Tue, Apr 22, 2014 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: What lies behind soapbox speeches?

By now everyone has realized young people in Taiwan desperately want to be heard. It appears that the three-week-long Sunflower movement, during which students and protesters talked about their vision for the country inside the legislative chamber and on the streets outside, was not enough.

Since the students’ withdrawal from the legislature on April 10, various open-air forums have been organized nationwide for participants to vent their anger against President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration, frustration about their prospects for the future and anything else they want to say.

These creative forums are derived from the “Jianmin Liberation Zone” (賤民解放區) which was organized by a breakaway group with a different ideology from the main Sunflower movement leadership and staged outside the legislative compound during the occupation.

The first event in Taipei was named the “Bowel Blossom Forum” (大腸花論壇). Organizers nationwide quickly copied the idea and decided to give the event different names — such as “Fish Intestine Blossom Forum” (魚腸花論壇) in Tainan and “Bowel Cake Forum” (大腸餅論壇) in Taichung.

In this arrangement, using a few tables, a sound system and equipment for online broadcasting, hundreds, sometimes more than 1,000 participants at a time are able to have their 15 minutes of fame, speaking to the crowd about whatever they want. It is reminiscent of London’s Hyde Park, where speakers traditionally stand on soapboxes to debate politics, religion and other issues in Speakers’ Corner. Londoners have been gathering in Hyde Park to debate the issues of the day since the 19th century.

The speeches in Taiwan, given not only by students but also professors and others, were always passionate and energetic, but the most attention-grabbing aspect was that the speeches were laden with profanities. There also tended to be all-you-can-drink beer to help participants better enjoy the atmosphere.

While police in every city were deployed to prevent the activities from developing into something unimaginable, they usually watched in silence.

Occasionally things got a little out of control, such as on Saturday night when entertainer Cheng Chia-chen (鄭家純) — better known as “Chicken Cutlet Girl” (雞排妹) — took off her bra and reveled in cheers from the crowd.

That the forums were able to generate momentum in almost every major city on the west coast served as a warning to the Ma administration, which by now should be able to see how frustrated Taiwanese, in particular the young, are about the direction the country is going six years into Ma’s tenure.

When public policy is not being discussed in a substantial way in the legislature, mainstream public opinion is never respected by the government and people are unable to do anything to disrupt the “status quo” or bring down elected officials they see as unqualified to represent them, perhaps all they can do is release their anger in profanity.

Intriguingly, none other than Su Beng (史明), who is known for his devotion to socialism, Taiwanese independence and a decade-long effort to overthrow the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regime, by military means if necessary, said it best when he told participants in the forum on Saturday night that “it took more than profanity or violence” to bring down the KMT.

“We are Taiwanese who have our own integrity and way of doing things. We should never lose sight of our goal,” the 97-year-old said.

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