HIGHLIGHTS

  • Immediately after his first election he moved the mayor’s office to the ground floor of City Hall so that he could readily be seen by the townspeople.
  • His office is open until 11 p.m. to accommodate constituents who cannot come during the day, therefore he usually sleeps on a couch in the next room.
  • Three months after assuming office SU established the Prompt Service Center, staffed in part by experienced volunteers who are retired government workers. In a day it may expedite delayed applications, attend to clogged sewers or forgotten rubbish, give guidance on dealing with laws and regulations, resolve questions of taxes or land disputes and aid citizens with health, monetary or family problems.
  • The RMAF board of trustees recognizes “his making government readily available and responsive to the needs of all citizens, while attractively modernizing an historic city.”

 CITATION

Rigid administrative bureaucracies can be among the most oppressive of tyrannies. Attitudes and actions of officials exercising jurisdiction over innumerable decisions affecting people’s daily lives sometimes are abusive; and the authority invested in officialdom can become the cloak for pervasive corruption, victimizing a citizenry by compelling it to pay for services to which it is freely entitled.

SU NAN-CHENG came to public office aware of these dangers and convinced that access of citizens to key decision-makers — who act with integrity — is essential to good government. Also vitalizing both government and private sectors of the city he heads is the advice he exuberantly follows: “Enjoy your work.”

Born in 1936 into the family of a small merchant with long antecedents in Taiwan, SU was nine years old when World War II ended, terminating Japan’s colonial rule and restoring Taiwan to Chinese sovereignty. In grade school he peddled soybean milk. Suffering the snubs of richer classmates, he early resolved to help the poor. While he was at the university he produced and directed a radio music and question-and-answer program and after his two years in the military, taught high school for five years. Beginning in 1966 he served for 10 years as city councilman, at the same time working as sales manager of the Taiwan Times Daily News. Campaigning as an independent candidate, he was elected Mayor of Tainan in September 1977 and was handily reelected in 1981.

Immediately after his first election he moved the mayor’s office to the ground floor of City Hall so that he could readily be seen by the townspeople. His office is open until 11 p.m. to accommodate constituents who cannot come during the day, therefore he usually sleeps on a couch in the next room. SU sleeps little and is accustomed to jogging through the city at 5 a.m., calling the citizenry to get up; residents now answer with good nature and some join him.

Three months after assuming office SU established the Prompt Service Center, staffed in part by experienced volunteers who are retired government workers. In a day it may expedite delayed applications, attend to clogged sewers or forgotten rubbish, give guidance on dealing with laws and regulations, resolve questions of taxes or land disputes and aid citizens with health, monetary or family problems. He built House of Love where the widowed, aged and orphaned enjoy a recreation/tea room and lodging at minimal cost. The new Labor Activities Center is equipped with library, recreation and meeting facilities, and well-furnished, low-priced rooms for guests.

SU’s interests and concerns are catholic. Historic temples, forts and gardens are being restored. All these are reminders that Tainan was the capital of Taiwan during the two centuries when the island, named Formosa by the Portuguese, was first a Dutch colony, then was conquered by Koxinga (Cheng Cheng-kung) who was loyal to the remnants of the Ming Dynasty of China, and next came under Ching Dynasty rule. Tainan children’s art is displayed around the city during contests. Young adult artists from throughout Taiwan are being invited to exhibit in Tainan and photographs of prize winning works are published. Sports thrive in the new stadium and the 74-acre athletic park which was formerly a garbage dump. The 68-square mile seaport is developing low cost housing on reclaimed land, estates for light, non-polluting industries and ponds for intensive culture of eels, crabs and numerous varieties of fish.

The mayor’s financing is equally enterprising. The regular budget for education, police and ongoing functions for this city of 620,000 is only half the annual special budget for construction. The latter is raised in large part from the sale of, or taxes on, land which has appreciated as the result of government development policies. Also, scrupulous accounting and efficient building contracts keep expenditures to a minimum.

Most meaningful of all, SU is imbuing citizens with pride in participation in their city’s affairs. From the first, cities have been the venue for the fullest expression of a civilization; in Tainan this is being accomplished anew as SU carries forward his theme: “We must preserve our historical heritage while building for tomorrow.”

In electing SU NAN-CHENG to receive the 1983 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service, the Board of Trustees recognizes his making government readily available and responsive to the needs of all citizens, while attractively modernizing an historic city.

 RESPONSE

As a recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award, I consider August 31, 1983 the most precious and memorable day in my life.

The Magsaysay Award, internationally renowned and hailed as the Nobel Prize of Asia, is a distinctive honor. On this auspicious occasion, therefore, I would like to thank the Board of Trustees of the Foundation, my parents, and the 620,000 residents of Tainan City, who have directly or indirectly made this memorable event happen. I would also like to express my gratitude to His Excellency, Chiang Ching-kuo, President of the Republic of China, who vigorously supports the doctrines of democracy. Public elections held for mayorship have given me the opportunity twice to serve the residents of Tainan and thus receive recognition by the Magsaysay Foundation.

The Magsaysay Award, however, is not merely an honor, but also a charge. I pledge that I will do my best to deserve the honor you have given me and I can assure you that it will be both an encouragement and moral support in my future public service. I will endeavor to serve my very best, with honesty, enthusiasm and courage, in the cause of justice and freedom.

I would like once again to thank President Chiang who visited my office in Tainan upon learning of the achievements of my Prompt Service Center. He presented me with a figure of a smiling Buddha inscribed with Chinese characters meaning literally: “always with a smile, welcome everyone with an open mind.” This has not only become my motto and guide, but also that of my colleagues. In Tainan City Hall you will be met by smiling faces and served with devotion and sincerity.

I was born in a poor family, a son of a sidewalk vendor. Though poor, surrounded with obstacles, I lived with my head up and strove with only one solid ambition, to serve the public unselfishly and devotedly. Since my assumption of public office—ten years as city councilor and two terms as city mayor—I have abided by the old Chinese virtues and traditions and by the sacrificial spirit of Christianity, to serve my country and my countrymen.

Today, millions and millions of my compatriots behind the “bamboo curtain” long for freedom and dream of democracy. This had made me realize more and more the value of freedom. So I have decided to donate the Award stipend, totaling US$20,000, to the six Chinese freedom fighters who recently fled from Mainland China to seek freedom but were detained in South Korea. We have the same blood and are descendants of one ancestry. I have asked our embassy in Seoul to set up a special bank account for them, and use this money to engage the best lawyers until they are set free.

I am very happy to come back to this beautiful country, the Philippines. Before I conclude, therefore, I would like to express my utmost appreciation to the Trustees of the Magsaysay Foundation who gave me the honor, and I would like to share this honor with Tainan’s four Philippine sister cities: Cavite, Tagaytay, Trece Martires and Pasay.

Mabuhay to the Republic of the Philippines and more productive years to the Magsaysay Foundation! Maraming salamat po sa inyong lahat (Thank you very much everyone).

 BIOGRAPHY

SU NAN-CHENG was born in Tainan January 14, 1936. His family had lived in this oldest city on the island of Taiwan for many generations. The ancestors of his father, Su Jui-in, had come from the mainland Chinese province of Fukien five generations ago and the family of his mother, Chen In-yeh, only one generation later. Raised to the age of nine under Japanese rule, SU learned three languages, the Japanese of the occupiers, the Taiwanese or Amoy dialect of his family and, after the island was returned to Chinese control in 1945, the Mandarin Chinese taught in school.

From a relatively early age SU was conscious of a sense of nationalism. He learned to respect his Chinese origins and to long for freedom from a foreign culture. He had a more practical motivation as well. During World War II the average Taiwanese was considered a third class citizen. First class consisted of the Japanese and second class was made up of those who took Japanese names and collaborated with their conquerors. When food had to be rationed, the amount received was determined by class, with the first class receiving the preponderance.

SU’s family was poor. His father was a vendor who sold noodles and soya milk from a small street stall, and his mother was a housewife. Neither parent had received much education, but both wanted more for SU NAN-CHENG, their eldest, and his three younger brothers.

(For the complete biography, please email biographies@rmaf.org.ph)