Showing posts with label ntu. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ntu. Show all posts

Friday, August 9, 2019

Hong Kong's in for a weekend of protests, so go check out Taipei's Lennon Wall

The post-it on the right shows a Hong Kong bauhinia with a drawing of Taiwan and says:
"We stand together forever"
Honestly that brought tears to my eyes. To the right, the big characters simply say "freedom". 

I don't have a big post to write here, this is more of a photo essay. 

As you might know already, a Lennon Wall (a wall of pictures, post-its and other written messages inspired by a Beatles-themed wall in Prague) has popped up in Taipei, mimicking several Lennon Walls that have appeared (and are sometimes taken down by pro-China dissenters) in Hong Kong since protests began.


I'm posting it because not everyone is able to go see the wall - a lot of my readers are not in Taipei, or are perhaps simply not able to make it to Gongguan. I want those people to be able to look at the messages of support written for Hong Kong by the people of Taiwan.

I want to say here that anyone who is unable to go to the wall but would like to add a message of support can leave a comment on this post or on Lao Ren Cha's Facebook page (which you are cordially invited to 'like', by the way) with what you want to say, and I will personally go to the wall, post your message of support, and take a photo to send to you. Seriously - I don't live that far away and I'm pretty free next week. Just ask. 


The wall is located near MRT Gongguan Station and National Taiwan University's southwestern edge, in the underpass that lets pedestrians traverse the Roosevelt Road/Xinsheng South Road intersection.

I'm not sure why sticky notes are the vehicle of choice for these sentiments, but my guess is that it's because they're easy - the stickiness is right there - they're cheap, they can go up quickly, they're colorful and they won't cause any damage. I don't know about Hong Kong but in Taipei an added advantage is that people can leave blocks of sticky notes behind for others who'd like to add to the wall but haven't brought materials.


When Brendan went to check it out several days before I did, as I'd been in China, it seemed a lot smaller than it is now. It's absolutely burgeoning with messages now, and I imagine it will only get bigger.

There are volunteers who watch over the wall - after all, Taiwan also has pro-China thugs who tear things like this down out of sheer petty childish vindictiveness. Plus, there are markers, pens and sticky notes made available so anyone can come by and write a message without preparing in advance. 


The messages come from around the world - Brendan and I are not the only foreigners to have left them - in a variety of languages (though mostly Mandarin, Cantonese, Taiwanese and English).

They are mostly in support of Hong Kong and the protests there - many of them pointing out that what happens in Hong Kong affects Taiwan and we are all in this together in the fight for freedom. Some, however, explicitly reference Taiwan and call for Taiwanese de jure independence.

There's some conflict as well: 


That's understandable as many Americans in Taiwan (and many Americans in general!) support Taiwan and Hong Kong, but the governments of some countries have been slow to act or show support. 
And, as you can see, while most of the messages are positive and call for peace and non-violence, others take an (also-justified) angrier tone, lashing out at Carrie Lam, Xi Jin-ping, the KMT and the Hong Kong police. 



A few of them explicitly reference previous social movements in Taiwan and Hong Kong, with pictures depicting yellow umbrellas for Hong Kong's Umbrella Movement and Sunflowers for Taiwan's Sunflower Movement, both of which occurred in 2014.

Those movements, while not entirely successful in changing the political climate long-term in either Taiwan or Hong Kong, have had a lasting impact on activism in both places.


In several places, the five demands of Hong Kong protesters are laid out: 




Some point out that protests have grown less peaceful (mostly in defense as the police have unleashed violence on protesters) because "if peaceful protest worked, we wouldn't have to come out every weekend". 




Others clarify that this fight isn't just about the China extradition bill - Hong Kong wants democracy and it's at a tipping point. The scope of what protesters are fighting for has widened, which is both wonderful and dangerous (and something they were going to have to eventually fight for, which I suspect most people had known already but not necessarily previously articulated.)


Of course, issues facing Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tibet, Xinjiang and other places are intertwined, as all of us are locked in a battle against an expansionist, aggressive, human-rights-abusing dictatorship that seeks to control us: 





Similarities between the KMT in Taiwan and the CCP - and the KMT's closeness with China - are also pointed out. Underneath the Winnie the Pooh (Xi Jin-ping) with a KMT sun on his chest, are the words "don't throw your vote away" (literally "don't vote messily/carelessly"). 


"Today Hong Kong, Tomorrow Taiwan"


This one speaks for itself.


A Cantonese version of "Do You Hear The People Sing" has become a popular protest anthem in Hong Kong. I can't help but draw a connection between the hopelessness of the protest in Les Miserables and the protests in Hong Kong. Though Hong Kongers seem to be doing a better job than Enjolras, Marius & the gang. 









Taoist hexes (I think) being placed on a picture of Carrie Lam. One is about long life, the other says "retrocession for Hong Kong" (back to the UK? Toward independence? I'm not sure). 







This slogan (on the black paper) was popular during Taiwan's Sunflower Movement:

A memorial for the poncho-clad protester killed as a result of being hit with several water cannons early in the protests. Yellow ponchos have also become a symbol of protest for Hong Kong as a result. 

Pens and post-its are available for anyone who comes unprepared. 


Monday, September 25, 2017

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

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).

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. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Strange Gods

So, as you all know, I'm an atheist. Until recently I was a hardcore "I don't know" agnostic, but certain life events have erased even that glimmer of doubt that the universe is unregulated chaos that forms areas of organization - sometimes very detailed organization - only insofar as the laws of physics encourage it. Chaos makes sense to me, because when I look at the world, I see chaos. The organization I do see is just about entirely explainable by science. I don't see the hand of a supreme being.

That said, I'm interested in investigations into the veracity of religious beliefs or paranormal activity (the same thing, as far as I'm concerned), because study of anything curious and seemingly inexplicable is, well, interesting.

That's why I was fascinated to learn that a former student and now friend of mine participated as a researcher in this study on "Chinese character induction" or "finger reading" when he was a student many years ago. (This blog post by Michael Turton, as well as this paper, are the only English-language mentions online of this study that I could find). According to him, the study was more than just writing on paper and then folding it into a small ball - they put the papers under metal sheets and blindfolded the children, and the children could still use their fingers to "read" the characters and accurately tell scientists what the characters were. And that the characters that could be most easily read were ones like "Jesus", "God", "Buddha" and "Guanyin" as well as some Indian gods, among others. "Matsu"was also fairly strong, but other minor deities or supernatural/mythical beings were either barely readable or unreadable. Common characters (like "book", "coffee", "wash" or "jacket") were not readable. The children apparently reported that they could "see" the characters with their fingers, and they'd present themselves in their minds as lights of various brightness (that's not what the paper says, however, not exactly).

This person now has his PhD and is fiercely intelligent. He's not a wacko. He said that before working on the study, he was about as much as an atheist as me, except that he didn't care enough to label himself. Now, he says, he believes that "there has to be something".

Now, as I said, I'm an atheist. I don't believe any of this. At the same time, I don't think he's lying. I think he certainly did work on that study and he probably did see something that freaked him out. That doesn't mean, necessarily, that this stuff is true, just as "there is a God because I feel God's presence" is not solid evidence that there is, in fact, a God. Not even studies showing that there is a slight uptick beyond regular probability that something will happen - like a relative getting well - if people pray for it prove this.

It's a strange middle ground to be in, when you believe your friend and know he's not crazy, but you are also dead certain that this stuff isn't "real", or even if it is, there has to be a scientific explanation that we're just nowhere near understanding yet. I absolutely do not believe there is anything that can never be explained by science: only things that science as it is now can't yet explain, as it is insufficiently advanced. If there were something in this world that could not be explained by science, why have science to begin with?

It also made me think of something else: see, I have another friend who recently became a Christian (his wife is Christian - they are both Taiwanese). While I personally would not have made that choice, I am happy for him insofar as he's made a choice that he feels is right for him and makes him happy, and that's really what's important. In that way, I fully support him.

This friend and I had had a chat many months ago in which he asked me why I go to all these temple parades and festivals in Taiwan. "Because they're COOL," I replied. "Far more interesting than religious services in the USA, and far more interesting than parades by far."

"But do you actually believe in, say, Baosheng Dadi or Matsu or any of that?"

"Honestly, no. I don't believe that Baosheng Dadi is a real immortal being or a god. He was a real person, but I don't go in for gods."

After that, I thought about it for awhile. I don't believe in God or gods, but if I had to choose between the two, I'd go with the folk gods - be they Chinese, or Hindu gods, or any polytheistic pantheon of gods with specific functions and often difficult personalities with their own desires and whims, likes and dislikes and internal disputes.


Because, while it still makes no sense that there are these immortal powerful beings who can control events in the physical world, at least one thing does make sense: how the world would be if they were the ones in control. It would more or less match up with what we have now. In Taiwan people regularly consult "fortune blocks" (校杯) - those crescent-shaped wood or red blocks that can give one of three answers - no, yes, or "laughing god" (for the final one, imagine if you said "God, will I die of cancer?" and God answered "ha ha ha!"). The answer they give correlates basically exactly to probability, because it cannot do anything else - and so, yes, the world that we have, with correlates with statistical probability, would align pretty well with those blocks, including the times that the blocks are wrong.

Taiwanese will regularly make it clear that the god they are praying to may choose to answer their prayer or heed their request...or not. It really is up to the whim of the god. If you pray they may listen, and so you've upped your chances, but then if you don't pray, it may still happen. Only Baosheng Dadi or Hua Tuo or Wenchang Dijun can really know, and it is pretty well understood and respected that they act on their own preferences or whims. To me, that also correlates pretty well with the world I see.

Gods in folk-grounded pantheons - be they Hindu, Chinese or whatever - tend to have a lot of internal disputes, weird hierarchies and difficult personalities. When you think of them more as brawling, incestuous, clique-forming and reality-show-imitating natural forces, what happens in life fits perfectly with how you envision them acting. Kids are starving in Africa because the god of food either doesn't care, or is busy doing his sister, or is pissed off, or is otherwise occupied. Not "people are starving in Africa, but hey, GOD LOVES YOU, even the starving ones, but you're still starving because...uh..."

Think about it: bad things happen to good people. All the time. Half of Africa is bad stuff happening to good people. Good things happen to bad people: just look at Wall Street. You could say that God is benevolent and kind and this horribleness is the work of terrible, evil, original sinning humans...

...or you could say that that's just how it is, life sucks then you die, or maybe it doesn't suck, or maybe like most of us it's somewhere in the middle, and it's all random because that's how it seems.

You could then decide you want a religious belief, because you want to believe there is something bigger than you, bigger than all of us. That's great - it's a natural human urge. Even I have it. You could either believe in one omniscient, omnipotent God who loves us all (or create a really angry god who then gets a personality makeover a la New Testament), and then try to twist what you see in the world to fit that belief...

...or you could take what you see in the world and empirically try to deduct what the spiritual/godly realm must be like.

Science works based on the latter principle of deductive reasoning. The former is inductive reasoning, and it's just not how we do science, generally (although it sure is mighty tempting). It makes sense to me to base a spiritual belief system on deductive, rather than inductive, thought and explanation.

So no, I'm still not into this whole spiritual thing, although I find discussing it and thinking about it to be fascinating and worthwhile, and I do respect the beliefs of others (if you wanna be Christian, that's fine by me, as long as you don't tell me what I should believe. I'll even join you at the "Jesus was a pretty awesome progressive dude with a strong moral philosophy that we can learn from even today" party. I'll bring the whiskey. I'm pretty sure that although Jesus was a wine guy, he'd probably like whiskey).

But if someone put a gun to my head and told me I had to believe something - hey, it's happened to people - I'd go with polytheistic folk beliefs. Definitely. At least those jive with what I see.