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December 12, 2014

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Gang background infuses philosophy

TWO statues sit side by side in Chang An-lo’s office, one of Confucius (551-479 BC) and the other of Guan Yu (died in AD 220), both historical figures who were later deified and worshiped across very different Chinese cultural circles.

Confucius is commonly recognized as the philosopher who laid the groundwork for many fundamental ideas in Chinese culture, and is often worshiped by students and intellectuals.

Guan is an ancient general from the Three Kingdoms Period (AD 220-280), best known for his brotherly-like loyalty to warlord Liu Bei (AD 161-223). For that, he is most admired by people who observe the code of brotherhood and righteousness — most commonly cops and gangsters.

The two ancient figures and deities who rule very different areas are rarely worshipped together.

“Confucius is a thinker, and Lord Guan is a doer,” Chang explains to Shanghai Daily at his hotel room in Minhang District. “You need both thinking and execution to reach your goal.”

He was in Shanghai this week to reconnect with family and friends after his high-profile return to Taiwan in June 2013.

For this complex 66-year-old Taiwan politician, the two seemingly incongruous figures in his office seem to fit. While his first name “An-lo” means peaceful and joyful, Chang’s life can hardly be described with these two words.

On the name card, he is Chang An-lo, president of the China Unification of Promotion Party in Taiwan. He is also known as White Wolf, a former gang leader who served prison time in both Taiwan and California.

In these two places, he has also earned five bachelor’s degrees and almost finished two master’s degrees. In Guangdong Province, his helmet factory produces more than 40 percent of safety helmets sold in the world.

To most people, Chang is best known for his alleged role in the assassination of writer Henry Liu in 1984, an event that reverberated through Taiwan’s history. It is said that Chang, who only knew about the case after it happened, presented evidence outside of court to prove the order was from Taiwan’s intelligence department. This information is thought to have saved his gang brother Chen Chi-li from the death sentence.

Those who have high respect consider him a good person who has served unjust terms, out of his friendship and brotherly love for Chen. Others accuse him of “abusing his mob influences.”

“Brotherhood is forever,” says Chang, who has never denied his past ties with the gang, Bamboo Union. He’s often described as its spiritual leader.

“My past is a fact, and there is no need to hide,” he says. “It serves both ways, like the same knife cuts bread and fingers. Of course, people can use my past as a weapon against me.

“But also, because of my past, I understand how the general public thinks, I understand how to extend to, approach and deliver ideas to them. Some intellectuals have great ideas, and they write great articles with excellent analysis of the situations, but that’s hard to understand by the ordinary people.”

When explaining his political ambitions, Chang makes references and recites texts, ranging from China’s “The Records of the Grand Historian” to America’s “Declaration of Independence.”

The love for history was inherited from his mother, a high school history teacher, while his father was a university professor and his older brother a doctor.

“I would probably have gone onto the same academic road,” he has told the media previously.

But he has changed the idea now, as he tells Shanghai Daily: “Now I think I’m not the academic type. I don’t like getting myself cornered into one specific aspect of things. I like to read and learn about a variety of different subjects, and I enjoy looking at matters from a macro perspective.”

It is difficult to imagine Chang, with his gentle demeanor, to have once said “let’s fight” or “don’t back off” in his youth, when he was known as White Wolf from the Bamboo Union. The group, the largest triad in Taiwan, was cited on the list of “The World’s Most Dangerous Gangs” in the May 2008 edition of Foreign Policy magazine.

“To leave a mark in my youth” is the reason Chang says he got involved with the gang. “Girls fancy beauty, when boys love brave stories,” he says.

“In my teenage years, it was common to get involved with the brotherhood. Usually kids got involved when they were in 9th, 10th and 11th grades, and then you focused on study and the college entrance exam when you got into 12th grade.”

Born in Nanjing, capital city of eastern China’s Jiangsu Province, Chang left for Taiwan with his parents in 1950, which makes him a waishengren, or people coming from outside of Taiwan, as opposed to benshengren — those who had moved there generations ago.

According to Chang, in 1950s and 1960s Taiwan waishengren like him were bullied and policies were tilted toward locals. Companies would put up recruiting announcements saying they only wanted locals.

“Nobody even knows exactly when Bamboo Union started. Some say 1957 and some say 1958. History is like that,” says Chang, himself considered a legend by many, betraying a slight smirk and a subtle ironic tone. “You hear all these legends today, and nobody even knows exactly how and when it happened only 50 years ago.”

Chang joined the gang in the 1960s, when he was in middle school. Everyone is named after a type of animal, given at the time they join. At the time Chang joined, the animal was wolf.

“And I was pale, so I became the White Wolf,” he recalls.

In numerous fights, the White Wolf soon earned his reputation. “It’s better that you win, but it is okay that you lose,” he says. “There is one iron code: You must not back off! You must fight back!

“Eight people vs 100!” he says, recalling a famous fight in which his gang emerged victorious, establishing itself as a big force in Taiwan’s gang world. “Delved into the crowd and went directly to that leader!”

He recalls the gang’s code to be “no stealing, no robbing and no cheating.”

“We considered ourselves brave heroes, so we looked down upon those who had been convicted for these crimes,” he says. “Like my record, it was fight, fight, fight. That was what we thought was the right way.”

Chang was convicted in the US for drug trafficking and served 10 years in prison. He has made public comments about it, alleging that it was a setup and revenge for his involvement in the Henry Liu murder case.

Chang went to California in 1979, shortly after graduating from Tamkang University with a history degree and then dropping out of its graduate program. There, Chang majored in MIS (management information systems) and accounting at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

“At that time, I wanted to learn something practical, maybe get a PhD and then go to the Chinese mainland,” he says. “In modern China, the two dramatic changes (one in 1900s and one in 1940s) of the country’s destiny were all led by those who studied abroad and returned to serve the country ... I thought the third time would be the same, and I wanted to be part of it.”

He went on to study operation research at Stanford University’s graduate school, shortly before the Liu assassination, and dropped out of the master’s program. During his 10 years in prison, Chang received two more bachelor’s degrees, in sociology and psychology.

“Those were the only two options available in the prison,” he says.

Shortly after his return to Taiwan in the 1990s, Chang was wanted for a handful of cases including organized crime. For 17 years after 1996, he lived in exile in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, until making a high-profile and highly controversial return to Taipei in June 2013, flying in from Shanghai.

“I have nothing to hide,” he said when he went back. “Many people have asked me, why did I come back? I have a successful business and my children and grandchildren with me. Why did I get myself into this at the age of 65?”

At the airport in Taipei, Chang was met by hundreds of police and thousands of members of his party.

“I did this out of concern for the future. Otherwise, I would feel guilty to both ancestors and descendents,” he says. “You can say I came back almost for this particular moment.”

Chang was referring to the moment he was handcuffed. Holding a blue-covered pamphlet promoting his political ideas, Chang smiled in handcuffs in front of all the cameras, an action that stirred huge controversy.

Three hours later, he walked out on bail, and the charges against him eventually were either dropped due to lack of evidence or simply expired.

The main purpose of his party is to “seek unification between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan through the framework of ‘one country, two systems’,” Chang says.

“I’m a ‘political volunteer’,” he says, pointing to the slogan printed on his name card. “Like social charity, we are doing political charity. Our ultimate goal is unification.”

He founded the party in 2005, and its development accelerated after he returned to Taiwan. The party has more than 80 branch offices across the island, almost all named after historic and legendary figures like female general Hua Mulan, Dr Sun Yet-sen or famed general and diplomat Ban Chao (AD 31-102), among many others.

“In ancient times, dialects were different across the country, traffic was not so convenient as today, and China is huge. What united all Chinese together?” Chang asks. “It was the shared legends, deities and dramas!”

This is also the base of his plan to promote unification — through the shared cultural roots that he calls “Confucius religion,” by which he means not only Confucian ideas but all Chinese culture and legends.


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