Yang Zixuan was one of the members of the Untouchables’ Liberation Area and works at Halfway Cafe. The following interview was conducted on October 22nd, 2017.


Brian Hioe:  The first I wanted to ask is, how did you begin participating in social movements? What kind of issues did you participate in and why did you start participating?

Yang Zixuan:  The first issue I participated in was in high school, because I was part of the newspaper club and listened to rock music. I wanted to understand society more, so I went to interview a group called the Society for the Promotion of High Schoolers’ Rights. It was a group that discusses the different rights of high schoolers. And I gradually began to participate in their meetings.

But from high school up until college, it was more low-key participation. For example, I would go to Losheng Sanatorium struggle events, but wasn’t a core participant. Or organizer even. After the Wild Strawberry movement I began to do these things.

Brian Hioe:  What other issues did you participate in from the Wild Strawberry movement up until the Sunflower Movement? For example, the anti-nuclear movement?

Yang Zixuan:  Yes. One was the anti-nuclear movement. And because G-Straight Cafe opened after the Wild Strawberry movement. You could say that opening a coffee shop was a social movement, but not towards the coffee shop industry, per se.

At the time, G-Straight had 10 to 20 people serving as boss. Sort of like a commune. At that point, what this group participated in more visibly was the anti-nuclear movement. But we participated in different issues, and would go during clashes with the police. Many people from social movements would also come to our store to sit or hold meetings and etc.

Halfway Coffee. Photo credit: 半路咖啡/Facebook

Brian Hioe:  What were doing at the time of 318? i remember there was a big anti-nuclear movement protest a week before that, for example.

Yang Zixuan:  Yes. On 318, when they went into the Legislative Yuan, the Electronic Anti-Nuclear Front happened to be holding a meeting at the same time. [Laughs] So we heard in the middle of this meeting that they had charged inside, so everyone—I remember Shih-Ting or someone else first went to check out the site. I didn’t go that night, but one day later, Jiaying and I made plans over. I think I made plans with him to go over. I ran into him nearby otherwise.

But because the Electronic Anti-Nuclear Front was holding a meeting when they charged into the Legislative Yuan, we wondered if we should charge in and play electronic music or something like that. If so, that would be very interesting. So, when I went over with Jiaying and others originally, we just simply thought we could go there and play music or something. We didn’t think particularly about doing anything. After being firmly rejected, we ran into a group of friends from social movements, outside, which was led to Untouchables’ Liberation Area later.

Brian Hioe:  Wasn’t the formation of Untouchables’ Liberation Area in the beginning of April? Or the end of March? I forget.

Yang Zixuan:  In the beginning of April. But before that, using the name of the Electronic Anti-Nuclear Front, we were creating a lot of connections. So we already had the notion of gathering, and groups with an affinity with each other were around.

Brian Hioe:  What was the reason for the establishment of the Untouchables’ Liberation Area?

Yang Zixuan:  From the beginning of the Sunflower movement, on 319 we were already on-site. We went everyday. However, we were quite clear that we didn’t want to go into the Legislative Yuan. We tried a few times, but then was discussion by everybody of why we wanted to go in. In the end, we spent most of our time outside.

So on the outside, we talked with everyone and established connections. In April, when we established, we were discussing to people what the situation was like on the inside—some people had left, going from the inside of the Legislative Yuan to outside. And also people from independent bands. Mostly people from what is now Trapped Citizen. That didn’t exist then. And also because of the anti-nuclear movement, we had an electronic music speaker truck. And the other truck was a rock music speaker truck.

People on both sides had a network. Because they were drinking and were photographed or caught in other situations which caused controversy, they came out. And some people from independent bands wanted to clear out the police, but we labelled as “troublemakers” very strongly by the people outside. There may have people who had gone inside, closer to the core, but maybe felt bored and left—I can’t be very sure what views existed. [Laughs]

In any case, different types of people ended up sitting there. Outside the Legislative Yuan, apart from the large stages, you didn’t know what to do. So we picked an area behind the stage and sat there and began to gather. But a key event which led us to form a space outside to discuss the movement was the Executive Yuan incident.

Brian Hioe:  Can you discuss that a bit?

Yang Zixuan:  Before the Executive Yuan incident, we were sitting and talking outside and we gradually felt that we should come together and form a group. But I don’t think—at that point—that this was particularly to protest anything. We just felt that there was a lot of strength regarding the people outside, but there wasn’t any way to concentrate it. We just wanted to try and find some way to connect people together. So we established a sense of affinity, that this group of people, such as the Electronic Anti-Nuclear Front and Democratic Government.

The place they happened to pick was diagonal from us and they were holding discussions. There were many experienced social movement participants there as well. And people and groups gathered around us would do things such share our speakers. We hoped to start to establish some exchanges. Or if they decided to do something, they would tell us first. this kind of affinity. Through this kind of network, we hoped to develop a collective network with them, but we didn’t hope to become an organization.

Photo credit: Ray Swi-hymn/Flickr/CC

Before the Executive Yuan incident, it seemed that there was a group of people that, like us, we planning some a form of action to affect the movement. But you can say that we weren’t trusted by the groups that planned the Executive Yuan incident. So on 323 at night, everyone went to the Executive Yuan. We heard about this being planned in the afternoon, but we felt that there were many issues with this planned action. Such as you didn’t know what the ai was.

We very quickly decided in our network that we wouldn’t go over to the Executive Yuan. We wouldn’t go to the Executive Yuan. And there was also the view that while they were driving people out from the Executive Yuan, they might also very quickly evict people from the Legislative Yuan. So we decided that we would dialogue with people as more experienced organizers and show people how to protect themselves when confronting the police.

Brian Hioe:  The Untouchables’ Liberation Area didn’t agree with the core decision making body in the Legislative Yuan regarding 324, as well as the decision to withdraw from the Legislative Yuan, and other incidents such as the medical lane incident. How would you explain this?

Yang Zixuan:  The different things that members of the Untouchables’ Liberation Area cared about most varied, but what we wrote in our book, may have had different proportions of people that had these views. For example, personally what I cared about most was that the movement was just like a vote for the DPP to do the same things. I also think that the people within the Legislative Yuan formed their own small government. Not wanting to give up their privileges to more people.

I don’t think it’s so simple that there should be no rules and that everybody could have privileges, that one could start talking about anarchy so quickly, but in this process, I think there could have been more detailed discussion of how to interact with people. Likewise, on some level they opposed the CSSTA but not the TPP or other trade agreements. That’s also something I opposed.

Brian Hioe:  Can I ask about that? Because I think that most people in the movement opposed the black box. And then there were those that opposed the KMT and China, but the least amount of people opposed free trade. This was raised by the Untouchables’ Liberation Area.

Yang Zixuan:  That’s what I was talking about earlier. I think that’s a problem with how things were managed on-site. That it seems like people can be divided between these different groups very quickly, with most opposing the black box and the fewest amount opposing free trade. Because we were outside from the first day organizing different discussions. For example, we might have had a freer form of discussion for the discussions held by the Anti-Nuclear Electronic Music Front. A group of people sitting there discussing. Others may have grabbed onto a more specific topics to discuss.

But in the process of dialogue with the people, we would find that if you ask people why they came to participate, they can’t say very clear. When they said it concretely, such as if they said that they opposed the black box, If you talk with them further, you find that they can’t be labelled so clearly as part of that. The people were, to some extent, guided by the movement in terms of their views. It wasn’t that the majority just opposed the KMT or etc. In terms of the views people were molded into due to policy decisions in the movement.

So if in terms of results, you can say that there were those divisions. But I don’t think that this was the most important people why the Taiwanese people wanted to stand up. I think many people aren’t actually very clear why they wanted to stand up. [Laughs]

Brian Hioe:  Why did you participate in this movement? I think many people will say because of Taiwanese identification or etc., but yeah. Or opposing the KMT, like I said.

Yang Zixuan:  For me, personally, I think the most important reason is because there were many people on-site. I wanted to engage in dialogue with those people, whether they really thought what they were opposing was the KMT. It’s not just the KMT, of course, but I would want to discuss with them more regarding why they would have this kind of view. And why they only oppose the KMT, but not why the DPP was doing. This is clearer after the DPP took power. So a lot of people have backed down.

I think a group of people still believe in the DPP. The will to change Taiwanese society has led to more disappointment, in that sense. But now there are less protests occurring. After the Sunflower Movement, you could say that awareness of social movements in Taiwan increased, but after the DPP power, this all decreased to a low point.

Brian Hioe:  Do you think there is any particular political orientation to Taiwanese social movements? Because when I ask a lot of people, they will say that they are left-leaning but maybe not radical left. People tend to be progressive on a lot of issues, but I’m not always sure why they all say that they are left-leaning.

Yang Zixuan:  It’s a question of labels. Like I said, after the Sunflower Movement, a lot of people seemed to be politically awakened. Maybe it’s cooler to say you are left-wing. If you say you’re right-wing, that’s not cool. But, of course, because of being politically awakened, there are also those who want to stand with those who are more oppressed, or grassroots. I think that this returns to their political choices though. When they confront some decisions, what kind of decisions they make is what is an issue. It doesn’t have to be regressive or progressive.

Brian Hioe:  I think it’s quite interesting, because I find that there are a lot of people who seem more right but say they are left. And I don’t get it.

Yang Zixuan:  That’s right. So I think talk isn’t what is important.

Brian Hioe:  Three years later, how do you think this movement has influenced Taiwanese politics? Like you said before, the DPP seems to have gotten something out of this. People often discuss Tsai Ing-Wen being elected or Ko P being elected, or the appearance of the Third Force for example, or the political awakening of citizens, as you discussed earlier.

Yang Zixuan:  Didn’t you answer your own question? [Laughs]

Brian Hioe:  I guess so. [Laughs] But do you have any personal views?

Untouchables’ Liberation Area banner. Photo credit: othree/Flickr/CC

Yang Zixuan:  As for my personal views, I feel that the notion of the “people”–to talk about it in very simple terms, of course after the Sunflower Movement, more young people are not very likely to vote for the KMT. But I also don’t think that this represents that people believe that they should vote for the DPP either. But at this point, the DPP has grabbed hold of this social atmosphere, and to change its chemistry to try and accommodate the people. To find how people like talking about issues, or to change their atmosphere.

For example, if during the Sunflower Movement what people most opposed was the Black Box CSSTA, when Ko P was elected, his platform was to have a more transparent government. This is very accommodating of the people. I don’t think that they are like this in reality. And voters may not really believe that what is needed is transparency. Legislative Yuan meetings can now all be seen online, but how many people are actually watching this? This is something I think politicians have gotten hold of.

Brian Hioe:  What do you think that social movement activists are doing now, three years later? Some people have gone back to doing what they were doing and some people may have entered the government. Or what you yourself are doing?

Yang Zixuan:  I believe that the Sunflower Movement was a form of activity, and those who should have gone somewhere went somewhere, and those who are still here can only still be here. So that’s not to say that people went back to what they were doing before, it’s that people felt that this was the most important before and not entering the system or trying and failing to enter the system before returning to do what they were doing before. For example, organizers in the Untouchables’ Liberation Area went back to their lives to do what they were more urgently, but it’s more individual experience.

But organizers, not people that are just like, “I don’t buy McDonald’s.” After this, this adds depth to how to more clearly create links before organizations and to connect between individuals. This is something which is more important. And there is also the view that one should accumulate more views of what one is doing. I’m not a member, but when Trapped Citizen formed, the first thing members were discussing was 318. They had also felt defeated. And in this process, they decided that because they were musicians, they should make their own music label, and from this position, to find ways that they think they could change things. For example for us, we’re working hard at our coffee shop, hoping to find a base from this. To return to our original point and think further.

Brian Hioe:  Do you think that there could be another social movement in Taiwan such as the Sunflower Movement? If so, how would it take place?

Yang Zixuan:  It’s very hard to imagine at this point in time. With many people took to the streets and having such a large demonstration took place many years ago, before the Sunflower Movement. During the Wild Strawberry Movement in 2008, there weren’t that many people, there may have been 10,000 people at most on the streets. Before that, I’m not sure. Maybe Losheng. In 2005 and 2006, the most that took to the streets then were 6,000. So I feel that it’s not so easy.

But I’m not sure either. [Laughs] I can only believe that if there’s another large-scale social movement, after this generation of people contributed to the Sunflower Movement, there probably has been some growth. Of course, I think that you could say, those who wanted to enter the system have grown quite quickly as well! [Laughs]

Brian Hioe:  Lastly, do you think that the Sunflower Movement can influence international social movements? I know Untouchables’ Liberation Area has connections with many international social movement groups, in Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and elsewhere, for example. I remember some people came over from Hong Kong after the Sunflower Movement.

Yang Zixuan:  After these movements in the past few years, there has been some movement towards making connections, as well as discourse regarding how all these different movements link together. But I feel that this is still lacking in substance, sometimes it is very self-congratulatory or just used as a way to build up one’s own legitimacy.

This will only be meaningful if there is detailed discussion of the situation, decisions, circumstances, criticisms, and thinking of each area, forming a base for shared understanding. This also has to be continual in nature for so-called connections to genuinely emerge.

Photo credit: Abby Chen/Flickr/CC

Brian Hioe:  Is there anything you’d like to say in conclusion?

Yang Zixuan:  I want to respond a bit more to what you said before. Without talking about the international world, with Asia in the past few years, there have also been social movements in Japan or elsewhere. You can’t say from the Sunflower Movement, but after the Fukushima incident, there have been sort of the sense that large-scale movements are on the rise in Asia.

There is Taiwan and Hong Kong, which people put together because they are confronting something to do with China. But Japan also had a large-scale protest regarding Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, but that also touches upon Asia. That’s between Japan and America, as an agreement between Japan and America, but it affects all of China.

So what you raised before regarding so-called connections between Asia, does this actually exist? If so, why was there no reactions in Taiwan and Hong Kong regarding the agreement or feeling that they should do something. What I mean to say is that I personally feel that the Sunflower Movement and Umbrella Movement can be put in the same framework, but I wouldn’t say that this is part of a rise of social movements in Asia. That there is the possibility of social movements in Asia rising up together. Or that what we all confront is China or something. I think most people don’t know what they are confronting.

I’m not sure myself. I’m still trying to figure that out. [Laughs]