a big power and face reality, establishing a small but democratic and prosperous society. Some say that Chiang has become an emperor, and we must only wait until he dies. But we must not overlook the possibility of a desperate young Chiang handing Formosa over to Communist China, nor should we even for a moment forget that Formosa may become again the victim of international power politics. We cannot wait passively for "progressive reform"; the history of the Nationalist party and government clearly shows that any form of compromise with Chiang is either an illusion or a deception designed to trap the intellectual appeasers who hope that the passage of time will bring an ultimately peaceful transfer of government to Formosan hands. Formosans who collaborate with the party government for economic gain must be warned that they may pay a heavy penalty one day at the hands of an angry people.

Three principal objectives:

1. To affirm that return to the mainland is absolutely impossible, and by unifying the island population, regardless of place of origin, to bring about the overthrow of the Chiang regime, establishing a new country and a new government.

2. 1. To rewrite the constitution, guaranteeing basic human rights and obtaining true democracy by establishing an efficient administration responsible to the people.
3. To participate in the U.N. as a new member, establishing diplomatic relations with other countries striving together for world peace.


Some key works which have influenced Hsieh:

The Bible, Book of Job -------
Biography of Abraham Lincoln -------
Communist Manifesto Karl MARX
The Diary of Anne Frank Anne FRANK
A History of Western Philosophy Bertrand RUSSELL
Man's Search for Ultimate Meaning Viktor FRANKL
Les Miserables Victor HUGO
On Liberty John Stuart MILL
The Open Society and Its Enemies Karl POPPER
The Social Contract Jean-Jacques ROUSSEAU
Fig WU Zu-Liou
Orphan of Asia WU Zu-Liou
Paper on the Coups d'Etat Max LERNER
in Austria-Hungary and in France

Reference used for this study:

A Taste of Freedom PENG Ming-Min


The link between clinical psychology and preventing future atrocities:
Some last thoughts

There is no doubt about the abominable nature of Hsieh's torture. His body was held permanently in grotesque positions for days at a time, and then twisted and turned as if he were an object and not a human. While de-humanization is a common torture tactic, there are two elements that are particularly disturbing.

The first disturbing element is the case of the most unhappy "happy weekend", where Hsieh's torturers visibly were having a good time torturing him. If one, with a stretch of imagination, might be able to understand that when the torturer tortures, he is "simply" executing orders, it is much more difficult to understand how a human could visibly take pleasure in inflicting such cold-blooded torture. Thus, ensuring that such horrors do not happen again in the future demands that, after understanding the story from the victim's point of view, we must understand the story from the torturer's point of view. What kind of system was put in place so that a human could take pleasure while torturing in such a brutal manner?

The second disturbing element is that not only did such torture happen, but this torture was the result of a political strategy, of policy. It thus can not be considered as an isolated event, which makes it all the more important to study what exactly happened and why it happened.

If we can understand how the torturer was fabricated, it is first step toward the prevention of such future atrocities.


























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