How did National Tsing Hua University student Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷) come to be called “Taiwan’s rudest student”? He has been threatened with a lawsuit for slander and the pro-blue camp Chinese-language United Daily News blasted him for failing to uphold the Confucian tradition of “honoring teachers.” How did an open legislative committee meeting come to be referred to by a well-known academic as a “cultural revolution” in which students denounced teachers, leading the legislature — the body that invited Chen to participate in the meeting — to amend its procedures? How did a university that boasts of liberal traditions and values and claims to encourage students to participate in public affairs end up clamping down on their activities? It is because they all fear the emergence of student power in the nation.
This year will be remembered as the year in which student power was born in Taiwan. In late March, more than 300 students staged an overnight sit-in to protest the forced demolition of houses in the Wenlin Yuan (文林苑) urban renewal project in Taipei’s Shilin District (士林). Although they were eventually evicted, the city government was forced to suspend all urban renewal projects and no construction has started at Wenlin Yuan.
When employees of textile maker Hualon Corp went on strike over unpaid wages this summer, students blocked company trucks with their own bodies, raising the spirits of the more than 200 unemployed workers who in the end received much better severance conditions than originally offered.
During National Taiwan University’s (NTU) recent anniversary, students took action to support the residents of Shaoxing Community, which is located on university-owned land and slated for demolition. The students’ actions resulted in NTU making concessions and reconciling with community residents.
Following the campaign to end ownership of television stations by the government, political parties and military in 1995, media reform was promoted by only a few academics. If it had not been for the threat of a lawsuit over the “walking fee” incident in July, when Want Want China Times Group media outlets accused students protesting against the group’s proposed acquisition of China Network Systems’ (CNS) cable TV services of being paid to take part in the demonstrations, the group’s move to acquire CNS and later on, the Next Media Group, would not have attracted so much public attention.
This threat was what angered students and led to a series of protests: a demonstration against the Want Want China Times Group on July 31, a protest against media monopolization organized by the student group Youth Alliance Against Media Monsters on Sept. 1, a protest outside the Executive Yuan on Nov. 26 and another one outside the Fair Trade Commission on Nov. 29.
On many different issues, the emergence of student power has changed the original pattern of protests in ways that have had practical implications. Confronted by this new power, the older generation may not be able to understand what young students are thinking because they remain stuck in their own way of thinking and behavior. Some worry that the opposition parties might use students to achieve their own purposes, destroying the illusion that the students are squeaky-clean and innocent. Others can’t wait to pass moral judgement based on the Confucian precepts emphasizing the hierarchical relationships between heaven, earth, emperor, parents and teachers.