Interview: Anonymous I
Anonymous is a Chinese student studying in Taiwan, who was a participant in the Sunflower Movement.
Brian Hioe: The first thing I wanted to ask is, how did you begin to participate in Taiwanese social movements?
Anonymous: In 2011, I came to Taiwan to study. In 2012, I coincidentally had the opportunity to participate in the Shilin Wang family struggle. I was very shocked that there was a group of young people the same age as me on-site, helping to prevent the demolition. I hadn’t thought in China that there were social movements or things like that, apart from Tiananmen Square. I had a very unclear understanding of social movements.
From the Shilin Wang family incident onwards, I began to care about and participate in many Taiwanese social movements. My participation was more regarding land issues. For example, the movement in Tamsui regarding farmland which the city government planned to redevelop. I worked on this until my senior year.
Our work was more focused on the system, with regards to providing environmental assessments and attending some public hearings. It wasn’t a very aggressive social movement. It wasn’t like the kind of intense participation that I imagined. But from that movement onwards, I came to realize that social movements weren’t just street protests and clashes, that much of this returned to the law, and implantation of the law.
During that time, I also participated in Dapu, Miaoli, and the Huaguang Community land eviction issue. I participated in two attempts to block demolition then. That was quite shocking. It was the first time I encountered a land eviction, not in China, but in Taiwan. It was quite shocking seeing everyone, on March 23rd, 2013—I remember the date quite clearly—it was the first time that with everyone, we blocked the road a number of obstacles, and then everyone lay down there, waiting for the police to come. When police removed all the obstacles, they pulled everyone away, one by one, and eventually demolished the housing at the end of April.
Photo credit: Abby Chen/Flickr/CC
Those two times were very shocking. since Taiwan is a democratic country, and has a system that is more capable of protecting the rights of people and ensuring human rights. Yet why would this happen? I began to become more clear about land issues from then on. That includes participating in an action to sleep outside of the Legislative Yuan.
Apart from that, I also participated in some campus issues. For example, opposing tuition increases. Or participating in the election for head of the student council. That was an interesting event.
The reason for that was because in my junior year, we were working on the movement to oppose tuition raises. Running was in order to have a say in the student government mechanism regarding this. We eventually succeeded in preventing this from happening. We also held press conferences, held events on campus, and linked up with students from other schools to go and protest at the Ministry of Education.
After all these actions, the school had no way to raise tuition. The Ministry of Education later decided that the communication process had been insufficient. We later also worked on opposing planned raises in costs to use school facilities, and plans to raise costs for Chinese students, international students, and graduate students. We decided to run in the student government, because this would let us have a say in the process. Even if we lost, it would be a way of affecting the system.
There was the pattern of students joining the student council in freshman year, becoming student representatives as junior, and chairs in senior. There was no oversight in this process and the student council served as a rubber stamp for the school, when it came to increasing tuition.
But it became an international incident, after, because a flag was added next to my name when I ran. And it became discussed of as a Chinese student running to be head of the student council. People wanted to seize on this issue as a way of preventing me from running. It was quite astonishing. Because I pay tuition and attend classes like everyone else, so why would I be prevented from running for student council?
Yet it couldn’t be stated as being a requirement for running for student council, otherwise only Taiwanese students could run, and they wouldn’t be able to state this publicly. However, I can understand how Taiwanese society would react this way. That was right after the end of the Sunflower Movement. That was the height of anti-Chinese sentiment. So I can also understand that sense of nationalism. It led to a lot of divides.
You could say divided between two groups. The “Taiwanese independence human rights faction” and the “Taiwanese independence fascists.” [Laughs] The “human rights faction’s” point of view was that, no matter what my nationality is, as long as I am in Taiwan studying here, I can run. And the people I had participated in social movements with for a long time had faith in me. Because I started off from campus activist groups. The Taiwanese independence felt that no matter who, as long as its a Chinese person, that this shouldn’t be allowed. No matter what they may have done in the past, that they shouldn’t be allowed to run.
It was quite funny. After that, for the next two semesters, there was no student council president, since the student council was a rubber stamp for the school, and so they decided it was better not to have a functioning student council.
That was also why I decided to enter the Graduate Institute of Building and Planning at NTU, after participating in land issue protests. Because wherever I went, there would always be somebody that introduced themselves as being from the Graduate Institute of Building and Planning at NTU. I became curious about why this was so, so I decided that I would study this at NTU.
Photo credit: Toomore Chiang/Flickr/CC
Brian Hioe: What were you doing during the Sunflower Movement?
Anonymous: During the Sunflower Movement, I was always on-site there.
Why was I there? I felt that part of the reason why I got pulled in was because all of my friends were there. I oppose nationalism. All forms of nationalism. Because I personally am from a very nationalistic country, which also to have protests like anti-Japanese protests and the like. So I am naturally very opposed to nationalism, no matter where.
Radical independence, radical unification, and “little Pinks”, are all different forms of nationalism. They don’t include other people and their exclusion is very strong. Towards these people, I can’t really accept them. So I felt a bit conflicted, because I couldn’t find my place during the movement. It was the height of anti-Chinese sentiment, but I am also quite opposed to nationalism.
But my friends were all there. I remember on 318, all of my roommates were inside the Legislative Yuan. So I went there to see what was going on. I looked down on the bridge from Qingdao East Road and there were a lot of people around the Legislative Yuan at that point in time. I tried calling them up and couldn’t get through.
I wrote an article in the Apple Daily about what I observed afterwards. You can look it up. They changed my title though. I was trying to counter the people who were saying that this was all orchestrated by the DPP.
It was very chaotic in the middle of 318. You can say that there was a center, the inside of the Legislative Yuan. But you could also say that there wasn’t any center. Some people feel that they were controlling the movement from inside of the Legislative Yuan. However, they weren’t.
They couldn’t even control the inside of the Legislative Yuan.
I also spent some time at the Department of Social Sciences, the so-called back-up base. There later were divides between the so-called radicals and the so-called moderates and schisms about whether to divide the inside of the Legislative Yuan from the outside or not.
But years later, it feels like everybody suddenly turned hostile. And confusion over the spread of information was another issue. For messages to get inside or outside required climbing over a wall. I went in and outside to the second floor then down to the first floor twice. So I experienced this and knew that there were difficulties in communicating between the inside and outside.
The Department of Social Sciences couldn’t do much either, except serve as a back-up base.
Brian Hioe: Did you have any views regarding the decisions made by the core decision making group?
Anonymous: The first afternoon I went inside, I found that the core decision making group had made a decision. Lin Fei-Fan was announcing a decision. And that the decision was that everybody should surround the KMT headquarters across Taiwan. But after he announced this, everyone was rolling their eyes. The five or six people around me were all rolling their eyes. Surround the KMT headquarters? For what? Wouldn’t that just split up our forces even further, if some people went to surround it? And because this was impossible, nobody really tried this, everyone stayed around the Legislative Yuan.
So you can see from this that they didn’t really have any ability to lead the movement either.
Brian Hioe: As a Chinese student, did you receive any different treatment in the movement?
Anonymous: My circumstance was more particular, because I was around social movements in the two or three years before the Sunflower Movement. So everyone knew me. They knew who I was. I didn’t need a work pass to get into the Legislative Yuan, people just knew my face.
Everyone knew me. Even for people that didn’t know me, they had faith in me. So I later participated in the meeting that they had every night on the second floor. I felt okay about that.
Photo credit: 中岑 范姜/Flickr/CC
But sometimes I did feel uncomfortable. For example, around the Alliance of Referendum for Taiwan, I saw that they had signs like, “Kick out Chinese pigs!” and things like that. That made me feel a bit more uncomfortable. Isn’t that also a sense of being angry at Chinese people?
It was a bit astonishing, since I was also a participant in the movement. But I was an other who were excluded, as well. I was accepted by some people, but because of other issues regarding my identity, I was excluded.
I also heard some discussions regarding China. Some of what I heard made me feel surprised, since it didn’t correspond to my life experience. For example, there was talk about health insurance for Chinese students. There were people that said that if they opened it up, Chinese students would all come and take over and take advantage of the health insurance system. I almost felt over. [Laughs] How could this be? Before we come, Chinese students all have to provide a health report, and restrictions on entering and exiting are quite severe. That was the height of Taiwanese nationalism. So I avoided these things.
Anonymous: I think that, like you said, there are many different layers. In the beginning, they may have talked more about process, but I think that in reality, it was opposed to China. If it didn’t hit on issues regarding nationality, there was no way it could mobilize so many people or be so influential. It was a lack of faith in Ma Ying-Jeou’s cross-straits policy, which accumulated over time. Another factor was the instability of cross-strait relations. It was anxiety and fear regarding China.
What provoked it was the Chang Ching-Chung thirty second incident, regarding process. But anger over that later fell away. The inside of the Legislative Yuan was itself a black box, with a few people making all sorts of decisions, and people outside not really knowing. Such as when they decided to withdraw themselves, and only later seeking to establish legitimacy for this. It was that process.
I felt that my own position was opposition to globalization under conditions of capitalism. The issue of free trade. But I think that there was a lot of discussion on site. For example, the Untouchables’ Liberation Area, which was closer to the labor movement. They also discussed how to address Chinese people. I feel that their discussion was more outside of the bounds of nationalism.
Yet looking back, the Sunflower Movement’s largest influence on me, was that it was provoked a lot of deep reflection for me. This is true whether for me individually for for all of Taiwan. It also allowed a lot of different forms of discourse to deepen and different political positions to develop. I think that this change is larger than simply addressing the issue of the trade agreement.
Brian Hioe: Do you think that there’s any political orientation to Taiwanese social movements, then? Because I feel that social movement participants tend to say that they are left-leaning and they tend to be progressive on a number of issues ranging from support of same-sex marriage to support for abolition of the death penalty.
Anonymous: I think it was quite diverse. People had very different opinions and there were very large differences. It’s very hard to categorize this all as Taiwanese social movements all being one way. I think you have to take in account the difference between different people and different issues. You may support A issue, but not B issue.
For example, there might be somebody that supports the labor movement. But opposes gay people. There are a lot of layers. But I think there may be a set of shared, core values. It may be that being left-leaning is due to opposition to a right-leaning government, which leads public opinion to lean left. China is a country that refers to itself as left-wing, but its people tend to lean right-wing. Comparatively speaking.
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What may have had more influence, in my view, was 2016 elections. A lot of Sunflower Movement people stood in elections. After I ran for student council, I interviewed some core participants in the movement, who were helping politicians run in elections. I won’t say who. They were later excluded from their own party and later left that party. You definitely know who.
I interviewed his aide, who was also a very important participant of the Sunflower Movement. He said that during the Sunflower Movement, everyone felt that they were together. But when actually entering politics, then he realized that when we look at people we may feel they are the same but they are actually different. He felt that the path afterwards was how to find what we all share together and to see if there is a shared foundation, and then we can work together.
I think that in these two elections since then, particularly with increasing pressure on the DPP, the meaning of the movement and its influence, or where it should be reflected on further, are becoming more clear. The DPP hadn’t taken power then, but it was able to absorb energy from the movement, and what did people do afterwards? It was putting on a show then to try and co-opt the movement. But later on, it became weaker.
Brian Hioe: Where do you think the primary influence of the Sunflower Movement was, then? On politics or society?
Anonymous: I think that the largest influence was causing this generation of Taiwanese young people to become more politically sensitive. In the past, people were colder to politics. The Sunflower Movement has increased collective discussion. In the present, less people will be caught between blue/green political divides, such as with some of the people that oppose the DPP regarding planned changes to the Labor Standards Act. Many opposed the KMT during the Sunflower Movement as well.
And I think this influence is quite important. Taiwanese social movements have now gotten out of the trap that social movements were caught in when Chen Shui-Bian took power. The view that we had spent a great deal of energy putting the DPP into power, so we shouldn’t cause trouble for them. This is a pitfall. Or maybe a form of confusion. Taiwanese people aren’t so easily tricked now.
Brian Hioe: Do you think that something like the Sunflower Movement could happen again in Taiwan?
Anonymous: That’ll depend on the government. But in general, I feel that responsibility for social movements isn’t with the people, it’s with the government.
Brian Hioe: How do you think China looks at the Sunflower Movement? Whether with regards to the government or with society?
Anonymous: As a Taiwanese independence movement. Quite simply. It’s just viewed as a Taiwanese independence movement.
Brian Hioe: Lastly, do you think that the Sunflower Movement can influence the international world? Whether in China or elsewhere?
Photo credit: kent Chuang/Flickr/CC
Anonymous: I think there is definite influence. There was a book written recently, by an international scholar, which also touched on the Sunflower Movement. It also had a large influence on the Umbrella Movement. A great deal of the Umbrella Movement learned from the Sunflower Movement.
Brian Hioe: Could it have influence on other Asian countries?
Anonymous: It will. It’s the information age. As long as something happens and information is available on the Internet, it could be influential.