Interview: Wang Yikai
Wang Yikai is a city council candidate in Taipei and the founder of campaigns such as the “Say Sorry to China” contest and KMT sticker campaign. The following interview was conducted on October 30th, 2017.
Brian Hioe: So the first thing I wanted to ask is, how did you begin participating in social movements? Why did you begin participating and what kinds of issues did you participate in?
Wang Yikai: The earliest time I participated was the Wild Strawberry Movement in 2008. At that point, the issue was opposition to the Parade and Assembly Act. We called for an amendment of the law to allow for free assembly as should befit a democratic country. The reason why the movement broke out was because Chen Yunlin came to Taiwan and the Ma administration’s actions then were to not allow Taiwanese people to fly the ROC flag. Under these circumstances, I saw many people take the ROC flag to go protest and have their flags forcibly confiscated and physically attacked by police in the course of this, including people who had their fingers broken in the course of this.
For me, at that time, I was a college student studying philosophy. In class, listening to the words of instructors, I was already more interested in social issues that point in time. Looking onto this, I felt that this was very angering. Why could things be done this way?
Later on, I saw students and a professor called Lin Chong, they announced that they were going to hold a sit-in at Liberty Plaza to call on everyone to take action if they opposed this kind of actions. If the Parade and Assembly Act were amended, anyone could freely protest, and wouldn’t be limited in this way by police. I felt that these values fit mine, so I went over to try and understand this. That was the first time I participated in social movements, as well as the first student movement I participated in.
It was this kind of disparity which led me to feel dissatisfied and angry. Why would you say that Taiwan can’t raise its own flag? And if you ask for peace and equality from the other side, when Chinese people come, why do you act this way? It was a feeling of being dissatisfied towards the government. Later on, I began to come in contact more with public issues as discussed by social movements.
Photo credit: 北投士林‧王奕凱/Facebook
Brian Hioe: What other issues did you participate in between the Wild Strawberry Movement to the Sunflower Movement?
Wang Yikai: From the Wild Strawberry Movement to the Sunflower Movement, I participated in the gender/sexuality movement, including the annual pride parade. I was awakened to this issue by my teacher, who was a feminist professor that researched the gender/sexuality movement. They had participated in the Philippines human rights movement. I became interested in this issue afterwards, so I focused on this.
Subsequently, I participated in the anti-nuclear movement and the farmer’s movement. Because at the time, there was a farmer’s camp-out, and I came to understand the issue through this. I also concerned myself with the anti eviction movement. It was from this. Being concerned with the issue and going over if there was a protest. To support the movement, I would maybe donate some money. But I wasn’t part of the core participants of the movement.
Up until before 2014, in 2013, that was the first time that I found some collaborators that I knew from the Wild Strawberry Movement, who later organized the anti-media monopoly movement. I organized with them to address issues regarding the China factor in Taiwan. The largest focus was targeting the KMT, transitional justice, the Referendum Act, and issues of Taiwanese independence. So from 2013 onwards, I began to participate in the Taiwanese independence movement, and organized what was called the “Forum For Overthrowing the KMT” (打倒國民黨論壇). The members were those who later, with Chen Wei-Ting, were the earliest to charge on 318, as well as those who later became Le Flanc Radical. That was our network then. That was the tail end of 2013, so it was probably three or four months before 318.
Brian Hioe: What were you doing at the time of 318?
Wang Yikai: On 314, we had just finished organizing a open meeting for the Taiwan Solidarity Union. Because there was an action then to oppose the CSSTA and KMT. We invited some people from the Black Island Youth Front, and the Taiwanese Independence Action Youth (台獨行動青年). And from the anti-media monopoly movement, including Chen Ziyu, the later head of the Department of Social Movements at the DPP, and Radical Flanc party chair Shinichi Chen. We held three or four meetings then in Taipei. We later on met with different parties to explain what we wanted to target in terms of issues with the KMT and opposition to the CSSTA, to lobby for this.
The first day after this, the Chang Ching-Chung incident took place. So we gathered to discuss how we should oppose this and different organizations began to mobilize, including pulling in Lin Fei-Fan, Chen Wei-Ting, Tsay Ting-Kuei. We found many people. There were three DPP legislators hunger striking and there was a statement at Tsay Ting-Kuei’s tent saying that they opposed this. And we also prepared water balloons to throw.
At night, we discussed that this action would have to take place on 318, because in terms of legislative process, after the bill passes oversight, before reconsidering the bill, we had to do something. Because the KMT would definitely allow the bill to pass through and there would be no way to force reconsideration of the bill. hat night, we decided to do these things.
That night, everyone was discussing that we should hold a rally, and have an action take place at night. I was pulled over then when they were looking for people, because they had to find people who wouldn’t leak information. It was people that had known each other for 7 or 8 years that were organizing this activity. Everyone had discussed how if we did this, we might be imprisoned for over one year. Everyone was willing to take on this responsibility, so we decided to go. We were in the office of the Taiwan Labor Front to discuss how we should get over the wall of the Legislative Yuan and dividing into different groups. I was put in the front door group with Chen Wei-Ting and them.
Photo credit: 北投士林‧王奕凱/Facebook
Brian Hioe: How did you participate in the movement? You charged into the Legislative Yuan.
Wang Yikai: We charged into the Legislative Yuan and decided to divide labor once we entered the Legislative Yuan. At the time, we divided between those who stayed inside the Legislative Yuan. Some people decided to stay outside. But the first day that we charged inside was very chaotic, including police on the inside, and everyone pushing back and forth. I was assigned mostly to pus the police then. Later on, everyone managed to seal up the doors, leaving just a small gap and students blocked this. The doors were broken. After that, both sides refused to budge.
We decided to divide into those who would stay inside and those would stay outside. I decided to go outside, because I knew that maintaining the occupation from the inside would not be enough. There needed to be people taking action outside as well. At the time, the police saw that we were sending people outside, they asked us to leave from the back door by Zhengyang Road. After we left, they closed the door. Then we saw that on Qingdao East Road there were people, including Huang Kuo-Chang, over there with others, so we went up and asked people to come over, to call on more people to come, and that if the police take action, we will move. If they don’t move, we won’t move. We had this slogan then. Later on, we saw that we had more people than the police. Although the main door was blocked, we also had a lot of people on the fence. So we told the police that they should not move the students. If they did, we would take action.
I remember they started to charge around 2 AM, so everyone, including me, said that we would take action. I tried pulling the iron front door. I called on everyone to pull and we later pulled it open. Then we pushed it inside and, apart from people climbing the wall, we charged inside the parking lot. I remember hearing the police say then, “Now what? How should we take care of this?” We all charged in and pushed against police, but we had too many people. We filled up all of the Legislative Yuan parking lot on Qingdao East Road.
That night, there was a mobilization call for organizations from central and southern Taiwan for all willing to students to head up north, renting cars to come up, such as the 02 Society and other groups. It was more and more people stuffing in. I later saw that the police were stuck. And our people came out from the second floor and hung banners and put down a later. Many people began climbing the ladder and we stayed there until morning. The police couldn’t do anything them, so we declared the accomplishment of the occupation. That’s more or less what happened that night.
Brian Hioe: What else did you do? I seem to recall you participated with Le Flanc Radical.
Wang Yikai: For us, we were already called Le Flanc Radical then. Those that participated included Yoshi, Shinichi, Zhang Ziling, Wu Hsueh-Chan, and others. Shinichi Chen didn’t seem to directly participate then. Lai Ping-Yu was also in our group, because she attended our “Forum For Overthrowing the KMT” as a member of the Black Island Youth Front. So later on, Le Flanc Radical invited her. Jiho Chang went inside for a few days then left.
Decision making divided between the Department of Social Sciences and the decision making group in the Legislative Yuan. Zhiling felt that the mood within the Legislative Yuan wasn’t good, because there were too many different groups entering, so they later organized that order and space management should tne left up to him. This process is written in “This Is Not The Sunflower Movement.” I was discussing in the group as well. They were organizers and were people that took action. Yoshi and I had known each other the longest and began this activity, but I felt that those in the decision making also included those who had participated in the anti-media monopoly movement in 2012 and 2013.
You could say those who were part of the decision making group in the Legislative Yuan had something to do with the Anti-Media Monopoly Movement. They began from this. Zhiling was Lin Fei-Fan’s junior. They had been working on movements for so long as well. So decision making was left to them and those of us from before could just take care of administrative duties. So in the group, I participated in the division of labor. I was responsible for people holding speeches in front of the stage or dividing resources or volunteers. For the two or three stages on Qingdao East Road.
Up until 323, organizers began to look for people willing to the take on the Executive Yuan action. They found me and I also found some people to be the first wave of the charge. I found some people willing to charge. We were responsible for charging and we also had to arrange for some people to run to different parts of Qingdao East Road announcing that we had been charged and that more people were needed to go there. At the Department of Social Sciences, we also looked for people around the Legislative Yuan.
Photo credit: Kent Chuang/Flickr/CC
Brian Hioe: I was also one of those who charged then. In the course of the movement, were there also times you disagreed with the central decision making group in the Legislative Yuan?
Wang Yikai: I opposed their actions twice. The first was on 327, when they wanted to organize the large-scale protest on 330. When they told us that they were discussing withdrawing, I strongly opposed this. I asked them if they realized the situation outside and how many people were maintaining the space outside, and that those of them who hadn’t been outside wouldn’t know this. They believed that if 330 was unable to put pressure on the Ma government, then what? Because 330 was a large-scale protest, but they hadn’t discussed to do more things.
I went inside and discussed my disagreement with some inside. I said that if they decided to withdraw after 330, we couldn’t accept this, and that there definitely would be some people who opposed this. They said they knew this and hadn’t decided to withdraw, Chen Wei-Ting and Li Jun-Da told me this. But after 330, we later organized the Untouchables’ Liberation Area. We knew some friends, Zixuan, Feng Junshan, and some other people on the outside, who may have known each other from the Wild Strawberry Movement or G-Straight Coffee, which later became Halfway Coffee.
We had known each other awhile. They discussed outside and felt that the movement and chased away those who were more left. They weren’t willing to openly discuss opposition to capitalism or free trade on the inside. They hoped to work on this issue and also for the movement not to be entirely concentrated on those within the Legislative Yuan. We supported this, so we formed the discussion forum for the Untouchables’ Liberation Area, and invited people from the inside of the Legislative Yuan to also come and discuss.
After forming this, I went inside to discuss with the people on the inside, hoping they could support this. Wang Yun-qiang, told me that they probably couldn’t support this and make links. First, because this would be chaotic or whatever, or would lead to mockery of the movement. Or if there were other ways. But whether they agreed to this or not, we established this anyway. We formed this anyway and discussed about the volunteer work on-site or doing things.
Up until the very end, I also strongly opposed the withdrawal. When they announced this, I charged the stage to express that I was opposed this. That was my most visible attempt at opposition. That day, I wanted to go on stage to state that I strongly opposed this, that I wanted to meet with representatives, and to discuss what people on the outside felt, that this wasn’t something they could decide on their own. That this would leave behind much “movement injuries.”
I directly told this to some volunteers on the inside, but they said they couldn’t do anything because they were also afraid and didn’t know what the next step was. I said this was okay, and that I would head on stage to discuss. I went to the bottom of the stage and asked if I could go up and state. When they said I couldn’t, I charged onto the stage to try and talk to express my opposition.
Photo credit: 中岑 范姜/Flickr/CC
Brian Hioe: Later on, you also began the activity to surround Zhongzheng First Police Precinct.
Wang Yikai: That was because after withdrawing, the Alliance of Referendum for Taiwan decided to sit-in in the space in front of the Legislative Yuan, hoping that this could continue to be maintained as an occupation space. At that time, Fang Yang-Ning came over and promised Professor Tsay that they wouldn’t clear them out that day. So we announced that the situation was probably clear for that night. And people left in the morning after the sit-in activity ended. But afterwards, Fang Yang-Ning cleared out the occupation, leaving everyone quite angry. That’s why there was the call online to surround Zhongzheng First Police Precinct. So we went over.
Brian Hioe: Do change directions, would you say your participation in this movement has to do with your sense of Taiwanese identity?
Wang Yikai: Yes.
Brian Hioe: How would you say so?
Wang Yikai: When I began participating in this movement, the CSSTA was a core of our opposition to the KMT. But what we didn’t oppose was exchanges with China, what we opposed is exchanges that would hurt Taiwan collectively. Taiwan’s service industry intrinsically has the issue that many small and medium-sized enterprises are dependent on families and face threats from large conglomerates. If investment from large Chinese corporations comes in, then they are very likely to be negatively affected. These people can only become workers, they can’t be business workers. In this circumstances, the service industry will be unsafe.
It would be even more dangerous with regards to the print industry and finance, seeing as what the CSSTA opens up are primarily the print industry, finance industry, and service industry. If these are all opened up, what your media is able to print, the flow of your money, and what I said before regarding the ability of small and medium-sized enterprises to survive, will all be threatened. So it has to do with protecting Taiwan. It can be considered protectionism.
Brian Hioe: What kind of movement do you think this was? Because the most amount of people may have opposed the CSSTA, and then there were those who opposed the KMT or China. Lastly, it seems to have been a minority that opposed free trade altogether. How do you look at this?
Wang Yikai: In reality, these three things cannot be separated from the beginning. Because opposing free trade, no matter what some left-wing friends may say, including not discussion the nation or national identity, opposing free trade still counts as a form of protectionism. Opposing free trade has the underlying notion that its to protect the particularities of different regions. It may not be opposing on the basis of national identity, but it still is on the basis of regional society. But in terms of Taiwanese collectivity, it’s not just national identity but regional society. That’s not an issue.
Photo credit: Toomore Chiang/Flickr/CC
As for opposing to China, it wasn’t that we oppose China from the beginning, it’s that China treats us in an antagonistic manner and we oppose this. If Taiwan was an independent country, I believe that if we wanted to sign FTAs with the US, with Japan, with many countries, the situation would be the same. If so, because our sovereignty and ability to control our future is firmly secure, and we would not be affected, we could be more open and have more exchanges with China.
But without these things being certain, it is quite easy for our national position to be influenced by China. They can’t open up so many industries. Whether it’s just free trade, or the China factor, or the black box, these are all a single issue. Including the black box. Because if it was open and transparent, that means that the people as a whole would support it and it would not be such a controversial matter. Its a black box, its a minority of the country wanting to control this and avoid oversight. Since we want to protect Taiwanese sovereignty, this should be openly discussed.
Brian Hioe: Do you think that there’s any political orientation to Taiwanese social movements? Because many people will say that they are left-leaning on a large number of issues.
Wang Yikai: Not all social movements may be left-leaning. The Protect The Family Alliance or other conservative forces are also social movements. But social issues are collective issues. This leads to the slant towards social equality and justice, which are left-wing leaning issues.
So normally, no matter where in the world, I think that social movements probably are more left-leaning. In Taiwan, they are definitely left-leaning, but Taiwan also has an issue regarding the status of the nation and national identification. That is also why there is a large part of Taiwanese social movements which has to do with nationalism.
Brian Hioe: Three years later, what kind of influence do you think that this movement has had on Taiwanese politics? Many people discuss the election victory of Tsai Ing-Wen or Ko Wen-Je or the appearance of the Third Force, for example.
Wang Yikai: These three years, the strongest influence is the change in how people view politics. In the past, people believed that society was more pan-Blue leaning. But after the Sunflower Movement, popular polling and political consciousness demonstrates changes, that a large aspect of those who were maintaining the status quo are actually the “natural independence” generation. It’s not just determined by economic choice. In the past, maintaining the status quo was economic choice, not wanting risk, so maintaining the status quo.
Now, much maintaining the status quo is not urgently pushing for Taiwanese independence, but not wanting to unify with China, so maintaining the status quo. So a large aspect of what has changed is this and this has affected much of politics.
We can see the DPP absorbing people from social movements and the KMT expelling people, such as Yang Wei-Chung and others. In the KMT and DPP, in the past, there were both voices that pushed for exchanges with China, but after the Sunflower Movement, this voice has been blocked. Because based on polling, they know that among the next generation, 70% or 80% support Taiwanese independence. And that this has become more stable.
As I mentioned, if you had a condition that you are not willing to unify with China, this proportion is far higher than economic choice. And this also means that the status quo has become more sensitive after the Sunflower Movement. We can also see that Tsai Ing-Wen has been brave in not agreeing to maintain the 1992 Consensus. This is something that the Sunflower Movement gave her stronger standing to do.
Because she has preserved an ambiguous attitude regarding cross-strait relations and still focuses on maintaining the status quo, but this has become maintaining a status quo that does not include the 1992 Consensus. So her consensus is that before 1992. This is an influence after the Sunflower Movement.
Brian Hioe: At the same time, how do you think China looks at the current political circumstances in Taiwan?
Wang Yikai: In the past eight years, the KMT’s way of conducting cross-strait relations gained momentum, and the KMT was able to win twice. But the KMT had no way to address the views of the people on cross-strait relations, to lead the Taiwanese people to become closer to China. This is something China has tried enough, so I think that in the future, they won’t focus on the KMT. They’ll use their own channels to make connection with Taiwanese people and try and co-opt though.
For example, they may focus on Taiwanese indigenous, young people who have start-ups, try to normalize regular exchanges with Taiwan, and try to have cross-strait exchanges at a basic level. They’ve been doing this for awhile and they have expanded this. They only have two routes. In the past, they wanted to influence Taiwan through Taiwanese political parties, to influence views in Taiwan to become more China-leaning. However, this route is blocked now.
Photo credit: tomscy2000/Flickr/CC
Now it has to directly influence Taiwanese public opinion. With the referendum or something like that, they may organize Taiwanese organizations to push for a pro-unification referendum or the signing of a peace treaty with China. They might push for this. But when these routes are blocked, then I think they will consider breaking economic ties or using force. So with the these two routes not being blocked, now they are depending on civil exchanges, and exchanges through organizations. And I think that they are aiming for a unification referendum.
Brian Hioe: What do you think social movement activists are doing now? Such are yourself or people you know?
Wang Yikai: Because the DPP has taken power, many social movement organizations are reorganizing. The strength of organizations opposing China has been weakened and what is left is strength regarding social issues. But in these views years if the DPP’s consciousness regarding Taiwanese independence is insufficient, this may raise again. For pro-independence youth groups, they would lean towards identity issues, so now there is a focus on rectifying the name of the country. Or cultural activities, such as Taiwanese public television, or Taiwanese identification.
Other movements haven’t changed much, I think, but the independence movement has changed. In these past years, many people are reorganizing. Some people have withdrawn from social movements to focus on reorganizing and coming into contact with the people and using shared rights to resolve collective issues. Some, like me, are reorganizing, such as serving as an assistant, but I haven’t withdrawn from social movements, I still will participate in street protests. And to raise issues which needed to be protested. I think it’s largely divided between those.
Brian Hioe: Lastly, do you think that there could be another social movement in Taiwan like the Sunflower Movement? If so, how would it happen? And do you believe that the Sunflower Movement could influence the international world?
Wang Yikai: I believe the Sunflower Movement did influence the international world. Because, for example, the Umbrella Movement that year stated that they had been influenced very strongly by the Umbrella Movement. And our movement was influenced by the Maidan movement in Ukraine before it. Many people discussed it in relation to Ukraine because of the occupation of a square. Before the Sunflower Movement, we talked about how Ukraine could occupy a square, could we learn from this? So from this, people started to discuss Ukraine.
So that year, the Ukraine Maidan movement took place, followed by the Sunflower Movement, followed by the Umbrella Movement. I think that this is connected. For occupation movements including Occupy Wall Street, I think the process is similar. In the future, occupations will be aimed for by movements.
I also believe this has affected Taiwan’s international recognition. Beforehand, America believed that Taiwan was happy with the situation, but afterwards, America invited some of the more famous pro-independence young people to visit American think tanks, asking if it was true that the next generation is dissatisfied with the current situation. We all expressed that we hope in the future for international recognition. This is quite normal. People hope for a better situation. And this has led them to adjust their political considerations.
You can see that in these past few years, America has passed some laws that are more beneficial for Taiwan. In the past, they would believe that this is an action provocative of China, so they wouldn’t do that. But they’ve discovered that China can’t individually oppose America. They have to link the issue with Japan and countries oppose to China. They can preserve good relations with China while also preserving traditional relations. So in terms of polling, it’s not like during the Ma administration that Taiwan seems like it is becoming closer to China. They’ll find that actually people were dissatisfied. They previously only had exchanges with Ma administration officials and so mistakenly thought that Taiwanese people would want to unify with China. But they later found that this was not so.
Photo credit: 中岑 范姜/Flickr/CC
Would it happen again? I believe so. Because social movements are accumulations of social dissatisfaction. Based on history, social movements are currents that have to do with time. After the Sunflower Movement, it may occur because of different issues, not because of this issue. But as things are now, for it to be a movement opposed to China seems very hard, because in the short-term, with the DPP in power, there probably will not be a lot of exchanges with China. China won’t want to conduct exchanges with the DPP. So if this precondition continues, this kind of movement is unlikely.
Could it happen regarding other issues? I believe so. Because the DPP’s policies are not meeting the expectations of the people regarding social welfare. Such as regarding labor laws and “one set day off” and “one flexible rest day” and planned changes. Sentiments regarding that are growing. It could be stronger than past protests even. And if this situation doesn’t change, similar events may happen under the DPP, but it may be not due to opposition to China.