Saturday, September 01, 2012

Young Taiwanese tell Tsai Eng-meng what they think [UPDATED]

Young protesters mobilize in Taipei
Young Taiwanese can’t be mobilized? Think again. Give them a cause that animates them, and they’ll show up with wit, energy and creativity 

It’s often been said that young Taiwanese are not political enough, naïve, or simply don’t care about politics or the future of their country. Whenever I hear this being said of younger generations, my answer is to tell the (usually older) critics that it isn’t so much that young Taiwanese cannot be mobilized, but that the issues that awaken the fire in their bellies tend to be different, focusing more on matters of social justice than abstract concepts about, say, unification versus independence.

Who's the monster?
Anyone who doubts this surely hasn’t followed the news about the various student organizations across Taiwan that came out in opposition to the bid by the pro-China Want Want China Times Group to acquire the cable TV services operated by China Network System (CNS), especially after an employee at the media giant threatened to sue a student from National Tsing Hua university for posting pictures of a China Times Weekly deputy editor-in-chief on his Facebook, or when the group used its media outlets to launch attacks against an associate research fellow at Academia Sinica, accusing him of paying students to attend protests against the media merger. 

Earlier this year the chairman of the group and Taiwan’s richest man, Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明), denied during an interview with my friend Andrew Higgins of the Washington Post that the events of June 4, 1989, constituted a massacre, a convenient denial for someone who has made his fortune in China. As his empire grows, Tsai has awakened fears in Taiwan that if the CNS deal went through, his group would become a “media monster” with too much control over information and distribution. The National Communications Commission (NCC), Taiwan’s media regulator, needed 18 months to look into the controversial acquisition, and finally have conditional approval last month, which Tsai, contemptuous as ever, said he was not required to follow.

Very few elderly there
It’s difficult to say whether it’s fears of a pro-China media empire, the attack on a student or against an academic, but what is certain is that young Taiwanese have come out in force, mobilizing on the Internet, launching boycotts of Want Want products and, today, Sept. 1, participating in a large rally co-organized by student groups, journalist associations, civic groups and NGOs, that started from the group’s headquarter building and ended up in front of the NCC. (Tsai couldn’t help display his arrogance, with large banners gracing the wall of his building heckling its media competitor, the Apple Daily — “Who’s scarier, who’s bigger” — while responding to the young people’s protest slogan “You are very big, we’re not scared.”)

Tsai heckling protesters
Although organizers said they expected about 2,000 people to turn out, at least twice that many, if not more, showed up, armed with purpose, humor, and creative banners, effigies and placards (“Today’s my birthday, all I want is an apology,” or, from a group representing the rights of homosexuals, “I don’t want big media, I want a big dick”). Dogs, parrots, a very large number of people in their 20s from various student associations and older supporters meandered their way for about 4.5km under the direction of student organizers who did an impeccable job ensuring everything remained civil (how many protests include instructions on the Internet that include tips on what to bring, how to hold warm-up exercises, while reminding people not to litter, as it is their city and they want to keep it clean?). Another admirable — and revealing — aspect of the protest was the organizers’ insistence that political parties should not involve themselves, lest their presence turn into a publicity event for the green camp while detracting from the purpose of the rally.

Whether the exercise will have any impact on the group or the NCC remains to be seen, but what is known is that young Taiwanese do care about issues and will act if powerful individuals or government are perceived to be compromising their interests and future. Today’s protest was very moving, renewed my hope for Taiwan’s future and confirmed beyond doubt that the nation’s future leaders were somewhere in that crowd.  

Some additional thoughts: There are some people out there (usually people from older generations) who will say that efforts like yesterday were “naïve” and ultimately “fruitless.” Some of those people are purportedly friends of Taiwan and presume to speak on behalf of its people in newspaper editorials or at various gatherings. Do not ever let such cynics destroy your sense of purpose or make you doubt whether it’s worth your time and effort. Today’s youth are like that of three decades ago, who fought the first battle to pry this nation from the cold iron claws of authoritarian rule. New, equally daunting challenges lie ahead, and whether Taiwan safely navigates the stormy seas will depend on you, your conviction, and the expression of your leadership. What you did on Saturday was as commendable as it was beautiful. More of that will be required of you.


Julian said...

This is the most encouraging protest in a long long time. It certainly addresses an issue directly vital to a healthy democracy, unlike some other topics of protests recently. If the Ma government doesn't take charge and enforce its own conditions for Want Want's takeover, it will justify the lack of public confidence and the view that its helpless when confronted with pro-China corporate interests.

Hans said...

Is the "smiling little demon" the very distinct logo they have? Sounds like a way to make it harder for the people to boycott their products, probably not really that much of a good sign (less people might be going through the trouble of checking who is going to earn their money), but a sign that Want-Want is a bit scared for sure.

J. Michael Cole 寇謐將 said...

@Julian: Very well said. Could not agree more.

@Hans: H'm, good point. That said, it shows that Tsai did pay attention and could not ignore the protest.

Mr Lonely said...

walking here with a smile. take care.. have a nice day ~ =)

Regards, (A Growing Teenager Diary) ..

Michael Fagan said...

A point of criticism on the substantive issue of Want Want's acquisition itself...

To the extent that the protesters fear Want Want's attempt to manipulate public opinion viz elections, there is an obvious irony and that lies with the insistence that Taiwanese people must be protected from the media, or rather, from being exposed to the "wrong" opinions - which in this case are those of pro-annexation.

Yet is it not the Taiwanese themselves who are making this protest?

One of the words in the English language I detest the most is the term "the masses". This word is awful because, just as the feminists used to complain about the "objectification of women", this word demands the objectification of an entire group of people.

It is very common, for example, to hear young people say that whilst they and their annointed companions do not need to be protected from the media (having been to university you see...) - "the masses" do.

Who are these "masses"? Where do they live? What do they think, and who the hell do they think they are?

Is there not a stinking and far too easy hypocrisy involved in attributing (for example) a gullibility, or lack of intelligence to the "masses" whilst - of course - preserving oneself and one's friends from the defamatory effects of such attributes?

I say there is.

The error might simply be an "unfortunate" consequence of thinking about "society" as an entity distinct from one's own social relations in the modern era when the immense size and reach of the State makes possible plans for large-scale social engineering (as per Lionel Trilling's critique of the "social imagination"), or it might be an indellible and hypocritical feature of human psychology... who knows?

But somebody ought to make the point that the problem is not the Want Want group as such since, after all, they are not proposing to outlaw other media outlets (yet) and it is not as if Taiwanese people are stupid and easily fooled into believing pro-PRC propaganda is it? Or is it? Is that what the protesters genuinely believe? That other Taiwanese people (but of course, not themselves) are stupid?

If that is the attitude present, then I should shudder to think that the nation's "future leaders" would be among that protest group.

Anonymous said...

To the comment above:

The argument against Wang Wang is not out of fear of the "uneducated, uninformed masses" who might be swayed by this media in to slowly accepting Chinese rule. I haven't seen that argument made and its not reflected in the protests. This is about access and control. Its about who gets to control the largest mouthpiece in Taiwan, who gets the biggest voice. The protest is against a man and a company who do not represent the thoughts and opinons of most Taiwanese controlling the largest media outlets in Taiwan.

tl/dr: its about fairness, representation etc. which does not imply anything about "the masses" level of intelligence

Whatever hypocrisy you found in the arguments against Wang Wang are of your own making.

Michael Fagan said...

"The argument against Wang Wang is not out of fear of the "uneducated, uninformed masses" who might be swayed by this media in to slowly accepting Chinese rule."

Yes it is, and you illustrate this quite well yourself:

"The protest is against a man and a company who do not represent the thoughts and opinons of most Taiwanese controlling the largest media outlets in Taiwan."

You disapprove of Want Want's acquisitions because they will have the power to broadcast opinions you disagree with, and which you fear because you think they will be persuasive to an electorate you assume to be unable to think for themselves without guidance from the likes of you.

blobOfNeurons said...

It’s difficult to say whether it’s fears of a pro-China media empire, the attack on a student or against an academic, but what is certain is that young Taiwanese have come out in force,

The threat against the student was, I believe, the main catalyst. That's why there were so many "young Taiwanese" and so few "elderly". Student solidarity at it's most effective.