Interview: Han Yun Christine Hsu
Han Yun Christine Hsu is a member of the Social Democratic Party. The following interview was conducted on October 15th, 2017.
Brian Hioe: So the first thing I want to ask is, how did you begin participating in social movements? What kind of issues did you participate in and why did you participate?
Han Yun Christine Hsu: I’m not sure if it counts as a social movement, but in high school, because I studied in Taipei First Girl’s High School, when we were picking a new school president, there wasn’t any way for students to participate in the process. A bit like the current textbook issue. Students had no way to participate in some important decisions made by the school. At the time, we also opposed the then-president continuing to serve another term as the new president.
At the time, I was an editor in the newspaper club. I created an anonymous report criticizing the school’s way of doing things. At the same time, I and some other students got different classes from grade 1 to grade 2 to co-sign, expressing opposition to this school president’s reelection.
On the one hand, I participated in this, I hated this kind of process lacking transparency in which students were excluded from participation. And the other hand, as a member of the newspaper club who experienced the president’s influence on the club, it felt as though the president didn’t respect student’s views and way of doing things.
Photo credit: Abby Chen/Flickr/CC
Brian Hioe: What were you doing at the time of 318?
Han Yun Christine Hsu: At the beginning, on the first night, I knew that people entered the Legislative Yuan. But on the next day, because I was vice-president of the National Taiwan University (NTU) student council, a group of student representatives decided that we should do something to ensure that the occupation in the legislature could be maintained. On the night of Thursday, March 19th, we went to the old NTU College of Social Sciences, on Xuzhou. One of our seniors convinced the management of the College of Social Sciences and the teachers there to allow the space to serve as a temporary command center. At the night, we started issuing passes.
Brian Hioe: I went to the College of Social Sciences then.
Han Yun Christine Hsu: There was a student pass to enter and exit the College of Social Sciences. Although it wasn’t made too well. It would have a number on it. We made the first pass then and began handing them out.
Brian Hioe: What did you doing the Sunflower Movement itself?
HYCH: It was from this command center seeing what I could do to help. We eventually added a student rest center, run by the seniors from the Department of Sociology. I helped out managing this. The NTU Department of Sociology also had a D-Street plan, which organized democratic discussions outside. I helped manage this, as well as served as a moderator for the forum, allowing people on-site to discuss. There were 7 or 8 new topics every day for discussion, such as the CSSTA’s contents, how the CSSTA was discussed between the two sides of the strait, and etc.
Brian Hioe: Why did you participate? And what did you hope to accomplish through this?
HYCH: I think it was seeing that the Legislative Yuan had been occupied that night. It made me feel that the circumstances Taiwan faced was that after the CSSTA was passed, Taiwan might be directly annexed by China. If we could use a social movement as a means of blocking this process of unification, I felt that I should go onto the streets to participate.
At the same time, many people I knew and had worked with before were in the movement, and many NGOs and professors that I knew were also participating. It seemed like a sense of duty. At the same time, it felt as though we had to maintain the outside of the legislature, seeing as the inside had already been occupied. That’s why I joined the Department of Social Sciences group.
Brian Hioe: During the movement, did you ever disagree with the decisions made by the decision making group within the Legislative Yuan?
Han Yun Christine Hsu: Yes. Especially regarding 324. I think many people have probably raised this with you. During the day on 323, I wasn’t in Taipei. I came back at night. The first thing I did when I came back was go to the Department of Social Sciences’ command center to see what was going on. I found that the people there were leading waves of people out, one by one. I wasn’t very clear why they were headed to the Executive Yuan, so I asked the people nearby. And they didn’t know either. Only that there was a planned action at the Executive Yuan, and so they were going to near the Executive Yuan to prepare for this.
But I discovered that the people there weren’t even sure where the Executive Yuan, or what would happen if they confronted the police. So I explained to them on the way what would happen and how to protect themselves from harm or how to take care of conflict with the police. I went with the people to the back door of the Executive Yuan on Beiping North Road. That was the group where people got most beat up by the police.
Photo credit: Charlie Chang/Flickr/CC
Brian Hioe: Wait, you were also at the back door?! I was also part of the back door group.
Han Yun Christine Hsu: Yeah. But I later discovered that the police probably knew what was going on. We saw the fire department pass by, thinking that maybe they were getting ready to fire water cannons to take of this. And we saw a lot of riot police suddenly appear and we were unable to retreat.
Brian Hioe: And so we had to lie down on the ground.
Han Yun Christine Hsu: I remembered that my cell phone nearly had no power then. But I kept sending updates to people I near, telling them where I was and what I was seeing. They didn’t know what was going on either, and we saw on news reports, mainly on our Facebook pages, that people on the front door gotten in. But we didn’t in the back door.
When my cell phone was nearly out of power, I found that my father kept calling me, but my cell phone had no power. I borrowed a cell phone from the people around me and called my father. I had never heard him use such a harsh tone of voice before, he ordered me to go home. It didn’t look like anything as drastic as police violence would occur then, so I went home. I probably left around 12:30. Police violence broke out probably five minutes after I left.
Brian Hioe: What about the decision to withdraw?
Han Yun Christine Hsu: I wasn’t in the decision making group. And it was later believed that the command center in the Department of Social Sciences had been compromised, so we closed it down at probably the start of April. Because the media reported on it or tried to get in. So after that, I went to outside to see what D-Street was up to when I went there.
After I heard that there was a withdrawal, I was quite surprised, because I wasn’t part of the decision-making group. But I can understand why the decision was made to withdraw. However, the decision to withdraw wasn’t made like during the Wild Lily movement, in which people voted on whether to withdraw.
Brian Hioe: To change direction, do you think that your participation in Taiwanese social movements has to do with your sense of Taiwanese identity?
Han Yun Christine Hsu: I think it’s more like, as a Taiwanese person, because I participated in some international events or had the opportunity to study abroad as an exchange student in college, I found that Taiwan didn’t have much of a voice in the international world. And it confronted strong pressure from China. I might not have directly connected this to a sense of identity like, “I am a Taiwanese.” But in discussing with other people, I would discover that this notion of Taiwanese identity would continue to reappear discussing many topics.
Brian Hioe: What kind of movement do you think this was? The most people may have opposed the black box and the least amount of people may have opposed free trade, and in the middle may have been opposing China or the KMT.
Han Yun Christine Hsu: In the beginning, I felt most directly that the CSSTA had been passed in a method without democratic participation. Personally, I very much oppose the KMT, and I believe this is also true of young people or students of the same generation as me. The proportion is probably quite high.
But I don’t totally believe that, particularly when it began, that it was an anti-KMT movement. It was addressing the fact that Taiwan and another country’s free trade agreement had affected Taiwan’s sovereignty. Of course, at the time, the KMT held the majority in the legislature. It was the sense that the dominant political party had done something to hurt Taiwan.
Photo credit: Duke Lin/Flickr/CC
Brian Hioe: Do you think that there is any political orientation to social movement participants in Taiwan? The majority of people say that they are left-leaning and are progressive on a large number of issues, ranging from opposition to the death penalty to support for same-sex marriage.
Han Yun Christine Hsu: I more or less agree with this, because most social movement groups participate in social movements because they want to change the status quo. To change the status quo must be relatively radical.
But this sort of radical view doesn’t necessarily mean left-leaning, or improving social equality. Not everyone participates in social movements for the identical reasons. They may begin participating in social movements for this reason and their views may change later on.
The decision making process of social movement groups may also change. The flip side of this is that while some social movement groups may pursue democracy externally, they are not very democratic internally. Some demands may also be thought of differently by them.
Brian Hioe: Three years later, what kind of influence do you think this movement has had on Taiwanese politics? People sometimes discuss this in terms of Tsai Ing-Wen being elected, or Ko Wen-Je, or the emergence of the Third Force.
Han Yun Christine Hsu: I think this has to be divided into two halves. Some may have participated in this in college and directly participated in the Sunflower Movement, no matter in what role. I think this sort of people, comparatively, may support the emergence of a political situation which addresses the unequal situation between two political parties in Taiwan. Other people, who may not have been students but participated as members of society, might have just wanted to support the so-called students.
Will they have more views in the future, such as supporting a new political force in Taiwan? Perhaps not. Because many people may have just opposed the KMT in participating in the Sunflower Movement, which was what allowed for this momentum to be redirected towards the DPP, as a political resource of the DPP.
Other people who experienced the movement may have had no political experience beforehand, even if they may be more marginalized in terms of Taiwanese society. Such as tongzhi who are unable to come out of the closet, or the blind, or people thought to be of a lower social class. I think that these people are less visible in the process of the movement. After being hit or after being arrested, we don’t know what kind of social changes that they have gone through. Focus on the more elite social movement participants may obscure this.
Brian Hioe: Three years later, what do you think social movement participants are doing? You yourself later entered the Social Democratic Party? Other people may have become political workers.
Han Yun Christine Hsu: Of course, many of the people around me may have entered politics, particularly the DPP. And they’ve experienced Ko Wen-Je’s election and Tsai Ing-Wen’s election, and become experienced political workers. But I particularly in the first year after the Sunflower Movement, a sense of helplessness was quite strong. People didn’t know what this movement had changed. It wasn’t very clear what the influence of this movement on Taiwanese society was.
At this point, when you raise the Sunflower Movement with social movement participants, people may ask, “Why are you still talking about this now?” if you raise the Sunflower Movement. But it may be only ten years later that you truly see what the influence of this movement was on Taiwan in their twenties, in high school then, or in their teens.
Outside of Taiwan, the Sunflower Movement also influenced Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement, since this occurred within the same timeframe. Hong Kong and Taiwanese young people’s experiences in social movements are similar and many social movement organizations have conducted interchanges.
Photo credit: Tinru/Flickr/CC
Brian Hioe: How do you think Taiwan looks at Taiwan’s current political circumstances?
Han Yun Christine Hsu: I think that the Taiwan Affairs Office has changed its United Front approach to Taiwan somewhat. Because before 318, this was very direct, including buying up media—although it still does this—and buying up certain industries in Taiwan. And Taiwanese land or real estate. In order that through influencing the economy, they can control Taiwanese politics.
But they’ve discovered that there’s no use to this anymore, because many Taiwanese young people have discovered this, and won’t watch the media outlets affected by media monopoly, which had been opposed by the anti-media monopoly movement. Or that the Sunflower Movement has left an impression.
Afterwards, United Front methods became more detailed, such as buying up fake news, and using Line and Facebook groups to deceive Taiwanese adults with this news, and affecting their views of Taiwan and China, including different criticisms of progressive politics in Taiwan. I think it’s still not very clear how large this influence is. Because Taiwanese young people and adults use the Internet very differently.
Brian Hioe: Do you think that there could be another movement like the Sunflower Movement in Taiwan in the future?
Han Yun Christine Hsu: Of course, in the beginning, nobody thought that the Sunflower Movement could appear. I think that between the Wild Lily movement and the Sunflower Movement, nobody thought that another social movement would appear.
So I think if there could be another movement after the Sunflower Movement, the political stimulus might be Taiwan being forced to conduct talks with China regarding peace, or signing a similar free trade agreement or treaty with China that has a large influence. Then, those ten years younger than the Sunflower generation, may have the opportunity to experience this kind of civic uprising.
Brian Hioe: Lastly, do you think that the Sunflower Movement could influence the international world? We discussed Hong Kong earlier, but what about besides Hong Kong?
Han Yun Christine Hsu: It may be that Taiwanese social movement participants naturally lack confidence in themselves, but we’re not used to using other languages, or other ways to express our experience in the Sunflower Movement. Because I think that with regards to the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong, Initium Media or other media that emerged from social movements, may use two languages to express their views on the Umbrella Movement.
But at least in Taiwan, during the Sunflower Movement, it was only during the movement that you saw the appearance of the translation group. After the movement, do social movement groups still have the ability to continue with this? Most publications are only in Chinese. That’s why your project is important. [Laughs] The students I’ve encountered that have studied abroad are still quite willing to share how they participated in the Sunflower Movement overseas, that should hopefully have ways to influence progressive social areas in other parts of the world.