SOAS University of London

Centre of Taiwan Studies

The Social Origins of the Taiwan Democratic Movement: The Making of Formosa Magazine

Linda Arrigo
Dr Linda Arrigo, Taipei Medical University

Date: 7 November 2014Time: 2:00 PM

Finishes: 7 November 2014Time: 4:00 PM

Venue: Brunei Gallery Room: B102

Type of Event: Seminar

Now following the surprising success of the 318 Sunflower Movement earlier this year, no doubt a formative experience for the new generation, plus the Hong Kong student movement, there is new reason to look back at the formative experience for a previous generation, the Formosa Magazine democratic movement of 1979-80.

Right off, I can say they are very different. From interviewing Lin Yi-Fang, a middle-generation activist who coached the Sunflower students, in May, it seems that the students face a squeeze on their time, but they are not really afraid of legal prosecution or police surveillance. (A suspicious motorcycle death of one student does give pause, however.)  In the martial law period we were staring terror in the face; people knew the immediate consequences could likely be at least loss of employment, and even arrest, torture, long imprisonment, and possibly death. All the same, the momentum of the movement, once it got started, was powerful enough to overcome that terror. The group dynamic was central: mutual recognition and encouragement.

My simple explanation of this democratic movement is that the events of past history – 2-28, the White Terror, systematic inequality of mainlanders vs. native Taiwanese – create an undercurrent that can hardly be seen, for example, in the daily surface of a repressive regime, or in the public opinion polls of voting behavior, that reflect the reward and punishment structure. However, a rupture such as the 1979 recognition of the PRC by the US, which propped up the Chiang regime since 1949, provides the gap for this swell of the undercurrent to break to the surface. Overall, intellectual analysis has very little influence on the force or direction of oppositional movements; direct and indirect experience of a portion of the population does. 

To be more sociological, I see several factors leading to the democratic movement breakthroughs of 1978-79: The middle-class leadership was in their mid- and late-30’s, somewhat below the age of those killed in 2-28, and it was the first generation of teachers and lawyers educated in Mandarin. The rising business class of native Taiwanese entrepreneurs surreptitiously  spurred on and funded the movement. The farmers and urban self-employed workers were the cannon fodder. To the populace under 30, the White Terror was a distant rumor. But the large numbers of recently-released political prisoners, such as Shih Ming-de, brought their historical experience into the democratic movement.

However, the movement was also limited by its narrow range of experience, i.e. it did not have the accumulated international understanding of movements like the Communist Party of the Philippines, and there was only a very slight heritage of the Taiwanese social movements of the 1920’s and 30’s. Moreover, Taiwan became quite prosperous under US-directed development. These may be said to be among the reasons the Taiwan Independence Movement has never faced up to the central contradiction that it has always placed its hopes on the United States, although the US consistently supported the Chiang regime, just as it has also supported neo-colonial dictatorships around the world.   

Organiser: Centre of Taiwan Studies

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