Huang Kuo-chang is a legislator for the New Power Party in New Taipei City Constituency 12 and the former chair of the party. Huang, along with Lin Fei-fan and Chen Wei-ting, was one of the core figures of the Sunflower Movement.


Brian Hioe:  The first thing 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 participate?

Huang Kuo-chang:  I was a legal scholar at Academia Sinica before. My work primarily focused on my own research, of course. But I continued to be concerned with different public issues in Taiwan and I helped write up some legal proposals behind-the-scenes.

Photo credit: Huang Kuo-chang/Facebook

These legal proposals were public versions of laws. After I was done writing them, I would give the text to civil society groups. After that, legislators might use this text. They would usually be legislators from the DPP caucus.

Well, speaking about it concretely, we can maybe split it up into two periods. The first part was when I was a student, during which I participated in student movements.

But after I finished my Ph. D and returned to Taiwan to take up an academic post, entering Academia Sinica, the first issue I was highly concerned with was the Wild Strawberry Movement in 2008. I wrote a version of the Assembly and Parade Law then, for a group of legal experts. Some DPP legislators later changed up that version of the law and proposed it.

The second issue was concerning the ECFA. There was advocacy then for a cross-strait bill oversight mechanism. But it wasn’t very successful. What was larger after that was the Anti-Media Monopoly Movement from 2012 to 2013. The key aim then was opposing the Want Want China Times Group, that it was disrupting professionalism of the media and using the media as advertisement sold to the Chinese government, and that they wanted to absorb Taiwan’s cable systems. Only after that came the Sunflower Movement.

So with regards participating in social movements, I began as a public intellectual, and I took up some roles with some civil society groups. As the executive secretary of the Taiwan Law Society or as the head of the Taipei Society. And at the Legal Reform Foundation, I also raised legal proposals regarding a jury system, to oppose the lay judge system proposed by the Ma administration. In that way, I originally concerned myself with social issues as a legal scholar.

Brian Hioe:  What were you doing at the time of 318?

Huang Kuo-chang:  During 318, the day before, on March 17th, there was the decision to take on this action with a group of students. Since time was of the essence, we had a meeting on March 17th. We decided to do this action and called up a group of people.

Photo credit: Huang Kuo-chang/Facebook

By March 18th, we had another meeting. I helped them prepare what they needed. That night, on Jinan Road, I gave a speech outside and called on more people to come by livestream. Later on, I asked Lai Chung-qiang to take charge and I went to Qingdao East Road. In the beginning, it was the same, we were by the wall there. I continued to give speeches and call on people to come by livestream.

Then I climbed over the wall and went into the Legislative Yuan. I helped hold the door on the side from Qingdao East Road into the general assembly chamber of the Legislative Yuan.

Brian Hioe:  How would you describe what you did in the course of the movement in the Legislative Yuan?

Huang Kuo-chang:  Before I went inside, it was primarily planning. After I got inside, I probably played two roles. I spent more time explaining what had happened to society why we had to enter the Legislative Yuan and the importance of this event to Taiwan. The second was participating in the so-called decision-making group. We had meetings every night. We discussed what we were going to do the next day and how to carry that out. The rest, we carried out according to the division of labor we had agreed on.

Brian Hioe:  How do you look at the large events which took place in the course of the movement, such as 324 or 330?

Huang Kuo-chang:  Those were events that took place in a situation in which the movement was highly divided. There were some participants who, on the one hand, were very angry regarding the Ma administration’s response. Particularly after Jiang Yi-huah came to the side door of Qingdao East Road and made some insincere statements.

The other aspect is how people assessed the situation. There were some participants who wished to escalate the movement with a larger action.

In a social movement, the pace is quite fast. And there is a great deal of pressure. So in participating in social movements myself, I would feel that this is a collective action, in which each participant adds to the movement and the objective shifts in the movement. This gradually gives rise to situations you might not have planned or imagined in the past. This includes with regards to new actions or changes in the movement.

Photo credit: Huang Kuo-chang/Facebook

Brian Hioe:  Do you think that your participation in Taiwanese social movements has to do with your sense of Taiwanese identification? 

Huang Kuo-chang:  Taiwanese identity has always been there for me. But in participating in social movements, although Taiwanese identity is a fundamental, with regards to some public issues, that touches on some more basic values. It doesn’t need to be completely explained in terms of Taiwanese  identity, such as regarding democracy, freedom, and rule of law.

Other issues touched on more concrete public issues. Such as the Parade and Assembly Act. This is concerned with human rights. How do you plan the contents of the Parade and Assembly Act, then? That touches on the design of the law. The aim is to preserve the rights to freedom of assembly. But how to design that law requires considering the rule of law. Regarding the issue of a jury system in Taiwan, that may not be so directly related to Taiwanese identity either. That may return toward the need for legal reform.

Opposing the black box CSSTA, of course, there is an element of that which has to do with Taiwanese identity. But the other aspect is how to establish a democratic system for oversight when our government signs an agreement with the Chinese government? This touches on strengthening the power of the legislature, and the system of checks-and-balances.

Brian Hioe:  Would you say that these are related to progressive issues, in that sense, then? It often does seem to me as though social movements in Taiwan are more progressive.

Huang Kuo-chang:  Of course, I think so. When pushing for social movements, you usually have a set of values and ideals that you are pushing for. You have to realize these values through social movements, by pushing those in power to take action. Those who would not be willing to realize those ideals otherwise.

Yet if we often use progressive values to describe what we are pushing for, what does progressive values refer to? It’s quite an abstract concept, as well as quite a flexible one.

Brian Hioe:  What would you say that the Sunflower Movement stands for, in that case? Some were opposed to the CSSTA, some were opposed to the black box, others to the KMT, and others to China.

Huang Kuo-chang:  As you said, when each person participated in this movement, the meaning of the movement for them, what they saw as the aim, and their self-understanding in participating in the movement was quite diverse. Of course, in the beginning, it was opposing the black box CSSTA. This was the main demand. Everyone had no way to accept Chang Ching-chung passing the CSSTA  in under 30 seconds.

Photo credit: Huang Kuo-chang/Facebook

That touches on the checks-and-balances under the constitution. But there are also those who believed that what they opposed was China using business as a United Front strategy directed toward Taiwan. During the Sunflower Movement, you would also hear calls that Taiwan needed to become a normalized country. Some also looked at it from a more traditional left/right political viewpoint, that what they opposed as this sort of transnational corporation using the CSSTA as a means to harm Taiwan’s middle class and working class.

So there many sides to it.

Brian Hioe:  How do you look at the movement now, five years later? The New Power Party, of course, emerged out of the Sunflower Movement and has now moved from being outside of the system to within it. From occupying the Legislative Yuan to serving within it.

Huang Kuo-chang:  I think that this movement has perhaps had the largest effect of awakening the younger generation, who may have been cold towards public issues, but now become more passionate about it. A slogan that was popular then was, “Save your own country.” That represents young people being awakened to this awareness and wanting to take action to change this system.

To discuss it a bit further, in terms of the political system, everyone realizes now that oversight is important for cross-strait agreements. Pushing for constitutional reform is also very important since the executive branch of government can unilaterally take action, reflecting that there are some issues regarding the balance of power. Some aspect of this can be adjusted through legal reform. But other issues touch upon more fundamental elements of the law in need of reform.

Politically, this has led the KMT to lose in two sets of elections, in 2014 and 2016. This has the KMT to not hold the majority in the Legislative Yuan for the first time in history. Ko Wen-je was also able to win mayorship of Taipei. Of course, the New Power Party, or the formation of the so-called Third Force, can also be said to have taken place in the aftermath of the Sunflower Movement.

Brian Hioe:  Do you think that a movement such as the Sunflower Movement could occur in Taiwan again in the future?

Huang Kuo-chang:  It would be very difficult to predict. Whether or not it happens is tied to whether or not there is a need for it to happen. Whether or not there is a need for it to happen is linked to who is currently in power. Whether through change within the system, you can respond to how certain ideals are being put into practice or not.

So it’s very hard for me to say whether it could happen or not happen. It has to do with the demand from civil society towards some demands or values. Whether they can make those who are in power implement this, whether this takes place through executive power or legislative power.

If those in power are too remote from the will of the people, given the maturity of Taiwanese civil society, there is a possibility that this kind of movement could reappear.

Photo credit: Huang Kuo-chang/Facebook

Brian Hioe:  Do you think that China has had any changes in terms of how they treat Taiwan after the Sunflower Movement?

Huang Kuo-chang:  China has become smarter. Which is to say, China hasn’t changed its aims of annexing Taiwan, just after the Sunflower Movement, they have become more clever. In the past, China may have thought that you only needed to win over the elites of Taiwan. For example, the upper levels of the KMT. Or wealthy businessmen. They thought that if they could win over such people, they could smoothly achieve their aims.

But after the Sunflower Movement, China has realized that the upper echelons of the KMT, or those wealthy businessmen, may have failed in terms of efforts to control Taiwanese society. This is a policy failure. This is why China has begun to use efforts that are more careful and more cunning regarding infiltrating Taiwanese society. So they may begin from the level of neighborhood bureaus, civil society organizations, and use the economy or cultural exchanges as the beginning of attempts to infiltrate Taiwanese society.

Brian Hioe:  Lastly, how do you think the Sunflower Movement could influence the international world? 

Huang Kuo-chang:  I think the movement has sent a strong message to the international world, which is to say, Taiwan doesn’t wish to become part of China. Because during the Ma administration, what the international world may have understood did not reflect mainstream opinion in Taiwan.

The Ma government attempted to emphasize the One China Principle to the international world. Of course, the Ma administration attempted to claim that what they emphasized with One China, Two Interpretations, but the international world may only understand One China. Ma would not emphasize the element of different interpretations of China. And the view that the international society would take is that Taiwan had recognized one China, that they are part of one China along with the People’s Republic of China.

In facing international society, in hoping to establish a normalized nation-state, this is very dangerous. But after the Sunflower Movement, many Taiwanese young people, including many overseas Taiwanese in America, Europe, Australia, and other places, have sought to connect with each other. To a large extent, this has successfully allowed the message of the Sunflower Movement to spread in the international world.

Photo credit: Huang Kuo-chang/Facebook

This proves a corrective from the impression that the Ma administration hoped to convey to the international world. This allows allies of Taiwan—by which I don’t only mean governments or politicians—for regular civil society, composed of average citizens, to know that this event took place in Taiwan and allow them to know the voices of Taiwanese young people.

Brian Hioe:  Thank you.

1 Comment

  • Dave Hall
    April 13, 2019 12:46 pm

    The more I read about the NPP the more I learn what the DPP used to stand for.