Interview: Mimi Huang

Huang Yi-Hsun (Mimi) is a journalist and writer currently studying at National Taiwan University. The following interview was conducted on November 8th, 2017.


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

Mimi Huang:  I began to participate in social movements from when I was in a five-year junior college. That’s when I began to be concerned with social issues. Because I’m from Chiayi, I was originally in a five-year junior college in Kaohsiung, studying English and German. My classmates weren’t too concerned with collective issues. Because my family was mostly in business, I didn’t have too many opportunities to understand these sorts of issues regarding society or politics. I didn’t have the conditions to understand these sort of issues.

Because I liked music while I was studying, I liked Desserts Chang a lot then. Desserts Chang is someone who very much likes to talk with her audience and to discuss social issues with them. At that time, when I had a grasp of these different terms, there was one time I heard her on YouTube or something talking about the Wukan incident in China. She asked her audience to pay attention to these issues. Around that time, the Dapu incident took place as well.

Photo credit: Toomore Chiang/Flickr/CC

There was a period of time in the middle, but that was something that influenced my life. And with the Dapu incident, I started to pay attention to these issues, and I listened to them sitting there drinking and discussing and gradually began to pay attention to these issues.

Those people were older than me quite a bit. My classmates didn’t discuss these issues at all. Most of them were women and may have been discussing how to become a flight attendant or someone that focuses on their appearances. But then I started working at a different coffee shop and one day, because we had a dish with beef in it, when I was taking an order from a customer one day, that client asked me if the dish contained America beef. That was when the legislature was in an uproar about American beef. She said she didn’t eat American beef. I didn’t know.

I asked and later on, I asked why she was concerned with this, since nobody had ever asked me that before. She said that she had her political position. I said, there are few people concerned with this. Because she also opposed nuclear energy and things like that, he said that that night, because that was in Kaohsiung, there was a private meeting of people concerned with these issues, and she invited me there. There were some adults there and some students.

She asked if I wanted to go, I said yes. And that day, Neil Peng, Shinichi Chen, and people from Praxis in South were there. I’m not sure if people from the 02 Society were there.

Because my school was quite conservative, I didn’t interact with too many people from other schools. I didn’t know what a student activist group was. When I went that day, adults discussed what they discussed and I went in with them and discussed, what an activist group was. They said that they were from student activists groups from different colleges and told me what they studied.

At the time in Kaohsiung, people from Praxis in South were holding events similar to Cafe Philo regarding different political issues, with a different topic every week. I started to attend, since I was someone new to this. I got to know the 02 Society through this and to know a group of very different people. Zhang Ziling was the head of the 02 Society then.

Zhang Ziling invited Wu Jiehmin to give a talk on his new book, “The Third View of China” (2012). Because at the time in Kaohsiung, there were few events like this. There wasn’t even one independent bookstore in Kaohsiung, there was only Eslite. I asked my then-boyfriend if he wanted to come with me. He happened to have the day off, so we went to Chenggong University to listen to this because I felt that he was more able to understand what they were talking about. I could understand the beginning, but what was discussed later, I couldn’t understand. I didn’t have the knowledge for that then. I didn’t know what he was responding to and what he advocated.

After listening to the talk, seeing some people I knew, they were all people I normally knew, but standing on the stage and MCing and holding the discussion, they seemed very confident and could use specialized vocabulary to discuss social issues. I thought that was something which was quite attractive. I felt a bit possessed after, that although I couldn’t understand what they were talking about, I wanted to be able to express and discuss socio-political issues as clear as they do. It was so fast. And that time, I had been preparing to enter college and I was considering what to study. I was planning on studying printing, with regards to brushwork and typography, since I have a background that has to do with aesthetics.

Going back that day, at the bus station at National Chenggong University, behind the Tainan Train Station, there’s a large road with many bodhi trees. It’s the tree that the Sakyamuni Buddha became enlightened under. That left a deep impression, passing by that road, and taking the train that day. I made a decision that day, that I would study social sciences. I decided to study politics, rather than sociology, as tested through statistics, since I’m not good at math. And if I took philosophy I’d have to study logic. With politics, I would have to study the constitution and use English. I thought it was more likely that I could study politics.

I spent half a year studying then. I tested at National Tunghai University and National Taiwan University. After that, I started studying at National Taiwan University.

Photo credit: Y.H. Kao/Flickr/CC

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

Mimi Huang:  I had just entered National Taiwan University then. I started in my sophomore year, because I had to test in from the five-year school. You have take a test if you switch from a five-year school to a college. That’s why I had to spend time studying.

Because I was very interested in student activist groups, I joined the NTU UniNews Club (大學新聞社) and the NTU Continent Club (台大大陸社). I joined both. The first year, I spent most of my time at the NTU UniNews Club. It had a long history to do with social movements going back to the martial law period, going back to the 1950s. Many activists came out of this. They’re people that charge in social movements, emphasizing that they are willing to take direct action and clash with the police and are organizers. They’re very close to labor issues, but they don’t like to discuss issues regarding nationality. Including left independence.

So in my first semester, I began to encounter student activist groups and wanted to participate in these groups. And the NTU Continent Club was similar. It was a reading group. With 318, that was the next semester. There was already some sense this would happen.

On 317, I was at the old NTU Department of Social Sciences, at Xuzhou Road, near the Legislative Yuan. I had a comparative government class that day. I was attending class that day. The Chang Ching-Chung incident took place then and there was much discussion of this on Facebook. There was no way to keep on attending classes.

After getting out of classes, I ran to in front of the Legislative Yuan. At the time, there was only Huang Kuo-Chang and people from the Taiwan Association of University Professors. There were few people and people were holding a press conference there, holding up flags. I went there and there were too few people there. I was quite shocked, that it could be so empty. I wasn’t sure what to do then. But nothing happened that day, I kept standing there until it was 11 PM, and then I went home.

I got to know Fang Huizhen then. When she was in Next Magazine, writing on reports on 318, part of it was discussing attending with me, since she was standing next to me. We started talking about Kafka and Hannah Arendt. Because in The Human Condition, Hannah Arendt discusses action in terms of participation. I had been studying this and hadn’t been able to understand some of this discussion. But I saw this because Hannah Arendt is quite literary and I felt that this was humanity and that humans could come up with a new way of thinking about the world. I talked with Fang Huizhen then about the “plurality of action” in The Human Condition. Nothing happened, so I went back home to see what would happen.

The next day, during 318, I was in a discussion class, in which we talk with upperclassmen. I think we were discussing Simmel. After discussing Simmel, people said that there was going to be a rally or something like that in front of the Legislative Yuan because of what took place yesterday. In the discussion class (most members of which who were also members of the NTU UniNews Club) was disinterested. Nobody wanted to pay attention to this. I felt a bit disappointed, so I ate dinner and rode a bicycle from the backdoor of NTU to the Legislative Yuan.

By that time, it was already night. So I got up to there. I looked around and looked to see what people were doing. I stood there. And someone I knew came up, I forget who it was, said, “Mimi! Mimi! We’re going to charge into the Legislative Yuan later! Later, you be responsible for the parking lot, downstairs, when we charge there!” I didn’t know what was going on, so I said, “Oh, okay.” Then I heard, “Everyone charge!” and everyone suddenly stood up and charged.

Because I stood in front of the door in the first row, more and more people started pushing, and I felt dizzy. The police came and blocked the door. The police went upstairs and someone said, “There are people up there!” People started pushing their way in. I got stuck between the police and the people and I felt like I was going to get crushed. Later on, the police let up, and people were able to force their way in.

We went directly to the second floor and we went to where the glass was. I looked down and the general assembly chamber had been occupied. Everyone was hanging banners. And in my heart, I felt, “What the fuck?! What am I doing here?” I didn’t know what I was doing and people were all there, and started chatting. Nothing happened. There was all these posts on Facebook, so I posted a picture of me and my friends, showing that I was inside.

Photo credit: Toomore Chiang/Flickr/CC

There’s not more beyond that, since I looked around inside, began to see who was there and how many people were there. It’s mostly that. Later on, around 3 or 4 AM, the police tried to force themselves in. I sat in front. In the end, they didn’t force their way in. So then I didn’t know what to do after 3 or 4 AM. But we had just finished discussing sociology. And I still had my textbook, so I started studying inside. [Laughs] I was studying Simmel. I couldn’t understand, because that wasn’t written in a very understandable manner. The reading material for that week was, “How is Society Possible?”

I studied until morning. And people started sending in food, so I was quite happy that there were so many things I could eat. Doujiang, donuts, and many things, so I kept eating things! [Laughs] It was up until around 3 or 4 when the Simmel class on The Sociology of Reflexivity was supposed to take place, I thought I couldn’t skip this. I just didn’t want to skip this class, even if I thought I could skip every other class. So I ran off to go attend class.

I also was wearing contacts and I had been wearing them for ten or twenty hours. I didn’t have my classes on my. I had the need to change them, to go out and get my things. So I went to go study and everyone was discussing this situation.

Brian Hioe:  What were your feelings during the movement?

Mimi Huang:  The core decision making group was making decisions for the movement, but I felt somewhat conflicted about the fact that this group of people who were making decisions for the movement could appear so quickly. Why? Even if a few of them were my good friends, but I felt that they could decide that they could represent the movement, I felt that this was something I didn’t want to be a part of.

Later on, there were divisions between the Legislative Yuan and Department of Social Sciences, as well as the Untouchables’ Liberation Area. I didn’t want to join. I knew the people who were watching the gates, so they let me in, even if they wouldn’t let regular people inside. I went in once or twice. I felt a bit conflicted inside, so I left again.

Brian Hioe: Did you have any views regarding the large incidents of the movement, such as 324 or the decision to withdraw from the Legislative Yuan?

Mimi Huang:  During 324, I was among the first to charge in.

Brian Hioe: Which group? I was at the back door.

Mimi Huang:  I was at the front door. Because in the beginning, people contacted me that there would be this action. I was anonymous. But I helped out pass on messages about this action to Tsay Ting-Kuei. Because they also participated. So I waited there, pretending to walk around. And then someone shouted that we were going to charge and we all charged in. We had to climb over the wall. I remember my dress blew up then. [Laughs] But I climbed over and sat outside the entrance. The media kept snapping photos, so I felt afraid, and eventually ran off.

Later on, I participated in the rally for 324, because I was passing on information. I was quite shocked, because some people intentionally or unintentionally led to some unfortunate consequences. I felt that for this political action, they might have had some aims in mind, but at the time it looked like it failed and had some negative consequences. But looking bad about it, I don’t think it was with bad intentions. It was quite meaningful.

Brian Hioe:  I was at the back door then. I found out yesterday Hsueh-Chan was also there, but I didn’t know him then.

Mimi Huang:  I also found that looking through the pictures, there were some people I knew later on, but I didn’t know then.

Brian Hioe:  Do you have any views regarding the decision to withdraw?

Mimi Huang:  By that time, it had gone on awhile. So I only noticed that they had decided to take think action. I didn’t have too many thoughts, because people were wondering then when this movement would end. And they might have expressed what they were advocating and how they were planning on withdrawing, but I didn’t think too much about it.

Brian Hioe: Do you think that your participation in this movement or other social movements has to do with Taiwanese identification?

Mimi Huang:  I think it’s related. The movement has to do with the CSSTA, after all. Because my political self-identification beforehand was clear beforehand that I advocate Taiwanese independence.

In the movement, the China factor was also widely discussed. When the movement broke out, a lot of people used the China factor as a way to explain Chang Ching-Chung’s actions. The Black Island Youth Front did a lot of work establishing discourse regarding these issues. That may be one of the things that contribute to how I understood Taiwanese identification and participating in the movement.

However, I think most importantly is during the movement, you need to do a lot of work of persuading. That’s the time you need to answer questions like: Who are we? Why do we (must) act? For me, the process is also the groundwork of civil consciousness.

Brian Hioe:  What kind of movement would you feel this was? A movement opposed the black box? Or the KMT? Or to China? Or free trade? Why did people stand up? Or why did you yourself stand up?

Mimi Huang:  It may have been that at the time, some sociologists or scholars had investigated why people participated beforehand. We can maybe let them respond to this.

I wasn’t unaware of the CSSTA, because I came up from the south to study in Taipei at the same time as Lai Yu-Fen. They formed the Black Island Youth Front, which led discussion of the CSSTA as an issue. So at the time, I would often listen to how they discussed the CSSTA.

But why would I stand up? In terms of feelings, I felt that I had to do something.

Photo credit: Abby Chen/Flickr/CC

Brian Hioe:  From your perspective, do you think there is any political orientation to social movement participation? Because I feel that social movement participants tend to be more progressive and they usually say that they are left-leaning. Do you think it’s that way? I’m very interested to why young people say they are left-wing.

Mimi Huang:  Sometimes, self-identification and your actual views, attitudes, and actions towards issues are not the same. But it may be that through studying sociology, you encounter left-wing traditions in terms of thought. Is it that people self-identified as left in Taiwan identify with this tradition? Sometimes how people who are self-identified as left organize or participate in issues may not be so left.

What is left-wing in Taiwan is very vague and some people may identify as left, but they are neoliberal in reality, towards certain issues. So I don’t know the meaning of why they call themselves left-wing. Maybe they just think it’s cool.

There may be some discussions of “independence left” or “left independence” in academic circles. But what do they mean by left and how did they come to know these ideas of being left?

Brian Hioe:  Three years later, how do you think this movement has influenced Taiwanese society and Taiwanese politics? Many people will raise the election of Tsai Ing-Wen and Ko P or the appearance of the Third Force.

Mimi Huang:  If discussing politics, such as regarding influence on the system, we all know there’s been some influence, as in the appearance of the Third Force that claim they want to push for a new form of politics. Some political parties have entered the Legislative Yuan and begun to advocate for some things. But is this really a new political force? Or old wine in a new bottle? Do they really create new values or possibilities among political spaces? I think this is worth looking into.

Many people will discuss the civic awakening of the people, but I think this way of discussing things isn’t new. It’s not what I would want to say.

Something more related to my life is that after the Sunflower Movement, with the Third Force parties, or those who have entered the Legislative Yuan, with the DPP having taken power, many people have entered the DPP to work. Or related Third Force parties. You can see that after graduating, some people need income, so entering political parties was one option.

But at the same time, these people were organizers of student activist groups on campus. After the Sunflower Movement, student activist groups have gradually broken up on campuses and there’s nobody to do very basic work.

Brian Hioe:  What do you think social movement participants are doing now, three years later? As you mentioned, social movements have become weaker.

Mimi Huang:  Everyone seems to feel that they just have to express their views on certain issues, within their groups, or on social media. That that’s a kind of action. But I think organizational work is still necessary, whether on campuses, or addressing local issues outside of campuses, or human rights issues. Only then can there be actual social reform.

I don’t reject political work. I respect those who I know that have entered into political work. But I have to admit, if you take on political work, you have to confront many issues. The means of persuading someone are different. Whether entering the legislature or political parties. There’s both within the system and outside the system still. But what I want to emphasize is that because people have entered the political system, people aren’t working on student activist groups.

Brian Hioe:  Do you think that there could be a social movement in Taiwan such as the Sunflower Movement again?

Mimi Huang:  It’s harder. Because to a large level, the expectations that people have of social movements are weaker now. Realistically speaking, people may not be doing organizational work, so how do we have the strength to mobilize? Because the Sunflower Movement wasn’t a contingent event. There were preconditions necessary for it to happen. There was a strength that had been growing for awhile. And so it happened that way. You can that it was overdetermined.

I think it is possible. However, I don’t think that the conditions to occur on that scale and mobilize that quickly are present now. Like I said, when I raised Hannah Arendt, I believe that people can create something new, that people can change and create something new. Using new ways to tell people something. Maybe it can happen.

But how can it happen and what kind of a group of people would bring it about? I would emphasize it as a group of people, not a hero or superman bringing it about. That can be discussed further.

Photo credit: /othree/Flickr/CC

Brian Hioe:  Do you think that China has any views towards Taiwan’s political circumstances after the Sunflower Movement? Or that the Sunflower Movement could influence the international world, or international social movements?

Mimi Huang:  Does China care that the Sunflower Movement? It’s a tough question. If the CCP admits that the Sunflower Movement affected civil society in Taiwan or Taiwanese identification or Taiwanese political views, it may care about the movement.

We’ll see in that case. We might only see what it does behind the scenes to try and influence Taiwan, regarding civil society. A lot of Chinese friends of mine, as well as friends from Hong Kong, were quite interested in this. Does the international world care about the Sunflower Movement? Perhaps.

In Taiwanese history, it will be a very important incident, so if the international world cares about it, when NGOs or civil society groups confront an issue, they can maybe raise this as something which was created from social conditions or historical reasons which led to something that people had never thought would occur before. And because this movement could link to some international groups, that may be useful.

In conclusion, I think we shouldn’t seem 318 movements as a spectacle. We must liberate it into our life: life for a better revolution. For me, the question is always about—if 318 movement happened again, am I able to respond? Can we act differently?