“They failed to convince me. Each of them has been evading his or her responsibilities, and even anticipating our failure with schadenfreude. Having harvested from Taiwan’s status quo, these adults openly betrayed our trust by taunting us as children who are so naïve to believe that squeaky wheel gets the oil.” — Hung Rui-yang (洪瑞陽), participant at a sit-in during the occupation of Taiwan’s legislature
The beginning of resistance against authority
The First Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) was fought between Qing Dynasty China and Japan over control of Korea. Following its defeat, China “ceded” Taiwan to Japan, which incorporated it into its empire. In response to this deal, residents of the island established the Democratic Republic of Taiwan in a bid to reclaim Taiwan’s sovereignty.
The Democratic Republic of Taiwan existed for all of 148 days. Some scholars regard its establishment as simply a means to appeal for diplomatic intervention from the West. Nevertheless, its existence in history has doubtlessly symbolized the efforts and struggle of the Taiwanese people for self-determination and self-rule, despite the handicap of being small, weak, and often being treated as little more than a pawn for big power politics.
The failure of the Equalitarian Association (同化會) and the Anti-Law No. 63 debate (反六三法) prompted Taiwanese to confirm self-determination and self-rule as the goals of all future political movements. In 1921, Lin Hsien-tang (林獻堂) launched a series of petitions requesting the establishment of a Taiwan parliament. The Taiwan Governor-General’s Office in the Japanese colonial administration responded to this appeal by arresting a number of petitioners.
Taiwanese never gave up on self-rule — even during the darkest days of the colonial period. They remained ardent in their pursuit of self-determination regardless of the crackdowns. By 1934, a total of 15 mass gatherings in support of the petitions had taken place. One of those events alone attracted as many as 2,600 participants.
As World War II was winding down, the Allied powers arbitrarily decided in 1943 to hand Taiwan over to the government of the Republic of China (ROC) after hostilities had ceased. Soon thereafter, the ROC government began targeting Taiwanese dissidents around the island. The crackdowns included the 228 Massacre of 1947, the declaration of Martial Law, and the enforcement of several special laws such as the Temporary Provisions Effective During the Period of National Mobilization for Suppression of the Communist Rebellion (動員勘亂時期臨時條款), the Espionage Prevention Act During the Period for Suppression of Communist Rebellion (整肅匪諜條例) and the Statutes for the Punishment of Rebellion (懲治叛亂條例).
The ROC regime extended Martial Law to every inch of the land, a White Terror that lasted from 1949 until 1987. Taiwan Garrison Command Headquarters, the Investigation Bureau and the Military Intelligence Bureau were among the many entities set up to ensure the government’s tight monitoring and control over the thoughts and behavior of every resident of Taiwan. As a result, each and every individual was subjected to repression by the state.
Taiwan subjected to multiple layers of violence
If overtime work on a daily basis has kept you away from the news, the March 18 occupation of the legislature by the Sunflower Movement may have come as a surprise. However, if you had been paying attention to what was going on within society, you would likely have been aware that the resistance movement, led by the current generation of Taiwanese youth, did not come from nowhere, and that it is against much more than simply the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).
A review of the history of the past century shows that Taiwanese have been the victims of multiple forms of violence, including state violence by the KMT and the result of being on the receiving end of geopolitical realities and the whims of the international community.
As we saw, without prior consultation, China “gave” Taiwan to Imperial Japan in 1895, the first, though certainly not the last, time that the future of the Taiwanese people was decided solely at the discretion of others.
Just half a century later, while many colonies in other parts of the world were reaping the benefits of de-colonization and eventual independence, Taiwanese were once again suffering as a result of decisions made by others, this time in the post-WWII agreement by the Allied Forces to hand the island over to the ROC. The return to the “motherland,” however, yielded policies that for the most part were identical to those that had existed under Japanese rule. For the purpose of the KMT’s intended “re-Sinicization,” Taiwanese were prohibited from speaking their mother tongue and to explore their history.
Both the Japanese and ROC regimes required that the Taiwanese under their rule undergo assimilation and become “their people.”
Not until the repeal in 1992 of Article 100 of the ROC Criminal Code (which contained broad provisions against “intending to destroy the national polity”) were Taiwanese able to enjoy freedom of conscience. By then, Taiwan was well on its way to democratization, and the second presidential election in 2000, in which the nation experienced its first transfer of political power after decades of Japanese and KMT rule, further consolidated that reform. With a ruling party run by Taiwanese, the people were finally in a position to decide their own fate without the risk of being betrayed by those in power or from elsewhere.
But just when the Taiwanese began to feel they could put the long-awaited self-rule into practice, the KMT returned to power in 2008.
Since then, KMT and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders have behaved as if they can respond to diplomatic issues between Taiwan and China through under-the-table negotiations, making a mockery of the rule of law required in a democracy. The fact that the two parties were trained and supported by the Soviet Union in their early years perhaps helps explain this phenomenon.
A recent example of this is the fact that notwithstanding the legislature not being aware that negotiations on the Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement were ongoing, the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) government claimed that “both sides of the Taiwan Strait are fully prepared” to sign the service-trade pact.” The lack of transparency in the process was certainly to the liking of any authoritarian regime such as China. The KMT and CCP took advantage of this and prioritized “recommendations by both parties” over rule of law.
Allowing the “few in power” to make decisions about Taiwan’s future violates the principle of democratic governance and the founding spirit of the nation set forth by Taiwanese a long time ago. The Ma government went as far as to dispatch riot police and water cannons during the March 24 crackdown on protesters who were against the “black box” pact, a sad return to past practices when those in positions of authority often turned their back on the Taiwanese.
A fight for self-rule by the Taiwanese
At one point, some scholars stood for the legitimate representation of Taiwan by the ROC, arguing that as a political entity, the ROC and the KMT had gone through and completed a process of “Taiwanization,” namely by holding and participating in direct presidential elections in Taiwan.
Some Taiwanese acceded to this view and acknowledged being Taiwanese whose nationality was the ROC. But does the ROC exist in reality, and can it truly represent all the Taiwanese people? After all, only a consistent self-consciousness and recognition by others about one’s identity can define one’s existence, which is obviously not the case with the ROC.
The ROC Constitution says that Taiwan is one of the provinces in its vast territories, which goes against plain facts recognized by all. Furthermore, the legitimacy of the ROC is denied by the international community in general, with the exception of its 23 allied countries. Most importantly and a result of the above, although Taiwan is entitled to various visa waiver programs, the ambiguity of the ROC’s political status has made Taiwan stumble in its attempts to negotiate its diplomatic affairs, which has enabled some political middlemen to engage in maneuvering for personal gain.
By occupying the legislature and the Executive Yuan, and by surrounding the Zhongzheng First Precinct Taipei City Police Department on April 11, Taiwanese protesters were making a declaration: They will no longer tolerate having their fate decided by others. They were saying loud and clear that Taiwan is neither a backyard garden of the ROC for secret games, an island chain of strategic significance to the ROC’s national defense, or a shelter for politicians who have lost their battle in China.
We resist the authorities because we are committed to establishing a nation of our own in which we are entitled to genuine self-rule. To our knowledge, this is the only way we could possibly be ourselves, and be free.
Aphrodite Hung is a PhD student at Université Paris Sorbonne – Paris IV and a member of the Black Island Youth Alliance.