A couple of days ago the newly elected president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen (to be sworn on May 20), when asked by one of the leading newspapers in Taiwan, “China Times”, about books that have impacted her the most, listed Witold Pilecki’s Report. – reports for Pressmania.pl the journalist Hanna Shen, who has been living in Taiwan for years now. And so when I’m asked “who reads the Report in Taiwan?” I can easily answer: “Taiwanese political elite”. The Captain’s story moves many regular Taiwanese people. When the media on the island reported the news about the funeral of col. Zygmunt Szendzielarz “Łupaszka”, one of the Internauts, a Taiwanese, wrote that he longs for the day when such a public funeral will be granted also to Witold Pilecki. I must confess that I did read these words with tears in my eyes… – Hanna Shen explains in her talk with Małgorzata Kupiszewska.
Małgorzata Kupiszewska: Thanks to the Taiwanese „The Witold’s Report” was published in China. Whose idea was it, to publish it in Chinese?
Hanna Shen: – Publishing the Report in China would not have been possible without having it published in Taiwan, in Chinese, first. This, in turn, was possible because in 2011, in cooperation with IPN, I had managed to organize an exhibition devoted to Pilecki at the Taipei International Book Exhibition – one of the world’s largest publishing events. We were presenting, among others, the book by dr. Marco Patricelli titled “The Volunteer” (“Il Volontario”), the album by Jacek Pawłowicz “Rotmistrz Witold Pilecki 1901-1948” published by IPN, and also a short movie by Umberto Femminelli “Tribute for Pilecki”. Back then, at the Book Exhibition, I saw how immense the interest that Witold Pilecki was inspiring was. People were asking me about possible sources of information on captain Pilecki in Chinese, or perhaps a movie about him. I had realized that publishing an item on Pilecki in Taiwan was but a matter of time. After the Book Exhibition we sent materials presenting the figure of the Captain to the publishers on the island. A highly prestigious publish, Acropolis, had decided to publish the Report. Patience Chuang, who runs this publishing house, is called a “rebel” in her publishing circle due to her resistance to trends and introducing really high-value positions to the market. I wanted to make the Taiwanese edition of the Report special in some way, and so I suggested that perhaps rabbi E. F. Einhorn, who has been living in Taiwan for years and whose parents had died in the Sachsenhausen camp, should write the preface. I think that the preface by dr. Einhorn allowed the Taiwanese to feel that the story of an exceptional Polish soldier can be close to them, as there are people who have been impacted by World War II living on their island as well.
In this Taiwanese edition there is a Polish plot as well, there is your contribution…
– There is an introduction written by me. I write, among other things, about how the communists wanted to remove the Captain from the Polish history, and how the Poles are restoring this memory after many years.
The Report did not only make it to bookstores in Taiwan, but in Hong Kong as well. It reached a publishing house in China. Beijing World Publishing Corporation bought the right to publish the Report in the People’s Republic of China from the Taiwanese publisher. And so, the story of Witold Pilecki has reached China through Taiwan.
Have you ever considered the possibility of Witold Pilecki being talked about in China, in Hong Kong, in Taiwan, when you were presenting his figure to the Taiwanese publisher?
– I did not think that it would have worked work in China. Before then, I have already had send a book titled “The Volunteer” by Marco Patricelli to two Chinese publishers. While they were greatly interested in publishing it, after some time they did reply that there could have been problems with the Chinese censorship. Also the Taiwanese publisher of the Report had some doubts about the way Witold Pilecki would be presented in China. Naturally there were no such problems in Taiwan, as there is freedom of speech and press here. We were wondering whether the Chinese censorship would allow the truth about Pilecki’s tragic fate, sealed by the communists, to be openly said. In the version of the Report that was published in China it is said that Witold Pilecki was sentenced to death by the Polish communists for conducting covert operations on behalf of the West and that it was not until the 90s when the truth about this hero have started to get restored. Patience Chuang told me that upon seeing how the Chinese censorship basically refrained from changing the Captain’s biography, she was starting to hope that “history can be saved from politics in contemporary China, and perhaps politics can be saved through history”. This is yet another evidence for me how much can Captain Witold Pilecki do even today.
About whom do you know that they have already read the Witold’s Report?
– The Asians are greatly interested in Witold Pilecki’s story. A couple of days ago the newly elected president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen (to be sworn on May 20), when asked by one of the leading newspapers in Taiwan, “China Times”, about books that have impacted her the most, listed Witold Pilecki’s Report. And so when I’m asked “who reads the Report in Taiwan?” I can easily answer: “Taiwanese political elite”. The Captain’s story moves many regular Taiwanese people. When the media on the island reported the news about the funeral of col. Zygmunt Szendzielarz “Łupaszka”, one of the Internauts, a Taiwanese, wrote that he longs for a day when such an official funeral will be granted also to Witold Pilecki. I must confess that I did read these words with tears in my eyes…
What was it that had convinced the publisher to print the Report? Why did they decide to do this?
– Patience Chuang, the chief of the Taiwanese publishing house Acropolis, told me that the Taiwanese had read many publications regarding World War II, but Pilecki’s name was never mentioned in them. As she herself admits, she had decided to publish the Report and introduce the Captain to her countrymen because she thinks that the truth about the events of the 20th century without the Captain’s story is incomplete.
The English text was translated to Chinese by a renowned Taiwanese translator Huang Yuwen. The publisher had incurred all the costs of translation and promotion. Regrettably, there was no promotion nor support from Polish institutions, which should have done that themselves. For many a year, they have had a list of authors who were to be promoted, for example Szymborska. Witold Pilecki’s Report was not on the list.
So the Polish policy with regards to history was aimed at hiding the story of one of the six bravest soldiers of World War II…
– Yes. When we were organizing the Polish stand in 2011, at the time when we were to present Pilecki’s person, I addressed the Book Institute asking for help. I received no answer. The Institute of National Memory, however, did get involved, especially Mr. Piotr Gajewski, the apprentice of Janusz Kurtyka, the Institute’s president, who had died in Smoleńsk.
What was it that piqued the interest of the Chinese in the Witold’s Report? After all, these are old times, and places, from their perspective, at the end of the world…
– The Chinese and the Taiwanese are moved by bravery and sacrifice of the Captain. The principles that the Captain held dear are also dear to many Asians: patriotism, love for one’s country, courage and sacrifice for the Fatherland. One of my acquaintances, a Chinese dissident Cao Changqing, told me that Pilecki had a quality that he himself considered to be very Polish – solidarity with those persecuted. This attribute causes the Captain to evoke such respect. Surely both editions of the Report, the Taiwanese one and the Chinese one as well, are considered to be success. There is going to be the fourth reprint (sic!) of the Report in Taiwan, and the second edition has been published in China.
You have mentioned the new Madam President being captivated by the newest lecture. What was it that had interested her the most?
– An important point in Tsai Ing-wen’s program (she did bring this up in an interview) is reckoning with the past (I mean the period of so-called white terror, that is: the period between the late 40s till 1987, when the martial law on the island was lifted). The Taiwanese politician admitted that upon familiarizing herself with the Captain’s biography she had realized how crucial, in this process of reckoning with the past, the matter of restoring memory is. And again I can repeat: how much can Pilecki do, even today!
It is remarkable for the Taiwanese to discover that the man who had decided to cast himself into hell of Auschwitz was, at the same time, a loving husband, a father, a poet and a painter, but also an involved citizen, acting for the common good, and a person able to bring other people for a common goal. This is a trait of great consequence for the Taiwanese, who, just like the Poles, have been building a civic society for 25 years after years of dictatorship. I think that the very process of reviving the memory about Pilecki is interesting for the Taiwanese as well.
Is there a Chance that they will start admiring Poles in Taiwan?
– Oh, but they already do. Taiwan does have one Nobel Prize winner (chemistry, 1986), Professor Lee Yuan-tseh, who admits that in his young years he wanted to pursue the career of a musician. He altered his plans when he found the biography of Maria Skłodowska-Curie in a library. History of our great compatriot’s life had sparked his passion and love for science.
A Taiwanese poet Li Minyong often talks about Poland in his articles and lectures. He translated poems by Herbert, Miłosz, and Zagajewski, to Chinese. Lee thinks that the Taiwanese can learn from the Poles about their own history, but they can also learn the sense of statehood, responsibility, and courage.
I could give many more examples of Poles serving as inspiration for others. I think there are many of them in entire Asia, and we will discover them when we get rid of our complexes and start telling the world about superheroes such as Pilecki, such as the Polish “Solidarity”, which, after all, for many Chinese is a symbol of an organization resisting the communist dictatorship. “Solidarity” had inspired i.a. a Chinese dissident Li Wangyang to start a trade union in 1983, modeled after the Polish “Solidarity”.
This got him imprisoned for many years, and in 2013 he was murdered by the Chinese secret security service.
It will be easier to win the hearts of the Taiwanese, the Chinese, the Hongkongers, the Japanese, the South Koreans, etc., if, while talking about our heroes, we do not fail to mention those who were inspired by these heroes in Asia.
What was it that caused you to find yourself here? Economical reasons, yearn for adventure, love?
– The first time I visited Taiwan in the middle of the 90s. I was among the first Polish students who have been granted a scholarship from the Taiwanese government to learn Chinese. Why did I come back? Because of love – my husband in Taiwanese. But it is also the love for the island, which has had experiences similar to those of our own country. Taiwan is a country that has almost always been under someone’s control: there were i.a. the Dutchmen, the Japanese, and, in the end, there was the Chinese Kuomintang. The island had started the process of democratization at give or take the same time when Poland did – in the late 80s. Today, the young generation has a very strong sense of Taiwanese identity. They are patriots, willing to continue the construction of free and independent Taiwan.
You are a journalist – do you work in your trade?
– Yes, I am a correspondent of „Gazeta Polska Codziennie” and „Gazeta Polska” in Tajwan. My articles about Asia can be read also in the montly journal “Nowe Państwo” and at Wirtualna Polska, my commentaries can be sometimes listened to in Radio Wnet and in Telewizja Republika. From time to time I also write for the local Taiwanese media, mostly articles about Poland. I think one of the first articles that have ever been written about Pilecki in Chinese was written by me. It was published in the newspaper “Epoch Times”, which, however banned in China, is being read there nevertheless. I know that the article about Pilecki was quoted by many Internet portals in the People’s Republic of China, and therefore the topic must have been interesting for the Chinese.
Tell me about people on the street, in the shop, at the hairdresser’s. How are the Chinese in Taiwan?
– Here, on the Island, they call themselves Taiwanese. The sense of local identity has increased greatly in the last years. When asked whether they feel themselves to be Chinese or Taiwanese by surveys of various kinds, the islanders point to the latter. And so: the Taiwanese are, first and foremost, very warm and friendly. If they see a lost foreigner on a street, they approach and try to help. They can grab the hand of the tourist and guide them to destination this tourist has intended to reach, They do this often, even despite the fact that they might be going in a completely different direction themselves. They also have integrity. A couple of times I had left my laptop or my wallet in some place, and every time my lost property was returned to me as it was. Even when I had left my computer at the Tokyo airport, the Taiwanese airlines brought it to my home in Taipei, free of charge and with no problems. A similar thing has happened to my husband, who left his backpack at the Okęcie airpoirt after the check in… It was not until after many struggles and hardships did his backpack arrive to Taiwan.
What is it that you admire about the Taiwanese people the most?
– I love the Taiwanese people for being free people. To them, the police, the clerks in the tax office are people who are getting paid by the Taiwanese taxpayers. And so, while these Taiwanese taxpayers demand greater efficacy, they also demand that the petitioners are to be seen as human beings. When this efficacy and the state’s care for citizens is lacking, the Taiwanese can march out to the streets.
Which Polish quality do the Taiwanese like about you the most?
– I am far from comparing myself to Captain Pilecki in terms of courage and bravery, but I do have a little audacity that the Taiwanese value. In 2014, the authorities were rather displeased by my description of the protests that had taken place on the island (the so-called Sunflower Revolution) that I had written for „Gazeta Polska Codziennie” and “Niezależna”. The Taiwanese representation in Poland sent a letter to the editorial office of “Niezależna”, demanding the article to be pulled off. Such a thing has not happened in Taiwan in 10 years. The authorities could demand corrections, but not cancelling the article’s publication, as that is a clear violation of freedom of press. Neither “Niezależna” nor I complied with the demand and I made the letter of the Taiwanese representation public. After that, thousands of young Taiwanese were contacting me, passing their support and thanks. In the end, it was the Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs that had to explain itself before the parliament. On the last day of the protests, complete strangers were approaching me on the street in order to thank me. On that day I did put on a shirt with Pilecki’s image, convinced that Captain Witold Pilecki and these young Taiwanese, protesting against the government’s politics aimed at making the island dependent on the communist China, shared the very same approach to liberty and sovereignty.
Thank you for the talk.
Podziw Tajwańczyków za zwycięską walkę Polaków z komuną.
Kilka dni temu, nowo wybrana prezydent Tajwanu Tsai Ing-wen (jej zaprzesiężenie odbędzie się 20 maja), zapytana, przez jedną z czołowych gazet na Tajwanie, China Times, jakie książki wywarły na niej największe wrażenie, wymieniła Raport Witolda Pileckiego. – dla portalu Pressmania.pl mówi dziennikarka Hanna Shen, od lat mieszkająca na Tajwanie. A więc na pytanie, kto czyta Raport, mogę spokojnie odpowiedzieć, że tajwańska elita polityczna. Historia Rotmistrza porusza wielu zwykłych Tajwańczyków. Gdy media na wyspie opublikowały informacje o pogrzebie płk. Zygmunta Szendzielarza Łupaszki, jeden z internautów, Tajwańczyk, napisał, że nie traci nadziei, że kiedyś takiego pogrzebu, o charakterze państwowym, doczeka się Witold Pilecki. Muszę przyznać, że te słowa przeczytałam ze łzami w oczach…wyjaśnia w rozmowie Małgorzacie Kupiszewskiej.
Tłumaczenie na język angielski: Aleksander Panfil