【International Scholar】Meiji University Professor Suzuki Ken｜The Law Scholar and Social Activist
Studying Abroad in China and Interest in Comparative Law
Suzuki Ken began his studies at Hokkaido University’s Department of Law in 1979. After hearing inspiring stories of his senior classmates’ experiences in China, he decided to study abroad at Renmin University in his fourth year. While he originally wanted to study in the Law Department, at that time Law was a classified profession in China and not open to foreigners, so Suzuki decided to do his exchange in the History Department and audit Law courses when he could. He also studied Mandarin Chinese Language during his exchange.
His year abroad sparked his life-long interest in Chinese Law, and inspired both his master’s and doctoral theses on Chinese Civil Law and Family Law. Through his research, he discovered just how unique Chinese Law is. Due to the planned and controlled economy, there was little freedom of business contracts, so the Chinese Court dealt mostly with marriage, inheritance, and family maintenance, and each of these cases was on an individual basis. It wasn’t until 2020 that China finally gathered all these related laws into the official Civil Code. Furthermore, family estates were not divided evenly amongst children, but divided based on responsibilities and obligations towards family maintenance. The goal of these laws was to reduce the burden between state and society.
Research in Taiwan and Pioneering the Partnership between NTU and Hokkaido University
In 1991, Suzuki Ken began his career as an Associate Professor at Hokkaido University. Following the advice of his colleague in the Political Studies Department, he applied for funding from the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association and came to National Taiwan University’s Department of Law in 1999 as a visiting professor. This was his first time to Taiwan, and to his relief he quickly discovered speaking Mandarin did not require constantly curling your tongue, as the Taiwanese way of speaking Mandarin is softer than the standard accent in Beijing.
That year, Professor Suzuki represented Hokkaido University in the signing of a partnership between the two universities’ schools of Law, beginning the longstanding partnership that continues to grow today. There was a young student in NTU’s Department of Law at that time, Sieh-Chuen Huang, who became one of the first exchange students to Hokkaido University through the partnership cultivated by Professor Suzuki. After graduating from NTU, she pursued her master’s degree at Hokkaido University, taking several of Professor Suzuki’s classes. Today, nearly 23 years later, she has become a professor at NTU, as well as the Vice Dean of the College of Law. Her relationship with Professor Suzuki has transformed from student and teacher to close colleagues, as she represented NTU in inviting him as a visiting professor this year.
A 23-Year Promise: Translating the History of Taiwan Law
This is Professor Suzuki’s third time as a visiting professor at NTU. This time, not only is he comparing the law systems of China and Taiwan under martial law, but he is also realizing a promise 23 years in the making. While Suzuki’s previous research focused on Chinese Law, after coming to Taiwan he developed a keen interest in Taiwanese Law. He realized it is simultaneously influenced by both the Chinese and Japanese Law systems, both of which he has studied in depth.
During his first visit to Taiwan, he met the pioneer of the Taiwan Legal History field, NTU Professor Tay-Sheng Wang, and promised to translate his book, Introduction to Taiwan Legal History, into Japanese. Taking advantage of his final time as a visiting professor at NTU, Professor Suzuki is translating this book and plans to publish the Japanese version when he returns to Japan. He expressed this project has more meaning than even his own thesis, as it will directly encourage more Japanese scholars to study Taiwanese Law and facilitate exchanges between the fields of Law in the two countries.
A Project of Pride and Passion: Publishing The Birth of Taiwan’s Same-Sex Marriage Law
As an openly-gay scholar of Family Law, Professor Suzuki has always been passionate about marriage equality. He has invested much of his time in the LGBTQ+ Rights Movement and raised awareness about these issues. He personally participated in the progression of this movement in East-Asia, marching in the first Tokyo Pride Parade in 1994, and organizing the first Sapporo Pride Parade in 1996 (Sapporo is the biggest city in Hokkaido, the northern most island of Japan.) He sees Hokkaido as a comparatively more open-minded place in Japan, as it has a more diverse history of family cultures. As such, Hokkaido tends to be more accepting towards the queer community and those who identify as LGBTQ+.
Professor Suzuki has closely followed the LGBTQ+ Rights Movement in Taiwan, participating in nearly every Taiwan Pride since 2005. When Taiwan legalized marriage equality on May 24th, 2019, he went to Taipei’s Household Registration Office to witness the marriage of his friends and leading advocates for marriage equality in Taiwan, Chih-Chieh Jian and Victoria Hsu, the respective Secretary General and Lawyer of the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights (TAPCPR). TAPCPR is the leading organization in Taiwan that fights for marriage equality and partnership rights for LGBTQ+ people, and they were instrumental in passing of same-sex marriage laws.
In March of 2022, with the remarkable support of Executive Yuan Minister Audrey Tang, Professor Suzuki published his book The Birth of Taiwan’s Same-Sex Marriage Law in Japanese, introducing the social movements and political processes that made marriage equality a reality in Taiwan. The book has already sparked conversation and debate about marriage equality in Japan, an important step in raising awareness about LGBTQ+ civil rights. Professor Suzuki maintains high hopes that Japan will legalize marriage equality sooner rather than later, and his efforts make this all the more likely.
Enjoying Life as a Visiting Professor at NTU
When Suzuki Ken first came to NTU, the Department of Law was still located on the Xuzhou Road campus, and had not yet separated from the College of Social Sciences. The NTU Department of Law became the College of Law in 2004, and when Professor Suzuki came to NTU the second time in 2010, it had just recently moved to the grand Wan-Tsai Building on NTU’s main campus. This third visit marks the last time Professor Suzuki plans to do research abroad before his retirement. While he notes that NTU has become more internationalized over the last two decades, he says he has not noticed any other big changes at NTU or the College of Law. “Maybe this is because before the pandemic, I came to Taiwan almost ten times every year! So, I witnessed the process of change over time,” he said.
He loves the NTU campus most right after fresh rainfall. Even though NTU is in the heart of Taipei City, he enjoys the abundant nature and many animals on campus. From the black-crowned herons flying over Royal Palm Boulevard, to the black squirrels jumping between the trees, and the turtles and swans swimming in the campus lakes, there are always wild animals to observe as you walk around the school grounds.
Suzuki Ken has enjoyed his time as a visiting professor at NTU, finding it to be a free-thinking and open-minded environment without limitations. He has also enjoyed teaching courses and getting to know NTU students. Walking on the NTU campus is reminiscent of walking through his alma mater, Hokkaido University, as both schools were originally imperial colleges of Japan. Not only do the two universities share a similar architecture, but through his efforts they established a partnership that continues to grow and develop today.