Chinese Gunman Targets Taiwanese Believers With Long Pro-democracy Link


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On May 15, a guman opened fire at Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in California.
On May 15, a guman opened fire at Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in California. (AFP)

Investigators said they obtained David Chou’s handwritten notes documenting his hatred of Taiwan.

On Sunday a Chinese gunman chained and nailed the exit doors shut as he began to fire on parishioners of the Irvine Taiwan Presbyterian Church in Orange County's Laguna Woods. Mr. John Cheng, 52, a doctor who specialized in sports medicine, quickly charged Chou from across the room and tackled him.

The assailant fired on Mr. Cheng and as he attempted to unjam his weapon, the congregation's former pastor, Billy Chang, hurled a chair at his head.

The recent deadly shooting at Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in California didn’t just violate a sacred space.

Taiwanese Americans across the country say it ripped through their cultural bastion.

It is where the congregation in Laguna Woods worshipped. But it was also where their native language and support for a democratic Taiwan thrived. Sunday’s mass shooting by man officials say was motivated by political hate of Taiwan has spotlighted the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan’s close connections to the nation’s democracy movement.

Jerry Chen, a church member who dialed 911 after fleeing the gunman, calls himself a “proud Presbyterian” and says the congregation, while avoiding politics in church, likes to talk about what is going on in Taiwan.

We care deeply because we grew up in Taiwan, he said.

Mr. Chen, 72, has been a congregant since the church’s founding 28 years ago. He is puzzled why a man who has no apparent connection to the church would drive from Las Vegas to Laguna Woods, a town of 16,000 populated mostly by retirees, to carry out such an attack.

 

Mr. John Cheng, a doctor who specialized in sports medicine, quickly charged gunman but gunmen shot him dead.
Mr. John Cheng, a doctor who specialized in sports medicine, quickly charged gunman but gunmen shot him dead. (Orange County's Sheriff)

Ms. Lin, who grew up going to a Taiwanese Presbyterian church in St. Louis, saw a Presbyterian minister leading the crowd in singing phrases in Taiwanese like “Make Taiwan Independent” to the tune of “Glory, Glory Hallelujah.”

Ms. Lin’s uncle and aunt, who both attend the Laguna Woods church, stayed home on Sunday, she said. Even though she was left wondering why the attacker chose this particular congregation, Ms. Lin said she wasn’t surprised that he chose a Taiwanese Presbyterian church. Her undergraduate thesis as an Asian Studies major in Dartmouth College was centered on this very topic.

The Presbyterians not only succeeded in Romanizing the spoken Taiwanese language but also provided services such as education and healthcare that other churches did not provide, she said.


'Always Inclusive'

The church distinguished itself as a “native church” that represented Taiwanese, Hakka and Indigenous people, with a political vision rooted in democracy and self-determination – ideals many Taiwanese found attractive, Lin said.

The Presbyterian Church was also instrumental in bringing members of the Democratic Progressive Party into power, said Jufang Tseng, dean of the School of Theology at Charisma University, an online institution based in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Ms. Tseng worked in the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan’s media department from 2001 to 2003. Raised in a family that favored Taiwan’s reunification with China, Tseng said her mindset later changed thanks to the Presbyterians.

The Presbyterian Church has always been more inclusive, she said, adding that church leaders were adept at navigating secular spaces while not imposing their religious beliefs on others. Their motivation was faith-based, but they didn’t push Christianity on anyone, she concluded.

The gunman, 68-year-old David Chou.
The gunman, 68-year-old David Chou. (TheO)

Members had gathered on Sunday for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic struck for a luncheon honoring their former pastor, Billy Chang, who was visiting from Taiwan.

Investigators are still piecing together information about the gunman, 68-year-old David Chou, who was born in Taiwan after his family was forced to leave China when the Communists took power. They said they obtained Chou’s handwritten notes documenting his hatred of Taiwan. In addition to murder and attempted murder, Chou could also face hate crime charges.

The small, tight-knit congregation was a space where older Taiwanese immigrants supported each other, said Sandy Hsu, whose in-laws made a last-minute decision not to attend the luncheon. The shooting has sowed fear and anxiety in the Taiwanese community nationwide, she said.


Christianity Paved Way for Democratic Transformation in Taiwan

The Presbyterian Church carved a niche and grew in political stature in the 1950s after the Kuomintang — or KMT party — came into power in Taiwan, said Christine Lin, who published a book in 1999 about the Presbyterian Church as a vital advocate of local autonomy in Taiwan. The party imposed what many perceive as an oppressive regime and targeted Presbyterians, even labeling them “terrorists,” she said.

On June 28, 1997 – three days before Hong Kong’s reversion to China – Ms. Lin recalls being at a rally with 60,000 people outside Taipei’s World Trade Center. She said nearly a third of those gathered were Presbyterians who arrived by bus from across the country.

 

 


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