Force-Fed Prisoners and Detainees as Political Use of the Body Abstract

, par Hui Min Lee

Using fast as protest usually serves a political purpose, from detainees at Guantanamo Bay, to British women fasting as suffrage for the right to vote, to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s several hunger strikes, people who believe in justice have used hunger strikes as a means of pursuing their particular political assertions. However, in many cases where the hunger strike has been used as a tool to communicate, the state has force-fed protesters to silence their message. A person’s body can become a screen or a forum for showing political opinions, and in the case of force-feeding, the state, medical and ethical associations, and human rights organizations all express conflicting opinions, which are inflicted on this body. The body then becomes a visual battle ground for a power-struggle of opinions, including the individual’s own demands fighting for a place among the others, manifested in the physical refusal of force feeding.

A prominent Taiwanese case begins with Chen Wun Cheng, a National Taiwan University student of mathematics, who went to the U.S. for further education. After his study abroad he became concerned about democracy and human rights developments in Taiwan. He was found dead beside library of NTU the day after an interrogation by Garrison Command in 1981. Shih Ming-The started a hunger strike for Chen’s case. Then, in 1984, a Taiwanese journalist named Liu Jiang Nan was murdered by gang members hired by the R.O.C.’s Ministry of National Defense in San Francisco for writing a book about Chiang Ching Kuo. Shih again declared that he would go on a permanent hunger strike after the incident. He was put in Jingmei Prison and this hunger strike lasted for four years and seven months. During the hunger strike, the Tri-Service Hospital conducted force-feeding on Shih three thousand and forty times. He physically resisted when males attempted to conduct force feeding, but took no action when female nurses attempted it. If the average person successfully carried out a hunger strike and only drank water during the period of the fast, they would be dead in 42 to 79 days. Shih’s own brother conducted a hunger strike in solidarity with Shih and died after four months. Shih’s strike ended when President Lee Teng Hui nullified charges against activists involved in the Formosa Incident.

Force-feeding may extend the time of a hunger strike when multiple powers try to assert expressions, which show visibly on the body. Aside from the state or oppressors, those powers could take the form of the psychiatrists who confirm the competence of the prisoner for reference to medical institutes, human right groups who attempt to ensure the prisoner gets his will expressed, or the law supporting any of the above or ensuring that the prisoner does not get tortured. The body is thus the visible testament of multiple overlapping powers. This paper is going to discuss how Shih used his own body to collect the disputes of these multiple powers over a long period of time and wait until significant change was made, the consequence of which was that his demands were more widely discussed and applied to effective ends. When the concerns of a hunger strike involve grievances and goals containing many different aspects, strategic acceptance of force-feeding could buy time for these goals. In this way, the particular political assertion has the widest and longest attention possible through the visual, political canvas of the body.

Hui Min Lee SRCS_NCTU_20140307