Thu, Jul 25, 2013 - Page 8 News List

Hardline tactics to quell dissent

J. Michael Cole 寇謐將

What is special about this otherwise ordinary, skinny young man is that he does not fit the stereotype with which the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have become comfortable over the years. For Wang, who works in the visual arts sector, is of second-generation “Mainlander” stock, which means absolutely nothing for a generation that was born here in Taiwan and identifies with the land (Wang even speaks Taiwanese). However, for conservative forces, activists like him are problematic as they cannot be placed in the typical category of ethnic conflict pitting “Mainlander” against “Taiwanese.”

The CCP, and in many ways the KMT as well, would like nothing more than for Taiwan to remain divided along the old “ethnic” lines, but with Wang and several others his age, such divisions, both in terms of one’s “ethnicity” and voting preferences, are disappearing fast. Increasingly, as society mobilizes against a series of outrages orchestrated or condoned by the government, Taiwan’s ethnic groups are fighting alongside one another, and oftentimes are doing so in cooperation with, or in the name of, individuals who are evidently of different “ethnic” background or political views.

Only in today’s Taiwan could young Taiwanese leaders like Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆), from Greater Tainan, get themselves into trouble with the authorities for the sake of saving a house inhabited by an elderly KMT soldier who continues to revere Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), and whose memorabilia of the late dictator went down with the house.

It is no surprise that the authorities, faced with rising, organized and heterogeneous activism, would seek to make examples of young men like Wang, or Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷), a Hakka from Miaoli who has often been targeted by law enforcement and pro-China media conglomerates (Chen was taken away by police at the weekend for throwing paint at the house of the Miaoli County commissioner’s house to protest against the Dapu demolitions). In doing so, the government has increasingly relied on the courts, presumably hoping that fines, sentences and community service would suffice to dissuade youth from continuing their opposition.

Wang and Chen are not alone. One day after the houses were demolished in Dapu, sparking nationwide outrage among citizens, academics, journalists, documentary filmmakers and the artistic community, Kuo Guan-jun (郭冠均), a young activist from the department of sociology at National Taiwan University, was arrested by police as he participated in one of the many flash protests that were launched that day targeting senior Cabinet officials.

The next day, Kuo appeared in court, where he was accused of “endangering public safety” during a campaign event for President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).

Images of the court schedule posted on the Internet showed the bails that had been set for a variety of people who were to appear before him that day. The offenses were for drunk driving, theft and so on, and the bails ranged from NT$5,000 to NT$10,000. For some reason, Kuo’s was set at NT$30,000, which the Taiwan Rural Front, an NGO supporting land and farmers’ rights, eventually posted.

If found guilty, Kuo could be sentenced to up to five years’ imprisonment. Kuo never even came close to Ma.

Later the same day, activists Wang Chung-ming (王鐘銘) and Wu Hsueh-chan (吳學展) were detained and charged with violations of the Social Order Maintenance Act (社會秩序維護法) during an egg-throwing protest in front of the KMT headquarters in Taipei.

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