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". 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Reflection on “Social Movement in Taiwan since 2008” Workshop

This is the reflection article I wrote for the EATS' (European Association of Taiwan Studies) Newsletter on the Conference on "Social Movement in Taiwan since 2008" held at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) of University of London on June 25th.

Sunflower Movement Roundtable
Civil society is one of the vibrant features of Taiwan’s democracy. During Taiwan’s liberalization and democratization, social movements led by segments of civil society sprung over Taiwan’s political landscape. Since the election of President Ma Ying-jeou in 2008, Taiwan has experienced a resurgence of social movements, beginning with the Wild Strawberry Movement, where students and young protesters demand the government to respect the citizens’ right to expression and to assemble. The Wild Strawberry Movement became the first major student movement since the 1990s.

Since 2012, under President Ma’s second term, Taiwan experienced an eruption of social activism. The rising discontent over the Ma administration’s public policies, such as land expropriation, the eviction and forced demolition of citizens homes to make way for science parks and glitzy shopping areas and hotels, lawsuits against elderly laid off workers, the continue construction of the nuclear power plant, treatment of soldiers, coupled with growing apprehension over increasing Chinese influence over many sectors in Taiwan, invoked a series of small, persistent, “guerrilla- style” protests, as well as large demonstrations attended by tens of thousands participants.
Dr. Bi-yu Chang discussing my presentation

In June 2014, I had the pleasure and honour to be invited as a presenter and participant at the “Conference on Social Movement in Taiwan after 2008” sponsored by the Centre of Taiwan Studies in the School of Oriental and Africa Studies (SOAS) at the University of London. Spearheaded by Dr Dafydd Fell, the Centre of Taiwan Studies at SOAS is a hub for all things Taiwan. From Taiwanese films, arts and music screening to historical and political lessons, I learned the Centre of Taiwan Studies offers interdisciplinary studies to those who have chosen make Taiwan as the focus of their studies. The “Conference on Social Movements in Taiwan after 2008” was the most comprehensive conference dedicated to social movements in Taiwan and the issues associated with the movements I’ve attended. Moreover, since the conference was organized prior to the Sunflower Movement in Taiwan, an additional roundtable event was added for all the conference participants to speak to and interact with SOAS students interested in Taiwan’s largest social movement to date. Several social movement themes were presented at the conference. They are: (1) Environmentalism; (2) Humanism; (3) Energy; (4) Land; (5) the China Factor, and (6) Strategies and effectiveness of social movements in Taiwan.

On the Environment 

National Sun Yat-sen University sociology professor and environmental activist, Professor Chiu Hua-mei focused her discussion on the evolution of environmental movement against industrial pollution in Kaohsiung City, Taiwan’s second largest city. Since Kaohsiung became an industrial city in Taiwan, many lauded its development of heavy industries and credited such development for the creation of jobs and prosperity. According to Dr Chiu, the City is divided into zones where various heavy industries, such as petrochemical and steel industries and power plants, made Kaohsiung their permanent home. What made Professor Chiu’s presentation exceedingly interesting was her elucidation on the different protest groups in Kaohsiung and the methods the groups use in protests. According to Chiu, the earlier protests in Kaohsiung were grassroots, mainly organized by local residents – farmers and fishermen – who were disgruntled by land grabbing and water pollution. The more massive protests against heavy industry pollution came in the 1980s but environmental activism suffered a down turn in the 1990s. Fascinatingly, Chiu informed the conference participants that it was as late as 2007 that the first professional environmental organization was founded. There on after, Kaohsiung’s environmental activism became more specialized and vigorous. Moreover, observers began to see the participation of urban residents and members of the middle class.

Professor Dafydd Fell of SOAS
With the middle class and urban citizens as additional participants, environmental activism in Taiwan surged. In the presentation under the title, “The Revival of the Green Party in Taiwan”, Professor Dafydd Fell’s discussion was a wholesome complementary to the surge of environmentalism through Taiwan. Fell contended that the Green Party performed better than any time in the Party’s history in the 2012 election. With the increase of constituents becoming more aware of environmental and energy issues, the Green Party in Taiwan, according to Fell, has found its policy niche to become and remain politically relevant.

One of the relevant environmental issue explicated by National Taiwan University’s Ming-sho Ho, was the protest against Naphtha Cracker Plants in Taiwan. According to Ho, this particular movement has been a persistent and consistent trend in Taiwan’s environmentalism. Ho traced the protests against Naphtha Cracker from 1987 to 2011 and concluded that due to increased public awareness of the tremendous pollution brought on by the petrochemical industry, new petrochemical projects are also increasingly difficult to establish. Environmental movements, according to Ho, are also becoming increasing less partisan. Most importantly, with the professionalization of environmental NGOs, mobilization is now more effective, and therefore, the protests are now more successful.

Energy and Land Issues

Professor Ho Ming-sho of NTU
Environmental activists in Taiwan often share the same protest grounds as the energy policy advocates. For example, the anti-nuclear energy activists also strongly advocated against the continuation of dumping nuclear waste on Orchid Island. Dr Simona Grano of the University of Zurich explicated the resurgence of the anti-nuclear protest since 2011. Grano personally participated in many environmental protests while conducting fieldwork in Taiwan. Grano also observed a surge of large-scaled anti-nuclear protest the past few years. The anti-nuclear protest drew tens of thousands participants to the streets. The protests were a family affair with parents bringing their young children and sometimes performing drills in case of a nuclear melt down. Anti-nuclear energy protesters even occupied Taipei Main Station and Zhongxiao West Road in the most recent protest in April.

Just as the citizens felt the nuclear energy issue is closely related to the welfare of one’s family, land grabbing and the demolition of homes is another issue that became very close to the minds and hearts of Taiwanese in recent years. Home demolition and land grabbing in places such as Dapu Borough of Miaoli County and the Huaguang Community in Taipei accompanied by images of excavators moving into farm land where rice was two weeks away from harvest and the borough residents properties scattered in ditches sparked the consistent and persistent “guerrilla type” protests through 2013 with the young protesters eventually occupying the Minister of Interior for forty eight hours.

I was responsible for presenting social movements sparked by land issues. I followed the administration’s attempt to expropriate citizens’ land for the past three years. What cultivated my interest was, when I went to Taiwan to conduct the last round of my dissertation research, I saw a video on television of an excavator mowing down a rice farm in a place named Dapu in Miaoli County. I then began researching the issues relating to Dapu and realized the Miaoli County government had been expropriating county residents’ land in order to make way for an extension of a science park, as well as an extra highway and a crematorium. The endeavor led to the demolition of several homes in Miaoli County and the victims of forced demolition committing suicide.

My presentation consisted of more than fifty photographs I took while observing the demolition and protests. This was the first time I used a tremendous amount of photographs for an academic presentation, and I received more feedback from the audience than some of my other panel discussions. My presentation at SOAS demonstrated the importance of field work and the extent to which images help deliver messages to the audience.

Strategies and Effectiveness of Social Movements
Professor Bi-yu Chang and J. Michael Cole

The most important part of the SOAS conference was the presentation and discussion of the strategies and the effectiveness of social movements in Taiwan, as well as the extent to which Taiwanese have chosen to deal with “the big elephant in the room”, as so eloquently stated by Professor Hsu Szu-chien of Academia Sinica. As many social movements as the panelists discussed at the conference, the most significant matter was, to what extent is the protest effective? What should be considered as a successful movement? What is not? This particular topic was hotly discussed at SOAS.

According to presenter J. Michael Cole, the success of a social movement should not be measured only by the number of participants at a protest. Cole argued, movements such as protest against demolition in Dapu Borough, the protest against the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement led by the Black Island Nation Youth Alliance and the Alliance against Media Monster, are successful because the movement organizers made sure the government cannot ignore them and their respective issues are kept alive. Large protests such as the ones sponsored by Citizen 1985 to ensure proper treatment of military recruit, after an army corporal was tortured to death, were too predictable and organized for the government to be intimidated, though the Citizen 1985 demonstrations often drew tens of thousands of participant. Social movements that are too predictable and organized combined with the lack of effort to follow-up with the responsible government agencies and politicians have failed to cultivate the changes of law and to keep the issue alive.


The SOAS conference not only provided a platform for vigorous academic discussion on the surge of social movements in Taiwan after 2008, it was also a forum for academics, and activists to discuss not only research but to also share participation experiences in different movements. This was what I’ve never experienced in other conferences on Taiwan. The interdisciplinary and cross-professional nature of the conference should be encouraged, as I have learned tremendously from other conference participants.

Lastly, the SOAS conference also brought to the forefront an issue that cannot be ignored – the influence of China, as the China factor was one of the reasons for the student occupation of the Legislative Yuan and the Sunflower Movement. Moreover, the movement against media monopoly, the demolition of Mainlander communities in Taipei, land expropriation in Miaoli County and elsewhere in Taiwan, all in the name of progress, development and investment, all bear the influence of China.

I find the roundtable on the Sunflower Movement that was open to all students extremely important, as I was often asked why the young protesters in Taiwan decided to all of a sudden adopt the illegal mean of occupying the Legislative Yuan. The roundtable discussion on the Sunflower Movement allowed the discussants to explain to a broad audience on the causes, strategies and effectiveness of the Sunflower Movement. It was imperative to explain that the Sunflower Movement did not come out of the blue. It was a manifestation of the discontent and grievances toward the Ma administration after more than a year of non- responsiveness.

As the Legislative Yuan in Taiwan initiates yet another extraordinary session this week, the issue of Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement and the oversight bill lingers and are waiting to be resolved. Young activists are preparing for more demonstrations (Citizen 1985 is gearing up for a protest this weekend on the one year anniversary of their massive, 250,000-participant protest last year) for as long as the government remains nonresponsive to the demand of the citizens. Conference as the Conference on Social Movement in Taiwan is extremely helpful for academics and activists to not only share their research but also learn from each other’s field of expertise.

Professor Fan Yun of National Taiwan University

My second presentation was on the origin of the Sunflower Movement.
I find it imperative to give context to the movement.

Professor Szu-chien Hsu of Academia Sinica, Institute of Political Science