Interview: Huang Shou-da
Huang Shou-da is currently a city councilor for the Democratic Progressive Party in Taichung’s West District and Central District. The following interview was conducted on March 20th, 2019.
Brian Hioe: Can you first introduce yourself for readers who may not know you?
Huang Shou-da: I’m Huang Shou-da. I’m currently a city councilor in Taichung. I participated in the Sunflower Movement five years ago. Later on, because I had the opportunity, I transitioned from social movements to political work, which is what I’ve done up until now.
Brian Hioe: How did you begin participating in social movements? What kind of issues did you participate in and why did you participate?
Huang Shou-da: It began from the Wild Strawberry Movement in 2008. For many people, that was the start of their participation in social movements. That was when I entered into this world of social movements. But at the time, I was part of the student government. So you could say that I was at the crossroads of these two areas, student government and social movements.
Brian Hioe: What were you doing on 318, when things broke out?
Huang Shou-da: I wasn’t doing anything before that. But I got called to the Labor Front’s office, to participate in that meeting. They arranged for an action. So I just went with everyone and charged into the Legislative Yuan. Regarding this action, I only really became involved in things later on.
Photo credit: Huang Shou-da/Facebook
Brian Hioe: What did you do during the course of the movement? I know that later on, you were at the Department of Social Sciences and participated in 324.
Huang Shou-da: I did what was needed. I wasn’t originally a participant in the movement to oppose the CSSTA. At the time, I participated primarily in the NTU student labor union. My mother was sick then, too. I hadn’t spent as much time in the anti-CSSTA movement.
I primarily hoped to help out when I went there. This was quite normal for me and other people, since there was a lot of miscellaneous work to do. I would wait for orders and when there was something that needed doing, we would just go and do what we thought needed to be done. For most of the movement, I did that. But all of these miscellaneous tasks later became focused on the Department of Social Sciences.
Brian Hioe: How would you look back on the events of 324, five years later? I was there too, as part of the back door team.
Huang Shou-da: 324 was a direct action. I imagine you’ve seen the investigation report as well. For me, I think it was unavoidable. It would happen, but you just didn’t know how it would happen. I also think that this was part of the cycle of protests in the movement.
From 318, charging into the Legislative Yuan, 323, charging into the Executive Yuan, and 330, with 500,000 people taking Ketagalan Boulevard, then dispersing. And what happened afterward. It’s not just a cycle that began from 318 either. It began in 2008 up until 2014, as the high point in these six years.
Brian Hioe: Do you think that your participating in the Sunflower Movement or other social movements has to do with your sense of Taiwanese identification?
Huang Shou-da: Of course. I would normally be at home taking care of my mother in Taichung. I had one class left in graduate school. I rarely had to go to class. I commuted to Taipei from Taichung.
I would attend class, then I went to meet up with old friends. From them, I learned about this. I told my friends that we had to do something. Something, whatever it was. Otherwise, Taiwan would be looked down on by the rest of the world.
That’s how I felt then. So it definitely did have to do with Taiwanese identification. I think that many people had similar feelings.
Brian Hioe: What kind of movement would you say the Sunflower Movement was? Was it a movement opposed to China, to the CSSTA, to the black box, to the KMT?
Huang Shou-da: I think these were all present. 318 or the Sunflower Movement…I don’t mind the name the Sunflower Movement as much. Or the term “student movement.” Though many participants may not like this. That was the name this society gave it.
I think that the Sunflower Movement had these different elements. It had an element opposed to the black box. It had an element opposed to the China factor. It had an element opposed to free trade. But who could bring all these elements together? It was the KMT. It was Ma Ying-jeou. It was opposed to the KMT, which brought all these three elements together.
As such, I believe that this was the Sunflower Movement. It was responding to this. And everyone had different views of what the movement was. But because everyone had different views, that’s why it could have such a powerful force.
Photo credit: Huang Shou-da/Facebook
This also points to how people started to divide after the Sunflower Movement. It might be too much to say that they’ve become divided, as if these people were united to begin with. It wasn’t like that from the beginning.
People started to split after people realized that everyone thought different things. People went off toward their different directions.
So if you ask, was it opposed to China, to the KMT, to free trade, I think it was. These were all different sides to it.
Brian Hioe: Taiwanese social movements in the past few years tend to be more progressive. Do you think that there is any particular reason for this? Some might explain the Sunflower Movement as being about independence versus unification issues, but progressive or conservative is not directly related to this.
Huang Shou-da: We were talking about the cycle of protests earlier. From 2008 up until 2014, there were six years of development, and the high point was 330. It might have begun in 2008. And the end of the cycle was 2016. That corresponds to the KMT’s time in power and Tsai Ing-wen’s election victory. It’s a period.
Social movements can also be periodicized in this way. One can maybe only compare it to in the 1990s. This wasn’t only with regards to opposing the CSSTA. It was part of a larger continuum. I like to break it into several periods. One from the Wild Strawberry Movement in 2008. The anti-Kuokuang Movement in 2010. The anti-media monopoly movement in 2012. The anti-CSSTA movement in 2014. And then opposing nuclear power. Or the changes in textbooks. These were continuous social movements about various social issues.
The Sunflower Movement was probably just a high point. Those that participated in the movement had different issues they participated in or cared about as well. Like I mentioned, I originally wasn’t as focused on the issue of the CSSTA. I was focused on the NTU labor union.
So I think if you look at this based on these different issues, I think that in 2011 and 2014, we had arrived at a new point, and we might have still been in that.
Brian Hioe: Why did you decide to run for office later? After the Sunflower Movement, many people decided to move from being outside of the system to being within it. Running for office and so forth.
Huang Shou-da: For me, it’s because of unexpected opportunities I had. But Tsai Ing-wen being elected in 2016 was a key point. In 2015, I joined the DPP. After I finished graduate school in the beginning of 2015, I entered Rosalia Wu’s office, during when she was still a Taipei city councilor. In the middle of the year, I entered the DPP’s central offices, as part of their youth section.
After I finished graduate school, I entered a new period in life. I had to reflect seriously on what I could do. After the end of the Sunflower Movement, as I mentioned, that was the beginning of a new period.
For people as us, we had to find a new path for ourselves. After the Sunflower Movement, we’ve tried forming many organizations. We tried forming new organizations to continue what we were doing. But in this process, we encountered many difficulties.
Photo credit: Huang Shou-da/Facebook
One was how to find a way to survive. And where would money come from, that we could survive? That’s where the difficulties began because nobody was willing to invest in us. That indicates that we were not able to provide some new product or service people would invest in. We couldn’t find a way to survive, though we tried.
We originally wanted to create a space, which could be where social movements began. A space to train other social movement participants or political workers. But to do this, we need money, and we didn’t have money. With the situation then, unless we would be able to find resources, we wouldn’t be able to do this. We may have not had the ability to maintain this. No matter what we were able to do when we were students, we couldn’t do this after entering the workforce.
So we were stuck here. We tried to get support from financial backers, but this was difficult. They might not have had enough resources themselves. After a process of time, being unable to find a way to survive, we encountered difficulties.
Another difficulty was that no matter how the Sunflower Movement may have seemed successful, for us, we were very clear that this was a failure. It had failed on many levels. It didn’t form a political party, nor did it block the CSSTA. Secondly, it didn’t allow social movements to become more unified but instead caused them to become more divided. Third, it destroyed the network of progressive activists which had existed in the course of many years.
This was how the Sunflower Movement failed. It didn’t accumulate anything. It did create a new space for political opportunities, but for us participants, this was a failure. You want to do something. You want to through this period of time, achieve something. And through these achievements, prove that this period of time was meaningful.
Yet, having encountered these difficulties, regarding whether how to survive or how to do something meaningful, this led us to think about the possibility of political work. Because political work was a way of surviving. And for us, then, political work also satisfied some of our hopes to do something meaningful. Since you would get closer to political power.
Social movement work and political work all have to do with political power, but how you work with this is different. We understood very well what social movement work was. So we were curious about political work and what was going on there.
For me, with these motivations, after I finished graduate school, I went to Rosalia Wu’s as a legal aide. My own thesis was written about local government laws, so starting from a local government was important for me. Starting from local governments, I could understand what Taiwan’s political environment was like.
The more you know, the more you want to do. After the central party headquarters sought me out, I felt conflicted about it for a long time, and in the end, I decide to enter the central party. I entered the youth section, first as assistant director, then as director. And because you entered the central party office, I had the chance to participate in the 2020 presidential elections.
For me, this was very important. You had an opportunity to bring down the KMT. So I entered the central party office. And I helped Tsai’s campaign.
Then after that was a new period. I had to consider that it looked as though progressive political forces had won, that the DPP had taken power, and the NPP had emerged. Progressive political forces now held power. What could you do? So the question was then what I should do after Tsai Ing-wen won?
Photo credit: Huang Shou-da/Facebook
While thinking about it, someone came and asked me if I was interested in running for city council. Since someone was throwing a ball at me, I decided to hit it. I decided to try it out.
Behind this, I thought that because the DPP had taken power, and the so-called adults had a blueprint, and a long-term aim. I also identified with this blueprint and this aim. And everyone seemed to be proceeding toward this aim. I thought that I should do something which fewer people were working on.
I was interested in localities to begin with. I thought that returning to a local place, to my hometown, might be a way to allow progressive values to reach the grassroots. So I agreed and, after leaving my position as director of the youth section, returned to Taichung, and prepared to run for office. That path has continued up until the present.
But with my victory and the DPP’s loss as a whole in 2018, this also reminds us that maybe we were mistaken. Which is to say, that the adults seemed to know how to proceed back then. And we should maybe just go along with them.
I think many young people felt similarly. That we had won a victory and so what came next was looking for the next step. The next step would be following the adults.
It’s just that after the 2018 elections, we discovered that maybe the adults weren’t as capable as we had thought. That they lost and were convinced. The blueprint and long-term aim from before look far away now. I realized again that things weren’t as I had thought. And that there were more things I had to do. This is where I am now.
Brian Hioe: Then, as a city councilor in these few months, how have you felt? What do you want to do in the future?
Huang Shou-da: What I have written on the banner at the top of my Facebook page is, “Sustain Local Culture and Economy”. This returns to my interest in local areas. No matter how much you talk about progressive values, what you actually do is more important. So how do you do things? You return to the grassroots. The results of the referendum also confirm this.
What I and my team want to do is what we have written on this banner. My electoral district is the West Central District of Taichung. The West Central district has much cultural capital and history. What I have to do is to see how through cultural tourism, this can develop the local economy of the West Central district. This also returns to how during elections, my friends and I raised a demand, which is also being pushed for by the National Development Council, which is to develop local areas. How do you, through the local economy, establish a sustainable society?
This is what I want to do and this is what I am doing now. Of course, that’s not enough. I may need to do more.
Like I said earlier, we can’t continue to keep relying on adults. The new generation must do something new. So I also want to link together new city councilors, of this new generation. They may be all across Taiwan. And everyone holds similar ideals and values. How do we link together and confront the election fight in 2020? I think this is what we need to do more of.
Photo credit: Huang Shou-da/Facebook
Brian Hioe: Is there anything you’d like to say in closing, not only to Taiwanese readers, but also international ones?
Huang Shou-da: About the Sunflower Movement?
Brian Hioe: Anything.
Huang Shou-da: I don’t have much else to say about the Sunflower Movement. During elections, I said myself as a slogan that we should “Say Goodbye to the Sunflower Movement”. This is not to take back the Sunflower Movement, but to emphasize that we must proceed to the next stage. We have to move to the next stage. We can’t just continue to focus on the successes or failures of the Sunflower Movement.
This is also why I think us city councilors should link together. The difficulties we confront in 2020 may be even harder than in 2014. For people like us, who participated in the Sunflower Movement, 2014 has changed Taiwanese history. We were going to be unified, but this attempt at unification was blocked. Yet it looks like it’s starting up again. After five years, can we do this again? That’s the challenge we face in the present. However, it can’t happen again, so we have to consider what to do next.