Last week a rice crop — grown from seeds from Dapu (大埔) in Miaoli County that were taken to Taipei for a farmers’ protest on July 17 and then planted in Kaohsiung County’s Meinung Township (美濃) — was harvested, leaving the gigantic Chinese characters for “land justice” (tudi zhengyi, 土地正義) carved out of the paddy field like a crop circle. A day earlier, thousands of farmers and their supporters braved the rain to join hands and demonstrate on the streets of Taipei, warning that continued expansion of Taiwan’s petrochemical industry was putting the country in peril. Then, on Wednesday, Taiwanese taekwondo contestant Yang Shu-chun (楊淑君) was unfairly disqualified at the Asian Games, but government officials provoked a backlash from the public by saying that we should “swallow” the decision. Those in government would do well to heed the important message conveyed by these protest movements and outcries, namely that the public has quite different ideas from the government about Taiwan’s future and the meaning of “progress.”
In Taiwan, our land is seen by the government only as a factor of production, whose only value lies in its contribution to GDP. Farmland and wetlands keep being forcibly turned over for industrial use. This poses a grave threat to the environment and sustainable development. In addition, land is a very valuable asset and is seen as a commodity ripe for speculation. The government keeps removing restrictions on the buying and selling of land, and it takes rising land prices as a sign of progress. A lot of farmland has been reassigned for urban construction. The government inflates target population numbers to designate additional urban development zones.
This is meant to accumulate private capital and alleviate the government’s financial difficulties. It is also a means by which those in government curry favor with powerful local factions for whom land speculation is an important source of profit. Land is not just an economic commodity, but a political one, too.
Overseas, Taiwan is seen as simply a production base, while those who live here are apparently entitled to their own national aspirations. Our national prestige has suffered repeated injuries, but the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) blinds itself to the reality by clinging to the so-called “1992 consensus.” Few occasions remain where it is possible to display the Republic of China flag, and the name “Taiwan” is heard less and less. Even when international sporting events are held in Taiwan, we have to restrict ourselves to the title and symbols of “Chinese Taipei” according to the “Olympic formula.” Again and again, our national prestige is trampled upon because of China’s unreasonable demands. The recent spat at the Tokyo International Film Festival is one example, and now we have been wronged again at the Asian Games. Yet each time our country’s rights and interests are infringed upon, those in government expect everyone to swallow the insult. We have been reduced to little more than scarecrows, with bodies but no souls.
The mode of development that strips people of their rights to property, subsistence and a healthy environment is a regressive one. A development model that talks only of economics while avoiding any mention of politics or national consciousness is very outdated. Progress is not just a matter of economics. It is even more important to uphold environmental sustainability, social justice and political rights. Taiwan is not just a base for production. It is our home, and we rely on this land for our survival. As to the backward mode of national development that has held sway up to now, we just can’t swallow it anymore.
Hsu Shih-jung is a professor at National Chengchi University’s Department of Land Economics.
TRANSLATED BY JULIAN CLEGG