Interview: Chang Sheng-han
Chang Sheng-han was one of the key participants in the NTU Department of Social Sciences group and the attempted storming of the Executive Yuan on March 23rd, 2014. The following interview was conducted on April 2nd, 2019.
Brian Hioe: The first thing I wanted to ask is, how did you begin participating in Taiwanese social movements? What kind of issues did you participate in and why did you participate?
Chang Sheng-han: I’m Chang Sheng-han. In 2007, I entered National Taiwan University (NTU)’s department of politics. I participated in the NTU Dalawasao Club then. It’s a so-called activist group. It’s a group focused on a reading group regarding Taiwanese history and culture. It discusses some social issues.
Because this was during Chen Shui-bian’s second term, this was a very low period for localists in Taiwan. There weren’t too many people that joined the group. But my political views leaned toward localism and the DPP to begin with.
The first protest I attended was in 2008 when Chen Yunlin came to Taiwan, and the 1106 sit-in was organized. Later on, this became the Wild Strawberry Movement. I’m sure you’ve heard this from many people. This was the first movement I truly participated in. It became from this.
Photo credit: Abby Chen/Flickr/CC
Brian Hioe: What other issues did you participate in later?
Chang Sheng-han: Many people from the Dalawasao Club participated in the Wild Strawberry Movement. Including Jiho, Su-phok, me, and others. For a Chinese person to come to Taiwan and suddenly change things so much, and the Ma administration used restrictive measures against a peaceful gathering. So this a protest against violence by the nation-state and sounded a warning about China’s influence on democracy.
That was my sophomore year of college. Later on, after I graduated, I went to study at NTU’s department of sociology for my MA. That was in 2011 and 2012. I participated more actively from my senior year onward in the formation of the NTU Labor Union, along with Shou-da. I spent two or three years on this.
In 2011, there was the Shaoxing Community. Our classmates helped organize that, so we participated in that too. In 2011, there was also the anti-Kuokuang movement and the two major incidents of the Dapu incident. There were two waves of protests then. Since 2009, there was organization of movements around farming villages, so we organized then. In 2009, we helped them organize some discussions, and also participated in various protests by the Taiwan Rural Front. Whether regarding land evictions or development plans, such as the Kuokuang plant.
These were more casual though. More active participation by me was with regards to the NTU Labor Union, but that was less of a street protest, many of this was regarding legal matters, regarding how to ensure that students were seen as workers in the eyes of the law.
In spring 2012 to July and August 2012, I began to participate in the Anti-Media Monopoly Movement. Me and Chen Wei-ting and Lin Fei-fan and others. In that process, Huang Kuo-chang also became to be known in Taiwanese society. But after a few months of participating, I left on my own.
In 2012 and 2013, Taiwanese society had many protests. In the process of this protest, you might begin from an individual issue, and you then get to know some other people. You’ll find that when other people come and support you, you’ll want to support them too, or you’ll want to understand what they do or work on, in terms of local organizations or things like that. Apart from the Taiwan Rural Front, I’d also participate in the anti-nuclear protest. Since the Fukushima incident took place in 2011, Taiwan’s anti-nuclear movement rose up again. In that process, we also participated. Losheng also organized a large protest.
At the end of 2011 or 2012, I decided that my MA would be on the youth alliance formed around Losheng, the youth organization that preserved Losheng. The formation of the organization in the ten years from 2004 to 2014. So I would often go to the Losheng Sanatorium. I would also go to the Taipei City Government with them to protest and I would also go with them, like the 316 protests. In 2013, I participated in many protests. I also participated in protests to block Huaguang Community to prevent the demolition, as well as the protests against the attempt to demolish the Shilin Wang family’s home.
At the time, the Taiwan Alliance for Victims of Urban Renewal, and OURS, with our friends who were involved in various urban renewal cases, such Huaguang and the Shilin Wang Community, we would have some interactions, because these were similar issues and people would discuss law regarding how to proceed. Sometimes, you needed people to protect the area, because you didn’t know when they would come in and evict everyone. People would go there in waves.
We also went to Dapu. It was later demolished when Liu Zheng-hong later called on everyone to go to Taipei to protest. But that attempt to protect the space, that night, I also participated in. At the time, we didn’t know when they would try and demolish things, so we split it up and went in waves. Jiho Chang and Lin Fei-fan also went. After that, once I entered graduate school, I participated in various social movements and street protests and helped to try and mobilize some people from NTU.
That brings us to the time before 318 in 2014. But during this time, we were already feeling that we were getting tired of this. Running someplace in a hurry then running to another place. You felt that we needed to consider passing down some experiences. I had gone from being a sophomore to the second and third years of my MA. I was nearly done with graduate school. So I, Huang Shou-da, and Yu Cong-ren wrote a guide to social movements. We later published this was Springtime of Losers (魯蛇之春) after the Sunflower Movement.
At the time, we didn’t know that the Sunflower Movement would break out. That a bigger incident was in front of us.
Brian Hioe: What were you doing at the time of 318?
Chang Sheng-han: At the time, during 318, Wu Pei-yi of the NTU Dalawasao Club, who was my senior, had gone to study at Tsinghua University. Chen Wei-ting also went there. When the two started going there, there were some changes, leading Tsinghua to have a small wave of social movement participation. After all, Tsinghua is a university focused on engineering and the sciences. A small group of people that participated in social movements formed.
Since Wu Pei-yi went there, we would have links with some of their protests, and they would call on us to attend some of their protests. When we got there, they told us that we were going to charge into the Legislative Yuan.
I thought that, “Hm, we’ve talked about charging so many times, but there hasn’t been one time that we succeeded in charging in. It’ll probably be the same this time, too. Hopefully, it just doesn’t go on until morning, that’ll be tiring.” But we didn’t think that we suddenly would get in.
Brian Hioe: I arrived there later that day, around 11 PM. I was with the Yang Ming Meaningful Club, I got along well with them.
What else did you do in the movement? You later were involved in the Department of Social Sciences and participated in 324. I was also at the Department of Social Sciences then.
Chang Sheng-han: I should start from 318 still. After we got in, everyone started to spread news of this, and everyone thought, since we had finally managed to get in, we had to protect this. Everyone was very excited, as though we had accomplished something we hadn’t in the past. Many people came that way. Everyone came.
I wasn’t too familiar with the Black Island Youth Front, actually, although I got to know Chen Wei-ting personally during the Wild Strawberry Movement. The aims of the action surpassed the original plans from the beginning. So it seemed as though we had to reorganize all this. Yen Wan-ling, Lin Jun-da, Chen Wei-ting, and others, and Jiho Chang and Wu Pei-yi, and I all discussed that we should think of a way to hold everything.
We managed to hold everything and then by the third or the fourth wave, there was nothing inside, so I wondered if we would be trapped on the inside. Huang Shou-da and I left the inside of the Legislative Yuan. I also seem to recall that the police didn’t allow us to use the bathroom then?
Brian Hioe: Oh, I remember that was one of the things we were shouting outside. To let the people on the inside use the bathroom.
Chang Sheng-han: It was past midnight then. I remember it was 1 or 2 AM. I felt as though we wouldn’t continue to be attacked, so we should think of how to maintain this space. The police wouldn’t let us use the bathroom, as a soft means of hoping that we would withdraw. That it wouldn’t forcefully push you out.
We went to see if there was any way to open a path with the outside. We had heard that there were quite a lot of people outside. Why hadn’t the people on the outside opened up a path for us to get out, in that case? Because it was a half-occupied state, we controlled part of the legislature but not all of it.
So Huang Shou-da, I, and some others went outside to see the circumstances. But we got into some conflict with the police right away and were hit by the police. After being beaten awhile, we were thrown out. After we were thrown out, we were very angry, why it would be like this. We tried to understand what was going on on-site, to lead everyone inside, emphasizing that there weren’t a lot of police on the inside and if we organized ourselves, we would be able to do this.
You know how by the Legislative Yuan, there was Qingdao East Road and Zhenjiang Street? There was a small alley by the 7/11? The police had blocked Zhenjiang Street. I went and found Wei Yang. Wei Yang said that if we all charged, everyone could break through. We got through, but everyone was tired after. Wei Yang was pressed onto a road and said he was injured.
We managed to get past Zhenjiang Street, but there was no way for us to keep charging. We decided to rest, go back home, and come back the next day to see the situation. The next day, when I came back, it seemed like there was a change in the situation. There were maybe a thousand people outside.
After that day, we rested a few days and came back. We didn’t know what to do. We discovered it was hard to charge in. There were difficulties communicating with the people inside. After one or two days, Huang Shou-da started saying that we should gather on the outside of the Department of Social Sciences. We should gather there.
I think it was because there were too many people on-site. As soon as you got there, there was no Internet. There was no way to communicate. So people should gather farther away. This was how the Department of Social Sciences began, before it became a place for people to rest. Later on, I forget the exact process, but some of the teachers at the Department of Social Sciences who were more favorable to us said that they would open up the hall for us to use. I felt that it was too noisy, I asked them if we could use another assembly hall.
By that point, the movement had already become somewhat strange. During this process, we didn’t have too much communication with the people inside, and we didn’t know who the key contact persons were. Apart from Chen Wei-ting and Lin Fei-fan, I knew Lin Fei-fan and Yen Wan-ling were inside, along with some NGO teachers that were going in and out. But on the outside, because it was easier for us to meet with those on the outside, so there were many people that came to look for us. They may have felt that we had participated more or that they may have known us better.
We felt that there were some things we should do apart from just sitting there. That’s true, there were somethings we could do. Then later on, Zhang Zi-ling, in the Taiwan National Alliance’s offices, organized a meeting for us to figure out what to do next. That time, I also remember that I contacted some people, and I brought some friends with us.
At the time, we suddenly had a message from within the Legislative Yuan that after one or two days, the people on the inside weren’t able to maintain it any longer. So they hoped some people to come in and take over, but they were afraid that if they left, it would collapse internally. They didn’t sound too good, it sounded like they wanted a bunch of us to go in and help.
At the time, so we talked for a bit, and sent some of our friends inside. That was the first time I went inside. And it turned out to be like, “Wow, things are way worse than I thought. Things have become so chaotic.” But I didn’t stay for a long time on the inside. I was at the Department of Social Sciences more. Yet in this process, there was a change, which is that on the first day, we may have just been trying to maintain the occupation. On the second and third days, we wanted to get the situation clear. After that, there was the view that people on the outside really didn’t want to go in and the people on the inside didn’t seem to know what they were doing, that the situation was bad.
There were many people that wanted to help out that started contacting us, so we decided to provide the NTU Department of Social Sciences as a space to test. As a place for some of the people, we knew better to divide up the work. For people on the inside to divide up the work.
But in the process, we started to hear that some kind of decision-making group was starting to form, such as the general assembly. That included the students on the inside of the Legislative Yuan, the NTU Department of Social Sciences group, and on Qingdao East Road and Jinan South Road, with those supporting us from NGOs. And those participating in Democratic Front Against Cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement. Everyone gathered as part of this group to decide the future of the movement.
At the time, we weren’t too familiar with these people, and we would wonder why they wanted to use this to decide the movement’s future. Didn’t we just say in the beginning that we would occupy the Legislative Yuan and force the government to listen? And in the middle, there were some issues, such as when Jiang Yi-huah came, but Ma Ying-jeou wasn’t willing to back down.
In the middle of this, there were some issues. On the one hand, there was this power structure consolidating internally. You weren’t able to firmly respond to the outside world. In these circumstances, it’s not easy to decide. Those who were watching us, those who had participated in social movements, had started to say on the Internet that things were too peaceful and orderly, focused on non-violence. Many people were unhappy about this and kept complaining about it to me.
So you would feel that there was a need to deepen the movement, or to have another action. But we were unable to discuss a plan for this. It later became that the people internally announced that people should surround KMT party headquarters. Yet there was this decision, not because those of us on the outside approved of this, but because they didn’t hope people to keep trying to charge into the Legislative Yuan. They felt that the inside was chaotic and that there was a need to maintain a form of order.
Photo credit: Toomore Chiang/Flickr/CC
But because of this decision, it became even more complicated. In Tainan, there are a lot of localists, so the KMT party headquarters there was quickly surrounded. They contacted us and said, “We’ve surrounded the KMT headquarters. Now what should we do?” [Laughs] It’s not like we could do anything to them, they’re just a local party headquarters.
It wasn’t normally how a social movement would take place. Even more people, such as those who experienced the Wild Strawberry Movement. In one week, the Wild Strawberry Movement had gone from several hundred to several dozen people. But the remaining people would sometimes come and at other times, they wouldn’t. We became a group that knew each other well, comparatively speaking, even if there were also conflicts.
There were two weeks, I remember, that I went there every day. It was very rare that I stayed there overnight, but you realize that many times if you aren’t strong enough, if you don’t give the government any pressure, there’s nothing that you can do. It treats you coldly and it wins since you’ll eventually disperse on your own. You’ll quickly lose attention from the media and the motivation of participants will decrease.
Yet with this movement, like with the Rural Front, during the attempt to occupy the Ministry of the Interior, during that time there were also some people–such as Jiho Chang–who felt that seeing as the government had done as terrible things as demolishing the Chang family pharmacy while we were protesting, why were we just staying in the square? Why don’t we really charge on in and force them to be afraid? But at the time, despite the Rural Front being quite strong, there weren’t a lot of people that day. Everyone listened to Tsai Pei-hui’s views, who thought this was unnecessary. Although I remember this was discussed.
On the other hand, the Sunflower Movement was too large and too chaotic. The core wasn’t strong enough. Lin Fei-fan and Chen Wei-ting wouldn’t know what they should do many times either. In this process, I think that there was a large pressure on us outside. Those of us who had participated in movements more would feel that if we just stay here, we might have 30,000 people outside now, but next week, they might not come.
Yet you’ve had this feeling, as everyone was discussing this, that after Sunday passed, nobody would keep coming. We would also feel that we couldn’t just continue to stay here, there also needed to be other actions. Surrounding the KMT party headquarters was an unsuccessful action, so we needed a more active one.
Na Su-phok called for opening up a path between the Legislative Yuan and outside then, charging in and occupying the whole of the Legislative Yuan, so that people could go in and out. This way, it wouldn’t be so hard to communicate. At the time, in trying to communicate, they would ask us to find some people to keep order from the NTU Department of Social Sciences to go inside and help with that. But sometimes this would take many hours. You would have to make many stops.
The movement also would have self-organized actions. From Qingdao East Road, to the main gate, to the inside of the Legislative Yuan, it was oftentimes all self-organized, so it would be very difficult to coordinate.
Na Su-phok advocated opening up the inside and outside. I wasn’t as committed to this idea, but I felt that everyone should do something, that we couldn’t just keep talking here. In this a process of miscommunication, the idea eventually became that we should occupy the Executive Yuan. This process was too complicated. We weren’t very sure how it became like this either.
Brian Hioe: I was in the back door group there. I was just called over, I wasn’t too sure what we were doing. I was with the Meaningful Club, I’m pretty sure we were called over by Na Su-Phok.
Chang Sheng-han: Everyone was just called over. It was very last minute. He kept saying that we were going to occupy the Legislative Yuan, but then suddenly on the last day, it became the Executive Yuan. I didn’t understand why either at the time, but it felt logical, since we occupied the general assembly chamber of the Legislative Yuan.
You felt that since it was the executive branch that proposed this and didn’t back down and was the highest organ of power in the nation, this also represented the nation. I also felt that if we were able to occupy both the Legislative Yuan and Executive Yuan, this represented that the nation as a whole had been occupied.
And in terms of conflict that it would provoke, it wasn’t like occupying the Presidential Office. You wouldn’t know what would happen then. But it would deepen the movement and it had more legitimacy. It seemed like a reasonable target. Although it seemed difficult since the Executive Yuan is very large. For protests, the Executive Yuan is a place you go to often, so I felt that we might not be able to get in, and we’d be stuck outside and make some noise and then call it quits. Or that if we got in, because there would be some police there, we wouldn’t go far and we’d be surrounded. You can see Chuan-kai’s report regarding that. It’s very difficult.
The largest difference was that we didn’t realize clearly then to what extent the movement had expanded. People brought blankets on their own, to climb over the razor wire fences. We didn’t prepare for that. But the risk had surpassed what we hoped for. We didn’t hope to get into the Executive Yuan itself. Yet people got into the Executive Yuan right away. It may have been some more radical groups who decided that they needed to charge in, regardless of anything.
I remember that when discussing the plan, I asked if we would go into the building itself, and Shou-da or someone stated that it was probably best not to. I didn’t feel that this wasn’t something we should rule out either, though I didn’t know what the structure of the Legislative Yuan was like. I remember the action started at 7:30 PM. We broke through the door around 8:30 PM.
After it broke, I wanted to go in. It felt like something extreme had happened inside, which we weren’t able to see outside. Then I argued with the policeman guarding the door of the Executive Yuan for a long time. He was trying to protect the door and he looked like he would hit me. I told him that he needed to let me in go look and see what the situation was, otherwise he would have no way to control the situation. But when I got in, I found that the interior of the building was completely different from the inside of the Legislative Yuan.
The inside of the Legislative Yuan is a meeting hall, so when you get inside, you can all see each other. It’s easier to keep order or to coordinate. By contrast, the inside of the Executive Yuan is like an average building, with many hallways and windows. It’s very easy to walk inside. I remember seeing that some people were guarding the door, holding their hands together, while others rushed up to the second and third floors.
It was very clear that this was not an easy place to gather over a thousand people. It’s very easy for people to get separated and you couldn’t see where the police was. So we thought, it was better not to go inside here. So we told the people behind us not to keep streaming in. But then I started thinking, at the time, those above were saying that people were injured, so there were some doctors that were originally by Qingdao East Road at the medical aid center, who came over. They helped withdraw some people. During this time, journalists would rush in and try to get photos, so I had to push them.
During that time, I saw many people sent out, one by one, but we didn’t see if they were really injured or if they were just too panicked, or what. But in this process, I felt that the movement had exceeded what we had planned. In the middle, we kept trying to find ways to make it more moderate.
But after working on this for one or two hours, helping the doctors to get the injured our and trying to make sure the journalists didn’t block the road, then making it easier to relay information, I went told some people there that I was going to see what the situation as a whole for the Executive Yuan was. As I moved further back, I realized that each area had become self-organized. Some people who were keeping order, I knew, some I didn’t know. But the situation was becoming that you couldn’t withdraw. There were many police as well and you wouldn’t know what to do.
I ran into Hung Sheng-han then, so I asked him to help MC for a while. In the middle, I ran into someone who I knew, his younger sister had an independent band, so I asked her to lead the people in singing a song, to lessen the tension. Because several hundred people were sitting facing the police and there were police in the back as well. I didn’t want things to become too confrontational.
That entire night, later on, we felt very tired, so we decided to go to the Department of Social Sciences and assess the situation before we came back. But I don’t know why, other people also came by. Maybe they were all confused. Everyone discussed and said that we should leave, but for some reason, it had become Wei Yang was taking charge and he said that with this situation, there was no way that everyone could withdraw.
I also realized this when I walked around the entire Executive Yuan. It was already that we couldn’t get everyone to leave. There were people on the second or the third floor who got a very long ladder from somewhere and were telling people to go up. Several hundred people maybe went up. And people were below the ladder debating whether to go up or not. I wanted to tell them not to go up, that they wouldn’t know what would happen if they went up. Some people persisted in going up. Other people decided not to go up.
So we moved away the ladder. But that also didn’t seem right. Doesn’t that mean the people who went up would be stuck in there? That there was no way for them to get out?
It was very hard to persuade people. And around 11 PM or 12 PM, there was news that the people at the back door were injured and that there were people surrounded then. We wanted to send some people there to rescue them, but though some people were sent over, there wasn’t anyway. The situation became very chaotic.
Photo credit: Abby Chen/Flickr/CC
After 12 AM, maybe one or two AM, Huang Shou-da and I decided to go over and look. After we went and looked, we discovered that it was quite orderly in the front of the Executive Yuan, with Wei Yang, and the microphone there being stable and loud enough that he could give talks. Someone said they had been beaten by the back door. But that though they felt very angry, they would still stay here with everyone until the end. I realized then that the situation was like what Wei Yang said, that there was no way to make everyone leave.
It didn’t seem like a situation similar to the Legislative Yuan, where we could go inside and occupy it, because everyone was on the outside. We knew the police might be able to clear us, but we didn’t think that they would send fire trucks to fire us with water, to drive us out. Because from 2008 to 2014, in the various protests we had participated in, this had never happened. We didn’t think this would happen. But because we had several thousand people there, we discussed this, and didn’t think they could clear us so fast.
Like before, during protests around the Shilin Wang family, or during the Wild Strawberry Movement, they would use buses to drag people away. We made a quick count and figured that there was no way they could do it this time. All traffic on Zhongxiao East Road would be blocked with just police buses. There were too many people. And everyone felt quite fired up, so they could probably hold out a long time.
Yet in this process, we didn’t know what to do. In the beginning, we had talked about whether this protest action should be claimed to have been self-organized, or whether we should use the official name of the movement. As far as I was aware, we had agreed that it should be said to have been self-organized since some people wouldn’t agree to an escalating action. Particularly NGO teachers and professors.
It was true that there was a risk, that if this failed, this would lead the movement as a whole to collapse. So we claimed that it was self-organized. Although the process of doing this was a bit confused. But it was mostly like this. And I had the sense that this became more chaotic, but we agreed in the beginning, that this was separate from the group inside the Legislature. At the time, we also wondered how many people they would arrest.
At 3 AM, I told Huang Shou-da and Meredith Huang that we should first leave. I had two considerations at the time. One reason was that Meredith was a spokesperson. If she was arrested, it would be seen as someone part of the Legislative Yuan group also participating in the Executive Yuan action. The other reason is that if it was Shou-da or I, we were also very familiar with the people inside the Legislative Yuan, and they might make a connection. And I also felt that if this action failed, there would continue to be a need for someone to organize the Department of Social Sciences group and people on the outside.
At the time, there wasn’t the view that the success or failure of this action would decide the future of the movement as a whole. I thought at the time that if we failed then, we could go again. That we had to maintain our forces. Another consideration was Wei Yang was already maintaining order better than anyone. Which one of us could replace him? So we thought we would just leave it up to him.
But we were later criticized by many social movement activists, NGO members, and teachers, as to why us, the key organizers of the Department of Social Sciences, hadn’t stayed until the end. Later on, Jiho and Pei-yi were there. However, that was because there was a small area where the police didn’t attack anyone because Tsai Ing-wen brought a group of DPP people there. They were stuck there, they said. I later saw them in the pictures. You could leave, but you couldn’t do anything, you were stuck there. They were stuck there but didn’t know what to do, and what happened after.
I was there with Meredith Huang and Huang Shou-da and I told them to quickly leave because we had to decide what happened after. This also seemed like a one-time failure. We didn’t think that their attacking people would be to that extent. I thought that there might be a conflict on Beiping North Road, but that this wouldn’t lead to beating everyone in order to drive them out. Yet when we left at 3 AM, we ran out to the Executive Yuan again, because we were too worried.
Then everyone had been dispersed and I ran into Hung Sheng-han. Hung Sheng-han told me he felt that they couldn’t clear everyone and if we were able to hold out until morning and could get more people to come, or to call people over from the Legislative Yuan, the police couldn’t get inside. I asked them to make an image to disseminate that maybe this action hadn’t failed yet. Since we didn’t they could clear everyone in a night. We still had that kind of naive view.
But as it neared morning, Hung Sheng-han said that it was very chaotic on the inside. I told him this idea of hours since we ran into him. He had just run into us, since he had been surrounded by police, then later let out after being beaten. He said he had seen an old woman who was looking for her grandson, but that she had been hit by a police officer anyway. And that he had seen a pregnant woman, who had also been hit by police. That he was very angry. He said that he felt that the conflict getting to this point was enough, that we should give up on this. That we should give up, to quickly get everyone out safely without more conflict.
So I called them up and told them to remove the picture calling on more people to come. Then I brought those of us outside who were maintaining order. There was an ambulance caught on Zhongxiao East Road, we tried to clear the road to get it through. But by Zhongshan North Road, there were police there, and they were hitting people. Some people ran over and some people were yelling at the police as they ran. There are pictures of this.
We ran along calling on everyone to go back to the Legislative Yuan. We used this as the justification to get everyone to leave. Since if you shouted that we had lost, that we needed to quickly retreat, this was quite odd. We called people to go back and protect the Legislative Yuan. If we saw people we knew, we would try to convince them to go back to specific places, like the resources depot, or the medical center.
We ran around and did that then for one or two hours. Once completing this, we returned to the Department of Social Sciences. Something we thought then was that it was quite strange. The police had assembled on Zhongshan North Road and headed to Zhongshan South Road in the direction of the legislature. There was the feeling that they thought we had been weakened and that they might as well clear out the legislature as well. They had come in with force and there was nothing for them to be afraid of anymore.
So we contacted the people in the Legislative Yuan then. And everyone was very panicky. We kept trying to get more people to come and we wondered whether there was any way to block them. Yet there was nothing we could do. But at one turn, they suddenly turned and went in another direction. We didn’t know if they just wanted to frighten us in the hopes that everyone would leave or something like that.
Brian Hioe: What happened after that? You seemed more low key after.
Chang Sheng-han: After this ended, this was the morning of the 24th. I felt very tired and I went back to the Department of Social Sciences and told everyone that I would stay there and that everyone was tired, so they should first go back and rest. I think Wu Pei-yi or someone said that we should get in contact, have a meeting, and report on what had happened afterward with the movement and everyone’s current situation and how we felt.
We were originally the group in charge of maintaining order on Qingdao East Road, by the NTU Department of Social Sciences, but everyone looked like they were in a bad state, so we decided that many we should withdraw, and let the NGOs and teachers around there take it up. The feeling I got then was that that day, the people who were involved in the Department of Social Sciences should withdraw from the movement as a whole and their current responsibilities.
I remember that I felt that the professors and NGO people felt as though, we had messed things up, and we should take care of the aftermath by ourselves. Everyone was quite angry how it became like that. In this process, the work that I was responsible for originally, I wasn’t responsible for anymore. They found other people to do it. So the sense was that we might have been pushed out of the movement, did that mean that?
We also contacted Wei Yang’s mother and some of his classmates, since he might be arrested. Everyone was very worried about him. We did that then as well.
Then later on, up to the next day, when Wei Yang was released, we met up with him and talked about how it ended up like that. Wei Yang said that he had actually slept quite well the previous night, since he felt so tired! [Laughs] He felt very angry. Everyone was worried about him, but he had had a good night’s sleep!
With the people in the Legislative Yuan, there was the misunderstanding which remained, and we hoped to resolve this. The people in the Legislative Yuan would need to continue leading the movement. We would have to resolve this misunderstanding or explain what had happened to them further.
That night, I went over to discuss it with them. But that wasn’t too effective. Lin Fei-fan just said he was tired and walked off or something like that. Chen Wei-ting and some other remaining people listened to us. We went in at least twice in later parts of the movement. Regarding why this had led to the final result, I don’t really know. Since we were pushed out by the end of the movement, outside of this small circle.
At the same time, some strange things happened. Because this had become big news, the Department of Social Sciences began appearing in the news. Some journalists started to look us up. And some unhappy professors started, including somewhere that were pro-unification, started criticizing us for using the Department of Social Sciences without paying any rent and staying overnight there. Well, how would we have any way to do that? It was because the professors then had allowed us to use the space.
Later on, they chased us off. So we had to pack everything up and go. It was doing stuff like that and communicating with the people on the outside of the Legislative Yuan. It also became complicated, since elements of the Department of Social Sciences started organizing on their own, and it was hard to coordinate with those in the Legislative Yuan. They had votes to decide on a core decision-making committee. Those in the Legislative Yuan emphasized themselves and pushed us out. It became that we started moving toward different paths then.
Photo credit: Y.H. Kao/Flickr/CC
Brian Hioe: Why do you think you participated in this movement? Do you think that it had to do with Taiwanese identity?
Chang Sheng-han: For me, I would begun participating because of people I knew. Wu Pei-yi got me to go there, so I went and I saw many people I normally knew. This wasn’t particularly unusual. After the movement was able to occupy the Legislative Yuan, though, it felt like this was something very different, and that this was an opportunity we had to take advantage of in order to block the Ma administration.
Because of the various protests we had participated in before that, most of them had failed. Apart from Ma announcing a halt to the Kuokuang petrochemical plant, perhaps. But we failed regarding the Shilin Wang family, or about the Dapu, Miaoli incident, these were all dismantled. Chang from the Chang family pharmacy also killed himself. Many of the things were participated failed.
With this many people participating this time, we felt that we had to succeed and block the Ma government. We also felt that we needed to let the government know what they did was wrong and that this was the last opportunity for us to do this. We couldn’t lose.
Brian Hioe: What do you think this movement was opposed to, in that sense? The KMT? Some people would see the movement as opposed to the KMT or opposed to China or the CSSTA or the black box. Do you think it was primarily opposed to the KMT?
I also recall that Jiho Chang said to me that he felt that this was the final battle.
Chang Sheng-han: That’s cause he’s older. [Laughs] He’s older by eight years. He felt the pressure of age more than I did. But I also felt that, in writing Springtime of Losers, while I didn’t know if I would continue participating in social movements in the future, at the very least, the time I had in which I could keep participating as a student was nearly gone. I was aiming to get my degree done in three or four years.
Of course, I wanted to finish in three years, I didn’t want it to drag onto three and a half years or four years. I felt as though I wanted to finish writing my thesis. So I felt that I should finish writing these notes and post it on the Internet. That that was I should do. It felt that we didn’t have time, or the opportunities left.
Regarding opposing the black box, the CSSTA, the KMT, or China, I think it’s true, I also opposed China. It was for the sake of having closer relations with China that the KMT was doing this. We were quite influenced by Wu Jieh-min’s theoreticization of the China factor. We felt that China was imperialist and that it was using the economy to try and facilitate political unification. To pull us into China’s economy, as a way to resolve the Taiwan issue. We opposed this. We opposed China and we opposed economic integration with China. We also opposed the KMT trying to do things in this manner. The KMT had the majority in the Legislative Yuan. The DPP had no way to block the bill through oversight measures.
There’s were all justifications for the movement. But it’s also true that we were always protesting the KMT and the Ma administration. It’s a forceful way of doing politics and its pro-China policies. These were both quite important.
Brian Hioe: Do you think that social movements in Taiwan are more progressive? This seems to be true regarding many issues.
Chang Sheng-han: We do believe that these are progressive issues. With regards to this, we may have been influenced by Wu Rui-ren’s notion of progressive localism. His views that is that Taiwanese are a marginalized people, since we aren’t recognized internationally and that because there are many standards for being a good nation internationally, such as caring for disprivileged elements of society and democratic and free, we try to do many things like that to try and get international recognition, but we still aren’t able to achieve this.
Yet we still don’t want to go in the direction of North Korea, say, in developing nuclear weapons as a rogue nation. We don’t want to go in that direction, so we can only aim for a higher moral standard.
At the time, we were also quite distant from the DPP. Among activist groups, though, from 2007 to 2008, we were the only self-proclaimed localist group at NTU. Among activist groups, they also usually only referred to themselves as activist groups or groups concerned with progressive issues. They wouldn’t refer to themselves as a localist group. We did, however.
That year, up until now, if you say that you’re a localist group, you think of a group of people in their 70s and 80s. And they all love William Lai or something like that. It’s the stereotype you might have of pro-Taiwan or pro-independence groups.
But we also didn’t have many exchanges with the DPP. We felt that the DPP had many issues with corruption and that they had messed up local political power. The opportunity that everyone had pushed for to take power was squandered by them. So we felt that we needed to be better than them. To be more progressive. To be more local. Otherwise, the legitimacy of pro-local forces would come into question. Why support localists? Because we love Taiwan more? No, but because the Taiwan we love is a more equal, more just Taiwan. These two things must go hand-in-hand. To allow our people to have better lives, as well as in the hopes that we can be recognized by the international world.
Brian Hioe: What kind of influence do you think that this movement has had, five years later? Whether on yourself or other social movement activists?
Chang Sheng-han: There are many levels to this. One which I would want to raise first, though, is that this hasn’t managed to influence the constitution of social movement activists. Focusing on Taipei, which I may be more familiar with, with regards to the Taiwan Rural Front and its internal and external issues, a group which was incredibly well known in 2008, you suddenly no longer hear about. There are internal issues there, too, not completely related to the DPP.
But in this way, social movements may still be doing things too similar to what they were doing in the past. The Taiwan Association for Human Rights, Judicial Reform Foundation, and Awakening Foundation, Green Citizens’ Action Alliance, I feel maybe still doing what they did before in terms of organizing. They might just have two or three more new people on board. Maybe because of Huang Shih-hsiu and the pro-nuclear referendum, that has pushed them a bit more. A few more issues have risen to prominence, such as gay marriage, with this being widely discussed, and some new organizations forming around this issue.
With regards to the more active participants from five years ago, who may have found out about actions such as 324 one hour beforehand or rushing over after seeing this on television, these people who continued to protest, who may have quietly gone there are all 23 days, these people, who may be in the thousands, have not become organized in any form. If these people just go back to their lifestyles before, what was this culture of social movement participation about? I think that this is one reason why Taiwan isn’t progressive right now. We haven’t improved with regards to internal organizational structure. They didn’t take the opportunity to grow, to experience the changes in this society.
Many people working in NGOs may not focus on this. They may feel that they don’t want credit, or to do risky things, that they just are here to help, and that working quietly, sometimes society pays attention and other times, it doesn’t. I don’t deny that this is meaningful, but there is also an issue regarding this. I have found that large motivator for mobilizing social movements is that, such as with the Hung Chung-chiu incident, or the Anti-Media Monopoly Movement, or the Sunflower Movement, the largest social movements in 2013 and 2014, these key participants weren’t incorporated into the culture of social movement participation.
Brian Hioe: It also strikes me as that there are less and less student activist groups, as well.
Chang Sheng-han: I hear that as well. I think part of that has to do with that, although we didn’t anticipate it at the time, we emptied ourselves out in those two or three years of participating in social movements. When I was NTU, you could probably think of two hundred or three hundred people who would turn up at any given time. In 2013 and 2014, there were maybe ten different student groups at NTU with mobilization capacity.
Brian Hioe: Well, some people have gone into the system. Like Jiho Chang, Huang Shou-da, or Wu Pei-yi.
Chang Sheng-han: I think that events such as the Executive Yuan occupation disrupted trust between students and NGOs. NGOs originally wanted to lead this process. Lin Yi-hsiung originally found Huang Kuo-chang and Fan Yun to form the Taiwan Citizens’ Union. But the Taiwan Citizens’ Union later split into the NPP and the SDP. The adults have also become split. And those who aren’t adults, who are in a transitional period, also split. Everyone is off doing their own thing. Nobody is thinking about the future.
When I go back and give talks at student groups, I find that they are very different from us then, and they do things very differently. We don’t know them at this point.
Brian Hioe: Do you think that it is possible to have an event like the Sunflower Movement in Taiwan again? The KMT is back now, after all.
Chang Sheng-han: There will be new mobilizations in any democratic society. Just you can’t predict what issue it will be around. Will it explicitly target the KMT in the same way? I’m not sure either. It might target the DPP as well.
Tsai Ing-wen has preserved a certain consensus, but through examples such as the changes to the Labor Standards Act, the Tsai administration cut seven public holidays, then quickly restored them, and then cut them again, and amended the Labor Standards Act. Then it changed the act again. I think the Tsai administration keeps wanting to be more progressive, but then returning again to conservative ways of thinking.
It keeps oscillating between this. As a result, it’s hard to have a large mobilization. Unless it’s like the pension reforms, when the Tsai administration very clearly intended to change this. It dragged on for a long period of time, but this led to mobilizations. 300,000 people came up for that as well.
I think it could happen, just that it’s less likely to happen with Tsai’s style of governing.
Photo credit: Toomore Chiang/Flickr/CC
Brian Hioe: Do you think there have been any changes in how China looks at Taiwan?
Chang Sheng-han: China is in the middle of a large historical change. From Xi Jinping changing the constitution to remove the term limits that a Chinese president can serve, the world may realize things are changing. If you look at what international academics were saying ten years ago, they were saying that China was establishing its own development model. Such as the notion of the Beijing Consensus. That it had its own economic system and its own political system.
They often raised the example that the Chinese president could only serve two terms as an example of how the system was self-regulating itself. Though they overlooked that these presidents were appointed. Between Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, in the Hu period, it was more open in terms of freedoms of speech, and it even seemed as though they would allow for some degree of democratic freedoms to some extent. The space allowed for freedom of expression is very different than now.
Brian Hioe: It’s very interesting to me that the Sunflower Movement only took place two years into Xi Jinping’s first term.
Chang Sheng-han: What I mean is that China is in the middle of a large process. Xi is shrugging off what people had hoped from him, that China would improve, that China would have its own system. China is strengthening oppression and limiting freedoms now. It’s a severe issue. If Xi Jinping can get a third term, he can serve as president for a very long period of time. And he needs a justification for a third term, as to why he can break from the established precedent of two terms. He may need a reason as to why he can continue to emphasize China’s strength as a country.
This is probably why he brought up in January that force was still on the table in terms of unifying Taiwan. No leader of China had brought this up in a very long time, in as direct a manner. He didn’t need to say this, but he did. I think that there was a meaning behind this.
The China that Taiwan confronts now, as compared to ten years ago, is a very different China. There’s the possibility that China collapses due to internal factors, but it’s also possible that it will drag down Taiwan.
Brian Hioe: Do you think that the Sunflower Movement has had any influence internationally?
Chang Sheng-han: If we look at it more positively, for the international world, this shows the international world whether Taiwan accepts or rejects closer economic relations with China. Like countries which accept or reject One Belt, One Road, or rent ports to China. Taiwan decided to have some distance from China in terms of economic exchanges then.
But is this meaningful? I’m skeptical. The international world is still too distant from Taiwan. Even with Japan or America, which we might interact with more commonly, there are still many who can’t get the circumstances clear. And there is also the issue of that those who are left-wing or progressive, because they oppose their own countries more than anything else, may support China’s actions toward Taiwan.
Like the American left. It doesn’t understand Taiwan very well. Because the right-wing demonizes China to such an extent, but since we’re also so bad like we wage the Iraq War or War in Afghanistan, our issue is that we too easily get involved in the affairs of other countries. And we don’t take responsibility.
Taiwan still has more right-wing allies internationally. They support Taiwan because opposing China is more in their interests. This is on the basis of self-interest. And there may be some older members of the right-wing, such as John McCain, they may also still hang onto post-war anti-Communism and have the view that democracies should support each other. But it’s probably more old people who have these views.
So I don’t know. I think people don’t pay too much attention.. The annexation of Crimea by Russia took place in a similar timeframe to the Sunflower Movement. As an example of hybrid warfare, Crimea is one example and Taiwan is another example. For them, this may be they want to understand. Since this is something that China and Russia engage in.