On Friday I met some long-time friends--a couple with two very cute little daughters. He is local Taiwanese and works for a multi-national corporation. We have been friends since 1996. His wife is a Mainlander. She was his girlfriend when we first met. I attended their wedding in 1998 before I returned to America. It was a Christian service since he had converted to Christianity to fit into her family.
A couple of weeks ago, he told me her father is a strong James Soong supporter, and this was a big point of contention between them. I don't know much about the views of his family, though he once told me he supports Ma Ying-jeou. I suspect people view Ma as middleground and those in the big business community especially see the DPP as holding up full economic integration between Taiwan and China.
Anyway, on Friday I walked out of the metro station and got into their car. We soon started talking about the anti-Chen protests. I jokingly asked if they would be participating in the sit-in, as I do with most people I meet. I guess I want to discover people's reactions.
Prior to Friday, everyone I have asked has responded that they would not attend. Many people have expressed disappointment in Chen Shui-bian, even commmitted supporters, mainly because he hasn't in their minds fulfilled his campaign promises, but this did not cause them to support Shih Ming-teh's campaign to oust the president.
One person at the National Library, who himself is Mainlander, answered my question whether he supported the protest and the talk of conscience revolution and waging an uprising: "No, I am too anarchistic...and maybe too selfish. They are just so conservative (baoshou)." Others have expressed dissatisfaction with Chen but even more anger and worry with respect to the protesters.
Friday was different. My friends, who usually appear politically moderate, kept saying they wished they could go, but they couldn't because of their daughters. Within moments of getting into the car, I heard: "Depose Chen!" It was repeated several times as we ate dinner.
Now, it is very difficult to shake opinions once they are formed. Mine are formed as are theirs. I can't help but see these protests as the political tactics of the opposition, while they only see the scandals of the first family. Would it have helped if I had said there is no evidence that the president has done anything illegal?
Throughout dinner I remained quiet because I felt uncomfortable and didn't know how to respond. What amazed me was how universal they believed the anti-Chen movement to be. When we got back into the car the radio reported that 500,000 were gathered in front of the Presidential Office Building. From the sounded of the continuous narrative you would think that the whole of Taipei was surging with a mass protest, that the people were truely rising up in opposition to the evil President Chen.
When I entered the metro station that night, there were indeed many red-shirts. They claim they are wearing red shirts to express their anger. They walked in packs and from time to time shouted: "Depose Chen!" There were a lot of them, but were they everyone? Clearly not. Their voices were louder, but most people were just going about their daily lives, returning from whatever event occupied their evening, or on their way to Friday's entertainment.
There were splotches of red but not a red mass.
All I can say is that there have been bigger demonstrations against the Iraq War in cities around the world, but the media coverage is never so extensive and constant, if they are even reported. In Taiwan, we here day after day about the anti-Chen protests. They have been big (at least some days), but the power of the camera and a neverending narrative have amplified them to the level of a mass protest in the manner of the storming of the bastille. This is a representation that his been propagated around the world and has even convinced normally-sceptical scholars and reporters.