Interview: Lin Zuyi
Lin Zuyi is one of the organizers of the Appendectomy Project, as well as a member of Watchout, a PTT group moderator, and was a member of Citizen 1985. The following interview was conducted on October 26th, 2017.
Brian Hioe: How did you begin participating in social movements? Why did you start participating in social movements?
Lin Zuyi: When I began participating in social movements, the main reason was because I was moderator of a Facebook fan group for PTT. As a result of this, everyday I would have to pick some articles and post it online for netizens to see.
Because PTT has a lot of boards, I would gradually see changes in the “villagers.” Before they might not be concerned with social or political issues in Taiwan, but as “villagers” got older and older, this began to appear in their topics. This was five years ago around 2012. What I saw was that on PTT on the “Gossiping” board, people might begin to discuss a lot of related issues. By 2013, there were further discussion on these issues. Because of this, I gradually found that my perspective changed.
I was administrator for this fan group and there were several hundreds of thousands of people inside. And so when I posted one article, there might be tens of thousands of people or more who saw this. In this process, I would start to understand why people spoke of media as the “fourth estate.” I would come to think that this was so, the media did have a certain amount of power. Because when I picked certain articles, this would affect how people saw the contents.
Lin Zuyi. Photo credit: musou.tw/WikiCommons/CC
With the rise of social media, this made me feel that a fifth estate had appeared. Those responsible for managing Facebook groups or pages. I had started to feel that apart from posting some funny or interesting actress, that“villagers would enjoy, I also felt that I should post discussions regarding what is reality and what villagers’ views were. That way more villagers could see what had taken place that day and all outside world to see that villagers weren’t just people with no views that just sat in front of their computers. To see that many netizens and villagers had deep discussion of issues.
Because of this, apart from posting what was funny or interesting, I also picked some more serious articles to post. In posting these, I hoped to influence other villagers. What’s very realistic is that standing from the perspective of organizing a community, this was very selective.
When I posted a regular article, there may be 100,000 or 150,000 people that viewed it. But when I posted a more serious article, there might only be 20% that viewed this. But I believe that this was unavoidable. Posting articles in this fan group was only spending my personal time. But even if I posted this, even though there was less people, this was still several tens of thousands. Even if this only led one percent of people to mobilize, I would still feel that this is meaningful for society. So because of this perspective, I worked harder at managing this group.
Apart from wanting to influence netizens, I gradually came to find that I myself had also become influenced by this. [Laughs] In the past, I wasn’t someone that cared about politics. I felt politics was something quite distant from me. I went to work and took care of myself. As for me, I didn’t feel that caring about this had any use for me. I thought it had nothing to do with me.
But after posting many articles, I gradually came to feel that Taiwan is somewhat strange. How come there was so many unequal things taking place? After posting these articles, I would come to feel angry myself that these things were taking place. Such as the Dapu incident with forced demolitions. Under these circumstances, for me, in 2013, at the end of June or July when the Hung Chun-Hsiu incident was at a high point, every one or two days I would post an article to do with Hung Chun-Hsiu. And in that way, you could see how the Ministry of National Defense was carrying out things. So in this way, through the power of the keyboard, I was influencing others.
At this time, Citizen 1985 began to organize many activities. The protests 723, 803, Double Ten Day, and others. On 723, this was a call to action outside the Ministry of National Defense. At that time, I also posted this in the fan group, hoping that villagers could participate. I also decided that I would go over and look myself.
That day was special because that was girlfriend’s birthday. So I had to take her out to do something fun. I thought before I did that, I might go take a look in the morning and then afterwards, I would take her outside to do something fun. But I also felt afraid then. Internet friends were afraid that, although it might look like ten thousand people were going to attend on the Internet, nobody would actually show up. That event was very hot in the Internet. Everyone said they were too angry, that they were going to go outside the Ministry of National Defense, and give the Ministry of National Defense a piece of their mind. But I feared nobody would show up and it would be awkward. [Laughs]
So I thought, no matter, I would ride my scooter over and if there were no people, I would just turn around and take my girlfriend out to have fun. Later on, I didn’t manage to make it to by scooter to the Ministry of National Defense. There were too many people. So I left my scooter farther away and weaved between the people to head to where was more central and found that I also couldn’t squeeze in. But on-site I asked the people around me to post a picture showing that I was there and encouraging more villagers to go over. I posted this on the Facebook group, In a very short amount of time, not even one hour, there 5,000 or 6,000 people that pressed “Like.”
Example of a PTT board. Photo credit: moboo/WikiCommons/CC
Five years ago, that was quite surprising. Now, the Facebook group is larger, so 5,000 or 6,000 “Likes” might not mean much. But back then, it represented that many people were paying attention to this. That although people may not have been on-site, that they cared about this event.
I began to care more and more about society. I didn’t think I had become concerned with politics yet, but I would concern myself with different topics. On the other hand, I would feel that after participating through the keyboard, could I do anything further? Because of some unexpected circumstances, I came to know people from Citizen 1985 and I later joined as a volunteer. So this was the beginning of my personal participation in social movements, beginning from participating by keyboard, and then people pulled in.
After being pulled in, because I felt that if I could do anything to help out, this would be nice, because I had some experience teaching so I can speak clearly and would not be afraid of the media, although I was a recent volunteer, quite quickly I began a member of the media group of Citizen 1985 and became a spokesman. This is an important duty for a civic group and I also felt that this was a form of being recognized. So I invested more of myself in this.
At the time, I had a junior in the Black Island Youth Front. Later on, I got pulled into help as well. Because my original area of specialization is in finance, after being pulled in, because at that time the CSSTA wasn’t a hot topic but at that time there were some public hearing on the CSSTA later on I got a message from my junior asking me if I was free on a certain morning. I said, “Oh, I’m free.” And he asked me if I could go discuss the CSSTA. I said I could, since this was my specialty.
So the first time that, as an organization, the Black Island Youth Front participated in a public hearing on the CSSTA in the Legislative, I was the representative of the Black Island Youth Front. As representative, I realized that this issue may have problems. The first reason is because I got information for this hearing very late. Only at noon the day before the hearing did I get related materials. So that day, I had to stay up all night researching.
And at the hearing, I stated where I felt the CSSTA was disadvantageous to Taiwan and could be amended. For me, this didn’t mean opposing or supporting the CSSTA, but standing in this place, what I felt I could do was according to my specialization to state what I felt was best for Taiwan.
But at the time, what was quite interesting was that I saw my advisor then, because I hadn’t finished my studies at the department of economics at National Cheng Chi University at that point in time. I saw my professor down there. So although people might begin by saying, “Hello everybody,” I said, “Hello everybody! Hello professor!” surprising my professor. And after talking about where I thought the CSSTA was disadvantageous to Taiwan, I shook hands with my advisor, and I knew that my advisor was a vice minister of the Mainland Affairs Council, so his influence was quite large, and of course they support the CSSTA. He said that people studying in the department of economics should support the CSSTA.
I felt quite a lot of pressure then, with my advisor there saying that I should support the CSSTA. [Laughs] So later on, I told him that I had a different position than him. So in attending this hearing, I tried bringing the voice of us everyday people into the Legislative Yuan. But it was a shame, I felt it was like throwing a rock into water and just sinking, without even ripples. What later occurred is that Ma Ying-Jeou announced that CSSTA had to be passed, without even changing a word, and I felt that under these circumstances on March 17th, when the Legislative Yuan forced the bill through, because of this, a lot of us civic groups felt that this was a very important event but that there wasn’t a lot of public attention.
So we discussed whether we should take some form of action to allow everybody to pay more attention to this. That day, on Jinan Road, we held a rally at night. I felt a bit shocked, since there were only a few hundred people. If it was only a few hundred people, it was probably just people in our social circle and nobody else. [Laughs] Not even a few thousand. I remember we arranged to charge inside at 8 o’clock. I had brought my girlfriend there at the time, feeling that having another body was a good thing.
Photo credit: Felix the Bear/Flickr/CC
Later on, I asked my friends what time we were supposed to charge and people told me that the plan had changed and they were going to charge at 9 PM instead. So I had time to bring my girlfriend home and come back. Because I was afraid she might get hurt if there were clashes with the police. I originally thought I would bring her for support, but since I had time, I brought her back and rushed back.
And then I went along with the people and was part of the first wave that charged into the Legislative Yuan. Of course, after going in, not even the lights inside the Legislative Yuan were on. Some friends from the media helped use their lights to illuminate it in the beginning. I stayed for some time in the beginning.
What differs between me and other participants is that I didn’t completely stay on the inside. I had to work in the morning, although I hadn’t finished studying graduate school yet, and was still a student, I had already entered society and was working at that point in time. I started working on my own from college to pay for my own expenses. Because I still had to work in the morning, around 10 AM, we charged in and after everyone was sure that the occupation was stable, I left the inside of the Legislative Yuan around 10 PM.
Afterwards, I went over every day, but I was outside, rather than inside. I helped wth the spread of information. With an extra person like me on the inside, there might not be any difference, but if I was outside and had Internet access, I could help circulate information. Because what’s very realistic is that I was moderator of a PTT Facebook group. And second, I was comparatively more experienced regarding social media management. The Anti-CSSTA Facebook page had 390,000 likes very quickly and I was also a moderator on the page.
What’s may be of more important is that on that I and some others began the plan for Democracy at 4 AM, to crowdfund an ad in the New York Times.
Brian Hioe: During the night of 323.
Lin Zuyi: This was one of the bigger things that began on the outside of the Legislative Yuan. We hoped for what took place in Taiwan to not only be seen in Taiwan, but also to be seen in the international world. So we and some others began this plan and what I think is quite realistic is that in a very short period of time, we met our goal quite quickly.
Later on, the role I played was that I contacted media and told them that we were planning on buying this ad. Looking at it from the perspective of results, we placed ads in, domestically, five front pages, as well as one page inside the Apple Daily and in a special issue of the Liberty Times. So together, we published 7 ads domestically. Outside of Taiwan, we published a full page ad in the New York Times international edition and domestic edition.
When our group began, we didn’t have a very clear aim, that we wanted to place an ad in international media. But later, we discovered that less people were interested in international media, more people wanted to place ads domestically. So we decided to place an ad in the Apple Daily and the international edition of the New York Times. But we later found that this surpassed our expectations, that we were able to publish in 7 domestic newspaper and both domestically and internationally.
During that time, the donations entered my bank account and were sent out from my account. The 200,000 NT that were left over, we donated to the Black Island Youth Front to allow them to hold nationwide events. At the time, I remembered I called up the National Taxation Bureau to ask if I had to pay tax. And because crowdfunding is quite new, the National Taxation Bureau person that picked up said, “I think that there’s no applicable laws, so there shouldn’t be any need to pay tax.” So I felt like a burden had been lifted from my shoulders after that. [Laughs]
Because of the money we raised, there was some money that we left over in case we had to pay tax. Apart from that, we haggled over the price with the newspapers, since we wanted to make sure that the citizens’ money was well spent. So apart from publishing ads in many newspapers, I think that many related reports appeared on how we were doing things, our progress, and different professors that helped out. This had also had the effect of resonating in the media, letting more people know why there would be a group of people in the Legislative Yuan. To let people internationally know what is taking place in Taiwan.
Photo credit: Abby Chen/Flickr/CC
International news reports weren’t too many and most reports were domestic. So during the movement, apart from buying an ad in the New York Times, a group of us started a website directed towards the international world, also titled Democracy at 4 AM. Up to now, this website is registered under my name. I think its worth remembering, so every year, I spend 1,000 NT to extend the registration for this website. For this, through the photos, news, we hoped to allow international people to see what was taking place in Taiwan.
We worked together with the media group in the Legislative Yuan, that if they had any materials they could provide us, we would post this. After the New York Times ad came out, apart from expressing what was taking place in Taiwan, we registered this domain and in three days, we had over 1,000,000 hits. So during this time in the Sunflower Movement, apart from being in the first wave that entered the Legislative Yuan, what is key is allowing for information to spread, to allow everyone know what is going on.
Brian Hioe: What kind of movement do you think this was? It seems to me that most people may have opposed the improper process by which the CSSTA was passed. Others may have opposed China or the KMT. Still others may have opposed free trade altogether.
Lin Zuyi: I think that the largest number of people that participated was opposing the black box. This is my observation. Because as a moderator, I found that discussing the China factor or free trade were deeper issues. But with 500,000 taking to the streets on 330, if you actually asked them if they knew what the CSSTA was, they probably didn’t.
The issue is quite deep, regarding law or whatever, and information about it was not very transparent. Everything is quite detailed, including every industry. But what there was a consensus is that what echoes through Taiwan is that this was an improper, undemocratic process in passing this bill. Through this process, this would be harmful of Taiwanese democracy and people did not have faith in the Legislative Yuan. I would feel that the majority of participants opposed the black box and stood up for that reason. But there were also those inside who opposed the CSSTA and some who opposed China. It was one circle in another. But the largest circle was those opposed to the CSSTA.
Brian Hioe: Do you think Taiwanese identification has to do with your participation in social movements? Or for those around you?
Lin Zuyi: For me, Taiwanese identification has a relation to my participation in the movement. But I feel that this is not necessarily so for other participants. In many cases, the Sunflower Movement was determined by its aftereffect.
After going through this and the reflection proposed by this, this led more people to realize that they were “naturally independent.” This phrase was something that has only emerged in the past two or three years. In the past, of those born in the 1980s or 1990s, what our textbooks introduce is Chinese history or geography. Through this education, when we were younger, we would feel that we are quite close to China.
On the other hand, we would have a question mark in our minds, wondering why China was oppressive of Taiwan in so many international contexts. And later on, after the anti-CSSTA movement, maybe the most may have opposed the black box, but the conclusion was that we should push back this agreement between Taiwan and China. This would let us feel that we’re not connected with China, but that we are independent, which is why we would need to sign an agreement with China.
Brian Hioe: Do you think that there is any political orientation to Taiwanese social movements? Many people say that they are left-leaning and are progressive regarding a number of issues, such as support for same-sex marriage or opposition to the death penalty, for example. I think this is quite interesting.
Lin Zuyi: In the past, I felt that Taiwanese groups may be more left-leaning and progressive. But now, I might feel that using this as a way of dividing civil society groups in Taiwan, I would feel that this is quite narrow. For example, regarding same-sex marriage or opposition to the death penalty, we may feel that these are progressive issues. But does that mean those who don’t support this are regressive? If so, I feel that this is a discriminatory view. So in examining myself, unless one needs to draw an antagonistic division, ordinarily I would not use this way to describe local groups or the ideals and values we advocate.
Photo credit: Abby Chen/Flickr/CC
Brian Hioe: Three years later, how do you think the Sunflower Movement has influenced Taiwanese politics?
Lin Zuyi: First, what is quite a direct result, is defeat for the KMT. Ten or twenty years, something like the student may happen again, although it doesn’t happen often. As a democracy becomes more firmly established, the likelihood of it taking place decreases. Only if there are many undemocratic circumstances could there be events like this taking place often. Because this occurred under the KMT’s governance, in the 1980s or 1990s, there’s no political loyalty because they were originally indifferent to politics and political parties. Because this occurred under the rule of the KMT, this increased the amount of opposition that many young people have towards to the KMT. So in 2014, many people would shout the slogan, “If the KMT doesn’t collapse, Taiwan cannot survive!” [Laughs] I feel that this is a deep influence of the student movement towards Taiwan, the defeat of a political party.
Of course, what will happen now to the political party that was out of power for four years or eight years or beyond. We can put a question mark here. But they were the biggest winner. There are many people who will put their focus on the New Power Party, as a group which appeared from the movement, but the actual biggest winner is the DPP. The DPP won political office, which is most significant. In the Legislative Yuan, the NPP is still a small political party with five legislators without roots, after all. So has it had a deep influence on Taiwanese politics? I would say yes, and that is in terms of the KMT’s defeat and the DPP’s rise. As well as the appearance of Third Force small parties.
Secondly is that this has led a group of “naturally independent” people to realize that they are “naturally independent”. China might feel that Taiwan is an indivisible part of itself. But for Taiwanese young people, they would feel that China has nothing to do with me. [Laughs] We’re Taiwan. We live well enough on our own. This notion of “natural independence” has appeared. In the past, people would feel that China is the “mainland,” and from when we were small to adulthood, we always referred to there as the “mainland” in our education. But now we gradually will refer to this as “China” and not as the “mainland.” In this, you can see the changes in many people.
Third is civic participation. At Watchout or at the Appendectomy Project, this is what I’ve observed. That many citizens who may have previously been cold to politics and not care about it have stood up and concerned themselves with politics. I think attention to the movement has dissolved. Which is to say that different newspapers will do a special report on the movement for every anniversary.
These sell very poorly. People may not care very much about the movement or what happened to people in the movement afterwards too much. But this spirit of civic participation has been preserved. Many people are no longer cold to politics. In terms of my own experience, in these few years, many high schoolers have asked me to go give a talk and discuss what we’re doing now at Watchout in advocating civic participation in politics. In the past, you wouldn’t seen this. But now there are more and more circumstances like this.
So to put it simply, its in terms of these three effects: first, the defeat of the KMT, second, the appearance of “natural independence,” and third, civic participation is on the rise.
Lin Zuyi: For me, in terms of my personal experience, during the movement, I helped with the circulation of information during the movement. But in the middle of and after the movement, I was pulled into the Appendectomy Project.
A group of villagers felt that we couldn’t always charge the Legislative Yuan. Was there any ways we could use democratic process to check and balance unsuitable legislators? And we thought about how, from when we were small, we had been taught about the right of recall. What’s interesting about the recall campaign is that, of course, after we first had a meeting, we all didn’t know each other and everyone asked me if I could be the chair.
Because I had participated in 1985 and was also one of the conveyors of the Democracy at 4 AM crowdfunding campaign. Under these circumstances, everyone asked me if I could be the chair. And I felt that since we didn’t all know each, “Do you all really have faith in me? Do I have faith in you?” At the time, I thought, “Okay, so then I’ll be a spokesman then. Since I’ve been a spokesman before.” And at the time, the Appendectomy Project had encountered a difficulty that there weren’t people who were willing to engage with the media. Nobody wanted the spotlight.
At the time, there were still those who would label us as “rioters” or things like that. And for white-collar workers who participated in this, they were afraid that their lives would be influenced. So became a spokesman.
Photo credit: 中岑 范姜/Flickr/CC
In this way, we became a civic group without a chair. Other civic groups have chairs but we didn’t. For different decisions, we would announce in our internal group the time and place, and everyone could come attend. Everyone who attended could be part of the decision making group and take on work. So I think that this was a very interesting organizational culture. It was very inclusive. Because of the changes over the years, people have come and gone. But because of this decision making process, if you are willing to come and attend today, you can be part of the decision making group and to jointly influence this plan.
In this way, I feel that this has led participants to be very enthusiastic. They won’t feel excluded. Everyone feels important. And so the organization has continued to be active. Compared to other groups, I feel that the Appendectomy Project has a lot of energy.
Second is, I think we broke apart that, even without any star, we can push for a civic movement. At the time, I use the name of “Mr. Lin from Taipei” to engage with the media, wearing a lab coat, a hat, and a face mask. And I would refer to myself as “Mr. Lin from Taipei,” as a means of not creating a star brand. That way, people would participate not because of Lin Zuyi, but because they agree with the ideals of recall campaigning, or because they view what a legislator as doing as not good. So in participating in such a movement, no matter if you work as a volunteer or organize an activity or vote, it’s not for the sake of stars. It’s a special characteristic of the Appendectomy Project. The Appendectomy Project continued onwards, hoping to recall Alex Tsai.
After the failure of this, we changed our direction to examining the recall law. Because right to recall in Taiwan has existed for over seventy year and the recall law in Taiwan has existed for over forty years unchanged. Election rules are changed every year in order to meet present needs.
This is not so for recall law. Politicians don’t hope to be threatened by recall, even using vaguely illegal means to make sure people are unaware of this. Because of these laws, I’ve received 600,000 notices. Because of spreading word regarding the recall. How couldn’t you spread word of this? [Laughs]
But in this way, I have 600,000 notices. It’s scary, how much years of money do i have to save up? And there are other illogical laws, so we advocated changing the recall law. In February 2015, after the recall vote, we started to push for amending the law. Apart from putting out our own version, we met with every party caucus in the Legislative Yuan.
In 2015, we didn’t succeed in changing the law. Because we had to confront the fact because legislators were running for office, attempts to change many laws were stopped. In 2016, we continued to push for this and in March of that year, this entered discussion by the Ministry of the Interior and on April, it left the Ministry of the Interior.
After that, we thought it would be smooth sailing, but we didn’t expect that after one month, two months, and three months, month after month, there wasn’t any progress. It was like it had fallen into a black hole and that the Legislative Yuan didn’t want to discuss this. Later on, in the latter half of the year, in October and September, we continued to meet with the four major party caucuses.
Then in November, during a legislative meeting in the afternoon, when they wanted to break, and the NPP raised this. And in November 29, 2016, the recall amendment passed the reading and the right to recall appeared. Under these circumstances, this can be considered a success of the Sunflower Movement. If there was no Sunflower Movement, there would not be this Appendectomy Project. Much less calls to change a referendum law that had not been changed in 40 years. So I feel that these successes are also direct or indirect achievements of the Sunflower Movement.
Brian Hioe: Do you have any views regarding how China looks at the current political circumstances in Taiwan?
Lin Zuyi: Up to now, the new government that took power has worse relations with China. On the other hand, China also has many issues that it needs to resolve domestically. So personally, I feel that China feels that it has to limit the power of the pro-independence forces in Taiwan. On the other hand, they are busy with what they are doing themselves, such as the 19th National Congress which was so hotly discussed not too long ago.
After the 19th National Congress, I think they may pay more attention to Taiwan. But to try and influence Taiwan, they can only try and use the economy to influence Taiwan. In terms of ideological influence, they have much difficulties, because for those young people for whom Taiwan is an independent polity and country, this is a mainstream view. So up to now, I haven’t seen a new theory that can break apart this way of thinking. Apart from using the economic force, in terms of the ideological “United Front,” my own view is that China has failed.
Photo credit: othree/Flickr/CC
Brian Hioe: Do you believe that there could be another movement such as the Sunflower Movement in Taiwan in the future? And do you believe that the Sunflower Movement could influence international social movements or the international world?
Lin Zuyi: I think this is very hard to say. Up to now, technology is gradually changing the government. Such as for Watchout, what we’re working on is letting people more easily participate in politics, whether this is oversight over the legislature or websites we’ve put together for questions posed to mayors or the president, to allow the people to more easily interact with politicians or political candidates. In this process, our people have gradually have had the opportunity to resolve issues more quickly. The eruption of the movement has brought about a lot of aftereffects. But for Taiwanese society as a whole, this is also a large disruption.
To speak more specifically, if such a movement erupts, that means that Taiwan is facing a difficult period of time. That this powerful force would build up over a period of time. I don’t think this is a good thing. I think that if citizen’s relation to the government should be resolved with more interactions. To avoid that many questions accumulate and this all explodes into this large social disruption. Up to now, I also observe that apart from Watchout, many citizens have also put their energy into this, and the government has also done the same.
So in the spirit of opening up government, many policies and many important issues, at least up to now, the government will use different channels to try and understand earlier what the people are thinking. With communication between the people and government, I feel that this is trying to search for new answers.
If this continues positively, with faster communication, I feel that the government’s way of doing things won’t be like in the past, only listening to the will of the party and not the people. If we can avoid these circumstances, of course, movements on the scale of the Sunflower Movement will probably be less likely to happen. But if this so, I don’t believe that this is a bad thing. This is a good thing, because this represents that many issues have been resolved more quickly and without having to take such drastic action in charging the Legislative Yuan to resolves these issues.
As for influence on the international world, what may be most direct is Hong Kong. Because we’re both Sinophone societies and both confront threats from China. China raised quite early that it might not change Hong Kong for fifty years and “One Country, Two Systems,” but we can see that many of these have been broken promises and that Hong Kong has gradually lost democracy.
People will say, “Today’s Hong Kong is tomorrow’s Taiwan.” Taiwan has become more and more distant from China, so I think that Chinese influence on Taiwan will become smaller and smaller. As for influence on Hong Kong, I’m not sure if activities in Taiwan can help them stick it out. Outside of Sinophone societies, I don’t know. Because to let people know that there is this history, because every place has its own history and its own stories, will they keep us in mind? I would put a question mark here, maybe not.