Learning From The Hong Kong and Taiwan Demonstrations

The following are the strategic/tactical lessons from the 2003-2006 July 1st marches in Hong Kong versus the 9/15-9/16 demonstrations in Taiwan.

(1) Focusing on the key issue(s)

For the 9/15 march in Taipei, the issue was reduced to anti-corruption in Taiwan, which is embodied by the current president Chen Shui-bian.  While Chen and his wife have been implicated but not yet convicted of any specific crimes of corruption, many people around him (such as his Deputy Secretary Chen Chi-nan, his son-in-law Chao Chien-ming, his daughter's father-in-law and others) are embroiled in corruption cases that are now in the legal phase.  This is straightforward.  You can ask anyone why they were out there, and the answer is terse and direct: "Oppose corruption.  Depose Ah-Bian."  The issue is sharply focused.

For the 9/16 march in Taipei, the issue is more confused.  Some participants want this to be a defense of their beloved president Chen Shui-bian, who is being smeared for corruption for which he has not even been charged on anything.  There are other participants who would rather make this a case for the defense of democracy in Taiwan and severe it from the personal fate of the controversial individual known as Chen Shui-bian.  The confusing messages creates antagonism within the alliance.  The most egregious case is deep green media personality Wang Benhu (汪笨湖) who said (ETtoday via Yahoo):  "The happiest person on the evening of September 15 is vice-president Annette Lu.  She must have slept really well because she is getting ready to become president.  At this moment, Annette Lu ought to be standing alongside President Chen Shui-bian."  This is about as off-message as one can get.  At this point, nobody wants to hear about internal power struggles within the Democratic Progressive Party.

In Hong Kong, the relevant analysis is given in Market Analysis of July 1st.  In 2003, 500,000 people went into the streets because:

In 2003, the march achieved unprecedented success with 500,000 people participating.  What happened?  The people who went out on the street came from different professions and social classes and they held different faiths, political beliefs and lifestyles.  They came together with one common goal -- to tell the Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa that they were not happy with his governance and they wanted the right to choose the Chief Executive.  If the citizens can vote, they can toss out the Chief Executive in the next election.  There is no need to go out into the streets, and the number of marchers would be fewer.  But since there is no universal suffrage, they can only go into the streets.  "If you are unhappy with the government, please join us!"  The message was crisp and clear, and so it was easy to call for participation.

In more recent years, the July 1st march has lost its momentum because:

On Monday, a certain newspaper made a list of the "major demands of the July 1st march" -- attain universal suffrage as quickly as possible; oppose collusion between government and business; oppose the hurried approval of the HMS Tamar project; oppose the "Communication Intercept and Monitoring Regulations" for violating human rights; fight for minimum wages and maximum working hours; fight for small class sizes; oppose cutting down classes and closing schools; ... this list can continue indefinitely.  Apart from the gay people opposing discrimination against sexual orientation, there are all sorts of miscellaneous ridiculous demands, such as opposing the crackdown on BitTorrent downloading, opposing the hiring of Bus Uncle by Steak Expert, opposing cat killing, opposing cheating in school exams ... the point is to get people out on the streets for whatever reasons.

In Hong Kong, any number of public opinion polls show that 60% or so of the population want universal suffrage here and now.  If only they could focus on that issue instead of any number of peripheral issues that would bring some marginal NGO into the Civil Human Rights Front, it can be so much easier.

(2) Avoid inflaming the other side.

In Hong Kong, the 500,000 crowd on July 1st, 2003 showed up in no small part due to the mouthing of Secretary for Security Regina Ip, who managed to insult so many people.  In 2004, the government officials got the idea and shut up.  But nobody told pro-government business people such as Stanley Ho to clamp up, and some marchers were probably out there on account of the inopportune things that Ho and others said.  In 2006, everybody has learned to use the 'soft' approach: "I appreciate that Hong Kong citizens have the right to march and demonstrate their feelings."  PERIOD.  NOTHING MORE.  They don't say whether the cause was right or wrong, or the people were good, bad or stupid anymore.  And then the pro-Beijing camp organized their counter-demonstration to celebrate the return of Hong Kong to China, featuring entertainers such as Twins.

Contrast this with what Democratic Progressive Party chairman Yu Shyi-kun allegedly said in public in Washington DC (reported in China Times).

Shih Ming-teh had already collected NT$100 million in August, but why did he wait until September 9 to ask people to join the sit-in wearing red clothing?  Yu said: September 9th is the 30th anniversary of the death of Mao Zedong and red represents the Communists.  Therefore, Shih Ming-teh did this purposefully.

Calling the people out in the street "Communist stooges" is not going to persuade them to go home.  It is only going to make them angrier.  Besides, this is quite absurd in itself.  Even the Chinese Communists are not interested in Chairman Mao anymore, so why would Shih Ming-teh's Communist 'handlers' insist on him paying respect to the departed man?

For the current issue in Taiwan, the proper strategy is to say:  The people have the right to go into the streets to express their feelings.  However, we have fought so hard to achieve a democracy and we cannot afford street demonstrations to subvert the constitutional process.  If you have any issues, please go follow the constitutional process or else everything that we have accomplished so far goes to ruins.  Please: DO NOT INVOKE MAO ZEDONG AND THE RED GUARDS!!!

(3)  Counting your numbers

According to Taiwan By The Numbers, the police counted 360,000 participants on September 15, while the organizers put in a claim of 750,000 and possibly as much as 1 million.  For the September 16 march, the organizers claimed 150,000 (as they predicted beforehand) while the police counted 60,000.  (United Daily News)  Alternately, the organizers claimed 250,000 while the police said 55,000.

Update: Apple Daily reports that the 9/16 organizers claimed 250,000 attendees.

So what?  We know that the media will simply line up according to their political inclination and use one or the other number.  For example, Taipei Times used the headline "tens of thousands" for the September 15 march while People's Daily said "more than 1 million people."

But Hong Kong is a different case.  It is one thing if the organizers put in one number while the police reported another.  As in Taiwan, the media will simply line up according to their political inclination and use one of the other number.  But Hong Kong has a third force -- the large marches are counted by a number of independent research teams from the Public Opinion Programme, Department of Actuarial Science and Statistics and the Department of Sociology at the University of Hong Kong, and Michael DeGolyer of Baptist University, plus aerial photograph analysis funded by Ming Pao.  These third party estimates are fairly consistent with each other, and somewhat higher than the police estimates and a lot lower than the organizers' estimates.  This is how the numbers are a perennial issue in Hong Kong (2004; 2005; 2006), especially when the organizers go to attack the researchers publicly for betraying the marchers, freedom, democracy and all that.

In the final analsyis, the numbers don't really matter -- unless you turn it into an issue through your own stupidity!

Additional reading: Analysis: In crowd estimate game, political pressures loom.  By Ko Shu-ling.  September 18, 2006.

(4)  Never get side-tracked

Between 2004-2006, the major theme of the July 1st march in Hong Kong is supposed to be universal suffrage.  Each year, the march has been sidetracked by the counting of the marchers as well as the plethora of tangential issues (such as the gay rights issue in 2005).  Getting side-tracked means that your message is diluted or even totally lost in the ensuing cacophony.

In Taiwan, the September 15 march was right on track without any sideshow (such as the much-feared violent outbreak).  The September 16 demonstration has now been overshadowed by the media sideshow:

(United Daily News)  CTI TV: A Dark Day In The History of Taiwan Journalism

In a public statement, CTI TV said that it was running an interview program at 2pm at the scene of the public assembly on Ketagalan Boulevard.  CTI TV host Huang Peng-jen was interviewing Democratic Progressive Party deputy secretary Tsai Huang-Liang, but audience members were jumping on stage and screaming.  The crowd also tossed water bottles and DPP flags at Tsai and Huang.

Next on the program was DPP legislator Wang Shih-Cheng, but the crowd continued to scream and attack, even jumping on stage to attack the lighting equipment as well as Huang himself.  The CTI TV was interrupted, but the crowd continued to hit Huang.  Eventually, the police interceded and escorted Huang out.

In its statement, CTI TV expressed sorrow and regret and said that this was a dark day in the history of free press in Taiwan.

(ETtoday via Yam News)

While DPP legislator Wang Shih-cheng was being interviewed by CTI TV, the Bian supporters thought that he was being interviewed by "Chinese-capital" media and became very dissatisfied.  The Bian supporters destroyed the outdoor transmission equipment and yanked program host Huang Peng-jen off the podium.  The CTI TV broadcast was interrupted.  After Wang Shih-cheng counseled the crowd to calm down, things got better  Huang was escorted away from the scene by the police.

At the same time, the outdoor broadcasting podium of ETTV was also affected.  The ETTV program host and the frontline news team were forced to withdraw from the scene.  Fortunately, the ETTV show was quickly brought back live from the indoor studio and the broadcast was uninterrupted.

A FTV cameraman was wearing a red jacket, and he was cursed and chased after by the Bian supporters.  This reporter was escorted by the police to seek shelter in a police station.

(China Times)

At around 3pm, the support-Bian activity was beginning at Ketagalan Boulevard.  The event announcer began to denounce certain parts of the media for smearing president Chan.  Shortly afterwards, several citizens jumped on the CTI TV stage to challenge program host Huang Peng-jen who was interviewing DPP legislator Wang Shih-cheng.  A middle-aged man wearing a white top began yanking at Huang's clothes.  Wang Shih-cheng tried to intervene, but the Bian supporters refused to get off the stage.  Meanwhile, the crowd continued to roar and attempted to charge on stage as well.

CTI TV was forced to interrupt its outdoor broadcast as the impassioned crowd destroyed the transmission equipment, and even used an umbrella to attack Huang Peng-jen.  Huang then fell off the stage and sustained a mild injury.  He left under the protection of Wang and the police while the crowds continued to attack him with flags, umbrellas and bottles.  Huang left holding his head with both hands, while the crowd chased him and yelled: "Kill! Kill! Kill!"  He finally found shelter inside a police station.

After CTI TV evacuated, the crowd turned their ire on the ETTV broadcasting stage.  A number of people jumped on the ETTV stage, they sang, they disrupted, they cursed the hosts and forced the entire ETTV SNG to withdraw from the scene.

(China Times)  

At the "We face the sun" campaign to support Ah Bian, many in the crowd wore "We do not watch CTV TV" and "We do not read China Times" stickers and distributed the stickers to others.  The master of ceremony on stage led the crowd to chant "Oppose United Daily, oppose China Times, oppose TV."

Yesterday, TVBS removed its broadcasting stage from Ketagalan Boulevard on grounds of "manpower allocation"; FTV did not have any broadcasting stage on grounds of safety considerations during either campaign.  Therefore, only ETTV, CTI TV and Era TV had stages yesterday.

The first wave of attack was on CTI TV program host Huang Peng-jen.  He was surrounded by a screaming crowd while interviewing DPP deputy secretary Tsai Huang-liang.  Bottles and DPP flags were thrown at Huang while Tsai tried to stop the crowd in vain.

Then DPP legislator Wang Shih-cheng got on stage and the same attacks occurred.  A man dressed in white got on stage while the crowd waved the DPP flags and umbrellas.  Someone blocked the camera with a raincoat.  Huang was forced to interrupt the live broadcast and he said to the man: "Boss, we are here to listen to your voices.  Why else am I interviewing Wang Shih-cheng?"  Meanwhile, he informed the studio: "We cannot broadcast live from the scene."

Wang Shih-cheng and another DPP legislature candidate attempted to calm the crowd down with no effect.  During the chaos, the CTI TV SNG cable was yanked off and the signal was disrupted.  Huang left the scene under the protection of Wang and the police while being assaulted by kicks, punches, umbrellas, poles and cries that he should die.  Huang left holding his head with his hands.  The police escorted him back to the CTI TV studio.  Huang said that he understands how the crowd feels and he does not want to say anything more.  He refused to describe the violent episode.

Meanwhile, several emotionally worked up persons jumped on the ETTV stage, crying: "Unfair speech should not be broadcast.  Let us take them down!"  The crowd jumped on stage one after another and interrupted the news broadcast.  One person said with righteousness: "Why can't I sit here?  This is public space.  Who says I cannot sit here?"

The ETTV host said: "Poles and bottles were being thrown up here.  My chair was being rocked."  An ETTV journalist was cursed and then kicked.  ETTV withdrew the team and the stage was taken over by the crowd to the sound of cheers.

The pro-green FTV photographer named Lee wore a red jacket that was issued by the FTV labor union two years ago and he was dragged out by the crowd who cursed him for being a "fake reporter" and told him to scram.  Lee was gathering the news the day before and his camera had an anti-Bian sticker on it.  But Lee forgot to take off the sticker and he was jostled by the crowd.  Finally, Lee left under police escort.

The Era TV microphone was red in color.  When the reporters attempted to interview, the crowd challenged them: "Oh, a red one!  You must broadcast more!"  The reporters had to leave the scene quietly.

When a Bian supporter saw a CTI TV reporter, he attempted to seize her microphone.  She asked: "How can you grab my mic?"  The man carressed her face and said in jest: "Don't be angry!"  Then he said rudely: "You are a CTI TV and you must be fantastic!"  Another female Bian supporter said: "Do not let the Communist channel broadcast!"

When this female journalist started crying, she complained to DPP legislator Kao Jyh-peng: "How can you let reporters gather news in such peril?"  Presidential Office deputy secretary general Shyh-fang came over and brought his reporter into the security zone to safety.

CTI TV video916凱道反媒體暴力事件全記錄   YouTube

After these incidents happened, the organizers publicly asked the crowd to keep cool.  Afterwards, the event organizers apologized and condemned the violence.  The Democratic Progressive Party also expressed its regrets.  But it does not matter.  The worst possible thing has happened -- physical assaults on the media.  What do you think the media are going to talk about?  Does anyone even remember that 60,000/250,000 turned out for some reason or the other?  The subject of media discourse for the next few days will be "mob violence," "the death of freedom of press" and all that.  And why wouldn't the media do that, given that they have all those film footages?