Interview: Fan Yun

Fan Yun is associate professor of sociology at National Taiwan University, was a participant in the Wild Lily Movement in 1990, and is the convenor of the Social Democratic Party. The following interview was conducted on April 10th, 2019.


Brian Hioe:  Why did you participate in the movement and what did you do during the course of the movement?

Fan Yun:  Before the Sunflower Movement, I was one of the professors that were part of the Taiwan Democracy Watch (守護民主平台). We were one of the main advocacy groups that opposed the black box CSSTA. But beforehand, I was concerned with other issues. I participated less.

The day before they charged in, because I knew that they had passed that decision, I was quite worried that we wouldn’t be able to respond. When many of us from the Taiwan Democracy Watch mobilized, I thought I should at least go to the rally. At the rally, I saw there were around 500 people. I thought that there might be no way to push this back since there were too few people. And there wouldn’t be any news on this the next day.

I brought some Chinese NGO worker friends with me. We went to go eat dinner. I thought I would go back and take a look after finishing eating.

That was around 9 PM. I heard that the students had already charged in. My first response was that there might be something that could be done about it since the students had charged into the Legislative Yuan. It would be a headline news story the next day.

I helped out a bit and went up to give a talk because Lai Chung-qiang and some NGO friends were outside. So we went and looked to see what we could do. Since we were by that small door outside. I went up and gave a talk. And as the night went on, more and more people came. We asked them to help.

Fan Yun (center). Photo credit: 范雲 FAN, Yun/Facebook

I also helped Lai Chung-qiang check up on a police officer that had been sent to the emergency room of National Taiwan University Hospital. They might have thought it would be better since I was an NTU professor. So I went to visit him, to see if he had any issues on behalf of the students there, since we weren’t deliberately hoping to hurt him.

I went back home around 12 AM. But I couldn’t sleep after that since I saw the live news streams on Facebook. So the next day, around 6 AM or 7 AM, I went back. I wondered what I could do. I ran into Professor Chiu Hua-mei and some NGO and academic friends who also participated in social movements. We began to help out, to see what we could do to organize the outside. Since the inside was already occupied.

In this process, later on, I decided to help out outside. Since it looked like people didn’t know what to do. There were quite a lot of experienced people on the inside, including Lin Fei-fan or other student activists. We thought we would help organize the people outside.

I also thought that I could help organize the professors, since the students were more active than we were, and they could hold out longer. Their organization was quite strong as well. I thought what I could do was to organizer the professors and see what we could do for this movement.

The media wasn’t very clear on what the CSSTA was and the average citizen might not understand why the students had decided to charge in. I thought that, as scholars, what we could do best was to provide theoreticization for the movement. We should organize the college professors and research and analyze the different aspects of the CSSTA and share this with everyone. So we organized everyone and thought of a way to teach about these issues in a simplified manner, with the hopes that this could attract more to attend. That everyone could come here and attend class.

We thought that it might be too extreme to call for a strike, so we phrased it not as a  strike from classes, but coming here for classes. We held classes on the streets. I called over the NTU professors and non-NTU professors I knew to go over what they could talk about.

For example, if someone researches New Immigrants, like Dr. Lan Pei-Chia in our sociology department, she would speak about how the CSSTA would influence immigration policy in Taiwan. If you’re Hong Zhen-ling from the journalism department, you could research and discuss how the CSSTA will influence freedom of the media in Taiwan and the media industry in Taiwan. Since I research civil society, I discussed what civil society could do to participate with regards to this issue. A professor of law might talk about the rights to protest.

So we all used our specialties and tried to get people to give talks. We organized a curriculum. I remember I posted this on my Facebook page and the response was quite large. More than 1,000 people shared it that night. Some people would help us refine the syllabus as well. You could see that everyone stood up and felt that there was a real need to discuss this.

The next day, the media came to the occupation and interviewed speakers. The Liberty Times made a page with panels of each professor had said. It was almost entirely what we had said. On the Internet, some people also made transcripts of what each professor had said and sent this out.

With regards to the legitimacy of the movement, we also put asserted that everyone didn’t understand the CSSTA, so we just wanted to remind everyone what the effects on Taiwan would be if the CSSTA were passed. We called it a classroom for democracy on the street. Later on, jokingly, many people said that I was like the principal or supervisor for this classroom. The scale of this grew larger and larger as well, with classes divided on Qingdao East Road and Jinan South Road, and different classes offered there. Other classrooms were later also set up by different social groups.

Chen Wei-ting and them in the Legislative Yuan also said they wanted to attend class from within. [Laughs] But there would be no time for that within the Legislative Yuan.

This continued for one or two weeks. People started to get bored of listening to talks outside. The people also have many things they want to say. It was eventually raised that people hoped for deliberative democratic discussion. Because we knew a group of scholars promoting deliberative democratic discussions like Lin Kuo-ming and Chen Dung-sheng. We gradually came to feel that we should allow everyone to be able to have discussions on the street as well.

Because the Legislative Yuan should be a space for deliberative democracy. But the Legislative Yuan was unable to or unwilling to discuss issues. As citizens, we should show that we could have more substantive discussions, and show them what this meant. So we invited activists who were promoting deliberative democracy like Chou Zheng-shing from Community Colleges. They pulled in many volunteers. And so there were deliberative democratic discussions held for some time before the withdrawal from the  Legislative Yuan.

This would also discuss the influence of the CSSTA on the media, or cross-strait relations, or social welfare. This was divided into many sub-topics and at the end, we would have a report back on this. This mobilized many volunteers, including many students we knew, who served as facilitators. This made everyone feel that the citizens there were able to discuss these issues and the level of discussion was comparatively good. Much of what they reported back on was quite meaningful.

Fan Yun during election campaigning. Photo credit: 范雲 FAN, Yun

Later on, the decision-making body of the occupiers decided that they wanted to hold an official day for deliberative democracy, to discuss the cross-straits oversight bill. Since there was discussion of first passing this bill, to have oversight the CSSTA. But what should that bill look like? There originally were several versions. We felt that we, as the occupiers of the space, should also propose our own version, if legislators didn’t know what it should be like. On that day, I was responsible for the session inside the Legislative Yuan.

We tried to have opposing views. When we couldn’t find opposing views, we would have people with different positions hold presentations and raise issues, to integrate all this. In the end, we saw that the cross-straits oversight bill proposed from the deliberative democracy sessions, was more advanced than the version proposed by civil society groups before the movement since it had gone through this process of deliberative democracy. Our bill proposed: If in the future, we are going to discuss cross-straits agreements, we should hold nationwide deliberative democracy, to allow all citizens access to this information, and to have sufficient discussions, rather than just voting.

These organized classes and deliberative discussions may have been the most valuable contribution that I felt I could help to provide to the movement. As a result, I spent quite a lot of time there.

For those three weeks, I was always there every day. You would feel the strength of the people, which is to say, you would question why the government had been unable to address these issues. And you would feel that if the people stood up, they had great strength. Third, you would also know very clearly that this wasn’t just a student movement or a youth movement, it was a civil society movement. Because many NGO workers were also there, working very hard. They didn’t participate too much in the decision-making process, but they were very willing to work because they hoped that this movement could continue.

This was how I participated in the movement. But also during the 324 incident, that day I had finished eating dinner, and I went over. Because there were some students in the NTU Branch of Social Sciences and I knew them, either as my students or as research assistants, I was quite worried. I knew that this was probably an autonomously organized activity independent from the decision-making body, so I thought that I wanted to see what had happened. If something bad took place, such as suppression, I hoped to be a witness to this. So I went to go see.

At the Executive Yuan, when we heard that they were going to use force, I gave a speech using a microphone. That day, we were discussing some kind of deliberative democracy thing. Some professors had come with me, so I asked them on stage with me to also give a talk to calm the students and more importantly to warn against the government cracking down. I remember I shouted something at Jiang Yi-huah, the premier, then that he couldn’t order force since this was a peaceful, non-violent protest. That there would be a high price if he dare to come in with force.

But in the end, that’s what happened. I was also dragged outside by police around 3 or 4 am that night. I saw many people who were injured or many students who were very agitated. Many might have been young people, not students. That was quite shocking.

Brian Hioe:  I was at the NTU Department of Social Sciences then. Hsu Han Yun was there as well.

Fan Yun:  I knew a lot of students who were participating in that as well. But I also don’t completely understand what had happened and how they made those decisions.

I remember that when Wei Yang came, he was taking charge of things. I remember it being quite hard for Wei Yang, since things were very disorderly then.

Photo credit: 范雲 FAN, Yun

Brian Hioe:  I also interviewed Wei Yang.

Fan Yun:  We thought at the time that because we were professors, we should maybe mostly act as supporters for the movement. I went because I wanted to witness the course of events and see what I could do to help.

Brian Hioe:  As a Wild Lily movement participant that later participated in the Sunflower Movement, what were your impressions? I thought it was quite interesting that many of those I interviewed raised that they didn’t think they would see a movement comparable to the Wild Lily movement in their lifetimes, but then the Sunflower Movement broke out.

Fan Yun:  I think what was shared with the Wild Lily Movement was that the movement accumulated many years of a new wave of youth movement–maybe seven to ten years–as well as the growth in the strength of civil society NGOs. The role and strength of civil society NGOs played was stronger compared to during the Wild Lily Movement.

The Wild Lily Movement was more confined to being a student movement because society was still more conservative then, and so though NGOs did help out, NGOs were not as active. NGOs played a strong role in the organization outside of the legislature and there were no borders. It was both a youth movement and a civil society movement linked together.

So there are ten years of student and youth movements which accumulated, just like that of the Wild Lily Movement. For many people, this was the first time they had taken to the streets in protest. But at the core, there was a group of very experienced street demonstrators. And they had more experiences of protest compared to us from that era. Because you had practice.

This is what is both similar and different. But second, my own impression is that I think this is a fortunate aspect of Taiwanese history. Why do I say that? Because if not for the Sunflower Movement, you really would not know how cross-strait relations would proceed. There might be no way to block this. But because of the Sunflower Movement, society woke up.

From 1990 up until 2014, there are only 24 years in between. In these 24 years, you had two large-scale youth movements. To some extent, both movements have pushed Taiwanese society and changed it. This is a crucial political force. But between these two movements, you also have people who are overlapping, whether NGO workers or those of us who are now professors but were student activists back then.

This is something you do not often see in other societies. I also think this is a fortunate aspect of Taiwanese history. And both are all peaceful movements. For the most part, they are all peaceful. Even if during 324, there were some people that were injured. Yet for the movement as a whole, generally it was peaceful. I think that this was quite fortunate.

I think both movements work to create a legacy of youth activism in Taiwan, that young people in Taiwan will think that it is a good thing to be concerned with politics and that you can push history in a better, more progressive direction through concern with politics.

Photo credit: 范雲 FAN, Yun

Brian Hioe:  What kind of movement do you think this was? A movement opposed to the black box, to the CSSTA, to the KMT, or to China?

Fan Yun:  I think it was all of them. A movement doesn’t have just one influence. Of course, the most important factor was China. Because there are black boxes everywhere. [Laughs] Why would this black box lead to such a strong reaction? It’s because the China factor was present. It was quite particular.

But the black box allowed for those who are not directly concerned with China to become involved. It touches upon the quality of Taiwan’s democracy. So I think that these two things combined.

As for opposition to the KMT, this was also present. There are many aspects in which the KMT is still quite authoritarian and it hasn’t admitted any wrongdoing for its actions in the past, as  part of transitional justice.

What is quite particular is that this movement has decided something important for Taiwanese history in the future. First, cross-strait relations in the future are not simply decided by the KMT. Second, cross-strait relations are not unilaterally decided by any political party. Civil society has a say in this. It has a key role in this and it can’t be ignored.

I believe that this is very important for Taiwanese democracy. I also do not believe that cross-strait relations will simply be decided by political leaders or political parties. The independent variable of civil society is also present. I believe that this is a key contribution of the Sunflower Movement.

Brian Hioe:  Do you think that this has to do with Taiwanese identification?

Fan Yun:  I think that it may. This may have a larger influence on the younger generation because once identification is decided, it is very hard to change. For the middle-aged, it may take longer for this to change. But this may influence the political identification of younger people.

The notion of so-called “natural independence” also only began to appear this. I actually said this once when being interviewed, since I had an awareness of this. The example I raised was that there was a youth band performing there one day, on 329. I was listening that day. A young person went on stage and gave a talk, he said that today was 329, which was Youth Day, so we should embrace the spirit of the 72 Martyrs of the Guangzhou Uprising and Nylon Cheng, the martyr burning himself for freedom of speech.

I thought only the new generation would put these two together, since for my generation, those who would reverse Nylon Cheng and those who would bring up the 72 Martyrs of the Guangzhou Uprising, would not be the same person. They would be a completely different group of people. You wouldn’t combine something to do with the history of the ROC with someone that had to do with Taiwanese independence. I thought this is an interesting characteristic of the “natural independence” generation, so I also thought this was quite meaningful.

Brian Hioe:  Do you also think that this has to do with progressive political issues? Young people seem more progressive in general.

Fan Yun:  In a movement, we’ll see a spillover effect. Like I mentioned, NGOs all participated in the movement. For example, the LGBTQ movement or the women’s movement or the environmental movement. They’ll interact with each other. They’ll put the elements that they are concerned with inside. It’s impossible to be concerned with environmentalism but then suddenly drop this at the occupation site. You would also bring elements of the LGBTQ movement into concern with the CSSTA.

This will have a mutual effect. This will cause those originally concerned with single issues, through exchanges and becoming friends with others, establish a peer group, in which concern with an issue spreads. This has led to a social group of progressive young people. I also believe that this is a very good thing for the younger generation and for Taiwanese civil society. Because issues can have cross-fertilization. This expands people’s support.

Photo credit: 范雲 FAN, Yun

Brian Hioe:  Five years later, what kind of changes do you think have taken place?

Fan Yun:  I believe that the influence may be that an element of those who participated in the movement have entered politics. They have become members of political parties. That includes myself, in forming the Social Democratic Party (SDP). The members of the SDP are all participants in social movements and participated in the Sunflower Movement.

The New Power Party has directly gained more seats, as the largest Third Force party. As for us, the SDP, we have won one seat in the Taipei city council, and as for the Green Party, they also have organized politically. I wouldn’t say completely but to some extent.

Yet at the same time, it’s possible that this will lead this generation to become disillusioned regarding politics too early. There are many things you become more distant to once you are in politics. Things may be too fast for them to be ready. For us in our generation, things weren’t so fast. Only after ten years, did people start to take office, or be elected. Because that was during authoritarian times and electoral opportunities were gradually opening up. We didn’t have national elections in the beginning. It was quite difficult.

So the Wild Lily generation may have begun as legislative assistants or party workers, mostly with the DPP. Only after ten years did people start to run for office. But with the Sunflower generation, people may be seeing their friends get elected quite fast, or having become a politician. They may not be ready to accept that. This may also lead to differences in how politics are viewed.

Brian Hioe:  Do you think that there have been any shifts in how China treats Taiwan since the Sunflower Movement?

Fan Yun:  China has likely sped up its timeline to annex Taiwan. The Sunflower Movement may have been an opening to awaken Taiwanese society. It may move faster in the future. Including with regards to information warfare, as discussed with regards to elections last year. The Sunflower Movement has also given them a wake-up call as to how their attempting to influence our civil society. They can’t just focus only on political parties, or only the KMT, what they should focus on is civil society. So I believe that China has likely changed some of its policies since then.

China may also wish to influence our decision-making through the Internet. If you affect your sources of information, you can affect their decision-making. This is something that people are quite confused about.

Brian Hioe:  Is any way that you believe the Sunflower Movement in Taiwan can affect the international world?

Fan Yun:  This might be too early to discuss, since I haven’t done research into this. But the young generation of the Sunflower Movement is more internationalized than the last generation. On the one hand, their English education level is higher. On the other hand, there are no borders on the Internet.

I think that this internationalization, of which we can include New Bloom in there as well, is something you would encounter less in the past. You would feel that this is a new strength of Taiwanese society, that through transborder connections, events in Taiwan can be known quicker internationally. Particularly if the younger generation is able to see this, this would be a good thing.

With the world realizing the threat that China presents to democracy with the rise of China, as a place at the frontlines of this threat, the world may come to be more aware of the importance of Taiwan’s democracy. China as a threat to other democracies on the world stage will continue to grow.

I hope that through going beyond borders and being transnational, young people, of course including people in NGOs, have the ability to influence other countries. To allow the world to see Taiwan’s strength, that Taiwan’s progressive political forces can have a positive effect on the world.

Photo credit: 范雲 FAN, Yun

Brian Hioe:  Is there anything you would like to say in closing toward readers, not only Taiwanese but also international?

Fan Yun:  I think what is quite interesting about this is that you raised international connections earlier. I think we can discuss how young people across the world are opposing globalization. But there’s not a place like Taiwan which has been so successful in blocking this, perhaps. A sort of free trade agreement, although for us in Taiwan, this agreement was very unfair.

This has a key factor here, which is the China factor. We are concerned about China. But anti-globalization movements across the world haven’t been as successful as Taiwan. A reason for this is because China has animosity to us. This is also a good opportunity for us to reflect on how, under conditions of globalization, what we need to protect.

Of course, there are some benefits of globalization, including the free flow of information.

There are also some things that need to be protected. Such as the disprivileged, or political pressures that may affect the political choices present in Taiwanese democracy, sovereignty, and self-autonomy. I believe that for those concerned with progressive issues internationally, this is a very good lesson as something that can be learned about from Taiwan.

Brian Hioe:  Thank you.