We all knew it was going to happen eventually, that efforts over three years by residents and their supporters, lawyers, journalists and academics to prevent a local government thug from destroying their homes would likely fail, but when the outrage was actually perpetrated on Thursday, the cold, hard reality hit home. On that day, as hundreds of people protested in front of the Presidential Office, the bulldozers rolled in and razed people’s homes in Dapu (大埔), Miaoli County, pulverizing wood, concrete, dreams, lives lived, memories — and faith in people’s ability to rectify government abuse through legal and peaceful processes.
More and more, Taiwanese are realizing that harsher, perhaps more extreme measures will be needed to unhinge a government that makes a travesty of democracy and rule of law while enriching itself and its cronies at the expense of ordinary citizens.
|Protesters in front of the Presidential Office|
|Mrs Peng is taken away|
Then, just as one bus, its hull pregnant with dozens of protesters, was about to take off, I attempted to take one last picture of it (a female protester had managed to lodge herself against the front window) when a police officer used his shield to shove me away. He pushed so hard that my feet left the ground momentarily, but I managed to remain in position to take the shot. He approached me again and told me to bug off. “I’m a reporter,” I replied. “I’m doing my job.” It had the opposite effect. He turned on me and screamed, in English: “This is not your country! This is China, you have no business here!”
|Activists are taken away|
More protesters were shoved into a bus, and once again it was impossible for journalists to get close enough to the action. One, who had briefly succeeded in breaking through the line, was soon expelled, whereupon he launched himself into a series of colorful expletives.
The protest, which had lasted about one hour, wrapped up, and we all dispersed. Activists on the bus say they weren’t told where they were being taken, and decided to call the authorities to inform them that they had been kidnapped. Police eventually dropped them off near Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall.
By then, the homes in Dapu were no more. Under Liu’s orders, crew had moved in even before the residents could take all their personal belongings out. In fact, the residents were not even given enough time to pray to the land god before the workers demolished their homes, which according to Taiwanese beliefs will bring bad luck, as if they didn’t have enough of that already. Workers took out fridges and TV sets, but almost everything else — clothes, jewelry, money, photo albums — went down with the buildings, only to be dumped into a field nearby. Appearing on a talk show on FTV the following night, Peng, a sweet, humble woman who never asked to be forced onto the national scene, tearfully showed some of her clothes, covered in mud, ruined. She also displayed what was left of her wedding photo albums. Her wedding ring was somewhere in that field, under piles of debris, which continued to accumulate as city workers kept dumping stuff there. Images of their son sifting through the rubble, looking for their belongings, were heartbreaking. Update: On Saturday at noon, an order was issued for police to surround the dumping ground. It now seems that the Chang's personal belongings are being held hostage by the county government. Might it be because of the series of absolutely heart-rending pictures we have seem coming out of that field since last night, as the family and friends look for their cherished items? Or a personal vendetta to make the family suffer for daring to oppose Liu?
As academics had said at the protest and are now saying on talk shows, citizens had used all legal and peaceful means over three years, all means of suasion, had been given promises by then premier and now Vice President Wu Den-yih (吳敦義), only for the crime to be perpetrated anyway. The inaction of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which has contented itself with playing the role of opposition party, and the silence of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators, has also left activists disillusioned and desperate. It is no wonder that we are increasingly hearing calls for revolution, disobedience, guerrilla tactics, and more direct action. Or warnings to Liu that he will be hounded wherever he goes, that he should have police parked in front of his house 24 hours a day. The commissioner and his backers in Taipei have pushed people to the limit of their patience, and made it evident that traditional approaches, based on rule of law and reasoning, are failing — over Dapu, and over many other issues.
|In front of KMT headquarters|
"Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg."
|Loud and clear|
Things might get ugly, and the government will only have itself to blame for what happens next. (All pictures by the author.)