Perspectives Archive

[UPDATED] Taiwan’s Sunflower Student Movement

[UPDATED] Taiwan’s Sunflower Student Movement

As the events of the Sunflower Student Movement unfold in Taiwan, we’ve compiled what we hope to be a comprehensive resource of up-to-date articles, analysis, live feeds, social media, and photos and footage of the protests. We know there are numerous other sources out there, so feel free to send us whatever you may find. Please continue checking back as the events of the movement unfold and as this list is continuously updated!

LAST UPDATED: 4/9/2014 11:18AM PST

THE SITUATION: GENERAL OVERVIEW

THE VIEW FROM THE GROUND

SOCIAL MEDIA FEEDS

MEDIA COVERAGE

  • BLOGS, OPINIONS, AND ANALYSIS (organized in alphabetical order by publication)
    • “Protests In Taiwan: A Long-Term Threat To Foreign Trade?”, Forbes
    • “How new media allowed young Taiwanese protesters to reach the world faster”, Foreign Policy
    • “Taiwan, between democracy and China, and in a hard place”, Fortune Magazine
    • Analysis of state coercive power and non-violent protest, Frozen Garlic
  • NEWS ARTICLES (organized in alphabetical order by publication)
    • “Clashes as Taiwan students storm government HQ”, BBC News
    • “Mass protest held in Taiwan over against China trade deal”, BBC News
    • “Taiwan Students Occupy Legislature Over China Pact”, Bloomberg News
    • “Taiwan Protest Draws More than 100,000 Against China Trade Deal”, Bloomberg News
    • “Taiwan’s Ma Offers to Meet Student Leaders as Dispute Continues”, Bloomberg BusinessWeek
    • “For Taiwan’s Embattled President, Awkward Similarities”, Bloomberg BusinessWeek
    • “Taiwan Legislature occupiers’ ultimatum passes without response from government”, CNN
    • “Taiwan police clash with students in protests over trade deal”, CNN
    • “Manning the trade barriers”, The Economist
    • “On the antlers of a dilemma”, The Economist
    • “Taiwan stands behind use of force against protesters”, New York Times
    • “Large Crowds Fill Taipei Streets in Protest Over China Trade Bill”, New York Times
    • “Criticism, and Rare Words of Support, as China Watches Taiwan Protests”, New York Times
    • “Could Taiwan be the next Crimea?” Slate
    • “Hong Kong students join Taiwan sit-in”, South China Morning Post
    • “US committee urges support for Taiwan”, Taipei Times
    • “Lee Teng-hui supports students, constitutional conference”, Taiwan News
    • “The ‘Battle of Taipei’ Shows Just How Wary of China Young Taiwanese Are”, TIME
    • “Thousands in Taiwan protest China trade deal”, USA Today
    • “Taiwan’s ‘Sunflower Revolution’ Assaulted by Riot Police”, Vice News
    • “Taiwan Protesters Occupy Legislature Over China Trade Pact”, Voice of America
    • “Students Occupy Taiwan’s Legislature to Protest China Pact”, Photos, Wall Street Journal
    • “Taiwan Police Evict Protesters From Cabinet Building”, Wall Street Journal
    • “Taiwan Student Protesters Urge Island-Wide Strike”, Wall Street Journal
    • “Young Protesters Shaking Up Taiwan’s China Policy”, Wall Street Journal
    • “China trade pact foes occupy Taiwanese legislature”, Washington  Post
    • “TKACIK: Taiwan Struggles in China’s Trade Grip”, Washington Times
    • 3/29 Full text of President Ma’s press conference in response to the students’ demands

TAIWANESE AMERICANS TAKING ACTION

A Taiwanese American Look at the Sunflower Movement

A Taiwanese American Look at the Sunflower Movement

Let me paint a picture. The golden age of the American economy, where the US was the uncontested global hegemon after the Second World War, tripped over itself in the 1970s. Inflation, unemployment, and income inequality all rose significantly in the coming decades, contributing to what sociologists call the Great U-Turn, in reference to the receding of hard-earned social progress. Manufacturing jobs disappeared, entire towns across the country falling into despair in their absence. This crisis marked the end of a Fordist industrial capitalism, but as we all know, our economy did not die. It was a phoenix reborn, with new systems and new patterns. Here marked the beginning of advanced capitalism, characterized by a move to service industries and flexible corporate structures.

In the last 40 years, from a social perspective, things have not improved. During the 70s and 80s, we abandoned the idea of lifting all boats. Myths of the welfare queen took hold in American minds and bootstrap ideology prevailed despite the crushing contrary evidence. Equalizing forces, such as social welfare programs and unions, took a beating. And now, the wealthiest 1% holds 40% of the wealth in the country. About half of college graduates are working in positions that do not require a degree. We have modern day slavery in the form of for-profit prisons, we have deported millions and counting, and women’s reproductive rights are being eroded nationwide.

This is the America I left four months ago.

I came to Taiwan, and found the economic picture here to be strangely similar to the one I had just left.  The home of the “developmental miracle” had lost a bit of its shimmer. College graduates were relegated to unstable part-time jobs and facing stagnating wages. While GDP had been rising steadily during the last decade (with the exception of 2010) yet it seemed that society had not seen its benefits. Presidential promises had not come through for the masses. These two countries may have recovered their growth, yet large portions of citizens are still struggling to scrape by. What used to work now seems broken. This is the environment that is the tinder for the Sunflower Movement.

I am sure that many of you are aware of the situation in Taipei. (If not, please peruse this article, and this one, and this one). I will not proceed to trouble you with the sequence of events. What I will try and provide is a general feel and context for this movement and consider these events from a few different perspectives.

The Trade Agreement

The Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement (CCSTA) with China was the catalyst for the student movement. Amidst growing distrust for the government, low approval rates for the president, and economic stagnation, students started paying attention to this particular trade agreement, and found issue with the way that it was quickly passed through the legislative body.  Why was this particular agreement so controversial, when there were many very much like it passed with other countries with little to no attention? I’ve gathered a few of reasons.

  1. The clause-by-clause review that was supposed to happen, in fact, did not happen. The contents of the agreement were also not widely known, resulting in people’s protest against the “black box.” Most consider this lack of transparency a violation of the democratic process.
  2. There is an obvious question of sovereignty in this particular agreement, since it is with a country that Taiwan has long been on tenuous terms with. Previous trade agreements of this type that were passed quickly and without notice were with countries that had not threatened to use force to annex Taiwan, nor did those countries have quite the economic influence.
  3. There had also been previous agreements (such as ECFA) with China which did not result in the improvements that were promised at the time of their passing. Taiwan has been increasing contact with China for a while now, yet no real improvement has been realized.

But, let me make a few clarifications on some common misconceptions.

  1. Most people I spoke to were not necessarily against a trade agreement with China, or trade agreements in general, but did not agree with the way in which this trade agreement was handled. People know that their economy depends on having trade partners.
  2. This movement is as non-partisan as I think an issue like this can be. The students have been trying to keep the DPP at arm’s length whilst fighting a KMT administration. The young people are distrustful of both parties, and many feel the DPP are just trying to reap the benefits of the movement. But of course, any movement against KMT leaders is inherently helpful to the opposition party.  Students are, nevertheless, trying to keep ownership of this movement and make sure it doesn’t become a partisan farce. The division seems most evident between generations. Older people tend to fall along party lines, but the biggest differences I see are the attitudes between the students and their parents.
  3. Domestic mainstream media has more or less lost influence with substantial portions of the population, again, mostly with the younger generation. People have turned off their televisions out of distrust, and have turned to their computers and cellphones instead. Social media has been by far the most preferred method of spreading and gathering news. Only very recently has international media started to pay attention.

The President, after a long silence, eventually spoke on the matter after several days of protest, but not in a way that was helpful. The citizens were unsatisfied. Things escalated quickly after another group of students stormed the Executive Yuan, and were evicted soon after. Videos and photos of police violence flooded the internet. Reactions to the incident pushed the issue to even higher heights, leading to March 30th’s renewed rally, drawing hundreds of thousands. And students remain in the Legislative Yuan, as thousands, if not tens of thousands, of others sit around the building, to this day.  It remains a peaceful protest.

What does the Sunflower Movement mean for Taiwan?

The story goes that Sunflower Movement was named as a result of a florist who donated many sunflowers to the protestors in support of their cause. The students took this particular flower and saw it as a symbol of their desire to bring CCSTA to light, to pull it out of the shadows and into the sun, where everyone can see it. The protest has successfully brought to light a number of questions about CSSTA, the future of Taiwan as an entity, and as a democracy.

  • What kind of democracy do we want?
  • What kind of government accountability would we like?
  • What sort of relationship with China do we want?
  • What sort of economic changes would we like to see?
  • How does Taiwan’s history tie into its future?
  • Who are the past, present, and future beneficiaries of globalization?

Taiwan cannot detangle itself from the forces of globalization (even if it wanted to), but it can make decisions as to how it prepares for and reacts to them. Neoliberalization tends to result in the wealthier sections of the population benefiting the most from free trade, as they are in positions that allow them to take advantage of legislation, whereas the less mobile middle and working classes suffer from the increasing mobility of capital. There are winners and losers within any kind of political move, but Taiwan must be aware of the trade-offs. People only desire to be a part of the decision. No, not everyone is an expert on trade policy. But if our hard-won democracy does not afford us even the chance to discuss our future, than what good is it?

Another issue that Taiwanese people from across the political spectrum have been struggling with is the issue of identity, statehood, and sovereignty with regards to China. This may be the defining political issue in the country, and there is no easy way to move forward. The Sunflower Movement electrifies this debate with new vigor.  Again, there are tradeoffs to consider. Can we continue to let things go as they have been?

What does the Sunflower Movement mean for Taiwanese Americans?

So how does a student movement halfway across the world affect Taiwanese Americans living in the US? Most obviously, many of us feel a loyalty to this wonderful little island because it is our heritage. We have a deeply personal connection with Taiwan, love Taiwan as our own, may have family still in Taiwan, and hope for its success.

Secondly, how Taiwan sits on the international stage affects how others see us. Unfortunately, economic performance affects how Taiwanese Americans and Asian Americans are seen and treated. This is a very complicated interaction, but economic and diplomatic relations in Asia will undoubtedly directly influence the experiences of Asians living in the US. In our history, the economic rise of Japan in high tech industries was mirrored in Asian American experiences. Asian Americans were the targets of all kinds of anti-Japanese sentiments. Vincent Chin was a Chinese American who was murdered by white autoworkers who were angry over lost jobs due to Japanese competitors. Many non-Asian aggressors spend little time thinking about the differences between different kinds of Asians, and thus we are bound to each other by this lack of differentiation. Yet, Japanese Americans have a different experience with the white majority than say, perhaps Cambodian Americans, due to differences in the economic status of the two origin countries. The tension between these two tendencies will only increase in complexity. We are already seeing a rise in anti-China feelings due to China’s economic rise. And for us as Taiwanese Americans, it is treacherous ground to tread.

Thirdly, we have our own issues with free trade and globalization in the United States. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a huge international agreement posed by the US, and its surrounding situation bears an uncannily likeness to that of the CCSTA. Joe Stiglitz, a renowned economist, describes the issue with the way the TPP has been negotiated.

These high stakes are why it is especially risky to let trade negotiations proceed in secret. All over the world, trade ministries are captured by corporate and financial interests. And when negotiations are secret, there is no way that the democratic process can exert the checks and balances required to put limits on the negative effects of these agreements. (Stiglitz, 2014)

Sounds familiar, does it not? A free trade agreement, negotiated in secret, which the president hoped to “fast-track” through Congress, that does not benefit the majority of workers gets caught by civil society and is now stuck. Are these not the very worries of the Sunflower students? The TPP in its current form would allow corporations to sue governments for interfering with profits. If a Taiwanese American supports Taiwanese students in the Sunflower Movement, than perhaps it might be an action of consistency to take a closer look at American economic policy as well, which really has done little to recommend itself lately. Globally, workers do not benefit from the majority of trade agreements like the TPP. Not to mention, Taiwan has expressed interest in joining the agreement.

How can we look at the Sunflower Movement in a Global Context?

There seem to have been many uprisings in recent years, from Arab Spring countries to Ukraine. We can see that the Sunflower Movement is related to other such movements around the globe. The Sunflower Movement is a response to a myriad of political, economic, and identity issues in Taiwan, and these issues are connected to many other issues around the world, via the globalization processes expedited by advanced capitalism. We live in a world where Facebook and YouTube can be a populist platform for information dissemination, aided by microchips in smartphones that are produced in Taiwan, and then are sold on an international market. We must see this movement in the context of new technologies and systems, but with perennial questions of justice, government accountability, and people’s rights.

The world is getting more and more unequal and our economic system is founded on increasing consumption. Other than the moral implications of this, what else do we have to lose? As it turns out, maybe everything.

A new study partly-sponsored by Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center has highlighted the prospect that global industrial civilisation could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution.(Ahmed, 2014)

For over 20 years, scientists have been trying to publicize the issue of climate change. Despite attempts, precious little has been done to mitigate carbon emissions or adapt to oncoming changes. We are most likely beyond the point of no return, as climate systems are not linear but have many feedback loops and there is a tipping point where there is no going back. And we cannot deny that our economic system and trade are a part of the problem.  We are at the brink of the fall of civilization. Dr. Werner, a geophysicist using advanced computer models, has come to a conclusion that many other scientists have (perhaps reluctantly) come to:

He isn’t saying that his research drove him to take action to stop a particular policy; he is saying that his research shows that our entire economic paradigm is a threat to ecological stability. And indeed that challenging this economic paradigm – through mass-movement counter-pressure – is humanity’s best shot at avoiding catastrophe. (Klein, 2013)

The Sunflower Movement and Occupy Wall Street are two examples of common people fighting back against those who are content to continue benefiting from the current system at the expense of others, or are too far removed from on-the-ground happenings to know what to do about them. I do not mean to say that every protestor in such movements have the right idea (or sometimes any ideas), or always do the right thing, nor that elites are evil and malicious beings. And trade agreements are not inherently “bad” things. But this movement, among others, is what I see as a fight to have a say in what happens to humanity. It is not just about the KMT or trade with China or sovereignty. It is about civil society not giving up their rights, their lives, and their planet without a fight.

Let us paint a different picture.

By: A. Chu/朱驊

Appendices:

I.  Disclaimers:

This piece was written in reaction my experience here in Taipei as these events unfolded.  I can’t claim to be “objective” and I can’t read Chinese as well as it would be necessary to keep abreast of the Chinese language resources, so I fully acknowledge this blind spot in my perspective. If you’d like to weigh in on the subject, feel free, as I’d love to know about different viewpoints. But uninformed rants and trolls will not be tolerated.

Another thing, yes, I have used “we/us/our” in regards to both Taiwan and the US. I feel that as a Taiwanese American, I sit in the middle of these two places of identity and am linguistically making a claim to both. Perhaps I’m being audacious.

And, let me assure you, I am well aware of the many merits of my country. But I still take my freedom of speech seriously and will continue to critique the less than consistent or moral actions of the US while still being very aware of the privileges I hold as a citizen.

II.  Special Thanks:

Thanks to Tammy Yen/顏維婷, Edison Chen/陳建宇, Austin Lu/呂孟捷, Ben Chen/陳維斌, 邱芷萱, Kelly Lin/林亞暄, Laura VanVliet, and friends from 我在旅行 who have put up with my badgering, and all the protestors who shared their thoughts with me.

III.  Helpful Links and References:

Student Movement’s Pages, in English

http://4am.tw/

https://g0v.hackpad.com/ep/pad/static/ypdLlWyOLQ8

“News” Reports on Events:

http://thediplomat.com/2014/03/taiwanese-occupy-legislature-over-china-pact/

http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-1108450

http://www.buzzfeed.com/kevintang/taiwanese-students-occupy-parliament-to-protest-illegal-chin

http://thediplomat.com/2014/03/riot-police-crack-down-on-taiwanese-protesters/

http://www.ketagalanmedia.com/2014/03/18/debrief-31814/

http://mobile.nytimes.com/blogs/sinosphere/2014/03/23/taiwan-president-calls-on-students-to-end-occupation-of-legislature/?ref=taiwan

http://savageminds.org/2014/03/22/sunflower-student-movement/

http://fareasternpotato.blogspot.com.au/2014/03/the-sunflower-revolution-continues.html

Economics/Trade:

http://glodemoequality.blogspot.tw/2014/03/blog-post_24.html

http://www.tradingeconomics.com/taiwan/gdp

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPKKQnijnsM

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/29/underemployed-overeducated_n_2568203.html

http://www.tradingeconomics.com/united-states/gdp

http://www.cepr.net/index.php/publications/reports/net-effect-of-the-tpp-on-us-wages

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/03/15/on-the-wrong-side-of-globalization/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/harold-meyerson-free-trade-and-the-loss-of-us-jobs/2014/01/14/894f5750-7d59-11e3-93c1-0e888170b723_story.html

Climate and Society:

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2014/mar/14/nasa-civilisation-irreversible-collapse-study-scientists

http://www.newstatesman.com/2013/10/science-says-revolt

Asian America:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/23/opinion/why-vincent-chin-matters.html?_r=0

Travel to Taiwan! A Lunar New Year 2014 Edition

For many of us living in the United States, a visit to Taiwan can be as infrequent as “that time in 4th grade and all I remember was it was very hot.”

A lucky number of us, however, do get to visit Taiwan more often, especially during the holidays.

This past Lunar New Year, TaiwaneseAmerican.org staffers-at-large Eric Kao [Social Media Manager] and Kristina Lin [Admin Director] made it their mission to hit up iconic and “hidden gem” destinations around Taipei. They asked resident TA.org denizens for some sightseeing recommendations and subsequent photos and moments were tagged with #traveltaiwan and #taipeitoyou.

Below are some of the photos and moments from those adventures!

天黑黑 欲落雨 [Dark sky, Going to rain]. Look at that foggy image of Taipei 101 in the background! It looks so dreamlike and peaceful until  …

Happy New Year!!! #2014

After all those fireworks, a scenic mountain ride on the Maokong Gondola is in order. Perhaps for a cup of tea?

… or some 阿宗麵線 [flour-rice noodles], YUM!

All that food makes us want to sleep, er, read at the bookstore. Taiwan bookstores are the BEST. Here is 誠品 [Eslite Bookstore].

Charming, folksy 淡水 [Tamsui]. A beautiful day at the Fisherman’s Wharf.

The Taipei MRT is so convenient … and unexpectedly artistic. Exit Y28 of Taipei Main Station hosts an active bboy scene.

And it’s time for New Year again … the REAL New Year. Vendors out on 迪化街 [DiHua Street] in preparation for the Lunar New Year.

An off-the-beaten-path visit to pretty 真理大學 [Aletheia University] …

And finally, more relaxing at Beitou Public Library.

Lastly, a moment of pop culture hilarity: Krispy Kreme’s newly opened flagship store had Taipei waiting 3 – 4 hours for its doughnuts. What?!!

Thanks to Judy S., Steven W., Marisa H., Jason H. and other TA.org commenters for the Taipei recommendations. Feel free to leave more suggestions in the comments on places, activities and food for us to try next time!

Visit TA.org on Facebook and Instagram.

Interested in sharing your own “Travel to Taiwan” photo adventure? Contact: admin@taiwaneseamerican.org with “#traveltaiwan” in the Subject Title.

Reflections on 228

Reflections on 228

To strangers who don’t know the history, 228 is just a bunch of numbers.  However, 228 actually refers to February, 28, 1947. It marks the date of the massacre of around 30,000 people and the imprisonment of over 140,000 Taiwanese citizens who were suspected of opposing the Kuomintang (KMT) government.  To certain Taiwanese people, it’s a date where blame is put on the government for what happened. To others, it’s just an incident in history where thousands died.  But to me, 228 is what reminds me to value Taiwan’s democracy even more.

While I was growing up in a predominately Caucasian neighborhood in New Jersey, my mother instilled in me a strong sense of being Taiwanese. We watched Taiwanese shows, we spoke Taiwanese at home, and we went to every single Taiwanese event in the area. I distinctly remember my elementary school friends being shocked by how “Taiwanese” I was.  When asked why she was so adamant about our identity,  my mother always made two points.  1) It is extremely important to preserve all aspects of our culture and 2) Taiwan’s young independence is something that needs to be safeguarded. To a certain extent I understood why our culture needed to be preserved. If my mother had not insisted on being so Taiwanese, I probably would have lost all my ties with Taiwan due to the environment I was in. However, it was not until much later that I began to understand my mother’s point about safeguarding Taiwan’s independence.

My mother’s reason for supporting Taiwan’s democracy was always because she had experienced the White Terror period. White terror was the period following 228 when martial law was imposed on Taiwan and several citizens were punished or imprisoned for being political dissidents. During my mother’s senior year in high school, my late grandpa- a professor- was subjected to 268 days in jail for something he didn’t do. He was accused of being involved with the corruption of a government project. When my grandpa was arrested, there was very sparse information about why or what was going to happen to him. My mother always described what it was like to visit my grandpa in jail and how instead of going to school, she and my uncle would go try to find people of higher power to get more information about my grandpa’s case.

By the time I got to high school, I had been to so many Taiwan events that I had decent knowledge of Taiwan’s history. However, strangely enough, my mother never mentioned to me what 228 was. For decades in Taiwan, it was taboo to speak of 228, which is possibly why my mother never mentioned it.  It wasn’t until people started to post “Remember 228” all over my Facebook that I learned what 228 was.  At first, I was horrified by what I read.  All the lives that were lost and the brutality that the citizens were exposed to was unbelievable.  However, 228 has come to mean something more than that.

To me, 228 is the day where people tried to speak up for what they believed in. It’s where thousands of civilians rallied together for the rights of mankind.   The sacrifice those people made for right for democracy only makes me recognize the inherent value of freedom. It’s what allows me to believe that the struggles and sacrifices we make are worth it.  So on this February 28th, I pay homage to the ones that lost their lives and I promise to respect those around me and to continue fighting for what I believe in.  I hope that others in the Taiwanese American community will also see the value of 228 and together we can strive to create a more positive history for Taiwan.

Audrey Tseng is currently an undergrad studying Biochemistry at NYU. Born and raised in NJ, she is a long time participant and leader of Taiwanese American Next Generation (TANG). She is an avid traveler, having been to over 22 countries. During her free time, you will probably find her eating brunch food, exploring NYC, or doing something Taiwan-related.

Film Review: Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

Film Review: Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? is Taiwanese American writer-director Arvin Chen’s second feature film. His first feature, Au Revoir Taipei, was a whimsical romantic comedy packed with antics and an endearing spree around the city of Taipei. WYSLMT takes on a much heavier subject, with reflections on the dilemmas faced by gay communities in Asian culture.

Revisit our 2010 interview with Arvin Chen

The main character Weichung (Richie Jen) finds himself questioning his sexuality and his traditional married life when on the one hand, his wife is pressuring him to have a second child, and on the other, a chance encounter with a friend from his gay past is causing him to reconsider his whole lifestyle.

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? lacks the slapstick comedy of Au Revoir Taipei but still strikes a lovely balance between drama and whimsy, with a buoyant soundtrack and dream-like sequences: a man floats away holding an umbrella, and later, Korean soap star pops out of the TV screen to counsel Weichun’s sister Mandy through a breakup (speaking to her in Korean, all the while). Nothing about the film is too extreme. It’s not hilarious, nor is it passionate. But it does convey the feeling of being stuck, and it all culminates in a perfectly balanced ending. It avoids the “happily ever after” but offers instead the notion that you might not get what you plan for in life, but it will somehow be okay.

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? is playing in select theaters. Visit http://www.filmmovement.com/theatrical/index.asp?MerchandiseID=336 to view the latest screenings and information.

Making History Happen

Making History Happen

By Felicia Lin

When I first heard about Su Beng, a lifelong Taiwan independence activist, former undercover Chinese Communist agent, would be assassin of Chiang Kai-shek, historian and author of Taiwan’s 400 Years of History, in 2003, I was intrigued. I wondered what would motivate a man like this and quickly decided that I wanted to meet him because I knew that his was a story to be told. What began as a simple idea to write a story based on his life has grown into a project to document it. Three years after I started documenting the life of Su Beng, I started to blog about it and now I’ve created a website dedicated to this project: www.aboutsubeng.com

It’s been nine years now since I began working on writing the biography of Su Beng and documenting his life in 2004. The incredible thing about this journey is that initially, I did not set out to write this man’s biography, in fact I resisted the whole idea at first, because I thought, I am no historian; I am no Taiwan expert.

Actually, the first time I met Su Beng, I asked him if I could interview him to get some ideas to write a story. I really had no intention of writing his biography. I will always remember his answer to me that day. He simply said, “Yes, if it’s for the good of Taiwan.” And I think, that sentence pretty much summarizes the motivation behind much of what he does.

So we began meeting every other month or so and I’d diligently record our interviews on camera and with a digital audio recorder. After about six months, of this, I was reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X when I realized that I had already taken on the responsibility of being Su Beng’s biographer, so I decided to do it and formally asked him if I could write his biography in English.

Who am I and why does this project matter so much to me?

I am a second generation Taiwanese Canadian/American who is simply interested in increasing awareness and understanding of Taiwan.

Growing up, in Ottawa, Taiwan was this mysterious, distant land that my parents were from, where the other half of my relatives, my Dad’s side lived. While my cousins frequently went back to Taiwan to visit their grandparents and relatives there, my family never did. I remember asking my cousins to tell me what it was like. And even though they described it as a hot, stinky, dirty place, I was still curious about it.

In bits and pieces I learned that after my parents got married, they were separated for nearly a year since my Mom was not allowed to leave Taiwan to join my father in the U.S. She wasn’t able to leave Taiwan until my father and a few Alaskan senators put pressure on the Kuomintang government to allow her to leave. Because of this experience, my parents were afraid to return to Taiwan for years. As a child I just couldn’t understand how a government could restrict someone’s right to come and go as they pleased. I also learned about something called a black list, which was a list of people who were considered troublemakers and not allowed to return to Taiwan.

The first time my parents applied for our visas to return to Taiwan, my sister and I had our passports returned with a visa granted within a month, but there were suspicious delays in the processing of my parents’ visas. Finally, in 1988, a year after martial law had been lifted in Taiwan, my parents, sister and I finally visited Taiwan together. By then, my parents had been away from Taiwan for over 15 years.

My parents instilled a strong sense of Taiwanese identity in my sister and I, and they have always adamantly identified themselves as Taiwanese and not Chinese. But it wasn’t until I went to the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana that I met other second generation Taiwanese Americans who had parents or relatives who’d also been black listed. I still remember the day I received a flyer in my campus mailbox inviting me to attend a meeting to form a Taiwanese American students’ club. It was during this time, of the late 1980s and early to mid 1990s that many Taiwanese American student associations and clubs started forming at college campuses across the country. What many of us had in common was the understanding and experience of Taiwan being under martial law with no civil liberties and certainly no democracy. It wasn’t until after many of us had already graduated from university that Taiwan actually had its first direct Presidential election in 1996.

The Intercollegiate Taiwanese American Students Association (ITASA) was conceived out of this need to connect Taiwanese American students across the country and to share our experiences. For me, my experience in forming ITASA and running an ITASA conference was key in developing my leadership skills. Things have really come full circle since ITASA celebrated its 20th anniversary this year and I was invited speak at the conference in New York about my work as a writer. I spoke about my personal struggle to get on the path to write and my project to document the life of Su Beng. In fact, I am currently running a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to complete the biography of Su Beng, and my campaign pitch video opens with a video clip from my talk at the ITASA Conference in February of this year.

As Su Beng turned 95 this year, I have felt an increasing urgency to complete his biography. So I have decided to quit my job and take three months to go back to Taiwan to gather the remaining research needed. When I thought about this late last year, I wasn’t sure how I was going to make this happen until I realized that I should reach out to the community and the world at large for support on this. So I decided to launch the crowdfunding campaign to raise $15,000 to cover the expenses for me to spend 3 months in Taipei 1) to do the additional research needed to complete the book and 2) to produce a short documentary about the life of Su Beng.

Learn more about my crowdfunding campaign pitch video and/or make a contribution here: http://igg.me/at/makinghistory/x/5122304

I feel like I am in a really unique position to be able to tell Su Beng’s story and to share it with the world. In a way, all the years of my involvement in the Taiwanese American community have led me to this point and have given me the resources needed to bring this project to fruition. I see Su Beng’s struggles, as the struggle of the people of Taiwan. As a writer what drives me is the wish to leave a legacy, make a mark, to inspire and motivate. And I believe that telling the story of Su Beng will do just that.

Magic Continues at TACL-LID Camp

Magic Continues at TACL-LID Camp

It ended with a pinch, a squeeze, or even a simple hand on a shoulder. “Touch somebody who has made an impact on your life. Touch somebody who made you laugh. Touch somebody who is now your friend”. Such a simple gesture left 42 youths with a deep connection and impact after attending TACL-Leadership Identity Development (LID) Camp at UC San Diego during the month of August.

It had been 10 years since I last attended LID Camp and it was now my first time serving as a camp counselor. I was a camper from 2001-2003 before LID Camp went on hiatus for a couple of years. Even after the reboot in 2009, I never really had interest in returning.

So, why did I suddenly decide to return to LID Camp after 10 years? It was my first trip back to Taiwan in seven years last April that rejuvenated my pride and interest in being a Taiwanese American. That visit, led to my decision to study Mandarin at the Mandarin Training Center in Taipei for 10 months. Towards the end of my stay, I pondered ways I could stay involved in the culture that I grew to love.

I was approached by my older brother about being a camp counselor for the annual TACL-LID camp. I thought it would be a nice transition from my studies overseas and a way for me to continue being immersed in Taiwanese culture. My initial thought, however, was only a fraction of why I returned, because somewhere along those 10 years, I forgot the true reason why I came back.

“Connect” was the theme for this year’s camp and I do not recall if camp had a theme when I was a camper, but having one definitely made it much more meaningful. Some of the more memorable moments of camp came on Taiwan Night, a night where parents are invited to attend camp to watch their kids perform skits on what they have learned through their four days of camp. It was really interesting for me to be a part of this night because parents were never invited to camp when I was a camper, but having them attend now is a great addition to the camp atmosphere. I think it is great for the parents to see their kids have fun and to see their kids truly be themselves outside of the common perception by Asian parents that their kids are quiet or boring. I hope it was a sight for the parents to see their kids doing goofy dances (Harlem Shake), using funny Taiwanese phrases, impersonating camp staff, or even doing funky yoga poses. At one point during that night when I saw all the family members cheering and laughing, I realized that the campers were not only connecting with their fellow campers, but now they were connecting with their families as well.

But one special moment stood out that night and it involved one special camper. This camper had refused to engage in all group activities and did not like to talk to his fellow campers. He disconnected himself from camp in all ways possible and we were perplexed on how to deal with him. It seemed that as each camp day passed, he would dig himself deeper and deeper into his own hole and by the fourth day, most of us lost hope of bringing him out of that hole that he dug.

But for some reason that night, he agreed to play a small role in introducing the next group skit with a staff member. He went up in front of 80 or so people and gave a mighty shout into the microphone, “Super Suit, assemble!” before being swarmed by the 13 or so members of the camp staff that formed a group hug around him. This moment was shocking for everyone–in a good way–because nobody expected it, but everyone was ecstatic and happy to see this camper finally come out of his shell.

I do not think any of the family members watching understood why this camper was receiving a hug or why all of the campers were cheering, but all they needed to see was how much everyone at camp cares for and supports each other. Regardless of the fact that this camper was rather detached the past four days, in that single 20-second moment, that camper was finally connected with the entire camp.

Other than Taiwan Night, camp is still special in its own way. Seeing the moments unfold as a counselor really hits the soul in so many ways. As a camp counselor, there is nothing more satisfying than witnessing how much all of the campers grow in just five days. To think that most of the campers came to camp either by the hand of their parents or were just simply curious about exploring their Taiwanese identity, all of them did something that they had never done before and came out of it as conquerors.

Whether it was taking one for the team by downing a bottle of Thousand Island dressing in the food relay, working as a team to eat lunch with their hands tied together or thinking fast in improvisational games, the true lesson of camp is taught by putting campers in unfamiliar situations and challenging them to use their skills to tackle the situation. I am sure some of the campers will not realize or will not think they have changed in those five days. That is why it is so important for camp staff and counselors to remind them how just how special they are and how much they have grown by attending LID Camp.

When I reflect back at camp this year, I finally understand the true reason why I came back. We are all at this camp because we all share that Taiwanese American identity, but it is those magical moments and special relationships that keep everyone coming back for more.

Michael Chen graduated from California State University, Los Angeles, with a degree in Broadcast Journalism and also studied at the Mandarin Training Center in Taipei with an emphasis in reading and writing. He is a part of Taiwanese American Citizens League (TACL) – Leadership Identity Development (LID) Camp, serving as a camp counselor or helping with fundraising events. He is an avid sports fan and enjoys playing basketball, listening to music and buying vinyl records in his spare time.

What Would You Tell Allie, a 6 Year-Old Taiwanese American Adoptee?

What Would You Tell Allie, a 6 Year-Old Taiwanese American Adoptee?

Recently, Lora C., the loving mother of 6 year-old adoptee Allie C., messaged our TaiwaneseAmerican.org Facebook Page to ask for our advice about how to help her child learn about and accept her identity as a Taiwanese American. I was moved by how much Lora was willing to share with us and how she regarded us as a potential community resource, given that their family lives in the Midwest, where there are relatively fewer Asian Americans. Even though I was uncertain about how I could help, I arranged to speak to her the following day to see if I could offer some of my personal advice from past experiences working with Taiwanese American children and teens. Throughout our conversation, I was touched by how open and curious Lora was to my experiences and thoughts, as she seemed to comb through my words and stories to find answers to prepare her daughter for the experiences she might face in the future. I was equally impressed by how her 6 year old embodied a strong, independent “wise old soul.” Although I shared my personal opinions and the discussion was productive and encouraging, I still felt it was important enough to bring this issue regarding identity formation of young children (and especially a growing Taiwanese American adoptee population) to the forefront knowing that many of you, our readers and followers, may have thoughts and advice of your own to share. Lora has consented to me reprinting her original message publicly with the hope that you might engage in this important discussion and share your advice and stories. She looks forward to anything you have to say.

Read Lora’s message below, and then share your thoughts on three questions I have for you:

Dear TaiwaneseAmerican.org,

I am looking for advice about how to handle a situation we have encountered at our daughters school. If you can shed some light in our direction, it would be very helpful and much appreciated.

Our school has invited a group of Chinese exchange students and teachers to visit for several weeks. Because the community we reside in is not very diverse, our daughter has enjoyed going to school and visiting with these Asian students who seem familiar to her in ways that some of her Caucasian American friends might not. It has been a nice cultural experience for our daughter up until now.

The problem is that when an older Chinese student/teacher asked our 6 year old daughter where she was born, our daughter stated that she was born in Taiwan. The Chinese teacher gave a little laugh and told our daughter in front of her fellow classmates that Taiwan was the same as China. She told our daughter that she was Chinese. Our family has educated our daughter otherwise. We continue to educate our daughter and our family about the history of her birth country and encourage her to be a proud Taiwanese American.

Our family is not Taiwanese. However, we understand and strongly believe in Taiwanese Independence. Our 6 year old has become a little quiet and perhaps confused about her identity. I’m not sure that she trusts what I am telling her now… She told me that since I am not Asian that I might not understand the facts and I might be wrong. Maybe Taiwan is China.

I have shown her the map, I have shown her the flag, I have shown her the currency, I have shown her a birth certificate. I have tried to explain the political differences, but she is too young to understand.

My heart feels heavy because I don’t want my beautiful intelligent child to be misled and confused. I wish for her to be proud and connected to the Taiwanese American community.

How do I help her and how do I educate our school to encourage them to ask these Chinese exchange students to keep political views to themselves? I worry that my little girl may be confronted with opposition from other students if they are being educated incorrectly.

Thank you for any help you can offer our family.

Sincerely,
Lora C.

On behalf of TaiwaneseAmerican.org’s staff, we thank you Lora for trusting us with information about your situation. Through your adoptive experiences, you, Allie, and your family are part of our Taiwanese American community now, and we hope we can continue serving you in the future.

We believe our followers and community members may have interesting experiences and stories of their own to share and learn from, so we invite you to comment below. Please note that due to the sensitivity of the topic involving a young 6 year-old child, we will not tolerate comments that are inflammatory, insulting, or racist in nature. We, however, do appreciate a diversity of honest and open thoughts, opinions, and ideas to help Lora and Allie through this period and into her future.

We invite you to respond to any or all of these questions:

1) How would you advise Lora, who is not of Taiwanese heritage, to teach her child about the Taiwanese American identity and culture?

2) If you were in the situation described above, how would you specifically address the school and the Chinese exchange students and teachers? Or how would you help Allie make sense of her confusion?

3) If you were to write Allie a letter of encouragement, what would YOU say to her? Please start with “Dear Allie” and keep in mind that she is currently 6 years old. Some of these letters will be shown to her or saved for her as she grows older.

EDIT: “I spoke with Allie about what you are doing with the letters and she is very excited. I’m not sure that she really understands what we’re doing but when I told her that you might be posting a few pictures, she insisted that she take part in sending you a few. I had to promise her that I would send you these pictures… I mentioned that she liked to have some ‘Say-So’ in just about everything, didn’t I?” –Lora C.

Well, here you go Allie! We’re so happy to know you and your mom. Welcome to our big ol’ Taiwanese American family! –Ho Chie Tsai

Loops of Yarn

Loops of Yarn

by Annie Lin

I didn’t learn to knit from my grandmother, even though she was a knitter.

She spent almost every summer in the backyard of our house in suburban Southern California, perhaps because plane tickets out of Taiwan were cheaper then or perhaps because it was a way to escape the humidity of Taipei in July. When she wasn’t weeding the garden or laundering our clothes with a bar of slippery brown soap, she was sitting in a lawn chair next to a plastic bag of green or gray yarn and knitting on long bamboo needles for my grandfather, who usually sat next to her. He would grumble to her about how scratchy the sweaters were, but he also never fail to wear them around the house.

Sometimes I picked up tiny red loops of yarn from the carpet and wondered why these mysterious bits were scattered throughout the house. Later I would realize that these were homemade stitch markers, which my grandmother had fashioned out of a contrasting color of yarn.

Knitting was something that I constantly saw my grandmother do, but it was never something that I considered trying. I could spend hours sewing dresses for my Barbie Doll or baking tiny chocolate cakes in the Easy Bake Oven, but it never occurred to me that I might be able to turn yarn into tiny acrylic doll sweaters or potholders.

Many years later, I was reeling from the heartache of a broken engagement when a friend asked me a surprising question: would I like to learn to knit? I said yes, and she spent an evening patiently guiding me through those first rows of garter stitch. She took me to our local yarn store (ImagiKnit in San Francisco), where I bought a circular needle and a ball of alpaca that was pink and forgivingly pliant. She sent me home with a battered copy of Stitch N Bitch Nation, and after many nights of trial and error, I found myself knitting ceaselessly every night, as if I wanted to cushion every surface, as if I wanted to make myself a soft place to land.

I wanted to talk to my grandmother about knitting, even though I had not seen or even talked to her in nearly a decade. Years ago, my parents had made a bold decision to leave Taiwan and start over in the United States. It was obvious that geography would keep them from seeing their friends and families, but I wondered sometimes if they had any idea of how much cultural and language barriers would further widen the gulf. I had never written a letter to my grandmother before, as I could not write in Chinese. I did not even have her home address or phone number. When my grandmother had cancelled her flight to the United States for the wedding, which of course had been called off, I told my parents that I wanted to visit her in Taiwan.

This was how I ended up waiting nervously outside a rail station in central Taipei. At first, I didn’t recognize the woman who limped toward me with an unfamiliar cane. Her eyes had turned blue with old age, but she gave me a wide grin and pointed to her scarf, which I immediately recognized. It was an Oriole lace shawl, the very first I had ever knitted and that I had asked my mother to mail to her.

The arthritis kept her from walking as well as she used to, but nevertheless she was the one who navigated us from train to shuttle to bus to taxi to bus as we made her way out of the city. The arthritis also kept her from knitting, so she told me that she wanted to give me her needles and her entire stash. Later, at her request, I would carry home a brand new suitcase that barely held all of the yarn: hanks of space-dyed Chinese wool, fine balls of mohair she had bought in Japan, and the rough brown wool from the sweater she had knitted for my grandfather and then washed, unraveled and re-skeined when he died.

On the train, she watched me attempt to unravel ball of yarn and asked me what I was knitting. I told her that I was making a scarf, but that I had managed to tangle one of my last skeins of yarn into hopeless knots. “Give it to me,” she said.

The skyscrapers quietly slipped past us through the window as she worked the tangled knots of yarn with her fingers and told me about how she had learned to knit in school, about how she used to make all of her own clothes, and what it was like to grow up during the war. Our journey on public transit took us from Taipei to the outskirts of the county, and the skyscrapers were eventually replaced by betelnut stands and fields of banana trees that grew in the shadow of electronics factories.

As our train pulled slowly past the famed Grand Hotel, the massive pagoda that stands at the edge of the city, my grandmother handed the yarn back to me, wound in a perfect center-pull ball.

Annie is an entertainment attorney based in San Francisco and a former touring singer-songwriter whose records can surprisingly still be found on iTunes and Spotify. When she’s not knitting or digging through crates of 78s, she helps her mom with the food blog Taiwanese Cooking.

The Making of the Taiwanese American Identity

The Making of the Taiwanese American Identity

Growing up in the Taiwanese American community, I learned as a child the importance of understanding how history and politics shape and define our community. We become well versed in geopolitics across the span of several centuries, including comparative cases of identity formation and nationhood. We learn the story of how groups of diverse peoples living on an island, called Ilha Formosa by Portuguese sailors on a Spanish ship, became caught between the warring visions of ambitious and powerful neighbors and far-flung interests. We learn not to be constrained by those events and processes; rather, once we become informed of what came before, we as a community engage in the act of construction—as cultural and political artists—in the determination of our unique Taiwanese American identity. In that sense, just as our identity is influenced by history, our identity is also a construction, which once made, becomes history.

Now, as a mother, I also want my son to understand history and politics so that he can find empowerment in it, rather than be defined by it. I find that, for myself, understanding family history was the critical entrée into the complexity, which has defined the Taiwanese American community. My grandfather was in his teens when the Japanese colonial administration exited Taiwan at the end of World War II, making way for the Nationalist Chinese engaged in a losing civil war on the Chinese mainland. The son of sharecroppers, my a-kong longed for a peaceful future after Japanese colonialism. The ruthlessness of the new political regime dashed his optimism. He, along with several of his closest friends, participated in rallies across Taiwan in February and March 1947, when tens and thousands of frustrated men and women were killed or disappeared under suspicious circumstances. In the 1950s and 1960s, my dynamic and charismatic grandfather organized fellow farmers and spent time behind bars for speaking out on behalf of them as a bureaucrat in the farmers association, an institution which was left behind by the Japanese that the Kuomintang government quickly co-opted. In history books, the Kuomintang presided over what became known as the “Taiwan miracle,” as one of the East Asian Tigers touted for unprecedented economic transformation. My grandfather’s post-war experiences instilled in him a sense of Taiwanese-ness, which was not Japanese or Chinese. This new identification with Taiwan, his homeland, both surprised him and empowered him.

Learning about how the different threads of my grandfather’s life intertwined with the geopolitics of post-war Taiwan inspired me to study history and economics and to become a political scientist. Spending childhood summers running around barefoot in my grandfather’s chicken farm and fruit orchard instilled in me a deep appreciation for the island paradise. Growing up in the Taiwanese Presbyterian church (PCT) propelled me to investigate how the church, whose Scottish missionaries first went to Taiwan in the second half of the 19th century, transformed into an indigenous church. The PCT became an instrumental part of vibrant social movements, which pushed to end 40 years of Martial Law in 1987 and galvanized for democratic change leading to Taiwan’s first free presidential election in 1996.

For many people, food is an induction into one’s cultural and ethnic heritage. This is true for me too. I feast on the diversity of foods, which dominates the Taiwanese consciousness, from indigenous tribal fare and Hakka cuisine to Japanese food and gastronomy from different Chinese regions brought over to Taiwan by the Mainlanders. Aware that music is the gateway and bridge to my son’s heart, I expose him to Taiwanese children’s music and the Mariachi tunes, which originate from the Jalisco region of Mexico, the home state of his paternal grandfather. In addition to indulging in the flavorful cuisine of Puebla, where my husband was born, he travels to Taiwan and Mexico and spends quality time wrapping “bah-zhang” (a.k.a. Taiwanese tamales) with my mother and planting popular Taiwanese greens with my father. As a professor, I know there are many different ways to capture the imagination of my students. I encourage Taiwanese Americans to engage in the work of construction, to contribute to the making of history, by creating individual variations of the Taiwanese American identity.

Roselyn Hsueh is an assistant professor of Political Science at Temple University.