Friday, January 1, 2016

Hello, it's been a while

First day of 2016, fifteen days before voting day. The past few months flew by in a flash, and so many things has happened. It’s been eighteen months since I dived in headfirst, from the comfort of the ivory tower, into the trenches of real life politics. Like the previous two years, this year has also been one of the most eventful, yet most trying, years of my life. As a rookie, I come to realize, surviving in politics not only requires tremendous interpersonal skills, as one not only has to deal with the political opposition and garner the needed support, one also has to acquire, even more hurriedly, the adeptness to deal with those who are on one’s own team. Politics, after all, is exactly what Harold Lasswell defined it as, “Who gets what, when and how”.

As the readers of the Participant Observer might already have noticed, the blog entries this year slowed down tremendously, as I became deeply entrenched in the daily grind of a political campaign. I still hold my director of research position at my think tank; however, there were little time to conduct my own research. I still pay a lot of attention to social movements in Taiwan, which frequency has also dwindled greatly in the past year. 

In addition, while there are so much to report on and write about on the issues driving the social movement in Taiwan, much of what I deal with on my current post, has to be kept in private. I am constantly reminded of what my mentor, professor and former boss told me, that “in diplomacy, there are many things you’ll just to take it to your grave”.

Being in politics requires psychological strength and physical endurance. Politics is 24-7, and the response time when crisis arise often has to be within an hour. Once one is involved in it, it permeates almost all aspects of one’s life. In order to be successful in politics, one not only has to learn it, live it; one also has to love it. I currently have a love-hate relationship with politics.

My decision to join Dr. Tsai Ing-wen’s foreign affairs team stemmed from the desire to obtain some real life political experience. As academics, we are often caught up in data gathering, research and the efforts to derive some sort of generalizable theory on political occurrences. I thought, the practice of politics ultimately helps me acquire the experience I would not have had if I reside myself in academia and assist me in providing even more accurate and more comprehensive analyses in the future. Furthermore, I recognize not everyone can be an eternal protester or activist. There is the need for one to enter the system and change from within. I was offered the precious opportunity by Dr. Tsai, and I obliged.

Recounting what happened in the past year, the most memorable event would have to be Dr. Tsai’s trip to the United States. I cannot begin to recount the amount of preparation, communication and efforts behind closed door for this particular trip to come to fruition – many details, of course, cannot be publicized. It was also physically taxing on everyone involved. The craziest stretch was when we covered four cities in 14 hours (Washington DC, New York City, Houston and San Francisco). I discovered on this trip, that a person, when running on adrenaline, can go without sleep for a long time. I also learn to appreciate the hard work journalists put in to able to cover and present the news in a timely manner for the readers and viewers. Hat tips to all the hardworking reporters who went on the trip with us.

Another challenging aspect of my work involved in drafting English speeches for Dr. Tsai. As a lawyer, professor and a perfectionist, Dr. Tsai reads over every draft very closely, diligently and provides modification and corrections.  Writing speeches for her also forced me to learn about fields that are otherwise not my field of expertise, from energy, technology, business, immigration, public welfare to agriculture. I would say, this is one of the most fruitful aspect of the job.

More excitingly, my involvement with the DPP allowed me to become a member of the human rights committee and the chairperson of the women’s rights working group for Liberal International, the international organization where the Democratic Progressive Party is a member. Working on promoting aspects of human rights in the international arena is something I enjoy tremendously and am very proud of.  In the past year, I met so many interesting individuals, from government officials and former government officials from all over the world, to members of influential think tanks, academics, members of different political parties and activists from around the world. With these connections, I see remarkable potential for Taiwan to cooperate with countries, NGOs and political parties on assisting and promoting Taiwan’s shared interests and values.

In the past year, at the International Affairs Department of the DPP, we began constituting frameworks emphasizing city-to-city, youth, environmental, digital diplomacy, along with a refreshed version of a southbound policy, humanitarian assistance and global NGO cooperation – particle issues where Taiwan already possessed remarkable knowledge, experience and has previously been engaging the world and providing substantive contribution to. Hopefully, information we garnered through the many meetings with local government representatives, academics and members of the business and technological community, can be useful for the future administration of Taiwan.

We are at the last stretch of the presidential campaign, and we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I very much look forward to the change, in both the presidency and hopefully, in the legislature. If the DPP captures majority in the Legislative Yuan, it will be a historic occasion, as the opposition has never been able to capture majority in Taiwan’s democratic political history.

According to the Taiwan Indicators Survey Research, as of December 31st, 2015, 40.1% of the potential voters supported DPP’s Dr. Tsai and Dr. Chen. 17.5% of the potential voters surveyed support KMT’s Eric Chu and Jennifer Wang, and 16.8% supported James Soong and Hsu Hsin-Ying. There are nail-biting battlefields for the legislative election, where the DPP is working industriously to capture seats (Seats in districts such as Hualien, Pingtung, Chiayi, and New Taipei City).  So, we’ll just have to see.

Lastly, I wish my readers a Happy New Year and productive 2016. I look forward to a even better year and of course, a better Taiwan.

Stay tuned.

The press corp for the US Trip

(Photo by Jessie Chen. Location: Houston, TX)

Hardworking camera guys

Friday, June 26, 2015

Participant Observer Update

Catching up

Taiwanese students rally in support of
Hong Kong's democracy movement
I have been thinking about blogging again for quite a while now. So, instead of just thinking about it, I thought the best way to go is to just shut up and start writing.

It’s been a year since the Sunflower Movement. I observed an obvious fatigue among the social movement activists after the Movement and the anti-Nuclear Power Plant No.4 protest. I must say, I felt tired and drained, too, after tracking social movements in Taiwan for the past few years. Many students and young activists told me they felt a sense of loss, as if something was missing, or the feeling of losing direction.

Some young activists were angry, because they thought April 10th, 2014 was not the right time to exit the Legislative Yuan (LY). They thought they should continue to occupy the Legislature until the LY dropped the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement (CSSTA) altogether. Some activists complained the decision making process to exit the LY was too authoritarian. There were also complaints about a selected number of movement “leaders” receiving more attention than others and were utilizing their popularity to further their own cause.

The students and young professionals then split into many groups to advocate for the causes they care most for (I plan to write about the splinter groups in a future article). The activists called such move “diverging advance and converging attack (分進合擊)”

Critics of the activists say the “diverging advance and converging attack” strategy was merely an excuse for the activists’ own infighting and inability to collaborate with each other. To be fair, the Sunflower Movement was never a unified group. It was an “umbrella” mechanism at best. The Movement consisted of fifty-some different student groups, NGO and civil society and social groups. Therefore, it is more fitting to describe one of the aftermaths of the Sunflower Movement as an emergence of additional social groups and then, political parties now known as the “Third Force”.

What’s been happening?

Even though, compared to 2013 and the beginning of 2014, the frequency of street protests has dwindled significantly, it does not mean the cases I have been following became stagnant. Here are some updates:

Dapu, Miaoli (苗栗大埔)

Ms. Peng Hsiu-chun (彭秀春), Widow of Chang Sen-wen (張森文) of the Chang Pharmacy (張藥房), and the three other families, whose homes were torn down by the Miaoli County government on July 18th, 2013, were due in the Taichung Superior Court on June 25th, 2015 for their cases against the Miaoli County government and for the returning of their land and rebuilding of their homes.

Ms. Peng is now a regular at the monthly farmer's market on the National Chengchi University campus is Taipei. She has her own booth where she sells ginger candy, tofu dessert and jam. 

Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷), the graduate student from National Tsing Hua University who threw his shoe at Miaoli County Commissioner, Liu Cheng-hung (劉政鴻) was found guilty by the Taichung branch of the Taiwan High Court on June 25th, 2015. However, the court also decided that Chen did not have to serve any sentence or be reprimanded in anyway. In the verdict, the High Court also criticized the Miaoli County Commissioner for using harsh measures to expropriate the Chang family’s home and land and acted callously when he insisted to go to the Chang’s temporary home to “pay his respect” to Mr. Chang, who was found drown in a ditch near his home.

Huaguang Community (華光社區)
May 28th, 2015 - Five defendants stood trial for obstruction of justice for the April 24th, 2013 forced demolition of homes in the Huaguang Community. On April 24th, 2015, two years after the initial demolition, members of the Huaguang Community, the five defendants and student supporters took to the streets again to plead with the government to drop the charges and to assist with settlement and lives of the former Huaguang Community residents.

May 12th, 2015 – Huaguang Community residents and advocates protested at the Taipei City Government for the Da-an district police department blocking the road leading to the community a day before the scheduled demolition. The fences erected by the Da-an police department around the community also prevented other residents of Huaguang Community from going back to their homes.

Losheng Sanatorium (樂生療養院)
Student activists for the preservation of Losheng Sanatorium discovered that the guardian of the Sanatorium had been renting sections of the Sanatorium for filming. The guardian of the Sanatorium was charging the film crew NT$10,000 per day to film on location. However, the film crew did not preserve the structure of the Sanatorium and instead was spray painting the walls of the Sanatorium and did not return the walls and structure back to their original state. On June 17th, 2015, the residents of Loshen Sanatorium and their supporters went to the Ministry of Welfare and Health to protest.

The advocates demanded 1) Consultation of the Sanatorium residents, experts of historical artifacts and the Ministry of Welfare and Health should be held before renting the structure; and 2) the money earned from renting the location should be used for the preservation of the Loshen Sanatoirum buildings.

Meanwhile, the cracks on the grounds of Loshen Sanatorium continue to widen.

For information on Losheng Sanatorium: Afternoon Tea at Losheng

Yuanli Township in Miaoli and Wind Turbines (院裡反瘋車)
Uncle Ching-jin at protest in Taipei
After a year and half of protesting and 7000 hours of guarding the seashore, Infravest Wind Turbine Co. and the residents of Yuanli reached a compromise. Last September, Infravest agreed to remove two of the four wind turbines in Yuanli Township. The criminal cases against the Yuanli residents were tried and most of the residents were found not guilty. Except for Uncle Ching-jin (清金阿伯). He was found guilty of the crime of coercion and sentenced to ten days in prison for blocking an Infravest Co. truck for mere nine seconds.

On the other hand, some positive did come to the Yuanli Township: 1) members of the
Uncle Ching-jin at his farm
Photo credit: 苑裡掀海風
Yuanli Self-Help Group ran in last November’s local election, and Zoe Chen (
陳薈茗), resident, activist and daughter of the leader of the Yuanli Self-Help Group, is now the borough chief of the Fang-li Borough; 2) residents of Yuanli and supportive youngsters started two organizations to promote their agricultural products and community services. The organization for the promotion of Yuanli’s agricultural product is named “Seawind of Yuanli (苑裡掀海風)”, and the organization for community service and the promotion of the township is called the “Yuanli Sealine Family (苑裡海線一家親)”. I bought their “Filial Rice” and dried raddish at the farmer’s market. They were very good.

I wish I could say, from now on in Yuanli, everyone lived happily ever after, but that would be far from the truth. Last week, Infravest Wind Turbine Co. filed civil lawsuits against the student activists and asked for two million dollars compensation for property damage. 

For information on what happened in Yuanli: Wind Turbine Troubles

The Taipei Dome and the protection of trees (松菸護樹)
Farglory Co. workers
blocking tree protectors
After more than a year of protest and the election of Dr. Ko Wen-je as mayor of Taipei. The Farglory Construction group is still struggling to finish building the Taipei Dome. The Taipei City government launched a series of investigations on the possible corruption, safety issues and problems with preservation of historical artifacts on Farglory Construction Group. After many very public back and forth critiques between Farglory Construction Group president Chao Teng-hsiung (趙藤雄) and Dr. Ko and meetings between their teams, the story of Taipei Dome continues, and the trees are still there, for now. As someone who was born in that neighborhood and lived there until my family relocated to the United States, I am watching with interest and attention.

Participating and Observing (and what to watch out for)

DPP presidential election candidate
Dr. Tsai Ing-wen in Washington DC
In the following months, look out periodically for the Participant Observer’s "Election Edition" as Taiwan moves toward its 2016 presidential and legislative elections, as well as the continuation of my observation on social movements in Taiwan, among many things.

Lastly, I wrote an article last year on the “minor adjustment (課綱微調)” of textbooks proposed by the Ma Ying-jeou administration. The issue is again making the news as students from more than two hundred high schools came together to demand the Ministry of Education to abolish the changes in their text books, which will be introduced in classrooms this coming Fall.

There will be a street protest on July 5th 

So, lots of events happening in Taiwan worth paying attention to, and I will do my best to document them and to share my experience. 

(For information about the minor adjustment of high school textbooks:Party-State Reemerges Through Education in Taiwan)

P.S. We adopted a new puppy after my dog of 16 year, Mr. Snuggles, passed away a year ago. Her name is Hanji, Taiwanese for "Sweet Potato".