Trials and travails of a Taiwanese-American kid in Taiwan

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Translated Action Statement from the "Wild Strawberry Movement"

The student movement to revise the Assembly and Parade Law has been formally renamed the "Wild Strawberry Movement", a reference to both the "Wild Lily Student Movement" of 1990 (demanding democratic reforms to provide for the direct election of the president and all legislators), as well as the popular term for the generation born in the 1980s ("the strawberry generation" - stereotyped as self-absorbed, and weak).

The students have issued a formal statement, which I have translated below (again feel free to pass it around). The original statement can be found on the official site for the movement.

Action Statement from the "Wild Strawberry Movement"

我們是一群憂心臺灣混亂現況與未來發展的大學教授、學生、文化工作者和市民。我們看到了近日來警察不當執法、侵害言論自由,導致合法集會的民眾受傷等事件。我們驚覺事態嚴重 —這已經不是維安有否過當的技術問題、更不只是政黨認同選擇的問題,而是暴力化的國家公權,對市民社會的嚴重挑釁和侵犯。我們為此感到擔憂,因此從 11/06上午11點開始,聚集在行政院門口抗議。我們在11/07下午四點遭到警方驅離,我們現在改聚集在中正紀念堂,並發起長期抗戰。

Movement Origins
We are a group of university professors, students, cultural workers, and citizens who are concerned about Taiwan's current state of disorder and future development. Over the past few days, we have seen numerous instances of police overreaction and suppression, which have caused injury to citizens exercising their right to free speech. Through reports in the media, we have come to realize the seriousness of the current situation. It is no longer a technical question of excessive law enforcement tactics, nor is it simply a partisan issue between supporters of various political parties. This is a proliferation of state sponsored violence that is challenging and attacking civil society. Our concern over this state of affairs led us to peacefully protest at the gates of the Executive Yuan, beginning at 11AM on November 6. At 4PM on November 7, we were dispersed by the police. We have since regrouped at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall , where we plan to engage in a long term struggle.


Oppose Police Overreaction and the Suppression of Human Rights by the Unconstitutional Assembly and Parade Law
Inappropriate acts taken by police in recent days include the following: Forcibly shutting down major highways. Prohibiting citizens from waving the national flag in public. Prohibiting citizens from stating that "Taiwan does not belong to China" in public. Confiscating the personal property of citizens, such as flags and signs with slogans. Forcibly detaining citizens filming areas near the Grand Hotel with handheld camcorders, without following due process. Preventing citizens from flying balloons protesting toxic Chinese food products. Forcibly detaining citizens on a moped carrying a Tibetan flag. Ordering the closure of a music store playing Taiwanese music. The police have tried to justify these repressive actions by claiming violations of the Assembly and Parade Law, the Social Order Maintenance Law, and invoking the Regulations on Police Duties, while ignoring the fact that their actions are in violation of the Constitution, Civil Law, and other higher level laws guaranteeing the peoples' free speech and property rights.


On the Importance of Personal Freedom
We believe in the importance of freedom. Imagine for a moment what would have resulted had the government ordered the police to crack down on the 2007 Red Shirt demonstration in front of the Presidential Office. The citizens of Taiwan would not have had the opportunity to listen to other opinions. It was only because they were not dispersed that different voices could be heard. Only by being exposed to numerous different viewpoints, can we learn how to determine for ourselves the quality of different opinions. This is an essential requirement for a functioning civil society, and illustrates the importance of free speech.


It is because free speech is so important that its protection is enshrined in the Constitution. Other laws must support the Constitution, facilitating its execution and specifying its limits. Despite this, the Assembly and Parade Law - left over from the authoritarian days of martial law, gravely damages the right to free speech. By requiring protesting citizens to acquire a permit for a lawful demonstration, rather than simply notifying the government beforehand, it allows protests to be declared illegal before they even take place. Its excessive provisions for restricted areas off limits to protesters, allows governmental organs to insulate themselves from being challenged by public opinion. By granting the police excessive powers, it allows the police to take the place of judges in a court of law.

Concrete Demands


Amend the Assembly and Parade Law
We provide the following suggestions for revising the Assembly and Parade Law: (1) Change the current permit system to a notification system. The government has no right to examine the peoples' motivations beforehand, and declare unfavorable demonstrations to be illegal before they even take place; (2) Reexamine the current provisions for restricted areas. Demonstrations and marches allow unarmed citizens without any other means to make their grievances known and petition for redress. The current restricted areas do not allow the people to challenge governmental agencies; (3) Clarify permissible actions by the police in enforcing the law. Do not grant a blank check for the police to exercise whatever methods they see fit; (4) Make the new law an administrative law, rather then penal law. Compared to other laws, the current Assembly and Parade Law calls for heavier punishment for the same illegal actions, violating the principle of proportionality.


Punish Police Personnel Engaging in Inappropriate Behavior
The recent clashes between the people and the police have left us with a great sense of sorrow. We have been asked why we have not stood out to condemn violent mob behavior. To this, we provide the following response: We are determined to protect and support the people in freely expressing their opinions, and condemn any and all acts of violence, be they from the people or the police. From the many events of the past few days, we have seen that while violent acts on the part of the people can be regulated by law, law enforcement agencies can also abuse their power to justify unlimited brutality without any appropriate restriction or regulation. It is because of this that we condemn the government and the police for increasingly ignoring the law, and for inappropriate use of force to violently suppress the rights of the people to freely express their views. We request that a full investigation be carried out to identify police officers who abused their authority, and that appropriate punitive measures be taken. Additionally, the directors of the police and national security agencies who are ultimately responsible must step down.


President Ma must Apologize
The use of force by police is a symbol of state sponsored violence, and should only be used when absolutely necessary to safeguard the rights of the people to life, liberty, and property. Its use should never be employed without the utmost care. However, police agencies are only passive mechanisms that execute the orders issued to them. The positions and directives of the government, as well as the ruling party, will directly impact how rank and file police officers go about their duties. We condemn the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou for trampling on the spirit of freedom and democracy that are fundamental to the foundation of our nation, and demand that he apologize.


Creating a movement of Civil DisobedienceWe are a movement of civil disobedience initiated by students, and with students as our core. When the government invokes the unconstitutional Assembly and Parade Law, or abuses lawful governmental authority, subsequent governmental actions are illegitimate. The people have a right to refuse to obey illegitimate governmental actions. We hope that all people who agree with our statement will join us in this movement to demand that President Ma Ying-jeou and Premier Liu Chao-shiuan apologize to all citizens; that National Police Agency Director-General Wang Cho-chiun and National Security Bureau Director Tsai Chao-ming step down; and that the Legislative Yuan immediately amend the Assembly and Parade Law so that it does not threaten the rights of the people.

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Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Politics of Chinatown

It's been a short visit back to Taiwan, but eventful nonetheless, first the elections, then backpacking around northern Taiwan. After ten days of enjoying myself at home, I find myself on the way to grad school with a six hour layover in San Francisco. San Francisco occupies a bit of a soft spot in my heart. As a kid born to one of the many students Taiwan sent abroad in the 70s and 80s, my parents would often take me up to The City on weekends.

Taking BART up from SFO, I only have time for a quick walk from Union Square up through Chinatown. It's a route my folks used to take me on a lot as a kid. Chinatown hasn't changed much from what I remember from the late 80s and early 90s - tightly packed buildings with small stores selling everything from groceries to souvenirs, Cantonese voices floating through the air, what smells like a strange mix of fragrant spice, exotic stir fry, car exhaust, something rotting, and the salty breeze from the Pacific.

I never noticed it much as a kid, but politics is alive and well in Chinatown. Walking down the main throughfares one sees a growing number of buildings flying the Five Starred Red Flag of the People's Republic of China, while the Blue Sky White Sun and Red Earth of the Republic of China flutters above others. Most prominant amongst the latter is a large white building located on Stockton Street, just outside the Stockton Tunnel, which borders the southern edge of Chinatown. This is the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall of San Francisco. Emblazoned in traditional characters on the front of the building are words "Chinese Kuomintang U.S. Branch". A new banner "Celebrating the election of Messrs. Ma and Siew as the 12th President and Vice-President of the Republic of China" hangs prominently on the front of the building.

Yet this KMT is distinct from the KMT of Chiang Kai-shek - led by what some call the Shanghai-clique that spent the years after the 1911 revolution fighting first against successive northern warlord governments, then the Japanese, before relocating to Taiwan where they vowed to reconquer the Mainland. It certainly bears less and less resemblance to the KMT of today, based on the islands of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu whose candidates were just elected to the presidency a little over a week ago. The party headquarters sitting in the oldest Chinatown in North America is the final remminant of the original KMT - the Cantonese speaking quasi-secret revolutionary society turned political party, funded by overseas Chinese, responsible for the 1911 revolution that overthrew the last emperor, establishing the Republic of China - the state that those of us from Taiwan still (nominally at least) owe our allegiance to. Party members here still cling to the hope that China will one day be ruled again under the KMT flag. I remember once helping an elderly gentleman in Los Angeles put up what so many of us simply refer to these days as the flag of Taiwan. "This" he said proudly, "is the flag of China".

I wonder how many KMT members living in Taiwan today still believe that.

Back at SFO, amongst all the newspapers on sale in the terminal, is the latest copy of The World Journal (世界日報) - a daily traditional Chinese language newspaper serving the overseas Chinese communities of North America, affiliated with the United Daily News - one of the largest KMT leaning newspapers in Taiwan. Like most of the papers in Taiwan, the news is still dominated by coverage of President-elect Ma, reflecting perhaps the excitement of the KMT at being so close to regaining control of the executive branch after 8 years.

The main headline covers the unrest in Tibet. The second front page story is on the latest from President-elect Ma on cross-strait politics and mutual non-denial. The title reads: "馬:我是台灣的總統" ("Ma: I am the President of Taiwan").

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