Interview: Lai Yu-Fen
Lai Yu-Fen was one of the members of the Black Island Youth Front. The following interview was conducted on November 1st, 2017.
Brian Hioe: 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?
Lai Yu-Fen: I was born in 1995. So in 2012 or 2013, that was my sophomore year of high school. On the Internet, I began to read some articles regarding media monopoly, and from then on, I began to become interested in these kinds of shared issues. Later on, after my junior year, and testing into college, I had some free time. I went to high school in Kaohsiung. So I began to attend some panels organized by local organizations.
Photo credit: Toomore Chiang/Flickr/CC
Because of this, I got to know some social movement people in southern Taiwan. I remember quite clear, then the Anti-Media Monopoly Youth Alliance (反媒體壟斷青年聯盟). Chen Wei-Ting and Lin Fei-Fan went around Taiwan and, in the end, they went to the south and organized a talk. I went. I got to know some people who were local organizers. And I became more familiar with this.
Later on, after testing into college, I tested into Tsinghua University. One of my seniors from the south, Zhang Ziling, kept saying to me that I could participate in a social movement group or something like that. So I entered Radical Notes. That was in September of 2013.
In 2013 to 2014, there were different small and large protests, because there were land movement issues and the Hung Chun-Hsiu incident. So after entering in September, it was quite fast, I remember that after starting class, the first week or the second week later, the Black Island Youth Front had just formed and was about to hold a press conference. They were looking for spokespeople and our student group didn’t have anyone who could go to Taipei, so I went myself.
It was my press first conference. Originally, I wouldn’t have had to say anything, I thought I would just have to hold up a placard or something like that. But after getting there, that was the first time I saw, Wei Yang, and he saw that I was a junior, and he asked if I wanted to go up and give a speech. It was quite sudden.
They had just formed then, so afterwards they held a workshop, which lasted for three days and two nights. I originally went there to meet with friends and after staying there, I ate dinner with them. I asked Wei Yang how I should give money for pizza to them, and he said, “No need! Just join us, then you don’t have to pay!” [Laughs] And so at the end of September, I became one of their members.
Before 318, the Black Island Youth didn’t have a good situation. Because there weren’t very many people, and the issues weren’t paid attention to by a lot of people. For example, the CSSTA was an issue which required a lot of understanding and if you weren’t an expert, you wouldn’t know how to discuss it.
When we had activities and proposals then, it was quite tough. For example, on Double Ten Day, we had an action to protest Ma Ying-Jeou crossing a line. It was the same day as a protest by Citizen 1985. Then, there was a discussion as to the orientation of social movements, as well as how we were treated differently. Because the Black Island Youth Front had very few people, but our actions would attract a large amount of police and be suppressed. But on the other side, on Ketagalan Boulevard, there would be large amount of people and not a lot of police and it would be very peaceful and rational.
So at that time, I participated social movement organizations, both on campus and off, putting my energy into this. Including the Black Island Youth, as well as Miaoli, seeing as that was when the owner of the Chang family pharmacy had just passed away and the Miaoli Youth formed. I went to all of these. It felt like I had a lot of things in my life.
But during that time, the Black Island Youth Front’s situation was not too great. I remember quite clearly, one time, we worked with with what is now the Economic Democracy Union, what was then the Democratic Government. We would meet with them to discuss issues and the progress of organization.
The organization was too small or everyone was too busy, so nobody attended meetings. I remember once, Chen Ting-Hao found me, and asked me, “Can you go to the meeting tonight? And when you get there, can you contact someone named Yen Wanling?” And that’s how I got to know Wanling from the Democratic Government and held meetings with the lawyers there. [Laughs] And I attended the meeting with Lai Zhongqiang.
Ting-Hao said not to worry, but to attend, and to tell what the situation and what they discussed and to bring this back to the organization and this would fine. So I went with another person, Chen Wei-Cheng, who was also in the Black Island Youth Front. We didn’t know what we were doing, we just went to attend the meeting, and when we arrived, I remember that Lai Zhongqiang and the others were discussing the contents of the CSSTA.
I couldn’t understand, but I wrote down notes to bring back. And they also asked me why the Black Island Youth Front would send a young girl like me who didn’t seem to know what going on to the meeting. [Laughs]
You can feel that the organization was quite disorganized. So I may have been a core participant. After the end of the year, because we had some issues within the organization to address anger between members, because of this, I got to know Lai Pingyu better. Up until March, I knew her better. But before that, I can’t say that I knew everyone in the organization. I may have just known a few people. Such as Lai Pingyu or Wei Yang.
Up until the beginning of 2013, I remember that there were many actions. Up to March, there was the Shilin Wang family struggle, and incident in which one of the members of the Wang family wanted to give up. But we still had some actions, such as wading off the area. So I went then.
That was probably on March 7th or 8th, in the first week of March. I went on-site and stayed there for three or four days until before 318. I went there and helped out with some friends and, later on, the week before 318, Lin Fei-Fan posted on Facebook stating that the next week, there seemed to be a set time in which the KMT was predicted to pass the CSSTA. He found some people in the Black Island Youth Front in order that we would be aware of this and could take care of this. Later on, in the middle of March, I participated in this. In the 2 or 3 days before, there was one night when we were in a Ten Ren’s Tea Shop with a booth, and Huang Kuo-Chang and some people discussing how we would take action and so forth.
Photo credit: othree/Flickr/CC
That process was outside of our expectations, because we planned out one week of actions. I seem to remember that there would be public hearings before that and we planned to have a sit-in. On Thursday, we would take action. But on Monday, the Chang Ching-Chung incident took place, and so then, we organized an emergency activity to have a sit-in for 120 hours or something. I made the image for the event, using my poor drawing skills. Everybody felt that the pace was too quick. We later decided that that night we might have to do something that was larger scale.
That night, I thought we would go over in the afternoon. So I went to Pingyu’s house to rest a bit and when it was at night, Zeng Poyu called us and said that we should discuss, that we needed people there. We went and felt that there might not be anything too significant, so we left our stuff there. We went to the Labor Front’s office and they had drawings on the whiteboard of what we were planning to do afterwards. And that we should look for people nearby.
I had a feeling then, which was all of the young social movement participants I knew had gathered there. Including some upperclassmen from the department of sociology at Tsinghua, who we might have known from actions. Or people from Miaoli, from the Miaoli Youth. And everyone started to divide into groups, between three different routes. One route had two groups assigned to it. Each group may have been about ten people. Because I knew people, so someone said, “Why don’t you be responsible for this group, then?” And so I raised my hand and some people from the Department of Sociology went with me. Including Zhou Fuyi and Jiemin from the Miaoli Youth.
So on Qingdao Road or somewhere, we would charge and climb over the wall. We still needed people, so we went downstairs and walked around, and found people we knew. And at the rally, we found people we knew and told them to gather at a certain point. I ran into Chen Wei-Ting and we nodded at each other, that later on, that we would all do this. There was that atmosphere.
That night, when everyone went in, Wei Yang was responsible for the rally, and then they called more people inside. When it began, we originally planned for this to happen very quickly. In the beginning we ten people or so were pushing with the police and trying to push the police out. And it was empty on the inside.
With a senior from Tsing Hua, in that space, we decided to let everyone know that we had been there. We started to knock down some chairs and make this a mess. I ran up to the speaker’s podium, where Wang Jinpyng stands, and I used the light from my cell phone to see what was up there. It was a report on the city government or something like that and we felt very angry and so my senior went and tore it to pieces. It was very messy.
But later, everyone was like, “No! No! We have to make it very orderly!” So I thought wondered what we were doing. And I took out the ribbons and banners from inside by bag and etc. That was the first night. Back then, everything was very chaotic.
On 323 or on 324, the inside and outside were both very chaotic, including, for example, we were on the inside people were being dragged away out. And we had a meeting by the table in the Legislative Yuan, with Shih I-lun, Jiahua, and others.
I just remember that we kept having meetings then. At that time, because the media was suddenly very concerned with this, and we needed people to go on television shows, Huang Yu-Fen said to me, “Why don’t you go on the program and go record?”
So it was a very tiring situation. On the inside, there were things, with meeting after meeting. But we didn’t have a very set structure as to who could participate in meetings and who couldn’t. Other times, when there was time, we would be dragged off to appear on a program and then come back and attend more meetings.
Only up until sometime after March 20th did we start to divide labor between the media group and other working groups. I think it may be because I was put on the list of people who were sent to appear on television programs or something and had been counted among the Black Island Youth Front from the beginning, so I was put on the work list, and because I had been interviewed on television, was put in the media group.
From the beginning, I was very certain that I should be part of the media group, and so I stayed in that position. Up until after 323, things became more and more intense, and we started to discuss the issue of who could participate in meetings. I think it was because of my position as part of the Black Island Youth Front that I was able to participate in discussions and meetings. But, of course in the middle, there were some conflicts.
Brian Hioe: I remember that the media seemed to think that everyone in the Legislative Yuan was part of the Black Island Youth Front then.
Photo credit: 432_P/Flickr/CC
Lai Yu-Fen: That’s right. But the situation was because our Facebook page was used to send out announcements and so the outside world thought that everyone was part of the Black Island Youth Front. I was surprised at this, I thought it was quite funny.
You wouldn’t notice this in the beginning of the movement. Later on, when people were more critical of the decision makers or the decision making process, did people start to pay attention to whether people were part of the Black Island Youth Front or not. This became very important. In reality, it was whether to participate in the meetings or to represent the movement, and so people began to divide as to who was really part of the Black Island Youth Front and who wasn’t. For me, I felt that I hadn’t realized this in the beginning, but when I realized this, this was around March 23rd or 24th or afterwards.
After that, something big happened, which was that Wei Yang was caught up in the Executive Yuan incident. The original way of taking care of things was that we were going with what was originally decided, which was acting as though this hadn’t happened and to separate the Legislative Yuan and Executive Yuan.
However, nobody had thought that what took place at the Executive Yuan would be so large. The reaction within the Legislative Yuan was also maintaining the original decision, people were hesitant, discussing whether to make a statement or not. But Wei Yang was there and we later made a statement.
After the statement was made, people in the Black Island Youth Front were very angry. Lai Pingyu directly said that the convenor of the Black Island Youth Front was Wei Yang. You can’t involve this group of people in the movement and cut off its convenor. What should this organization do in the future, then?
I thought that we couldn’t do this because Wei Yang was someone who was very crucial to this organization and someone important to me. I hadn’t thought about the future of this organization or how the organization was defined, I just thought that this was my friend, I thought that he was in a bad position.
As a result, on the 23rd, several Black Island Youth Front members argued with Lin Fei-Fan very severely. [Laughs] Everyone knew about this later. I remember that they originally may have been resting, but Pingyu, Boyu, and I, as well as Huang Yan-Ru or someone else, told him that we couldn’t do this. And there was too many news reports and it was too divided. So they couldn’t get all of the information, so they had different interpretations of what was going on.
For example, before the Executive Yuan incident, during the start of the movement, Wei Yang had large conflict with Wei Liulin, maybe regarding who controlled the space on Qingdao East Road. But during that time, Chen Wei-Ting said something and I told him, “No, no, you have to notice. Wei Liulin may say this about you, but he’s said this-and-this about Wei Yang. I’ve heard this. You can’t just assume this. You’ve also only been inside, outside, including by the Department of Social Sciences or those things, you may be distant from this. So you may have your own view.”
I remember that when we were arguing, I reminded him of this, telling him this, and that you couldn’t let this person treat Wei Yang that way. That the information you get is like this. So we decided to hold a press conference.
There was a large turning point from that night, which was that from that night onwards, I began to be more aware of being within this organization, the Black Island Youth Front. That because there were very few people from the Black Island Youth Front within the Legislative Yuan, and they were all women—you know that gender was also an issue within the Legislative Yuan. After then, I realized that there were some things that if I didn’t take care of, nobody would. That we had to watch some things.
Later on, this movement also was the start of my encountering feminism. Because before this big movement, I had some contact with discussion of issues involving gender, but I didn’t have consciousness regarding this. Which is surprising, because the contexts I stayed in were very male-focused. Such as Radical Notes at Tsinghua University. That group was generally all men. My seniors, such as Chen Wei-Ting or Wei Yang, or others, were all men.
I was the first woman who was president of the club. Before this, this group was also labelled in social movement circles as all being men and social movement leaders, but that there were no women. For me, I hadn’t considered this, as well as gender within social movements, and whether this led to any different perspectives from other people. This may have been up until before 318, since I was more friendly with Pingyu, and had some unclear views.
But in the Legislative Yuan, it was a very strange space. There may have been some conflicts between people before, but within this space, this would be expanded greatly. Including regarding feelings. You would feel that so-and-so couldn’t be trusted or was very hateful. Up until then, it hadn’t been very important, but now it was like this.
Including regarding gender. So I would become more aware of this and try to learn more about this. That was part of why I would take gender and sexuality studies as my minor later on. This was quite a large influence on me, personally.
Brian Hioe: What kind of feelings do you have about these large events, such as 330 or the withdrawal from the Legislative Yuan?
Photo credit: othree/Flickr/CC
Lai Yu-Fen: Let me try and remember what happened during all those days on a daily basis. I remember getting up and there was a meeting in the morning. An internal meeting among the media group. And another meeting which took place the work group of workers within the Legislative Yuan. I also attended this.
I also attended the communication group’s meeting. One or two days, we also had to go to the Department of Social Sciences to have a meeting. I also went once or twice with Fuyi. And I also sat in on the nine-person decision making group, but we would take turns. So I only may have attended three or four times.
But under these circumstances, relatively speaking, I had a higher position than other people who may have worked hard. I had a lot of leverage to say what what I felt or to participate in decision making. Concerning the decision to withdraw or organizing actions, when discussing this, I felt that, “No matter how we decide this, the people outside will still not be satisfied.” And I also felt that I didn’t like marches or rallies, but I agreed that they were good for the movement.
In terms of realistic organization, there were some people that had already become so-called leaders. So I felt that if this wasn’t done well, it would just be allowing these people to have an even higher position. And we still didn’t have any way to take care of the sentiments of the people on the outside.
I didn’t oppose marches or withdrawing, I was just very frustrated. I knew that some things would happen, but I didn’t have any way to change this. So my most important job then was pacifying the people outside. Although it seems like a very sad way of looking at it, I really felt that way at the time. For example, before withdrawing, we went in turns to Alley 8, Jinan Road, and other places to discuss and explain with people outside the Legislative Yuan and communicate with them.
One night, I and Fuyi and maybe Shih I-lun, along with Chen Wei-Ting and Lin Fei-Fan, went to Alley 8 or somewhere, It was completely full of people who were dissatisfied and they all were asking us questions and we had to respond to everyone about what we wanted to do and so forth. And we kept responding. I kept standing up, I was too afraid to sit down, since I felt that we were facing the people. With this kind of meeting, you had to admit that this was very draining.
But there were many such things and I felt that this is everyone’s responsibility. Because the reality of the movement was that because the police didn’t leave and we were cut off from the outside world, we were an isolated island and the people inside became focused on this. This wasn’t a very equal situation.
Brian Hioe: To change directions, do you think that your participation in this movement has to do with your sense of Taiwanese identification?
Lai Yu-Fen: I think so. Because on April 7th, there was the anniversary of Chen Nan-Jung’s death. So there were many decorations then. I think that before participating in the movement, independence was something which people knew was a consensus among social movement participants, but when you think of the independence movement, you would think of Dr. Tsay and other middle aged or older individuals working very hard on this. But that they couldn’t find young people to help them out.
After this movement, Youth Against Oppression, such as Aman Wu or other young people advocating independence appeared. This was really because of the movement, including that in April, everyone very directly expressed their views and that everyone would change photos on Facebook and discuss this. What is also significant is that this movement would rise up because this movement had a core issue, which was the China factor.
In confronting this core issue, you would discuss your core views. And before this movement, the Black Island Youth had staked out a position for itself as a “left independence” organization. Fro 2013 onwards, Wei Yang kept saying that we had to be a “left independence” organization. You would think that this was because within social movements, there wasn’t an organization which had as many young people which emphasized being left-wing as well as being pro-independence.
It was very evident that from the beginning, the Black Island Youth Front identified as supporting Taiwanese independence, following the path of left-wing politics. That includes during the movement. Of course, what is a shame is that during the movement, because of tactical considerations, this sometimes wasn’t expressed so strongly. But if, during the occupation, you asked some core members such as Chen Weisheng and them, they might tell you what their position was.
Brian Hioe: What would you say this movement was opposed to, in that sense? Because the most amount of people may have been opposed to the black box, with the added layers of opposition to the KMT or China. The least amount of people may have been opposed to free trade. How would you explain this?
Photo credit: Felix the Bear/Flickr/CC
Lai Yu-Fen: Yes. Because like the issue of unification versus independence, during the movement, everybody would want to avoid controversial issues. But that would make our viewpoints less clear, as well mask internal conflicts.
When asked on television programs, you would want to avoid talking about this, but this would be very difficult to endure. It had a very important value to us. But some people might say quite directly that they participated because of this reason and not because of that reason. In the latter half of the occupation, I remember I was talking with someone in the Black Island Youth Front—I forget who—but we discussed about that the people were there to oppose the black box. We thought maybe over half opposed both the black box and the CSSTA.
But when discussing free trade, because Pingyu and I appeared on some television shows then, we would talk about how to talk about it beforehand. Our positions are closer. We think that Taiwan is an island nation. You can’t break off all free trade. So our position was that we felt that free trade was necessary, but there needs to be a framework to avoid danger. Or to avoid things going wrong. This is not just regarding China, although one may need to be more careful regarding China, but also includes with other countries. Nonetheless, we didn’t oppose all free trade.
Wei Cheng and Wei Yang wanted to pursue a very left direction, for example, Chen Wei Cheng was opposed to most forms of free trade. In the movement, less people discussed this. We felt that we had a responsibility, seeing as if you have the microphone, we had to express some viewpoints. So we would check with each other about our points of view.
Regarding independence and unification, this was the same way. Jiang Yi-Hua came out with later on with other another statement, saying that we were disrupting the ROC constitution and one country, two interpretations. When meeting within the Legislative Yuan, Lai Zhongqiang said that we should respond that, “According to the ROC constitution, there isn’t one country, two interpretations. That’s all. But don’t discuss Taiwanese independence.”
I felt that this was quite hard to accept. [Laughs] That we couldn’t talk about Taiwanese independence. And everybody felt awkward, since we all felt that we should say this, but we were afraid of conflict or that the KMT could distort our perspectives. I remember that Lai Zhongqiang, Huang Kuo-Chang, and Lin Fei-Fan were there and it seemed okay to them. But Chen Wei-Ting seemed unable to accept this, saying that, “What? But I’m a Taiwanese independence youth. I can’t say this?” It was quite painful. It was that kind of decision making. This was there in the movement from the beginning, whether in terms of policy or positions, or responses to the public.
Brian Hioe: Do you think that there is any political orientation to social movements in Taiwan? Many people will say that they are more left-leaning and are progressive on a number of issues, ranging from opposition to the death penalty to support for same-sex marriage.
Lai Yu-Fen: Because social movement participants are very spoiled! [Laughs] Or maybe because there are more intellectuals, people who have taken classes in sociology, or if not having majored in sociology, may have majored in politics or law. Everyone would have this kind of awareness that, for example, with concern with social issues, you might say that you are concerned with these issues and, to take it a step further, you may that you are left-wing or have to stand with the laborers or something like that.
I think it also may have to do with social circles. For example, regarding same-sex marriage, it may be that you might not have views regarding every issue, but the people around may participate in this single-issue movement with you while also working on another issue at the same time and that may influence you. Knowing that someone is working on these things at the same time and what these views on the movement are, you may understand the issue more. And so when asked, you might automatically lean towards being more progressive.
Such as opposition to the death penalty. I remember quite clearly that when I first encountered this issue, I wasn’t so concerned with this. When I would see famous people quite far from me personally say that they opposed the death penalty, I would see that they opposed the death penalty. But because of my social circles, I would start to consider this issue. Maybe after the Cheng Chieh incident, I started to read more articles and got to know some people, so I would start to consider as to why and what the reasons were. After two years, then my position had changed, and now it’s like now, in which I am quite okay saying that I am firmly opposed to the death penalty.
But it took two years, because this is a more remote issue. However, this process can also be seen in other issues. For example, someone, in joining these circles, may be female, but not concerned with feminism. However, some incident may occur or they may see what people around them are working on, and they may become curious. From their experience, they come to know how they might come to know the issue better if they want to, or what kind of things they could consider or what kind of talks to go listen to. And, more your average person, they can consider this moreso, and more easily think about what discussing this is for the sake of.
Photo credit: Felix the Bear/Flickr/CC
Brian Hioe: Three years later, what kind of influence do you think this movement has had on Taiwanese politics? Many people will raise the election victory of Tsai Ing-Wen or Ko Wen-Je, for example, or the appearance of the Third Force.
Lai Yu-Fen: I think that on November 29th, in 2014, near the end of the year, it was a big thing. Everyone thought that the KMT would start to stir up internal conflict and it was very clear that politics would absorb the force of social movements.
Many people I knew from social movements went to work in politics. This is also something that is very easily to imagine, because in the 1990s, a wave of social movement people were absorbed into politics.
This included. I was in the Department of the Humanities and Social Sciences and at the end of 2014, I interned in the DPP for a year. Why would I start do this? I don’t rule out any path in life. And political work is a new thing which I hadn’t experienced. I saw so many people around me going to work in politics, so I thought I wanted to know what the difference was, and to experience this and try this out. So I went and did this.
The DPP also had an internship program then, which is quite interesting. Connection networks are quite interesting. Because many people in the sociology department would go work in the DPP. The two presidents of Radical Notes before me went to participate in this internship plan, with Lin Chia-Lung. Huang Yu-Fen also participated in this, although I think this was in an NGO. And Wei Yang worked at Yao Wen-Chih’s.
I thought that all these upperclassmen at Tsinghua had gone through this, why not try this as well? And I wanted to know what politics was like. So I went and became an intern. When this ended, I spent more time in 2015 with the Black Island Youth Front. Because the organization was also transitioning then and I spent a long time inside, not even going to class. [Laughs]
Up to 2015, during the vacation, Handy Chiu from the NPP was going to run for office and Wei Yang and I were invited by him to a meeting, seeing as he needed people. Because Chiu was in Hsinchu and there were a lot of things which happened at Tsinghua, he helped us out a lot and so because we knew him, we thought we could help him out with his election campaign awhile.
And we later recruited Chen Wei-Ting. There were ten people in the groups like this, who were students. We also recruited the head of the social movement group at National Chiao Tung University, Huang Guangwei, and Meng Hua from the sociology department, who is now a spokesperson for the DPP. That network of Tsinghua students and Chiao Tung students was very small. We were in that group.
What is very clear is that after the Sunflower Movement, where politics is concerned, the KMT’s political power was undermined, at least in terms of elections. And a lot of participants were absorbed into the Third Force or DPP to work. You can see this with regards to myself, as well.
Photo credit: othree/Flickr/CC
Brian Hioe: What do you think that social movement participants are doing now, three years later? You see that some people have entered politics and that some people may have gone back to doing what they were doing before.
Lai Yu-Fen: Yes. I think that first, many people have entered politics. Maybe it has to do with myself and the circles I am closer to. I’m farther from the labor movement. So what I can talk about more is regarding social movement groups. And I also went to a so-called famous school, Tsinghua.
Around me, perhaps because of personal connections, a lot of people may have gone to work in political parties. But this may not be because of this movement. These personal connections may have existed before the movement. For example, before the movement, some of the people in the department of sociology may have been in the DPP or DPP-leaning groups. This movement may have led more people like this to enter the DPP.
Brian Hioe: Do you have any views on how China may view the current political circumstances of Taiwan?
Lai Yu-Fen: I was thinking about this before. It’s very clear that after 2014, China may have realized that it may have been blocked by civil society, but China still will want to try to push this red line regarding independence and unification issues and see how sensitive this has become. I think China wants to continue to test the waters.
Such as in 2016, with the Ma-Xi meeting. At that time, there was the feeling that people didn’t pay as much attention to this. People paid attention, but if you really wanted to organize and take action, the people that you could call to action weren’t many. Of course, I have to admit that part of our feeling was that there wasn’t anything we could organize to stop this, so we might as well just let Ma go off to meet Xi. And we were also in the middle of elections.
BH: I remember Chen Wei-Ting attempted to storm the airport then.
Lai Yu-Fen: Chen Wei-Ting led a bunch of people and ran off. [Laughs] When he came back, he said, “When I tried to find people to charge and take direct action, I couldn’t find anybody. All the people I used to charge in together with are working in elections now.” But I think that China will continue to try and test this out. Including later on, we would have a discussion that China would always look for someone to buy up or co-opt in Taiwan. If the KMT has someone they can co-opt, they would also consider who they can buy up or co-opt in the DPP.
With the Lee Ming-Che incident, I was thinking about at the time why it was Lee Ming-Che. Beforehand, Lee Ming-Che was a nobody that wasn’t widely known. I remember seeing an argument that China may be trying to test the waters, kidnapping somebody and seeing what the response from Taiwan would be. If Taiwan was able to mobilize. So I’ve paid quite a lot of attention to this case, continuing to share discussions of this, and related articles on Facebook. This didn’t seem to spread outside of the same usual social circles, which is something that makes me quite worried.
China has watched the Tsai administration take power and would try to force her to agree to the 1992 Consensus anyway. But what about how it would act towards Taiwanese society? They kidnapped a citizen and may want to see if civil society is able to mobilize regarding this issue. With the Taiwan Association of University Professors or my own boss, Wu Rwei-Ren, they’ve wanted to take action regarding this but encountered lack of interest from both the government and society. If this is a test by China, Taiwan isn’t doing very well on this test. This is something I think may be a representative case. China may be watching this closely and may try different tests regarding Taiwan.
The other issue is Hong Kong. The situation in Hong Kong is becoming worse and worse. In Taiwan, there is also concern, and the view that Hong Kong is quite close. First, you may have some friends that you know there, and you can see that they are worried. Second, you would consider that if in the future, Taiwan doesn’t want to become the same as Hong Kong, what should it do? If Hong Kong doesn’t concern itself with these issues, what kind of direction should we go in?
Brian Hioe: Lastly, do you think that there could be another social movement such as the Sunflower Movement in Taiwan in the future? If so, how? And do you think that the Sunflower Movement could influence the international world or international social movements?
Photo credit: Toomore Chiang/Flickr/CC
Lai Yu-Fen: I think at the time, why so many people would become involved is because during the past eight years, under the Ma administration’s governance, many people were very dissatisfied. Everyone was waiting for the next set of elections, waiting and waiting to pull down the KMT.
But at the same time, it was very clear that Ma thought that he might as well use the time he had left to push Taiwan further in the direction of China, whether this was in terms of economy or politics. So everyone was very worried and also wanted to do something.
From 2013 to 2014, there were many protests. And all these were like one wildfire breaking out after another and by 2014, it exploded. This wasn’t contingent, it accumulated over a period of time. It may be a trigger for those outside of the same social circles, with the anger and worry from young people confronting the “age of collapse”. For the past few years, it had all been protests as a practice for this. You were learning social movement theory regarding “framing” and “networks” and then there was a large point which led to an explosion. Naturally, it was easier to call people up for an action.
As for international society, a large element may have to do with China. Because the China factor is not just something that China is confronting. Tibet or Hong Kong are also confronting this. Because of the China factor, people may notice this small place. But it may not be hoping that they could actively do something to help, or advocating Taiwanese independence, because it’s not their country.
However, the Sunflower Movement has changed political power, as well as allowing independent consciousness to rise up. You can’t say that this is a very clear, direct result, but it has allowed more people, such as in America or elsewhere, to become aware that there is this kind of power in Taiwan.