Perspectives Archive

Why I Fight to “Keep Taiwan Free”

Why I Fight to “Keep Taiwan Free”

Keep Taiwan Free. Three simple words but keep Taiwan free from what? China? Why do we need to Keep Taiwan Free? Wait, but I thought Taiwan is free?

These are just some of the common questions asked when people see the slogan Keep Taiwan Free. As most people know, Taiwan’s history is quite complex. It took several decades and the sacrifice of tens of thousands of citizens to get to the democracy that Taiwan is today. Yet, this young democracy is still a fragile one.

Even just in the past few years, there have been several cases where civil rights and liberties in Taiwan have been violated. There have been issues with the government in terms of land expropriations. In 2012, there was the anti-media monopoly movement and not that long ago there was the takeover of the Legislative Yuan called the Sunflower movement. What do all these examples have in common? They all magnify that Taiwan can lose all the things that make it a vibrant democracy.

In 2013, four houses were demolished against the will of the owners by the government in Dapu Borough(大埔) in Miaoli County to make way for a science park extension. This incident became known as the Dapu Incident. It all started in 2008 when a optoelectronics company applied to the Miaoli County government for land to build a factory. Over time the company decided that they did not need to build the factory. However, the government decided to continue on with their plan to expand the science park to attract future investments in the area. The residents of Dapu were not happy and held several protests to resist the demolition of buildings and the expropriation of land. There were several clashes of the people with the government. An elderly farmer, who felt completely helpless in stopping the government from taking the land she worked her whole life for, committed suicide by drinking herbicide. Essentially the government evicted and demolished citizens’ homes to acquire land in the name of modernization and progress. The incident in Dapu raised several questions such as the need to have stronger safeguards for land ownership and property rights for citizens, and that land expropriation should be for public interest–not for the sake of modernization.

In 2012, there was also the anti media monopoly movement in Taiwan. In the early 2000s, Next Magazine and Apple Daily were launched and they quickly became best selling magazines in Taiwan due to their insistence on political independence. Yet due to significant financial losses Jimmy Lai, the owner, decided to sell both magazines. When Lai accepted an offer, it turned out that Want Want China Times Media Group would become one of the major shareholders. Want Want China Times Media Group is a huge media enterprise group in Taiwan and is known for its business interests with the PRC. Want Want’s Chairman, Tsai Eng-meng, was also a huge issue of concern due to his alleged history of interfering with the media. Essentially, Tsai’s disregard for the freedom of press and his close ties with China raised red flags. The anti media monopoly movement brought up several policy weaknesses regarding Taiwan’s media sector and freedom of speech. There are no policies that consider the cross media ownership and the issue of media monopoly. Also when it comes to freedom of speech, commercial influence is just as powerful as political influence.

Lastly, back in March, the Sunflower Movement was definitely a huge catalyst that brought to light what kind of democracy Taiwan wants to be in the future. In June 2013, Taiwan had signed a Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement (CCSTA) with China. Students and several NGO’s lobbied and protested within the system, worried about the economic and political impact that the agreement would have on Taiwan. They played by the rules in hopes of trying to get a response from the government. Yet on March 18th legislator and internal administrative committee chair Chang Ching-chung unilaterally decided that the clause-by-clause review of the fact was over and it would be sent out to be voted on. Essentially, the government rushed through the agreement without a line by line review of the pact. The violation of the basic principles of due process caused the students to take over the Legislative Yuan and make four appeals to the government. Their unwavering determination showed that the citizens of Taiwan want to determine their own future and remain free and democratic.

Taiwan means something different to everyone. To some it’s the food and the night markets. To others it’s family and the rich history and culture the island has. Ultimately, it’s what makes us proud of our Taiwanese Identity. But without a Free Taiwan, the things that we love and treasure essentially would not be the same. Therefore, on this 9/13, I want you to consider why you want to Keep Taiwan Free.

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) summer conference and an organizer with the Formosan Association for Public Affairs’ Young Professional Group (FAPA-YPG). 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. On 9/13, she’ll be out on streets telling people why she supports Taiwan.

How I Became More Involved With the Taiwanese American Community

How I Became More Involved With the Taiwanese American Community

by Nikki DePaola

When I first moved to Los Angeles three years ago, I didn’t know very many people outside of my job and a few cousins. Growing up in Kansas, I was excited to be in a place known for the best Taiwanese food outside of Taiwan, and with so many options to connect with the Taiwanese American community.

There are plenty of opportunities in LA for a young Taiwanese American woman. Organizations like TAP (Taiwanese American Professionals), TACL (Taiwanese American Citizens’ League), NATWA II (North American Taiwanese Women’s Association), and the various campus groups all provide a niche environment where you can socialize, and participate in community projects. One organization, however, is not usually mentioned in second-generation circles, and it’s probably one of the most important ones.

The Taiwan Center Foundation of Greater Los Angeles is one of the original LA nonprofits dedicated to the promotion of Taiwanese culture and heritage. It’s where many of the first generation Taiwanese organize events for the local Taiwanese American communities, including karaoke competitions, music concerts, and the LA Taiwanese American Heritage Week Festival. They host many classes and clubs, including a Folk Dance class, the Taiwan Center Choir, a Photography workshop, a Taiwanese language class, and Karaoke Club.

When I first heard about the Taiwan Center, I noticed that almost all of their activities were organized by the first generation. The first generation is an incredible group of people – they immigrated to this country for a better life, and started families here – families that are our own. We all know the sacrifices our parents made for us, to help us become who we are today, and ultimately, they were responsible for instilling our sense of Taiwanese identity. Yet, the Taiwan Center and its volunteer base is still mostly first generation. For me, giving back to the Taiwanese community is multi-faceted – we can help out in many ways, from holding leadership camps, to advocating in DC for stronger US-Taiwan Relationships. I also believe that one aspect of that is to bridge the gap between the first and second generation, to carry on the first generation’s legacy of promoting the Taiwanese heritage, and to help the Taiwan Center promote their events and activities throughout the community.

One way the Taiwan Center seeks volunteers is through its annual Miss Taiwanese American Pageant program. This pageant program is more than just a pageant – it is a year-long volunteer program, where contestants dedicate themselves to community service projects, attend cultural events, and interact with many branches of the Taiwanese community (including all the organizations I’ve mentioned above, and more), all on behalf of the Taiwan Center. The pageant component is how candidates train for their upcoming year of service. They hone their public speaking skills, learn more about Taiwanese culture, and become a role model for future generations of Taiwanese American women.

If you’re looking for a new way to give back to the community, make new friends, or want a fun way to step out of your comfort zone, I would recommend signing up for this unique opportunity. To learn more, and apply online, please visit Questions can be emailed to

Nikki DePaola grew up in Kansas, as a part of a tight-knit group of active Taiwanese Americans. Now working in Los Angeles as an advertising professional, she’s had experience collaborating with a variety of Taiwanese American cultural and political organizations, including ACT, TACL, the Formosa Foundation, and The Taiwan Center of Greater Los Angeles.

Happy Mental Health Awareness Month! It’s Time to Normalize the Elephant!

Happy Mental Health Awareness Month! It’s Time to Normalize the Elephant!

By Emily Wu Truong

The subject of mental health is like the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about, and that is how it seems in my local community. Many individuals choose not to seek help in fear of becoming marginalized and shunned by friends and family. Many choose to suffer in silence because they were taught to “save face” over “airing their dirty laundry” to anyone, or else they would bring shame to themselves and the family. On the contrary, many people know me as a strong advocate for mental health awareness because I choose to not remain silent about mental health issues. So let’s talk about the elephant in the room, shall we?

My name is Emily Wu Truong (吳怡萱), and I am a mental health client. As an outspoken individual, I first came out to share my mental health story at a legislative briefing in July 2013. I stated, “I will not end my life because I have a story to share. The more we talk openly about mental health issues, the more we will alleviate the stigma. There is no shame. There is no shame.” I was compelled to make this statement because many who need help often choose to suffer in silence. As President Obama stated at the National Convention on Mental Health in June 2013, “Too many Americans who struggle with mental illness suffer in silence rather than seek help.”

Because of this silence, I became determined to start a grassroots campaign to bring awareness of mental health issues in my community. Since July 2013, I have taken on a proactive role in my community to find ways to openly discuss community mental health issues, and share my personal recovery story. I have dedicated countless hours volunteering for the Asian Coalition of the LA County Department of Mental Health (LACDMH), National Alliance on Mental Illness, San Gabriel Valley, and participating in numerous mental health committee meetings, conferences, and trainings sponsored by LACDMH, Pacific Clinics, and California Institute of Mental Health (CiMH).

Now we are in the month of May where we celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Taiwanese American Heritage Week, and also Mental Health Awareness Month! I only discovered that May was also Mental Health Awareness Month within this last year! In addition, I found out that May 10th was proclaimed Asian Pacific American Mental Health Day in Austin, Texas and San Francisco, CA, and I soon hope that the City of Los Angeles can proclaim May 10th as Asian Pacific American Mental Health Day as well!

So why are matters of mental health such a concern to me? The statistics can clearly explain it! According to a report by the Asian American Psychological Association, they reported some disturbing statistics about Asian Americans and suicide.

  • Suicide was the 8th leading cause of death for Asian Americans, whereas it was the 11th leading cause of death for all racial groups combined.
  • Suicide was the second leading cause of death for Asian Americans aged 15 – 34, which is consistent with the national data (the second leading cause for 15-24 year-olds and the third leading cause for 25-34 year-olds).
  • Among all Asian Americans, those aged 20 – 24 had the highest suicide rate (12.44 per 100,000).
  • Among females from all racial backgrounds between the ages of 65 and 84, Asian Americans had the highest suicide rate.

As alarming these numbers are, I could have contributed to these statistics, but I’m glad I didn’t. From firsthand experience, I know how it feels to be depressed without knowing how to help yourself. So when I see others in emotional pain, all I really want to do is reach out to that individual and ask him/her how she’s doing. I dislike having to see people suffering in silence, not feeling they have a sense of purpose in their life. Unfortunately though, our culture doesn’t give us permission to express how we are really feeling inside. We’re not taught how to openly communicate and express our emotions in a candid way.

Instead, we’re being taught from a young age to compete with our classmates for the highest grades, salaries, positions, and we have lost sight of what’s truly important in life – and I believe that’s COMMUNITY, LOVE, & SUPPORT. That is what’s missing in our society’s education today. We need to teach our younger generation the skills to develop their emotional intelligence, effective communication, and coping skills. When I interviewed Dr. Eliza Noh, Cal State Fullerton Associate Professor specializing in Asian American suicidology, she reported that having a strong support network was a common theme among her interviews with Asian American women who had attempted suicide. A fiction novelist William Gibson would completely agree with Dr. Noh. Gibson said, “Before you diagnose yourself with low self-esteem or depression, make sure you’re not surrounded by assholes.” (Hope you got a LOL out of that!)

As you can probably tell by now, I enjoy quotes, and the ones that have helped me the most in my mental health recovery have been these three…

With the help of positive quotes, letting go of perfectionism, developing unconditional love and forgiveness towards myself and others, that is where my healing and inner peace started to begin. Where there is internal healing, there is mental liberation and freedom.

These are topics that I will be privileged to speak about at the next conference for the Innovations Conference of the LACDMH’s LA County Client Coalition (LACCC) on June 23rd at the California Endowment Center. There I will be speaking about my journey to finding my self-worth, and I hope you can join me! For further information & the registration form to attend, go to LACCC’s website! And on the day of the event, don’t be surprised if you see me wearing lime green! That is the ribbon color for mental health awareness!

If you’d like to stay updated with the positive quotes I share, my Mental Health advocacy work, community mental health events, and my future speaking engagements, please check out my self-managed websites here!

Emily Wu Truong (吳怡萱) is a Taiwanese American Community Activist for Mental Health Awareness in the San Gabriel Valley in Los Angeles County. Driven by her passion to impact society on a greater scale, Emily’s speaking career as a motivational speaker is underway. As an active member and volunteer for the Asian Coalition of the LA County Department of Mental Health & NAMI, San Gabriel Valley, she hopes to inspire and bring more awareness to mental health issues that are often stigmatized and misunderstood in society today.

Beyond Boundaries: What makes us Taiwanese?

Beyond Boundaries: What makes us Taiwanese?

What makes you Taiwanese? Is there an answer that’s more right than others? What terms make up that definition?

I’m tempted to begin this article by listing what I feel qualifies me to claim Taiwanese identity, as if somewhere out there, there’s a scale and the more Taiwanese I can be, the more my writing here matters. Nonsense.

When we create definitions of identity based on looks, language, or legalese, we use a whole host of criteria to tell people if they are enough or not. We default to such theories, myself included, because they’re simple, but the practices of lived identity bloom beyond the barriers we place around them.

Though I’ve received nothing but kindness from people as my online presence as a Third Culture Kid from Taiwan slowly grows, the staying power of narrow definitions gives me pause. Laying claim to my own Taiwanese identity dredges up memories of previous attempts being met with casual dismissal, from Americans and Taiwanese alike.

For example, this past January, the night before I left home for America again, I was at a Wellcome in downtown Tainan doing last minute shopping. Nescafe 3-in-1, blueberry ice cream Oreos, pineapple cakes. Suddenly, eager parents pushed a tiny child in my direction, ordering her to say “Hello!” to me. She was shy and a little confused.

I squatted down to her level and addressed her in Mandarin. “You could just say nihao to me, you know.” I looked pointedly back up at her parents. “How do you know that I speak English? What if I’m from France or Spain or Russia? Luckily, I’m Taiwanese just like you, I was born here too!” Her parents looked startled, the little girl simply giggled. “There are many kinds of Taiwanese people, you know! I’m one of the newer kinds, and I’m glad to meet you today.” I stood back up, smiled brightly at her parents, and walked away to try and shop in peace.

From the next aisle over, I heard her parents intervene after a brief pause. “She’s not Taiwanese. She’s just a foreigner who was born in Taiwan.” Rather than feel heartbroken, it just stung a little. Their exclusionary definition of “Taiwanese” is nothing new to me. I still know who I am. I wish they could see it too.

I share this story with you not looking for pity or affirmation, but to suggest that we, myself included, examine our definitions of “Taiwanese” and consider whether we should expand them to better fit the reality of who Taiwanese are in 2014.

Taiwanese people come in different colors and speak many languages. We arrived thousands of years ago, hundreds of years ago, seventy years ago, thirty years ago, just a few days ago. Taiwan has, for millennia, received people from all over the world, touched their hearts, and in turn sent people back out into the world. People like you and me. Even if our feet have never touched its ground, we care about its past, present, and future, we call it a home.

We still hope for recognition, personal and international, of what we know already to be true in our hearts. We are Taiwanese. We know, for ourselves, who we are. We know.

Allow me to suggest an inclusive definition. To be Taiwanese is to self-determine. We Taiwanese are what we say we are. We are, every one of us, by our self-determination, shoring up Taiwan’s identity against those who would deny it.

I no longer live in Taiwan, joining the ranks of Taiwanese around the world who, instead, visit – annually, semi-annually, irregularly, or maybe even never. Miles (or kilometers) can never quantify the heart. Those of us who live away from Taiwan, yet leave pieces of our hearts there, tell its story around the world.

There are many kinds of Taiwanese people. I’m one of the newer kinds. I’m glad to meet you today.

* * *

Katherine Alexander is currently a graduate student at the University of Chicago. She blogs at Far From Formosa, and misses Taiwan daily.

[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





  • 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


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


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

“News” Reports on Events:


Climate and Society:

Asian America:

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, 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 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 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 on Facebook and Instagram.

Interested in sharing your own “Travel to Taiwan” photo adventure? Contact: 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 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:

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:

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.