Michelle M.H. Wang (2014). “Rebellious Youth, Revolution Is in Your Hands.” Liberty Times, October 5.
Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa
The flames of anger of Hong Kong’s youth have sparked the fire of freedom in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong people are fighting for democracy and, although the prospect for success in this arduous campaign is doubtful, their indomitable spirit has already won them the world’s support and respect.
The leaders who have touched off Hong Kong’s democratic revolution are Scholarism’s seventeen-year-old head, Joshua Wong, and the Hong Kong Federation of Students’ Alex Chow among others. Early in the 21st century, an unmistakable trend has already emerged, that of youth-led democratic revolutions sweeping the globe; Taiwan is no exception.
The Sunflower Student Movement has engendered in the Taiwanese people the confidence and vision to be the masters of their own fate. The Movement is neither a beginning nor an end, but rather a manifestation of the building burning anger that lies in the hearts of Taiwan’s youth, an anger that continues to smolder.
The rebellion of youth seems to know no end, but these youth actually see matters more clearly than adults. Uncomplicated by the baggage of adulthood, their actions are more resolute, radical, and uncompromising. They aim to turn Taiwanese politics on its ear and change the course of their future, and they are rewriting Taiwan’s history.
Corruption in the Eyes of Youth
It seems Ma Ying-jeou is still incapable of understanding why this generation of youth has broken away from him. He is left wondering what they have seen in the past six years that has provoked so much anger.
What they’ve seen is President Ma’s incessant fawning over the Chinese, his kneeling before the Chinese to ask for peace only to be repeatedly bullied by China. They’ve seen him ignore the bloody lesson of Hong Kong, and instead deliberately lay out a roadmap for unification, castrating Taiwan’s sovereignty, and sending Taiwan gradually into China’s trap to be devoured. This sort of president has filled them with contempt and indignation.
They’ve seen rich and powerful political and business groups travel back and forth across the Strait, positioning themselves to control Taiwan’s political and economic domains. Violent government groups have constantly seized the land and homes of the weak. Collusion among government officials and businessmen has become institutionalized. There is no shortage of food safety and environmental pollution concerns, yet no one takes responsibility. In the job market, salaries fall lower and lower and job opportunities dwindle, even as the prices of goods and property rise. Even taking to the streets in protest means being deemed by police to be a mob and consequently beaten and arrested. It is this kind of society that has made them feel a deep sense of powerlessness and anger.
They want to ask, Why has our country become like this? Is this the future we want Economist Joseph Stiglitz once presented a paper titled, “Of the One Percent, By the One Percent and For the One Percent,” in which he profoundly pointed out that it is this one percent that sets the operating rules of the political system and essentially transforms the political system into one of legitimated bribery. This one percent can convert wealth into political power, and then use its political power to amass more wealth.
America is like this; China is like this; Hong Kong is like this; and isn’t Taiwan also the same? Aren’t the KMT’s powerful political and business groups that one percent?
How [Do We] Generate Change?
The Sunflower Student Movement woke an entire generation of youth. They’ve already come to recognize that their future is being quietly stolen, that if they fail to act, their future will be determined by the one percent. Their future could be to follow in the footsteps of Hong Kong, living in the shadow of Communist China’s rule.
But, perhaps what they would like to know even more is, what now? Do we still have a chance to change the course of our future? How do we take action? How does change happen?
A youth himself, Zhang Sheng-han writes in Lu She Zhi Chun (魯蛇之春), “if corruption is a sore that our nascent democracy fails to heal, then the rich and powerful will assume command, developing supreme control over grass-roots local politics. This is the cancer that we failed to excise when we moved from authoritarian rule to democracy. So, the revolution that is called for is a grass-roots local one.”
What he wrote is accurate; yet, the most difficult revolution is the local one. Sixty years of a system of favors under KMT rule has firmly entrenched the KMT in every locality; so that despite his infamy, Miaoli Magistrate Liu Cheng-hung’s successor will still be overwhelmingly elected.
I’ll tell you another story. From October 2009 to November 2011, Koo Kwang-ming [founder of the Taiwan Brain Trust] and I put together a working group to hold speaking events in each of the country’s 318 villages and towns. For the entire two years we traveled; we traveled to two hundred villages and towns. In each place, whenever we met with grass-roots level workers, we would always ask one question, “Do you have vote-buying here?” Ninety percent of the time the answer was yes, and it was almost always the case that the despicable winning KMT wouldn’t have had a chance had it not been for bribery.
In those two years, what struck me most was the institutionalization of the KMT’s 3-in-1 system (a predatory machine that exploited its “prey” and re-distributed [the resulting] benefits) throughout the whole of Taiwan. This also explains why the more grass-roots the election, the higher the KMT’s percentage of the vote. The more local elections that are held, the more the KMT is able to consolidate its power.
If you ask me, “How can change happen?” All I can say is, “Give up on everyone over fifty.” People over fifty aren’t going to change. Over the past several decades they’ve become used to favors, to being “fed.” They’ve already been institutionalized by the KMT. Only if the younger generation begins to change, will Taiwan possibly change. This is the only chance for Taiwan to maintain its sovereignty, to push for normalization of its status, and to deepen its democracy.
The Rebelliousness of Youth Is the Key to Change
The Occupy Wall Street organizer, David Graeber says that it doesn’t matter what action is taken, we must create space. He says that we must take a different tack, using the counter-force of flexibility and ingenuity to fighting, and that we must constantly remind everyone of the kind of foundation on which so-called “power” is actually built.
Awakened youth is the form of people power critical to changing the future. The rebellion of youth is the only chance of turning around Taiwanese politics. Revolution is in your hands. My young friends, take your power and spread it! Start with friends and family and spread it! Take it from your campuses and spread it beyond! Start at the grassroots and spread it out!
As the youth are fond of saying, “If the KMT doesn’t go down, Taiwan can’t turn around!” To turn politics around, you’ve got to start at the local grassroots level. Revolution is in your hands. Youth, rebel and start turning Taiwan around!
This article was translated from the Chinese and published here with the permission of the author, Columnist Michelle M.H. Wang. The original article appeared in print in Liberty Times, October 5, 2014: 王美琇（2014）。〈青年反叛，革命就在你身邊〉，《自由時報》，10 月 5 日。