Mon, Sep 16, 2013 - Page 12 News List

The disobedience handbook

Taiwan Rural Front is showing the people how to be non-violent insurgents

By Ho Yi  /  Staff reporter

In the following weeks, a wave of protests broke out. Protesters splashed paint or threw eggs at politicians’ homes and government institutes. Some made use of the schedules provided by the TRF, keeping security officials on the alert.

At the same time, a small group of TRF activists disguised themselves as Chinese tourists so as to get close enough to the Executive Yuan to throw eggs and paint at the building. The irony of how the government embraces Chinese tourists instead of its own citizens didn’t go unnoticed by local media and netizens, who praised the protesters’ creativity.

Graffiti artists were also on the move. On the night before the abovementioned rally, slogans were sprayed on several city landmarks including the Taipei Main Station, National Dr. Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall and the 228 Peace Memorial Park. They read: “A Nation Ruled by Jackals and Wolves” (豺狼治國) and “Give Back the Country to its People” (把國家還給人民).

Last month, TRF announced their support for non-violent resistance. The tactic is by no means a recent invention, but for the first time, TRF was taking initiative to show how people how it’s done.

During the rally last month, organizers handed out pamphlets containing the list of 198 “non-violent weapons” compiled by Gene Sharp, an American academic whose writings on non-violent struggle were reportedly used in uprisings such as the Arab Spring. TRF also included methods of resistance used in the preservation movement of Losheng (Happy Life) Sanatorium (樂生療養院), the demonstration against the Miramar Resort Hotel (美麗灣渡假村) project and protests over the Wenlin Yuan (文林苑) urban renewal project.

“We want to show people that there are many ways to resist the unjust government, and help them to realize that it is not difficult [to engage in civil disobedience]. Everybody is and has been doing it,” says Tsai, who is also an assistant professor at Shih Hsin University’s Graduate Institute for Social Transformation Studies.

Hsu agrees. But the twenty-something has been engaged in social movements since 2005 — when he fought to preserve Losheng — and he observes that protests against the system are increasingly ineffective, no matter which method is used.

Some activists are peaceful and calm, and others such as laid-off workers engage in more radical acts like blocking off railway tracks or staging hunger strikes. “Either way, the government chooses to ignore people’s demands,” he notes.


Although TRF has encouraged only non-violent struggle, critics have called the protesters irrational. To Tsai, the problem is that people often wrongly equate being rational with being disciplined.

She says the two states are not the same: During the democracy movement of the 1980s, the public posed rational requests to the government in an undisciplined and confrontational way.

“Over time, we have collectively become disciplined and much more civil and polite,” says Tsai. “[But] now we want to raise the question: Why do social movements and struggles have to be carried out within [acceptable behavioral boundaries]?”

She adds, “The perception of what is acceptable or violent protest behavior is not fixed. It is a mutual learning process and interaction between the public and activists.” Nevertheless, over the past few months, TRF’s non-violent protests have led to the arrest of several students, professors and other demonstrators.

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