The Chen Wen-chen Memorial Foundation yesterday launched a fundraising campaign to construct a memorial square on National Taiwan University’s (NTU) campus to honor White Terror victim Chen Wen-chen (陳文成).
Chen, who graduated from NTU’s mathematics department and later studied in the US before becoming an assistant professor of mathematics at Carnegie Mellon University, returned to Taipei on May 20, 1981, to visit his parents.
On the morning of July 2, he was taken by the now-defunct Taiwan Garrison Command — which wanted to question him about contributing financially to the pro-democracy Formosa Magazine — and was found dead the next morning outside the university library, where the memorial square is to be located.
A proposal was passed in 2015 and NTU named the public space where Chen’s body was found the Dr Chen Wen-chen Incident Memorial Square (陳文成事件紀念廣場).
In 2017, a sign was installed, but no construction has been done.
However, yesterday at the public space, representatives of the foundation, the NTU Student Association and the NTU Graduate Student Association said they were launching a campaign to raise NT$12 million (US$393,714) by March next year, because the university administration initially agreed to pay half of the cost of construction, but later refused.
Foundation head Maysing Yang (楊黃美幸) said she studied in the US at about the same time as Chen.
Hearing that a young academic had been murdered shocked many Taiwanese students in the US at the time, she said.
Yang said she still remembers how Chen’s father wore a sandwich-board with “Give me back my son” written on the front and “Give me the truth” on the back when he petitioned the case in the US.
However, 38 years after the incident, the truth has still not been revealed to the public, she said.
The memorial square would help students learn about history and think about the future, NTU Student Association president Tu Chun-Ching (?峻清) said.
“People should remember that the freedom and democracy they enjoy now were achieved by many people who sacrificed things in the past — it is our responsibility to remember this,” he said.
The incident not only resulted in the loss of a prominent young academic, but it also cast a shadow over a generation of academics at the time, NTU mathematics professor Chen Jung-kai (陳榮凱) said.
Quoting a line from Taiwanese psychological horror blockbuster Detention (返校) — which is set during the White Terror era — Chen said: “Have you forgotten? Or are you afraid to remember?”
Building the memorial square would help people not feel afraid to remember what happened, so that they could think about how to avoid the same mistakes and move on, Chen added.