New Energy in Taiwan's Social Movements

by on Monday, 23 May 2011 9803 hits Comments
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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.

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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...

Photos: N.C.

 

Last modified on Wednesday, 08 January 2014 17:34
Nick Coulson (聶克)

I was born in sunny Torbay on the south western coast of England's green and pleasant lands. I'm prowling the streets, parks and ruins of Taiwan hunting for absurdities and studying the sociology of the underground. Furthermore with our nomadic arts and action space "The Hole" we attempt to challenge rigid and alienating structures.

出生於英國西南部,海邊的天堂為Torbay。目前在台灣的街上,公園,廢墟尋找世界之荒謬與世界之美,努力盡量在各方面跳脫框框。透過我們的游牧空間「洞」我們不斷地用藝術與行動來挑戰早已僵化的體制。

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