Deconstructing ‘One Voice’ the Movie: Diversity, Justice, and the Media in Taiwan

A new documentary about the Sunflower Movement seeks to inspire citizen journalists to do their part
C. Ed Hsu
By

The reasons why co-director Chauming Tsai of Taipei and I made the Chinese-subtitled, English movie One Voice – Occupy Taiwan Congress documentary (movie trailer available here) was to introduce to an international audience, particularly English-speaking countries, the occupying movement in Taiwan through the voices of the diverse communities that chose to participate in the March 30 mass rally supporting the Sunflower occupation in Taipei. This short documentary explores why the movement gathered great momentum among many Taiwanese at home and abroad.

To me the “occupy congress” act was a natural extension of the “occupying movements” worldwide, in that it demanded substantive and procedural justice, and sought to avoid the marginalization of vulnerable communities. The occupiers hoped to bring the voices from Taiwan to the attention of the Taiwanese government, voices that it had otherwise failed to respond to, or chose to ignore. Through this brief introduction to our project, we hope to raise awareness on the levels and scale of the “Chinese factors” that are affecting Taiwan — and other countries worldwide that are tempted to enter into business agreements with China, for that matter — and draw attention to the potential compromises in terms of living conditions that might ensue from further engagement with China.

Secondly, we seek to draw attention to the Taiwanese government’s alleged violations of justice and public trust, including the issues surrounding police brutality. We encourage Taiwanese expatriates, wherever they are, to contribute to democracy in Taiwan.

Lastly, we discuss the rationale, and potential, of employing visual arts (such as this documentary or other mini-movies) and new media to change public policy in Taiwan.  

We took up this film project because the occupy movement touched us intimately on many levels. Most of all, as a member of the “Wild Lily” generation, I was among the student activists who protested against the Taiwanese government on several policy issues in the 1980s and 1990s. I was a drill sergeant in the military, instructing soldiers to defend Taiwan’s democracy against “Communists.” Then I was a legislative aide in the legislature, and now I am an academic working with college students. Therefore, I was naturally sympathetic to the cause and inclined to participate in the student-initiated protests. The documentary is therefore my pledge of commitment to ensuring Taiwan’s freedom. Students and colleagues at home and abroad: get involved, and change the societies in which you live, because as the saying goes, “A threat to justice somewhere, is injustice everywhere.”

One Voice, as the name implies, is in fact four voices in disguise that are heard throughout the movie. The first is the voice delivered by diverse communities in Taiwan; the second is that of the strongly business-driven, China-centric Taiwanese government and the “one voice” that it chooses to hear; the third are the “international voices” that the Taiwanese government has paid particular attention to; and the fourth voice is the inner calling of overseas Taiwanese, and the dialogue between them and that inner voice. That voice says, “No one is truly free, until all are free.”

The movie touches on several subject matters in Taiwanese society, including racial/ethnic diversity, the police powers of the state, and the influence of the media.

The first issue is diversity. Matters relating to ethnic groups and diversity are almost always politically volatile, hot button issues both in the U.S. and Taiwan. Ironically, as in the U.S., it is often not an easy subject to talk about until election time, when candidates feel they need to address the issues to attract votes. Inspired by the challenge, we made this movie with the idea of giving the government and the people the opportunity to hear the voices of diverse communities, to attend to their concerns, and to better understand their reactions.

The U.S. government has used a top-down, relatively transparent approach to addressing racial tensions. After living in the U.S. for several years, I have observed how the Obama administration operates on diversity issues: In selecting candidates for his Cabinet members, Obama often actively recruits from other minority groups. Instead of choosing among his “own” people from the African American community, he tries to avoid appointing individuals with known connections and access to him who might later be subject to political challenges. At the end of the day, the majority of American constituents are not African Americans. By choosing to select qualified individuals outside of his “own” group, Obama not only makes policies more well-rounded by incorporating different voices, it also helps reinforce the legitimacy of his administration. Such inclusivity and responsiveness to diverse voices brings hopes and dreams to the people. The genuine commitment to embracing diversity could be an underlining reason for a stronger Western world. The fact is, whether one came earlier or later to the country, anyone and everyone who entered the country legally and spent time and energy on the land should not be left out, and should be afforded equal opportunities to become successful.

Conversely, the Taiwanese government has yet to make a genuine commitment to diversity. For example, between 80 percent and 90 percent of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) appointments to Cabinet positions came from “his” community, which represents less than 50 percent of the Taiwanese population. The administration is often preoccupied with its own agenda, supported by a small group of homogeneous people, and is at times the victim of “group think” — powerful people sharing similar political leanings and ideology. As such, the legitimacy of Ma’s administration in ruling the people of Taiwan is constantly subject to heightened scrutiny. In addition, because the administration is not closely aligned with the majority of constituents, the disconnect leads to a decline in confidence, as Ma’s poor approval ratings have shown. The policies advanced by the Ma administration on education, employment, the economy, and China are largely detached from the expectations of the majority of Taiwanese constituents.

Our documentary therefore attempts to convey the importance of respecting diverse voices. The film itself is an example of how to do so. Specifically, we strive for a representative sample of participation to make a convincing case for legitimacy.

We chose a purposive sample of interviewees. By this I mean that we selected a specific group of people to meet the purpose of our study (i.e., legitimacy and diversity). Interviewees include four women and six men from different communities, including native Taiwanese, international visitors from Europe and other part of Asia speaking a total of eight natural languages. Lastly, because I am from the Min-Nan community, I consciously arranged for my native group of interviewees to appear last. Through this deliberate sampling and order of appearance, we hoped to make the film more sensitive to and respectful of other groups within Taiwanese society.

Purposive sampling reinforces the concept of legitimacy and representativeness, and hopefully makes our movie more convincing and representative of the voice of Taiwan — at least among those who chose to participate on March 30.

On the other hand, One Voice represents the voices that the current administration is highly responsive to. Ma’s Cabinet consists of an excessive amount of U.S.-educated scholars. However, they are also known for being remote and disconnected from the constituents. At one point in the movie, someone says, “President Ma can only understand English,” meaning that he only pays attention to international media; and “… the Minister of Cultural Affairs can only read English newspapers.” This is just the tip of the iceberg. It suggests that this government, by and large detached from public expectations, is more responsive to international media than to indigenous voices. Its officials are paid by Taiwanese taxpayers, but they regard themselves as being on a different level in the hierarchy, superior to the people.

We then turn to the government’s violation of the laws, namely procedural and substantive justice, as well as excessive police force and the removing of media from the scene. These are issues of freedom of assembly and of speech, as protected by the Constitution.I had a hard time coming to terms with the gross violations of the constitutionally provided rights of the people to assemble and speak up that occurred during the occupation of the legislature.

Freedom from fear is an essential element of citizenship. Like access to clean food, water, and air, freedom from fear — including freedom of speech — is a basic human right, not a privilege. The constitution protects people’s freedom of speech. Therefore, no police and judicial forces should be employed to violate those constitutionally protected rights without due process. The illegal acts by the government, including police action that used disproportionate force against unarmed protesters, and the unwarranted arrest of unarmed protesters, should be subject to heightened public and international scrutiny. The forced removal of members of the press (such as during the occupation of the Executive Yuan on March 24) was equally unacceptable.

Using images to inspire 

Last year, the New Taipei Film Festival introduced the catchphrase “creativity (of visual arts) is a form of resistance, so employ imageries to change the world.” It is quite truly the way it is. To make this documentary, we used a simple iPad and digital camera to capture the events, and to demonstrate how, using simple equipment, we can effectively communicate historical events to the rest of the world. By doing so, we hoped to motivate citizen journalists who, like us, are motivated by a desire to improve society.

In addition, through showings at film festivals we hoped to communicate with U.S.-based media and help media in other countries understand the occupy movement in Taiwan. Ironically, by working through international media, we could be helping the Taiwanese government realize that it must change its tactics. While the use of “foreign influence” to change domestic politics is not uncontroversial, the current government has mastered the art and has practiced it with great success. Let’s use elections (including presidential ones) as an example. On several occasions, weeks before the vote and when it is illegal by law to release the results of public opinion polls (which could unduly influence voting decisions), international heavyweights have come to Taiwan to “observe” the elections. One regular figure is former American Institute in Taiwan director Douglas Paal (now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace), who was in Taiwan twice in 2004/2008 before president elections, and warned of “social instability,” of “provoking” China or of alienating the U.S. if Taiwanese elected the “wrong” candidate. [Editor’s note: Mr. Paal did it again in 2012.]

Taiwan’s destiny has often been influenced by international forces and foreign media. However, this can be changed if we succeed in convincing the government to no longer seek to scare Taiwanese by influencing voters through unfair and unjust externalities.

The new model of disseminating news through citizen journalists, by directly communicating with international media to influence domestic policies, could be an effective way to change the government and its policies. It could, in fact, be more effective than attending numerous public hearings. At the end of the day, the Taiwanese government must pass muster with the open scrutiny of international media on its treatment of public protest, and avoid preventing journalists from doing their jobs.

Several people made this film possible, including 10 protesters/interviewees on the scene; more than 10 volunteer translators; as well as the many individuals who provided pictures and video material; and the many who offered comments on how to improve our product during post-production. All are acknowledged at the end of the film. The process was tedious, with dozens of hours of flight between the U.S. and Taiwan, and as many driving, for filming, and several months of post-production by a crew of two. It was worth it all.

Except for receiving a nominal copyright fee from the New Taipei Film Fest, we received no financial support to produce this documentary. It was a completely self-financed production. Why did we do this? Our only reason was to serve and protect this country’s freedom and democracy. The French-speaking interviewee in the film sums it up nicely:

Because I care for this country!”

 

C. Ed Hsu is a movie director and professor from Tainan, Taiwan. He co-directed the documentary One Voice – Occupying Taiwan Congress, which will premiere at the New Taipei Film Festival on Sept. 18 and Sept. 27. Hsu studied law and policy at the University of California College of Law and the University of Texas. He is currently an adjunct professor in California.

One Response to “Deconstructing ‘One Voice’ the Movie: Diversity, Justice, and the Media in Taiwan”

September 03, 2014 at 7:20 pm, mike said:

I am unsure where to begin with this because it is one of those articles which, though written by somebody from the arts, is at least partly about political and ethical logic. As is often, though not always the case, such articles read awkwardly and make those of us used to thinking analytically on this subject wince with their unclear, unsupported and yet nontheless typically vivid and enthusiastic assertions. So I will limit myself to pointing out just a few problems that jump out at me as particularly salient…

“Students and colleagues at home and abroad: get involved, and change the societies in which you live, because as the saying goes, “A threat to justice somewhere, is injustice everywhere.”…”

I suspect the author has got this the wrong way around. As it stands the saying makes no sense whatsoever, but if it is reversed then it becomes somewhat intelligble: “An injustice somewhere, is a threat to justice everywhere.” A government that violates the property rights of families in Taipei city and Miaoli county, for instance, can just as easily violate the property rights of anyone else in Taiwan.

“No one is truly free, until all are free.”

Another aesthetic soundbite, but the meaning is unclear because it implies a causal relationship but without actually saying what that is. In what sense does one person’s freedom require the freedom of “everybody”. Note: “everybody” is something like 7 billion people! And so far as I can tell I am not being taxed or otherwise subject to coercion on account of the fact that there are variously oppressed people around the world. So if I’m not being taxed or otherwise punished for that, then my relative freedom has no connection whatsoever to that of oppressed peoples throughout the world. I am taxed and subject to coercion of course, but for the standard government reasons, not because there are oppressed and brutally murdered people around the world.

“Matters relating to ethnic groups and diversity are almost always politically volatile, hot button issues both in the U.S. and Taiwan. Ironically, as in the U.S., it is often not an easy subject to talk about until election time, when candidates feel they need to address the issues to attract votes.”

Ironically the real irony here seems to have escaped the author: in western countries, collective identity politics is a function of representative democracy. It is not something politicians “feel” they “need” to address; it is the politicists more generally (i.e. including the media wings of the major parties) who engineered it as a means of acquiring and retaining political power. Michael Turton is constantly referring to the manipulated nature of identity politics when he notes that President Ma and other KMT politicians “become” Taiwanese at election time.

“The U.S. government has used a top-down, relatively transparent approach to addressing racial tensions. After living in the U.S. for several years, I have observed how the Obama administration operates on diversity issues: In selecting candidates for his Cabinet members, Obama often actively recruits from other minority groups.”

I very much doubt the rioting people in the town of Ferguson earlier this month could even tell you the names of President Obama’s cabinet members let alone tell you how, when they breathlessly read of Obama’s wise approach to selecting them according to their ethnic diversity, they miraculously looked out of their windows to find that racial tensions had been “addressed” and all was well.

“Purposive sampling reinforces the concept of legitimacy and representativeness…”

I see no reason to immediately grasp at representativeness as the sole and sufficient condition for legitimacy; for instance, you could have a popularly elected government of fascists, racists or socialists (assuming the three are separable as distinct groups of people). That they may be popularly elected does not mean that their rule would be “legitimate” either in the sense of conformity with constitutional stipulations, or rational ethical norms and standards.

“Freedom from fear is an essential element of citizenship. Like access to clean food, water, and air, freedom from fear — including freedom of speech — is a basic human right, not a privilege.”

This is a grossly vague claim since the rational object of “fear” is only implied (i.e. fear of police brutality) but left open-ended and undefined. Taken at face value, it is clearly nonsense: how can any one of us have a “right” to go through life without experiencing fear? Do people have a “right” to not be afraid of heights? Are a woman’s “rights” violated when she sees a scary spider? If these questions sound ridiculous then it is only because the author has advanced statements in such a wincingly crude and undefined form, unworthy of the context in which they are advanced.

Another point which should be made here concerns the nature of “rights”; these are moral claims to exercise one’s own capacities without unduly hindering other people’s exercising of their capacities. To the extent that I have a right to freedom of speech, then other people, particularly those in government, have an obligation to refrain from forcibly suppressing me from expressing myself. As such it follows that if access to goods such as clean water (which is not a natural, non-economic good like air, but one that must be produced at least in as much as it must be collected and transported) is to be considered a “right”, then other people have an “obligation” to provide that good. If other people are “obligated” to provide me with clean drinking water, then why is it I have to pay for it in bottled form at the 7-11? If the author is correct, then companies that sell water rather than providing it to the public free of charge should be brought to court (and the owners presumably imprisoned). By listing positive goods to which people should have access as a matter of “rights”, the author is unwittingly arguing in favour of forced labour.

All of this is a small shame because the author appears to be trying to claim that it was necessary to document the Sunflower protests and to do so in order to prevent future abuses of political power by the government – a cause with which I agree. This could have been done without all the unnecessary errors I have briefly ennumerated (and there were many more I chose to ignore for brevity’s sake).

Reply

Comments are welcome, but will be moderated. Remarks containing abusive language, personal attacks or self-promotion will not be published. We encourage healthy discussion and, above all, tolerance of other's views.