Showing posts with label activism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label activism. Show all posts

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Photos from the Black Lives Matter Solidarity and Hong Kong Outlander rallies


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I just wanted to share some photos from two important rallies that took place in Taipei yesterday - the Black Lives Matter Solidarity Rally outside the National Taiwan Museum, and the rally organized by Hong Kong Outlander (a Taiwan-based group of Hong Kong civic activists) at Freedom Square later that evening. Both were well-attended - not as big as some protests I've seen, but a great turnout for these sorts of solidarity gatherings.



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There was some local presence at the BLM rally. I hope in the future, there will be more

In between the two, there was at least one rally to express support for Taiwan (well, the ROC)'s continued "sovereignty" over the Senkaku Islands (ugh). I think it might have melded with a pro-Han Kuo-yu rally, or a "Recall President Tsai" rally? It's not clear and I don't care enough to sort it out, but anyway all 9 or so attendees did a great job of enthusiastically calling for more attention to be paid to their cause, before the nursing home curfew kicked in.

If you actually care about these guys, Taiwan Report has a bit more information. 


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Black Lives Matter in the US have expressed that they've been heartened to see global support from gatherings like these, and racism certainly is an issue that needs to be tackled in Taiwan, not only against non-white foreign residents (most notably Southeast Asian members of the community as they form the largest demographic, but other non-Taiwanese BIPOC as well), but also against Taiwanese Indigenous who face discrimination in their own country. Both Indigenous activists and foreign resident activists spoke at the event. 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence were observed - the same amount of time that Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into George Floyd's neck.


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At the end of the Black Lives Matter rally, which drew a large crowd of foreign residents, the organizers expressed support for the Hong Kong rally later that evening (there was some disagreement over this, but it was quickly defused).






The Hong Kong rally was also inspirational. Though part of it felt more like a pop-up market than a rally, I kind of like that about these sorts of events and purchased a Tsai Ing-wen plushy and rainbow Taiwan pin. Notable speakers included my new favorite person, a professor who went on a profane tirade (he said something along the lines of "fuck the Communist Party of China's mother!" in English, Cantonese, Mandarin and Taiwanese all in a row). I could find out his name, but I'd prefer his brilliance live on, ensconced in mythology.

I do notice a harder edge to the Hong Kong rallies these days - "free Hong Kong, revolution of our times!" is still a popular chant, but "Hong Kong is Hong Kongers' Hong Kong" (it's just as unwieldy in Chinese) and "Fuck China!" are starting to catch on. Black and white bauhinia and "Free Hong Kong" flags are starting to share space with "Hong Kong Independence" flags. I've thought all along that there's no real middle ground here where Hong Kong can maintain its unique character and be a part of China, and independence is the only reasonable (yet sadly, seemingly impossible) solution, so I personally am happy to see this.

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Unfortunately, there were not very many Taiwanese at the Black Lives Matter rally, and few foreign residents (other than Hong Kongers themselves) at the Hong Kong rally. The Black Lives Matter rally didn't get a lot of local press in Mandarin, although the English-language media all covered it in advance. A few public figures on the Taiwanese left - including Sunflower leaders Lin Fei-fan and Chen Wei-ting - were present at the Hong Kong rally, but not the BLM rally (though both are supportive of the cause).

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All I can really say is, both of these issues are important, and they are interrelated. That said. I see some BLM criticism of Hong Kong protests online, with some disappointment by Hong Kongers that the Western left doesn't have a lot of support to offer them. This is coupled with criticism of some Hong Kongers' leaning into the support they've received from the American right, which one would be correct to describe as 'hypocritical' on the part of the right. 

 For Hong Kongers, as with Taiwan, I won't judge anyone for taking the support they are offered - even from a deeply unsavory and hypocritical source - when there are few other helping hands extended. Though when I see, say, Tsai Ing-wen publish a cartoon that makes her look buddy-buddy with Trump or Joshua Wong retweeting Marco Rubio, it does make me want to barf more than a little.

In any case, both deserved their own rallies, and it's important that both happened.



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The crowd did get larger as the night wore on


However, I would have liked to have seen more cross-pollination - it seemed to be all the same people (myself included) who go to these sorts of things going to both, not a larger trend.


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Lin Fei-fan surrounded by reporters (I'm not a reporter so I just snapped an amusing photo)


In the future, with rising energy for BLM solidarity in Taiwan and ongoing support for Hong Kong, as well as a growing awareness of the need to fight discrimination in a Taiwanese context, whether it's against other Taiwanese or foreigners of color, I hope there is energy for a larger gathering that brings these groups together to fight for what are, at the end, common goals.


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I would not take a photo of myself at a BLM rally, but I figure Bear Guy - a common sight at Taiwanese protests - was fair game at the Hong Kong rally.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

What do we mean when we say “third force”?

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I don't know, this just seems appropriate. 


In the current election season, I’ve noticed a new cluster of third party political figures attempting to refer to themselves as “third force” as a signal to voters that they represent some sort of new political wave. Most of the people actively using this term, or appearing onstage next to people who do, seem to be old guard - say, James Soong and the People First Party (PFP), Terry Gou and his general crappiness, Ko Wen-je and his general crappiness.

Considering that in recent years, the term “third force” has more closely been associated with progressive, pro-independence political parties such as the NPP, I think it’s worth a closer look at what it actually means both historically and in contemporary discourse. Is there room in the meaning of “third force” for non-progressive, generally pro-China parties or is it pure appropriation for political gain? Perhaps the answer is somewhere in between?

The general meaning of the term “third force” in a global sense - that is, beyond Taiwan - simply refers to smaller third parties who are unaffiliated with big-party power blocs, though in practice they often support larger parties or coalitions. What those third parties actually stand for is irrelevant if we take this definition. 

In Taiwan, the term “third force” has been around a lot longer than you’d guess from a quick n’ dirty Google. Results almost exclusively bring up the NPP, and sometimes mention smaller parties at the same end of the political spectrum which either formed or gained social currency - if not actual power - after the 2014 Sunflower movement. 

Dig a little, however, and you’ll find that the idea has been around a lot longer. Around the turn of the millennium, it meant pretty much any third party, with a spike in electoral victories around 2002. The biggest of these was the PFP, which claims to move beyond “green and blue” but is actually just a a satellite pan-blue party. There was also the pro-independence Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU), which currently holds no seats, the pro-unification and generally horrible New Party which holds a few local seats but none on the legislature, and the Green Party which has held a handful of city council seats in the past but never made it to the legislature. 

All of these could be called “third force”, and all of them were founded in the 1990s or early 2000s. All of them have won at least a few seats in the past, at least locally. And yet they have wildly divergent political views.

But, let’s be perfectly honest, that definition of “third force” - any unaffiliated set of third parties which defy a major-party binary - just isn’t what people mean when they use is to refer to Taiwanese politics. 

New Bloom defines “third force” as a veritable Pleiades of post-Sunflower parties and political luminaries - bright young things, newcomers to politics, and as such generally progressive and pro-Taiwan. These would be the New Power Party (NPP), Trees Party and Social Democratic Party (SDP) folks: these parties formed around 2014-2015. 

In one sense, I think this definition has real currency. As someone who impersonates a linguist, I am very much a descriptivist. Words mean what the general societal consensus believes they mean, and it can be very hard to research and clearly define all of their associated connotations and subtler meanings, especially as such meanings are prone to sometimes-rapid evolution. 

Although the explicit meaning of “third force” does not technically require a party to be post-Sunflower, pro-independence or progressive, the current connotation of this term does include these meanings. Such implicit connotation in use - that is, the full extent of the term’s current pragmatic meaning - can’t just be ignored because it’s hard to categorize, or because it has evolved from earlier meanings.

That said, it’s still problematic to use “third force” in this way without examining it further. Other parties that can be said to be in this constellation include Taiwan Radical Wings (now Taiwan Statebuilding Party), which was formed in 2012, before the Sunflower Movement, though it surely drew some of its energy from the pre-Sunflower rumblings of the Wild Strawberries, anti-media monopoly and anti-land expropriation protests - many of those activists went on to become Sunflowers. The Green Party could even be included, and they were founded in 1996!

On the other hand, conservative/pan-blue or straight-up creepy parties like the Minkuotang (now merged with the Congress Party Alliance) formed in the same post-Sunflower wake. The Minkuotang was founded in 2015). There's even creepier Faith and Hope League, a conservative Christian anti-gay party formed 2015 in the wake of the marriage equality wars. Ko Wen-je’s Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) and Chen Shui-bian’s Taiwan Action Party Alliance (TAPA) have formed more recently.

If the term means “political parties formed after 2014”, we have to include them. 

If it means “parties of generally young progressives”, we don’t, but we do have to include the Statebuilding Party and Green Party, which throws the post-2014 connotation into question. 

It’s also worth considering what we call “progressive” - do we include the Labor Party (formed 1989) in that? They are political leftists, but also unificationists. They are not pro-Taiwan.

If we define “third force” as being pro-Taiwan/pro-independence, we don’t have to include them, but we do have to include TAPA, who are not progressive, and the TSU, whom I have anecdotally found to harbor a streak of Hoklo nationalism that I find unpalatable and anti-progressive. Neither party skews young - quite the opposite. 

We also have to consider whether the term includes the independents - most notably Freddy Lim and Hung Tzu-Yung, both of whom left the NPP earlier this year. And, of course, there’s the question of whether one can be truly considered “third force” if they choose a side in the great green-blue divide. Do Lim and Hung, actively campaigning for Tsai Ing-wen, count? How about the SDP now that Fan Yun has gone over to the DPP (they’re not dead though - they still have Miao Poya, their only elected representative). If we can include them, why can’t we include pan-blue parties?

Does it only include political groups that have power or who might influence the current election cycle? If so, I don’t think we can include Trees Party or Green Party, or the TSU at this point. 

You’re probably asking by now - “who cares?” Well, as a linguist impostor, I care. 

But also, how we define the term has political implications. As a friend pointed out, we can’t just use it to mean what we want it to mean, and we can’t just define it to mean “the people we like”, finding excuses to exclude people we don’t like. 

With that said, allow me to define the term to include only the people I like: pro-Taiwan and progressive, skewing young, but not necessarily formed after 2014 and not necessarily directly opposing the major parties. That gives us Green Party, SDP, NPP, Statebuilding Party, Lim and Hung (and their Frontline alliance - more on that later), and the Trees Party. 

Please don’t take my definition too seriously. I don’t have a better one though - all I can say is, don’t apply the term lazily. Don’t just throw it out to describe people you like without examining further what you mean by it. By all means, leave lots of comments with your own ideas of what the term should mean in 2019. 

So what political implications does this have?

From a discourse perspective, if the societally-understood connotation of a term not only has power but is also in a state of flux, that means it will be seen as ‘up for grabs’ by anyone hoping to appropriate it.

If the term is evolving, it makes sense that people vying for power would want to direct its evolution in a direction that benefits them. That’s what we can see with Gou’s use of the term.

If that’s the case - and I believe it is - there’s a concerted and intentional attempt to move “third force” away from its current association with Sunflower ethos, and back toward its earlier meaning of “any third parties who claim to be unaffiliated with the DPP or KMT (but in fact usually are)”. 

I don’t care for this sort of intentional strategizing, but honestly, he’s free to try. If I get to define it in a way that includes only people, parties and beliefs I like, he is free to do the same. I’m not sure it can be called ‘appropriation’ given the term’s history - it sure feels that way, but I have no well-founded basis on which to challenge it. 

I suppose that’s a good thing insofar as the global meaning of “third force” never required newness or progressive ideology, but problematic in that it confuses the pan-blue/pro-China and pan-green/pro-Taiwan sides. I think it would be better to think of these two groups as separate.

It also makes it harder to identify and discuss the liberal-conservative axis. While the pro-China/pro-Taiwan cleavage is still the most enduring and influential split in Taiwanese politics, I still believe there is a purposeful attempt underway to change that.

Finally, looking at who is attempting to gain traction as “third force” can shed some insight on their electoral strategy. 

For example, Donovan Smith recently made fun of James Soong for leaning heavily on the Orchid Island nuclear waste issue. I agree that this seems like an odd strategy given how few people live on Orchid Island. But the Green Party - a “third force” party that actually has access to the term’s new social progressive connotation - does really well on Orchid Island (and nowhere else). I don’t think, therefore, that Soong’s tactic here is just to get Orchid Island voters. I think it’s to encroach on the Green Party vote on Orchid Island (and maybe grab some votes from the KMT too), and through stealing the Green Party’s votes there, get some of their “third force activist” cred to rub off on the PFP. 

To be fair, I don’t think this will work and in any case it’s a waste of time that wouldn’t help the PFP gain much even if it did.

I do think it's significant that Ko (who paints himself and his party as "apolitical"), Soong (who does the same, while going after other third party bases) and Gou (who directly invokes the term "third force") tend to appear together - a uniting of pan-blue, conservative voices trying to bring cohesion to that end of the third party spectrum, and (re)take the moniker "third force"?

On the other end, we have Frontline (前線), a loose alliance of pan-green/progressive candidates from different backgrounds who seem to be trying to bring more unity and cohesion to their own end of the spectrum, especially after the upsets and factionalization that has characterized the past year. Or maybe they're just trying to build a progressive, unified third force without the destructive Huang Kuo-chang element. It's entirely likely that they too are actively trying to hold onto the mantle of "third force" as they face attacks from the TPP and PFP on the pan-blue side as well as TAPA representing the old guard, conservative greens.

Side note: 前線 isn't a great name. It's easily confused with Christian group as well as with Hong Kong Indigenous (本土民主前線) - though I wonder if the similarity to the Hong Kong group's name is intentional.


It also helps us better understand what’s going on with Ko Wen-je and his party. It may seem odd that he started his political career passing himself off as a friend to pro-Taiwan progressives, won the Taipei mayoral election riding the post-Sunflower wave, and then took a turn towards China before his first term was up. We can argue whether he “changed” or whether we just didn’t see it before, and we can ask what supporters the TPP aims to attract. But within that loose Sunflower/Third Force alliance, there were always people who saw the movement not as opposing getting too close to China, but rather the way it was being done. They could be more broadly considered anti-big party corruption. There was also always a contingent (often church-affiliated) who didn’t actually share what we think of as Sunflower social progressivism. 

Someone like Ko wouldn’t necessarily look as gross to them as he does to ‘us’. It makes sense that he’d then get friendly with Soong, who already claims to represent this type of voter. 

In any case, how we define “third force” impacts how we look at third-party politics, liberalism/progressivism, the Sunflower effect and the China cleavage in Taiwan. Use it if you want, but think first about what exactly you mean by it, and whether that's justified. 

Friday, November 22, 2019

When Indigenous groups ask for their land back, what does that mean?

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After reading about the occupation near the presidential office by Indigenous activists asking for the return of their ancestral land reaching its 1000th day with little movement from the Tsai administration (other than law enforcement officers repeatedly clearing them out), I thought this would be a good time to write a little bit about what these activists want.

Plenty of reports on the issue state that the Indigenous groups are asking for about 1.8 million hectares of land, which is about half of the island of Taiwan, which has an area of approximately 3.6 million hectares.


You can also read about how the Tsai administration is willing to return all public land, but not privately-owned land. This comes out to offering about 800,000 hectares, or a little less than half of what was asked for. (I'm not sure why Kolas Yotaka told Reuters that they would be able to claim 90% of their land - that's clearly not the case.)

The casual reader, at this point, might turn against the Indigenous cause - they want half of Taiwan? That's insane! They want people who already privately own that land to just give it up? And they want this for half the country's territory, when they are only 2% of the population? They can't be serious! 

Yet few have reported on what exactly these Indigenous rights groups are asking for when they say "we want our land back" to head off such reactions.

To figure this out, I sat down with Kerim Friedman, an associate professor in the Department of Ethnic Relations and Cultures (within the College of Indigenous Studies), at National Dong Hwa University. Or, more accurately, I asked him over lunch one day to explain what exactly the goal of "returning land" meant. Do they really want all that privately-owned land to be taken from the current owners and handed to Indigenous tribes?

Apparently, the answer is: not exactly. 

The intention isn't to kick landowners off their land, or for 2% of the people to control 50% of the land.

Instead, it's to gain sovereignty over traditional Indigenous land, without taking away private property rights, which gives Indigenous people a say in how their traditional lands are used, much as the national government currently has the right to do over private property. 



Put another way by Mata Taiwan (in Ketagalan Media): 

According to the convener of Indigenous Youth Front Savungaz Valincinan, all private property are at the same time part of the sovereign territory of the Republic of China. Within the sovereignty of the Republic of China, people are entitled to private ownership and are allowed to freely use and trade the land in accordance with the law.
Therefore, returning sovereignty to the Indigenous peoples still allows private property holders their ownership rights. When the land is considered within traditional Indigenous territories, private rights are governed by Indigenous or tribal laws. If sovereignty conflicts with private ownership, then privately held lands would be outside of national jurisdiction, which is just absurd.

Questions over what to do with private land come up all the time - certain changes that owners want to make might need to be approved by the government. Certain sales and development projects may require that too. Just because you own the land doesn't mean you can do anything you want to it, and certain land or sites of cultural importance may garner greater protection. They would be better able to negotiate favorable terms with developers, as well.  It would probably also afford them hunting rights on those lands (though I'm not sure).


You might also call this a "seat at the table": 


Article 21 of the Indigenous Peoples Basic Act (原住民族基本法) states that: “When governments or private parties engage in land development, resource utilization, ecology conservation and academic research in indigenous land, tribe and their adjoin-land which owned by governments, they shall consult and obtain consent by Indigenous peoples or tribes, even their participation, and share benefits with Indigenous people.” [Emphasis mine]

What the Indigenous activists want is to be a part of those discussions, so that if someone who privately owns land that was once Indigenous wants to, say, build a bunch of luxury hotels or a factory on it without regard for the local environment or other Indigenous settlements that might be nearby, they have the ability to challenge or request an injunction on such plans, as the historic inhabitants of that land. In other words, exactly what the government already has the right to do.

Seems quite reasonable when it's explained clearly, doesn't it? 
So, why is the government refusing to consider this request? According to the government

According to the government’s wording, the exercise of the right to consent would violate private property rights guaranteed under the Constitution, and that is why privately owned land was excluded from the definition of traditional Aboriginal [sic] territory.

That doesn't make a lot of sense, though, when you consider that the ROC retains sovereignty over all of this privately-owned land already, with the ability to make laws governing its use as well as expropriation rights. Indigenous land rights probably wouldn't even go that far - I can't find anything that says that Indigenous groups are looking for any right to eminent domain/expropriation.

Mostly, it would mean that private landowners would have to consult with both the ROC government and a local Indigenous council before doing anything with their land. So - a seat at the table.

In fact, the Mata Taiwan/Ketagalan Media article above clarifies Indigenous groups have affirmed that "private development within traditional indigenous areas are still subject to environnmental, water, or construction regulations", meaning that the ROC would not lose all control of those lands.

It seems clear that living on such land would not be much different from living anywhere else in Taiwan now. The only change would be that the Indigenous group claiming the land would have a say in how it is developed. I fail to see how this is unreasonable in any way.

Why can't the ROC use legal tools that already exist to protect Indigenous interests when approving private property development projects? Well, because they haven't done a particularly good job of it before:


Controversial development cases in recent years such as the Shanyuan Bay resorts included at least 70% private lands. Before the regulations, Indigenous groups could at least claim to be a stakeholder, but current regulations clearly fenced out the voice of the Indigenous groups.... 
During [a] press conference on February 14, Commissioner Icyang [Parod] said all the various opinions within the indigenous peoples will be taken into consideration, almost as a response to the protesters outside. But over the last year, whether on Pingpuzu recognition or the current land dispute, the authorities had not fully consulted the Indigenous communities.

If you think that's bad, consider the Asia Cement debacle, on Truku land

Complainants say that the ACC [Asia Cement] plant, its operations, and the legislative processes that make this possible have been executed in violation of the Taiwan's Indigenous Peoples Basic Law. The local peoples have never been properly consulted regarding the use of their Indigenous lands. Certainly, they did not grant permission for the resulting land and social degradation. 
ACC claims that over half of its employees are locals. In addition to acquiring community approval signatures four decades ago — which the locals claim were forged and some included deceased people — this serves as what they claim is sufficient basis for free and prior informed consent.

Of course, no issue is simple. The Indigenous who are counted in that 2% number cited above are typically the descendants of 'Mountain Indigenous', an old designation of unassimilated Indigenous groups who had mostly moved to the mountains and not mixed as much with Chinese immigrants to Taiwan. 'Plains Indigenous', or Pingpu, have fought harder for recognition as they did tend to assimilate and intermarry with the Chinese settlers and are now often (though not always) culturally indistinguishable from them.


It's important to point out that the land that 'Mountain Indigenous' claim is more likely to be government land (being in sparsely-inhabited mountainous areas), which has led to some success. Plains Indigenous who want the same land-claim rights face a harder battle, as not only are they less likely to be recognized as Indigenous, but most of the land they would claim is private property on the densely-populated plains. As such, they've been less successful. (It's also worth noting that not all of the members of the former group necessarily want the latter group to gain recognition, for a variety of complex reasons that I don't feel qualified to tackle right now.)

In addition, according to Mata Taiwan/Ketagalan Media, some lands are subject to overlapping claims by different Indigenous groups.


That still doesn't really give Tsai a strong reasoning for not considering what the Indigenous people are asking for, however:

One additional controversy is over the resolution that traditional Indigenous nations’ overlapping claims and other disputes, should be mediated by the central government (assumably the Council). This regulation has stirred up concerns as well, because the track record of the government in meddling or “assisting” in tribal matters often led to greater conflict and weakened the Indigenous peoples’ methods of mutual dispute resolution.

These issues are solvable, if those in power are willing to talk to marginalized groups and take reasonable requests seriously.

After all, this land was stolen from Indigenous groups. In many cases, it was simply taken from them by various colonial powers, and once wrested from Indigenous inhabitants, it was passed through a series of state-owned enterprises or sold to private buyers - that's why a fair amount of this land is tied up in big corporate interests like Asia Cement. In other cases, settlers from China used the language barrier to their advantage to 'trick' Indigenous inhabitants into unknowingly giving up their land - a practice which hardly constitutes informed consent.

And yet, a proper solution doesn't seem to be happening here and I have to wonder why.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Su Beng has passed away, and the rain pours down

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Su Beng (史明), a true hero of the Taiwan independence movement, passed away late last night at the age of 103 (101 by Western age counting).

He's most famous for writing Taiwan's 400-Year History (available in English in Gongguan bookstores 台灣ㄟ店 and 南天書局 - the English version is much abridged from the massive tome in Chinese), but also for being forced into exile in Japan in 1952 due to his leading role in the Taiwan Independence Armed Corps (they really were armed, and had a plan to assassinate Chiang Kai-shek in the early years of the White Terror). Perhaps you've heard of his noodle shop in Japan, where he'd also gone to university. I believe the shop still exists - more than one of my friends and students in Taiwan have brought their children there while on vacation in Tokyo, so that the younger generation might understand something about Taiwan's history. Before 1949, he'd also 'worked undercover' in China; I don't know what he did there, but it could probably fill a whole new book of stories. He wasn't one for peaceful resistance, after all.

Enough with the bio - I met Su Beng once.

I was a young, silly Taiwan neophyte - in Taiwan for perhaps a year, perhaps two, but still just a flighty English teacher and not much more than that. I kind of knew who he was, but not really. Not really really. I didn't get a picture, and I still regret that - I can't join the friends of mine who are putting their photos with Su Beng online to mourn his passing. If I believed in anything like a conscious force behind the universe, I'd wonder why it put me in the presence of greatness before I was ready to truly appreciate that fact; as an atheist, I know it was just bad timing.

It feels odd to be so glum about the passing of such an ancient man, who lived a long and meaningful life and made a real contribution to Taiwan. Death is natural, it's part of life, and he was over a century old. But he was also a living legend, so it feels like a piece - a quarter or so of those 400 years - of Taiwan's history has also gone from present to past. If there's one thing all of us who fight for Taiwan - beyond all the infighting and personal fallouts, beyond all the attacks and power jockeying, beyond the far lefties and the ethnic chauvinists and the idealistic students - can agree on, it's that he was one of the greats. Perhaps even the greatest.

The rain poured down last night as we heard about Su Beng's passing. The land felt quieter; perhaps Taiwan was crying. This morning, it's intangible and indescribable, but the air feels...bereft


Rest in peace, Su Beng. You made Taiwan's history a little clearer and brighter for all of us, including that dumb white girl you met back in 2007.

And the fight - your fight - continues. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

It's like air: Tiananmen in Taipei, 2018

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Honestly, I feel the need to write about the Tiananmen Square memorial event held yesterday, June 4th not because I think I have anything unique to say about it that others couldn't, but because this year it felt so lightweight that if we don't note it down for the collective Internet memory, the event as a whole will just float away, as though it never happened. Which is, of course, exactly what the Communist Part of China wants. Nobody likes the world remembering massacres they perpetrated.

The event was mostly in Chinese, with a few speakers addressing the crowd in English. I would like to suggest here that the entire event should be bilingual, and next year's 30th anniversary event might actually make the news, so it would be smart to have translators ensuring all talks are available in English and Chinese. I can follow the Chinese, but I can imagine many foreigners in Taipei who'd be otherwise interested in attending might not, because it's not very exciting to hear speeches in a language you don't understand.

As usual, the event featured a number of speakers from a variety of activist groups across Asia, including recorded talks from Uighur activists, two speakers from Reporters Without Borders (based in Taipei) and a particularly electrifying speech by Vietnamese activist and Taipei resident Trinh Huu Long. Yu Mei-nu, Yibee Huang and Zheng Xiu-juan (Lee Ming-che's boss, although that sounds odd to say in English) were some of the Taiwanese speakers.

Zheng likened China's human rights abuses to its intractable pollution problem, saying that "human rights are like air" - when you're breathing comfortably you don't notice them, but when the pollution ratchets up to PM 2.5, you realize how vital clean air to breathe is, and suddenly you're suffocating. (I'm translating roughly from memory here).


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Zheng Xiu-juan (鄭秀娟) and Yibee Huang (黃怡碧)


There were also performances, including a memorable entrance by Taiwanese rapper Chang Jui-chuan (張睿銓), who sang one of his newer songs, Gin-a. The lyrics (in Taiwanese) discuss Taiwanese democracy movements and freedom fighters post-1949:

Killing after killing, jail after jail...
Hey kid, you must remember

Their blood and sweat, torment and sacrifice
Gave you the air you're breathing



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Empty chairs at empty tables



And that's just it - the 6/4 event, held every year, feels like a part of the air here in Taiwan. It just happens, everyone knows it happens, and they assume others will attend so they take it for granted. It's there, it's always there, maybe next year, someone will show up. I don't need to worry about it. Ugh, Monday night.

What you get, then, is an attendance rate that looks like it might have been less than 100 (but damn it, Ketagalan Media made the effort. We showed up.) Which, again, is exactly what the CCP wants - for us to forget.

In 2014 this event was huge, with camera lights stretching back into the distance and prominent Taiwanese activists showed up - including Sunflowers fresh off the high of electrifying society and about to watch the tsunami they started wash across the 2014 elections. We thought we could change Asia. We thought it was within our grasp...and now there are empty chairs stretching back, and nobody seems to notice the air they're breathing.

Some say it doesn't matter, or is odd to hold in Taiwan, as China is a different country. It's true that China and Taiwan are two different nations. What happens in China affects Taiwan, though, and hosting memorial events so close to China and in venues where a number of Chinese are likely to walk by does make a difference, if a small one. We're on the front lines in the fight against China's encroaching territorial and authoritarian expansionism, so it means something to take a stand - even a small one - here.

In 2016 an entire group of Chinese tourists walked right past the event - this year, someone seems to have ensured that wouldn't happen again. For once, Dead Dictator Memorial Hall was completely devoid of Chinese tour groups and I doubt that was a coincidence. What I'm saying is, somebody noticed.

It also serves as a reminder that Taiwan is not China - we can and do hold these events here, and we do so freely and without fear. We talk about our history, as Chang does in Gin-A. We discuss our common cause, as democracy activists from across Asia did last night. What we do - let's not forget human rights abuses that happen in Taiwan - may not perfectly align with what we stand for, but we talk about it, and we have the space and air we need to work toward something better. In China you can't breathe at all.

But the people who died at Tiananmen 29 years ago are among those whose sacrifice may eventually give China the air it needs to breathe - though I grow less sure that it might happen in my lifetime. Fighters like Lee Ming-che, thrust into the national spotlight and just as quickly forgotten even in Taiwan, give Taiwan the air it needs to breathe. We give ourselves air and beat back the oppressive particulates trying to suffocate us, by standing up for what's right and refusing to forget the massacres of the past.

We must remember. We can't let this event float away on the air, as though it doesn't matter, or it doesn't matter for Taiwan. It absolutely does.

I mean, I get it - I'd like to feel totally safe knowing my freedom and guaranteed access to human rights was not in question. I'd like to sit on the couch and eat Doritos and not even worry about it, because I don't have to. It's tiring to keep showing up. Unfortunately, Taiwan really is on the front line, and we can't do that - we can't pretend it doesn't (or shouldn't) matter.

Next year is the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Mark your calendar now, make sure you're free, and show up.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Time to ride that dragon (and Ker Chien-ming is a coward)

Please enjoy this photo of cowardly garbage person 柯建銘 sneaking out a side door of the Legislative Yuan after the stankerific amendments to the Labor Standards Act passed, like the loser and all-around character-lacking person he is. Taken by a good friend.

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He's the one with the bald head.

Oh yeah, protests broke out today, for good reason.

There's a big protest on Sunday 12/10 in Kaohsiung and on 12/23 in Taipei - I advise you to be there. I am supposed to make 5 curries, and I will, but I also need to be there. I'll make it work.

Let's ride this dragon. 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

民進黨不行,國民黨再贏: on dragons and not riding them

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Look, I know I said I was going to take a break, but I'm taking a break from taking a break so here you go.

Still working on my personal junk, you'll hear about it when I'm ready to talk about it. Still working on grad school, just needed a break from that. Don't worry, I'm plugging right along.

Anyway.

I'm not particularly surprised that the DPP has turned around and betrayed Taiwanese labor with their new bullshit changes to labor regulations. (Quick note: the seven public holidays mentioned in this article only snapped back into existence for a year - otherwise, we haven't had them for the entirety of the decade I've lived in Taiwan. They're also not great holidays, to be honest. It's not as though we lost something we'd grown used to over many years.)

They might have a better origin story - I mean, they didn't commit mass murder and pillage and steal from Taiwan for decades after flying and sailing over from another country and settling in like they owned the place - but their ascendancy to the main opposition party of the (even worse) KMT hasn't left them as pure of heart as they might have started out. Sure, they began more idealistically but I don't think anyone can realistically say that they've maintained their dangwai-era vision. They'll line their own pockets, set up their own patronage networks and kowtow to special interests just as much as the KMT will. We've known that for awhile.

I think we've all known for awhile that the DPP is a corruption-filled pustule - perhaps we just told ourselves until recently that all the pus was because they were fighting the KMT infection. But come on, we knew.

Oh but they're not willing to sell us out to China, and they didn't perpetrate a murderous half-century or so of political and social oppression, so they only really look better by comparison. They were always going to bend over and take it from big business. The major difference is that they're pro-independence buttmonkeys who didn't kill people.

Likewise, I'm not even really shocked that they've gone so limp on marriage equality. I'm angry, but I think deep down I always knew that this was in their nature. They were always going to bend over and take it from conservative and Christian groups. Again, the only real difference is that they're pro-independence buttmonkeys who didn't kill people.

They have a better origin story, that's really all at this point. At one point they surely meant what they said with all of that idealism about a better Taiwan. I don't know when things changed, but the spirit of the dangwai who fought for a better Taiwan seems to be dead. Now, they're in it for the power just like the KMT it seems.

I guess deep down, as I can't be surprised, I'm mostly just sad.

Perhaps we always knew that neither of Taiwan's two major parties ever really had the people's backs, but until recently at least we could pretend. We could tell ourselves that if we could just hand the DPP a presidency along with a legislative majority, we could actually get something done. We could transform the country, or at least start down that path.

Now we know that's not true. Now we know there's no major party that really will do the right thing, that will govern as representatives of the people, that will really have our backs rather than letting those with more power than Taiwanese labor (or marriage equality activists and the LGBT community) get up on their backs.

Now we know - there's no one to vote for. Not among the major parties.

I mean, if anything, activism is in the same old rut it always was. We all though things would get better when Tsai's inaugural parade featured that huge sunflower-bedecked float touting the strides Taiwan has made in social movements. And yet we still have a few hundred people turning out for protests until something huge blows up, we still have the same old muddy turmoil, the same old pro-China zealots beating people up and the same old police not responding. The same old turned back from the government. Did the DPP really think that activists would back off because the less-bad party won? That fighting back was something we only did to the KMT because they sucked so hard? That sucking only slightly less hard would be good enough?

So what now? Punishing the DPP - which they roundly deserve - will only hand the KMT a victory. The KMT deserves to be punished more harshly than anyone and it seems they never quite get what's coming to them. We criticize the DPP, calling Lai Ching-te "God Lai" and making fun of him, but the KMT is full of princelings who fancy themselves as gods come across the water from China. This is not a solution.

A buildup of smaller parties? Great. I would love to see the Third Force come together, I'd love to see the two big parties fracture and split and a true multiparty democracy flower. But let's be honest, that's probably not going to happen. I'd love to see the NPP gain support and really challenge the DPP without splitting the liberal vote and handing victories to the KMT - but I'm not sure about either.

At the local and legislative level we can vote for these Third Force parties, but who do we vote for at the presidential level when the DPP has gone down the tubes, and the KMT is already in the gutter?

What I fear is going to happen is this. Tsai will win a second term because presidents here generally do. Ma wasn't punished for being a terrible president. Tsai won't be punished for being a weak one who seems to have betrayed the people she campaigned to win. She'll muddle along just like she is doing in this term, things won't get better, the DPP will continue to suck, and the KMT will start seeming "not that bad" in comparison.

Of course, they are so much worse. But that's not how I think the electorate, sick of 8 years of DPP bullshit, will see it. They'll see it as a "change", and will be willing to give the Chinese princelings another go-'round.

This doesn't mean that Taiwan will suddenly swing pro-China. I don't see that happening again. The conditions for Taiwanese identity to remain strong and even grow are still there. I just see a lot of light blue and green people who aren't as politically attached to "Taiwanese identity" decide that they can preserve their support for it while still voting blue. You know, just like they did when they voted for Ma. You know, deciding that their love for Taiwan can exist under a KMT leader, or that civil society will keep that leader in check. They may forget what happened the last time they thought that.

And in 2024, blammo. We'll be back to the same old bullshit from the KMT.

We thought it couldn't happen in the US, that the Republicans were dead, and yet look what happened. It can happen here too, even if the KMT's core ideology is dead (one major difference: the Republicans' core ideology only seemed dead).

Yay.

The DPP can do better and needs to do better, but I think it's clear that they won't. What's worse, for now they're impossible to punish. Nobody has our backs, and there's no way right now to force them to. This is what happens in two-party systems: no matter their origins, both sides slowly morph into a giant douche fighting a turd sandwich for your votes. 

The NPP also needs to do better - this could be their moment, and they have captured it to some extent - Hsu Yong-ming is my new hero - but they need to really grab this dragon and ride it. Get those labor votes and get them now. Do it while the KMT is still in shambles. Don't let those apolitical votes turn light blue again. They need to hold it together and get those votes right now so that some of their younger leaders can gain experience to assume the mantle before the party's momentum withers and their base goes with it.

But - Hsu's filibustering aside - if that were happening we'd see bigger turnouts for these protests, and we're not. We're not seeing enough public calls to action from the NPP - we're seeing Freddy Lim talking about how "useless" the old Tibetan and Mongolian Affairs Committee was (which may be true, but I don't know that he's asked Tibetan refugees, perhaps, what they think of it?). We've got Huang Kuo-chang worried that he's going to be unseated in a few days. We've got former Sunflowers trying to encourage people to turn out, but no big names in youth activism really leading the charge (to be fair, some can't right now). We've got the DPP shouting "your Sunflower movement has collapsed!" and the Third Force not responding in a way that's proving them wrong.

Hsu Yong-ming can't do it alone, but I just don't see the sort of rallying that we need. We need another 400,000 people to go downtown, sit their asses down at Jingfu Gate and tell the DPP what's fucking what, and it's not happening.

Seriously, it feels like 2013 up in here.

I know these things need to evolve naturally, and maybe it'll be a slow burn until the big blowout, but hey, I'm waiting. In any case, what's waiting for us at the other end of that blowout? In 2014 there was a clear path forward: kick out the KMT. Hell, we chanted it in the streets: 國民黨不倒,台灣不會好. What now? 民進黨不行,國民黨再贏?

The dragon seems to be passing the NPP and Third Force right by.

Come on, guys.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Some thoughts on the "Sing China Music Festival" protests and violence

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Photo from student activist public posts on Facebook 

Earlier today, a music festival meant to "showcase the talents" of Chinese and Taiwanese musicians and bring them together so they could "learn from each other" (this was the official talking point, anyway) was stopped early as pro-Taiwan protests broke out. At one point, at least one pro-China unificationist, an older man, confronted the protesting students, beating at least one with a stick to the point that he was bleeding profusely and had to be taken to a hospital for treatment.

Update: Taipei Times has by far the best story. This gives a full accounting of what happened before the pro-China people got involved. And here's an article from New Bloom which has some great legwork on the history of Sing China and how its rebranding could well be a part of attempts at cultural unification, as well as background on the backlash against Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je. 

Focus Taiwan ran a "story" in English, with Apple Daily publishing something in Chinese and Freddy Lim commenting on Facebook (also in Chinese). There is also a bilingual report from a Facebook poster here, and a video - do watch the video - here.

Here's another video (which will link to more) showing more of what happened.  It looks pretty clear that the students are not the ones who started the altercation.






The initial protests seemed to have two purposes: on one hand, they were clearly pro-Taiwan protests who did not want this Chinese music festival to take place. You can see that by the flags they are carrying, which are either the Taiwan flag that pro-independence activists use (a green Taiwan on a white field with green sides, looking similar to but not the same as the flag of the Democratic Progressive Party) or the sea green "I support Taiwan independence" banners with Taiwan inside of a stylized whale.

On the other, stated complaints where that the festival monopolized (and damaged) facilities on the NTU campus, including an athletic field that had been off-limits to students for some time to prepare for the festival.

There is also a discussion on constitutional reform (discussed today by Tsai Ying-wen at the DPP Party Congress) and 'students' rights' surrounding this that I'm still trying to unpack, which I'm going to go ahead and admit rather than pretend I understand every aspect of this incident.

Some reports say the protesters originally held tickets to the event, but were blocked from entering. Eventually, the festival was halted well before the scheduled 10pm ending time. Protesters later stormed the stage bearing pro-Taiwan signs. 

Then, near the venue, at least one unificationist counter-protester from the Concentric Patriotism Association (愛國同心會), the same people responsible for violence outside Taipei 101 and for confrontational tactics even when protesting legally, approached, yelled at, threatened and beat one of the pro-Taiwan protesters. (Yes, I am sure it's them as behind him you can see one of their vans covered in Chinese flags in the video).


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Photo from student activist public posts on Facebook

According to the Facebook post, the police were called but took over 50 minutes to respond. This is clearly a problem, as it happened in a central location. The time it takes for the police to get a call and send someone does not account for that.

There's a lot to unpack here, so let's take a look.

First, why protest a music festival? Protesting that an unwanted festival is taking facilities away from students is one thing, but why the obvious pro-independence bent?

The most obvious issue, as Taipei Times pointed out, is that despite taking over student facilities including a track and athletic field at NTU, and despite this being billed as a cooperative "sister city" event between Taipei and Shanghai, in fact, the event organizers called National Taiwan University "Taipei City Taiwan University". Some protested that they were not "China Taiwan University", as well. The students - quite rightly in my view - were offended by the event stripping NTU of its real name and status, in the same way that Taiwan is stripped of its real name and dignity and is forced to compete in international sporting events as "Chinese Taipei".

It's also noteworthy that, although similar events have taken place before, in the past they were approved under a KMT-led city government. Now that the KMT is out of power in both Taipei and the national government, people expect better, not more humiliating name changes. Hence the anger at Mayor Ko, who was once seen as a pro-Taiwan politician but whose record on pro-Taiwan issues has since been marred. 

From the Focus Taiwan article, you might be led to believe that this was just an innocuous cultural activity that was halted by thuggish immature students. You would probably be wrong. Although the festival was, according to Focus Taiwan, "legally permitted", it is widely believed to be connected to China's United Front work (the United Front being the amalgamation of Chinese organizations that work together to promote a pro-China and anti-Taiwan worldview - among other things - on a global scale. They do this through a number of means which you can read about here and here). New Bloom (linked above) lays out what this might look like in practice well:

Sing! China, the rebranding of the earlier The Voice of China singing competition, is a well-known Chinese reality television show. What is notable about Sing! China and its predecessor The Voice of China, however, is that the show goes out of its way to feature contestants drawn from “greater China,” including Taiwan and Hong Kong. This is also true of the television show’s judging panel, in which two of the six judges, Jay Chou and Harlem Yu, are Taiwanese. Judge Eason Chan, likewise, hails from Hong Kong, meaning that three out of the show’s six judges are not actually from the China mainland. The notion of “greater China” emphasized in the show goes to great odds to show that its contestants are drawn from all across “greater China”, with contestants oftentimes stating which province they are at the beginning of their self-introduction, and with their home province listed in their profile. Obviously, “Taiwan” is always a “province” of China on Sing! China.



Everyone I've talked to about this believes the festival to be connected to the United Front. Freddy Lim's post also alludes to this. He doesn't use the exact words "United Front" (統派) but he does say "這雖然是學生權益事件,大家也想知道,台大校方與台北市政府,怎麼能夠容許這樣帶有統戰意味、會稱來自「中國台北」的活動,進入校園、進入台北市" - "Although this is a student rights issue, everyone wants to know, how could NTU and the Taipei City government allow such a united front, coming from "Chinese Taipei" activities into the campus and into Taipei?" (Emphasis mine).
I don't think it's an accident that Freddy used words that literally mean "united front" without actually referring to the United Front by name. What I'm saying is, these students, it seems to me, did not just protest a music festival because it happened to be related to China. They protested it because they knew it was just one of the United Front's many tactics in their war of attrition and propaganda against Taiwan. Their mission - disruption of campus facilities or Taiwan independence? - was not confused. In this light, it makes perfect sense. Next, let's look at the Focus Taiwan article, which I am trying very hard to refrain from calling all manner of names. Did one of the oldsters from the Concentric Patriotism Association get a job at CNA or Focus Taiwan? The article paints the festival as innocently as possible - perhaps fair as there is no proof it was anything other than that, but any even halfway intelligent person should be able to deduce that there's more than meets the eye here. But not Focus Taiwan. They say:  


The MAC noted that Sing China Music Festival was a legally permitted activity that was meant to showcase Taiwan's music talent and give young musicians in Taiwan and China a chance to learn from each other.


This is perhaps forgivable, as the bare facts are that it was a permitted festival that, by being allowed by Taipei City and NTU, was obviously "supported" by Taipei in some way.

However, you won't see any mention of the protesters pro-Taiwan stance or the "Taipei City Taiwan University" issue in the article, either. It's purposeful omission is telling.

But if you read the article in its entirety, you'll note that while there is mention of "injuring a student", the writers make it sound as though the injuries were the result of a fight that was instigated by both sides being
confrontational. In fact, every other picture from the pro-Taiwan protest shows a peaceful, albeit disruptive, demonstration. This was not "commotion" caused by "both sides". 


Protesters splashed banners, chanted slogans and stormed onto the stage while supporters of the festival shouted back, creating tension as both sides confronted each other.

Four people were injured during ensuing scuffle, and police arrested a man surnamed Hu on charges of injuring an NTU student. Hu was taken to Da'an Police Station for investigation.


This was pro-China unificationist protesters doing what we already know they do: roughing up anyone who disagrees with them. Note, as well, the implication that the protesters "chanting slogans" and "storming onto the stage" were the instigators, with the unificationists seeming to merely react. Absolutely biased, in the most insidious way. 


If you watch the video, however, while it starts after the beating begins, you'll note that the pro-Taiwan person "confronting" him was saying "What do you want?" (你要什麼?) and "What are you doing?" (你幹嘛) - not something you say if you were a part of the fight starting.

It is also much more serious than simply "injuring" a student. "Injuries" happen when there's a little pushing or shoving. This was a full-on beat-down with a stick that resulting in the student going to the hospital. Nothing that student could have done would have merited being beaten like that. Focus Taiwan makes it sound like maybe they were pushing each other and the student fell. Although the video doesn't go back that far, this seems unlikely.

At the end, you'll also note this little gem:

Li Wenhui (李文輝), Shanghai City's Taiwan affairs chief who was present at the time of protest, kept a low profile and declined to make any comment on the untoward commotion. 


(Rest assured that if they change this wording, I have a screenshot).

Isn't this meant to be a straight news article? I get to editorialize - this is my blog. CNA reporters whose work is appearing in Focus Taiwan don't, or shouldn't. The fact that they ran the "untoward commotion" comment at the end tells you all you need to know about how trustworthy they are as a news source. What right do they have to decide what "commotion" is untoward and what isn't?

I know Focus Taiwan can be somewhat conservative, and CNA even moreso (and also very politically biased), but here's the problem: at the time I wrote this post, other than Yiting Wang's post, this was the only English-language source on what happened available. There weren't multiple sources coming together so that people could consider the event from more than one angle and reach conclusions. Reading this, those who cannot read Chinese might get a very skewed idea of what exactly happened.

This is a problem. If we want more people in the international community to be cognizant of, and care about, Taiwanese affairs, we have to make sure they are aware of these incidents in a fully-informed way. The Focus Taiwan article, if anything, contradicts that goal rather than supporting it.

Finally, a thought.

For all of those people who take a pro-China viewpoint, or tend to clutch their pearls at pro-Taiwan demonstrations and protests, for those who think that the best or more realistic goal is eventual unification, who might even think annexation is acceptable, who think that the Concentric Patriotism Association is just as legitimate as the students who protested today, consider this.

You are on the same side as an old man who beat a student with a stick so badly that he was bleeding from the head and went to the hospital - someone who claims the freedom to protest, but uses it to attempt to aggressively and violently stop others from exercising those same rights. You are on the side that is against freedom, or rather, allowing only one viewpoint to express itself without fear.

If this is what you support, this is the Taiwan you will have should China win. This is just a taste of what authoritarian rule looks like: one side is free to say what it likes and enforce its views, whereas the other is beaten, or in China, kidnapped, tortured, disappeared, or killed.

Is this the Taiwan you want? Where one side is derided and even beaten for protesting whereas the other is free to do the beating, with the police not intervening for nearly an hour? (The police always come quickly, mind you, when the protesters are students or pro-Taiwan. It's, shall we say, odd that they seem to take so long when the call is about the Concentric Patriotism Association).

This is not free speech. This is not freedom of assembly. This is not civil disobedience, and it is certainly not non-violent resistance. It is very violent, and very anti-freedom. If you see a Chinese future for Taiwan, this is what you support.

The Concentric Patriotism Association has the right to protest and demonstrate peacefully. When they have proven again and again that they cannot and will not be peaceful, I think it's time we discussed what measures must be taken to ensure the safety of pro-Taiwan activists.