Interview: Zhang Kai-Xiang
Zhang Kai-Xiang was a member of the Untouchables’ Liberation Area and currently studies law at Soochow University. The following interview was conducted on September 11th, 2017.
Brian Hioe: How did you begin participating in social movements in Taiwan?
Zhang Kai-Xiang: The beginning was when I was in my junior year of college, 2010, with regard to the Dapu, Miaoli incident. That was when cranes began to break into farm fields. And I began to concern myself more with local social movement issues from then on.
In 2011 was the Fukushima incident, following which I began to pay attention to the anti-nuclear movement. And I came to know Chen Shih-Ting and began to participate in activities of the Green Citizen Action Alliance, such as going to the beach at Fulong—where Gongliao Nuclear Reactor No. 4 is—to protest. I came to become slowly become more concerned with political issues and social movements.
Brian Hioe: How did you began to participate in events such as the Dapu, Miaoli incident? You came to know people and began to participate with them?
Demolition of the Chang family pharmacy in Dapu, Miaoli. Photo credit: PNN/WikiCommons/CC
Zhang Kai-Xiang: In school, there were different student groups. I came to know different issues through them. There was also the school organized by the Taiwan Rural Front, organized by Tsai Pei-Hui.
Brian Hioe: I see.
Zhang Kai-Xiang: Regarding the Dapu incident, on July 17th in 2010, there was the attempt to occupy Ketagalan Boulevard. That was the first time I participated in a social movement on-site.
Brian Hioe: What were you doing at the time of the Sunflower Movement?
Zhang Kai-Xiang: At that time, I only knew that there was an activity regarding the CSSTA. It was only after that I found out that there was an attempt to storm the Legislative Yuan from friends and I went. I didn’t know before that.
Brian Hioe: Me too. [Laughs]
Zhang Kai-Xiang: It wasn’t like how some people knew, because of meetings before. We were just people that got pulled in and charged.
Brian Hioe: When you participated in the movement, what did you do?
Zhang Kai-Xiang: In the beginning, I charged inside, and helped set up chairs and barriers to block the police. And there was the slow process of organization after that.
I was quite distant and did some things to try and connect things together. There were several groups which were formed, one of which was the “Updates” working group which connected the inside and outside, which worked together with g0v, who brought their engineers into the legislature.
We were responsible for organizing changes in shifts, passing on information between the inside and outside, and bringing people inside and outside. This kind of work.
Brian Hioe: Did you come to participate in the Untouchables’ Liberation Area through friends, as well?
Zhang Kai-Xiang: It was near the end of the month. In the beginning, I was on the inside. It was after I went outside that I began to look around the occupation, realized that they were there, and to begin participating in their activities. Because they were also my friends. The people from G-Straight Coffee, I already knew.
Protest banner for G-Straight Coffee. Photo credit: G-Straight Coffee
Brian Hioe: So you knew left-wing people?
Zhang Kai-Xiang: It was because of the school organized by the Taiwan Rural Front that I knew Yang Zixuan and other people from G-Straight Coffee. Zixuan, Zijie, Shih-Ting. Before, they organized a fundraiser party, and I went there out of interest. I found that they were using music and art to organize.
Brian Hioe: So you felt that music and art gave social movements a different feeling?
Zhang Kai-Xiang: It’s a tool. And it’s also a way to enter into a movement.
Brian Hioe: For example, for me, participating in social movements abroad, like in Japan or America, it surprised me to see that in Taiwan music and art were a part of social movements. To this extent anyway. Even in Occupy Wall Street or something like that, it wasn’t to this scale.
Zhang Kai-Xiang: I thought using these different means affected me quite deeply. Social movements didn’t have to be uninteresting. This was a means, anyhow.
Brian Hioe: There were some conflicts between members of the Untouchables’ Liberation Area and members of the movement mainstream. Do you have any views regarding this? Particularly regarding 324 or the decision to withdraw from the Legislative Yuan.
Zhang Kai-Xiang: I think it has a lot to do with the space and internal politics in the Legislative Yuan. The second floor felt a bit like first-rank participants and the first floor felt like slave workers. There were eight doors in the Legislative Yuan. Huang Yan-Ru was in charge of maintaining the doors. Like a boss. Every door had to be watched, which was what I also was responsible for.
Brian Hioe: Regarding 324, were you there inside the Legislative Yuan?
Zhang Kai-Xiang: Yeah. There were some things which happened the day before. Before, I think it was some music groups, they wanted to charge into the Legislative Yuan. Some people felt stuck, so they wanted to charge in.
I felt conflicted then, because our own people were conflicting with each other. There some divisions in the movement, which is common. Everyone had different views, because they were concerned about the issue. I felt that I had to protect the inside then, I didn’t think about heading outside to see what was going on. I found out through Facebook, through other people, since I seem to recall I couldn’t use my cell phone then.
Brian Hioe: I see. I was one of those who charged on 324. I also didn’t know what was going on, since I was pulled into it.
Zhang Kai-Xiang: I felt that the first floor was somewhat disconnected from the events. I suggested using some kind of means to connect news, to make sure information was being passed along. I think later on, some means was established. I wanted to make sure that information was being passed along more smoothly between both sides.
But I also think police were restricting movement between the both sides. Later on, people could leave and enter. I remember the “Updates” group were allowed to move freely in and out, which was why I could come and go later on when the Untouchables’ Liberation Area was formed.
Much later, people people weren’t allowed to come and go, so I guess that’s special about my experience. Restrictions were placed on those who entered. I heard that people on the second floor discovered weapons.
Photo credit: MrWiki321/WikiCommons/CC
Brian Hioe: Weapons and gasoline.
Zhang Kai-Xiang: The second floor felt more militaristic. The person in charge was Wang Yun-Hsiang. He felt more imposing. Like the head of the Ministry of National Defense.
Brian Hioe: What did you think about 324? Regarding what occurred?
Zhang Kai-Xiang: Regarding those who charged? Or the police?
Brian Hioe: Both. I charged then, so I know that many people disapproved.
Zhang Kai-Xiang: I only found out later, but it seemed then that the ones who decided on the action were a number of forces, including the NTU Department of Social Sciences, and others.
Brian Hioe: I was at the NTU Department of Social Sciences.
Zhang Kai-Xiang: It seemed like some people there wanted to take over the duties of the second floor. I was just an observer on the second floor, but I wasn’t at NTU, I was in my fifth year at Soochow University.
Brian Hioe: What about the withdrawal? I know that some of the people on the second floor weren’t happy about that.
Zhang Kai-Xiang: Let’s talk about the Executive Yuan first. I think the nation can’t treat citizens like that. Maybe they felt it was a loss of face for two of the five yuans to be occupied that day. It’s like the current situation with the Universiade, in which nobody knows who is responsible.
The police who violently attacked demonstrators that day, this is something we still don’t know who is responsible for the beatings after three years. You can still the restriction on freedoms from the KMT, dating back to the authoritarian period. Even if the end of martial law was thirty years ago, the influence is still there.
Brian Hioe: I agree.
Zhang Kai-Xiang: With regards to the withdrawal, there are those who say that it was necessary, but they also didn’t take into account the consensus of the people in the Legislative Yuan, particularly on the first floor.
On the second floor, they had a meeting. I participated in some of the meetings on the second floor, but only as an observer. I asked if I could participate, but I didn’t feel as though I could participate.
It was Tsai Pei-Hui and others, some more important people, such as scholars as Huang Kuo-Chang, or some NTU or Tsinghua University people, who may have understood more about these kinds of circumstances.
And we felt like we couldn’t say as much, or that they understood more. I wasn’t very central. I only went in later on, so I didn’t understand what was going on, and if they had to explain it again, they might lose their patience. They might say that it was because of the movement influencing the outside space or the police or other peoples’ lives.
So there was a structure there, regarding privilege. But they might say that they had pressure in making such large decisions in such a short amount of time. They were always smoking, it felt like. It seemed quite tiring. They probably have their views.
Brian Hioe: Do you feel that your participation in the Sunflower Movement or other Taiwanese social movements has to do with Taiwanese identity?
Zhang Kai-Xiang: It would be lying to say that there’s no relation. I don’t hate Chinese people, I hate the Chinese government. And there is the China factor in terms of attempts by China to use economic means to influence Taiwan. They can buy up our media and our industries. It does have to do with Taiwan becoming part of China.
Photo credit: Felix the Bear/Flickr/CC
Brian Hioe: What about the KMT? Would you say it was an anti-China movement? An anti-KMT movement? Or an anti-free trade movement?
Zhang Kai-Xiang: I think there were anti-China and anti-KMT elements. At the time, Ma Ying-Jeou was already quite unpopular following Dapu and other incidents in which people died. But regarding those opposed to free trade, this was something opposed among activists among those who called themselves “left independence”, such as the Black Island Youth Front.
Later on, I participated in the Black Island Youth Front, deciding to join them after I left the Legislative Yuan. My ex-girlfriend was part of them. There some reading groups organized by the Black Island Youth Front which I attended.
But I felt that was a minority. It was much more often a reaction to the China factor. It’s a minority of social movement activists. Taiwan already joined the WTO in 2002, after all. There was no opposition then. Maybe there was minority opposition. But it’s very tough. Because Taiwan is a capitalist country. The KMT did it this way, so it’s very difficult.
Brian Hioe: How would you look at the political views of social movement participants in Taiwan? Because I feel a lot of people would say that they are more left-wing or progressive. Like maybe not radical left, but left-leaning.
Zhang Kai-Xiang: There are many movements. Sexuality. Land. Occupied lands. Urban renewal. Or environmentalism. And labor. There are a lot of varieties of movements. Including some more local movements. So this is very diverse.
Regarding how to describe the political views of social movements…Social movements maybe include anti-death penalty people. But I also encounter people may have not supported the Sunflower Movement but are against the death penalty. Or same-sex marriage. Most people in social movement circles support same-sex marriage.
Brian Hioe: Three years later, what kind of effects do you think that social movements have had on influencing Taiwanese politics? Did you think it had an effect?
Zhang Kai-Xiang: I think so. Because when I participated in social movements in college—I studied law—so when I participated in social movement groups, there wasn’t a lot of independent groups. Most of my peers were concerned with tests or their future. And people would ask me, “Don’t you care about your future, not just thinking about these things?”
I felt after 318, more people felt that politics—politics weren’t something we had been taught when we were a kid. They just taught you about voting or the electoral system, they wouldn’t discuss social issues or politics. When I was in high school, we were still taught Tridemism. So I became enlightened about such matters quite late.
Like I said, I began participating in social movements when I was a junior. But I’ve discovered that a lot of young people, as early as high school, are beginning to establish student groups, reading groups, and so forth. Like female high school students demonstrating against being made to wear skirts and wanting to be allowed to wear pants. The age of those who become “awakened” to these issues is becoming lower and lower. High school students have more sense about politics than we did.
Brian Hioe: Like the occupation of the Ministry of Education in 2015.
Zhang Kai-Xiang: I know there are some student groups concerned with similar issues, such as rural issues or environmental issues. Or Daguan neighborhood. They probably began participation in these kinds of issues after 318.
Brian Hioe: What do you think activists are doing now? Because as I see it, people participating in social movements since Tsai Ing-Wen took office have decreased in number.
Zhang Kai-Xiang: That’s right. Now is when the DPP has taken office, so I think that’s a test for activists. Like you were criticizing the KMT and Ma Ying-Jeou before, but now the DPP is in office, so if you were just criticizing the KMT…for example, I feel that there are not a lot of voices speaking up about the Forward-Looking Infrastructure Bill.
So the environment has changed. The DPP has taken power. I don’t think it’s like there is a large shared enemy anymore, people have returned to local issues. People may begin from their living environments, such as their neighborhood, and think of what are the next steps to take. It may begin from what is most basic. From the grassroots.
Photo credit: Felix the Bear/Flickr/CC
Brian Hioe: Do you think there could be a movement on the scale of the Sunflower Movement?
Zhang Kai-Xiang: If it is in terms of occupying the Legislative Yuan, I don’t think there will be a second time. the government will make sure of that. But with regards to movements opposed to China, there might be. There are incidents like the Lee Ming-Che incident, for example.
But I feel somewhat pessimistic. It feels like a lot of people have forgotten about the Lee Ming-Che incident and that it is primarily activists who are concerned with it. With the DPP in power, they want to have good relations with China, too, so I feel that this will occur no matter it is pan-Blue camp in power or the pan-Green camp.
This is Taiwan’s sadness. We’re caught between China and America, after all. For Taiwan to exist, the DPP also needs to maintain a balance. The DPP may be more local and people may think they will be less pro-China, but they still have to maintain a balance, and heed carefully the views of the upper stratums of society.
Brian Hioe: Do you think people will protest the DPP? Like during the Sunflower Movement against the KMT.
Zhang Kai-Xiang: I don’t think the strength will be as large. The KMT has left historical scars on Taiwan, which in part why there is such a large reaction against it. But the DPP is a bit too self-confident after taking power. People allowed the DPP to take power not because they identify with it necessarily but because the KMT did poorly.
Brian Hioe: I think a lot of people feel that way. Lastly, do you think the Sunflower Movement can influence international social movements? Like left-wing international movements.
Zhang Kai-Xiang: Hong Kong had an occupation of the Legislative Council on June 6th regarding development plans in the New Territories. But I didn’t notice this right away, I found out after. It was only when I was looking over the past few years that I realized that this took place. That seemed to be the first time that this occurred in the history of Hong Kong. That’s an “international” movement. Question mark, given Hong Kong’s status.
Brian Hioe: What about Japan or Hong Kong or the Philippines?
Zhang Kai-Xiang: I think there is influence where the media is concerned. Different countries’ media reacted to the occupation of the Legislative Yuan. The translator group was quite amazing, connecting with Taiwanese students in American, Australia, France, and elsewhere regarding solidarity efforts and support. But that’s not international, since those were Taiwanese students abroad, not other countries. Is that international?
Photo credit: Felix the Bear/Flickr/CC
Brian Hioe: I think so. It’s hard to say.
Zhang Kai-Xiang: Taiwan’s international status is quite unique. So it’s very difficult. It’s hard for individuals internationally to identify with this. Well, there’s Hong Kong, the Umbrella Movement in September. There was influence there. That’s worth remembering.
It’s harder for Japan or South Korea because of the higher linguistic barrier. I don’t know how it is. But I think a lot can be learned from Korea, as we see in the Kwangju Incident.
I only slowly learned about movements in other parts of Asia after 318, such as how South Korea would have a strong sense of democracy because of the scars of past history, as we see with the Kim government in which there were shootings and killings. That was only 30 years ago, whereas 228 was 70 years ago and has to a large extent been forgotten. Maybe there were less cameras or video then, so the documents and oral history are what we primarily have.