NEWS & LETTERS, December 2002

Taiwanese farmers, fishermen protest

Taichung, Taiwan--The Nov. 23 demonstration of 120,000 farmers and fishermen almost took down the Chen Shui-bian administration.  This was the biggest social protest in Taiwan's history.  Surprisingly, it was held by farmers, the bottom of the Taiwanese social structure. The demonstrators' demands included saving Taiwan's agriculture and fishing industries by shoring up their credit unions and associations.

The massive protest prompted our premier, vice premier, a county government, and an agricultural official to take full responsibility by offering their resignations. Up to now, the premier has been willing to stay on and rebuild part of the cabinet.

Here is the paradox: both President Shui-bian and the premier come from farms. Logically, they should have taken good care of farmers. However, the social structure does not change although the government has been switched to ethnic Taiwanese from ethnic Chinese. Politically and economically, farmers and fishermen are in a very underprivileged situation. I don't think Shui-bian puts them out of his mind; however, I believe they are not among his first priorities.

Compared to the bloody farmers' demonstration in 1988, the main reason for the 2002 demonstration was to give farmers and fishermen a voice. They came from all over the island and showed their concern for themselves and their expectations for the Shui-bian government. During the demonstration, they took care of each other; therefore, what people watched on TV was a long march in good formation and with colorful banners.  They did not ask for officials to resign; rather, they wanted to direct the government's attention to their basic life situation.


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