Interview: Yoshi Liu
Yoshi Liu was one of the conveyors of the Formoshock Society and is currently strategic CEO of the Lee Teng-Hui Association for Democracy. The following interview was conducted on October 24th, 2017.
Brian Hioe: So the first question I wanted to ask is, how did you begin participating in social movements? What kind of issues did you participate in and why did you participate?
Yoshi Liu: It was the Wild Strawberry movement in the end of 2008. At that time, I had just returned to Taiwan, not even a year after studying in England. I was still thinking of what I should do next and then I encountered this movement. After I encountered it, I joined it by chance, as a newcomer to political participation. Before that, when I was a student, I hadn’t participated in this, and I entered to try and experience and understand it. After that, there was no getting out. [Laughs]
That was the beginning. The reason why I began participating was because I was inspired by young people. They were younger than me, because they were college students. I was already a first year Ph. D with two Master’s degrees then. I was touched by this, that from this event, Taiwanese college students were willing to express their voices and to organize activities to demonstrate against Ma Ying-Jeou. So it was a sense of being moved, that this was right, and that one should stand up and do this.
Brian Hioe: What other movements did you participate in between then and the Sunflower Movement?
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Yoshi Liu: In the six years after that up until 2014, many things took place. You could say it was a wildfire. Big and small protests took place continuously. The important movements that I participated in after that included the anti-media monopoly movement.
There was also the Hung Chun-Hsiu incident, although you could consider that a standalone event more than a movement. It depends on how you define it.
In 2008 to 2012, I worked in an NGO, and participated in the free Tibet movement. I probably spent the most time on this. And I also worked with Lin Yi-Hsiung, when he was pushing for reform of the referendum act, in 2009.
These issues gradually rose up and I participated in these activities. Then I went to work in an NGO. And after working in an NGO, I worked in the Legislative Yuan. I wasn’t a student, so I had to work. Outside of work, I concerned myself with social issues, and supported the free Tibet movement. What I participated in most of all was the anti-media monopoly movement.
Brian Hioe: What were you doing at the time of 318?
Yoshi Liu: I was outside, helping with the outside space. We can divide it into two parts. In the first part, around 7 PM, Lai Zhongqiang and them held a rally on Jinan Road. Wei Yang was the MC. In the middle of this, Wei Yang suddenly urged the people to charge the Legislative Yuan.
I was there as well. But because I with my daughter there, since I had brought my daughter to attend, and monitoring the event, since I and some friends planned this to see if this was going, we smoothly charged inside the Legislative Yuan. So I first brought my daughter back home and around 10 or 11 PM came back to the Legislative Yuan.
I found then that the people had all gathered on Jinan Road, because Jinan Road had a stage and lights, and the activity continued, with speeches, with more and more people outside. But there wasn’t a lot of people on the side door, though there was a stage. And there wasn’t any real sound equipment, just a small microphone. I thought that this wasn’t good. Because police started to gather in this space.
So I went onstage to Jinan Road and called for those willing to take the risks both to physical safety and legally, to head to Qingdao East Road, to prepare to charge the Legislative Yuan and climb over the iron fence in order to get into the square behind the Legislative Yuan, to try and connect with the inside of the Legislative Yuan. That the police wouldn’t have any way to drive them out.
I helped direct people, because the people needed to be guided. We used microphones and called for people to break through the door to enter a small square and to occupy that. And to try and break inside of the Legislative Yuan.
Brian Hioe: I was also there outside on Qingdao East Road, when we climbed over the fence.
Yoshi Liu: I was there with a microphone on the fence.
Brian Hioe: I was with Yeh Jiunn Tyng then. How did you participate in the Sunflower Movement, then?
Yoshi Liu: I see. So I didn’t enter the Sunflower Movement after it broke out, you could say, I organized it with others together, laying out the plan for the action. Including finding people to occupy the Legislative Yuan.
What I did in the movement was, like I said, planning out the occupation activity, including arranging people and division of labor. And organizing the mobilization. We found different organizations for this.
Photo credit: Charlie Chang/Flickr/CC
As for my feelings in participating in this movement? The outside world often believes that this was a successful and large movement that changed the direction of political and social development of Taiwan.
Under Ma Ying-Jeou, Taiwan was headed in the direction of unification. But the appearance of the Sunflower Movement changed this direction. Towards the direction of independence and nation-building. That’s how the outside world looks at it, anyway. As for myself, I believe that this is a process full of pain and suffering.
Of course, you feel happy, because this movement is successful as far as the outside world looks at it. But in reality, the movement had a lot of divisions internally. Up until now, they haven’t been resolved. These are very hurtful at the personal and individual level. This is a very contradictory feeling.
Brian Hioe: What are your views regarding the core decision making body?
Yoshi Liu: The core decision making group was the people who stayed inside the Legislative Yuan for a longer period of time. Because on the one hand, I didn’t enter the inside of the Legislative Yuan, along with other people that began the movement, we stayed on the outside. There were many things outside and more people outside.
Lin Fei-Fan and Chen Wei-Ting came to be thought of as the heads of the movement, along with Wei Yang, because they charged in and gradually grew to be a decision making group within the Legislative Yuan. The media was inside, so they became a leadership body for the movement inside. It naturally became that way. The atmosphere surged towards the center.
Anyway, the core decision making body made many decisions during the Sunflower Movement. Including to organize the large-scale protest on 330. This was one of the key reasons why I decided to withdraw to the core decision making body on the outside. Because I opposed organizing the rally on 330.
I believed that there were still many things the movement could do. They wanted to run off. They felt too tired. So they ran off. They brought all the people together and wanted to have an ending. That people could have something to bring home.
I opposed this way of doing things. And also how they took care of the Executive Yuan incident. That their initial attitude was to separate themselves from this. I also strongly opposed this. Seeing as they had the attention of the media, after this took place, they should have spent all of their energy taking responsibility. They didn’t do this. They decided to separate themselves from the Executive Yuan incident.
I couldn’t accept this. I thought this was a wrong decision. Because although there was a different group of people behind the Executive Yuan incident, the people from the NTU Department of Social Sciences, as the core decision making body, they also lacked legitimacy over the movement.
As for Lin Fei-Fan, he wasn’t a core participant in the occupation plan. He only knew very late. He was notified later on and came to participate. But because he had a lot of experience, when he had the microphone, nobody would fight within over it. Nobody fought with him for the microphone from the beginning.
It was a bit different with Chen Wei-Ting. Chen Wei-Ting participated more, in the meetings and the occupation plan. At the time, two different groups of people planned on occupying. But because we knew each other very well, we joined up very quickly.
Brian Hioe: To change directions, do you feel that your sense of Taiwanese identity is related to your participation in Taiwanese social movements?
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Yoshi Liu: I feel that it is very related. For us old people, the Sunflower Movement opposing the CSSTA is something which was a jumping off point for Taiwanese identity or Taiwanese independence. It was just a tool. It didn’t have to be the CSSTA, it could be anything, so long as it had to do with China. We would all participate and begin to organize on that basis.
With regards opposing the CSSTA, we didn’t have any sense of being moved. We were all very clear on that. Or me anyway. As to why we would pick that issue and fight to the extent that we did, the aim was still to realize Taiwanese independence and nation building.
Brian Hioe: Along those lines, what kind of movement would you say the Sunflower Movement was? Because the most amount of people may have opposed the black box and the least amount of people opposed free trade.
Yoshi Liu: That’s on the surface. That’s my interpretation, anyhow. Many people would oppose my views. [Laughs]
Brian Hioe: So would you say that it was a movement opposed to the KMT? To China?
Yoshi Liu: Yes, opposed to the KMT. Opposed to unification and the United Front. The CSSTA was a large-scale policy aimed at unification, and we had to oppose it. But in the half year before 318, maybe in September, in the middle of 2013, that was the actual start of the movement opposing the CSSTA.
When this began, there were two groups with the same idea. The first was the Taiwan Solidarity Union plus pro-independence groups. Tsay Ting-Kuei and others. The other was Lai Zhongqiang, Civil society groups. Discourse-wise, they weren’t exactly the same.
Relatively speaking, I leaned towards the comparatively right-wing side, the pro-independence groups. But in terms of personal connections, I had more connections to the left-wing. I knew Lai Zhongqiang very well and with him opposed the CSSTA. These two group were also the ones I spoke of regarding the planned occupation and they later joined together. In the beginning, you can’t say it was successful, it was actually a failure. We had no way to attract social attention.
We organized some events, including press conferences and street protests. It was quite small scale. Very small. Such as in 2013, Wei Yang and them went to the Presidential Office, and organized quite an aggressive protest. But it was only about 200 people. Very few people.
Of course, the movement was also opposed to China. Some people deny this. But I think they tend to be people in the political center, who have less understanding of or concern with politics. So they can accept a procedural rationale and support this. Whether it’s a black box or not is not actually so important. What people care about most are substantive issues. If its procedural issue but it doesn’t affect people directly, they won’t oppose this.
Photo credit: Abby Chen/Flickr/CC
Did the Sunflower Movement oppose free trade? Of course, Wei Yang and them opposed free trade. But whether you oppose it or not doesn’t seem like a very real issue to me, because Taiwan doesn’t have the ability to completely block free trade. It’s not a realistic issue.
So if we discuss opposition to free trade, we have to discuss what manner of opposition, to what extent. If you say support for small and medium-sized enterprises and diversification and opposing monopoly by large corporations, of course, we agree. I agree too. But you can’t deny that some industries or some large corporations don’t handle some things, there is no way to. You can’t advocate dissolving all of them. And it’s impossible. That’s reality.
But this was a point of view which existed within the Sunflower Movement. This divided between the left and right. I lean left, but I’m not as left as them, because I’m more realistic. What is not possible, I won’t speak of. It’s just a way to feel self-satisfied, after all.
In that sense, I don’t agree that most people opposed the black box. Maybe of the 500,000 that took to the streets, 300,000 to 400,000 were DPP supporters. They opposed the KMT and United Front. Maybe 100,000 to 200,000 opposed the black box. Or this was one reason.
Brian Hioe: Do you think that there’s any political orientation to Taiwanese social movements? Because people usually say that they are more left-leaning.
Yoshi Liu: I think it’s like that. What I’ve come up with over many years of thinking about it, is that there’s problem with them leaning left. But what I want to emphasize is that there’s a deep difference between Taiwan’s left-wing and the western left-wing. Taiwan’s left-wing contains deep influence from Confucian ideology. You can see some of what I’ve written recently discussing this.
Because Taiwan’s left-wing has a lot of Confucian ideology behind it. They are left-leaning, no doubt, because of concern for the weak and believing that social responsibility is greater than individual responsibility.
Brian Hioe: Three years later, what kind of influence do you think that this movement have? You mentioned that you view it as a failure.
Yoshi Liu: In terms of its demands, this movement has not been successful. What we demanded then was repeal of the CSSTA and the CSSTA has not been repealed. It’s been suspended. The cross-straits oversight bill has not passed either. And for the legislature to be opened up has not happened either. There were four demands, I sort of forget the last one. But it was these three main ones.
Looking at this way, the movement has failed. It didn’t meet its demands. But regarding its social influence, this has been quite comprehensive, including Tsai Ing-Wen taking power. If not for an unexpected circumstance, Tsai would not be able to beat the KMT in 2016 elections. If Ma Ying-Jeou had continued to be in power in a stable manner and there weren’t any large changes, Tsai Ing-Wen probably would not have been able to win. She would have lost only by a margin, but she wouldn’t have been able to win.
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Brian Hioe: What about the appearance of the Third Force?
Yoshi Liu: This goes without saying. The New Power Party grabbed hold of the atmosphere after the Sunflower Movement to attract support.
Brian Hioe: What do you think that social movement participants are doing now, three years later? Yourself or the people around you.
Yoshi Liu: I discussed this earlier. If the DPP takes power, social movements will die off. This is something which happens in Taiwanese history. In the future it may not be like this, but it is like this now. It’s the same situation as when Chen Shui-Bian took power.
Because the DPP, from its origins in the dangwai movement, understands social movements very well. How social movements are conducted, as well as how to co-opt social movements. They continue to do this.
In the future, it won’t be protests taking place everywhere, like during the Ma administration. To speak bluntly, it’s like that.
Brian Hioe: How do you think China looks at the current political circumstances in Taiwan?
Yoshi Liu: China takes a chilly attitude towards it. China has frozen cross-strait relations. Any interactions are now cut off. From this, a lot of cross-strait legal relations have been frozen. I don’t think there’s anything bad about this. [Laughs] If it stops, this may be good for Taiwan.
For those doing business, there may feel there are some changes. But China still treats them quite well. If they think something is worth buying, they still keep buying. So politically and in terms of attitude, it’s trying to teach Taiwan a lesson by freezing channels. But does it help Taiwan to invest or spend money? It doesn’t. What Taiwanese people care about is substance. These political aspects, it doesn’t change.
China hasn’t taken Tsai Ing-Wen as their direct enemy. But they have taken people such as Chen Wei-Ting, or Huang Kuo-Chang, or Lin Fei-Fan as their direct enemies. This is an interesting point. It focused on the Sunflower Movement because the Sunflower Movement had disrupted its plans. And delayed its United Front plans.
I can’t say that it’s blocked them completely, because the movement didn’t have that ability, but what is important is that Tsai isn’t pushing on this now. For the Taiwanese independence movement, this is an important point, since if you ask me what I am doing now, this is what I am working.
What Tsai Ing-Wen doesn’t do, what she’s dropped, what she is afraid to do, is what we should do. I think this will be easier than single-issue social movements, such as Dapu or the environmental movement. But this will still not be easy. You can see this with the anti-nuclear movement. It’s gone from 30,000 to 3,000 people.
However, there is still space for the Taiwanese identity movement or attempts at combating the United Front. This is more political, the Taiwanese independence movement. We have a large plan in the future to push for rectification of Taiwan’s name in 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Brian Hioe: Do you think there there could be a social movement in Taiwan like the Sunflower Movement again? You mentioned that if the DPP has taken power, this won’t happen.
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Yoshi Liu: In the future, maybe twenty years later. This is something that takes place once every ten or twenty years. Because the Sunflower Movement didn’t rise up in a day. It was because of Ma Ying-Jeou and before that, Chen Shui-Bian. Chen Shui-Bian received great grievances. Which led to Ma Ying-Jeou taking power. That led to a lot of dissatisfaction on the part of the people. One thing after another.
The Sunflower Movement was a release for this, which was why it would be so large. This has to accumulate. This needs time to accumulate. It’s a good thing that there are some desires for something more after Tsai Ing-Wen has been in power for a year.
But I think that for something to be so large as the Sunflower Movement is difficult. For there to be conflict on that scale is difficult.
It’s not impossible that it’ll never happen again. Because there aren’t many politicians as brazen as Ma Ying-Jeou. As for Tsai Ing-Wen, whether you say she has guts or doesn’t have guts, it’s less clear. I think she doesn’t have guts though.
Brian Hioe: Lastly, do you think that the Sunflower Movement can influence the international world? Or international social movements?
Yoshi Liu: I don’t dare to say this. As a demonstration, it might be an example. But in many respects, Taiwan doesn’t have a lot of contact with the international world. So I don’t dare to say what kind of influence it will have on the international world.
But I am optimistic that experiences can be exchanged. And I am also optimistic that international social movement organizations can have a branch or chapter in Taiwan.
Taiwan has the geographical advantage of that it is convenient to travel to anywhere in Asia. It’s in the center of Asia, if you look at half of Asia as being ocean. It’s in the middle. It’s a good place. So I am very optimistic that this could happen.
As for whether it could have influence beyond that, to speak frankly, Taiwanese people are sometimes unable to fend themselves. If you ask Taiwanese to pay attention to other countries’ social movements or to participate in them, I believe that this is difficult. Sharing of experiences is possible. But further than that, to participate directly or contribute resources, this is not easy.