China, Taiwan: Su Mei Kao Chin

The long history of unfair resources distribution and disrespect for cultural diversity has made aborigines lose sight of who they really are and what their future will be.

— Su Mei Kao Chin

Kao Chin Su Mei (40) is a legislator who fights for the rights of aboriginals of Taiwan and Lanyu Islands. Kao Chin has reactivated aborigine’s rights movements, silent for years. In 2004, Kao Chin consolidated the effort of aboriginal representatives in the Legislative Yuan to pass the Basic Law for Aboriginals.

Kao Chin Su Mei was a famous performing artist with a promising career until five years ago when she found out that she had liver cancer. One month after she had surgery, the great earthquake of 1999 hit Taiwan. Kao Chin’s attitude towards life was transformed. Together with other charity relief forces, she visited the aboriginal villages and started her new career, fighting for their rights. In 2002, Kao Chin was elected legislator in Taiwan’s parliament. Many were skeptical about this career change. She knew of their doubts and decided to prove them wrong through action. She worked hard, found good aides, visited every village and recorded their lives using the footage as evidence for her debates at the Legislative Yuan. In May 2002, Kao Chin demanded an official apology from the minister of economy for a nuclear waste disposal project in the Lanyu Islands, where the Tao tribe resides. TV cameras showed a relentless Kao Chin Su Mei, dramatically in contrast to the former artist. This changed the way people viewed her. On 26 October 2002, Kao Chin initiated a social movement for the revival of traditions, opposing the Magau National Park. This not only prevented the approval of the program, but also reactivated aboriginal movements in Taiwan. “You cannot gain your dignity without action. You can only defend yourself against the violence of the government by demonstrating the integrity of your power. A movement does not mean bloodshed. You can only touch people’s hearts by showing how persistent you are”, says Kao Chin.

Legislative Yuan (Taiwan’s parliament)