I Refuse to Believe It's Hopeless
In this exclusive interview senior media commentator Sisy Chen considers how the Taiwanese, despite their disenchantment with politics, are taking the future into their own hands, building strong grassroots forces in society.
I Refuse to Believe It's HopelessBy Fuyuan Hsiao
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 540 )
Since the 1980s when Taiwan attained economic prosperity and then political liberalization, everyone's lives have revolved around the political arena, because we thought politics would lead us into a bright future. Instead, it has drawn us into a completely unbelievable black maelstrom. Many people have been drawn into this political maelstrom over and over again, their aspirations dashed, their hopefulness turning to despair.
But I feel that Taiwan's hope lies in this despair.
Because thanks to this utter despair in politics, we no longer rely on, and no longer trust, politicians to bring about change. Capable people have begun to take the path of civic action instead. This is where Taiwan's hope for a turnaround lies.
Small People, Big Heroes
The Lovely Taiwan Foundation, for instance, managed in just five years to establish a system to help the local farmers of Chishang, Taidong County to gain organic certification. Suddenly, people throughout Chishang felt that while growing organic produce was hard work, all their efforts were worthwhile and meaningful, and that they were no longer all alone.
Later on, the writer Chiang Hsun went there to read his poetry, and the choreographer Lin Hwai-min spent time there as an artist-in-residence, which resulted in the creation of the dance production Rice. For the people of Chishang, it was beyond their imagination that this small place could become the focus of attention throughout Taiwan.
And then there is a bunch of young, second- and third-generation family business heirs who created Maji Maji Square in the Taipei Expo Park as a cultural-creative platform, operating in the red for a year. These people previously invested in restaurants where they made a lot of money. So they took their restaurants to the Taipei Expo Park, opening outlets there. The place is drawing more and more crowds. They hope to use the money they make with the restaurants to support the creative market, so that Taiwan can have a cultural-creative platform.
If you turn another corner, you can see the Vox Nativa children's choir which appears at the very end of the documentary Beyond Beauty – Taiwan from Above. In the indigenous communities of Xinyi Township, elementary school principal Peter Ma (Bukut) helped these Bunun children, who had no idea at all what to do with their lives, to regain their self-confidence through music.
It's hard to fathom that a civil servant (Chi Po-lin) would give up his pension and go crazy shooting Beyond Beauty – Taiwan from Above.
When he finished shooting his film, I had an argument with him. I asked him why he was so bent on getting his film into the movie theater system and warned him that he would fail if he joined the commercial film distribution system. I worried that he would fail at the box office. As it turned out, his box office results were very, very good. He posted a box office gross of NT$50 million, and the first thing he did afterwards was to donate NT$5 million to some film foundations.
You can also see a group of people who shot [the animal shelter documentary] Twelve Nights, just because they love dogs. And then there is Lee Yung-feng of the Paperwindmill children's theater troupe. He had no money, but he had a dream and toured all 319 towns of Taiwan. Since the kids who saw the Paperwindmill performances back then are grown up now, today's children have not seen them, so he is doing another tour around Taiwan.
With one seed after the other being planted, these single points become a line and then gradually expand into a plane. We have all lived through that terrifying black maelstrom. Now that politics has left everyone without hope, we discover that no one puts their focus on politics anymore.
I Want to Change Our Times
A great deal of force has been released from the political circle, which used to grab Taiwan's resources in the past. In every corner, people have begun to select spots to work at the grass-roots level. Small, ordinary people can bring about huge changes. This is where hope begins.
I knew from childhood on that I was capable of accomplishing big feats. I have never been a politician, only a passing visitor in politics.
I want to change this era. In the past I was convinced that only politics could structurally change society, but step by step I realized that politics could not provide any answer for Taiwan. That's when I left. I went on to produce Sisy's World News, because I felt that our society lacks an international outlook. That was a job I was capable of doing.
I've concentrated my efforts on the media. Since my program began, it's never dropped out of the list of highest rated programs, not even for one week. I strongly insist on doing news that I clearly know won't have a high viewership rating. Yet the program is still among the top-rated.
People should not think how bad our times are. They feel that way because they have given up on themselves, and that is why they see only black and gray outside. It's not that we can claim that our times couldn't get any better, but people should not doubt themselves.
Society is waking up. We're all looking for the power of "me." What can "I" do? I am one "me" among many. Everyone should do what's within the scope of their abilities.
Taiwanese society's love for this land is not nationalism. It's a very affectionate kind of love, firmly rooted in our DNA. Everyone wants to do something for Taiwan.
For instance, [pop singers] Jay Chou and Mayday's Ashin – all you have to do is ask them to go talk to some young people, and they'll do it without taking a cent. And Lee Hwai-min could have gone anywhere in the world to premiere the 40th anniversary performance [of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre], but he chose a rice field in Chishang instead, because the love for this land is part of his DNA.
At the end of the martial law era when we were first organizing a political opposition, we used to say, "We refuse to believe justice can't be restored." Today, I refuse to believe our society cannot regain hope.
I refuse to believe it's hopeless.
Translated from the Chinese by Suzanne Ganz.