Friday, August 03, 2012

Have the Strawberries Found Their Voice?

Taipei Times editorializes on the Strawberry Generation:
For those who have long complained about the seemingly apathetic Taiwanese youth on matters of politics, the past two weeks must have had elements of both surprise and relief, with two large student mobilizations taking place in two cities on two different continents: London and Taipei.

The catalyst in both instances was injustice — the removal, following official complaints by China, of the Republic of China (ROC) national flag at a non-Olympic venue in London, and the creation of a pro-China media monster through the acquisition by the Want Want China Times Group of China Network Systems’ (CNS) cable TV services, and the subsequent threat of lawsuits by a Want Want employee against a student.

Hundreds gathered on Regent Street in London, proudly showing the ROC flag, while about 700 protested in front of the CtiTV building in Taipei, calling for freedom of speech to be respected. In stark contrast to the protests organized by the pan-green camp, where the majority of participants are usually above the age of 50, those two events involved students and young professionals who were educated, connected and angry. They were, in essence, the same type of people who took to the streets earlier this year when two houses were flattened in a suburb of Taipei to make way for an urban renewal project; or those who turned up in large numbers to confront police and contractors when farmland was seized to accommodate large-scale industrial projects.

Issues of justice, rather than abstracts of ethnicity or nationality, are what lights the fire in the belly of Taiwanese youth today. For them, the past is in the past and the issue of who they are has already been settled; what they look to is the future and the uncertainties created by injustice. That is why one can hardly find anyone below the age of 30 at protests against, say, the so-called “1992 consensus,” but thousands will roll up their sleeves when someone’s property is threatened by state rapacity.

All of this occurs at a time when policymaking within the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration appears to have been taken over by an old, conservative wing of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), while moderates in the pan-blue camp have grown largely silent.
When I went down south after the Morakot disaster I was struck by the large numbers of young people -- organized by local governments -- who had poured out to help the victims. The Strawberries are not soft, but their causes are not the same as those of their parents.

The TT's claim that Strawberries "know who they are" is entirely correct; the problem is that their identity is incomplete -- as I've noted before, it's a not- identity: "we are not Chinese, we are Taiwanese." But it should be noted that the Strawberry generation maintains harmony amongst its members by avoiding discussion of the Blue-Green divide and papering over those tribal identities with silence. The reason social injustice motivates them is probably fall-out from that general generational decision: social injustice is something everyone across the Blue-Green divide can agree on.

The Losheng Leper Sanatorium was probably the first issue for the new generation. Another key moment was the Wild Strawberry movement, which fought for public assembly rights. Although it worked hard to be non-partisan, the government and its servants struck heavily at it by painting it as a pan-Green tool. Assembly rights are overtly political rights.... what's interesting in the WantWant case is that the side supporting a free and open media environment has successfully avoided the charge of being a pan-Green tool, even though WantWant and its CEO are rabidly pro-China. It seems to me that unlike in the Wild Strawberry case pan-Green politicians appear to have maintained a discreet distance. Moreover, the student who was threatened with a lawsuit for posting pictures on the internet is someone that every young person in Taiwan can identity with; they all use the internet as naturally as breathing and they all post pictures on social networks.....
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Geoff said...

China's Want Want Corp control over multi media and the manipulation of politics is really no different from that of the Murdoch, Packer and Fairfax dynasties of Ex Australia but now of the USA. They have been playing political and financial games for decades. One could say that "Ah, but they are in a democratic country" but it still has not stopped them from bending the rules and manipulating politicians and the public. Just look at the phone hacking scandals and the controls that management has over editors and editors of journalists..

Tommy said...

Maybe. But it would be hard to make an argument that Murdoch et al serve a politically subversive purpose. The USA is in no danger of being taken over by a government that backs Murdoch and his pals.

Anonymous said...

The so-called strawberries have always known where they stand and what they hold important. They look at the major political parties as two sides of the same coin - both corrupt and unrepresentative.

nick said...

I think it's an interesting comparison. What the phone hacking scandal has been revealing in the UK is that both major parties were obsessed with courting the favour of Murdoch and that he had constant access to politicians at the highest level -- they came to him, literally in the case of Blair flying out to Australia in 1995.

My impression is that in Taiwan the media divide along party lines rather more.

Michael Turton said...

The so-called strawberries have always known where they stand and what they hold important. They look at the major political parties as two sides of the same coin - both corrupt and unrepresentative.

Yes, that is what they always say. KMT propaganda has been very effective in that regard. That is another reason they choose social justice, because they don't want to violate the purity of their idealism with the dirtiness of party politics. But if you don't get your hands dirty, you can't grow anything.


Anonymous said...

How many times have you seen a Taiwanese young person roll their eyes when their parents or grandparents complain about the "mainlanders"? Tribalism doesn't resonate with Taiwanese youth. Their identities were not formed in the Japanese era and they don't view their peers whose grandparents came from mainland China as another foreign colonization. For the next generation, we are all Taiwanese. This is something the TI elite will never come to terms with.

Michael Turton said...

This is something the TI elite will never come to terms with.


Anonymous said...

Their concerns are mostly economic, they have been let down badly by both the KMT and DPP with worsening wages, poor work conditions, increasing costs. They are learning from travel that other places have more opportunities and easier to make money. They are unfairly denigrated at lazy and unorganized but they simply have got a raw deal in terms of politics and economic opportunities. If I was a youth in Taiwan I would have no love for DPP or KMT either. They wouldn't represent me but rather their older voting base and their corporate cronies.

John Scott said...

Do they really know who they are? I wonder. Is it really a good thing in the long run that they are "...avoiding discussion of the Blue-Green divide and papering over those tribal identities with silence.."?

Their generation didn't pop up out of nowhere. The relative freedom they enjoy today came as a result of several previous generations of conflict. To close the book and agree to just pretend that that did not happen is hardly a solid foundation to build a movement upon, especially if social justice is to be valued.

How can they "know who they are"? As a result of many factors, they have ended up with a very confused sense of who they are. They are very intentionally taught to be confused as to where "their nation" is, where it's borders lie, what notions of culture or history these borders are based upon, etc. What is different between the "national history" taught to Taiwanese students and the "national history" for PRC students? Is it simply two versions of the same basic narrative?

Anybody here with kids in a Taiwan middle school? Are they explicitly taught anywhere in their civics classes that their sovereignty and legitimacy as a nation lies in the fact that they are a multi-party democracy with civil rights and rule of law? Or would that be too overtly "political"? Is sovereignty just based on race, culture, the three principals, and the "5000 years of culture" stuff?

Yes, there is a certain "not-" identity, as in "Taiwanese, not Chinese", but the question is exactly where those feelings of localized identity and demands for justice will (or can) lead-- if those same people are decidedly intent on "not going there" as far as making the hard choices as to which political party they are supporting.

It's fun to organize protests and sit-ins on a case-by-case basis on various issues that pop up, but that doesn't lead to anything practical if it does not translate into direct pressure on the legislature. It's great to say "we are neutral", but that usually also means that your demands are neutralized.

Robert Scott Kelly said...

Anon, wrote:

"For the next generation, we are all Taiwanese."

Really? In what way? There is no Taiwan state and the UN recognizes this land as a province of China. Your own government recognizes you as members of Han sub-ethnic groups, and your culture as Chinese with Taiwanese characteristics. So really, what does being Taiwanese mean? The one political movement that would give it real meaning you have said your generation holds in contempt. And by doing it seems to me you pretty much ensure that the other party, which will continue to ensure that identity is nothing but a warm fuzzy feeling, will stay in power.

Anonymous said...

Off topic, but another good Taiwan history find: National Geographic Stockart type in "Taiwan Formosa" and you will find 72 old images. (link also at

Anonymous said...

The organizers of these youth protests are not trying to appear neutral, they are trying not to be associated with the pan green protests. The developers are trying to paint them as nothing more than the usual pan green protesters in order to discredit them. The young people don't want to be associated with the foul mouthed ah mas bussed in from the countryside to throw rocks and insults at the police.

blobOfNeurons said...

@Robert Scott Kelly

Geography, my dear Watson.