Pointing out his various scars, 22-year-old student Hung Chung-yen (洪崇晏), whose latest wound came from injuring his head during clashes with police last month at a protest in Taipei against the forced demolitions in Miaoli County’s Dapu Borough (大埔), recounted quietly how he had received them.
Hung, who hails from Taichung and is enrolled in National Taiwan University’s Department of Philosophy, said his first involvement in social activism was at a rally calling for the preservation of the Losheng (Happy Life) Sanatorium.
The Losheng protest stemmed from a dispute over whether the sanatorium, built in the 1930s to house people with leprosy, should be demolished to make way for the construction of a depot for the Taipei Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) Xinzhuang Line.
Hung said the rally left a great impression on him.
“I saw with my own eyes elderly people who were trying hard to live their lives, being oppressed by the government and I saw how unfriendly the police were to protesters. This nation has become too used to stepping on the disadvantaged,” Hung said.
Having joined protests ranging from those against wind turbines in Miaoli County, to rallies against the demolition of houses in Dapu Borough and against the Miramar Resort Hotel development in Taitung County, the anti-media monopoly rally in Taipei and many others, Hung has stood shoulder to shoulder with those fighting for justice in land ownership and rights for the disadvantaged.
In Miaoli County’s Yuanli Township (苑裡), residents have said that wind turbines would negatively affect their everyday lives and their health, while in Dapu Borough, the Miaoli County Government carried out enforced demolitions to make way for a development project, which includes the expansion of the Jhunan Science Park.
The protests against the Miramar Resort development were sparked by civic organizations’ allegations that the local government was allowing private corporations use of land that was traditionally used by Aboriginal groups, while the anti-media monopoly movement was led by experts and civic organizations concerned that the freedom of Taiwan’s media could be restricted and freedom of speech curtailed by cooperation between local corporate entities and Chinese capital investment in local media enterprises.
“We [activists] share a deep sense of concern, underpinned by trust, thankfulness, sorrow, anger and empathy. All of these emotions have become natural for the people whom we work with,” Hung said, adding that this depth of emotion is the reason he is able to continue his social activism.
Hung said the most valuable thing he had learned from textbooks was the Kantian concept of subjectivity, adding that all the other things he has learned during his social activism could not be learned from books.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and others like him only know how to dress in sharp business suits and talk about things they do not truly understand, Hung said.
“I sleep alongside workers on construction sites, and next to farmers on asphalt roads and work with them in their fields,” Hung said. “This is what it means for a man to be alive.”
Coming from a family where his father is a reception guard for an apartment building, his mother an accountant for a pharmacy and his grandmother the owner of a traditional hairdressers, Hung describes himself as being working class, but despite his origins his family is still worried that he has involved himself in “dangerous endeavors.”
However, Hung said he often tells his family: “If we don’t stand up [to the government], we will be next on the list for oppression.”
Hung said his family have slowly come around to his way of thinking and began to understand his adamant adherence to his ideals.
Hung’s family professed incredulity at how easily Hung — who is afraid of sharp objects and is scared of taking a needle shot — can stand in front of the wire fences at protest sites.
Hung said he is still scared, but added: “I once saw an old man at a protest who broke ranks and charged at the wire fencing while shouting protest slogans.”
The man was cut in many places by the sharp wire and bled profusely, he said.
“It was then that I told myself that instead of letting these people, who have worked hard for most of their lives, take the front line against the cruelty of institutional systems and governmental violence, the younger generation should take their place,” Hung said, adding that his fears often turn into courage when witnessing the plight of the disadvantaged.
“We need to protect them, even if we get hurt physically, they cannot make us bend mentally,” he said.