Sun, Jul 01, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: Challenging Goliath: Houjin’s environmental warriors

With the blessings of the gods, the residents of Houjin launched a three-year blockade of CPC’s Kaohsiung refinery in an attempt to block the construction of the Fifth Naphtha Cracker Plant

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

Lee Yu-kun, left in red, who dedicated most of his life fighting the CPC Corp for his hometown of Houjin, makes his final march on Nov. 30, 2015. He died a few days later.

Photo: Tsai Ching-hua, Taipei Times

July 2 to July 8

It was a project that even the gods were against.

When a set of divination blocks that were cast in two temples in the settlement of Houjin (後勁) near Kaohsiung “stood up” on its narrow side six times within a month — an occurrence so rare that even once would be considered a miracle — residents took it as a divine message.

A dark cloud had hung over the settlement since the state-run CPC Corp, Taiwan (CPC, 中油) in June 1987 announced its plans to build the Fifth Naphtha Cracker Plant in the area.

At the time, Chen Tsai (陳財), keeper of Shengyun Temple (聖雲宮) stood before Baoshengdadi (保生大帝, also known as the God of Medicine) and asked if he supported Houjin’s resistance to the plant’s construction. He then threw the blocks and received his divine answers.

Lee Yu-kun (李玉坤), who had just returned to his hometown to set up a signage design shop but ended up dedicating his life to the cause, says in the book Against the Fifth Naphtha Cracker Plant (堅持:後勁反五輕的未竟之路) that it was immensely moving to know that even the gods supported their cause.

Religion did not just provide spiritual support for the protesters. The area temple property association also donated NT$2 million to fund the protest in August 1987.

GROWING ANGER

The unrest “officially” began on July 2, when a group of young activists distributed flyers at the local market warning residents of harmful emissions and criticizing local leaders for “selling out Houjin.”

The next day, more than 200 showed up to a public hearing held by two city councilors, who were unable to provide satisfactory answers. The crowd marched straight to the gate of CPC’s Kaohsiung refinery to express their discontent.

On July 24, Minister of Economic Affairs Lee Ta-hai (李達海) visited the refinery, but he refused to meet the protesters and slipped out a side door. Enraged, they immediately took action and planted a flag at the gate, set up tents and began what would be known as the “West Gate Blockade” (西門圍堵).

There was reason for concern, as nearby areas had become heavily industrialized by CPC, leading to the once pristine Houjin River becoming heavily polluted long before the announcing of the naphtha cracker.

There were also other factors. One of the resistance leaders, Tsai Chao-peng (蔡朝鵬), says in Against the Fifth Naphtha Cracker Plant that most people had no idea what a naphtha cracker plant was, but the resistance was also fueled by discontent against “KMT hegemony” and unfair treatment toward residents by the CPC plant after it acquired their land. The company built hospitals and schools for its employees and their families, but Houjin residents were not granted access to the facilites.

Liu Yung-ling’s (劉永鈴) tailor shop, which he renamed “Anti-Fifth Naphtha Cracker Plant Tailor Shop” (反五輕西服工作室), became an important base for protesters. Under the principles “Do not back down, do not compromise and do not ask for compensation,” the protests focused solely on halting environmental pollution.

THE THREE YEAR BLOCKADE

Violence erupted 17 days into the blockade. Several drunk CPC workers attempted to drive a vehicle into the camp, but got stuck at the base of the flag. The workers fled after a brief confrontation, but angry residents flipped the car over and were about to set it on fire when Lee arrived on scene and stopped their actions. The media, irresponsible as ever, portrayed the protesters as baomin (暴民, “a mob”).

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