The ''Anne Frank of Taiwan'' Story

Friday, August 05, 2005

The Story of Taiwan's Anne Frank: SHIH Ru-Chen

[as told to the English-speaking world for the first time in print ... in the pages of the Taipei Times newspaper in the March 5, 2007 issue, page 8, under editorials:
]] ....IF YOU ARE COMING HERE VIA THE TAIPEI TIMES article, welcome to this website and if you have any comments or questions, please email the author of the newspaper commentary at danbloom [at] gmail [dot] com

Everyone around the world knows the famous story about Anne Frank, the little girl who kept a diary when she and her family were hiding from the Nazis during World War II in Holland.

Anne died tragically in a Nazi concentration camp, after she and her family her discovered in their hiding place and taken by train to the notorious Nazi death camps.

But after her death, her diary was published as a book in Europe first, and then in America and later around the world in over 25 countries. It was titled "The Diary of a Young Girl."

It is a heart-breaking story of courage amidst daily terror, of compassion amidst the horrors of war, of family togetherness amdist the deprivations of the Nazi occupation of Holland.

Anne Frank, who was just 12 years old, and her parents were Jews, and the German Nazi's didn't like Jews and wanted to kill them all. This was the sickness of that time in history, and we should never forget.

Anne's diary, published after World War II was over the armies of freedom were victorious over the Nazi army of ugly brutality and lies, has been the subject of somber poems, novels, stage plays and movies around the world ever since.

Everyone now knows the story of Anne Frank and her indominitable spirit in the face of sadness, loneliness and the Nazi occupation of Holland. She died during WWII, killed by the Nazis, but Anne Frank also remains alive even today through literature, art and......yes......memory!

. . . .

Did you know that Taiwan has its own "Anne Frank" story about a man in Hsinchu who hid in small, secret hiding place -- a thin space between two walls, with no room to even stand up -- for 18 years during the White Terror period?

His crime? He committed no crime at all, but the government's secret police at that time were looking for him, and rather than risk being arrested, tortured and perhaps killed, Mr. Shih Ru-chen decided to find a hiding place. This is a true story, and it goes like this:

Once upon a time, there was ... no, wait a minute, this cannot begin like a fairy tale with a "once upon a time" introduction. No, this is a tragic, sad story, and while it does not have a happy ending, in a way, the telling and retelling of this story can bring a kind of satisfaction to the people of Taiwan, and mostly importantly, to the relatives of the man who lived it.

As you might know from studying the history of Taiwan, the people of Taiwan lived for a long time under a government ruled by military law and secret police, from 1949 to 1988, a period that many people now refer to as the White Terror period. It was a time in Taiwan's history when the military rulers of the country ruled with an iron fist and put anyone who disagreed with them in jail -- or to death!

Yes, the White Terror period was not a happy time in Taiwan, and most people there would like to forget about it and move on with life. But to forget the past is forget one's own history, the good and the bad, and all people in all countries should remember the past, even as they live in the present and plan for the future. It is best to remember and never to forget ... the story of Shih Ru-chen.

. . . .

Mr Shih was nice man who lived in Hsinchu with his family, a lovely wife and a sweet young daughter. He also had an open mind, a freedom-loving mind, and this sometimes got him into trouble with the miltary authories of that time.

Because of something he did or said or whispered, or because of some friends he had or some meetings he attended, the secret police were looking for him.

They wanted to arrest him, interrogate him, maybe even torture him and kill him. Mr Shih decided that, if he wanted to live, the best course of action would be to try hide from the secret police. So he left his home and walked to his brother's house, asking if he could find a hiding place there.

Mr Shih's brother, Shih Ru-chang, built a new wall in his house next to an old wall, and in the small space between the two walls, there was just enough space for a grown man to sit down and crouch -- but not stand. This is where Mr Shih Ru-Chen hid ... for 18 years!

Mr Shih did the same thing that Anne Frank and her family did during WWII. Rather than give in to the forces of darkness and evil, he decided to find refuge in a secret hiding place in his brother's house. And of course, in order to keep the police away, everyone had to keep the story very very hush hush ... for 18 years!

Every night, Mr Shih's brother, Ru-chang, would remove some bricks from the new wall and let him get out to stretch his legs, eat and get some well-needed exercise. Then after a short time, back into the hiding place went Mr Shih. This didn't go on for just one week, or one month, or even for a year. This went on for ... 18 years.

When Mr Shih began his ordeal, he was 37 years old.

This story is an amazing story of courage and a secret hiding place, of secret police and an extended Taiwanese family who loved a very good man, husband and father. Mr Shih was never famous duirng his lifetime, of course, and even after he died, at the age of 55, very few people in Taiwan knew about him or his amazing 18 years in hiding. Only his family knew!

Even the ''funeral'' for Mr Shih had to be kept secret, so the secret police would not know about it.

To tell the truth, dear Readers, there was no funeral for Mr Shih. Let us now remember his life gently in these pages.

For today, in telling and retelling this story, we readers, in Taiwan and overseas, revive his memory, salute his steadfastness and admire his courage. The Jewish people in Holland gave us Anne Frank. The Taiwanese people have given the world Shih Ru-chen as an example of deep personal courage and conviction. Let us never forget him.

. . . .

Every night, when Mr Shih's daughter was still a little girl, the loving and devoted father would quietly get out from his secret hiding place between the walls and tip-toe over to his daughter's bedside to tuck her in and cover her with a warm blanket in the winter and a thin white sheet in the summertime. This was his nightly ritual, but she never saw him because she was sleeping. In the morning, the little girl would ask her grandmother the same question over and over again:

"Who tucked me in last night, Grandma?" she asked.

And Grandma Shih always said, with a sad and mysterious smile: "Dear Me-hui, who tucks you in every night and covers you with love? Oh, it is the 'Bed Goddess', the lovely and sweet bed goddess, who protects you at night, dear!"

"Oh," said the little girl. "I think I understand."

One time, to keep the little girl believing in the bed goddess, Grandma Shih even made a small shrine in the bedroom, using the corner of the room to offer prayers to the make-believe "bed goddess." This would keep little Mei-hui happy, she thought.

But when little Mei-hui turned six years old, her grandmother finally let her in on the secret hiding place and introduced her to her father. And for the first time in her life, that she could remember, Mei-hui was face to face with a man she was told to call her Poppa. And she did.

"Poppa, I love you," Mei-hui always said to her father whenever she saw him at night when he came out of his hiding place for a few short minutes.

"I love you, too," her father replied, tears in his eyes.

"And one more thing, Poppa. I know who tucked me in all those years before -- it was you! Thank you, Daddy!"

And every night, after that face to face reunion with her loving, doting father, little Mei-hui would wait patiently after sunset and count the minutes before her father would come out to chat and play with her. What a wonderful time it was when they were together! How happy she was to be in his arms! How proud she felt to be Shih Ru-chen's daughter! It was all that little Mei-hui could ask for.

She never complained, she never cried, she never regeretted her fate or her father's destiny because she knew in her heart he was the best father a father could be and he was hiding in a secret hiding place because so he could always be near her ... and protect her!

. . . .

That's the happy part of the story: how a father and a daughter fleetingly found happiness together in the few moments during a dark time in a nation's history -- in a land where freedom was precious and little understood.

But the sad part of this story is that this hide and seek cat and mouser secret hiding place life of poor Mr Shih Ru-chen went on for ....18 years! 18 long, long years!

Mei-hui grew up fast in those days.

And then one day, one night, Shih Ru-chen's body gave up, and he breathed his last breath, dreamed his last dream and died in the arms of his loving, patient wife, Mrs. Shih, Mei-hui's mom.

. . . .

You, dear Reader, might think this story is over now as you scroll down the page here, and while it's true, the telling of it is almost finished on this Internet page, it is also true that the story of Mr Shih Ru-chen will be passed on down from generation to generation in the freedom-loving country of Taiwan -- a small island with a big heart! -- forever and ever, and the sun will never set on Mr Shih's courage or his bravery or his ideals.

Tell this story to the world, and it will gain even more power! For just as the Jewish people gave us Anne Frank of Amsterdam and her courageous family, so too have the Taiwanese people given us ... Shih Ru-chen, a man who was not afraid to live for his ideals, and who was not afraid to die for them either!

Long live the memory of Shih Ru-chen!

(c) 2004 Friends of Taiwan Inc.

風中的哭泣 -- 政治犯施儒珍自囚十八年 [18 years]

by 陳銘城 , freelance reporter

聞名全球的「安妮的日記」是描述為逃避納粹大屠殺猶太人,全家自囚多年的故事,台灣最近也出土白色恐怖政治犯,在一九五○年代,為逃避逮捕及牽連親友,躲在家中柴房壁內夾層長達十八年 [18 years] 的自囚故事。台視「謝志偉嗆聲」七月十九日晚間十點三十分將播出「風中的哭泣—已故政治犯施儒珍自囚記」,邀請長年掩護施儒珍的弟弟施儒昌及施儒珍的女兒談「不能喊叫爸爸」的失落親情。


[If there is a need for corrections, deletions, additions, etc., later, they will be made by the webmaster in Taipei. To submit corrections etc, please email the webmaster at:
danbloom [at] gmail [dot] com


Dear Sirs:
Thanks for sending the story about Shih Ru-chen. Pretty amazing! Some might say it's hard to believe ..... how could a human being stay cooped up that way (albeit with a bit of time to stretch in the evening) for all those years? Did he use a toilet during the day time? Did he ever become ill and need medical attention? What was his daughter doing sleeping at his brother's house (if his wife moved there, wouldn't the Secret Police become suspicious?) ....This story looks as though it could become an illustrated children's book in Taiwan and the outside world, and reach millions of readers this way.
-- American reader in La Jolla, California.

Dear Sirs:
I had never heard about this story, despite being a friend of Taiwan for over 20 years and writing countless articles about Taiwan politics and culture. Is it true? How did you hear about it and can you verify its authenticity? If true, it boggles the mind. Should be published for international audience, yes!
-- Professor at Harvard University, Boston, USA

Dear all:

這是描述一章悲傷但感人的台灣歷史的英文網站──是關於一個住在> 新竹的丈夫兼父親在白色恐怖時期為了躲避警察,竟躲在新竹他弟弟 家裡兩塊牆板中的小夾縫長達十八年之久。 讀它,且靜靜的流淚! 歷史是值得我們記得的,而且歷史能好好地教我們一課 "未來".

NOTE: This is an English language website that describes a very sad, yet moving chapter in Taiwan's history -- about a Hsinchu husband and father during the White Terror period who had to hide from the government police -- for 18 years, hiding in a small space between two walls in his brother's home in Hsinchu. Read it and weep! History is worth remembering....

''Many tales from White Terror era to be told''
By Dan Bloom 丹布隆
Monday, Mar 05, 2007, Page 8

As Taiwanese at home and abroad recently commemorated the 60th anniversary of the 228 Incident with public lectures, film screenings and memorial gatherings in Taipei and Washington, the lessons and memories of 228 will continue to reverberate for future generations of Taiwanese.
As reported in this paper, a public memorial service was held in the lobby of the Rayburn House Office Building on March 28 "that brought together some 200 Taiwanese-Americans to remember 228 and the martial law that followed, and to express their hopes for the new Taiwanese democracy" ("Recognize Taiwan: Tancredo," Mar. 2, page 2.)
At the gathering, Lin Yung-mei (林詠梅) , the daughter of Taiwanese intellectual Lin Mao-seng (林茂生), recalled the night of March 11, 1947, when six men dragged her father from the family's house in Taiwan.
Lin said that her father disappeared and was never seen again, adding: "Injustice and senseless silence ... Now their stories can be told."
There is another story of the White Terror period that has so far been told only in the Liberty Times (the Taipei Times' sister newspaper) and never in an English-language newspaper. Until now.
It is a story that needs to be told to the world in English, because it tells of a chapter in Taiwan's history that many Westerners can understand at a basic human level, since it is what a professor at Soochow University has called "the Anne Frank story of Taiwan."
The story, which has been documented in detail in English and Chinese on a Web site ( is about a Hsinchu man named Shih Ru-chen (許壬辰).
During the early 1950s, Shih, fearing arrest and possible jail time and even execution from the military police, chose to go into hiding at his elder brother's house, using a tiny crawl space his brother created in his home, to elude the authorities.
He was 37 years old when he went into hiding in a small space between two walls in his brother's home, and he was 55 years old when he died there, of natural causes, having remained "in hiding" for 18 long, unfathomable years.
Please read that number again: not 18 weeks, not 18 months, but 18 years.
Yes, this story happened in Taiwan during the White Terror period, and it has been documented in Chinese in a book published a few years ago by the Hsinchi Culture Center.
The book includes interviews with Shih's surviving relatives and a copy of the blueprint of the crawl space he "lived" in for 18 years, coming out only for short periods of time at night to eat, wash, go to the toilet and chat with his wife and two children.
Like Lin's story of her father's disappearance in 1947, Shih's story would surely resonate with people around the world, in whatever language they read it in.
Just as Anne Frank's "diary" -- written while the Nazis occupied Holland and her family went into hiding -- found a worldwide audience after World War II, so too can Shih's story find an audience in Taiwan and overseas.
Not many people go into hiding for political reasons for 18 years, and the story of Shih's ordeal has until now been mostly hidden from public view -- even in Taiwan -- and almost no one overseas has ever heard of this incident.
Surely there's a place in Taiwan's history books, novels, plays and TV dramas for Shih and his family.
Anne Frank taught the world an important lesson, and so too can Shih. There has been a "senseless silence" about his life, but now his story should be told.

[Dan Bloom is a freelance writer in Taiwan. ]