Interview: TC Lin

TC Lin is a Taiwanese filmmaker, photographer, and writer, formerly a U.S. citizen who renounced his U.S. citizenship to become an ROC citizen.


Brian Hioe:  Can you introduce yourself for people that might not know who you are?

TC Lin:  My name is TC Lin. I came to Taiwan in the late 1980s for college and stayed. I immigrated here.

Brian Hioe:  You became a Taiwanese citizen, including serving in the military as part of being a citizen.

TC Lin:  I went to Tunghai University, and I studied filmmaking in the US for a short time. I’ve worked on many jobs for the last three decades, mainly in media. My first aspiration right out of college was to get a photography job. I was rejected many times, so I decided to go into television media. I worked in television for a long time, and I dabbled in some movies.

Brian Hioe:  What were you doing around the time of the Sunflower Movement when it broke out?

TC Lin:  I do a couple of editing gigs so I can eat and afford house payments. I worked in the area and I heard about what was going on from Facebook, as a lot of my friends were already involved in that movement. I thought I would go take a look, because I was curious.

It was weird, because as you know, it was hard to believe that such an unprecedented event was actually happening. I wanted to see for myself. I went over the next day after the infiltration, when things had calmed down a bit, and it was more or less a stalemate at that point.

Photo credit: othree/Flickr/CC

Brian Hioe:  I remember that.

TC Lin:  I was just walking around outside, looking, just amazed at what was going on. I was near the ladder by the parking lot and they asked me, “Yeah, you want to go in?” I was like, “Okay, I wasn’t expecting that. But okay.”  So I went in and I walked around and talked to people, soaking it all in.

I tried to be as respectful as possible to the people inside, as well as objective. I wanted to document it and get pictures of what was going on. Everyone had a camera there, but to this day, have you seen a true compendium of photographic work about the Sunflower occupation?

I tried to publish a work; I approached many publishers about publishing a photo book on it, but most of them wouldn’t even look at it. Once they heard the word Taiwan, it was like anathema to them.

The local publishers want one of two things: If they’re pro-Sunflower, they want the heroic poses and everything. I didn’t have that, I just had day-to-day life. You’ve seen all the photos in the media. Inevitably, it’s about the charge on the Executive Yuan. That’s front and center. The legislative occupation was about so much more than that. But that is always the front page image. I think that shortchanges the students who put all that effort into the occupation.

Brian Hioe:  Tobie said the same thing.

TC Lin:  I saw him on a couple of occasions there. He actually got a picture of me when I was on the way in.

Brian Hioe:  He mentioned that to me as well.

TC Lin:  I didn’t know about that picture until years later, that he had taken that picture.

Brian Hioe:  At that point in time, what were your observations of the movement? Were you here during previous movements, such as the Wild Lily Movement?

TC Lin:  I was at the Wild Lily Movement, yes. I was a student then, but I spent several days at the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial. How does it contrast? It was a completely different political environment than now, or as it was during the Sunflower Movement.

Lee Teng-Hui had just been “elected” by the National Assembly and that’s part of what the students were mad about. But what I find interesting about the Wild Lily Movement is the historical description of it as this one thing. It wasn’t. It was many different things.

My recollection of it is that the student protest was by the opera hall, and the DPP protest was by the music hall. But nobody ever remembers that. They just think that it was one mass of people, everyone working together, but it was two very separate things. The students didn’t really want to be absorbed into the DPP, and obviously the DPP also wanted to do their own thing.

Likewise, Lee Teng-Hui was in office. The main villain of the whole thing was Hau Pei-Tsun, but to have this figure in office that at least people felt was sympathetic to their cause made it different. During the Sunflower Movement, the hero of the day was in some sense Wang Jin-pyng. You knew that he was issuing orders to the police, saying not to beat up the students. And you knew also that he was ignoring calls from Ma Ying-Jeou.

I can just picture him on this phone, with someone saying, “Oh, sir, Ma Ying-Jeou wants to talk to you.” And he just says, “Nah.” [Laughs]

Brian Hioe:  It’s quite interesting seeing what he was doing day-to-day through the course of the movement.

Photo credit: othree/Flickr/CC

TC Lin:  It was a very different political climate between the two movements. Of course, between the Wild Lily Movement and the Sunflower Movement was nearly a quarter of a century’s worth of time. A lot happened during that time. But I sensed a similar atmosphere in the spirit of the students and the people involved in both.

I thought it spread out to greater society to a degree. When we were at the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial during the Wild Lily Movement, we had farmers bringing up their produce to give to us to eat, you know. Which was amazing. I had my first wax apples during the Wild Lily movement.

Brian Hioe:  What do you think about the relation between movements in recent years, such as the Wild Strawberry Movement, leading up to the Sunflower Movement?

TC Lin:  The Wild Strawberries weren’t taken that seriously, whereas the Sunflower were. Maybe a sense that, “Finally we mean business.”

Brian Hioe:  In observing the Sunflower Movement, do you have any observations on Taiwanese identity? Do you think it had a large role in mobilizing the students? It’s also always a question for me what people were actually opposed to, whether it was the black box or the CSSTA or the KMT.

TC Lin:  That changed during the movement. They started out being against the motion by the KMT to stop reviewing the bill and stop talking about it. That was what they were opposed to. But it sort of morphed into opposition against the deal as a whole. Of course, they were, but the original complaint was about the process, and then it became about the trade pact as a whole, which was also problematic.

It evolved, which is interesting. It didn’t even start out as the Sunflower Movement.

Brian Hioe:  I remember being in the parking lot of the Legislative Yuan when they all started handing out sunflowers.

TC Lin:  And it sort of caught on after that. It’s interesting. As far as Taiwanese consciousness goes, I think it’s helpful to hear from the younger generation. Because these are the people that are going to make things happen in the future.

What I found most heartening about the whole thing was this sense that the young people were tired of this blue-green political divide. We’ve kind of seen that borne out in the last two or three years. You can see a lot of frustration at the Tsai administration because there was so much to do and so much hesitation to do it, because finally you have no excuses. You control the Executive Yuan and the Legislative Yuan. You can do basically what you want to do and what everyone has voted you in to do. And yet you sort of decide, “Oh, I don’t know. Should we?”

Such as with marriage equality, which remains such a disappointment by the administration. They were voted in on the platform and then just decided that they would stay out of it. You can’t stay out of it! Saying that they would listen to both sides, it was almost Trumpian, stating that there were good people on both sides and that sort of thing. You can’t say that.

And the treatment of the aboriginal protest, which I’ve been following pretty closely by the park there. Just basically ignoring them. The premier went over the other day and listened to them, but I’m not really sure that means anything. The fact that the police went and cleared them out from Ketagalan Boulevard was unconscionable. Nobody paid any attention to that or cared either. 

So I think the Sunflowers may have put Tsai Ing-Wen in office, although it’s also very likely that she would have been in office anyway, seeing as there was no one else remotely capable of that job. And the KMT was basically telling people, “Don’t vote for us,” and ran an awful campaign. But even so, regardless, I think though they may have put her into office, the DPP hasn’t really kept up.

You recall that when it started it was just the students and the protesters, and after three or four days, the DPP started bussing up all these old people from the south.

Brian Hioe:  There was conflict then, when they came en masse.

Photo credit: Felix the Bear/Flickr/CC

TC Lin:  It’s like, “Okay, we’re here.  You young people can step aside, we’re here.”  That sort of attitude. Which I found pretty questionable.

Brian Hioe:  Along those lines, do you think there are any political trends among Taiwanese young people? Or the movement participants? You talked a bit about being tired of blue-green political divisions.

TC Lin:  Well, that’s where the New Power Party et al. came from, right? 

Brian Hioe:  It’s interesting to me that young people tend to be more progressive. They slant left on a lot of issues, whether marriage equality, or indigenous issues, or a lot of issues that aren’t directly related.

TC Lin:  I hope that’s a trend. There have been trends in history where young people are more conservative than previous generations. That isn’t true in this case. Young people are concerned about the future of society because they have to live in it. This is where they’re going to be, so why not make it a better place? It seems to me that students were more concerned about the future of Taiwan than the past. Of course, the past needs recognition, and social justice needs to be fulfilled. But the future is where we’re all going to live.

This is what I found hopeful about the Sunflower Movement, that they were concerned about pragmatic issues of sovereignty and trade in the future. It wasn’t the sort of pie in the sky thing that a lot of the older generation talk about when they’re talking to students, claiming that they’re just idealists and so forth. This was very pragmatic stuff that they were talking about, with regards to the future of Taiwan.

Brian Hioe:  What kind of influence do you think the movement has had, three years later? We talked a bit about elections and Tsai’s election victory earlier.

TC Lin:  That was inevitable, I think, but it’s an interesting subject. Where do we go from here? Because it seems like the administration has not been behind the movement. So who will be behind the movement and what will they do?

What happens depends on the parties that came out of the movement. Because I don’t see change happening, obviously not from the KMT, but I also don’t think from the DPP either. Just from the looks of things.

I was hoping for better. I voted for Tsai. Who else were you going to vote for? But I thought that she would be more proactive than she turned out to be. So the future is up to these new parties to make it.

Brian Hioe:  The last question I wanted to ask then, is do you think the Sunflower Movement can influence international society? For example, it’s also a question as to how China will react to the situation in Taiwan.

TC Lin:  It’s actually pretty predictable how China will react: Badly. [Laughs] But I don’t know. I’m not an expert, but I think that China knows Taiwan’s economic predicament. They know how things will probably go if things continue down the current path. They may just be sort of waiting for that to happen.

And so it’s up to us to shift the path. It shouldn’t be inevitable. I think they see it as that sooner or later, we’ll come back to the fold, and we’ll have to because of the aging society and the failure of previous economic trends, such as with regards to small industry. They’re probably wondering where we’re going with this New Southbound Policy—aside from south.

The New Southbound Policy seems to be like the old Southbound Policy, which didn’t exactly work the great. I agree that we need to be independent of China economically and politically, but we can’t just ignore it. It’s there and it’s something that we should try to use to our advantage if possible, without surrendering any sovereignty to it. But just to say that, “I’m going to ignore you and you’re going to go away”, that’s not going to work. It still needs to be recognized.

From here, I think we need a new party, and someone that is more pragmatic about fixing our problems and also dealing with other problems outside, but fixing our problems. Taiwan is made by Taiwanese. We need to make it ourselves.

Brian Hioe:  What about influence on the international world? How could Taiwan influence the international world?

TC Lin:  I’m not hopeful on that, because as you recall, international media completely ignored the Sunflower Movement. The entire coverage during that time was the missing Malaysian airplane.

Photo credit: Felix the Bear/Flickr/CC

Brian Hioe:  I remember I was submitting a lot of articles during that time. Nobody wanted them.

TC Lin:  I was submitting photos and people were like, “We don’t care. If it’s not about some plane-shaped debris in the Indian Ocean, we don’t want to see it.”  It was very frustrating, as I’m sure you know. So I don’t think can really rely on international media. And politically we can’t rely on anybody, because they’re not reliable.

Last year, I went to San Francisco and I gave a presentation on my Sunflower experience, with photos. People there at the symposium were just flabbergasted. They had no idea that this had happened. And when I got to the part when the White Wolf came on April 1st.

I was hanging around there and I went to the Legislature, and I found that the police had made this sort of wall around the gate there, facing outwards. I thought, “This would never happen in the States.” The police are actually protecting protesters from these violent outside elements.

I’m not saying that the police spontaneously decided to do this; obviously they had received orders to do so. But when I got to that part of that presentation, I practically got a standing ovation. Because people in the States are so sick and tired of police there being extraordinarily awful as an institution, as the police has always been and still remain.

I think that there could be an influence. Obviously, we influenced the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong. I don’t know in the long-term how successful that will be, but I think there’s an impetus there for influence. I just don’t know how this can be broadcast.