Interview: Chang Jui-chuan

Chang Jui-chuan is a hip hop artist and the owner of Thinkers’ Corner in Taichung. The following interview was conducted on October 21st, 2017.


Brian Hioe:  How did you begin participating Taiwanese social movements? For what reason did you begin participating and in what issues did you participate?

Chang Jui-chuan:  It really depends on how you define social movements. It’s been a long time. A long time ago in Taiwan, when I was small, maybe when I was not even ten years old, in elementary school, my father would take me to listen to politicians giving speeches in parks or elementary school. At the time, when they were running for election, they would hold speeches to state their political platform in parks or elementary schools. That may have been the earliest that I began to be interested in people participating in civic issues. Because I could see so many people gathered together listening to speeches.

Photo credit: Chang Jui-chuan/Myspace

I couldn’t understand the speeches, but I could sense the interest and passion of participants. Funnily enough, because I’m from Changhua, I think my father taking me to speeches, also helped me to learn language. My dominant language is Taiwanese and most of the politicians’ speeches were in Taiwanese. So that wasn’t just a source of enlightenment regarding political thought, it was also a sort of enhancement of cultural understanding. If you can say this was a form of social movement or citizen’s movement, you could say that was the earliest. When I was in elementary school.

This habit continued. Since for many people in Taiwan, participating in this kind of political event is something which is very strange or even frightening. Because of past history in Taiwan, if you were too concerned with politics, you might be in danger. But I didn’t have that kind of mindset. I just kept continuing like this. So when I entered college, when I went to Taipei for college, I encountered more of this kind of social movement. At the time, the Baoxiaoyan murder took place. It was a very frightening social event. Because of this event, there was a sense among Taiwanese people of lacking safety in society. So there was a very large protest on the streets of Taipei. And we all lay down in front of Ketagalan Boulevard. It wasn’t called Ketagalan Boulevard back then. But I actually forget what it was called before that. The road before the Presidential Office Building, in any case.

It made a deep impression. I was 18 then. It was the first time we used laser lights to project an image in the shape of a foot onto the Presidential Office Building. To express our dissatisfaction. As though we were stepping onto the Presidential Office Building. I can still remember that image. I remember I bought an American teacher of mine there, as well. It was quite fun. It still has a deep impression on me. But it was incidents like that which were an early inspiration. Later on, in college, I also participating in demonstrations. Less participating in specific organizations. But if I wanted to go, I just went. I didn’t especially join any clubs or associations or NGOs. I participated individually. The earliest was like that.

Brian Hioe:  What kind of social movements did you participate in during the span between the Wild Strawberry Movement and the Sunflower Movement? Because a variety of social movements began to appear then.

Chang Jui-Chuan:  There were quite a lot. [Laughs] After the Wild Strawberry Movement, it was movement related to the same issues, such as the anti-media monopoly movement. What is important is that my friends maybe directly participated in these movements. And because I make music and I wasn’t afraid of being politically labelled, they would invite me to perform and to say a few words. Such as during the Wild Strawberry Movement.

Or maybe a lot with to do with environmental issues, such as the Anti-Kuokuang movement, and some to do with language preservation, such as the Taiwanese language movement. If they had some activities which required music, oftentimes they would find me. And if I had time, I would go participate. So I wouldn’t say I was a core member, but that if I agreed with an issue and I could participate, I would do so.

Brian Hioe:  How did you begin to use music as a means of hoping to influence society?

Chang Jui-Chuan:  Yes. It’s quite funny. Because I think that although much of what I do doesn’t seem related, there’s some connection between each. Language is very important as an aspect. I’m very interested in language. In making music, I have to write lyrics. Lyrics are language. I try to use different languages in creating.

Later on, I began to teach. I’m a teacher. What I teach is English. But I won’t only teach grammar. Or vocabulary. I teach a lot of critical thinking. I also hope for my students to see that there are many views in this world. How do we think independently and find answers? So it’s the same with social movements. I hope that no matter what I do, although I maybe can’t change much on my own as an individual, if I can transmit some thoughts, maybe some people will really have the ability to change things. If so, my goal has been achieved.

Photo credit: Chang Jui-chuan/Myspace

Brian Hioe:  What were your views of the Sunflower Movement? You were mostly in Taichung then, although you went to Taipei to see the movement, and there were solidarity activities in Taichung.

Chang Jui-chuan:  I remember that the night of 318—well, they had been demonstrating for several days already—I was paying attention to the issue throughout, although I was in Taichung. Up until the night of 318, when they really charged into the Legislative Yuan, I was watching the television broadcast the entire night. For Taiwan, that’s the first time that somewhere like the Legislative Yuan had been broken into. That is representative of that we really hoped to block this thing that we, the people, felt was unreasonable. But after, you saw the way that police treated students. I thought that was too unbelievable.

It made one worry, using police force in this way to take care of the demand of the people. I wonder, because if I stood on the side of the government, I would have the view that this was a disruptive event. But for the establishment of anything new always requires disruption to begin this. New order or new ideas. If there’s no disruption, you won’t have any new changes. I think that the government could have that space to adjust how they treated students.

Seeing as they were students. That the majority were students. They weren’t regular members of society. It may be because I myself am a teacher. I treat students differently than how I treat other people, such as adults. I would treat students in a more patient and forgiving manner in dialoguing to them. And so, from the point of view of a teacher, if the students have these demands, I feel that the government should face students with more patience, not using police brutality to confront students.

That night, I couldn’t sleep, watching the television, and was very shocked that a country could treat students this way. I wasn’t very sure if this view of mine was correct, because I was unsure how I would look at these events if I had a different political position. Would I support the police beating students if my political views were different? So I tried to talk to a few friends in the United States.

Their responses confirmed my beliefs. For example, a friend raised that in their state, there was a group of students sitting outside their state assembly with a sit-in strike and that they had sat there for two months already. They were sitting and blocking the entrance. So what? People who needed to go to work couldn’t get in, so they just went in through other ways, and let them stay there, to express their views. They didn’t feel that they needed to find the police to remove them. They just sat there.

My American friends told me similarly. Particularly when facing students, they wouldn’t feel that you needed to use police to take care of this. So that makes me feel that this is a very big difference between Taiwan and America. Later on, I supported the students. I was still working. I was still teaching. I had no way to leave my students and to go to Taipei. But I tried.

When I had time, I would go up. Because it was hard to know what would happen next given the situation on-site, I didn’t especially prepare to do anything. If there was something that could be done on-site, I would help out. Sometimes this was just helping hand out food or water, or trying to walk around, talking to people who wanted to know what happened. That’s it. I didn’t really do anything. I didn’t even go into the Legislative Yuan. But I tried to help around.

Brian Hioe:  From your perspective, what kind of movement do you think this was? The most amount of people may have opposed the black box and the improper process by which bill was passed, and some may have opposed the KMT or China. A minority opposed free trade altogether.

Chang Jui-chuan:  I think this Sunflower Movement or anti-Black Box CSSTA movement, the important people of the movement may have had their own perspective. But I also have my own interpretation of the movement. I believe that at that time, for this CSSTA was like a treaty port agreement. If we signed this CSSTA agreement, it represented that we agreed to this demand of China.

Thinker’s Corner. Photo credit: Thinker’s Corner

A precondition of this agreement was agreeing that Taiwan was a part of China before China would be willing to sign this agreement with you.  And if I sign this agreement, then it’s confirmed. So for me, it absolutely could not be signed. If you sign it, then that’s confirming that Taiwan is a part of China, and international society would also believe that this was a domestic issue. That they wouldn’t have to get involved. Since you had signed this already.

So my belief is that, if we could very clearly reject this, only then could we make certain that we are a country. No matter whether you are called Taiwan or the ROC. That’s another issue. But you can’t sign it. If you sign it, then it’s just one China. And it’s that China.

Was the movement anti-China? Maybe? [Laughs] It should be anti-something like Taiwan is part of China. We opposed that, probably.

Brian Hioe:  Was it anti-KMT?

Chang Jui-chuan:  Absolutely. Of course. It was anti-KMT. We didn’t want to let this agreement pushed for by the KMT to pass. What else was there?

Brian Hioe:  And the fewest amount of people may have opposed free trade altogether.

Chang Jui-chuan:  Free trade. Yeah. This notion of free trade is somewhat fascinating. Is any country in the world doing this 100%? Like opening all of its market to the world. I wonder. You may know more than me.

Brian Hioe:  I think probably not.

Chang Jui-chuan:  [Laughs] Different levels, I think. So discussing free trade in Taiwan, come on. It’s not realistic. And you have to think about how a big country discussing free trade and a small country with a small market discussing free trade, you sacrifice different things. Different capitals. Big countries have their economic foundations for free trade. Different portions. For small countries, no.

What you might lose is an entire industry. So the so-called free trade issue has already been discussed in Taiwan for a long time. Including the CSSTA. Particularly when you are discussing the rate of employment domestically and economic growth. It couldn’t just depend on this agreement to change things. It would have to require comprehensive change to Taiwan’s trade with the outside or consumption habits. You might even have to change the situation of Taiwan’s industries. It’s too much. It might lead to even more protest than opposition to the CSSTA. Many things would have to be taken care of before signing this agreement.

I wouldn’t say that I completely oppose free trade, but for Taiwan, to what degree of free trade could you have? That’s still a question.

Brian Hioe:  Did you have any views regarding the decisions made by the core decision making body of the Sunflower Movement? For example, regarding 324 or the decision to withdraw from the Legislative Yuan.

Chang Jui-chuan:  Not, not really, I don’t have too many views honestly. Because towards 318 and what happened afterwards, I view myself as a bystander. I kind of take that position. It’s not that I could intervene in anything, but I supported the students doing what they thought was right. So I supported them.

Of course, I also saw some people criticizing them, or thinking that a different way of doing things was better. But I didn’t especially feel any particular way. I thought I could let them do what they wanted to do. I feel often that with these kinds of movements, if you don’t participate from the beginning, you don’t have the big picture or the whole picture. So I wouldn’t say anything.

Talk on the second floor of Thinker’s Corner. Photo credit: Thinker’s Corner

Brian Hioe:  To change directions, would you say that Taiwanese identification has to do with your participation in Taiwanese social movements? How would you explain this?

Chang Jui-chuan:  I think that it is very related. Absolutely, you touch on a good question, which is that at the time, there were also a group of students in the movement who hoped to draw a line. To not discuss Taiwanese independence. Or Taiwanese identification.

But it is very difficult. Like I said, as a precondition, if you don’t want to sign the CSSTA, even if you are just afraid this will influence Taiwanese sovereignty, or that you don’t hope that something like this will use a so-called black box means to address this and then you claim that you don’t hope to discuss Taiwanese identification, that is something which seems very contradictory to me.

It’s because you have Taiwanese identification that you don’t want to sign this agreement. Or that you want to make a decision regarding whether to sign this agreement in a more legal manner. How can you say you don’t want to discuss Taiwanese identification? What are the core values you stand for?

It’s quite interesting. Later on, after 318, there was a panel discussion I spoke on. I discussed a feeling that I had when I went on-site. Everyone said “Oppose the CSSTA!” And everyone said OK. “Oppose the black box.” OK. But some people would suddenly say, “But we don’t oppose Ma Ying-Jeou.” And I was like, “What?” These were proposed by Ma. [Laughs]

Although many people gathered on-site because of opposition to the CSSTA, there were some people with different political ideals. Including some people that felt that this had nothing to do with China or with the KMT, and not to mix these things up to discuss them. But later on, I met some young people that originally felt quite opposed to politics. Including discussing so-called Blue/Green issues.

Later on, after experiencing the Sunflower Movement, they saw the connection between these issues. And towards the KMT and the policies of the Ma government, they started to have some doubts. The Sunflower Movement definitely influenced how some young people look at politics. In the beginning, they may not have been very clear about politics, or so-called Blue/Green issues, etc. But because of participation, they came to understand this. I think this is a very good thing.

Brian Hioe:  Do you think that there’s any particular political orientation to social movement participants in Taiwan? Because many people will say that they are more left-wing or that they are more left-leaning. And Taiwanese social movement participants are usually more progressive regarding a number of issues, including supporting gay marriage or opposing the death penalty.

Chang Jui-chuan:  Many democratic societies have a political spectrum with both a left-wing and right-wing. As far as I see, Taiwan has a lot of left-wing views, which you see in local NGOs. But correspondingly, there are also a lot of right-wing views that enter Taiwanese society. Such as regarding far-right wing views opposed to gay marriage. Or politically, with the Chinese Unification Promotion Party.

So I think Taiwan is heading towards a very polarized society, including political views, social movements, etc. Both are present. So I don’t feel it’s especially left-wing. Of course, there are some more progressive views. But I believe that this is in many cases because people are influenced by America or Europe.

I’m not very clear about the proportion of both sides, I don’t dare to say which side is larger. Because as I see it, both sides are growing. The right-wing in Taiwan is growing very quickly in Taiwan. I’m not sure this is a good thing. Particularly regarding the Chinese Unification Promotion Party and their collaboration with gangsters. I think that this is quite a frightening thing. The KMT has long had connections with organized crime.

Photo credit: billy1125/Flickr/CC

Brian Hioe:  Going back to when they were in China.

Chang Jui-chuan:  But the Chinese Unification Promotion Party is open about it. They don’t even want to hide it. They’re very extreme. That’s one example.

Brian Hioe:  What kind of influence do you think the Sunflower Movement has had on Taiwanese politics? Many people will discuss this in terms of the election victory of Tsai Ing-Wen or Ko Wen-Je or the emergence of the Third Force, for instance.

Chang Jui-chuan:  Yeah. Like I said, on the smaller scale, because of this movement, many young people have begun to understand Taiwanese politics. And have begun to join social movements or enter politics. I think this is very good. This movement is the beginning of a new era. And it helps many young people understand Taiwan’s political situation, including what Taiwan confronts in terms of its international situation and relation to China.

This is good. If not for this movement, these people may not know what had happened. As for the Third Force, because of this, many new political parties and political forces have emerged and are competing, competing for the right to speak. But in these three years, especially from last year, I think that the Third Force is encountering some problems in terms of political power.

Of course, this is very complicated, with regards to competition between the KMT and DPP. Because their strength is still larger. Regardless of good or bad intent, many people will want to help the DPP win against the KMT, and give up on considerations whether to vote for the Third Force. And the Third Force may weaken, losing a lot of support.

So the question becomes is if they can overcome this challenge. I think because up to now, there isn’t an advantageous target for them to attack, they may have issues. Because with the DPP in power, even if a lot of people complain about them, this is still not enough dissatisfaction for them to lose votes. And you can’t really say that you hope that the DPP will encounter some difficulties either, but to emphasize your own theoretical outlook. That whether as a small party or a big party, including the KMT, you confront issues regarding how to establish your own discourse. It’s like any product on the shelf.

What are your advantages? What do you hope to change? You have to express this concretely. This is what all Third Force parties confront. Even if you say that the DPP is not good, what do you do to be better than the DPP? You have to be able to say this. This is first. The second is that the Third Force confronts an issue. Who are the people it can run for office? Are they good enough? I know that a lot of the young people that emerged from the Sunflower Movement, young people, are preparing to run for office. I look forward to them accomplishing some change.

I can sort of guess who is preparing to run for office. There are a lot of people who have already expressed they are planning on running for office. But in the past two or three years, I’ve noticed an issue, which is that many of those who emerged from the Sunflower Movement, they became legislators or assistants to legislators. They’ve already entered political circles and understand how politics works. And they may work in the central government or in local governments.

But we can perceive a difficulty. Which is that some people may persist in their political views. There are also many who will gradually change their original beliefs. They will start to tell you, “There are many problems. It’s complicated. There’s no way to change it all at once.” And so I would feel, “So why did we let you enter politics?”

Photo credit: Duke Lin/Flickr/CC

Brian Hioe:  How do you think China looks at the current political circumstances in Taiwan?

Chang Jui-chuan:  I think they would feel afraid. For Taiwan to elect Tsai Ing-Wen as president surprised them. But they haven’t realized the key point. I don’t really know what they are thinking. The way they confront Taiwan is to get angry at you. To try and frighten you. “If you don’t listen to me, I will take over.” You know. Like a real authoritarian parent. “If you’re not good, I’ll hit you. I will punish you.” Things like that.

I don’t really understand this logic. Why wouldn’t you moderate yourself? If Taiwan is very important to you and you can’t lose Taiwan, why not be good friends with Taiwan? Use a forgiving attitude. Or to say that, “Okay. I will treat you better.” Not to use threats or anger.

If so, will Taiwanese people have a better view of China? So I don’t really understand what their views are, why they always use this threatening way of looking at things. I don’t know. Maybe it’s like a boyfriend and girlfriend. If one side keeps saying, “If you don’t love me, I’ll kill myself.” Or “If you don’t love me, I’ll kill you.” [Laughs] I would probably decide that it’s better to break up quicker. Why not turn it around and say, “I will always love you. I will forgive you. We can slowly discuss any issues.” Would that lead to a more established position?

I don’t know. I’m just looking at it from the point of view of a normal person. I’m not very clear about Chinese politics and how they make these decisions. But that’s my feelings.

Brian Hioe:  Lastly, do you think that there could be a movement in Taiwan like the Sunflower Movement again in the future? And what influence do you think the Sunflower Movement could have on international social movements or the international world?

Chang Jui-chuan:  From what I saw in the Sunflower Movement is how Taiwanese young people have the ability to respond to political responsibility. But before the Sunflower Movement, I hadn’t thought about it. Of course, there were student movements before the Sunflower Movement, such as the Wild Strawberry Movement, or the Wild Lily Movement before that. Those had a background in those periods in time. Before the Sunflower Movement, I didn’t know very clearly that young people had the ability to do things.

At the time, I felt it was just some protest activities. I wasn’t very clear how the organizations behind them were operating. Afterwards it was through the charge into the Legislative Yuan that I found that they had the ability to do these things. And that they have strength. That’s great. That was quite impressive.

But in the future, I would look forward to organizations secretly talking about it, organizing it, or conspiring about it. Sure. But what would the issue be? Can it link together different Taiwanese people or different groups in Taiwan, to create a strong form of protest? Right now, I am unsure.

There are issues which could provoke it. The present DPP government has many issues which are in need of oversight. But there’s still no way to see that focus. To allow different groups link together for the same issue. I haven’t thought of this yet. But I believe that there is the ability to. In the past few years, Taiwanese society’s civic movement and organizations, in Taichung, I see many new organizations emerging, concerned with different issues. I see that the strength of students and of young people is slowly accumulating.

This isn’t just political, but with regards to cultural groups in many places. It’s all young people standing up and organizing. So I think that if there is any issue, political groups, student groups, cultural groups, educational groups, and a lot of young people are working very hard at these issues. There is the possibility.

Photo credit: billy1125/Flickr/CC

Brian Hioe:  Do you think this can influence international social movements? Or the international world? Many people raise Hong Kong, for example.

Chang Jui-chuan:  I don’t know, but Taiwan’s international connections are weaker. This may be another large issue. Taiwan’s ability to influence the international world is quite weak. On the other hand, the international world is less concerned with Taiwan. Such as what we see recently with Catalonia’s independence movement. I see a lot of American and European media paying attention to this small place in Spain.

It’s very important, of course, to understand their history and culture in their independence movement. But the Taiwanese independence movement has pushed on for so long. Those in the western world that understand Taiwan’s situation are still very few. Most people still think it’s a province of China. So there are these two problems. That Taiwan’s ability to influence the international world is quite weak. And that the international world is not very concerned with Taiwan.

With regards to the influence of the Sunflower Movement on the international world, I think it is limited. But how to change this issue is not something that can change right away. It will have to depend on people doing work like yours at present. To think of ways to allow more people in the international world to understand what happens in Taiwan. It has to be like that.