Interview: Von Vonchi

Von Vonchi is a freelance photographer currently studying in Japan. The following interview was conducted on September 11th, 2017.


Brian Hioe:  How did you first begin participating in Taiwanese social movements?

Von Vonchi:  I didn’t begin participating in Taiwanese social movements like ordinary social movements participants, I just wanted to look into what happened. But I don’t have my own position, such as advocating Taiwanese independence, or preserving something. I don’t have anything like that. Maybe it’s because of my family’s circumstances.

Photo credit: 中岑 范姜/Flickr/CC

My father can be said to have, “Blue skin, green bones,” as the saying goes. So a lot of my family is in government, that is, local government, such as local representatives. My family also has people that are investors, so making money for them is how they make decisions politically. Before 318, I didn’t have any real political views and up till now, I don’t think I have any particularly strong political views. I know that I am a Taiwanese person. I tell that to Chinese people as well.

I currently study in Japan and interact with a lot of Chinese students there, and after getting to know them for over a year I have found that Chinese young people…are not so different from Taiwanese people. There are some that I am better friends with and we will sometimes talk about political issues. And they’ll ask me, “Do you support Taiwanese independence?” I say, “Why are you asking me this?” They will say that they’re just curious. I’ll say that I think Taiwan is different, but there’s not much to ask about beyond that.

A minority of Chinese people also think this way. They think Taiwan is Taiwan. They’ll often say that because of the way China currently is, there’s no way China can be like Taiwan. But sometimes it’s because that the Chinese people I am more friendly with have experienced issues because of the government, or been victims of government policy.

Why would I enter that day? I was eating late night snacks with my girlfriend that day. I have some friends that are part of independent bands and they messaged me, saying, “Things have happened at the Legislative Yuan.” I have a professor, his name is Hong Hong. He’s a poet. He asked me if I could go. So I went.

There were a lot of friends I knew there and we wondered if we could get in. I said, “Wait for me a bit, I’ll go get my camera.” After I got my camera, I and a few friends drifted in. By that point it was already the night of the second night and we had to climb to the second or third floor of the Legislative Yuan and climb down. When we first went in, we had to be assigned responsibilities. We asked what we could to and someone else, a man, who was also filming, asked us if we could take some footage, which could later be used for a documentary. So then I had a reason to be there. I spent 21 days in there. I left shortly before the withdrawal.

In the first few days, it was more nervous, because nobody had ever done anything this big before. And at night, we couldn’t sleep because we were afraid the police would break in. Because it was tense, there were a lot of rumors, such as that at such and such time, something would take place. Our telephones and Internet were restricted, so we were all…

As a few days went on, I kept taking photos. And I got to know some friends who were also documenting the movement. Xu Ke, I believe. We met him. Then, he was responsible for documenting helping those who were…the two leaders…Lin Fei-Fan and Chen Wei-Ting. We thought that if we were taking photos, there would be no way for others to see this. Or that this could be used for reporters. It’d be more effective that way. So we found them and they were responsible for media outreach and documentation. We told them we had some cameras and several people who could write and told them. So they told us to keep documenting. We gave them our pictures and interviewed people on-site, asking them why they came and what their attitudes were. We asked many people, not just young people, but some older people that came inside.

Photo credit: 中岑 范姜/Flickr/CC

We later held an event in a space at Beitou.  I don’t know if you know about it? There’s an art space in Beitou. And we held an installation art event. We took all of the film documenting the Sunflower Movement and the news articles and photos there and used it as material, using computers. We made it like a television with announcements. And we also made it kind of funny. Like we went up and sang and the MV was the news from that time. It’s all been recorded. But that was just then. Already we continued documenting until that event, afterwards every sort of drifted apart. But the materials are all still there and all the photos and interview materials are around. If you need it, let me know.

Inside, the mood was very tense. My position is not particularly strong, nor is my temperament. Inside was divided and it would cause you to be more tense. Someone would say something. And you would think, you don’t have the time to decide if you want to be this kind of person. But you would be pushed and you would think, “Everyone’s shouting, shouldn’t I also shout?” They were still trying it out. All those students, all those young people, they were acting on impulse and wanted to spread their views, but had to do things, so they had some slogans, some rules, and they were still trying. But I don’t think it was all that successful, of course.

When I talk about it, it seems like I’m just trying to catch up, but afterwards, some people also interviewed me, I was afraid to tell them what I thought, or that I was just someone that drifted in, but I took a lot of pictures, and I did a lot of documentation. If I were to look at those pictures now, maybe I could remember what i was thinking. But then, I felt rather peaceful, that if someone were to push… The first time was that I very rarely would encounter the mechanisms of the state. Like the police might pull you over to fine you, but these kind of circumstances were rare, so I was a bit curious. It was very new. At the same time, I would wonder, why would things like this happen? A different country signed a treaty with Taiwan that had issues and a group of young people opposed this, and politicians covertly using force to try to pass this had been found out by the people. Yet why would this become so big? Up to now, I still find it hard to understand.

Brian Hioe:  You said there were some independent bands that you hung out with. Which bands?

Von Vonchi:  I think they may have dissolved, but they are still around.

Brian Hioe:  I see.

Von Vonchi:  I remember a band we knew was called “Now You Understand Me Now” (那你懂我意思), they also came and were our upperclassmen. This girl called Jini, who also did independent bands, the reason why I came to participate was because she and her then-boyfriend told me some stuff and suggested that we go in and see what we could do. You could say that she started this.

And I did what I did, taking pictures and writing. I wrote a few poems and printed them. An upperclassmen from the Taipei University of Fine Arts printed them onto flyers and distributed them. At that time, I felt very powerless, so I just wanted to see what I could do.

Brian Hioe:  Did you feel that a lot of people participated this way? Or felt this way? That is, they saw a lot of young people around them participating so also participated.

Photo credit: Abby Chen/Flickr/CC

Von Vonchi:  I guess you could say it’s the first time I encountered this kind of circumstance, so I wanted to see what I could do. But I would see that, for example, the leaders did what they could, people studying medicine helped with regards to medical needs on-site, people studying the humanities could write things or help with website development.

I studied drama, so was there any play I could act in? I felt powerless, and that I couldn’t use what I learned, and although this is a form of creation or the arts, I thought, you know, “Oh, it’s like this.” For example, German student movements had some slogans or used plays as a means of raising awareness of issues, and I thought, “Oh, okay, maybe we could try this too.” Because all of us that went in were drama students, so we thought, maybe we could do something. But maybe not now. What we could do now was protect ourselves, document events, and think about things.

Brian Hioe:  How do you think artists participated in the Sunflower Movement? There were a lot of creative works then.

Von Vonchi:  I felt a bit disappointed then. I felt other groups who got involved in creative endeavors or the arts because of 318 were more lively and active than those who were originally already involved in the arts. Because they knew and wanted to try and spread a message. But I felt, those of us who are usually involved in creative endeavors, it was almost like, someone might shout “Fire!” but we didn’t know how to put out the fire, the fire was too far away. So I felt disappointed.

And so I asked people at the Taipei University of Fine Arts…I was part of the student council then. I had left already, but I asked the student council, whether we should do something in the name of the Taipei University of Fine Arts. It was okay because our school president announced that he supported students doing this, but that they had to be careful of their own safety. So the Taipei University of Fine Arts did express something. But students didn’t. Or the younger artists made me feel a bit disappointed. For example, those involved in news, or who had been involved in the Taiwanese independence movement, those trying out new things, I felt that was more like creation or the arts.

Brian Hioe:  It was an opportunity to experiment?

Von Vonchi:  For me? To experiment?

Brian Hioe:  Like what you could do or accomplish.

Von Vonchi:  Maybe I had that feeling. Inside, I thought a lot of times, “Why am I here? I came all the way here.” Because a lot of people wanted to get inside or were concerned with the issue. “I want to try! I want to know!” In participating this movement, regarding whether i came to understand Taiwan or about the Taiwanese independence movement or what I could do myself or who I was…to come to know one’s self. It’s an unfamiliar way of saying it, but I believe it’s true. I’m sure that a lot of people inside felt very riled up, but without direction.

Brian Hioe:  I felt a lot of people realized they were creating history. Making history. And wanted to participate in history as a way of knowing themselves. Did you feel that way?

Von Vonchi:  I think in some respects. Because anything is making history. But this counts as a bigger incident, which would be in Taiwanese history. Sort of like checking in. But I didn’t think about it too much then. Like one day passed is just another day. Like you could be hit at any time, like during the attempt to occupy the Executive Yuan.

I was in the Legislative Yuan then and couldn’t do anything and I had friends who were a part of that and I couldn’t contact them outside. I tried calling but couldn’t get through. I felt those few days were the days I felt the most helpless. You would hear a lot of rumors about internal factionalism and would wonder, why we would be fighting amongst ourselves. When I discussed with some of the people more central, I found there were a lot of divisions as well, such as those who didn’t support how Lin Fei-Fan and others did things, or more radical people.

Photo credit: Abby Chen/Flickr/CC

Brian Hioe:  Like you could only see that there were so many divisions afterwards?

Von Vonchi:  Later on, I could see them. Later on, we also had some professors enter to give speeches. Director Wang Xiaoli entered, saying that because the students had entered, we should see what we could do as students. And I felt there was a meaning behind this. Like they felt that they were just trying—well, my own interpretation is that he was saying we shouldn’t engage in political activities.

But political activities are many things. A lot of things count as “political activities.” Not just politics. Maybe he was saying that we should use our position as students to spread word of this or make this go onwards, without staying there forever, to do things we thought could influence contemporary politics. Because we weren’t politicians and we didn’t understand—well, there were a lot of people that understood, but there weren’t many of us that were politically influential. Or none. And I think that was right. What could we do as students?

I don’t know. I can just say that I’ve been lost up until now. About the meaning of the event. I went there and spent twenty days there, but what did I do? I still don’t know, besides to record it.

Brian Hioe:  Do you have any thoughts about the movement now that it has been three years?

Von Vonchi:  Not soon after the movement end, I felt…different. That my thinking had changed, that my feelings had changed. I don’t always answer this way, I’ve been very honest. Because sometimes when I talk to my friends, when I touch on a topic, they have a lot to say and a lot of opinions. But the other side has things to say as well, and it’s not for us to decide. The end isn’t known. The results aren’t clear yet.