Interview: Wu Hsueh-Chan
Wu Hsueh-Chan was formerly a reporter at BuzzOrange. The following interview was conducted on November 7th, 2017.
Brian Hioe: The first question I wanted to ask is, how did you been participating in social movements? How did you begin participating and what kind of movements did you participate in
Wu Hsueh-Chan: Now is 2017. I graduated from college in June 2012. I studied material engineering in college, but afterwards, I didn’t want to be an engineer. At that time, the main reason why I didn’t want to be an engineer was because I discovered that compared with twenty years ago, because of rising costs for housing and materials—even though I was in National Taiwan University (NTU) and even with an acceptance to NTU’s MA program—I felt like I couldn’t live a very comfortable life. I thought that this was too much.
So thinking about what else I could do, I also felt that it was quite boring. I spent college attending classes and reading those books. But working on experiments or research, a lot of times, it wasn’t actually researching or experimenting, a lot of energy was spent just taking care of equipment. Figuring out why this piece of equipment would break down. A lot of time and energy was spent on boring things.
These two factors combined together, I didn’t want to be caught in experimenting and I wanted to do some more interesting work. I thought that being in the media as a journalist could be a job where I ran around and did some things which were more interesting. At that time, I already knew that television news in Taiwan was very bad. I already knew this then, so it has been bad for some time.
At that time, I decided that I wanted to test for the department of journalism, but I didn’t decide to do this immediately. With this idea in mind, I started looking around. But when I was in college, I didn’t take any classes in sociology.
Photo credit: Charlie Chang/Flickr/CC
I thought, why not try to learn from school clubs? So I went to the NTU Consciousness Paper, a campus publication at NTU. After entering, I don’t stay too long, I just wrote one article, but after entering, I got to know the people there. These people on the one hand, would be members of the Consciousness Paper. On the other hand, they would participate in social movements on and off campus.
You could say that this was the start. From them, I got to know other people. And that year, in Fall 2012, was the second wave of the anti-media monopoly movement. One wave was regarding opposition to Want Want and the second wave regarding the sale of Next Media.
There were some actions then and I got to know Lin Fei-Fan and there people through this. From the end of 2012 to 2013, that half year, I was in the middle of the anti-media monopoly movement. And then the CSSTA issue started up.
Brian Hioe: What were you doing at the time of the Sunflower Movement?
Wu Hsueh-Chan: We went in on a Tuesday night. But the Chang Ching-Chung incident took place on Monday. So that Monday, I saw the news on Facebook and a lot of people went to the Legislative Yuan then. I went over as well and I ran into some people then. We thought, “Fuck! What now? What now?”
We had a meeting on Monday. On Monday night, I contacted my then-girlfriend, and she came up from Kaohsiung. We had some meetings on Monday afternoon and then we decided on a course of action. So I did attend some of the meetings beforehand. And then that night, we went in together. I left on early morning on Wednesday.
Brian Hioe: What did you do during the course of the movement?
Wu Hsueh-Chan: After I left, I didn’t actually go in again. When I went in, it might just be to find someone I needed to talk to, then I would leave again. During the movement, I spent more time at the Department of Social Sciences.
Brian Hioe: I charged with them on 324.
Wu Hsueh-Chan: You were also in one of the three groups?
Brian Hioe: I was with the back door group.
Wu Hsueh-Chan: Wait, you were at the back door? I was as well. What was that road called? Beiping East Road?
Brian Hioe: The Alliance of Referendum for Taiwan appeared then.
Wu Hsueh-Chan: That’s right. So we might have been next to each other.
Brian Hioe: A lot of people I interviewed were part of the charge, even at the backdoor, and we just didn’t know each other then. Same with you.
Wu Hsueh-Chan: It seems to have been the only door that didn’t get in. The other two doors got in.
Brian Hioe: So you were at the Department of Social Sciences. What happened afterwards?
Wu Hsueh-Chan: Let me add a bit more. We were all beaten badly at the Executive Yuan and so people started looking for someone to blame. Who drew up the plans and etc. So we temporarily left that area. Probably on Monday or Tuesday. At the time, my girlfriend was named in a report by Storm Media as one of the two people responsible. The other person was a guy.
CTI and other groups started human flesh search engine-ing into her information on Facebook and posting this online. So on Tuesday, I went back with her from Taipei to Kaohsiung. In between that, some strange things happened.
At the time, another person in Kaohsiung that had just gone back from Taipei said some half-joking plans, or maybe he may have been a bit serious, saying that he was planning on blowing up Kaohsiung Harbor. It didn’t sound so serious. This news spread to Taipei. And everyone was quite worried at the time in Taipei.
So I and my then-girlfriend, before we left Taipei, while waiting for the high-speed rail near the Department of Social Sciences, we ran into Lin Shiyu. He was one of the founders of the New Power Party. He’s in his sixties or seventies, one of those people who have been around since the dangwai movement. We ran into him then and he told my then-girlfriend quite seriously then that, “You must withdraw from this movement. Otherwise you and the Taiwanese independence movement will fail.” Or something like that. I forget what the exact quotes were. It was very serious, that a sixty or seventy-something elder was saying this to you. You wouldn’t know how to react. And we had decided to leave Taipei anyway, so we left.
As I said my then-girlfriend was one of the people who had been named responsible, so we stayed in Kaohsiung for a week, disconnecting our cell phone, including our SIM cards, and everything and staying in Kaohsiung for a week.
Later on, we were in Kaohsiung for a week. In Kaohsiung, there wasn’t any real way to participate. We were looking for houses there, so I went from Kaohsiung to Taipei, found an apartment, and prepared to move house. I would just pass by the Legislative Yuan to look around.
Photo credit: Abby Chen/Flickr/CC
Brian Hioe: During the movement, did you disagree with any decisions made by the core decision-making group? Regarding 324 or the decision to withdraw?
Wu Hsueh-Chan: To raise something simple first, in the beginning, we held a meeting in which we kept saying that because we went in on Tuesday and the Legislative Yuan held its committee meeting on Tuesday afternoon. So we went in after the end of the committee meeting, and hoped to at least prevent the bill from reaching the assembly floor that Friday, to prevent the bill from moving that week. As such, in the beginning, we planned to stay for at least three days.
At that time, we thought that we should occupy an area we could control, but that day and in the two days after, we kept arguing about whether we should open the door in the assembly chamber. If we opened the door, there were a lot of people there who could get inside. And the Internet connection wasn’t good, so it was very difficult to communicate. People inside couldn’t tell what the people outside were concerned with and the people outside weren’t sure what the people inside were concerned with.
A lot of people said that Huang Kuo-Chang wasn’t willing to open that door. This is one example as to a controversy, as to whether that door should be open or not. But also, because the police were blocking that door and if you wanted to break down that door, you would have to clash with the police, if there was conflict, there might be blood. To avoid controversy, many didn’t want to open this door, but I felt that we should open it.
Another issue was that on Friday, there suddenly was the announcement made from inside of the Legislative Yuan that people from different parts of Taiwan should try and occupy different KMT party buildings. I felt this was very strange, but that came from the fact that I had no idea what they were thinking. Again, we couldn’t discuss with the people inside the Legislative Yuan very clearly then.
Regarding charging the Executive Yuan, as time passed its became harder to say whether that was right or not, because the incidents which took place before led to it as though there no other decision, seeing as we had gone on for so long, but Jiang Yi-Huah and Ma Ying-Jeou had only come out and said a few empty words. What else could you do? And so I charged then.
When people were angry later on regarding the fact those who led people in charging then ran off, that was all just confusion. They were going to reorganize, but because they couldn’t call using their cell phones, when they were looking for people to reestablish contact, that happened to be when people began attacking people. And this later became seen as the organizers running off and so forth.
Later on, regarding the withdrawal from the Legislative Yuan, I felt at the time that it was strange that they would withdraw. But, again, why it would go it go to the point of being unable to continue and pushing onwards? Because things before that made it seem as though there was nothing to do except withdraw.
So looking back, it seems like we could only have withdrawn and that there wasn’t anything else we could have done. After occupying the Legislative Yuan, attempting to occupy the Executive Yuan but being driven out, should you have charged the Presidential Office next?
Brian Hioe: To change direction, do you think that your participation in Taiwanese social movements has to do with your sense of Taiwanese identification?
Wu Hsueh-Chan: Of course, because everyone was dividing their reasons for participating between issues such as, first, as the improper process and, second, the issue cross-strait exchanges.
I wouldn’t be opposed to free trade to the extent of opposing globalization and neoliberalism. But it was the eight years of the treatment of Taiwan by China under the Ma administration and that anything gained from this wasn’t shared by more people which led me to participate.
Thirdly, in Taiwan, we’ve argued about the unification/independence issue for decades. So it definitely has to do with Taiwanese identification.
Brian Hioe: What kind of movement do you think the Sunflower Movement was, then? Because the most amount of people may have opposed the black box, or China and the KMT, and the fewest amount of people may have opposed free trade?
Wu Hsueh-Chan: I didn’t have the opportunity to encounter too many participants who were new to social movements then. But I think those who were more core participants or are normally participants in social movements are definitely not pro-unification, they lean towards being pro-independence.
Because of strategic decisions or strategic assessments, Taiwanese independence was not stated so directly in the movement and instead democratic process was emphasized. What was stressed was what could be accepted by the most people and what had the most legitimacy.
Brian Hioe: Do you think that there are any political leanings to Taiwanese social movements? Because social movement participants tend to say that they are more left-leaning and are progressive on a number of issues, including opposition to the death penalty and support for same-sex marriage.
Wu Hsueh-Chan: This is quite a hard question!
Brian Hioe: I’m personally curious about why so many people started to say that they are left-wing. Very few people say they are right-wing, for example.
Wu Hsueh-Chan: If you discuss left-wing in a broad sense as being willing to discuss a social issue that is not personal in nature, such as opposing crony capitalism, or rising real estate prices causing young people to be poor, I think that being willing to discuss these issues is left-wing in a broad sense. Being willing to look at a social issue from outside individual perspectives.
To speak for myself, I’ve worked for awhile in online media, and so I would feel that those who say that they are opposed to globalization or the free market or capitalism have too lofty ideals. It’s not realistic.
As for others, I’m not sure. Leaning towards independence is definitely true. But whether this is leaning left or right, if leaning left is what I described, then I would say so. As for left or right in a political economic sense, with regards to the economy and the market, I am not so sure.
Photo credit: Abby Chen/Flickr/CC
Brian Hioe: It’s also interesting to me that a lot of left independence discourse appeared after the Sunflower Movement. Do you have any views on this?
Wu Hsueh-Chan: I think that kind of left is like what I discussed earlier, regarding a broader definition of being left-wing. Regarding social inequality, social structures, and etc.
Wu Hsueh-Chan: Three years later, how do you think that this movement has influenced Taiwanese politics? Many raise the election victory of Tsai Ing-Wen, Ko Wen-Je, or the emergence of the Third Force.
Wu Hsueh-Chan: There has been influence in those two elections. This is the most direct form of influence. But in this past year that I’ve been in Keelung, I’ve also seen some things. For example, at one point, Keelung was once the world’s seventh largest port, but now it’s quite small. Young people and workers are generally moving out of Keelung. But in these past few years, some people have come back to start businesses.
For example, I know someone called “Keelung Prince” (基隆小王子), he’s someone that is writing on Keelung’s food, culture, or youth start-ups. I also know some people that work in NGOs, such as cultural preservation groups, and some young people who are 22 to 25 years old, who have just graduated from college, and work in the Keelung city government’s department of social welfare. And they all know each other. Or Jiho Chang, he came back here to run in elections.
Outside of these two elections, these things are also influences. And I’ve discussed this before, they all decided to come back in the fall or winter of 2014. They weren’t working in this originally. To make a publication or something like that.
Brian Hioe: What do you think social movement participants are doing now, three years later? As we discussed, some people went back home to work on things, some people have entered the government, and some people have gone back to doing what they were doing before.
Wu Hsueh-Chan: I think that this is actually a minority. For example, there weren’t so many lacking positions in government to begin with. So many people will go back to doing what they were doing originally. Or Ella, for example, my girlfriend now, she may not have been very internal to the movement, but she was also a participant on the outside. She now works in a media outlet. She participated then, but the work she does, doesn’t directly have to do with the issues we discussed previously.
Brian Hioe: How do you think China looks at Taiwan’s current political circumstances?
Wu Hsueh-Chan: I personally have not had much contact with either Chinese officials or young people, so apart from reading the news, I can’t tell what they are thinking. But there was one time in March or April of last year that I had a friend who is part of a student exchange organization with China at NTU. They said that China wanted to find Taiwanese young people who had participated in the Sunflower Movement to discuss this a little. And they would provide the airplane ticket.
So I went. And I felt that the largest misunderstanding which China had was that, those Chinese people who would want to understand Taiwan, no matter whether young or not—that person was about the same age as me—25 or 26—they look at the issue starting from cross-strait relations.
But with the Sunflower Movement, it’s not just unification and independence, it’s also related to economic inequality in these past few years. Social inequality affects everyone in Taiwan and is particularly sensitive as an issue for young people, who have low salaries. For these Chinese exchange organizations, they won’t look at it from this angle. They start from cross-strait issues to understand this as a unification/independence issue.
At least personally, I think that these are the same issue, which is why this would lead to the release of such anger. When I talked with them for four or five days, I felt that this was the largest difference. That they didn’t understand this from the point of view of Taiwanese, but from the point of view of cross-strait relations.
Likewise, after the end of the Sunflower Movement in June, I went to the Formosa Foundation in America. And I also encountered some Taiwanese-Americans. Those were Taiwanese-Americans who hadn’t spent much time in Taiwan, they had just come back during vacations. At that time, you know that the people you would encounter there love Taiwan or hope for Taiwan to do well, but their understanding differs greatly.
For example, there was someone who studied at Carnegie Mellon. He asked me if I had served in the army yet and I said hadn’t, but that I didn’t really want to be in the army. He asked me, “Why?” Almost like, “How could you not want to serve in the army?” Because America is quite patriotic, so many people would think that participating in the army is a very cool thing or something to be proud of.
But that isn’t so for Taiwan’s army. You would feel from this situation that the difference in understanding was too large. Like, “I know you support us, but we’re unable to communicate with each other on this issue.”
Brian Hioe: Do you think that there could be another social movement in Taiwan such as the Sunflower Movement?
Wu Hsueh-Chan: I think nobody knows. For example, I forgot when I heard this, but in 2008 when the DPP had collapsed, I heard later on that someone said that it would be impossible for the DPP to take power for another twenty years. At that time, people might feel that way. But who knows! So this question is too hard to respond to.
Brian Hioe: Do you think that the Sunflower Movement could influence the international world? Or international social movements?
Photo credit: Abby Chen/Flickr/CC
Wu Hsueh-Chan: Like I said earlier, for the Umbrella Movement and the Sunflower Movement, when compared, they differ a lot. More people cared about the Umbrella Movement. So at the very least, up to now, I don’t think that the Sunflower Movement has directly influenced anywhere outside of the Umbrella Movement.
This is quite interesting. Because the Umbrella Movement seems to have been much more noticed by the world, but the Umbrella Movement was only half a year after the Sunflower Movement. And there was the slogan you saw often then that, “Today Hong Kong, tomorrow Taiwan.”
In Hong Kong, many things had already happened in the previous two or three years or longer. There were some scholars in Taiwan, who tied together Taiwan and Hong Kong, and discussed the China factor. So at the time, between Taiwan and Hong Kong, although I myself didn’t interact with them much, Chen Wei-Ting or them had some interactions with them during the anti-media monopoly movement and knew each other.
As for influence on other places, I’m less sure, but there was definite influence on Hong Kong.
Brian Hioe: That’s about all I wanted to ask, but is there anything you would like to add?
Wu Hsueh-Chan: This may not have to do with issues of unification or independence, but I feel that up to now, Taiwan’s issues that have to do with that independence and unification issues are still not resolved, and so there’s no way to address issues outside of independence or unification. I don’t mean left or right, I mean single issues outside of independence or unification.
Because this is very split. You’re either pro-independence or pro-unification. There may be different political explanations, but in terms of position, you either lean towards independence or unification.
Where elections are concerned, or where the present system is concerned regarding the president or legislators, this will become linked to contestation between the two parties. But this issue hasn’t been resolved, so they’ll continue to be political battles regarding this. It’s very hard to focus on other things as a result.
I raise this with regards to small parties such as the New Power Party. They’re small pan-Green parties, it’s hard to form anything outside of this. Theoretically or practically, they may raise something different from the DPP, but in terms of the political market, what people recognize first is that. That they lean towards independence and are closer to the DPP.
So how to create a third party? I myself am quite pessimistic about that.