Interview: June Lin

June Lin currently works at the Formosan Association for Public Affairs in Washington DC. The following interview was conducted on September 30th, 2017.


Brian Hioe:  The first question I want to ask is, how did you begin participating in Taiwanese social movements? Why did you begin participating and with what kinds of issues?

June Lin:  Before 318, I hadn’t actually participated in social movements. I would just be concerned with them and demonstrate in street protests, but I didn’t join any NGO or social movement organization. I didn’t have any experience in this beforehand.

I participated in 318 because at the time, for someone like me who was outside of social movement circles, hearing that the CSSTA had passed in 30 seconds contributed to the sense that our democratic system was really breaking down. It felt that severe then. That the KMT continuing to do this and pass the CSSTA could lead to a critical point where if we didn’t stand up, Taiwan might collapse.

On 318, I wasn’t also part of the first group that charged inside. I remember I was watching live streams at home that day and felt very panicked. And the day after, I had a journalism class, and everybody was practicing reading news reports and discussing what had happened the day before. The first week, I stayed on Qingdao East Road, sleeping on the streets outside.

And afterwards, I think it was when Jiang Yi-Huah came to discuss, on the Saturday after 318, I thought I would go to the Department of Social Sciences of NTU and see if there was anything I could help out with. But because there wasn’t anyone I knew, because they were all members of social movement circles, I didn’t know anyone, so I couldn’t help too much.

When I stayed until later on, someone came in and said that, “Right now, I need ten people to go to the Legislative Yuan,” because the situation was unclear and they felt that they needed more people there. My computer and everything was with me, so I thought I would go and take a look. So that’s how I went inside.

Brian Hioe:  What else did you do then in the movement after you entered the Legislative Yuan? 

June Lin:  After I entered the Legislative Yuan, I ended up organizing labor strikes and student strikes. When I got in first, even though I wanted to help very much, I couldn’t find work to do. Because at the time, when I went in, the division of labor inside had already been established between the media group, the international outreach group, and etc.

It was those more experienced in social movements or student groups doing this. As a person without this kind of network or experience, I wanted to help very much, but couldn’t find work to do. And later on, the friends I went inside with, we decided to enter and participate in the different working groups and become part of the organization.

Brian Hioe:  How did you come to know Wei-Ting and Fei-Fan? I know you through them, of course.

Photo credit: Abby Chen/Flickr/CC

June Lin:  It was during the work meetings. The Department of Social Sciences brought us inside because they wanted to open up communication between the inside and outside of the Legislative Yuan. The people outside felt like that they didn’t have any means to communicate with the people inside and to discuss what had taken place inside. Or how they were making decisions. Of course, when we went in, everyone wanted to find the decision making group or Wei-Ting or Fei-Fan to discuss with them.

But they were too busy, so couldn’t meet with people. Later on, after entering the decision making group, my friend and I ran into Chen Wei-Ting and we told him about this. And he said, “Okay, we’ll begin trying it that way.” Getting to know each other better was gradually through work meetings and some of the connections we made before withdrawing, or meetings hoping to establish organizations.

Brian Hioe:  I remember that at the time, many people did not agree with some of the decisions made, such as regarding 324 or the decision to withdraw. What were your views then? You mentioned you originally went in with the Department of Social Sciences.

June Lin:  By 324, I was already inside the Legislative Yuan. During the course of the movement, the morning of 324 left the deepest impression on me. Not 324 itself, but the morning of 324. I remember that was the first or second day after I entered. And on the morning of 324, like I said, because the people outside felt that there was no way to communicate with the people inside, the people outside we very worried.

Some people from outside decided that they wanted to occupy the entirety of the Legislative Yuan, without maintaining this kind of equilibrium with the police. Surrounding the police inside the Legislative Yuan and removing them. And that this could extend the occupation from the assembly chambers to the streets outside. Without letting the police surround the space. So on 324, they broke through the police, and wanted to charge inside, breaking apart the barricades we had set up.

It left a deep impression, because although I wasn’t sure of how the decision was made, it later became they decided not to let this group of people charge inside. So the situation was quite chaotic. It became that we were blocking our own people. That is, the people inside were blocking not just police, but the same group of people who were part of the movement. I remember I was very angry that day, wondering how our own people were blocking each other.

But I remember that the decision inside was to block all of the doors inside, including dividing everyone between the different doors and blocking them. And there were people inside with a microphone shouting, “Please don’t come in! We’re also working very hard inside here!” I heard this and was so angry that I cried, wondering why a movement would lead to people on the same side clashing with each other. And I felt that shocked me. I felt that this movement maybe had some issues, or at least some things which could not be resolved. Including communication or how to make decisions.

This was what occurred on 324 during the day. At night people began to receive messages. Because at that time, apart from Facebook, we also depended upon messages sent back and forth saying, “Meet here at this time to meet.” Sometimes you wouldn’t even be sure who it was from. So oftentimes, there were these kinds of messages being sent back and forth.

That day, I remember a lot of people around me, who may not have been mainstream social movement participants, received similar text messages stating that there was an action planned in which people wanted to occupy the Executive Yuan. I believe that the decision making group also knew about this, but I’m not very clear about how they later addressed this, and 324 took place afterwards as it did. 324 wasn’t just an act of police violence, which led to people being injured. I think what 324 evidenced was the core issues of this movement—whose movement was this movement anyway? Who’s going to take responsibility for the results of certain decisions?

Photo credit: othree/Flickr/CC

Brian Hioe:  What about the decision to withdraw? Did you have any thoughts on that? There were some disagreements because some didn’t see the movement as having accomplished its aims, as well.

June Lin:  I didn’t feel that the decision to withdraw was wrong, because later on, within the movement, every day we would read the newspapers and check our approval ratings and people would try to figure out trends and see what was being discussed on talk shows and etc. We noticed that the approval ratings had dropped and that people had began to disapprove of the occupation.

Many groups felt that if the Legislative Yuan continued to be blocked, there would be no ways to pass other important laws. And I think another crucial factor was Wang Jinpyng. Wang Jinpyng entering was saying that, “I am giving you an opportunity to bow out from the stage” and that he was giving us a temporary accomplishment. I feel that this is a crucial factor because part of the reason why the Sunflower Movement could go on so long is because of the conflict between Ma Ying-Jeou and Wang Jinpyng.

Otherwise Wang Jinpyng could have long since ordered police to clear us out, since we students would have no way to fend off the police seriously trying to evict us. So I feel that this was necessary, because whether in terms of political considerations or social views, this indicated that continuing may not have been the most beneficial for the movement.  So I believe that this evaluation to withdraw was correct.

But this also returns to the issues I discussed earlier, regarding who could decide to withdraw? This is what led to dissatisfaction because even even if the decision making group and representative body within the Legislative Yuan believe that they had achieved a consensus that withdrawing was the best decision, but what about those who hadn’t come inside to attend meetings, who had been sleeping on Qingdao East Road for twenty days? Or those who had been beaten bloody during 324? Or the volunteer workers on the second floor, who were very unhappy with this decision but didn’t have any reason to influence decisions. So I don’t think that this decision to withdraw was wrong, but why was it the people inside the Legislative Yuan who decided to withdraw? Whose movement was it? That’s an issue I can’t resolve up until now as well.

At the time, there was some thought given to using votes to vote to decide. But how many people should you allow to vote? Do you allow only those within the Legislative Yuan to vote? Or those sleeping on Qingdao East Road? Or all 500,000 of those who marched on 330? I think this movement’s largest difficulty is regarding the lines drawn between participants. Or that whether the movement should have dividing line between those who made decisions or those who worked, or who the real participants were? This is quite difficult.

Because those who sacrificed for the movement weren’t only those who maintained the occupation within the Legislative Yuan, there was also those who blocked the police outside, or even farther from the movement. So who should have decision making ability? That is a question very difficult to answer. And the people within the Legislative Yuan also decided that the heads of every working group should ask members of their working groups whether they wanted to continue occupy or to withdraw. It was very informal as a means of voting. Because in those circumstances, to hold a formal vote is very difficult. In my recollections, that was how the decision to withdraw was reached. Everyone in the movement said that their political considerations were like this, the views of society were like this, and so go back to your working groups and vote. That’s how the decision to withdraw was made, as I recall.

Brian Hioe:  What do you think Taiwanese identification has to do with your participation in the Sunflower movement?

June Lin:  I think what is interesting about 318 is that during 318, everyone found something that they wanted to talk about. In the Sunflower Movement, some people see issues of free trade. Some people see issues stemming from the China factor. Or the Taiwanese sovereignty. Or Taiwanese identity.

Some people saw issues regarding due process or the KMT. So I think what is interesting about the Sunflower Movement is that this was a almost like a large question posed to the Taiwanese people, asking, “What direction should Taiwan move in in the future?” Because although it may have begun with the CSSTA, the movement later touched on issues which hit on all of what I discussed earlier, as well as other issues.

Photo credit: Harry Li/Flickr/CC

318 was not just about Taiwanese identification, nor was it about free trade, it was more like an incident that asked Taiwanese people what kind of future they wanted. Do you want a future with FTAs with China, where you lean more towards China? Or one where you don’t move towards China? Do you want a future in which free trade agreements can be freely passed? Or don’t you? It’s like a question posed to all Taiwanese at this point in time, asking Taiwanese, “Where do you want to go?”

I also feel that it’s not just one question through out to Taiwan or a question with one answer, either. For me, 318 gives Taiwanese a large question mark, “What do you want to the future of Taiwan to look like?” Including sovereignty, the economy, trade, political identification, political changes, and party changes. So I think it of course has led to the rise of natural independence, or reestablished this generation’s sense of Taiwanese identification.

But the reason why it can have this kind of influence is precisely because of the large question is posed to everyone. Because I feel that before 318, when people encountered these issues of sovereignty, including myself, people would think, “Why be so political? We don’t have to be so nit-picky about it.” And that these questions aren’t important. But what 318 told everyone was that, “Okay, if you don’t decide to be Taiwanese, then that means you want to lean towards China.” Or that if you don’t anything, the CSSTA being pushed into law in thirty seconds is something which could occur.

For me, why it would lead to the rise of natural independence, it because it’s an unresolved long-term problem that Taiwan has faced, which has become tied up with the issue of the CSSTA being pushed into law. Through this issue, everyone has been pushed to confront issues that Taiwanese people don’t like to confront. And I think that it’s because of this that people had a sense of emergency and began to feel that they had to make the decision, “Okay, I want to be a Taiwanese person.”

Brian Hioe:  Do you think that social movements in Taiwan have a political leaning, one way or the other? Because I feel that social movements tend to lean more left, or be more progressive. Regarding a number of topics, such as support for same-sex marriage or opposition to the death penalty. You, Lin Fei-Fan, and Chen Wei-Ting also wrote in the Washington Post that you identify with more liberal values.

June Lin:  I also think this is a question which emerged after 318. Apart from the issue of the China factor, 318 also included the issue of free trade. So what it was asking was not only regards to national identification or nationalism. It also included that if free trade is something which is unavoidable, how should we engage in it? How should our government discuss free trade with other governments? So I believe this also began to push people to consider that, outside of issues of sovereignty, outside of issues of Taiwanese identification or Taiwanese independence. What kind of society do you want? How do people, who may be sacrificed by free trade, continue to survive?

I think that afterwards, including same-sex marriage or opposition to the death penalty, for these movements to have the momentum to continue going on afterwards, its because the 318 movement threw out this large question mark towards everybody. What Taiwan confronted after 318 was a question of what the nation faced as a whole. Not just deciding whether to be Taiwan, or the Republic of China, or China. But also including the question of what kind of Taiwan that I wanted. Not just a very nationalistic decision making process, but towards a more liberal society, rather than staying in the framework of a very conservative society. I think the 318 movement pushed Taiwan to not just become part of China, but also to the point of a social turning point, regarding whether we wanted to become a more liberal society or to continue to refuse to touch sensitive political issues.

Brian Hioe:  There years later, what kind of influence do you think the movement has had on Taiwanese politics? Many raise the election of Tsai Ing-Wen or Ko Wen-Je, or the appearance of the Third Force. And what do you think that social movements participants are doing now?

June Lin:  I think the importance of 318 was regarding the question it threw out, like I said. It forced Taiwanese to confront these issues. But the other thing is, I feel that 318 or the Sunflower Movement is a name too easily used.

Brian Hioe:  Like a brand name.

June Lin:  It may have allowed many of those who would have been eliminate from politics to continue to survive because they picked up this name of 318. For me, I think that the more beneficial effects of the Sunflower Movement, are less that Taiwan now understands the importance of being a sovereign country”. That the contribution of the Sunflower Movement is that it raised such questions.

No matter what answers people come up with, at the very least, people had to think of ways to answer this question during the Sunflower Movement. Not if the CSSTA has been blocked or whatever. Of course, blocking the CSSTA is also very important, but no matter how it influence Taiwanese politics, or the establishment of democracy or society, what I think is most important is because it made Taiwanese necessarily have to respond to these issues, and allowed Taiwanese to think of ways to respond to this question.

Regarding the establishment of social movement groups, I myself was someone who entered social movement groups after 318, as part of the founding of Democracy Kuroshio. But you can see now that the social movement groups that emerged after 318 have all dissolved now.

When I give talks abroad, the picture that I show in slideshows most often is the social movement groups that were formed after the Sunflower Movement. There are probably more than 10.  But two years later, at least half dissolved. And up to three years now, there are only one or two that continue to be active.

Photo credit: Abby Chen/Flickr/CC

My own organization, Democracy Tautin, could not continue and merged with Youth Against Oppression into a new organization called Democracy Renovation. I feel that what is a shame about the Sunflower Movement is that, as you also know, there were a lot of divisions between social movement groups after the Sunflower Movement. As you raised regarding the decision to withdraw, 324, or the decision making group within the Legislative Yuan. The Sunflower Movement created a lot of splits among the social networks among youth activists that existed up to that point.

A key point is that after being asked this question about what Taiwan’s future should be, this movement caused a lot of divisions, so people decided to go off and do their own thing that they wanted to do. But of those involved and who were participants we haven’t actually sat down and discussed how we should continue to achieve the goals of the movement after the end of the occupation. If we have any way to answer this question or consensus about how to answer this question.

We haven’t done this thing at all. Because everyone had felt hurt and wanted to quickly end the movement and go back to doing what they wanted to do. So they divided into different groups or individuals. After 318, all participants, including different social movement groups and NGOs, the different so-called leaders, I think we lost the opportunity to find a consensus to find a path forward for Taiwan. And in September 2014, we encountered elections, and some people immediately entered politics. This led to further conflicts regarding political interest and so forth.

So I feel that we lost the opportunity to achieve even a rough consensus after the end of the movement. And everyone went back to different organizations, NGOs, and political parties, to participate in elections, and didn’t gather together to answer that question. My meaning is that I don’t think we should have established a “Sunflower Party” or something like that. That’s impossible.

But it seemed that the Sunflower Movement asked a large question. However, those of us who participated, three years later, we haven’t been able to see what the answer to this movement that we participated in was.

After 2016, I think things have become more complicated. Frankly speaking, living outside of Taiwan, watching pro-independence groups fight with each other from the outside is quite hard to bear. After all, once you’re outside of Taiwan, who cares what kind of theory you use to advocate independence? I see that everyone has realized this question confronting us now, but it seems that we become more divided the more we fight. That’s what I worry about. And why Taiwanese don’t seem to be too concerned with the international.

Brian Hioe:  How do you think China looks at the current political situation in Taiwan? China is probably not too happy, but some people think that China might still use political means to try and influence Taiwan.

June Lin:  I feel that from what I see in America, it’s like this. China is now certain that Taiwan will not make any big moves in the international sphere so is more and more aggressive.

Is the current status quo the same status quo as a year ago? I don’t think so. We’ve lost diplomatic allies and Lee Ming-Che was kidnapped by China. To discuss the status quo is a way to avoid the issue. Because the status quo now is different than a year ago, when Tsai Ing-Wen took office. And I think China’s current means is make sure that nobody will say that they are disrupting the status quo or that they are too aggressive, so the Taiwanese government continuing to act as though it is very politically neutral will allow China more and more space to encroach on Taiwan, since the Taiwanese government won’t protest anyway.

But I don’t think this is the fault of the Taiwanese government. Because the division I sense in DC think tanks is that America and the world has divided responsibility for maintaining cross-straits peace and the status quo fifty-fifty between Taiwan and China. In reality, ninety percent of it is from China, and Taiwan has ten percent responsibility for disruptions.

It’s not us threatening China, it’s China threatening us, but whenever the Taiwanese government takes any action to defend Taiwan, the international community will accuse this of disrupting the status quo or breaking diplomatic rituals. But China is 90% responsible for this. So although I’m angry at the Taiwanese government for acting this way.

I won’t say this is entirely their fault. Because America and the international world is like this, saying that Taiwan has to take half the responsibility even if its China which has so many missiles pointed at Taiwan, but if the Taiwanese president doesn’t state the 1992 Consensus, it’s your fault. Taiwan is oppressed and very unequally treated in the international world.

Brian Hioe:  Do you think that there could be another movement such as the Sunflower Movement in the future? Because many people feel that after the DPP took power, this is less likely to take place, in spite of the fact that many of these long-term issues have not been resolved. There are less and less participants in social movement events now, for example.

Photo credit: Tinru/Flickr/CC

June Lin:  I think this is a test of Taiwanese civil society. Confronting the DPP, how long can the strength of social movement groups and NGOs continue? To be frank, many of us are now working on political parties now. And this is true of myself as well, since I went to help Su Chih-Fen of the DPP afterwards, but I left in part because I felt that I wanted to change Taiwan, but after entering these political parties, I got sucked into the political conflicts of that generation.

For example, with young people entering the DPP after the Sunflower Movement, the newspapers report this as, “The Rioters are back in the Legislative Yuan.” But what we actually change? I’m not actually too optimistic about this. Because if we decide to join the DPP, isn’t it just picking a good boss, waiting thirty years, and maybe if you’re lucky, you’re boss might push you forward as a candidate for the legislature? What is different about that from the way that the previous generation did things? And we were still sucked into the conflict between different parties.

It’s the business of that generation, but entering into political parties to work, we still will be limited by these things. That’s also part of why I decided to leave working in the Legislative Yuan and leave Taiwan, because I feel that this generation wants a different political environment, but entering into these political parties, we’re helping our last generation fight their political battles between themselves and there’s not much space for young people to really make changes. So I felt that the test faced by Taiwanese people or by civil society is confronting these circumstances, including a number of people entering the New Power Party and the DPP, and there are a few people outside of the system. How do we continue to push for political change or social change? Or despite all these internal politics, how should young people push for political reforms within these political parties? And not just waiting thirty years until we’re all old people that we have the chance to push for political reform, but that point we already might not know how to change things.

So if you discuss what has changed after 318, certainly, some parts of politics have changed. Maybe one year ago, we might be happy that Ko Wen-Je got elected—though he’s lost his rosy tint already by now. [Laughs] Or we might talk about the DPP taking power and this representing the first time that KMT might be politically marginalized. But has the political circumstance changes? You can see the people in the DPP fighting with each other, the contents of the Forward-Looking Infrastructure Bill, and it feels like we have been sucked into these political parties to fight a battle which isn’t ours.

Including the Third Force. The leaders of small third parties are sometimes leaders of the Wild Lily movement. And there are also political conflicts between them, such as why the SDP and NPP are split. That’s a political conflict within that generation. But our generation which wants to enter the system and make changes, we are forced to participate in their battles. This is something which makes me feel frustrated. As though we had an opportunity to change politics, but we have been absorbed into different political parties, and things have not changed. Taiwanese politics is still like this.

Brian Hioe:  Lastly, I want to ask, do you think the Sunflower Movement could influence the international world? Regardless of whether social movements or political parties or with regards to foreign policy?

June Lin:  At the very least in DC, nobody knows anything about the Sunflower Movement. Many people haven’t even heard of the Sunflower Movement. Compared to the Umbrella Movement, for Americans, the Umbrella Movement is a large event for them, but the Sunflower movement was more like a domestic affair, a lot of people view it simply as political dissidents protesting against KMT government. But like I said before, this is an issue of how the international world understands Taiwan. In think tanks or in DC policy circles, the scariest thing is that they are very concerned with Taiwanese issues, without a doubt, but they don’t know what takes place in Taiwanese society.

Which is to say, that I went to DC last year and up until the start of 2017, everyone is still discussing what Tsai Ing-Wen said in her inauguration and there are all these panels discussed why Tsai didn’t say the 1992 Consensus and so forth. Their focus is entirely on prominent politicians, such as Tsai Ing-Wen, Xi Jinping, or Ma Ying-Jeou.

For them, the Sunflower Movement isn’t a sign that the Taiwanese people have demonstrated they want political changes, the Sunflower Movement was just something thrown together by a group of people who were dissatisfied with Ma Ying-Jeou, maybe because the pan-Green camp secretly engineered this behind the scenes or something. They don’t look at this as the Taiwanese people as a whole, or a large shift in society, politics, and identity. They just look at it as though its a group of political dissidents who were dissatisfied with Ma Ying-Jeou occupying the Legislative Yuan.

But we all know it wasn’t like that. So what does this tell us? This tells us that the international world really does not understand Taiwan. They don’t know why Taiwanese civil society would move in this direction in the past ten years, from the Wild Lily movement to the Wild Strawberry movement to the anti-media monopoly movement to the Hung Chung Hsiu incident, to 318. And then there would be the movement to oppose textbook reforms at the Sunflower Movement. They don’t have this information and they don’t realize that they should look into this information.

Photo credit: Abby Chen/Flickr/CC

This is what I think is most frightening. I remember that there were even Taiwan experts in DC that said that the Sunflower Movement was just engineered by the DPP, pushing students to do things. So I feel that this is why it seems as though they feel that Taiwan should take a large part of responsibility for cross-strait relations.

Because they all believe that this is just the conflict between the political forces of the DPP and KMT. Such as that when the DPP takes power, of course Taiwan will want to shout independence slogans, not that this represents any real shift in society. In truth, Taiwanese identification is growing stronger and stronger, but America is very slow to realize this and the international world is very slow to realize this.

In the long term, I think nobody has been able to show social networks or social developments, and using the perspective of Taiwanese civil society to discuss how Taiwan is looked at by the international world, that its thought of simply as when the pan-Green camp takes power, this means there’s political dangers regarding disruptions of cross-strait relations due to the push for independence, and that when the pan-Blue camp takes power, there’s the threat of Taiwan being annexed by China because of the push for independence. They look at Taiwan like this.

In the future, Taiwan needs to work hard to change this. You saw this with the Trump-Tsai phone call, as well, with them just seeing this as Taiwan doing a provocative action and being criticized because this breaks from diplomatic ritual and could endanger regional stability. But for Taiwanese, this is just Taiwanese wanting a normal country, that the president can normally call other presidents, or something like that.

This is what is most frustrating about the international world. Then don’t understand Taiwanese society and how its people have come up to this point. They still look at the surface-level politics from mainstream politics, such as political slogans or what is said by politicians.