Dr. Lim Bo-Seng 林茂生 博士
Dr. Lim Bo-Seng 林茂生博士, 1929
...and his calligraphy *
The Dignity of a Taiwanese in Full
His look was Taiwanese. His deeds were Taiwanese. His life goal was education - Taiwanese style. Even in his mysterious “departure,” he showed the dignity of Taiwanese in full.
Let’s begin with Lim’s father, Rev. Lim Ian-Sin (林宴臣牧師 1859-1944 also known as 林燕臣.) Ian-Sin was a scholar-gentry with a degree of “hsiu-tsai” (秀才) and was invited to teach missionaries the Taiwanese language in the context of Chinese literature**. While working with Rev. Dr. Thomas Barclay (巴克禮牧師) and company, his constant contact with Christians and Christianity led to his baptism under Barclay. Ian-Sin then studied theology and was ordained as a minister and worked in local churches before accepting a teaching position at the Tainan Theological College which was founded by Barclay.
Lim Bo-Seng was the eldest son of Rev. Lim Ian-Sin. He began his study at the age of 3 and was soon recognized as a child prodigy at the age of 4. Eventually Bo-Seng became one of the most outstanding alumni of Chang-Jung high school (長榮中學.) He went on to study at the Tokyo Imperial University majoring in Oriental Philosophy/Chinese Literature. He became the first Taiwanese ever to graduate from TIU.
After more than 10 years of teaching in southern Taiwan (including Chang-Jung high school and Tainan College of Commerce 台南商業專門學校,) he received a Japanese government scholarship and went abroad. Within two and half years he received his Master’s and Ph. D. degrees from Columbia University, the very first Taiwanese to hold a Ph.D. Some of Lim’s academic advisors were world renowned scholars such as John Dewey and Paul Monroe. Lim’s dissertation: Public Education in Formosa Under the Japanese Administration: Historical and Analytical Study of the Development and the Cultural Problems (日本統治下台灣的學校教育：其發展及有關文化之歷史分析與探討) showed how he believed a way to help his fellow Taiwanese through education. Little wonder that all of Bo-Seng’s children were highly educated with outstanding professional achievements (e.g., dental scientist, psychiatrist, bank executive, professors, and writer.) Looking at their given names, one can easily see how Bo-Seng was so much in the world of literature and humanism. The only daughter was named “praising the plums blossom” [詠梅] while his nine sons were named in the order of “Just; Righteous; Human; Way; Literature; Peace; Serenity; Prosperity; Brilliant - 正; 義; 人; 道; 文; 和; 平; 昌; 光” while sharing the same middle name Tsung (宗.)
Upon returning to Taiwan, Lim put his education theory and convictions to practice. He taught with passions at schools such as Taipei College of Commerce (台北高商) and Tainan Institute of Technology (台南高工 - later became Cheng Kong University 成功大學.) He was involved in virtually all major educational programs in Taiwan. He was later named Dean of the College of Arts and Letters at the National Taiwan University, one of the top universities in the Far East. Dr. Lim also became the publisher of the most widely circulated Taiwanese newspaper Ming-Pao [民報] – a tool he believed would best serve the Taiwanese – an avenue of public education and opinions gathering.
While the majority of his life was spent under the Japanese rule, Lim showed no objections to Chinese, Japanese or Western cultures. Through education, Lim strongly believed that everyone had the right to live a dignified life and at the same time contributed to the society fully.
Nevertheless, Dr. Lim fought Japanese colonialism in Taiwan. He joined the Taiwan Culture Association (台灣文化協會) with like-minded Taiwanese intellectuals to enlighten the Taiwanese populous and to trumpet the modern ideas of equality, freedom and democracy. In his lectures and speeches, he strove to instill in his beloved compatriots a sense of Taiwanese identity and consciousness by speaking in Taiwanese--a practice banned by the Japanese authorities.
After the WWII, Dr. Lim welcomed the Chinese rulers to Taiwan only to find that some rulers were worse than the others. Even before the 2-28-incident, Lim was warned by his foreign colleagues at the university that he had to be careful because his talents might be taken as a possible threat to some. Lim did not seem to pay much attention. Perhaps he did not have time to worry, or he never thought of himself as a threat to anybody. Dr. Lim was simply a scholar and an educator with no political ambition whatsoever.
And then came February 28th 1947. The day that few Taiwanese could forget, yet for their own safety, many chose to keep quiet then. Senseless and violent deaths occurred within weeks of the incident. The real terror, however, lasted for decades. Missing people mostly went unreported and therefore were unknown to public except the victims’ family members. On March 11th 1947, in the midst of more warnings from his friends and colleagues, Lim was arrested, without any court order or formal charges. He dressed up, and walked into the hands of the secret policemen. His whereabouts were a total mystery. His life suddenly ended. To many Taiwanese besides Lim’s family, the hope also ended suddenly in 1947. Lim’s body was never found.
In a society where scholars are respected and even adored dearly, among the estimated tens of thousands of Taiwanese victims since the 2-28-incident, Dr. Lim was virtually at the top of the list. Nevertheless, his life should be viewed more in the light of the literature, culture and education over the political/ideological arguments. It is a common understanding that the 2-28-incident and its aftermath should have not happened if the rulers were with a little heart and common sense. It is also a common belief that this kind of incident/massacre, like the Holocaust, should never happen again. All in all, Dr. Lim (1887-1947) will always be remembered as a scholar, who dedicated his life for the Taiwanese people, as if all were his brothers and sisters.
Many wondered where exactly God was when a tragedy stroke. People would wonder the same thing long after the 2-28-incident especially the majority of victims were as peaceful and loving as Lim Bo-Seng. This little story may present part of the answer.
While studying at the Columbia University, Lim regularly attended the services at the nearby Riverside Church, one of the most famous Protestant churches in the US. Once he was asked to demonstrate his calligraphy. In Chinese characters, he wrote down “God is Love” (上帝是愛) which was joined by other languages also expressed the same way on a stained glass window at the chapel. Looking at Lim’s life, his family, his poems and articles, in that few words God is Love, Lim not only wrote down the summary of his life, but stood as a witness of God’s love in spite of all the tragedies. He wrote beautifully with his brush, yet more so with his life as part of the answer to that aged old question: “Where was God?”
God was with those who suffered there and then, here and now.
* The author of the poem “The Utopia” (桃花源仙境) was Wang Yang-Ming (王陽明,) Dr. Lim's favorite writer. Wang was a Chinese philosopher and poet from Ming dynasty.
** One of Rev. Lim Ian-Sin's students was Dr. David Landsborough (蘭大衛醫師) who founded the Changhoa Christian Hospital (彰化基督教醫院.)
Acknowledgements: The pictures used here were taken from the book "A Lin Odyssey" by Marnie Copland. And some detailed information was obtained after consulting with Prof. Tsung-Kuang Lin (林宗光,) the youngest son of Dr. Lim Bo-Seng.
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