A book about social movements with a particularly apt title is Social Movements: Between the Balcony and the Barricade by Ron Roberts and Robert Marsh Kloss, published almost 40 years ago. The book’s title describes in a nutshell the divide that exists today between Taiwan’s governing authorities and the popular forces opposing President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).
The balcony represents a certain social class, together with the power and influence that members of that class enjoy. It is also a symbol of the security and comfort in which they live. The barricade, on the other hand, suggests conflict. The barricade divides one group of people who live a separate existence, enjoy specific interests and want to maintain the existing social order from another group of people who want to change this social order.
Consider the scene in Taipei on Oct. 10, Double Ten National Day. On the one hand, there were the VIPs in their neatly pressed suits and glamorous dresses, securely seated in their balcony boxes. On the other, there were the crowds of protesters wearing headbands, holding banners and placards and shouting slogans over on the other side of barricades that had been erected to keep them out.
This was probably not the kind of National Day celebration that would make most people in Taiwan proud of their country.
While the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) is notorious for ignoring public opinion, its members are experts at securing their interests within the existing power structures. The president whose approval rating recently fell as low as 9.2 percent, is also KMT chairman, thus enjoying undisputed leadership over the party.
The KMT’s rigid Leninist structure and the lure of its huge ill-gotten assets are two factors that persuade the great majority of its members — from the members of its Central Standing Committee and legislative caucus at the top, down to party delegates and party workers, to sit comfortably in their allotted balcony seats. They know that that is the way to maintain their vested interests. This is what props up the KMT’s seemingly rock-solid and impregnable ruling machine.
However, because of the KMT’s control structure, in which its members all share common interests and fear the party’s iron discipline, it lacks any forces that might speak out critically and carry out internal reform. This flaw means that the party’s destiny must be to drift further and further away from public opinion.
That is why, starting from the visit of China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) to Taiwan in 2008, the KMT regime found that the only way to keep feeling good about the way it was running the country was to keep the crowds of protesters well away, outside razor-wire barricades.
This theme has been taken even further this year with the advent of the “October siege” in response to naked political struggle, to the extent that the KMT has had to exclude the protesting masses even more thoroughly by delaying its national congress and finding a new venue that it hopes will allow delegates to sit securely in their balcony seats, without being disturbed by the crowds beyond the barricades.
What is certain is that, as the Ma regime becomes increasingly inclined to sit safely inside a circle of barricades, the people outside those barricades will have to resort to shouting through megaphones and throwing shoes to reach across the fence and communicate with the rulers in their balcony seats. Other channels of communication that would normally be available in a civil society will no longer be an option. This change for the worse may be what eventually defines Ma’s place in history.
Chi Chun-chieh is a professor in the Department of Ethnic Relations and Cultures at National Dong Hwa University.
Translated by Julian Clegg