Interview: Chen Ting-Hao
Chen Ting-Hao is a member of the New Power Party, having previously participated in the Black Island Youth Front, Taiwan Rural Front, Philosophy Fridays, and other organizations, having previously also written for Thinking Taiwan. The following interview was conducted on October 12th, 2017.
Brian Hioe: The first thing I want to ask is, how did you begin participating in social movements? What kind of social movements did you participate in and regarding what kind of topics?
Chen Ting-Hao: I began participating in social movements in college, participating in student unions. This was at the National Taipei University of Education. I knew some friends in the student union. At that point in time, the National Taipei University of Education student union was quite close to social movements. I got to know people and started to participate because I knew them.
Brian Hioe: What kind of issues did you participate in?
Chen Ting-Hao: At that time, it was in December. Taiwan was signing ECFA which China then and public discussions were held on the issue. I got to know the student unions through public discussions on ECFA. The student union was more opposed to the signing of ECFA, so it was going there, finding that students could also oppose a policy.
But I didn’t think too much about it then, I just found out that there were people doing this, so I talked with them, made friends, and on May 1st, they asked me if I wanted to go protest with them for International Worker’s Day. I said yes, so I went with them. It was like that then.
Brian Hioe: What other issues did you participate in?
Chen Ting-Hao: I participated in the Taiwan Rural Front, as well as the anti-media monopoly movement. I also participated in actions to support gay marriage, the environmental movement, opposing nuclear energy, and students’ rights activities. I participated in many activities then, because people I knew held activities, or screenings, or I joined in student groups.
Brian Hioe: What were you doing at the time of 318?
Chen Ting-Hao: We were opposing the CSSTA then. I participated in activities regarding that. If we speak of 318 as the start of the Sunflower Movement, I had been participating in opposition to the CSSTA.
Brian Hioe: What were you doing the day of 318?
Chen Ting-Hao: We held a rally on Jinan Road. After the rally, we charged, probably around 9 PM. I went in with everybody then.
Brian Hioe: What kind of things did you do during the Sunflower Movement?
Photo credit: Abby Chen/Flickr/CC
Chen Ting-Hao: After the movement broke out, because something came up with my family, I went back for two days, then came back up. At the time in the north, there were volunteers in the Legislative Yuan, some friends that I knew. I also knew people at the Department of Social Sciences. I was at the Department of Social Sciences.
When I came, I was wondering what had happened exactly, and trying to understand the organizational situation, or where the development had gone to. So I didn’t stay in a particular place. I stayed a few hours inside in the Legislative Yuan, then I went to the Department of Social Sciences for a few years.
I knew there were meetings in the Department of Social Sciences, so it was like that in the beginning. Afterwards, I stayed in the Department of Social Sciences. I wasn’t always there, I ran between the two sides, not sure what kind of role I should play in the movement.
On the morning of 323, Ma Ying-Jeou gave a speech. After his speech, in the afternoon Jiang Yi-Hua went to around the Legislative Yuan, and many people were upset, so there was the decision to do some things. We began the attempt to occupy the Executive Yuan then.
We felt then that we should do something to advance the movement. We had felt very conflicted two days before. It was a Tuesday that we charged into the Legislative Yuan, we stayed six days, and there wasn’t any concrete progress. Everyone was very angry and wondered what to do next. So somebody needed to light a fire. What set it off was when Ma Ying-Jeou and Jiang Yi-Hua came to visit, because their attitude was that they weren’t open to discussions. After lighting a fire, there were a few directions we could go, either the Presidential Office, the Executive Yuan, or expanding the occupation within the Legislative Yuan.
The Executive Yuan was seen as more practical. If we tried to occupy the Presidential Office, we would need to occupy Ketagalan Boulevard, and it would be more difficult. It seemed too difficult. Because we already required a lot of people to last so many days. If it was the Legislative Yuan, there was also the issue of legitimacy. There were still police maintaining this in the Legislative Yuan, it wasn’t a complete occupation.
Because the situation was that Jiang Yi-Hua and Ma Ying-Jeou had shown their faces and not paid much attention to us, the practicability of the Executive Yuan was that, while the Legislative Yuan was representative of people’s representation, the Executive Yuan is a mechanism for administration. So to counter what Jiang Yi-Hua had said, we would go the Executive Yuan.
But going to the Executive Yuan, it also was opening a new battle front, as though it were representative of that one front was occupied. This was raising the stakes of the activity. But for the mechanism of the nation, occupying the Executive Yuan is more important, because it is more significant for the government. If people seized executive power, in addition to legislative power, it would be significant.
We only realized it was significant later. At the time, we didn’t think it was too severe. We just thought we should do this. So that’s why we charged. And there were some meetings, with decisions made regarding how to charge. There were also considerations, such as that meetings held in the Legislative Yuan would suddenly come to an end, there was no direct opposition after meetings, so people went ahead and moved with various actions.
Brian Hioe: Did you have any views regarding the decision making group during the Sunflower Movement? Because I know the original idea was to establish direct connection between the inside and outside of the Legislative Yuan?
Chen Ting-Hao: The decision making group didn’t exist in the first two days. This only emerged in the third or fourth day, such as people from the Taiwan Labor Front, holding meetings on the inside of the Legislative Yuan. The Department of Social Sciences also had their own meetings. This took place naturally. In the first few days, sometimes you weren’t sure how decisions were being made. In the first two days I was in Hsinchu, so I also wasn’t very sure how decisions were being made.
What was most important was defending the space within the Legislative Yuan. So I’m not sure that I had much I opposed. When it came to the Executive Yuan, because I was a participant, I was one of the people that pushed for that. It happened like that, so it’s hard to say if they opposed this. Later on, there wasn’t any large new direction. After 324, then it was the large-scale protest on 330. It was different activities taking place on the street, expressing democracy in that way. In the end, I think it was right to decide to withdraw, as well. So there wasn’t anything that really led to opposition from me.
Photo credit: 中岑 范姜/Flickr/CC
Brian Hioe: Do you think that participating in the movement had to do with your sense of Taiwanese identity?
Chen Ting-Hao: Of course, it did. Because the issue was opposing China. That was the reason. Because China was behind trying to use economic policy as a way to control Taiwan. This was very visible and the CSSTA was one means it tried to do this. This began with ECFA, using economic benefits to encourage businessmen to invest in China, and a lot of factories went to China. But China isn’t a democratic country. The market is not very transparent. If you get shut down, you get shut down.
China also constantly claims that it will annex Taiwan. From the Wild Strawberries, opposing ECFA, opposing media monopoly, these were all concerned with the China factor. The CSSTA was even more so. Of the people that were part of the core of the movement, they all advocated Taiwanese independence and opposed China.
Brian Hioe: In that light, what do you think the Sunflower Movement was opposed to? Because people were opposed to the black box, as well as to the KMT and to China, and some people were opposed to free trade as a whole.
Chen Ting-Hao: The Sunflower Movement looks like a Taiwanese independence movement, looking back. At the time, us core participants all advocated Taiwanese independence. But we didn’t know that this movement would pull in so many people as well as involve occupying the Legislative Yuan. When you expand the movement, not everyone was people we pulled in. Some people came on their own.
But I think that most of the people were opposed to the process by which the CSSTA was passed and the black box. The second largest amount of people were opposed to China. The third was opposed to free trade. We can discuss it like this because, particularly at the time, those opposed to China were not the most. The KMT was doing badly then and the KMT leans towards China, which is why people opposed it. So you could say that it was opposed to the KMT, as well as to China. This also had to do with establishing Taiwanese identity. At the time, we didn’t know why so many people would participate, as well as why this would succeed.
Chen Ting-Hao: Yes. With big and small social movements, the meaning of participation in this is that you become concerned with the different social issues that take place on this piece of land, Taiwan. It’s a dissatisfaction with the politics that exist at that point in time, and organizing to want to change this, against who is in power, who acts in their own interest.
When you are drawn into Taiwanese social issues, that can be a source of rising Taiwanese identification. I think that there wouldn’t be social movements without some degree of Taiwanese identification.
In these few years, social movements have increased. During the anti-media monopoly, it was labelled by the media as young people fighting with adults. China’s influence led to more and more organizations being formed and there being more participants. Of course, China is more and more restrictive towards Taiwan, regarding economic restrictions, restricting Taiwan’s space in the international world, or etc. This causes more people to have views on the issue, as well as the poor performance of the KMT, also has to do with the rise of social movements. So with the Sunflower Movement, an entire generation would participate in this.
Photo credit: 中岑 范姜/Flickr/CC
Brian Hioe: Do you think that there’s any political orientation to Taiwanese social movements? Because many people say that they are left-leaning or are progressive on many issues, such as opposing the death penalty or supporting gay marriage.
Chen Ting-Hao: I think social movement groups may not express independence or unification, but pro-unification groups are not social movement groups. If I were an anti-death penalty group, but I believe in unification, I don’t think that this is a political orientation of a social movement group. Taiwanese social movement groups all support independence. You can say that you are left or right, but I don’t think that this is the orientation of Taiwanese movement groups, it is more in terms of being pro-independence. That’s how I would describe it.
Brian Hioe: What kind of influence do you think this movement has had, three years later? We discussed its influence Taiwanese identification earlier, but what about politically? Tsai Ing-Wen was elected, as was Ko P, and we see the emergence of the Third Force and New Power Party.
Chen Ting-Hao: No matter whether its the expansion of the DPP, the election victory of Ko Wen-Je, or the appearance of the NPP, this represents the weakening of the KMT. The KMT isn’t a Taiwanese political party, what it advocates for has no relation to Taiwan. If we discuss constitutional reform, the KMT wouldn’t participate. And the KMT criticizes desinicization, which means that it view itself as China, and if we don’t discuss China, it is dissatisfied.
What’s more is that there are more and more people that are pan-Green. The KMT’s strength is weakening, which also has to do with the growth in Taiwanese identification and knowledge of history. Or looking through Taiwanese history. It would be less that because the DPP does badly, people will vote for the KMT. The KMT has become quite unvoteable. It’s become more that you can chose between the DPP and the NPP. This may also reflect that the political spectrum has moved further towards independence. The DPP has more space and the KMT has less space, which has also created space for the emergence of the NPP leftwards of it.
Brian Hioe: What do you think that social movement activists are doing now, three years later? I know that you later entered the NPP. And other people may have gone back to doing what they were doing before.
Chen Ting-Hao: I’m currently working in the NPP now, so I’m not sure that I’m a social movement participant anymore. Now I’m a political worker. As for my friends, many are working in politics. This is quite a lot of my friends. Well, I have friends of many ages, but I mean people of the same generation as me. 30 and under.
Many have entered politics. Some are in the NPP. Some are in the DPP. There are a lot in the DPP. But I wouldn’t criticize this. Because the DPP has a lot of seats, after taking power, so it’s very easy to attract a lot of people. They have 40 or 50 seats. This is a good opportunity for people to work.
Brian Hioe: How do you think China looks at Taiwan’s current political situation?
Chen Ting-Hao: China fears Taiwanese independence. For China, if Taiwan were to be independent, and Taiwanese independence to write. In the process of opposing Taiwanese independence, it also opposes independence sentiment entering it, whether from the border regions it shares with India, Tibet, Xinjiang, Korea, elsewhere. It fears this entering it from Taiwan. They may hope to care of Taiwan and Hong Kong, in order to strengthen itself elsewhere. China is probably not too happy that Taiwan can accomplish what it does given that Taiwan is only the size of a Chinese province, though.
Photo credit: Abby Chen/Flickr/CC
Brian Hioe: Do you think that there could be another movement in Taiwan like the Sunflower Movement?
Chen Ting-Hao: It’s possible. It’s just hard to imagine. It’s hard to imagine what could be bigger, such as maybe, occupying the Executive Yuan as well, and Ketagalan Boulevard. But I think it’s possible, although I can’t imagine what reason. Maybe if China were to attack, Taiwan loses, and China occupies Taiwan.
I think it’s like that. Because the strength of opposition to the DPP has limits compared to the strength of opposition to the KMT. Strength of opposition to the KMT could reach occupying the Legislative Yuan. But I’m not sure strength of opposition to the DPP is that strong. So maybe directly confronting China, it is possible. Or because of referendum, in declaring independence, that might be possible.
Brian Hioe: What kind of influence do you think the Sunflower Movement could have on international social movements? Or international society?
Chen Ting-Hao: I think most direct is Hong Kong. Not long after the Sunflower Movement, the Umbrella Movement took place. Influence is clear there. As for other international societies, I think its hard to see. There probably is some influence, but not a lot. Chinese political and economic influence is expanding globally.
But it’s not a peaceful rise. This is something that the world should be made aware of, that China is using this kind of strategy regarding its neighboring countries. In the process of its rise, it comes into conflict with these countries, and provoke much opposition. It should be a wake up call for other nations, what China does in the process of its rise.
The Sunflower Movement should serve as such a warning, to lead to opposition to China from countries around it. But I think that this hasn’t been successful, in spreading this international.
The world doesn’t seem to care too much about internal problems within China as well, such as its human rights abuses. What it care about is doing business with China. It leaves one wanting. As though nobody cares.