Interview: Ho Yu-Tang
Ho Yu-Tang is a medical student at National Yang-Ming University. The following interview was conducted on September 24th, 2017.
Brian Hioe: How did you first begin participating in social movements?
Ho Yu-Tang: During the Wild Strawberry movement, I was a student in high school in Chiayi. I was influenced by news of the movement then, but I was a high school student in Chiayi, so I couldn’t do anything. But back then, everyone was quite angry.
We’re the “natural independence” generation. I quite agree with that notion. So that time, a bunch of us in high school were quite angry but couldn’t do anything. And then in college, I went to Taipei.
In college, Taiwan’s political system was about the same. Ma Ying-Jeou was still in power. Chen Yunlin came Taipei several times after that and there were always incidents. So after I came to Taipei, I gradually began to want to participate in the kinds of things I had seen on television in high school.
So at that point, I began a student group at Yang-Ming, the Yang-Ming Meaningful Club. And found some people to start a reading group. We also participated in social movements. The first event was the Shilin Wang family incident.
Brian Hioe: What else did you participate in?
Ho Yu-Tang: College was divided like this back then. Those who had participated in the Wild Strawberry movement would be older than us by three or four years.
Photo credit: Y.H. Kao/Flickr/CC
Brian Hioe: Like Terry.
Ho Yu-Tang: Like Terry. After the end of the Wild Strawberry movement, in some respects, it seemed like it had been quite a failure. That there weren’t any successes. But those who participated went back to their schools to maybe continue participating in new ways.
For example, when I started the Yang-Ming Meaningful Club, we felt that we didn’t understand anything, so we went and found Terry. He was studying his MA at Yang-Ming then. So we found him coincidentally.
As for other schools, it was also the same participants went back to their campuses or continued participating in new ways. For people like me, who were influenced in high school, we would continue participating with them.
Back then, there were a lot of social movements. Oftentimes, it was that you went there once, and you would get to know some people, and you would have some connections. You would add someone on Facebook or something. It’s very easy that way.
There was a sense of collectivity, spread across different schools and different forms of organizing. There many social movements that everyone would mobilize for back then and participate in. The Shilin Wang family struggle was the first time for me. Afterwards, I can’t really remember, but I remember it included opposing American beef imports, opposing Want Want and the media monopoly, and others, whether big or small protests.
Brian Hioe: What were you doing at the time of 318? I remember I was with Jiunn Tyng and Xiaohei then.
Ho Yu-Tang: [Laughs] I have a confession to make. I was in my school dorm studying for a calculus test that night. [Laughs] My friend called me, saying that he felt this would be a very important action, which might require charging into the Legislative Yuan. I forget if he said that exactly. But he hoped that I could go to the Legislative Yuan to help out. I said I couldn’t, because I had a calculus test the next day.
Back then, you didn’t know how things would develop. Because there had been so many protests of varying sizes before, it seemed like it might just be a small protest. Sometimes you had things to do, so it was fine not participating once.
Brian Hioe: I remember Sandy said that she had to work so left. [Laughs]
Ho Yu-Tang: It was like that. I was studying calculus in my dorm.
Brian Hioe: How did you participate during the movement itself?
Ho Yu-Tang: Afterwards, events became bigger and bigger. I didn’t especially want to participate in the core decision making or anything like that, but those connections from before existed. So when I went, I would encounter people I knew well. Including friends, I had charged with in the past. So you would have stuff to do then.
At that point, there was already a command system set up in the NTU Department of Social Sciences. When I went in originally, I didn’t understand, but then it later became clear to me that there was a command system set up there and that there was also a command system in the Legislative Yuan.
At the time, I had more connections to the command system at the Department of Social Sciences, so I would go there and see what needed to be done. Apart from serving as a participant, I also served as a MC on Qingdao East Road. I remember the session I served as MC for, Wu Rwei-ren was invited to speak, as well as other speakers.
Photo credit: billy1125/Flickr/CC
Brian Hioe: Did you have any disagreements with the core decision making group? Perhaps regarding 324 or the decision with withdraw at the end of the movement. I know that there was some conflict with the Department of Social Sciences.
Ho Yu-Tang: At the time, when you went in, you couldn’t really figure out the situation. But you would think that it was you yourself that couldn’t figure out what was going on. Later on, you would realize that everybody didn’t have any idea what was going on. The entire organization, including all the participants, those inside the Legislative Yuan, those in the Department of Social Sciences. There wasn’t agreement between all these forces and this was something which would naturally occur in the movement.
But in the beginning, I thought I couldn’t figure out the situation. So I didn’t want to do anything that had to do with decision making. However, those connections existed, so when some people I knew were holding meetings, sometimes I was there. I also participated in that. For example, on 324, I also participated. I was in the meeting and was also mobilized to the back door of the Executive Yuan.
Brian Hioe: I was also there at the back door. Were you also there? I don’t remember.
Ho Yu-Tang: You were with us at the back door? I can’t remember. I remember Tsay Ting-Kuei appeared.
Brian Hioe: I remember that. They showed up with ladders.
Ho Yu-Tang: We didn’t succeed, we couldn’t force open the door. So anyway, with regards to decision making, I don’t have any views. Whether the decision making was good or bad, I think this was okay. It’s very hard making decisions. Where does legitimacy in decision making come from?
Because this is bottom up and an organization formed in that way, would the decisions you made affect me? This is very hard. I wouldn’t feel that it was coercion. If it was top-down, then there would be an issue, since it wouldn’t be democratic. But returning to this action, I think it was okay. Some people were injured, but that happens in social movements.
Brian Hioe: What about the withdrawal from the Legislative Yuan? Some people felt that the demands of the movement hadn’t been fulfilled.
Ho Yu-Tang: I also think it was okay. Because there wouldn’t be a way to maintain the occupation forever, looking at it realistically. I think there was a need to withdraw. Some people feel that the demands of the movement weren’t met, but I also think this was okay.
Brian Hioe: Okay, changing gears then, how do you feel that Taiwanese identity relates to your participation in social movements?
Ho Yu-Tung: To put it simply, I would say it this way. When I began talking about why I would participate in social movements, I mentioned “natural independence.” In one hundred years, historical scholars might treat the first and second world wars as they were one war, in the long-term view of the 20th century. Similarly, if we look at contemporary social movements, say, thirty years from now, we might remember it as one social movement. Whether concerned with opposing the KMT or with regards to Taiwanese identity.
The demands were different between these movements, whether this was opposition to free trade, or media monopoly, the Shilin Wang family struggle, or nuclear power, such as when anti-nuclear protests surged after the Sunflower Movement, with water cannons used on Zhongxiao East Road. The demands of these movements were all different, but I feel that there was a shared strength, and that this was primarily opposed to the KMT and opposition to pro-China, conservative politics. So this is separate from Taiwanese identity.
Brian Hioe: So do you the movement was opposed to the KMT or to pro-China policies? Because the most people may have been opposed to the black box and the least amount of people opposed to free trade. What are your views?
Photo credit: Abby Chen/Flickr/CC
Ho Yu-Tang: Where did the strength of the movement come from? What were people opposing? What motivated people to get onto the streets and protest? I think at the core, most basic level, this was opposition to the KMT and its pro-China policies, as expressed in different issues. Whether this was American pork or other issues, the KMT was behind it. The KMT and Ma Ying-Jeou was in power eight years.
For us young people, the “natural independence” generation, we have stronger Taiwanese identification, we’re in our twenties mostly and haven’t lived very long, and there are two times in which we felt the country was close to being conquered and destroyed. The first was in high school, when we lost to China in baseball [Laughs]! We lost twice in a row to China. i remember it was the Olympics and Asia games or something, I forget. The second was the eight years that Ma Ying-Jeou was in power, after Chen Yunlin came to Taiwan, and these things gradually began to happen.
Or earlier, including the Dapu incident, that was also when I was in college, either as a senior or in my first year of college. When excavators began demolishing fields. This was pushed for by the KMT officials of Miaoli. So we also felt that this was part of our country being destroyed and weren’t sure what to do. So we felt we had to take action.
But to take action, you need an entry point, and a time to take action. You need an issue. Discussion was needed, regarding what free trade was, or whether American pork was safe, or if it would affect Taiwanese farmers. Everyone would discuss these issues. For example, with regard to opposing media monopoly, people would also discuss what a free press environment would be. As for the core motivation, in which you might normally not have any particular interest towards reform of the media, and why you would take action, I think it was opposition to the KMT.
Brian Hioe: How would you describe the political orientation of social movement participants, then? Because I think it is more left-leaning, with regard to a whole set of issues, such as opposition to the death penalty or support of same-sex marriage, or these kinds of issues. Not many people would say that they are right-wing, for example.
Ho Yu-Tang: I wouldn’t really say left-leaning. Because in social movements in these past few years, opposition to the KMT is a shared consensus and being more progressive is another shared consensus. So I feel that if you want to discuss this in terms of left and right, it’s hard to grasp the core of this. Because there is too much history and tradition bound up with the left and right. You might have a more accurate view if you divide it between progressive and conservative rather than left and right.
If one leans towards reform and change, you would support democracy. Few people would say that they oppose democracy. But you would have your own views as to what is democratic and what isn’t democratic. Is it democratic is a government official voted into power decides to forcibly demolish houses? With regard to other issues, you would also be more progressive. It becomes a progressive force.
Brian Hioe: Why do you think social movements are more progressive?
Ho Yu-Tang: If you ask whether there are also conservative forces opposed to reform in social movements, of course there is. But they’re not part of the social movement activist circles we usually discuss. We wouldn’t include the Redshirts, for example. If the system is conservative and you have to protest it, then progressive forces will converge together.
But as for left and right, I don’t think it’s an accurate view to say that Taiwanese social movements are left-leaning. The DPP isn’t left either, but they were put into power by social movements. I also think this is why there is the circumstance that those who think their political ideals are left-wing feel that they can’t support the DPP, so there has to be the Third Force.
Brian Hioe: Three years later, how do you think that the Sunflower Movement has influenced Taiwanese politics? Or Taiwanese identification?
Photo credit: 中岑 范姜/Flickr/CC
Ho Yu-Tang: If you look at the statistics, you see that Taiwanese identification continues to grow. Whether this is under KMT government or DPP government, there’s no difference. There continues to be growth. Between Ma Ying-Jeou’s period in power or Chen Shui-Bian’s period in power, Taiwanese identification continued to increase in both periods. By Taiwanese identification, I mean, we believe we are Taiwanese, versus I believe I am Chinese, or I believe I am both. Taiwanese identification is on the increase.
So I feel that with social movements, Taiwanese identification is the cause and social movements are the effect. But there is mutual influence. With contemporary social movements, the Sunflower Movement was the high point, and it has had a large influence on political development and national development. But Taiwanese identification has its own internal logic with regards to its continued growth.
Of course, with more people participating in movements, more people will be influenced, and this will affect more people. Taiwanese identification will further increase.
Brian Hioe: It’s a kind of cycle.
Ho Yu-Tang: Yeah. An example would be that there are a lot of people who make comics about social issues on the Internet now. I don’t follow them too closely. But there are people that draw funny comics or things like that, you’ll find that you keep seeing this now, with different styles and about different topics. But behind this is a sense of Taiwanese identification.
What do you think that social movement activists are doing now, three years later? Such as yourself, or people you know? Because a lot of people say that there are many who have entered the government, or may have gone back to doing what they were doing before. You can also see that there are less participants in social movement activities now.
Some people have gone back to school to continue studying. Or gone back to work. Some people have left the country to study abroad. And some people are within the government. But you also see that some people are still doing what they were doing originally. This touches on people’s individual choices.
But another aspect is, with the KMT having stepped down and the DPP having taken power, is this the end for social movements? This is another issue regarding continuing onwards. In the past, what the KMT did that you opposed, if the DPP also does this, you should also oppose this. That would be consistency.
However, then you find that the strength of social movements has declined a great deal. Like I said earlier, no matter what issue, much of what motivated people was opposition to the KMT and Taiwanese identification. So there is less motivation to oppose what the DPP is currently doing. That’s a problem.
Brian Hioe: How do you think China looks at the current political circumstance in Taiwan, three years after the Sunflower Movement?
Ho Yu-Tang: This is a difficult question. I don’t know.
Brian Hioe: For example, we don’t know if China will shift strategies, like adopting new strategies to co-opt young people.
Ho Yu-Tang: Under Ma Ying-Jeou, China used the economy as a way to co-opt Taiwan. That was quite evident. The Sunflower Movement demonstrated to them that this was no use. So I don’t know what new methods they may adopt.
But what I think is very interesting is that our generation is less afraid of China. When Ma Ying-Jeou was in power, we were quite worried, but because of the Sunflower Movement, and the struggle with the KMT, even if there are many problems which remain to be addressed regarding issues such as nuclear power or the environment, these issues still exist it.
Yet at the very least there has been a foundation established for national identity. China is not seen as able to reach in so easily, as a foreign power. So there are many issues, but China is not seen as so easily able to influence Taiwan, and we are less worried.
Brian Hioe: Do you think that there could be a movement as large as the Sunflower Movement again in Taiwan in the future?
Photo credit: Abby Chen/Flickr/CC
Ho Yu-Tang: Will there be social movements? Of course there will be. I don’t think it’s impossible for there to be a movement on the scale of the Sunflower movement either.
But the cause for protest will be different. If the Sunflower Movement had to do with proving Taiwanese identity, after the Sunflower Movement, what may be next is something to fulfill Taiwanese identity.
Some people are pushing for this, such as writing a new constitution. You have that sense, with people working on this, and news that Tsai Ing-Wen says that there should be a new constitution.
Brian Hioe: Lastly, do you think the Sunflower movement can influence international social movements? Many people discuss Hong Kong, but anywhere.
Ho Yu-Tang: At the very least, I think there is influence in Asia, with Japan, South Korea, China, and Hong Kong. When you see another country doing something, you will reflect on yourself. I know that after the Sunflower Movement, some Japanese social movement organizations and Taiwanese organizations has some exchanges.
But that’s smaller. Hong Kong seems like it has bigger influence, inclusive of the Umbrella Movement. Taiwan and Hong Kong seem to share the same enemy, but there don’t seem to be a lot of exchanges. A lot of conditions are different. After the Sunflower Movement, there seemed to be some reflection in Hong Kong because the enemy is shared, regarding opposition to China. Nonetheless, both places seem to have split apart again. The conditions are too different.