Sun, May 06, 2007 - Page 17 News List

High noon at Losheng

The plight of lepers at Losheng Sanatorium who risk being turfed out of their home of decades has sparked the most visual student-led movement Taiwan has seen in 10 years

By Ron Brownlow  /  STAFF REPORTER

Last month, 200 Taipei County police officers stormed the Losheng Sanatorium to post a demolition notice on a bulletin board in the middle of the compound. Dozens of students had paired off to block access points to the sanatorium. Police forced their way through and were met by a scrum of students who surrounded the bulletin board. Several students were arrested after the police used force to post the notice.

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One day three years ago, Lin Wan-chun (林琬純) had a political awakening. She saw a documentary about the Losheng (Happy Life) Sanatorium, a home for lepers in Taipei County that was being demolishing for a new subway line. Lin saw images of elderly men and women — many missing fingers, disfigured, or partially paralyzed — planting flowers and tending vegetables in their leafy hillside compound. She was told these lepers weren't consulted when the government decided to tear down their home. She felt sorry for the lepers, but mostly she just felt angry.

So Lin joined what would become the most visible student-led movement Taiwan has seen in more than a decade. Ever since work began on the Xinzhuang Line of the Taipei Mass Rapid Transit System, which is to terminate with a station and depot near land currently occupied by the sanatorium, members of the Losheng Youth League have been protesting. Last month the league held a 5,000-person rally in front of Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. The following day, the date Taipei County had promised it would evict the lepers holding out at Losheng, Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) announced demolition would be halted while the central government worked to broker a compromise.

"I used to feel no connection to social issues," said Lin, a 23-year-old urban planning student at National Taiwan University who spends several weeknights at Youth League planning sessions and weekends on guard patrol at Losheng and helping the lepers maintain their home. "Now I see we have the power to force the government to do something. We students have gained the confidence that now we can change things."

Lin's story is typical for members of the Losheng Youth League, a core group of a dozen college and graduate students who can text message several hundred of their peers — as well as dozens of reporters — to show up for their concerts and rallies, or in the event that the police move in to clear the sanatorium of its residents.

Claire Hu (胡清雅), a 24-year-old graduate student at National Taiwan University, used words like "pure" and "clean" to describe her interest in the cause. She is attracted to the Losheng movement because politicians aren't. "And it's very clear who's right and who's wrong," she said.

Lin and Hu said most teachers discouraged interest in social causes, and that they had tuned out whenever they saw political news on television. That changed when they visited Losheng. Over the past three years, they and the other students have learned how to prolong demonstrations by sitting on the ground and locking arms, making it harder for police the disperse them. They've figured out how to get their message heard on television, using four-character signs and chanting short slogans. And they have the phone number and e-mail of several reporters at every major newspaper and television station, who they call before each publicity event.

In March, the youth league staged a protest in front of Premier Su's Taipei home. Some 150 students sat in rows outside the main gate, locked arms and chanted slogans like "Losheng will not be moved" (原地續住樂生院!). Su never appeared, but it took police half an hour to pry the students apart and throw them in police vans. The images were plastered on the evening news and the next morning's newspapers, forcing Su to explain his position in front of the legislature.

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