Sunday, May 04, 2014

New May Fourth Movement bares its few remaining teeth

Participants in a rally didn’t seem to see the irony in taking part in a pro-ROC event organized by individuals who want to unify Taiwan with authoritarian China

Today I saw Taiwan’s past. Strike that, today, I saw the Republic of China’s (ROC) past. Its minions gathered on Ketagalan Blvd to express their love for the ROC and their support for police officers who have been working extra long hours in the past six weeks amid a series of protests.

As I approached the scene, it quickly became clear to me that the people who’d heeded the call by the just-created New May Fourth Movement had travelled from the past. A great many of them looked like they’d fought the Japanese in World War II. A few looked like they may have been around when the original May Fourth movement was created in 1919 following the conclusion of the Great War. The contrast with the Sunflower Movement, against whose “violent” actions they were rallying, could not have been starker. The average age of the crowd was easily three times that of the student protesters. My partner was shocked when on stage, leading the crowd, materialized an elderly man who, in her youth and when Taiwan was still under authoritarian rule, had haunted their school lives by teaching them the exact same songs and dances that we were now hearing.

There was a large contingent of people — again in their 70s — wearing white T-shirts from pro-unification gangster Chang An-le’s Unification Party, with a big map of China (including Taiwan of course) printed in red at the back. Most of them were from out of town, primarily Longtan in Taoyuan County. From the looks on their faces, most of them didn’t seem to have a clue why they were there. They were probably offered a bit of money, a free lunch box, and a “tour” of Taipei.

As we got off the cab, we immediately came upon an elderly man sitting on the ground with a series of propaganda papers arranged in the shape of a cross. One that stood out compared Lin I-hsiung, the former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman whose family was massacred during Martial Law, to the devil. Apparently one of the devil’s many iterations is to launch a hunger strike against unsafe nuclear power in a bid to avoid millions of people being irradiated following a meltdown (silly me: I’d always thought that the devil wanted to roast people up!).

Giving away ROC flags. Note the donation box
I walked around the crowd, taking pictures of old faces. There were some young people, admittedly, among the 2,000 people or so (police farcically says 20,000) who’d gathered to wave the ROC flag and sing old songs. But the ratio of young-to-old was strikingly lower than that of the many protests against the government that I have observed over the past two years, not to mention the 350,000 to 500,000 people, mostly young families and students, who participated in the March 30 rally organized by the Sunflower Movement. A group of young female volunteers in a tent offered me flags, which I declined. Asked why they were donating their time, one of them said, “I oppose violent students.” When pressed to define “violent,” the young thing replied, “They broke windows.” Okay, and they also cleaned carpets at the legislature, but apparently she wasn’t aware of that.

An old man, half of his teeth missing, approached me as I was snapping pictures of the woman I believe is Chang An-le’s partner. “Do you support the police?” he asked me in English. Implicit in his question, of course, was that the student leaders whose protesting had led to a massive police mobilization weren’t. I could have answered in several ways, but I chose to be diplomatic. “Of course I support the police! Everybody does.” That seemed to satisfy him. He was friendly; many weren’t, as is often the case whenever I encounter deep “blue” or pro-unification groups, who somehow seem to sense my liberal and pro-democratic inclinations and accompanying disdain for authoritarian China.

I saw several donation boxes for the New May Fourth Movement, and could only shake my head at the idea of those donors being deceived into giving money to Chang An-le, the man who, along with the pro-unification New Party, was very likely behind this whole enterprise. As I have long feared, Chang, who returned to Taiwan in June 2013 after sixteen years on the run, is an instrument of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) who has no compunction in using Taiwan’s democracy against itself.

Elderly participants wear Chang An-le's party T-shirt
Somehow nobody seemed to see the irony in cooperating with a bandit whose aim is to destroy Taiwan’s liberties by making the island a part of authoritarian China. Many of the old people who gathered to wave the ROC flag had fought the same party that is now funding and using Chang for its unification dreams. My sense is that most people were unaware of the connection with Chang, who showed up — accompanied by two of President Ma Ying-jeou’s sisters and KMT Legislator Alex Tsai — at about 4pm. I wish I could have asked the same young volunteer whether she supported a man who has a long history of involvement in extortion, threats, drug trafficking, and murder. I’m sure she applauded when the gangster materialized. Or, since we’re on subject of broken windows, what she thought about the government demolishing people’s homes in Dapu, Shilin, Yuanli, and Taoyuan in recent years, state-sanctioned violence that, in a few cases, led to actual deaths.

Police estimates 20,000 people. Really?
Many people offered me stickers supporting “public order” and the police force. I could not help but wonder where those people — along with the KMT youth and Sean Lien at a separate rally earlier in the day — were last year when the families of overworked police held a small rally outside the legislature. Not a single KMT politician showed up then, and I felt bad for the small group of people who were calling for help and for the right of the police force to form a union. Ironically, some of the young people who supported them then were among those who occupied the legislature in March and April this year. In other words, the supposed “violent” students who stand accused of mistreating the police were supporting the creation of a union for the police. Those who came out to support the cops today couldn’t be bothered last year, and were siding with a man who has made a lifetime of criminal activity — the kind of activities that, were Taiwan normal, would be the target of the NPA today. Evidently, the whole point of the exercise today wasn’t to show support for the overworked police. It was, pure and simple, a political ploy, and the cops were little more than pawns in the government’s propaganda game.

I’m sure some of the people who gathered outside Taipei City Hall in the morning and on Ketagalan Blvd in the afternoon were well-intentioned and that they did want to support the police force. The problem is that because of the disinformation they have been fed by the government and its propaganda arms in the media, they were targeting the wrong group of people with their anger. They bought the line that the activists sowed “chaos” and instability, but could not be bothered to look for the actual root causes of that escalation, which were failing government mechanisms, lack of accountability and transparency, “black box” deals with authoritarian China, the vested interests of individuals in government, and the unhealthy influence of gigantic corporations on cross-strait policy making. Of course everybody desires social stability, and I am convinced that the Sunflower Movement leadership agrees with this view. But stability cannot serve as a reason for inaction when those who govern us are irresponsive to the public and adopt policies that are detrimental to the nation. Otherwise, why should we expect people to stand up to tyrants, or large business conglomerates that abuse their employees or poison the environment? Of course protests are destabilizing, but there are times when inconveniencing the public is the lesser of two evils. We’re all for stability and public order, but not at any cost.

Interestingly, very few police officers were deployed today, much less than the 150 that were supposed to ensure security at the rally. And most of the barbed wire and gates that had become a staple of the area surrounding the Presidential Office were removed overnight. (All photos by the author, except crowd shot, Yahoo)

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