Born into a farming family, 63-year-old Liu Ching-chang (劉慶昌) from Hsinchu County’s Chutung Township (竹東) has vowed to safeguard the 1 hectare of farmland passed down from his forebears, even if it means standing up against the government and giant corporations.
Standing in stark contrast to nearby high-rise buildings and the industrialization of the township, Liu’s farmland is seen by many as an earthly paradise that produces chewy and prime-quality rice.
About a hundred years ago, Liu’s great-grandfather migrated and settled down in the township’s Erchongpu (二重埔), where he constructed a traditional three-section compound house opposite the farmland.
Having lived an economical life, Liu’s father saved up every penny and converted the family’s house made of dirt and straw into a brick building about 55 years ago.“Standing on the open field in front of our compound, one can catch sight of the snowline on Dasyueshan [Big Snow Mountain] and look up at the Big Dipper in the starry sky,” Liu said.
“The sky is just bigger here than in Taipei,” Liu said with pride.
While the time-blasted brick compound has been Liu’s home for more than six decades and it now accommodates five generations of his family, industrialization has brought about dramatic changes to the neighborhood.
Pointing at the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) and the second-stage expansion of the Hsinchu Science Park in the township, as well as the many high-rise residential buildings erected in the neighborhood, Liu said the distance between his farmland and the high-rise buildings is a mere 50m.
Encompassed by industrialization and modernization, Liu’s inherited farmland has long been the target of expropriation during the planning processes of the third-stage expansion of Hsinchu Science Park, an urban planning project close to the ITRI and the construction of a highway interchange in Erchongpu.
“When an expropriation is blocked, another one just emerges,” Liu said, adding that the land seizure problem has not yet been fully addressed.
Over the course of 34 years, several Erchongpu residents, including Liu, have been embroiled in a long-running fight against government expropriation of their land, a battle that Liu said had instilled “the secret of successful protest.”
From conceiving protest slogans and staging skits during rallies to employing social media, Liu said only by treating every battle as his last could he gather enough strength to fight social injustice.
However, Liu not only fights his own battles, but also the battles of those in a similar predicament.
In June 2010, the Miaoli County Government moved in excavators and forcibly dug up and flattened rice paddies belonging to farmers in the county’s Jhunan Township (竹南) who had refused to give their land to the government to make room for the expansion of the Jhunan Science Park.
Upon learning of the incident, Liu immediately chartered two tour buses carrying scores of farmers from Erchongpu and headed straight to Miaoli to stand side-by-side with those farmers.
Fourteen self-help organizations across the country then formed the Alliance for the Defense of Farming Villages to fight for farmers’ rights, and they chose Liu to head the group.
After thorough deliberation in front of Liu’s compound, members of the alliance staged an overnight protest against government land expropriations on July 17 the same year on Ketagalan Boulevard in front of the Presidential Office in Taipei.
On the first anniversary of the overnight protest last year, the alliance took to the streets and staged another demonstration in the same location, reiterating its call for “land justice” and an amendment to the Land Expropriation Act (土地徵收條例).
Seeking support from the international community, the alliance joined La Via Campesina — a global alliance of 150 farmers’ rights groups. Liu took part in its regional conference last year to speak up for Taiwanese farmers.
“We [farmers] are all small shrimps that have to stand up against the big whale of government and giant corporations,” Liu said during a recent visit by a South Korean farmers’ self-help group.
Although Liu often “puts down his hoe and takes to the street,” he never ceases tending to his rice paddy.
Liu starts his day at 4:30am each morning. He first stops by a nearby temple and pays tribute to the God of the Earth, before he goes inspecting his rice crops and uprooting weeds.
“My rice crops are irrigated with water that comes from a natural spring in Erchongpu and produce a chewy exterior. That is why the second crop of rice from my land has all been pre-sold before it is even harvested,” Liu said.
Driven by a sense of mission to safeguard his farmland and the high-quality rice, Liu said he has made a vow before God that he would never give up on his inherited profession.
“The deeper the bond with the earth, the greater the power one has to shield the land,” Liu said, expressing regret over how nowadays farmers are forced to defend their land with their lives.
“The revolution has not yet succeeded, all comrade farmers must keep moving forward,” Liu said.