by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: Han Kuo-yu/Facebook
KAOHSIUNG MAYOR Han Kuo-yu became the object of popular mockery last month after a series of incidents involving Kaohsiung high schoolers mocking him publicly at award ceremonies for his presidential ambitions.
High schoolers awarded prizes by Han in his capacity as mayor began mocking him after a ninth-grader surnamed Wu being awarded a prize by Han said to Han in front of cameras, “That you want to be president is ridiculous” (你要去選總統很可笑). Han then tried to pat Wu on the head and push him away.
Video of the initial incident of a nine-grader surnamed Wu mocking Han. Film credit: Liberty Times
With video of the incident going viral online, other high schoolers began to similarly mock Han in front of cameras at award ceremonies. While posing next to Han for a picture, one student held up a book with the title, Why Do You Love to Lie? (為什麼愛說謊？). One student wore a shirt reading “Run Away” at a similar award ceremony, while another student wore a DPP shirt. Two students in separate incidents held up signs stating “Finish Your Term,” calling attention to Han’s intention to not finish his term as Kaohsiung mayor and to run for president instead.
Six students—three male students and three female students—have mocked Han at award ceremonies to date, with other students reporting attempts to mock Han that were not successful.
Indeed, six students may not be any representative sample of Taiwanese young people as a whole. Yet it has been observed that despite Han previously enjoying the support of a number of Kaohsiung young people, Han’s support among younger demographics has visibly receded in past months, with many attendees at rallies held by Han aimed at building momentum for Han’s presidential run attended primarily by older ROC nationalists.
Notably, these recent incidents involving students mocking Han have become viral videos which are widely circulated online.
With these incidents of Han being publicly mocked, one is reminded of a series of similar incidents in the years before the Sunflower Movement involving youth activists throwing shoes at KMT politicians. One of the key incidents which originally led eventual Sunflower Movement student leader Chen Wei-ting to become a known public figure involved Chen throwing his shoe at Miaoli county commissioner Liu Cheng-hung. Shoe-throwing incidents later became so widespread that the activist board game company, Godyu, would make a board game around the theme in late 2014.
Likewise, mockery of Han at award ceremonies vaguely recalls how youth activists in the years before the Sunflower Movement often joked that bad luck befell those who shook hands with then-president Ma Ying-jeou. This led activists to avoid shaking hands with Ma during award ceremonies. Here though, with Han, the point seems to be to shake hands with Han and then to mock him.
Student holding a book entitled “Why Do You Love to Lie?” while posing with Han. Film credit: TTV News
More generally, one notes that in the years before the Sunflower Movement activists engaged in a number of pranks against KMT politicians, often involving variations on a basic theme. The defacement of Chiang Kai-shek statues, for example, which were also a widely discussed event in Taiwanese society at the time, sometimes involved dressing up Chiang Kai-shek statues to resemble fictional figures or otherwise defacing it in some creative manner. Activists would compete to outdo each other in their creativity.
One may observe a similar phenomenon with regards to the recent mockery of Han Kuo-yu by high schoolers. This might be another way in which the social atmosphere in Taiwan resembles that before the Sunflower Movement, in many ways, with many of the same issues which were at stake during the Sunflower Movement becoming objects of popular protest once again. But despite that current high schoolers were too young to have participated in the Sunflower Movement in 2014, it proves noteworthy that they would adopt similar protest tactics to their predecessors five years ago. Youth activism is alive and well in Taiwan among the next generation, then.