The Bold and Unruly Legacy of Chen Wen-Chen

July 2, 2021 Article published in New Bloom Magazine

IT WAS THE summer of 1975. The two young Taiwanese men, Rocky Tsao (曹永愷) and Chen Wen-chen (陳文成), met again in Ann Arbor, Michigan at a Taiwanese Association social gathering. Like most Taiwanese in the U.S. at the time, they were graduate students—Chen in statistics and Tsao in biochemistry. 

Tsao remembered first meeting the energetic and stockily-built Chen two years earlier in Taiwan when both had been serving their mandatory military service as part of the chemical corps, Chen serving as an instructor. Now, nearly five decades later, speaking to me on the phone from Boston, Tsao still recalls how Chen wore his military issue-hat rakishly tilted, “intentionally very sloppy.” “The image of him with a tilted cap, an attitude like, ‘I was forced to be here,’ confident in spirit, is deeply etched in my mind.” [1] Further, Tsao remembers, Chen refused to live in a dorm and spent money to live separately, on his own. “Can you believe it?” Even in his early twenties, then, under direct KMT military supervision, Chen had a rebellious spirit and refused to be controlled.

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