I first met Wang Yun-hsiang (王雲祥) during a large protest against the destruction of houses in Taipei’s Huaguang Community (華光) in April this year. In fact, I didn’t even know his name when I took a photograph of the young man, the red letters on his T-shirt reading “street fight,” as he was being whisked away by police officers. On that day, the Taipei City government had moved in and bulldozed a number of houses and commercial establishments, claiming the residents had lived there illegally. From the rubble of Huaguang, city officials promised that a sparkling new complex for the rich would sprout, while the few human remnants were scattered to the winds, the tight knots of a community, formed over decades, severed forever.
|Wang is taken away at Huaguang|
Was Wang, like others, involved in physical clashes with the hundreds of police officers who had been deployed to protect construction — strike that, demolition — workers as they perpetrated state-sanctioned violence against the poor, the elderly, and the infirm? Maybe. Since I was behind the police lines, one of the few individuals allowed in, thanks to my press credentials, I did not directly witness what happened in the melee. But on that fateful day, Wang and hundreds of others were fighting for their ideals, and for a just resolution to the years-long conflict.
The court sentenced Wang to 100 hours of community service so that he could “improve his behavior” and become a “better citizen.”
When I first heard of the ruling, my first reaction was to ask, But hasn’t Wang already done a lot more than 100 hours of community service, standing on the side of the weak and vulnerable against the vultures bearing the masks of “modernity” and “development”? Didn’t any of his actions, not only at Huaguang, but also in Yuanli (苑裡) and Dapu (大埔), both in Miaoli County, where he and others were roughed up, intimidated, and threatened by police and thugs as they once again attempted to erect a line against injustice, constitute time served? And above all, how could a judicial system presume to make Wang into a “better citizen” through community service when his very actions were inspired and motivated by the noblest of motives, when those at fault were not the protesters and the victims, but the government itself, a force that is evidently in cahoots with land developers and that has grown increasingly disconnected from the needs and fears of its citizens?
|A cop pushes Wang away|
What is special about this otherwise ordinary, skinny young man is that he doesn’t fit the stereotype with which the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have become comfortable over the years. For Wang, who works in the visual arts sector, is of second-generation “mainlander” stock, which means absolutely nothing for a generation that was born here in Taiwan and identifies with the land (Wang even speaks Taiwanese). But for conservative forces, activists like him are problematic, as they cannot be placed in the typical category of ethnic conflict pitting “mainlander” against “Taiwanese.”
The CCP, and in many ways the KMT as well, would like nothing more than for Taiwan to remain divided along the old “ethnic” lines, but with Wang and several others his age, such divisions, both in terms of one’s “ethnicity” and voting preferences, are disappearing fast. More and more, and as society mobilizes against a series of outrages orchestrated or condoned by the government, Taiwan’s ethnic groups are fighting alongside one another, and oftentimes are doing so in cooperation with, or in the name of, individuals who are evidently of different “ethnic” background or political views. Only in today’s Taiwan could young Taiwanese, leaders like Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆) from Tainan, get themselves into trouble with the authorities for the sake of saving a house inhabited by an elderly KMT soldier who continues to revere Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), and whose memorabilia of the late dictator went down with the house.
It is no surprise that the authorities, faced with rising, organized, and heterogeneous activism, would seek to make examples of young men like Wang, or Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷), a Hakka from Miaoli who often has been targeted by law enforcement and pro-China media conglomerates (Chen was taken away by police at the weekend for throwing paint at the house of Miaoli County Commissioner’s house to protest the Dapu demolitions). In doing so, the government has increasingly relied on the courts, presumably hoping that fines, sentences, and community service would suffice to dissuade youth from continuing their opposition.
|Kuo clashes with police on July 18|
If found guilty, Kuo could be sentenced to a maximum of five years’ imprisonment. Guo never even came close to President Ma.
Later the same day, activists Wang Chung-ming (王鐘銘) and Wu Hsueh-chan (吳學展) were detained and charged with violations of the Social Order Maintenance Act (社會秩序維護法) during an egg-throwing protest in front of the KMT headquarters building in Taipei.
That same weekend, during another campaign event for Ma, a mother of three, with no history of involvement in political issues, brought her three-year-old child to see Ma, and pretending to be a supporter, she was able to get close enough to him to shout: “Today it was Dapu, tomorrow it will be the government!” before a shaken president was whisked away by his security detail. Police then asked the woman to show them her I.D. card, a request that she complied with, even though law enforcement had no right to ask a citizen to provide such documents simply for having spoken her mind in public.
The government, banking on so-called Confucian values that it is actively seeking to revive, is trying to make criminals out of young, idealistic individuals who are fully cognizant of the values upon which this nation was built. It accuses them of being “troublemakers,” or “professional protesters” whose actions are hurting the country’s image. But there is no doubt in the public’s mind that the activists, whose ranks are growing, are on the side of the angels, selflessly enduring injury, fatigue, ridicule and the threat of the courts in their battle to prove that two plus two isn’t five, as our increasingly Orwellian government claims, but indeed four. (All photos by the author)
NEW! A Chinese-language (中文) version of this article can be read here.