At that time, Mr Peng had been blacklisted not to return to Taiwan, after a military court convicted him of sedition in 1964 for his involvement with two of his students in the printing of ‘a manifesto calling for the overthrow of the Republic of China government and the establishment of a Taiwanese democracy. American pressure on Chiang Kai-shek to release Mr Peng had led to his transfer from an eight-year prison sentence to house arrest in 1965. With the help of Amnesty International, he escaped to 1970, fleeing to Sweden.
The United States was the next step for Mr. Peng, who accepted a professorship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. There he wrote what would prove to be an influential autobiography, “A Taste of Freedom” (1972). In 1981 he co-founded the Formosan Association for Public Affairs, a lobby group that remains active today. (Formosa is another name historically used for Taiwan.)
In November 1992, after the end of 38 years of martial law in Taiwan and the death of Chiang’s son and successor, Chiang Ching-kuo, Mr. Peng returned to Taiwan, where he was met at Chiang International Airport Kai-shek by a crowd of around 1,000. He joined the Democratic Progressive Party two years later, before his presidential bid failed.
In the 2000 elections, Taiwan chose progressive Democratic candidate Chen Shui-bian as president. He was the first president of the non-Kuomintang country. Mr. Chen appointed Mr. Peng as an advisor in recognition of his contributions to Taiwan’s democratic struggle.
Decades earlier, as frosty relations between Washington and Beijing began to thaw under the Nixon administration, Mr. Peng had urged the world to pay attention to the concerns of the Taiwanese people.
In a 1971 opinion essay in The New York Times, he refuted China’s claim to Taiwan while arguing for closer ties across the Taiwan Strait between Beijing and Taipei.
“The Chinese,” he wrote, “must learn to distinguish ethnic origin and culture from politics and law, and abandon their archaic obsession with claiming everyone of Chinese descent as legally Chinese, too. far from China”.
He continued: “The real problem is not the independence of Formosa but the self-determination of the people there. And the people of Formosa want to live in the friendliest association with the Chinese people and would spare no effort to establish the closest economic, trade and even political ties with China.