Farmer plans to become first Communist president of Taiwan

"Factories are closing and unemployment is rising. People are becoming disillusioned with the Kuomintang (KMT) as they were with the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)," said Wang Laoyang, 60, chairman of the Taiwan Communist Party (TCP), flanked by his two vice-chairmen. "This is a good opportunity for us. I hope to become president within 10 years."

It is a measure of how thoroughly history can upend itself that as Mainland China has converted to fang and claw capitalism in everything but name, the Chinese who fled communism more than 50 years to found the bastion of anticommunism in Asia are now are willing to countenance the establishment of a Marxist party, although Wang's odds of taking it to the top are long indeed. And in a final irony, if he were to set out to establish an independent political party in China itself, he would probably be in jail.

Nonetheless, Wang established the TCP in Hsinhua on July 20 last year, a month after a court in Taipei overturned a 50-year-old law that banned parties that advocated Communism.

"I have invited (Chinese Premier) Wen Jiabao to visit Taiwan and would like an invitation to attend the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic in Beijing this October," he said.

Wang first applied to set up the party in 1993, when he received the first of 13 rejections. He has spent almost all his money on this mission, selling his land except for the small plot next to his house. His success inspired the founding of a rival, the Republic of China Communist Party, in Taipei on October 1 last year. Its secretary-general, Chen Tian-fu, a businessman who lives in Shanghai is, incredibly, the cousin of Chen Shui-bian, the former DPP president on trial for corruption. The two are the 141st and 147nd political parties in Taiwan.

After Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek moved to Taiwan in 1949 with 1.5 million soldiers, civil servants and followers, he banned Communism and enforced the ban with ruthless efficiency. His secret police arrested anyone involved or suspected of involvement with the Communist Party or Communism. They were interrogated and served long terms in prison; many were executed. His life's mission was to recapture the mainland and 'save it from Communism.'

So how is it that a poor farmer with a primary school education has set up a party named after an ideology despised by the vast majority of Taiwanese?

"Like other men, I served two years in the army, in the military police," said Wang. "We were ready to attack the mainland at a moment's notice. As a young man, I mostly believed what I was told. It was all a big lie. The government deceived the people. I began to hate the government. People did not dare to speak out, but I spoke out."

He was one of the founders of the DPP, with a membership card of number 25, joining before it was legalised in September 1986. His associates included Chen Shui-bian and Hsu Tian-tsai, the current mayor of Tainan city, of which Hsinhua township is a part. But he fell out with his associates, believing the DPP to be ineffective, and decided to set up a Communist Party. On September 20, 1995, he and more than 100 others held a birthday party in honour of Deng Xiaoping, to praise him for his work in reforming and modernising China.

Police waited in cars nearby and swept the area for drugs and weapons but did not intervene. They fined Wang NT$60,000 for holding 'an illegal meeting'. He and his associates continued to hold meetings, under the eye of the police, who were watching for any sign of contact with the Communist Party in China.

In 2000, Wang planned to run in the presidential election but could not raise the necessary support or funding. That year, he visited China, where he met a native of Taiwan who was a vice-chairman of the China People's Political Consultative Conference, the government's top advisory body.

This game of cat and mouse with the police continued until the legal decision last year and the TCP's founding, which was attended by two well-mannered officials from the Interior Ministry who come to learn what was going on.

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So far, the TCP has 120 members, including farmers, workers and businessmen, of whom a few have paid the annual subscription of NT$1,600. The party is seeking money from wealthy individuals, including Terry Gou, chief executive of Foxconn, the world's largest maker of electronics and computer components and Taiwan's richest man. The party has no office or website.

Wang says the party has received no money or support from China's Communist Party, which largely has lost interest in fomenting Marxist paradises across the planet, including across the 170-km Strait of Formosa. This month (April), he led a group of 12 party members to attend a meeting in Shaanxi to celebrate the 'Yellow Emperor' attended by 10,000 people. They had an official reception and stayed in the Xian Hilton, with their hosts paying two thirds of the cost.

The party's policies are confusing. Wang confesses that he has not read Das Kapital or other Communist classics by Karl Marx, Lenin or Mao Tse-tung. "We believe in private, not public property. We admire what the Chinese Communist Party has done. Social equality is more important than economic development. The Kuomintang government stresses development too much."

' One of the party's two vice-chairmen, Huang Lung-hsiong, said Deng Xiaoping had invented a new kind of Communism, which had attracted thousands of foreign investors and accumulated a record level of foreign exchange reserves. "China holds US$800 billion worth of American government debt."

Wang advocates reform, not revolution. "I oppose Taiwan independence and support peaceful reunification. Taiwan people should run Taiwan with a higher level of autonomy than in Hong Kong. I would sign a peace accord with China."

To drum up support, Wang drives around Hsinhua township in a black Toyota Camry, with the three characters for Communist Party written on the bonnet. "I am not followed by the police but they listen to my telephone calls."

Taiwan's second Communist Party held its inaugural meeting on October 1 last year in Taipei, attended by 32 people, most of them over 70. Its application was approved by the Minister of the Interior on March 31 this year.

Its secretary-general, Chen Tian-fu – the cousin of the former president -- said that the party would work with the historical mission of Hu Jintao for peaceful reunification.

This reunification is not the best result for Taiwan people but they have no other choice," Chen said in a statement on April 8. "This reunification needs the agreement of the majority of Taiwan people and would give them a high level of autonomy and recognize the interests of their standard of life."

The party, he said, would use 'a planned economy' to enable all Taiwan people to eat properly and have a happy and healthy life and eliminate corruption and inequality. The party is creating a website and looking for a headquarters; like the TCP, it is soliciting funds from the business community.

Chen, 52, moved in 2001 to Shanghai, where he runs a profitable business hotel.

To make things even more confusing, Tainan is the home town of Chen Shui-bian and a bastion of the DPP. It gave him 58 per cent of its votes in the 2004 presidential election. Even in the Kuomintang landslide last March, the DPP obtained 49 per cent of Tainan's votes.

How will the farmers and businessmen of Tainan, the loyal supporters of the DPP who are suspicious of everything that comes from the mainland, vote for a Communist Party?

Many Taiwanese are unaware of the two Communist parties. "For me, three parties are enough," said Wang Li, a Tainan schoolteacher. "Blue is KMT, green is DPP and orange is the New Party. I do not care about the others. Taiwan has far too many parties and too much politics. To set up Communist parties in Taiwan is ridiculous. No-one will vote for them."

All this is a far cry from the first Taiwan Communist Party, set up in April 1928 by students who had been trained in Moscow. Initially, it was under the Japanese Communist Party. It became independent in 1931 and subject to the orders of the Comintern in Moscow.

Workers and peasants were ordered to overthrow the Japanese 'capitalists' who dominated the island's economy. The party organized strikes and armed resistance but was subject to fierce repression; between 1931 and 1933, 107 party members were arrested and sentenced to prison terms of up to 15 years.

Its most famous member was Hsieh Hsue-hong (Red Snow Hsieh), born in 1910. In 1925, she joined the Chinese Communist Party in Shanghai and studied in Moscow. After World War Two, she organized farmers in Taiwan and played a prominent role in the uprising of February 28, 1947, setting up a 'people's government' in Taichong on March 2.

To escape arrest by the army, she fled to Hong Kong and then the mainland, serving as an NPC delegate for Taiwan in Beijing in 1954. She was never able to return home and died in Beijing in 1970.

After crushing the February 1947 uprising, Chiang Kai-shek declared martial law and outlawed Communism. Beijing showed no interest in promoting a Communist Party in Taiwan, preferring to court the Kuomintang and those who support unification. So the Taiwanese – at least a handful of them -- now are doing it themselves.