by C.J. Anderson-Wu
On the Tuesday morning, he took newspapers from the mailbox and read through while having breakfast. On the front page the headline was “Instigators of Sedition Indicted”, next to it was international news, “Soviet Union Rejected to Withdraw Troops from Afghanistan, Jimmy Carter Warns That US Might Boycott Moscow Olympic Games”. Exactly one year ago, Jimmy Carter decided to build a formal relation with Chinese Communist regime. This person betrayed Taiwan, he thought, and now he thinks to contain the evil of Communism
The complete indictment was printed on the third page, very short, saying the editor-in-chief of the Formosa Magazine had been running eel farming business in Japan to cover up their collusion with the communists from China. It explained how the eight indicted were connected one another through various underground organizations in Japan or in the US under the disguise of the business of the magazine. The magazine had been banned for its purpose of overthrowing the government and seizing the power, but they continued spreading seditious words. In later paragraphs it said all the eight people, six men and two women, had short-term, mid-term and long-term plans to disturb people’s trust in the government by causing conflicts in the society in order to achieve their goal of Taiwan’s independence.
So were they communists or separatists? A sense of contempt rose inside him. Could prosecutors nowadays be more logical and conscientious? If these people were working with communists from China, they couldn’t be working for the independence of Taiwan because Chinese Communism was determined to take over Taiwan, even bloodshed was necessary. Didn’t they see the paradox? An indictment for eight people, that was all they could do? He also felt disgusted by those indicted. What they really wanted? Why would they plant poisonous seeds in our society? Why would they be so naive as to collude with communists? What made them think Taiwan was not a part of China? Blasphemy! Blasphemous criminals and stupid prosecutors.
Hearing the bus outside, he put down the newspapers and grabbed his briefcase, running outside to catch the bus. It was the bus transporting he and his neighbors, also his colleagues, to the courts from the community they lived. They were mostly judges, he himself was one of the chief judges of the fifteen courts of criminal appeals. He wondered if his fellow judges would talk about the lousy indictment in today’s newspapers, but this morning they were quiet. He gathered that they hadn’t read it yet.
From the bus window he saw Chien Hsin-Hwan take off with his motorcycle, it was later than the time he usually took off. It was a cold morning although it was almost the end of winter. Chien was his next door neighbor, occupying the smaller family unit than his own because Chien was younger and still was a district attorney. At 46, Chien was not young as most district attorneys, most of his peers had already got promoted to the Department of Justice in the central government or became judges of district courts, but Chien’s position hadn’t changed for a long time. It was probably because Chien spent too much time reading books unrelated to the profession, he thought. In addition to those philosophical publications, Chien also read a lot of books that he asked his friends to buy and mail to him from Japan. When Japanese retreated from Taiwan Chien was almost a teenager, he had been educated in Japanese. He continued studying Japanese by himself and was quite familiar with Japanese laws.
Chien’s children as well as his own went to the same junior high school although he was already in his late fifties. That was because he spent eight years fighting against Japan and another several years running from the Chinese communist troops. By the time he settled in Taiwan he was in his late thirties. With wars, everything in life started late if it started at all.
It was unusually quiet in the office, even though the most argumentative judges were in his court. Usually their day began with discussions about the legal issues they saw from the morning newspapers. Perhaps they did not care about the indictment of the people from Formosa Magazine because their cases would be tried in courts-martial anyway? No, it was something else. There was uneasiness in the air.
His court was in recess today, he decided to use the time to find more information in the library about slander, defamation, libel and freedom of speech, if there were examples setting clear jurisprudential ideas about them. When he walked to the door, he turned to look at Huang Mei-Hsueh, the least senior judge in his court to see if she wanted to help him, but when his eyes set on her, she turned her head away, seeming not to want to be interrupted from what she was doing. He opened the door and walked out alone.
At the terrace outside of the library he saw a man walk passing by with a bunch of files under his arm, his profile looked familiar. The judge stopped, waiting for the man to walk near so he could recognize who he was and greet him. But once he stopped, the man took a sudden turn, disappeared into the rooms at the other side.
On Thursday night he had an unexpected visitor, Consultant Chang. There were always such “consultants” showing up every now and then since he settled in Taiwan. At first he did not mind their asking around until one day his friend whose work sort of connected to the Secret Service ambiguously hinted to him that because he had lived in Hong Kong for two years before coming to Taiwan, the authorities were afraid he had been recruited by the Communist Party during that time, he was to be checked on until they made sure he was still loyal to his party. At first he thought his friend meant it took several months, at most a couple of years, but now it has been nearly three decades.
Consultant Chang politely entered his living room although not invited. He sat himself in front of the television that his wife was watching a cooking show demonstrating how to make Hunan food. They had to turn off the TV and his wife retreated to the kitchen after greeting the visitor. The judge never really talked about the missions of these consultants with his wife in case she’d worry.
Consultant Chang started the conversation with, “I am sent to see if Your Honor thinks there is improvement we can make for the courts and for the work of Your Honor.” Chang liked to use the term to call him in the court, very absurd, but the judge did not want to correct him, he was not interested to hear any other more stupid titles this man could come up with.
“Oh, that. I think the library hasn’t procured more updated publications for a long time.” He replied instinctively knowing all-the-while that it was not really the concern of Consultant Chang. Chang was not there to interview him about what they could do to assist their increasingly burdening legal work. After a moment of silence, Consultant Chang spoke, “I am also here to ask your opinions about Attorney Chien.”
“How about him?”
“He, he seems not very interested in getting promoted…”
Rather than replying, he waited to see what Consultant Chang was up to.
“… we wonder…, I wonder if there is something else engages him?”
“I don’t know about that.”
“Never mind, never mind.” Consultant Chang grinned. Then he asked about his children, how there were doing in schools, but not very sincerely, before he stood up to leave.
His wife came back to the living room to turn on the TV again, but the show was no longer teaching the cooking of Hunan dishes.
That night he dreamed of his older brother. They were playing in the river, competing over who could bear the coldness longer until their lips were frozen to purple, their bodies shaking. He was the youngest child of his parents, and the brother closest to his age was two years older, they hung out together all the time. They played in the river a lot until the chill of winter forbade them. Once the trace of spring began to show, they adventured to the river again. They were lashed by their parents many times for risking their young lives, but it hardly stopped them.
He dreamed of his childhood and his brother often, and sometimes in his dreams his brother was drowned and washed away.
It has been thirty-one years. He never knew how was his family in China, and they never knew where he ended up. Are they still alive? Do they know I am still alive?
Not long ago one of his friends told him he mailed his letters to his relatives in the US and they mailed them to China. In this way he finally established contact with his family. The judge thought of doing the same thing, but he knew no one in the US and he did not know if he could trust his friend’s relatives.
Awake in the night, he felt desperate. How come the government thinks he could have been recruited by the Chinese communists? Didn’t he lose his parents, his brothers and sisters because of the perils caused by communists?
The following weeks he couldn’t help but pay more attention to Chien Hsin-Hwan. He did look odd sometimes. When they encountered each other in the neighborhood Chien seemed less friendly as usual. Chien was from a farming family in Tainan where his parents still worked in the fields. Each time they came to Taipei to visit him or he went home down south, he’d share some agricultural products his family grew with the judge’s wife, who was from the rural county of northern Tainan. They exchange words in Taiwanese, a dialect the judge never could command.
He was once in a lecture Chien made about the controversies of the textbooks for grammar schools in Japan after the world war. Chien made very clear analysis about Japanese political climate over the past thirty years, such as how it blatantly engaged in censorship, despite the constitutional law prohibiting it. By broadening the definition of “obscenity” to include words about the past wrongdoings of the government so a wide range of publications were banned. The judge felt so sick that Japanese government still denied the crimes it had committed during the war. It was its invasion that caused China to finally fall into the control of Communism, it was its invasion that forced him to leave his hometown without knowing when he would see his family again.
He admired Chien’s Japanese language skills although it was the language of their former invaders or colonialists. It was important to know the judicial development in other societies. The judge did not know any foreign language enough to do such research, he knew the only way for him to maintain competitiveness in his profession was to work harder.
The climate was getting warmer, and the time Chien left home for work seemed more irregular, but a district attorney needed to conduct investigation in person; the judge had been in the same position at one time. He also noticed that Chien had more visitors recently. Their community was a square-like structure of four stories with an atrium in the center, each story accommodated eight households. Chien’s home was connected his at their kitchen and back doors. One night when he took the trash out he noticed that once he got out, the TV of Chien’s family was turned down. He did not give much thought to it, after all there were only three channels, what else they could watch? The trial of Formosa Magazine has lasted only nine days, but it was open to reporters under the pressure from the US, so he had been told.
Fifteen lawyers volunteered to defend the prosecuted, and in addition to claiming that the defendants were tortured during their interrogations which was a serious violation of human rights, they questioned the justification of the Martial Law and the Courts-Martial, and contended that the trial should be moved to the High Court. The judge would like to take over the trial, he would look into in depth that how a person was guilty for being a separatist or a communist, compared to the lousy work of the persecutors simply calling them “traitors” and “agitators” without explicating why and how they betrayed their country or agitated the public. How could a person to be led from his beliefs, no matter how absurd they were, to commit criminal activity? The defendant lawyers had been doing a great job, he thought, although he was clear in mind that the trial was not going to be moved to his court. He was appalled by the political standing of the eight defendants, especially their indirect denial that Taiwan was culturally and historically related to China. Aren’t we all the inheritors of Chinese legacy? Didn’t we all benefit from the development and growth contributed by the Republic of China? Nonetheless, watching how the trial proceeded he also realized that the society should move forward and open up to different ideas.
But was it easy to open up to different ideas? At the beginning of school winter break, his daughter brought back a novel Factory Men by a Tainan writer. Her scores were not very good in the last semester, so he scolded her, “You should not read this crap. I am not like Attorney Chien who has family farmlands for his kids to inherit, if you don’t study hard to acquire profession and earn your own living in the future, you are done.”
“What is not crap to you anyway?” The high school girl had started her rebellious stage, “Is the work of any local writer just crap in your opinion?” He was not impressed by Taiwanese writers, he did not think their writing great enough to be among classics, but works of contemporary Chinese writers were banned in Taiwan. He certainly was not a lover of Japanese literature, and works by western writers he once admired so much did not interest his children for they were so far away from their life experience.
Consultant Chang stopped by again a couple of weeks later. This time he made his point clear enough: to coax the judge to provide something against Chien Hsin-Hwan. “We have evidence that Chien has connection with these people hurting our country.”
“What evidence?” asked the judge, and his question seemed to surprise Consultant Chang. Had he forgot he was talking to a judge who demanded evidence invariably? The judge hardly revealed his contempt of the man sitting in front of him. Are they arresting more people?
Consultant Chang rummaged his briefcase. It was a black leather case with the badge of the Nationalist Party. The suitcase was badly designed and roughly manufactured, just like all the gifts from the government. The wallet he was given for the anniversary of Taiwan Retrocession Day was a perfect example, an eyesore and very hard to use. Waste of good materials, he thought, looking at Consultant Chang’s black suitcase with regret.
Consultant Chang presented several pages of a paper on the desk, the judge read it through. It was about the formation of Japanese Constitution Law, under the supervision of General MacArthur after World War. More than thirty years later now, there were people urging an amendment for more comprehensive coverage of human rights, such as right to privacy(puraibashii-ken), right to know or to access informationh(shirukenri), and lower the legal age of adulthood from twenty to eighteen. Freedom of speech had been guaranteed as early as during the Meiji Reign, and was reemphasized in MacArthur’s version of the constitution, which stated quite clearly: “all public officials be protected against unwarranted defamation.” It was plausible research, and the judge knew that the only thing it could criminalize Chien for was its being published in the banned Autumn Issue of Formosa Magazine last year.
He was aware that Chien must be a sympathizer of the Formosa defendants, but by no means did an excellent paper, of which the paper in question was an example, prove his involvement in illegal activities.
“I don’t see any connection in it, this is a high quality academic work,” the judge returned the papers to Consultant Chang and added, not without sarcasm, “you must have seen the academic achievement in it as well.”
Offended, Consultant Chang said in a threatening tone, “Covering up a felony is also a crime, allow me to remind you, Your Honor.” Then he packed his briefcase and left.
The judge did not keep Consultant Chang’s threat in mind at all. After all he had nothing to hide. The trial of Formosa Magazine took less than one month for the courts-martial to reach decisions, one of the defendants was sentenced lifetime, the rest of them were sentenced twelve to fourteen years. It was said that their lives were spared because of the pressure from the US. All of them gave up to appeal. The judge did not think they deserved capital penalty, either, especially since the entire legal process went so badly; sub-quality, he would say. The author of the Factory Men, Yang Qinggchu, was also convicted at the criminal court as the accomplice of the seditionaries among other thirty-six people. His portraying of the workers as “the proletariat” became evidences of his connection with Communism. The judge was stunned, he wished his daughter had not kept that the novel.
Chien Hsin-Hwan still acted oddly, if the judge’s opinion was asked. He seemed to be more around their living quarters, but whenever they met, Chien always avoided to have eye contact with him. Was he a guilty man? What crimes could a person like him have committed? He was rather a dreamer than an action taker, a nerd than a conspirator. On the other hand, the judge knew that Consultant Chang would never stop hassling them, based on his own experience, despite the Formosa Magazine trial having ended. Several weeks passed and the judge and the attorney completely stopped interacting one another, even their wives were aware of the growing strangeness between the two men and exchanged foods and cooking ideas much less.
In one early summer evening, when he was watering the plants in front of their back door, he saw a man with the same briefcase as Consultant Chang walk out of Chien’s door. Immediately the judge realized that, given time, everyone in this island could have been found involved in certain schemes, that was how the nation operated. He felt cold sweat on his spine.
That night he dreamed of his brother and he swimming in the river again, only this time it was not his brother washed away, he himself was the one drowned.