Interview: Chen Ting-wei

Chen Ting-wei is the owner of the bar Yichang (議場) in Taichung and part of the bands Silent Clamor (寂嘩 ) and METAL BLOOD (鐵血政策). The following interview was conducted on March 20th, 2019.


Brian Hioe:  How did you begin to participate in social movements?

Chen Ting-wei:  I was always concerned with social issues. Before 318, we were already working on this. It wasn’t just 318.

I went to school in China in the past. I came to understand some things in that way. If you’ve been there, you might know that these unfair, unjust things happen. That’s putting it nicely. Otherwise, I would just say that I felt angry after seeing what I saw. That’s how I began.

Brian Hioe:  What kind of issues did you participate in?

Chen Ting-wei:  Urban renewal. The anti-nuclear movement. That was all very early on.

Brian Hioe:  How did you participate in the Sunflower Movement?

Chen Ting-wei:  I went up from Taichung with my girlfriend. We didn’t have any specific plan. We just went up, thinking that this was just a protest. We discovered that people wanted to charge into the Legislative Yuan, we just went along with them. We were among the first people to get in there.

Many people in my store got to know each other then. My bar is called Yichang (議場), like the name of the general assembly chamber of the Legislative Yuan. The banner was written by the artists who went in there when we occupied it.

Brian Hioe:  The New Bloom people got to know each other during the Sunflower Movement. I got there around 11 PM and climbed over a wall.

Chen Ting-wei:  Then that was probably around the same period of time.

Brian Hioe:  What did you do after that? Did you go back to Taichung?

Chen Ting-wei:  I stayed until the fourth day, then I went back to Taichung. I didn’t stay very long, because I had an operation scheduled. You’d have to arrange this very far in advance, so I had to come back for the operation.

Photo credit: 鐵血政策 METAL BLOOD/Facebook

Brian Hioe:  What else did you participate in? For example, were you around for 324?

Chen Ting-wei:  324 was the day I had the operation. I was just lying in the hospital then. So I might not have especially participated except for just going. And regarding the movement, I strongly opposed having a core decision-making group or a leader.

Brian Hioe:  Was much of your participation in social movements as a musician?

Chen Ting-wei:  We recorded a few albums. There were a few ones. Such as regarding the Kuokuang Petrochemical Plant. We also performed for the anti-nuclear movement.

Brian Hioe:  I always find it quite interesting that so many artists or musicians participate in Taiwanese social movements. Anyway, how did this bar start, in that case?

Chen Ting-wei:  It’s quite simple. I’m very picky about food. In Taichung, there were a few bars I liked a lot. But later on, they closed. I thought the places I liked were all gone.

At the time, there was a fire. So bars and livehouses were all closed. I thought there was nowhere I could go, so I decided to start somewhere myself.

If you open your own place, you have your own thoughts on what to do. I thought I wanted to open up a place where you could talk about anything. I called it Yichang (議場), since that’s a place where people discuss things anyway. And that reflects the Sunflower Movement as well. We opened on March 18th. I decided to have the anniversary on March 18th.

Brian Hioe:  What kind of influence do you think this movement has had, five years later? Some people have run for office while other people might have gone on to do other things. I also think that social movements have sort of receded, compared to the past. Like Daguan or something like that now. There are less people.

Chen Ting-wei:  I’ve always opposed change from within the system. I feel that change from within the system is bullshit. There’s no point. Any change from within the system is false. There’s only change from without.

The Sunflower Movement has led a lot of people to enter the system. What have they done? And there are some parties that have benefited and some politicians that have benefited. Because of this, they benefited. But I think that in reality, they haven’t done anything to respond to what we had wanted.

For example, the movement wanted to pass a cross-strait oversight bill. But it never passed.

Brian Hioe:  Nobody seems to have noticed either.

Chen Ting-wei:  Yeah. So what are they doing? Change from within the system is all false to me.

Have social movements disappeared? I don’t think so. But I think that a different form has appeared. It’s not like in the past where there was a big event and everyone would go. It’s gradually having things take place in your life.

No matter if you want to use change within the system, or if you don’t. Like in voting for city councilors, mayors, or county heads, some parties organized by the people have appeared. Such as the Obasan Alliance. So I don’t believe that social movements have disappeared.

Photo credit: 議場/Facebook

Brian Hioe:  There are some new spaces as well. Such as Trapped Citizen.

Chen Ting-wei:  You know that picture of people drinking in the Legislative Yuan? That was me and them. I’ve known them for a long time. Trapped Citizen began from a reading group.

Brian Hioe:  Speaking of which, do you ever feel that the Sunflower Movement was too conservative? There was such a reaction to that photo, for example. If I drink at some social movement event, I usually go off to the side somewhere. [Laughs]

Chen Ting-wei:  No, not really. If it happens again, I’ll bring even more alcohol next time. I didn’t bring enough.

The movement also wasn’t what I imagined. What I imagined was going in and burning down the legislature. [Laughs] Then we could all go home. Discussing it for so long in the Legislative Yuan, occupying it for so long, what did we manage to achieve? We haven’t gotten anything. So why not just burn it down? Why did we just stay there? It should be crazier.

Brian Hioe:  That seems to me another way in which Taiwanese society is too conservative.

Chen Ting-wei:  It’s from Confucian thought. It’s all bullshit.

Brian Hioe:  If you do cultural events, it’s very easy to be labeled as something.

Chen Ting-wei:  If you try put people into categories, there’s no end of categories you can put people into. Why should I concern myself with them?

I’ve always been someone on the outside of the system. I have no interest in entering the system. So what you want to think is your business.

Brian Hioe:  What do you think has been the influence of this movement, then, if you think that not much has been achieved from change within the system.

Chen Ting-wei:  The number of young people that participate in politics has increased. But even if it may be a good start, I think that though there are a lot of people concerned with politics, we know that if these people were to actually say what they believe, you probably wouldn’t be able to keep listening.

You’d be like, are you an idiot? They might be concerned with politics, but their way of thinking would be full of contradictions. 

I guess that’s the influence, probably. There are a lot of young people concerned with politics. With the results now, I can’t say as to whether this is good or bad.

Photo credit: 寂嘩 SilentClamor/Facebook

Brian Hioe:  Why do you think so many people stood up to oppose the KMT then? I’m quite curious myself. There are all these explanations, opposing the black box, the CSSTA, the KMT, China, the black box.

Chen Ting-wei:  I think that’s probably what led us to be so unhappy. Chen Wei-ting  or Lin Fei-fan restricted the aims of the movement as just focused on the CSSTA and that this was what we were protesting. That we weren’t protesting the KMT or advocating Taiwanese independence.

But I don’t think that so many people actually supported the movement. Taiwanese people like to go with the trends. People get crazy about the food they don’t know anything about and line up for hours.

An effect of 318 was that once a group of people begins doing this, many people who haven’t gotten very clear what this is all about, to go with the trends, they’ll join. To be blunt, I believe that most participants probably were just going with the trends.

Those who actually understand the demands of the movements, or looked at the contents of the laws being debated, and thinking about how we should resolve this, or how to prevent this, were a minority. There probably weren’t more than 2,000 or 3,000 people who understood this.  Maybe that’s even too much.

Brian Hioe:  Sometimes some of the phenomenon in Taiwanese society in recent years seems similar to me. Like the Han wave.

Chen Ting-wei:  I think it’s the same. It’s a trend. Who has actually looked into what Han Kuo-yu did, at the Taipei Agricultural Products Marketing Corporation, or as a legislator? That’s why all these young people support him. When you ask them what Han did in the past, they don’t know. This is the issue Taiwanese society has.

Like I said before, young people are concerned with and participant in politics now. But if you’re an idiot and now you participate in politics, that might not be a good thing. [Laughs] Yet this might be an unavoidable process.

Brian Hioe:  What do you think should be done next? Elections are next year and the KMT seems back now.

Chen Ting-wei:  An important characteristic of social movements is that they need topicality. We’ve talked about opposing nuclear energy for how long? We’ve supported gay marriage for how long? You’ll feel that they’ll be organizing events for these every year and that they always seem to be getting more and more large-scale. But it’s just that. It suddenly disappears.

Social movements are like that. You have to find something that can attract attention. An issue or a point. You have to push on that point, in order to have the ability to affect politics or the direction of Taiwanese society. How long have we been fussing about urban renewal? Has the process for urban renewal become any more transparent?

We protested the highway under Lin Chia-lung. We finished protesting, what then? Lu Shiow-yen took power and then we’re back at it. If you don’t have topicality, like with the CSSTA, and to make a focus point to make people feel that this can be a certain way or be different, social movements’ influence in society is not too strong.

Photo credit: 寂嘩 SilentClamor/Facebook

So, what then? Maybe you just chat about it casually. Or you do something like Philosophy Fridays, to influence more people. The most direct way may be to influence the people around you.

There’s the saying that if you want to persuade someone of something, you have to move their hearts. I don’t believe that. To persuade someone you have to hit them in the head. You have to hit them hard enough that they can’t lift up their head again. They have to go back and think about why, in the process of debating, they were unable to out-debate you.

But many people can’t do this in Taiwan. Toward their friends, their elders, their family members, they can’t do this. People always say in Taiwan, don’t talk about politics. We should begin talking about politics. That will help Taiwanese society.