In 2005 a documentary was released portraying the plight of some of Taiwan’s farming communities, focusing in particular on a community in Tainan County’s Houbi Township.
These simple, unassuming men and women, with their self-deprecating sense of humor, have not had it easy over the years, having had to put up with constant government interference against a backdrop of ever harsher economic realities as Taiwan’s fortunes decline. They have accepted their throw of the dice, their attitude captured by the sentiment Let it Be (無米樂), also the title of the documentary. They fully recognize the fact that theirs is a dying breed. The documentary was a commercial success, showing just how much ut nostalgia modern city-dwellers have for the traditional way of life of bygone times. People were thinking, “Ah, yes, those were the days, but they’re gone forever, they’re a thing of the past.”
But has agriculture really disappeared? It is certainly true that it is in decline, clear from the small numbers of people working in the sector, and by how little it contributes to the national GDP. While people in the cities live out their day-to-day lives preoccupied with politics and money, there are still farmers toiling away in the fields cultivating the land, the people of the townships around the island planting rice day in and day out, as they have done for decades.
They keep soldiering on despite the meager profits, with the price of rice stagnant, resolute in the assertion that this is a way of life that they have chosen. Their memories are inextricably linked with the land they cultivate, and in which they are emotionally invested. This is why they have remained on the land even until today.
The government used to say that it had a policy of cultivating industry with agriculture and developing agriculture with industry, but the reality is it has concentrated almost entirely on the first half of that formula. The policy of allowing fertilizer to be exchanged for grain as part of land reforms artificially suppressed the price of rice, and the Agricultural Development Act (農業發展條例) introduced planned fallow of land as a precondition for entry into the WTO.
More recently, there has been the forced appropriation of farmland in Dapu Borough (大埔), Miaoli County, and now we have the Rural Revitalization Act (農村再生條例). Is it really right for the majority to forcibly divest the weak and vulnerable of something that gives meaning to their lives? Farmers have devoted their lives to Taiwan and yet we demand more from them, down to their last shred of dignity.
People who have worked the land from dawn till dusk have now been forced to come to Ketagalan Boulevard to stage an overnight protest against the injustices levied against them. Taiwanese society is torn by fiercely opposed voices, but the passion behind the words expressed here is seated in the depth of emotion all of us feel for this land of ours.
Land is inextricably linked to meeting the fundamental needs of people. In the same way, people need memories to satisfy their most fundamental emotional needs. We believe in freedom of access to the land one grew up on and the memories invested there, and this path will lead to a future of mutual respect and understanding between different ethnic groups.
We therefore oppose this excessive and heavy-handed official intervention and call on the government to cease, with immediate effect, the forced expropriation of people’s land, and to amend the unfair laws that make such action possible. We give our full support to Saturday’s overnight protest outside the Presidential Office on Ketagalan Boulevard.
An open letter from the National Taiwan University’s Dalawasao Club.
TRANSLATED BY PAUL COOPER
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