While tens of thousands of people rejoiced at various venues around the nation on New Year’s Eve to celebrate the arrival of 2013, a few hundred people, the majority of them students, huddled at Liberty Square in Taipei and later in front of the Presidential Office, to show their concern for the future of their country.
Braving cold temperatures, but for once spared the rain, the young Taiwanese were holding their fourth protest in a little more than a month, and fifth since September, against the threat of media monopolization and growing Chinese influence within the industry.
As Taipei 101 and other landmarks lit up with colorful fireworks at the strike of midnight, those young Taiwanese were discussing media freedoms and listening to speeches by academics and other influential figures under the watchful eye of police officers.
After nine hours at Liberty Square, the protesters adjourned to a spot in front of the Presidential Office, where they launched a second sit-in, as rows of police officers bearing riot shields looked on. Behind the centurions, thousands of people who had trickled in since midnight in preparation for yesterday’s flag-raising ceremony and President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) New Year address, assembled before the Presidential Office.
As the student-led movement against media monsters has gained momentum, its members have gone through ups and downs. They have faced lawsuits, been attacked by media operated by the monster itself –– the Want Want China Times Group –– and have been scolded by impeccably Confucian government officials. They have also been warmly supported by tens of thousands of people overseas, by legislators, academics and even older Taiwanese, who are often loath to associate with younger people.
And while activist Tsay Ting-kuei (蔡丁貴), in a show of solidarity, served the protesters ginger tea to help them stay warm, some revelers heckled the protesters and berated them for causing disturbances over such a long period of time.
Ironically, no sooner had those accusations been made than CTV, a TV station operated by the Want Want China Times Group, was cutting out from its reruns of the New Year’s Eve show in Greater Kaohsiung comments about media freedom by the lead singer of Sodagreen (蘇打綠) on why the group chose to perform Chang Yu-sheng’s (張雨生) song Life With No Cigarettes to Smoke (沒有菸抽的日子), an adaptation of a poem by Chinese dissident Wang Dan (王丹) about the students’ movement in the lead-up to the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989.
The complainers should remember that democracy doesn’t come free and that it needs to be cultivated so that it doesn’t wither away. Taiwan is a democracy, but that achievement cannot be taken for granted, and there are forces out there that seek to undermine its vibrancy, if not to turn back the clock altogether. Keeping democracy alive requires the same persistence and selflessness that animated those who made the democratization of Taiwan possible during the 1970s and 1980s.
How quickly people forget that the freedoms and liberties they enjoy in Taiwan today are the direct result of young, idealistic individuals, not unlike those who spent New Year’s Eve away from all the fun, who chose not to listen when figures of authority told them their behavior was “inconvenient,” irritating, or simply too dangerous. Luckily for all of us, the young protesters simply shrugged off the criticism and continued with their efforts.