Focus: New Energy in Taiwan's Social Movements
In this month's Focus, eRenlai reveals the innovation and creativity of Taiwan's most dynamic social movements, with activist Zijie Yang as our trusted guide.
From gritty Punk to technotronic Rave music; media savvy hoaxes to terrifying performance art; relaxing in activist cafes to energetic street parades; this months Focus we give you snapshots of innovation and creativity in Taiwan's social movements and in doing so a peek at the state of civil society in Taiwan. With local activist Zijie Yang as my trusted guide, I explored the recent history and the most dynamic of current social movement activity in Taiwan, choosing the increasingly active anti-nuclear power movement as a main focal point.
Having made the conversion to democracy from within the system rather than through outside powers, Taiwan can be an inspiring example for the aspirations of other democratic movements in Asia. Furthermore, Taiwan's advanced level of openness to outside ideas is unprecedented in Asia; the ideas they have brought in from outside have been modified and Taiwan-ised and may have a lot to offer the development of civil society in Asia, the Pacific and in China. The continuation of a robust civil society and social movements in Taiwan is all the more important due to the danger of relapses into more authoritarian governance that we are seeing in much of Asia, already known for being among the tightest regions in the world. Furthermore Taiwan itself is after all, still in a period of transitional justice; whether legally, systemically or in the collective psyche, traces of past terrors still remain, thus social movement aims can have a high relative value.
Before we can truly understand the current movement setting, we must first introduce the historical context and understand the background to activism in Taiwan. We therefore begin by abstracting Professor Ho Ming-sho's papers on social movement history in Taiwan. We also ask why much of Taiwan's youth seem so apathetic to social change. Is freedom no more than the 'right' to buy a Gucci bag? And yet we nonetheless witnessed many examples of highly motivated activists becoming ever more confident in their actions. What motivates these young activists to get involved in social movements? When looking at developments over the past few years it is impossible to sidestep the Wild Strawberries student movement which erupted in November 2008. We analyse two of the most comprehensive evaluations of these movements from two very different participants, to try and understand why the Wild Strawberries went mouldy, by looking at the organisational phenomenon and problems of new social movements in the post-modern era.
From there we can begin to question, what are the factors that will dictate future movements and what new energy is needed in social movements? One of the legacies of the Wild Strawberry student movement and its perceived failures, is what Sean Hsieh called "the opening of new spaces" for increased dialogue and stronger intra-organisational links. He introduces us to one of these spaces, Café Philo, and in particular its 'Philosophy Friday' which far less abstract than it sounds, focuses on concrete social, political and judicial issues, cultivating a much deeper and mature understanding in the socially active citizens that attend. A balancing act between knowledge, and practice.
Another 'space' which is fermenting stronger, more informed activists is Go Straight Café, which inherited the legacy of the WildBerry House but rapidly reinvented themselves and is now home to the most innovative of movement activity, in particular the No Nuke Cultural Activism Group. They use music, art exhibitions and event organisation to open a dialogue with the wider public. Gong-li She use the medium of punk and rave, to channel the anger and frustration of the youth into action and activism, supporting social movements with music events. The communal fruits of these various groups can be seen with the 4/30 manifestation against nuclear energy in Taiwan, sparked partly in reaction to the Fukushima Nuclear disaster in March and in the exhibition 'Don't brush off what you see' where Esther Lu brought together 10 artistic works concerned with nuclear power and energy resources. In a tribute to the Yes Men, the Jammers, printed 10 000 fake copies of Taiwan's major newspapers declaring, as a hoax, that the proposal for the controversial KuoKuang Petrochemicals factory had been rejected by the government. The stunt achieved its desired media attention and eventually the government removed its support for the project which could have endangered the survival of the last remaining Chinese White Dolphins. Another group concerned above all with nature and their natural rights are the Langyan Action Group, who every year since 2007 have lit pyres, setting off smoke signals that call for all indigenous peoples to unite and fight for what they see as incomplete transitional justice. This year they collaborated with No Nukes calling for a non-nuclear homeland.
In academic theory, its accepted that the development of social movements, the consciousness that group organisations can affect social change arose with education and the freedom and dissemination of information. Mainstream education and media in Taiwan is often criticised for being too didactic, and foreign teachers lambaste that rote-learning is the norm. Indeed, eRenlai is also a 'space' - our mission is to train people to truly reflect, question and form their own opinions rather than recycle the morning editorials that tend to polarise opinions, fashion a culture of blame and rarely present constructive dialogue. In this spirit we invite you to peruse our selection of the spiciest activism in the Taiwanese social hotpot...
NoNuke Cultural Activism Group ("諾努客文化行動團隊" ) was set up in 2009 to protest Taiwan's fourth nuclear power plant. In the following interview, Yang Zixuan and Pei Linong introduce some NoNuke cultural actions:
Activism isn't all about movement. Individuals need a constant flow of information, group debate and thus reflection on their actions and ideas. A culture can be born of the fusion of the ideas from a dynamic group of people and a 'space' for constant interactions they can remain dynamic, constantly regenerating themselves to meet with oscillating circumstances.
Here eRenlai introduces you two bases of innovation, discussion and reflection. An activist factory and a platform for Socratean debate. Both serve coffee...
Go Straight Café (直走咖啡)
Go Straight Café was borne of the legacy of the Wild Strawberries student movement. After the movement was unsuccessful in its demands, they realized they needed a permanent space which would create the right environment to give birth to new ideas, relationships and energy. Two years later, Go Straight is not only the home of No Nuke Cultural Activism Group at the centre of the anti-nuclear movement, but has become a base and indeed the birthplace for many smaller social movements who may not have had the funds or the human resources to set up their own places.
As Yang Zixuan told me, "activists can't spend all their time on the streets protesting". There has to be something in between that. In between days of protest, whether successful or not, there are constantly new laws, new injustices, new attempts to circumvent the regulations of democracy, the public must thus always remain vigilant. While this vigilance has become easier with the internet and the spread of social media it has also encountered new problems - for example it is easy to be extremely active on the internet, all the while being extremely inactive in the real physical world. This is somewhere Go Straight Café can help to translate vocal or blogger support into a more real activism. Here, hardened cafe activists, Yang Zixuan and Stef Pei discuss how Go Straight has facilitated activism since it was established in 2009 and how they personally have developed along with the cafe.
Go Straight Café can be found a five minute walk away from Taipower Building MRT at the following address: No.18, Alley 27, Section 3, Tingzhou Road, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City
Café Philo (慕哲咖啡館)
Although French philosophers, like Sartre spent hours a day frequenting a selection of café’s, turning and perfecting their ideas, it wasn't until 1992 that Marc Sautet set up the first of the cafés-philos in Paris. Although Taiwan's Cafe Philo is a space of debate above all, it has also become a gathering point for activists and NGO's, especially the Philosophy Friday held by the Youth Synergy Taiwan foundation (青平台 Qingpingtai). While other social enterprises directly manage social movements, Youth Synergy takes a more strategic role, providing a space (the Chinese translation is platform) and support to other movements. eRenlai interviewed Youth Synergy's Sean Hsieh, to find out more about what they were doing.
Cafe Philo's Philosophy Friday is a platform that touches on vary facets of society, a public think tank of sorts, where they provide the space and with it access to the information and involvement in debate to promote open data, open government and transparency in Taiwan. While they sometimes take on abstract philosophical questions, they also often take on issues of current affairs, inviting NGO's, social movement organisations and various legal and political experts. One of the main aims is to be able to communicate with the masses, so during these talks one of the organisers is always on site to rephrase any overcomplicated talk. Two Friday sessions that I attended were full of lively debate. Sean, told me that one of the things he was most pleased with was the participation of many older people in the debates, enjoying the chance to interact and share opinions with Taiwan's youth. To push for real societal change one cannot rely solely on one age group, nor can you rely simply on the more radical activists, that may be more present at places like Go Straight, who are directly involved in managing social movements. Thus opinions that are more radical than the society they are in, need a less radical platform in which they can communicate ideas. This is the challeange that Sean and the Cafe Philo team are trying to balance.
Café Philo can be found at No 20, Alley 60, Taishun Street (off Shida Road), Da an, Taipei
Both of these two 'spaces' have a different role to play in civil society in Taiwan. Over the last year they have both showed development into forces for social change. One thing for sure is that sometimes it's OK to sit back and have a sip of coffee with your social enlightenment.
The Jammers (干擾學院) began in Taipei National University of the Arts, set up by a group of graduate students including Wu Wenjun, Ye Zhenyu, Zheng Anqi and Huang Huiyu. They began by inviting different activists to their campus to hold informational and instructional meetings. They also did field research in several villages which were suffering harshly under land exploitation. After studying the issues involved, they decided to contribute to the activist profession, using contemporary arts to participate in cultural actions. We managed to interfere with the academy's lesson plan so they could join us for an interview:
Alternative (for Readers in China)
In one cutural action, Oyster Times, they printed 10 000 fake front pages for each of Taiwan's four major newspapers, declaring, as a hoax, that the proposal for the controversial KuoKuang Petrochemicals factory had been rejected by the government. The stunt achieved its desired media attention but one can only speculate whether this had any influence. Nonetheless under pressure from many sides, the government removed its support for the project which could have endangered the survival of the last remaining Chinese White Dolphins.
Interview and filming by Zijie Yang and Nick Coulson, Editing by Pinti Chen, Subtitles by Conor Stuart
One thing that I couldn't brush from our eyes during the NoNuke preparation and enaction of the 4/30 anti-nuclear power demonstrations, was the formidable displays of innovation and DIY creativity. Following the conclusion of their first major manifestation on the 30th April, NoNuke understandably didn't want the momentum to slip. Within a week of the 4/30 manifestation, they held an exhibition combining ten works from different artists, divided up between and held simultaneously at three separate galleries. Once again it showed the incredible organizational skills of this young yet maturing movement.
Don't Brush off What You See (不可小覷) was a way of keeping the spirit of the movement alive, meanwhile documenting the efforts of the anti-nuclear movement over the past 18 months and allowing individuals participating in the movement resting time to reflect on themselves and let their creative spirits flow. For curator Esther Lu it was also an experiment,
"to weave artistic production into social movement to shift the sociality of art. Quite opposite to the form social intervention, it is a social practice of artists as citizens to participate in the ongoing social debates with their own artistic research and practice that address reality with different visibility. They may reshape and diminish the conventions and collective ideologies of a demonstration, and create dynamic flux in social movement."
While not necessarily the most visually enticing art exhibition I've ever been too, it was full of energy and creativity to change and influence the way people and society think about energy issues. It was clear that the artists had considered many facets of the nuclear question and were certainly not uninformed extremists. The exhibition was full of innovative concepts, combining performance art, design, cinematography, some conceptual inventions and even organic urban regeneration. For example, the Plum Tree Creek group presented a comprehensive urban re-planning for the Zhuwei community in New Taipei City. While this exhibition was perhaps fired off by the Fukishima explosions in March, the works as a whole did not simply enclose themselves in an oversimplified nor purely nuclear framework. Instead, they opened up a dialogue with the rest of society and between themselves in the movement, suggesting alternative ways of living, in order to tackle the imminent environmental and energy crises without the use of dangerous nuclear fuel.
The Nuclear Waste Terrorists, provided documentation of their performance art, in which they carried fake barrels of nuclear waste in downtown Taipei, before having an 'accident' which they were left trying to contain. After securing the perimeter they proceeded to pour what one could only assume was iodine salts to bring the radiotion levels under control. This use of terror was certainly an effective way to make onlookers wonder - just how prepared are we to deal with nuclear waste disposal and nuclear leaks? This doubt was further backed up by the work 'We never expected this to happen' in which they made a model representation of a nuclear power plant which they filmed blowing up, they further invited the visitors to make their own model power plants. Another work was of the classroom science invention type, The Red Eyes of Tom Boy, showing how tomato juice could be use to power a home-made battery.
Being Taiwan, their had to be some cuter artistic representations - Wu Qiyu, with his work 'Number 1 and the Dog'. certainly met the requirements. He used film to portray the demise of an alpha male dog, once with a body of steel, who sees his strength waning after eating infected fish from the waters nearby Taiwan's first nuclear power station. The dog first has a headache, then he feels nauseous, eventually he violently coughs up his brains, jaw and even his teeth.
One work, We Create Power really sums up the greater meaning of this exhibition. The work stipulates that all energy eventually stems from human creativity. Indeed, human energy creates possibilities; superhuman energy can create problems...
Gon-Li She (共力社), meaning community power group, started off as a group of friends in the Punk music scene. Through the mediums of Punk and electronic music, they try to provide a release for an angry, alienated youth and to further channel this mood into social change organizing music events to support social movements and demonstrations. Willy Chen calls Gon-li She is "an organisation of empowerment."
Following the Fukishima nuclear disaster in Japan, Gon-li She collaborated with NoNukes to organise a VJ, DJ combination rave, as a precursor a week before they brought the Rock truck and the Electro truck to the bigger 4/30 anti-nuclear demonstrations in Taipei. Willy Chen tells us more:
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In November 2008, the Kuomintang (KMT) in Taiwan and the Chinese Communist Party held their highest level meeting in 60 years. As largely expected, all did not go smoothly as pro-Taiwan independence supporters and other dissatisfied groups showed up in their masses 'sieging' the entrance to the Grand Hotel, Taipei where Chen Yunlin, the emissary from China's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) would be received. As the protestors attempted to block Chen from entering, or held up signs in protest, questionable police brutality was used against the protestors, giving rise to impassioned criticism and a fear particularly in academic circles, that the state of human rights was sliding back to the days of martial law.
Following the Chen Yunlin Incident, at the suggestion of a BBS message from NTU Sociology professor Li Ming-tsung, with the support of some influential NTU Sociology professors, a sizable number of students quickly moved to take action condemning the police brutality at the Grand Hotel. Almost twenty years after the Wild Lilies had successfully tunnelled a passage to democracy; it was now the turn of the Wild Strawberries to bear fruit. Beginning with a sit-in protest at the Administrative Yuan on 11/06, it would not be until over a month later when the students finally left their resting place in Freedom Square empty handed; their demands unsatisfied.
Why was the student movement generally seen as a failure? Did it achieve anything at all if not in tangible gains, perhaps in innovation or experience? What were the organizational phenomenon and difficulties present? Most importantly, what lessons did the students and activists learn from this?
While there are a plethora of opinions on why the movement failed, the most detailed analyses have been from Ho Tung-hung (何東洪) and Sean Hsieh (謝昇佑).
Rob Voight translated Ho Tung-hung's article, My notes on Yecaomei of which the initial article appeared in Reflextions Magazine (思想). At the time it was the first real in depth analysis on the movement organization. Ho was one of the so-called "wild professors" alongside National Taiwan University's (NTU) Zhuoshuixi club (including Fan Yun who was a student leader during the Wild Lillies Student Movement 18 years earlier). Ho Tung-hung's article takes note of how the movement was seen as NTU-centric from the start, as the call to arms was sent on NTU's BBS chat system by Li Ming-tsung who was later sued unsuccessfully by the government for his role in setting off the protests. Due to this NTU-centric perception many well established and experienced activsts were reluctant to participate. Ho feels that this was exacerbated by the movement organisation, or lack of it, which was messy due to the reluctance to have a real leadership. This is expressed in the final sentence of his essay, where he expresses the opinion that "Post-Modernism should never be allowed on to the streets, yet it was allowed and with that as the movement relocated to Chiang Kai-shek Temple, it perished." Going to the Temple (Freedom Square) could be seen as nostalgia for and an attempt to follow in the footsteps of the Wild Lillies student movement, however sitting in a public square, where people are generally free to walk around was far less daring than going directly in front of the Presidential Palace, a road normally open to vehicles which would have continued to cause furore and question the Parade and Assembly Act (which controls on the freedom of assembly rather than guaranteeing it).
The post modernism mentioned here also refers to the attempt to stage the protest completely outside of the structural hierarchical organization model of other social movements or political parties, perhaps the more socialist model favoured by some. Furthermore this 'post-modernist' dislike of authority extended even to those 'Wild Professors' sympathetic and supportive of the movement who were refused a greater role in the movement due to a fear of the idea of being pawns in a game of chess (下指導棋). While there were many non-NTU students, Ho Tung-Hung picks up on some immature actions which he feels further alienated established social movements. For example the setting a line in which only students were supposed to be allowed to pass, wanting to keep the protests apolitical only seperated them from the people and refusing for a while to recieve the Sanying aboriginal community, who were hardened activists from their past few years fighting the demolishing of their houses and had come to offer their support.
Doctorate candidate at NTU's Graduate Institute of Building and Planning, Sean Hsieh, gave his own analysis of events, which contrasted and to an exent tried to refute Ho Tung-hung's critique of the Wild Strawberries, providing Reflextions second in-depth analysis of the movement, with his article "Incidental or Inevitable". Sean Hsieh is now part of Youth Synergy Taiwan, which offers support to various social organisations, and is also completing his doctoral thesis at NTU's Graduate Institute of Building and Planning department. Hsieh early on takes issue with Ho's final sentence proclaiming that Post Modernism should never take to the streets, stating firmly that it had already has taken to the streets. Hsieh feels that Ho failed to pick up on the incidental nature of the protests, all the unavoidables that the students, who could not possibly have been prepared for having no chance to meet up in advance anticipating these events. The police brutality, as well as the poor decisions made by the government to forcibly remove the students from the Administrative Yuan, when most students were probably planning to leave for their end of term exams all forced the students to join together and make a tough decision rapidly, without pre-organisation.
We interviewed Sean Hsieh at Cafe Philo (Chinese only)
One thing that Ho Tung-hung found most enraging was the burning of 35 000NTD a month on the "WildBerry House" towards the end of the movement. He felt it was against the DIY spirit of social movements and an insult to all those who had been taking part in social movements, putting in huge efforts just to earn their causes peanuts. He felt the money would have been far better distributed amongst other social movements while they went back and raised the money again, whilst gaining more experience taking an active part in social movements over a sustained period of time.
Hsieh feels this is however another 'incidental'. An unavoidable decision to make for the students. People had donated tens of thousands of NTDollars in support, and they could not but attempt use it productively if they were not to let down the people. He discusses Wild Strawberries instead as a symptom of deep structural problems in Taiwanese society. These strctural problems are the education system and the political trauma Taiwanese have suffered over successive goverments. This led to a mutual mistrust and suspicion on the square, that made it hard to build a leadership or common aims. Furthermore Hsieh evokes Althusser's evaluation on Machiavelli that what we need to really work at is "Opening new spaces". Arguably the controversial WIldberry House was a product of these structural problems in Taiwanese society and an opportunity for more effective successors, which could attempt to rectify these structural problems(see article on Movement Spaces). He feels that blaming the failure of the movement on the incompleteness of the movement demands and divergence from traditional forms of student movement organization, misses the point and what is important is that this movement opens up the doors for reflexive-criticism. "Only by reading profound philosophical works can patterns emerge in your mind which will be engraved in your mind and soul. Finally the meticulous thinking processes cultivated in the process will eventually come to use during the longer struggle."
While Hsieh and Ho present different arguments here, it is possible to see that future movements could take advice from both sides. Indeed many of the students lacked experience and there is always a need for more people to engage long-term in social movements, so that they are constantly struggling and more well organised, should similar actions be needed in the future. At the same time, it is also necessary that spaces are opened where people can mature their oppinions through research, discussion and self-reflection. In a democracy, well informed and vigilant activists are the vanguard against tyranny. Indeed, since the Wild Strawberries student movement came to a climax, some of these 'spaces' have begun to develop.
 Translated from the Chinese by Rob Voigt. Original article 我的台北“野草莓”雜記／何東洪 published in 《思想》Reflextion, 11th ed March 2009, 《聯經》Linking Publishing Company. Article in Chinese 偶然還是必然？野草莓學運的結構限制與機運／謝昇佑, 《思想》Reflextion 12th ed June 2009, 《聯經》Linking Publishing Company
Translated from the Chinese by Rob Voigt. Original 我的台北“野草莓”雜記／何東洪 published in Reflextion (思想) 11th ed March 2009
I felt originally that I was quite involved with the “Wild Strawberry (Yecaomei) Student Movement,” and so I jumped to respond to Reflextion Magazine’s invitation and write out some of my thoughts and observations on this sit-in demonstration. Little did I imagine that after responding, though the number of students in Freedom Square did gradually decrease, those remaining would sustain their protest for more than a month, all the way to New Years’ Day, 2009. In the end, a group of students entered the dispute that arose from the rented space, and a portion held unclear and differing points of view with regard to their experiences in the Square, as well as a lack of clarity on their imaginings and desires with regards to the meaning of the “movement.” I had a deep fear of being charged with so-called “violence of generational guidance.”
After all, the students describe their own action as a student/youth self-transformative movement. It wasn’t a break from school, but a face-to-face collective action to confront the violence of the state apparatus. At the same time, in many ways this movement was created out of the accumulation of more than twenty years of efforts to resist the state machinery by various social movements and political organizations, including the support of NGOs and material and financial contributions by everyday citizens. For that reason, the students have no choice but to shoulder a significant amount of societal responsibility – and criticism. As one of the so-called “wild professors,” I know that I too must accept my share of this same responsibility and criticism.
I am not setting out to discuss this movement from an elevated theoretical perspective on the history or limitations of social or student movements (and it should be noted that a significant amount of professors have touched upon this in the past month or so), nor do I seek to look back on these events by way of their development (this sort of analysis must be written by the students from their own experience, although due to regional context and differences in process this will certainly result in argument and contention amongst the varying perspectives). Instead I intend to take this opportunity look back and think deeply on these events; to express the memories of the Square that have haunted my body and mind ever since, acting as a teacher and through my experience of interacting with students, as a “wild professor,” and as one who has previously participate and continues to participate in student and social movements and interact with their membership.
On November 5th, 2008, I got a call from Lee Ming-tsung, who hurriedly explained that due to Chen Yunlin’s visit to Taiwan, many students were involved in a conflict encircling his hotel, that came to be known as the Shangyang Music Store Incident, and as a result they wanted to make an official protest to the KMT. He hoped I could come to Tai Da to discuss the issue. That night I joined Lee Ming-tsung, TC Chang, Michael Lin, and several other students involved in Tai Da’s “Zhuoshuixi Club” in Fan Yun’s office. After a short discussion, I had to leave due to other commitments. As we discussed the plan, I didn’t intervene a great deal, but only addressed those present with questions as to the movement’s goals and methods. On the other hand, Michael spoke earnestly about the need for students to prepare psychologically and organizationally for the long-term struggle this could become, in that fascism was evidently returning in force. At that time, Fan Yun was busy in another office with a meeting, and so did not have a great deal to comment. That night Lee Ming-tsung drafted the 1106 Action Announcement and distributed it through the Tai Da BBS, so that by the second and third day the number of students participating in the sit-in in front of the Executive Yuan had reached four or five hundred, including several dozens of university teachers as well. It was several days later before I found out that one of the Three Appeals in the plan, a demand that “the Legislative Yuan immediately fix the ‘Collective Assembly Law’ that restricts the rights of the people” had been added by Fan Yun.
Unexpected changes and shifts in values often occur between the initiation of a “movement” and the actual experience of it. Some people say that this was a “flash” action enabled by the space provided by the BBS that later become a full-fledged “student movement,” and that at the beginning the majority of participants were merely the “fans” of a few of the Tai Da professors. It is said as well that it only took shape on November 7th with the move to Chiang Kai-shek Temple (I’ve heard students call it “Freedom Square,” but the CKS Temple was what it was called in the “Wild Lily” pro-democratization protest), and thereafter as a result of reports in the media and through the internet did it become called the “Strawberry Generation” movement including students from a larger number of schools.
Evaluating whether what came to be known as “Wild Strawberry” (with its associated slogan “We’ll show you wild”) after its decontamination from the “Strawberry Generation” moniker, and whether it indeed deserves to be called a true social movement, or whether it was a self-reflective movement for the students, cannot be determined merely on the basis of media reports (particularly the month-long sustained reporting of the Liberty Times) or the comings and goings of certain loudmouthed internet critics, or even from the participants’ “official” documents. More crucially, it must be evaluated from the perspective of three major facets of the event: the appeals that were made, the movement’s mobilization, and its organization.
In the two discussions on the Wild Strawberry (野草莓 yecaomei) movement hosted by the Ao online magazine on December 14th and 20th, Chiu Yu-bin succinctly explained the importance of the above-mentioned aspects of the movement: participants had to first have some ideological preparation; the arrangement of topics and their expansion had to link up with the “on-site” action; and the result had to be well-organized work. If we take the body as a metaphor for comparison, we could say that the Wild Strawberry movement was weak from the start, and so had to reach its goals through on-the-spot training, embodying a unique openness and facing unique difficulties.
The “pan-Green curse” was a perpetual disturbance for this sit-in action. On November 6th, I was in Jiayi city, and got a call from a friend who was an assistant for the DPP’s legislation committee. He described that the students drew a line in the Square that politicized persons could not cross, demanding that if they were to enter they could not bring their own banners, markers, and so on, and he felt extremely frustrated at this new development. This was the students’ first time being divided with the pan-Green coalition. I could understand this friend’s dissatisfaction. For the past twenty years and more, Taiwan’s student movements were not predicated on social issues, but rather were drawn out by both social and political offenses. In this sit-in, which began from the so-called “Siege of Chen Incident” in which the Yuanshan hotel where Chen Yunlin was staying of course largely organised and encouraged by pan-Green supporters. Their thinking was, “why then should students and teachers be set apart from the masses, or from supporters of the pan-Green coalition?” Only the students could answer this question, and their answer was simply that they were even more forward-looking than the pan-Green political entity. They allowed anyone, from the masses to social organizations to identify with them and participate, but in an un-politicized manner – how could an entity acting as a “cheerleading squad” for a political party call itself an independently-thinking organization?
On November 10th the press conference hosted by the “wild professors” was held in the Square in support of the students. On November 11th the Taiwan Sociology Journal published the “Petition to Repeal the ‘Parade and Assembly Law’,” and on the 12th the Raging Citizens Act Now (火大聯盟) coalition began their protest action aimed also at getting the law thrown out. On the same day at noon the Sanying community arrived in the Square. Through these three actions, it looked as though the “social force” behind the students was strengthening, but it also “compelled” students to face issues of the specific content of the “third appeal” and provide an explanation of the meaning of the movement. Seeing things in light of later developments, the demands that ROC President Ma Ying-jeou and Premier Liu Chao-shiuan publicly apologize and that Director of Police Wang, Cho-chiun and Director of National Defense Tsai Chao-ming step down were clearly not achievable by sitting our butts outside the CKS Temple; furthermore, the appeal to “fix the law” was certain to lessen the force of proposals to eliminate the law altogether. Yet at the same time, if following the path of “fix the law” would amount to simply hanging on the coattails of the pan-Greeners, then that too would not be a sound path. The students, with the help of the Jimeng NGO and during discussions on the Square, had the opportunity to become familiar with the relationship between the violence of the state machinery and the weak voices it stifles, particularly with regards to the fact of the suppression of freedom of assembly and civil rights, They found that there exist many contradictions, and this is not a problem than cannot be resolved purely through the development of a national identity or a political choice.
A movement must be properly armed and equipped with its “ideological preparation,” but could the students’ small group organization and distribution of work achieve it?
On November 7th, when I was in Jiayi meeting with a group of professors, we received a live broadcast online of the students discussing the possibility of leaving the Executive Yuan, and retreat to the NTU main gate or to the CKS Temple were also discussed. Finally it was resolved to head to the Hall. Next was the discussion of whether or not, upon reaching the Hall, they ought to apply for a “collective protest permit,” and I couldn’t help but blurt out at the screen, “Do it! You’re going out in a collective protest, why do you even need to discuss applying?!”
Starting from that moment, until all that remained was the final group of ten or twenty students at the Hall in the end of December, in all resolutions big or small the students took a “direct democracy” approach (which everyone playfully described as having a “class meeting”). This was indeed a pioneering step, but it also proved to wear hard on this sit-in.
It may have seemed that this “discussion system” was a necessary measure in responding to “Lee Ming-tsung’s call to action on the BBS” because of the vast variety of groups involved: those dissatisfied with the “the police, symbolizing the state machinery, confiscating the ROC flag”; those supporting Taiwan independence; those supporting the nativism movement; and those who often participated in social movements, organizations and so on. In that case, given that the organizational makeup of the movement was replaced twice, the students’ deep differences could undoubtedly not be fully handled in the near-nightly “class meetings” at 9pm. In the end, the discussion system also became the cause of a large number of participants slowly trickling away.
Starting on November 7th the participants split into 22 small groups for discussion and selected a policy group, some experienced members “ran off” and left, the overall arrangement was reorganized, and work was distributed, leading up to the November 15th larger meeting. Finally on November 21st votes were cast to decide whether or not to stay (with 51 for and 42 against, it was decided to stay), the small work groups were again reorganized, and after the march on December 7th, only a few persistent students remained. The direct democracy approach in the end was unable to solve the issue of decreased student presence during the day (sometimes to the point that there would be no one in the sit-in tent area at all!), with many only arriving at night for meetings. Every student, no matter how many days they had participated, was counted as a full member simply by virtue of their showing up, and all were allowed to vote in the proceedings; and no matter if they were working on the action plan or expanding our appeals, the daily operations of the small groups were all systematically disseminated through the microphone on-site and posted online. This was truly pioneering work worldwide!
During mid-term exams in November, I once tried to enter the sit-in tent to talk with students about the details of the collective assembly law, when I was stopped from one side by a student wearing a surgical mask, saying that they were currently engaged in a “silent sit-in,” and no one was allowed to speak. After a while I simply had choice but to quietly leave!
There were essentially no students on the Square with significant experience participating in social movements who could have led the small group discussions. Some relevant problems in this regard were first that the participating students were always coming and going, and second that the various students gathered in the small groups had various conflicting interests and levels of authority, so it was difficult for them to produce any very substantive results.
Being that this sort of organizational system faced difficulties in pushing forward the appeals of the movement, and that the “class meetings” had no way to solidify the movement’s direction, it was inevitable that students’ interpersonal differences would be expanded and distorted, leading to misunderstandings and conflict on-site. The vote on November 21st was most representative of this effect. After the vote, more than twenty people from both sides of the argument left immediately to take the MRT home, leaving only the working staff and a small number of students sleeping on the Square. In the long and tedious discussion, and under the restrictions of the rules of procedure, neither side was capable of fully persuading the other, though each claimed that their suggestions would deepen the goals and direction of the movement. Such a strengthening of the goals of the movement could not be achieved in this sort of on-site discussion, or rather, argument. Other than on weekends and on the day of the big rally, larger social questions that arose were only clarified for the small number of students present in the day and at the “class meetings,” and the vast majority of the time members of the small groups did not encounter them. It’s not that they didn’t want to come to the meetings, but rather that they were busy with their day-to-day work, and had no time to go into the tent and talk over these issues with NGO groups and social workers.
At noon on November 12th, members of the Sanying aboriginal community came to the Square from the Legislative Yuan. A day prior they had been arranged to talk and have a discussion, but upon their arrival they were “bureaucratically” blocked by a student in charge of maintaining the border around the student area in the Square, saying they had not received the proper “directive.” After a bit of fussing, the community representatives were allowed to come in and give the students a simple talk on their experiences and goals. I saw then in the tent, other than a few students watching and listening intently, everyone else sat with heads lowered, reading their books for the upcoming mid-term exams. That night I saw several students updating the action process poster, explaining this “action” by writing that “the Sanying community came to express their greetings,” and honestly I felt quite disheartened, feeling unsure if it was a small group of students’ ignorance, or arrogance, that took things down to this level.
Photo: Chen Yu-chun
Every day I took the bus to Fu Jen University, and then from Fu Da to the square, so I became accustomed to observing the students. One day on the 802 bus, I saw a boy and girl who looked like grad students, wearing fashionable clothes. The boy was leaning against the window by my side, and from his bag he took out a Louis Vuitton catalogue, intently looking through it from the back page to the front. Afterward he passed it across me to the girl, telling her to give it a look: “there’s good stuff in there,” he said. Then as she was reading it, he took out Edward Said’s “Power, Politics, and Culture” from his bag, and began to read through it ravenously. As I walked towards school a bit later, I pondered over the juxtaposition of such extravagant brand-name consumerism and the radical writings of Post-colonial intellectuals, thinking - aren’t both just forms of fashionable consumer culture? Or is it somehow possible that in a Post-modern, individualistic society they can coexist without leading to conflicts of identity?
On November 9th on the Square, it came through the microphone: “[Such-and-such student], the McDonalds you ordered has arrived!” From the first week of the sit-in, an enthusiastic public provided an endless stream of material support on the Square, including food, and yet there were still some students hankering after McDonalds. To others, maybe this could appear to be an insignificant issue of food preferences, but to those who, like me, have been through Taiwan’s movements against military officials in schools and against censorship, who joined up with peasant movements, who resisted the WTO, and who one night went out with a group of protesters to smash the windows of a McDonalds, it is truly difficult to “reconcile” with that nauseating scene. When I heard the call through the mic, I could only stare through the hazy drizzle and put on an act, calling out to the students jokingly, “we’ve received so many donations of delicious food, and you still have to order that trash from McDonalds?!”
This sort of silly “act” has been a necessary weapon of mine in confronting students for the past few years. I was completely unable to persuade Fu Da students to come to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial, especially those participating in the protests to protect the Lesheng leprosy clinic. I acted comically and told the students, “go take a look, there’s some fun stuff going on over there!” But they simply answered, “we don’t really give a damn what those Tai Da students are up to.” In the end they didn’t go; it seems they preferred to be scooped up into a police vehicle in front of the Department of Health, they preferred to defend the Lesheng clinic to the death on the morning of December 3rd, to be dragged away by the SWAT team, and carried off to the ocean, where the police let them out so they wouldn’t have to deal with the paperwork. Among them there was still no shortage of Tai Da classmates also participating in Wild Strawberry who joined them to help out that day.
My playful act is no sham, but rather an attempt to connect with the “Strawberry Generation,” to “wrestle with them” (this is a phrase I stole from Hsia, Lin-ching upon getting to the Fu Da Psychology department!). My days on the square were a perfect example of me trying to “wrestle” as best I could. Still, I was barely able to achieve anything at all with this strategy, because we “wild professors” made a tacit agreement after November 15th to withdraw to a secondary position in the movement, and let the students take the reins. Moreover, under the oft-referred to “tension between teachers and students,” a common debate on the Square about subjectivity and authority between the two groups, the students’ challenges and criticisms of the roles of specifically designated to teachers in the sit-in were simply inevitable.
On November 21st after the first policy-making group was dismissed and replaced with a new vote, the sense of distrust that arose between different students on the Square also made students begin to question the position of the professors, and to regard us as a large, homogenous unit. Although on November 15th the large rally that made us think it was nearly time to leave and return to campus, it later became evident that from start to finish the students had no way to reach a final decision of that sort. On the night of November 24th, a group of relatively positive teachers at the Square resolved to work together with the new policy-making group, and they pushed me and Chen Chao-ju to the square to explain to the students. Once we arrived, I noticed that a few students seemed affronted by the actions of the teachers. At that moment one student asked me, “Is it that the teachers no longer believe in the new team, you’ve given up on us?” During their “class meeting,” Chen Chao-ju reported that during the day the teachers had gone to the Control Yuan to give a full account of the situation in the name of the “Taiwan Academic Platform to Defend Democracy,” and afterward I explained concisely: “Under the three appeals of the students, the professors continue to support the students under a collective name, and furthermore, with regards to the progress of the movement to this point, regardless of any pressure from on-campus authorities and school officials, we professors will surely support the students to the end.” Afterwards the Director of the Judicial Reform Foundation, Lin Feng-zheng , proceeded to explain that organization’s relevant efforts regarding the Collective Assembly Law, and express a similar mutual support for the students.
In the students’ eyes – and this of course is referring to a good number of days into the sit-in – on the issues of the lack of clarity in leaving or staying, a daily weakening of trust, and the decision-making on various issues at critical junctures, the teachers were seen as “meddling” too much. But in reality, disagreements between the teachers and students were primarily the result of divergent ideas as to the rhythm, viewpoints, goals, and organization of the movement.
The possibilities for difference and agreement amongst the teachers remind of what the Fu Da students said – “we don’t really give a damn what those Tai Da students are up to.” As would be expected, as soon as the sit-in started, all of the professors mentioned in the media or “noticed” as being more radical or influential by the students were from Tai Da. Yet like all of the students on the Square, the Tai Da students were not a monolithic bloc, they were like students from other schools, each holding varying positions regarding the relationship between the social movement and government by the majority party. The “Tai Da students” label, pointing to a “liberalist” political stance, or to a supposed contradiction with the more left-wing stance of the “non-Tai Da students” made apparent in the appeals for the sit-in that were drawn forth at the end of the “Seige of Chen Incident.” This sort of thinking was seen as the reason a number of students with experience in social movements were unwilling to come to the Square early on.
In trying to grasp the political circumstances or develop a movement to its climax, one cannot be led by ideological divisions, or allow them to be the only consideration in deciding whether or not to participate; in joining hands with the political affairs of a political party, it is by no means inevitable that one’s own ideals will be sucked up into their machine. Actually, in the circumstances reflected by Taiwan’s recent experience under eight years of control by the DPP and then a return to a KMT government, the repeal or repair of the Collective Assembly Law and the differences and urgency therein has impelled liberal thinkers and the Left to open an opportunity for dialogue on the “fundamental human rights of the people.” I think this opportunity is one of the most meaningful substantive results of this particular action.
There are many teachers who expressed the hope that the Lesheng Youth Union would come and lead the “Wild Strawberry” movement. The implication therein is of course that the position of the movement was difficult for many to understand, which was complicated by a weakness of discourse, the weakening of an ability to mobilize, disorder in the rhythm of the movement, the fossilization of its organization, and so on. And then also implied is that the young people who were involved with the Lesheng movement and the “95 Alliance” movement for youth labor rights relatively understand the political environment, namely that both parties are draped in many of the same trappings of the capitalist class. Their vigor and creativity, and their accumulation of thoughts and actions, could have been and should have been thoroughly consulted by the Wild Strawberries, rather than looking two generations into the past to draw inspiration from the Wild Lily movement!
Regardless of whether they appeared as individuals or as part of the collective force, the teachers’ ideas about themselves or their interpretation by others could hardly be removed from considerations of the spirit of the “Wild Lily Generation.” Perhaps in the hearts and minds of the students on the Square, only the Wild Lily movement was comparable; or perhaps it was the teachers’ involvement that made the students think their student movement experiences were like playing directed chess, where someone is telling you all the moves. Supposing the former, perhaps students only imagined the scope of what happened in March of 1990, rather than all that has come since the middle of the 1980s, as we have seen many various student protest groups arise in response to new campus issues, social issues, daily organizational work, links between schools, and the clash of innovative thought with an idealized image of society. It is exactly due to the contributions of these student movement groups that the March Student Movement could succeed, although it too was opened up in the space of political circumstances, although its results were also disappointing. Furthermore, the teachers’ saying of “playing directed chess” reflects several intertwined explanations. “When you have a need, you call for us to come, when you don’t, you say we’re too involved,” many teachers complained. Precisely because this was an action without a clear collective face, many of the individual differences amongst the students couldn’t be seen, discussed, and resolved into a unified exterior whole. As a result, the individual advice of certain teachers was channeled through the individual opinions of various students, and as soon as it was brought into the collective discussion, into the “direct democracy” method of the “class meetings,” things could not take shape into a coherent discussion. In addition, discrepancies in levels of authority and knowledge between the professors and students were brought with us to the Square, and upon reaching an impasse these conflicting relationships were reproduced as constricting limitations placed on the movement. “On a structural level, the professors are relatively conservative” – Fan Yun expressed at one discussion forum. As both domestic and international historical examples bear out, certainly, in the expansion of social movements, professors of the academy often lag far behind the stances taken by social and student movements. Still, this doesn’t necessarily apply to every sit-in or protest on the streets. Transcending the asymmetrical relationships of authority and knowledge addressed previously requires conflict, simply put. What did the students’ choices - for an extended sit-in, the decision on December 7th to take “peace, rationality, and non-violence” as guiding principles – what did these demonstrate? The discussions surrounding these issues were quite puzzling.
This sort of transcendence for the greater goals of the movement need not unavoidably take the form of “patricide,” and the accumulated limits and ideological conservatism of those who came before in the process of a given movement also need not once again fall upon the shoulders of the current people. The historical account is not decided in this way; to assess these issues, both sides must first mutually admit that differences in experience continually emerge in the stereoscopic manner; claiming one’s position to be critical or radical, in the current context of a two-sided, Green vs. Blue political situation, is potentially the most conservative move; groups previously labeled as pro-Green are not necessarily currently acting as the safeguards of pro-Green interests.
“Only by remolding past ghosts and monsters into corporeal bodies can we draw out the future’s departed spirits,” the theorist Tom Nairn once wrote. We don’t want to only look back at the spirits of the “Wild Lily generation,” because in these past twenty years those individuals have continued to struggle alongside the most underprivileged lowest strata of society. By referring to their practical experience to gain a clearer picture of the Blue/Green political scene we can find a way to supersede the Blue/Green dichotomy.
Intellectuals reflecting upon the historical stature of student movements do not necessarily have to seek out the less positive examples of students transferring their experiences into careers in politics, business, or some other vested interest. Those who continued to struggle and work in social movements, NGOs, and the like long after they were no longer students are equally worthy of a sincere appraisal. Otherwise, as many say, when those who were brought up in Taiwan’s social movements in the ‘80s now exercise intellectual and bureaucratic power in the academy or as a part of the state machinery, how can we distinguish between those who as before continue to struggle on the ground, living in line with Gramsci’s ideal of the “organic intellectual,” with those sharp-tongued critics who, in reality, have their asses covered and benefit from the protective umbrella of academia or the state?
As I see it, the movement began to show signs of vigor and development only after the first leadership group was replaced, from the last ten days of November to the end of December. The organization of activities and space, as well as students’ independent work within each organization group, began to take things from the “greatest common divisor to least common multiple” - from the public indignation at the “Seige of Chen Incident” to the multi-faceted effort of the sit-in. Although in the middle of November the vast majority of students already knew that this would be a failed movement from the point of view of their concrete appeals, perhaps more important was that those who remained to participate had the genuine opportunity to work together and get to know each other.
Towards the end of December, after the march on the 7th, the evening discussions on the Square continued. Some of the students who had been there since day one felt that continuing the sit-in was the only means to achieve the original aims of the movement. Some of the students began to engage in conversation with non-student fellow citizens on the square, listening to their life stories. On New Year’s Day, as the Wild Strawberry students worked to maintain order at the public gathering, I could see a significant transformation in their demeanor from the expression on their faces; I saw in them a new self-confidence.
Yet I still cannot stand in support of the students’ having used the vast majority of money donated to their cause on the necessary supplies for a “large march.” Other than the construction of a few big banners, action rooms, and two pagodas, midway through the DIY ethos almost totally disappeared from this movement. Several million NTD in surplus became their common undecided burden, or resource. I’d rather have seen them donate the entire sum to other social movements or disadvantaged groups, and then begun anew back on campus, simply bringing their experiences on the Square back to campus to reflect, discuss, and expand their organizational makeup, rather than paying a 35,000NTD monthly rent for the “WildBerry House” to act as a luxurious place to socialize and warm up.
At one of the discussion forums I made a statement that I’d like to now reaffirm. “Many people have worked for many years on various social movements, worked seriously, without any financial resources, and are still able to gain positive results. So then, on what basis do you feel justified to sit here on the Square, not even moving your butts, and so easily raise millions of NTD!”
It would be a tragedy for the Wild Strawberry student movement to think that the movement was exceptional for its generational disparities, or to neglect self-reflection by playing off various disputes as simple differences in approach to the issues. If the students truly want to call themselves a legitimate social movement, then this process must continue by means of a step-by-step accumulation of experience coming to understand society’s structure and history, and through an expansion of work in daily communication and organization. It is not something that can be achieved by making grandiose statements on what has occurred, or by singing one’s own praises on the internet. Movements must require consistent positive struggle and engagement; they are not quick flashes, led by individualism or the anticipation of a hero-figure. Post-modernism cannot take to the streets, even though it did, and so died in action on November 7th when everyone decided to retreat to CKS Temple.
Ho Tung-hung is Assistant Professor of Psychology at Fu Jen Catholic University in Taipei. His research topics include the relationship between nationalism and the sound of contemporary music, and he has been involved with the practice of social movements and music, as well as the formulating of Indy-culture and social movement periodicals. His written works include “Taike Rock and its Dis-content” among other papers.
If unspecified, photos by Kuan-Chieh Hung. For more of Kuan-Chieh's photos from the Wild Strawberries click here.
 The official translation is CKS Memorial Hall, however in mockery or anger at the concept of a Memorial they called it the CKS Temple (zhongzheng miao) during the Wild Lily democratization protest.
 The Sanying are an aboriginal tribe, based along the Xizhou River, Yingge Township. They are famous among social movements in Taiwan, having amassed continuous support for their struggle against the government since they were forcibly evicted from their land.
 An NGO specifically calling for repeal of the Assembly and Parade Law which restricted the right of assembly (集遊惡法修法聯盟)
The Langyan Action Group (AKA Smoke Signals League) was first established in 2007 after a dispute between indigenous Taiwanese and the government about the natural land rights. It began as a fishing and hunting dispute and reported direspectful treatment by police, but has now developed into a movement promoting a more sustainable balance with nature and calling for a new constitution that takes into account the rights of the Indigenous Taiwanese (who were not considered in the 1911 constitution that was drawn up in Nanjing).
For the third successive year Langyan Action Group held their annual event at the Zhuwei Bamboo Curtain Studio in Taipei City. They choose to hold the event on 2/28, an infamous day in Taiwanese history due to the 1947 KMT government's massacre of an uprising, as it is now a public holiday in recognition of past injustices (Peace Memorial Day). While Langyan maintain their three main demands, this year had a special theme - while the KMT was celebrating 100 years of existence of the Republic of China, Langyan, with their indigenous star singers Banai and Kimbo, joined forces with No Nukes and their Sing-walk Troupe to demand a nuclear free Taiwan for a hundred years. Barbecued pork, dried fish, beetlenuts and beer were in full flow...
Ho Ming-sho is a professor at the Department of Sociology, National Taiwan University. He has produced a prolific amount of literature and is a respected authority on social movements. Notably he was co-editor of the book The Age of Social Movements: Activism in Taiwan over the last 20 years (社會運動的年代；晚近二十來的台灣行動主義) which was released this year, 2011. The following text gives a background to the current social movement context; it was abstracted from the full paper and focuses more on the environmental movements than the original which gave equal space to different movement types.
For Taiwan, the 65 years since the end of the Second World War can be divided into three periods. The first 15 years saw the rule of the Kuomintang (KMT) (國民黨, Guomindang). Economic transformation characterized the second period. In anticipation of the termination of the United States’ aid, the Taiwanese government began to encourage foreign investment as well as domestic production for the international market. There was rapid development.
The suppression of an opposition demonstration on Human Rights Day in 1979 (the Gaoxiong Incident) (高雄事件, Gaoxiong shijian) ushered in the third period, during which democratization became the dominant force. In spite of the temporary setback, the opposition movement continued to challenge the KMT and successfully founded the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) (民主進步黨, minzhu jinbudang) in 1986. Facing mounting pressure, the government announced the repeal of the 38-year-old martial law on 15 July 1987, thereby formally restoring the frozen political freedoms of speech, assembly and organization. Chen Shui-bian’s victory in the 2000 presidential election marked the end of the political transition and resulted in the first peaceful and democratic power transfer in any Chinese society. In 2008 the DPP government lost power as Ma Ying-jeou led the rejuvenated KMT to reclaim the presidency. In short, militarism, industrialization and democratization, in that order, have been the three major forces that have shaped the contours of Taiwanese society.
In tandem with the different stages of the political transition from authoritarianism to democracy, social movements have undergone processes of fermentation (1980-1986), popular upsurge (1987-1992), institutionalization (1993-1999), incorporation (2000-2007) and resurgence (2008-2010).
(1) Fermentation (1980-1986)
By the time Taiwan entered the 1980s, new social discontents – environmental degradation, class exploitation and rural impoverishment – that accompanied the rapid industrialization process were already perceptible, while the pre-existing grievances such as sexism and the plight of aborigines had become increasingly intolerable to the public as it became more informed and enlightened. These discontents were what stimulated the emergence of social movements in this period.
As the fruits of economic modernization, the new members of the middle class played the role of vanguard. Medical doctors, journalists, college professors and lawyers were instrumental in establishing pioneer social movement organizations such as the New Environment Magazine (新環境, xin huanjing 1986, conservation movement). There was another group of middle-class activists which adopted a more direct approach and did not shun sensitive issues. In accordance with their more confrontational stance, these activists did not seek to register their organizations officially but instead concentrated their energy on providing assistance to the population targeted. Grass-roots people who had been victimized by industrial pollution (Terao 2002) or prosecuted for their religious beliefs (Rubinstein 1994) also initiated the wave of so-called “self-relief” (自力救濟, zili jiuji). Toward the end of this period, there were signs that the unorganized wave of self-relief activism had matured into a bona-fide social movement
(2) Popular Upsurge (1987-1992)
The lifting of the martial law in 1987 was fundamentally a political calculation to avoid the worst-case scenario of escalating challenges from the opposition party and the social movements that had come onto the scene around the mid-1980s. Political liberalization further stimulated the growth of social movements by removing the invisible psychological fear (Chang 1989). This was demonstrated by the unusually large number of social movement organizations founded in the year 1987 alone.
In addition, the right of public assembly was partially restored in 1988, and greater freedom to form civic organizations was legally granted in 1989. Meanwhile, the DPP also discovered the political utility of social protests, so that many politicians began to take a more active role. Social movements became more and more widespread and radicalized toward the end of the 1980s – an explosive situation diagnosed by O’Donnell and Schmitter as a “popular upsurge” (1986: 53-54).
Prior to the lifting of martial law, the controversy concerning nuclear energy was mainly a “gentlemen’s disagreement”, with sceptical scholars, journalists and politicians voicing their opposition. In March 1988 anti-nuclear activism spread to the grass roots as local residents near the proposed fourth nuclear power station launched a protest that would be sustained for more than one decade (Ho 2003: 693-694). In September and October, fishermen whose livelihood had been devastated by a pollution incident blockaded the Linyuan Petrochemical Industrial Zone (林園石化工業區, Linyuan shihua gongyequ) for three weeks, virtually paralyzing the whole industry (Ho and Su 2008: 2409).
In addition to escalating their disruptiveness, social movements were raising the level of their protests. In response to the ascendency of the conservatives within the KMT, which sought to derail the liberalization initiated by Chiang Ching-kuo and followed by Lee Teng-hui, college students organized a protest in March 1990 to demand immediate democratic reforms. As part of the so-called Wild Lily Movement (野百合運動, ye baihe yundong), students occupied the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial (which was derogatorily renamed the “Chiang Kai-shek Temple” (中正廟, Zhong Zheng miao)) and requested direct dialogue with the political incumbents. The students’ timely intervention tilted the balance of power in favour of the KMT reformist faction and was peacefully concluded with Lee’s promise to expedite political reforms (Wright 1999).
In the national elections of 1990 and 1992, many activists obtained DPP membership and joined the party’s campaign in an attempt to bring movement issues to the ballot box. In the end, the joint force of the social movements and the opposition party proved capable of resisting the authoritarian backlash.
(3) Institutionalization (1993-1999)
Here, I understand institutionalization as the process by which something becomes a permanent, routine, and legitimate feature in a newly democratized society. Social movements are institutionalized insofar as they are increasingly tolerated by officials, are accepted by the public, and become the modular way for a variety of societal interests to stake their claims.
Three aspects of the post-1992 political change in Taiwan were conducive to the institutionalization of social movements. Firstly, the era of preventive and politicized policing of popular protests was gone, as the central government relegated the command of the police to local executives. Secondly, before the 1992 legislative election, only a small percentage of lawmakers were directly elected by Taiwanese people. With the opening up of law-making channels, lobbying became an effective method for advancing the social movement agenda. Finally, the DPP’s securing of a place in Taiwan’s political arena triggered a chemical change in its relations with social movements. The close comradeship of the past obviously disappeared. As the DPP came to possess more electoral seats, it faced more diversified constituencies and had to balance the demands of social movement organizations with those of more conservative sectors. Symptomatic of this centrist turn was the decision to abolish the Department of Social Movements (社會運動部, shehui yundongbu) in the DPP Central Headquarters in 1996.
Taking advantage of the more favourable political atmosphere, social movements were able to make some tangible progress. Overcoming opposition from economic officials, environmentalists succeeded in legislating environmental impact assessment in 1994. In addition to these breakthroughs, some social movements made inroads within the administrative structure by gaining the right to participate in some decision-making channels or obtaining official recognition as the legitimate and sole representative for their constituencies.
While social movements were gaining political influence in this period, some activists turned their attention to their professional areas. The Association for Taiwan Journalists (台灣新聞記者協會, Taiwan xinwen jizhe xiehui) (1995), the Judicial Reform Foundation (民間司法改革基金會, minjian sifa gaige jijinhui) (1997), the Taiwan Health Care Reform Foundation (台灣醫療改革基金會, Taiwan yiliao gaige jijinhui) (1999), and the Taiwan Media Watch Foundation (台灣媒體觀察教育基金會, Taiwan meiti guancha jiaoyu jijinhui) (1999) were representatives of these reform efforts. The pursuit of journalistic autonomy, judicial independence, better protection of patients’ rights, and media democracy was best described as “unobtrusive mobilization” (Katzenstein 1990) in that it rarely captured the national spotlight by mobilizing large-scale crowds in street actions. Nevertheless, it reflected the spillover effects of the institutionalized social movements that were growing to encompass more issues in everyday life.
Finally, social movements representing marginalized people were a noticeable phenomenon in the 1990s. In this period gay and lesbian people came out of the closet and demanded their civil liberties (Chao 2001). Their activism culminated in the first gay parade in September 2000. In 1997 the abrupt decision to revoke the licences of legal prostitutes gave rise to activism among sex workers, who demanded the full legalization of their trade.
(4) Incorporation (2000-2007)
During Chen Shui-bian’s presidential campaign in 2000, many pro-reform scholars and movement activists were recruited to formulate the policy proposals that were to be implemented once the DPP conquered the presidency. It turned out that some social movement organizations were included in the decision-making process, yet they were largely unable to produce structural changes. The DPP’s eight-year term became a memory of disenchantment for those once-optimistic activists.
Under the DPP government, veteran activists were for the first time appointed to lead official agencies including the Environmental Protection Administration (環境保護署, huanjing baohushu), the Ministry of Education (教育部, jiaoyubu), the Council of Indigenous People (原住民委員會, yuan zhumin weiyuanhui) and the National Youth Commission (青年輔導委員會, qingnian fudao weiyuanhui). New decision-making institutions created by the DPP government, such as the Committee for a Nuclear-free Homeland (非核家園宣導委員會, feihe jiayuan xuandao weiyuanhui), broadened the scope of participation. Among the pre-existing channels, the DPP government also made possible the nomination of bona-fide movement activists. This happened in the Environmental Impact Assessment Committee (環境影響評估委員會, huanjing yingxiang pinggu weiyuanhui) and the National Council for Sustainable Development (國家永續發展委員會, guojia yong xu fazhan weiyuanhui). In 2002 environmentalists succeeded in passing the Basic Environment Act (環境基本法, huanjing jibenfa), which enshrined the nuclear-free homeland clause.
The gains that movement activists achieved through their cooperation with DPP incumbents were often symbolic in nature, rather than genuine concessions that led to the substantial redistribution of resources and power. For instance, only after the DPP decided to give up the attempt to abolish the controversial fourth nuclear power plant in 2001 did it allow the phrase “nuclear-free homeland” to be written into law (Ho 2005). Activists serving on the National Human Rights Commission threatened to resign in protest twice in 2005/06. The activists ultimately prevailed in both incidents. However, the environmentalists who sat on the Environmental Impact Assessment Committee were not successful in similar efforts. Their walkout failed to reverse the official endorsement of some controversial construction projects.
In Chen’s second term, financial scandals related to his personal aides and family members erupted. By that time, the DPP government had been severely besieged, with both progressives and conservatives demanding Chen’s resignation. The final two years of the party’s term saw a slight return to the reformist policy orientation, as evidenced by the Big Warmth plan to increase welfare spending (2006); the decision to temporarily halt the Taibei Mass Rapid Transition work, which threatened the Lesheng Sanitarium (樂生療養院, Lesheng liaoliangyuan) (2007); and the rejection of the Suao-Hualian Highway project (蘇花高, Su Hua gao) (2008). During the 2008 presidential campaign the DPP also stressed its commitment to social justice by emphasizing the priority of “the underprivileged people” and the eco-environment. Its candidate Frank Hsieh (Xie Changting) coined the slogan “happiness economy” (幸福經濟, xingfu jingji) – an explicit critique of the previous “salvage economy” course.
(5) Resurgence (2008-2010)
When Ma Ying-jeou won the presidential election by a larger-than-expected margin of more than two million votes in March 2008, the KMT already possessed nearly three-quarters of the seats in the Legislative Yuan (Fell 2010: 190). The conservative hegemony boded dimly for movement activists. Furthermore, after several years of working within the government, many social movement organizations had lost the capacity to mobilize their mass constituencies. Large-scale demonstrations by union members, anti-nuclear crowds and the pro-education-reform middle class had become a distant memory of the 1990s. This raised the question of whether social movements were capable of “getting restarted” (Hsiao and Ku 2010).
More than two years after the second change in the ruling party, the question can be answered affirmatively. In November 2008 the student movement made an unexpected comeback to protest the police brutality that had occurred when the Ma government received China’s emissary. Self-consciously following the precedent of 18 years ago, the student activists called their movement “Wild Strawberry” (野草莓, ye caomei), and their protests were no longer limited to Taibei but spread into Xinzhu, Taizhong, Jiayi, Tainan and Gaoxiong. In September 2009 the intensive community canvassing by environmentalist activists bore fruit as they won the referendum on a casino in Penghu County. The liberalization of the casino industry had been promoted by local KMT politicians and endorsed by Ma, and the casino’s defeat signified the fact that movement activists had not lost their know-how in connecting with the grass roots. After a long silence, the farmers’ movement reappeared, and this time the issue was compulsory land acquisition to develop industrial zones. In June 2010 an amateur journalist videotaped the shocking image of a rice paddy being destroyed by excavators sent by the government. The video clip created a national sensation and galvanized the supporters into a much-publicized protest.
Sensing a growing political market, the DPP re-established its Department of Social Movements in February 2009. However, the involvement of DPP politicians remained minimal and was not always welcomed on the protest occasion. The opposition party did not offer resources to the re-emerging social movements – quite a different scenario compared to what had happened two decades previously. What, then, explained the unanticipated surge of social movements?
The question can be answered in two ways. Firstly, why did social movements react with such resilience and combativeness after the eight traumatic years under DPP rule? Although Ma Ying-jeou de-emphasized the ideological question during his campaign, his government quickly put forward many regressive policies that alarmed social movement supporters. The new KMT government condoned the business practice of furlough to save on labour costs, attempted to increase military officers on campus, tightened partisan control over the public media, used the judicial system to incriminate political opponents, restored a China-centred history curriculum, and intimidated critics who questioned its environmental policy (the Environmental Protection Administration gave me a phone call to express its concern over an op-ed article I wrote), to mention a few. In other words, while movement activists were disillusioned by the DPP’s failure to promote progressive reforms, they simply could not tolerate the reactionary attempt to restore the status quo ante. The threat – or “the cost it [a social group] expects to suffer if it does not take action” (Goldstone and Tilly 2001: 183) – prompted the activists to undertake aggressive actions.
Secondly, how did the resurgence of social movements come about? Movements could not be resuscitated without an effective mobilizing strategy. In the later years of the DPP government, many activists learned that they should look beyond the government as the only leverage for change and started to explore new avenues. After their 2006 resignations from official positions in environmental impact assessment, environmentalists launched a lawsuit in the Administrative Court to continue their opposition to the questionable Central Science Park (中部科學園區, zhongbu kexue yuanqu) project. In January 2010 their persistence was rewarded in that the Supreme Administrative Court annulled the environmental impact assessment’s conclusion. In addition, environmentalists adopted a new approach in their campaign to oppose the Guoguang Petrochemical Project (國光石化, Guoguang shihua). By highlighting the endangered white dolphin, they launched a drive to solicit donations in order to buy the precious tidal estuary in central Taiwan. By August 2010 more than 50,000 volunteers had signed up. The apparent success of this campaign resulted in a national spotlight on this issue, as the mainstream media and leading academics publicly expressed their support for the environmentalist camp.
Social movements have clearly come back and reclaimed their customary role as advocates and organizers. Nevertheless, how much this wave of activism resurgence will ultimately achieve hinges on the evolution of the broader political context, in which social movements certainly play a significant, albeit seldom dominant, role.
Just like the economic and political dimensions of modernization in Taiwan, the growth of this particular civil-society force has occurred within a relatively short period of time. In the early 1980s social movements were still a novel phenomenon that produced fear and a sense of uncertainty among many people. Now social movements have become an established and permanent feature of Taiwan’s democracy, regardless of who presides over the Presidential House. Over the long haul, social movements have experienced repression, co-optation, and disillusionment; yet they continue to demonstrate remarkable resilience in their pursuit of social reforms.
1. 2010, “Understanding the Trajectory of Social Movements in Taiwan (1980-2010),” Journal of Current Chinese Affairs 39(3): 3-22.
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