Independent band Country Boys (農村武裝青年) are not strangers to sit-ins or rallies, using their satirical lyrics to present the plight of farmers and disadvantaged groups, or questioning whether happiness based on large manor houses and developed economies was really happiness.
To many, the band represents the contradictions of the younger generation, and to an extent their longing to go back to their roots.
Hailing from Changhua County’s Tianjhong Township (田中), Chiang Yu-ta (江育達), the band’s guitarist and lead singer, said he started on the music scene when he was in college, at a time when punk rock was the craze in Taichung.
Feirenbang (廢人幫) and other punk bands were the stars of the period, and served as catalysts that led to the rise of Live House, an establishment which to this day still offers a great platform for music performances, Chiang said.
Chiang was a student then at Tunghai University’s Department of Philosophy, and he, along with anti-nuclear song writer Wu Chih-ning (吳志寧), were among the first staff at the establishment.
Fast forward a few years, and Chiang had completed his compulsory military service, worked as a salesperson at Yamaha Musical Instruments, started his first band — Guan Tui Tsng Kha lai (阮對庄腳來), which means “We come from the countryside,” in Hoklo (commonly known as Taiwanese) — and performed at Losheng (Happy Life) Sanatorium.
The sanatorium in New Taipei City’s (新北市) Sinjhuang District (新莊) was built in the 1930s to house leprosy patients, a disease at the time believed to be highly contagious and incurable.
Decades after its completion, the complex’s residents were forcibly relocated as the Taipei City Department of Rapid Transit Systems planned to demolish the sanatorium complex and build a maintenance depot for the Sinjhuang MRT line, a plan heavily opposed by Losheng residents and preservation activists.
It was an event that led Chiang to meet farming activist Yang Ru-men (楊儒門) and the beginning of a close partnership with Yang on agricultural protest events and also the start of Chiang’s social activism.
Yang, popularly known as the “rice bomber,” drew national attention in 2004 when he was arrested for placing 17 homemade bombs in public spaces, including telephone booths. Only two of the bombs exploded, but no one was injured. At his trial, Yang said he had made the bombs to draw the government’s attention to the plight of local farmers after the nation started importing rice.
Sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison, Yang was released in June 2007 on special pardon by then-president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).
Chiang said he then formed the Country Boys band with schoolmate Hsiao Chang-chan (蕭長展), a friend he met at the Rock Music club at Tunghai University, adding that the naming of the band was a tip of the hat to Yang and his efforts.
Chiang said he used several incidents that happened at the time — such as governmental policies on relocating the Losheng Sanatorium, forced relocation of Aboriginal villages from New Taipei City’s (新北市) Sanying District (三鶯) and Changhua County’s Sijhou Township (溪州) — as the creative spark to write the Dirge for the Tribes (部落哀歌), No to Farming (不願再種田) and the famed No Justice, No Peace (沒正義就沒和平) often heard in recent protests and rallies.
All three songs were included in the album Fuck! Government! (幹！政府), Chiang said, adding that the band has another album with songs on controversial issues concerning the Central Taiwan Science Park, namely water and land grabbing.