Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: activism
Thursday, 03 April 2014 00:00

Satirical Artworks from the Sunflower Movement

Photos from the Sunflower Movement in Taipei, which has seen the Legislative Yuan occupied since March 18 and has seen street protests in and around the main protest site. Here are some of the more colorful satirical posters and artwork featured at the protest. Photos by Gaelle Dieudonne.

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The sign to the left says "Go Maca'rong, I choose you!'" surrounded by pokeballs with Ash from the Pokemon series in the top right corner. Along with a picture on the right that portrays Ma as half deer/half dog. The deer references comes from what the highly educated elite that are internet users see as an unforgivable lack of common sense from President Ma Ying-jeou: he thought that the term "lurong", which are young deer antlers used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, referred to the fine hairs inside a deer's ear... (心虛). The second character "rong" is then combined with Ma (the president's name) into a word that sounds like Macaroon (which are for some reason ridiculously popular in Taiwan) - and which evidently sounds like a pokemon name to Chinese ears. Go figure... Ma Ying-jeou is portrayed as a dog, because they think he's being led by Xi Jinping like a dog led by his owner.

 

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The sign at the bottom center says "Being polite to a dictator, is being cruel to yourself".

 

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After seemingly being mistaken for a protest registration counter (perhaps an indicator of the almost anal precision with which protesters have organized themselves - complete with recycling bins) the media tent was forced to post this notice: "Media area, not protest organizers".

 

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Some posters featuring common slogans from the protest, among which are: "non-violence!", "Don't cry, Taiwan!" "Go Peace and Love!", "Reject the opaqueness of the trade-in-services pact!" (the last one is catchier in Chinese).

 

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The poster to the left appears to be a mock up of a fake magazine cover entitled "New News", the headline runs: "oppressive crackdown to protect trade-in-services pact " along with a photo of a bleeding protester. This I assume is an attack on the way some media outlets have covered the protests - accused by protesters of being "fake news" if they disagree with anything the media outlets print. The newspaper article in the centre is real, with an sign on the side of it which declares "People and the Gods should both be angry" To the right above a sign which says "Brutal police are killers" (though no deaths have actually been reported), is a caricature of pro-pact leaders including Ma Ying-jeou (left), Hsiao Chia-chi (second left I think) along with Jiang Yi-huah (I assume). Cant' read the sign on the far right because the writing is too small - but one can assume its something appropriately bombastic.

 

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What looks like a wanted poster featuring the country's beloved president taped to a punching bag, ironically enough with a poster decrying police violence below it: Police brutality; Dictatorial governance; Democracy stained with blood" with a woman boxing Ma's face with a boxing glove. Voodoo counts as violence!

 

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An eager student draws a sunflower on a sign which says 「太陽花理法院」in what I assume is an intentional misspelling of 立法院 (Legislative Yuan), although the significance escapes me.

 

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A banner screams "Protect Democracy", with the famous mask from V for Vendetta and a dove, alongside the English Peace Forever.

 

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Ma Ying-jeou holding a club - meant to represent the party whip - bullying KMT members into voting for the pact - ie jumping into a mass grave. And who said the students were being over dramatic about the pact? Beside the cartoon there is a sign which questions, why the panda pictured is also opposed to the pact? One can only assume that Taiwanese are willing to overlook its Chinese heritage. The comic is by Hunter (lieren).

 

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To the left we can see immortalized the moment when Chow Mei-ching (Ma's wife) let her guard slip and shouted at her husband while press were watching, saying "你很奇怪耶你!" or "You're so weird!". In the centre is a picture of Ma Ying-jeou with the word "mummy's boy" beside it (Mabao) and a picture of King Pu-tsung, former ROC representative to the US, now Secretary-General of National Security Council of the Republic of China, with a homonym for "mummy's boy" which means "President Ma's darling", a reference to tabloid speculation that the two are lovers.

 

IMG 1471These photos of the clearing of the Executive Yuan with water hoses in the Apple Daily (which incidentally is the only paper which has been consistently selling out in 7-11s over the protest period) has the headline, "Police steal back the Executive Yuan" - below the newspaper page is a sign which says "Police brutality: dictatorial governance!".

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Another mock-up magazine cover to the left, called Tragic Record, announces that "As soon as the trade in services pact passes, we can say goodbye to the Taiwanese people", under the poster of the sunflower is President Ma with deer horns (The deer references come from what the highly educated elite that are internet users see as an unforgivable lack of common sense from President Ma Ying-jeou: he thought that the term "lurong", which are young deer antlers used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, referred to the fine hairs inside a deer's ear) inside a black box (standing for the opaqueness with which the students feel the pact was passed) with the words "Take back the trade in services pact, oppose the black box."

 

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This was one of the more interesting posters from the movement. The depiction of Christ on the cross is accompanied by a flippant "Do you believe in God!? Why not just come to the student movements instead!". The bottom poster is a flattering portrait of Ma Ying-jeou himself, with "Let the people come to the student protests!!! I'll pretend to be blind and deaf and betray the public!!"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ma Ying-jeou is pictured here with the term for the leader of the Hong Kong SAR zone (teshou), a reference to the fact that many of the student protesters fear that Taiwan will "become the next Hong Kong".

 

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Another flattering antler sporting portrait of Ma with Makarong written on the top, (The deer references comes from what the highly educated elite that are internet users see as an unforgivable lack of common sense from President Ma Ying-jeou: he thought that the term "lurong", which are young deer antlers used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, referred to the fine hairs inside a deer's ear. The second character "rong" is then combined with Ma (the president's name) into a word that sounds like Macaroon (which are for some reason ridiculously popular in Taiwan). The bananas in the bottom right corner, refer to a mistake by commentator Chiu Yi, who mistook the sunflowers students were holding in the legislative yuan for bananas supplied by the DPP as part of their secret conspiracy to... supply the students with bananas.

 

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The largest sign says "The country belongs to the people, the people shouldn't fear the government, the government should fear the people." Along with a cheeky "Oppose black box" (a reference to the opaqueness with which students believe the trade in services pact was passed through the legislature), and a "protect democracy".

 

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The top sign says "goods" and below it says "save your own country".

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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"Are you still human?" asks this poster of President Ma, bedazzled as he is by a Chinese flag which has infected him and turned him red, with a starry crown.


Monday, 10 December 2012 15:31

Alternative Activism in Japan

Japanese band Punk Rock Labour Union. Photo by Park Swan

Zijie Yang introduces us to the young alternative scene of Japan, in particular Koenji, and describes his experiences establishing links with activists there during his recent visit. 


Friday, 31 August 2012 15:17

Bang Bang! They shut my café down!

“Zhizou” (Go Straight) café opened in September 2009, but closed at the end of April 2012 due to the landlord being unwilling to re-sign a contract. The idea for the store was to provide a place for disorganised activists to assemble. For the most part members were young artists and students dissatisfied with certain aspects of society that hadn’t found any other group that suited their needs. The members then got involved in various causes, for example participating in the “No Nuke” group’s protests against nuclear energy; taking part in international “Occupy movement” protests and protesting the forced demolition of the Wang family house in Shilin by the Taipei government. They even took part in activities abroad, such as working with Japanese activist Matsumoto Hajime and doing promotion for his second hand and “Zhizou” sister store “Amateur Riot”.

”Zhizou” was located in an alley in a quiet residential area, and the neighbours eventually ran out of patience towards these strange, overactive young people, and slowly started to complain. After that, police officers often patrolled the area when customers talked our smoked outside late at night.

With the landlord receiving a lot of pressure from the neighbours, he contacted the owners of “Zhizou” just before their lease was to expire, and openly told them that the neighbours had grown more and more resentful towards the customers coming and going from the café, and therefore he wouldn’t be renewing their contract.

cafe03Even though in the last month before closing the owners took action, making the effort of going house to house to attempt to connect with the neighbours, the landlord maintained his position and decided to no longer extend their contract. In this way, “Zhizou”, less than three years since its conception, stopped doing business.

After the “Zhizou” farewell party, the cafe received an unexpected letter from the neighbours in its mailbox. They originally thought it was another complaint letter, and never thought that the contents of the letter would be of encouragement, expressing that they appreciated the owners’ efforts and good intentions. Even though it wasn’t signed, getting a response like this was very touching for “Zhizou”, so they would like us to help them say thanks to this sweet neighbour.

“Zhizou” will of course keep moving forward. Although there aren’t any immediate plans to reopen, “Zhizou” is always looking for possibilities to continue their activism in a new location, and keep providing young dissatisfied people in Taipei with a platform for expressing themselves.

Original article by Jiahe Lin and Zijie Yang. Translated by Daniel Pagan Murphy. Photos courtesy of  Zhizou cafe


 

Watch an interview with members of the NoNuke movement at Zhizou cafe

 


Published in
Focus: Living Together

Friday, 11 May 2012 15:30

Animal Rights in Contemporary Taiwan


(The Chinese reads: If you're not a teahouse cat, please don't sit on the scooter)

Huang Zong-Hui, Professor of Languages and Literature at National Taiwan University and animal rights campaigner give us a run down of the current state of animal rights in Taiwan:


Monday, 23 May 2011 17:15

Music and Movements: God Save the Rave

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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Photo: N.C.


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Monday, 23 May 2011 14:52

New Energy in Taiwan's Social Movements

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.

 


Tuesday, 17 May 2011 19:46

Movement Spaces: Brewing the perfect cup of activism

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.

(Photo: N.C.)


Tuesday, 17 May 2011 17:46

Innovation in Anti-Nuke Protests

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:


Wednesday, 04 May 2011 11:52

My Notes on the 'Wild Strawberries'

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

One.

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.

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Two.

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[1] 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.

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Three.

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[2] 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[3] 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.

strawberries_04

Photo: Chen Yu-chun

Four.

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.

strawberries_06

Five.

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?

strawberries_05

Six.

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.


[1] 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.

[2] 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.

[3] 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)

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Monday, 26 July 2010 22:41

Leading the long road to abolition (TAEDP)

Lin Hsinyi is the Executive Director of the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty (TAEDP). In a gradual reaction to the cases of Zhou Xun-shan, Lu Cheng and Xu Zi-chiang, TEADP was established in 2003, and has been working towards abolition ever since, as well as helping appeal death row cases and offering support to relatives of those who have received a death sentence or who have already been executed. They are currently the most active group in Taiwan regarding the cessation of the death penalty and are also members of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty (WCADP) and the Anti Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN)

As a recognisable outspoken critic of the death penalty, Hsinyi often receives personal threats on her life and body, a product of the prevailing atmosphere of hate. This atmosphere of hate is something she feels is an obstacle to objective debate on the subject. Hsinyi also feels that the resumption of executions after a four year moratorium in May was a huge setback, yet, she believes progressive steps are still being made. Here she talks about why she does not favour the death penalty as a form of punishment, the obstacles to abolishing the death penalty and what can be done in the future.

Or for readers in Mainland China, watch it here

For more information on the TAEDP, watch their own introductory video, or see the English section of their website.


Friday, 11 June 2010 17:42

Falun Gong protests in Taipei: An interpretive slideshow

In April 2010, Paul Farrelly visited Taipei 101 and Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall to observe the various ways that Falun Gong adherents protest against the Chinese government.  The actions of these protestors transform these popular venues into contested spaces, where tourism, spirituality and politics intersect.  His photos and commentary aim to illustrate the uneasy balance that these powerful forces somehow maintain.


Monday, 30 November 2009 00:00

Treasure Hill

Treasure Hill is located on the site of a temple devoted to Guanyin, in Taipei. Over fifty years ago, people started building their own houses, on this land owned by the Ministry of National Defense. Originally it was settled in by war veterans, but developed into a community composed mainly of poor people, migrant workers and others who couldn’t afford the steep prices in the area. Thus the inhabitants were generally a marginalised and voiceless community. In 2004, the government declared that it was going to raze the buildings in the pursuit of urban development. Students and teachers of several National Taiwan University departments along with the NGO ’OURS’ and many ’Artivists’ acted to try and save the residences. The academics and artivists attempted to support the cause, and give voice to the voiceless by putting it in a context that would be more likely to achieve government support. 


Zijie, who studies at NTU’s Social Work department was amongst those who joined the experiment. Zijie and a small group were given a place that local photographer, Li Guomin (李國民), had been fixing up, to base themselves and live from for the following six months. Many artivists resided at Treasure Hill for short periods of time, few lived for long spells of time. For Taiwan it was an experimental, but historical cooperation between art and activism. For some of those involved, it was a cultural space that had art potential, others were more concerned about the residents property rights. Their actions had both successes and failures, but finally in 2006, the government took the decision to go ahead in evicting residents and taking down buildings. When renovation is completed this year a small proportion of the residents have been promised they will be allowed back.

Yang Zijie, Li Guomin and another reknowned artist Wu Zhongwei (吳中煒), were among three people accused and sued by the government.

Two years after, the artivists and residents were evicted, Zijie reflects on the movement to maintain Treasure Hill. With hindsight, He discusses the pitfalls and difficulties involved in understanding the needs of those one is trying to help when socially engaging and which aspects he feels could have been handled better.
 


Introduction by Nick Coulson


 


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