Interview: Yeh Jiunn Tyng

Yeh Jiunn Tyng is currently a Ph. D student at the University of Missouri, was one of the organizers of the Gongsheng Music Festival, and one of the founding members of New Bloom. The following interview was conducted on September 14th, 2017.


Brian Hioe:  The first thing I wanted to ask was, how did you begin participating in Taiwanese social movements? How did you begin participating and what kind of movements did you originally participate in?

Yeh Jiunn Tyng:  I began participating from the Shilin Wang family incident. At that time, I had just taking tests for college, and someone asked me to go with them and I went. That’s how I began participating. When I began college, one the one hand, I began participating in the Yang-Ming Meaningful Club, and on the other hand, I began organizing the Gongsheng Music Festival. I had some connections to National Yang Ming University (NYMU) student groups as well. In between, I went to Huaguang Community and participated in the anti-nuclear movement, and also started labor organizing for medical workers. That’s more or less it.

Brian Hioe:  So would you say that you were pulled into social movements by friends?

Yeh Jiunn Tyng:  Yes, I would say so.

Brian Hioe:  What were doing during 318?

Yeh Jiunn Tyng:  I was outside the Legislative Yuan, serving as a moderator and directing traffic.

Brian Hioe:  How did you begin participating in the Sunflower Movement, what did you do then? You were known for the Facebook status you made then.

Gongsheng Music Festival logo. Photo credit: Gongsheng Music Festival

Yeh Jiunn Tyng:  Let me think. I remember that day, I heard quite early on that this would take place. Because it was originally planned to be a demonstration on Jinan Road, I remember the Yang-Ming Meaningful Club held a talk, so i went. And afterwards, at night, around 8 or 9, I saw on Facebook that people had charged into the Legislative Yuan.

My friends asked me if I wanted to go. I hesitated initially, but then decided to go. As we were on our way out, I had this idea, because this was a very important event, maybe there would be a way to allow the international world know about this. The most easy way to do this was to allow for this to become multi-language. I only know English and Chinese, so I thought I’d look for people to help me translate.

I typed it in English and Chinese, summarizing what was going on simply, and writing in the Facebook post, that if you could help translate it into other languages, please respond, and I would go back and edit it. I posted it and left the house. On the middle of the road, on the back of the scooter, my friend kept editing it.

I was there the entire night. First, outside of the Legislative Yuan, watching the circumstances, because people were afraid that if they charged in, they would not be able to get out.  And if people I knew there needed help, I helped out. And I kept editing this Facebook post.

Brian Hioe:  I remember we climbed over the wall into the parking lot of the Legislative Yuan then. I was with mostly with you and Xiaohei on 318, I recall.

Yeh Jiunn Tyng:  That’s right! [Laughs]

Brian Hioe:  In the process of the Sunflower Movement, what did you do apart from that?

Yeh Jiunn Tyng:  I mostly helped out with traffic direction and sometimes acted as an MC for the demonstrations that took place at night. I think that mostly it.

Brian Hioe:  During the movement, did you ever disagree with the decisions made by the people inside the Legislative Yuan? For example, regarding 324, or the decision to withdraw from the Legislative Yuan.

Yeh Jiunn Tyng:  From the beginning, I didn’t particularly identify with their views. Because I felt that from the night of 318 onwards, we were discussing how to connect the inside of the outside of the Legislative Yuan. The people on the outside wanted to open up a path inside, but the people inside didn’t want us to open a path inside. I thought that was quite strange.

With regards to the core decision making group, I heard a lot afterwards, and felt that I didn’t quite agree with them. But with regards to the 324, I think there was a need to escalate the movement, but they decided to take sharp action. And there was a lot of confusion and miscommunication in the middle of this. So it was kind of deficient. And with regards to withdrawing, there wasn’t a means to continue occupying, so there was a need to withdraw. There was no other way.

Brian Hioe:  How do you understand the relation of Taiwanese identity to your participation in the Sunflower Movement? Regarding Taiwanese social movements. Maybe you can talk about the Gongsheng Music Festival.

Yeh Jiunn Tyng:  I think that regarding Taiwanese identification, regarding national identity, the view that Taiwan should be independent, or that China infringes upon Taiwanese freedoms, part of it is the belief in human rights. That human rights is very important, that history is very important, and that transitional justice is very important.

So transitional justice is very important, which is why I would participate in the Shilin Wang family struggle or go to Huaguang Community. And I think Taiwanese people should understand their history moreso, and to resolve problems which have been left from the past. Which is why I would come to concern myself with 228 and organize the Gongsheng Music Festival.

Brian Hioe:  How do you understand the relation of 318 and the KMT or China? Do you think that it was an movement opposed to the KMT or to China? Because maybe most people were opposed to the black box. We could also talk about free trade and whether people were opposed to the CSSTA because of opposition to free trade.

Photo credit: 綠魚/Flickr/CC

Yeh Jiunn Tyng:  There are a lot of levels to this. I myself would lean towards the most radical position of opposing it on the basis of free trade, because this impoverishes labor on both sides of the Taiwan Straits. I don’t identify with free trade ideologically.

Of course, there is also that I feel that I don’t like China. I don’t feel that I would participate in the movement on the basis of opposing the KMT or feeling that the process was improper. Because the KMT is just that bad and it usually conducts policy in an improper manner. I would oppose this, of course, but this is not the most important reason as to why I would participate in the movement.

The first reason as to why I would participate in the movement is because of opposition to free trade. I would lean more towards protecting the rights of workers as the basis of my political identification, but the other is also not liking China. [Laughs]

Brian Hioe:  I do often feel that Taiwanese social movements are more left-wing, or at least more progressive. Regarding many issues, such as opposition to the death penalty or support of same-sex marriage. Do you have any views regarding this? Would you say that Taiwanese social movements are more politically left?

Yeh Jiunn Tyng:  I would definitely say so. Generally speaking, it’s more left-leaning.

Brian Hioe:  What do you think are the reasons for this?

Yeh Jiunn Tyng:  Why? That’s a good question. Why? I think in a highly capitalist society, it is much easier for left-wing social movements to appear. I also don’t think that Taiwan really has a radical right. So I feel that it’s easier for left-wing movements to appear.

Brian Hioe:  Three years later, do you think that the movement has succeeded in influencing Taiwanese politics? Or Taiwanese identification in society?

Yeh Jiunn Tyng:  I think there has been an influence on the younger generation. For those who participated in the movement then and those afterwards, national identification and concern with social issues has changed. But I feel that in reality, to speak frankly, I’m not sure the movement has left any lasting traces.

For example, the CSSTA or the cross-straits oversight bill are still unresolved, I’m not even sure myself, and its rarely discussed. Those who emerged in the movement have also not done too much or done anything special. With regard to those high school students who appeared after the movement and became concerned with such issues, up until now, its probably not even 10%. Social movements now confront a low ebb, in which nobody knows what to oppose. For there to occur real protests is very difficult.

Brian Hioe:  Three years later, what do you think social movement participants are doing? Whether yourself or your friends. After all, many went abroad to study.

Yeh Jiunn Tyng:  Yeah. Many people are getting ready to leave the country and study. Lin Fei-Fan is headed to the London School of Economics, Wei Yang is going to Oxford. One path is to go and study abroad. Another path is to enter into politics. For example, many of my friends have become political aides, or entered the Presidential Office, or etc.

There were those originally working in politics, and after the DPP took office, many entered into the system. Its less often that you see people staying outside of the system, for example, continuing to organize social movements, etc. And most have graduated from school, so less people are organizing student groups in campuses.

Brian Hioe:  Do you think that would be another social movement like the Sunflower Movement tomorrow?

Yeh Jiunn Tyng:  In the short-term, I don’t think so. I think after the DPP has taken power, it would be difficult for another wave of social movements to appear. Because, apart from whether this is good or bad, the DPP is quite good at confronting the people, unlike the KMT, which sometimes doesn’t know what it is doing, and manages to anger the entire population.

I think the DPP is actually conservative in its policy towards China, so I feel that at the very least, in the next 3 to 5 years, it’s not likely that there would be another social movement this large.

Brian Hioe:  How do you think China looks at the Sunflower Movement and the political situation after the Sunflower Movement?

Photo credit: billy1125/Flickr/CC

Yeh Jiunn Tyng:  After the Sunflower Movement, China has tried much more to appeal to young people. For example, China has spent quite a lot of money trying to encourage Taiwanese young people to go to China to work and start companies and etc. And they also have supported a lot of evangelists.

Afterwards, some of my friends have gone to Beijing, they keep talking about how great Beijing is, or how great Shanghai is, and people will feel that it’s pretty great to work there or whatever, and that the pay is high. They also know that using hard tactics will not work, so they use these kind of ways to gradually brainwash everybody. And I think this is quite effective. So I think they’re quite smart about it. They know that direct confrontation with young people will not work, so they use these indirect means.

Brian Hioe:  I see. So the last question is, do you think the Sunflower Movement could influence international social movements?

Yeh Jiunn Tyng:  A lot of people say, the Umbrella Movement was inspired by the Sunflower Movement. I somehow don’t think so. But I think the participants in the Sunflower Movement have established a network in Asia, in East Asia, among social movement participants. For example, with Joshua Wong, or connections with Japanese activists.

So the Sunflower Movement led to some stars emerging from social movements, and every country has some young social movement participants, and they have the opportunity to interact with each other. I think the Sunflower Movement has had some effect on young social movement participants. Outside of the Sunflower Movement, it is very rare for social movements to actually become noticed by the international world.