Scott Sommers’ Taiwan Blog

Who Are Those People?

I am sure that the world has been made aware that supporters of the KMT held a major demonstration in front of the Presidential Building 總統大廈 this afternoon. I’m not certain how many people were there, but it was a lot; at least several hundred thousand. I was down there for several hours, and these are my impressions.

In spite of the martial images presented on the TV, the mood was quite peaceful. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs 外交部 building that borders the Presidential Building was guarded by only a few soldiers and policemen. There was no barricade or wire protecting any buildings except for those that house officials, and even though the nearby police station had a metal gate, it was not locked and demonstrators were milling around the front.

I initially approached the demonstration from the north, down Gong Yuan Road 公園路, past a large number of merchants selling everything from hats and bottled water to flashing red and blue lights to decorate your clothing. The group of Taiwanese people I was walking with were stopped from entering the demonstration area. I am not certain whether this was because it was too late, and the organizers were trying to limit access or if it was because I am a foreigner. However, I had no trouble entering the demonstration area from the Chung Shan South Road 中山南路 entrance.

As I mentioned above the demonstrators generally appeared very peaceful. I saw families with young children, pregnant women, and the elderly. One child I saw wore a jacket with an American flag on the back. This went particularly well with the mock Statue of Liberty erected in the demonstration area. Not all the crowd seemed friendly. For example, there was a group of young men wearing black clothing and yellow head bands who closely resembled the young men seen at the funerals of organized crime figures. There was a very small but vocal group of young people outside the NTU Hospital 台大醫院 shouting “Shame on Chen Shui-bian” to crowds as they went home.

A large number of the signs that demonstrators were waving were written in English. This included a group of signs in the main demonstration area that read “200,000 Public servants denied the right to vote.” Many signs compared President Chen to Hitler and bore swastikas and pictures of objects associated with Nazi Germany.

The demonstration was scheduled to end at 600 pm, and the Taipei Police were prepared to arrest any demonstrators who failed to comply. This preparation was largely unnecessary. By 630 pm, there was almost no one left inside the demonstration area except the hard-core supporters who have been camped out there for the whole week.

One Taiwanese demonstrator I spoke with in English explained to me that he wanted a president who represented all Taiwanese people whether they came from the Mainland or from Taiwan. I asked him why he was leaving at 600 pm, and he answered that he wouldn’t stay so that President Chen could call him a criminal. I also spoke with 3 foreigners whom I found there. One man, who was down in the main demonstration area, told me that he had come “to support his wife and her country.” Two others who were quite far from the main area told me they had come out of curiosity to see democracy in Taiwan.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the demonstration was what I didn’t see. I saw no foreign journalists there. Perhaps they were somewhere I didn’t go, but I spent a long time walking around down there, and I spoke to every foreigner that I saw. I have read that large numbers of foreign journalists are covering this event, but I have yet to see even one in any of my trips down to the Presidential Building. In fact, the only time I have seen foreign journalists at any of these demonstrations is on CNN, and that time they appeared to be standing on the roof of the nearby KMT National Headquarters building.

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