Right around the time that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) issued a statement saying he would not meet to discuss the cross-strait service trade agreement with students who have occupied the Legislative Yuan since March 18, Mayday lead vocalist Ashin (阿信) stood on the stage of a packed Madison Square Garden, where his idol John Lennon played 40 years earlier, and began to choke up.
Ashin said he forgot to call his mother back home in Taiwan for her birthday, perhaps because of the difference in time. When Ashin finally reached her, his mother was not in the best of spirits.
“Mom said she wasn’t happy because our home was in the midst of unprecedented uncertainty,” Ashin said, as Stone (石頭), one of the guitarists, held his head and wept.
“I wish someone could tell us what our future holds. I was once able to envision a place where everybody trusted one another, where everybody paid attention to one another, where the strong listened closely to the fears of the weak.
“But these past few days, I can no longer see that place.”
Although Ashin did not mention Taiwan, the trade pact or the occupation of the Legislative Yuan directly by name, for the thousands of Taiwanese fans who came to watch Mayday make history as the first Mandarin band to perform at Madison Square Garden, Ashin was speaking directly to them, their struggle and their country.
Bursts of “Go Taiwan!” (台灣加油) ricocheted through the arena; some fans wrapped themselves in the Republic of China flag. Others lifted their glow-sticks and lighted cellphones. Everyone was listening.
Planned long before students occupied the Legislative Yuan and Executive Yuan this past week to protest the pact — a trade agreement that opponents say will give China unfair competitive advantages in Taiwan’s economy — Mayday’s concert in New York attracted mostly Chinese and Taiwanese fans eager to hear the Taiwanese alternative rock band perform favorites like Racing Car (軋車) and Embrace (擁抱). But the student protests were still on everyone’s mind.
During a press conference after the concert, reporters asked Ashin about his on-stage remarks and whether they were directed at Taiwan. Ashin did not elaborate further, and when one reporter asked a related follow-up question, a Mayday spokeswoman told journalists to confine their questions to the group’s efforts over the last 15 years that have gotten them to where they are today.
In the past, Mayday has lent its name to a number of social causes in Taiwan, including the government’s seizure of land for industrial use in Miaoli County’s Dapu Borough (大埔) in 2010; the construction of a fourth nuclear power plant in 2011; and the death of army corporal Hung Chung-chiu (洪仲丘), who collapsed during a punishment training exercise last year. Unlike the cross-strait trade agreement, none of those issues involved China.
Debate about the band’s position on the trade pact surfaced Friday, when the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper the Liberty Times reported that Ashin angered some Chinese fans after the band’s rousing, anthemic music video Qilai (起來) was posted on Mayday’s Facebook page. Some Taiwanese interpreted this as the band’s endorsement of protests in Taiwan. Soon after, Chinese fans took to Weibo, China’s most popular microblog, and blasted Ashin as an “artist who supports Taiwanese independence,” the article reported. If “Ashin doesn’t like China, he can get the hell out,” wrote a Weibo user, according to the article.