Should Lee Teng-hui ’68 actually come to Cornell’s campus, he may be surprised to find a rather large group of students who all believe that any attempts to silence his voice and his opinions are a violation of Cornell’s access to its alumnus.
Speculation puts the former president of Taiwan’s visit as soon as April 30.
“It’s really a small issue whether or not Lee should be able to come because of his political views,” Eva Shen ’01 said, who helped draft a petition supporting his visit.
Attempts to prevent Lee from coming to Cornell included an open letter to President Hunter R. Rawlings III from the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA), printed as an advertisement in The Sun on March 12.
The CSSA acknowledged the letter’s purpose as a way to create discussion about each aspect of the issue.
“We didn’t expect such strong opposition [to it],” said Ce Li grad, president of the CSSA.
The opposition included Shen, Wayne Chen ’04, members of Cornell Students for an Open Society and other supporters who petitioned to make their opinion known to administrators particularly why they feel CSSA’s view, in their letter, is incomplete.
“This issue is important to me because while the CSSA has a right to voice their own opinions, they are in fact trying to curtail President Lee Teng-hui’s freedom of speech,” Shen said.
Shen, Chen and others said that while they are all active members of different political, ethnic and student organizations that do not necessarily share their views about Lee, they are pleased they are able to speak out on their own about their support for Lee.
Some of these groups include Lambda Phi Epsilon, Roots and Shoots and the Federalist Society For Law and Public Policy.
Shen is pleased with the “scope” of Lee supporters represented in Cornell and in the movement against the CSSA’s letter.
“We rallied up our friends and people we knew from the Taiwanese Student Organization and we decided to focus on freedom of speech, not because it was the only issue brought up by [the CSSA’s letter] but because it was the most obvious,” Shen said.
Shen noted that around five or six members of Cornell Students for an Open Society drafted the petition statement.
It was then emailed to multiple listserves where over 20 others helped out on its creation. Later supporters brought the statement into lecture halls and other places where supporters could sign it.
“We had a huge show of support which I think attests to the simplicity of our argument because our argument is about freedom of speech. We did this to show the University that there is a different voice,” Shen said.
This movement started from these students reading the CSSA’s letter and ended, for the meantime, with over a thousand signatures and the topic in Rawling’s ears.
“It’s a very simple principle to us and we knew there would be a lot of support for it,” Shen said.
They felt that while it was more than acceptable for the CSSA to voice their beliefs they also wanted to voice their opinions.
“We’re not challenging their [CSSA’s] freedom of speech,” Chen said.
“But we’re concurrently not overlooking Lee’s political views,” Shen added.
Lee’s political views include Taiwanese independence and they feel that no one can argue with an idea that has been in practice for over 50 years.
“For the past century, continuing into this century, China has not ruled Taiwan for a day,” Shen said.
Shen noted the release of Taiwan by Japan in 1945 and nationalists establishing the Republic of China before the inception of mainland China’s government, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), as proof of her arguement.
They noted the establishment of Taiwan’s own economic relations, trade sanctions, visa quotas with the United States, a free-market economy, currency, army, flag and language as how Taiwan has proved its ability to act as a soverign nation away from mainland China.
“They [CSSA] chose not to look at these statistics,” Shen said.
The actions of mainland China are also a concern for Lee’s supporters and Chen said he believed the actions of the PRC after Lee’s 1995 Cornell visit were not directly Lee’s fault.
“It’s not right to prevent someone to come here and then blame that person for the actions that China did,” Chen said.
Shen notes that any tensions this caused are not as closely linked to Lee as dissenters want people to believe.
“Who in fact is creating the tension — is it China with the largest standing military in the world or is it this little island off the coast … and someone speaking about it?” Shen said.
“China has their own propoganda and they censor the history they want to teach their people,” she added.
Although these issues are important to them, Shen noted that she is pleased that the CSSA raised awareness of this issue.
“We’re happy the CSSA is working to foster dialogue … because that’s our goal too,” she said.
Archived article by Carlos Perkins