by Brian Hioe
New Bloom interviewed Lii Wen (李問), legislative candidate for the DPP in Mazu, on December 13th. Lii previously worked as a reporter for the Taipei Times, in the international section of the DPP and other government institutions, and as a DPP spokesperson.
Brian Hioe: First, could you introduce yourself for readers who don’t know you?
Lii Wen: Hi everyone, I’m Lii Wen. I’m 30 years old. I’m currently the DPP’s legislative candidate in Matsu. This is my first election campaign, so I also count as a new, younger candidate entering politics for the first time. In the past, I worked as a journalist for the Taipei Times, and I also worked on diplomatic policy and research in the DPP, including in the international section of the DPP, and related government institutions.
I focused primarily on Southeast Asian issues then. Apart from English-language efforts to establish international connections, I also learned Indonesian, meeting many friends from Indonesia and Malaysia. Later on, I entered the National Security Council in the Presidential Office, specializing more in defense issues, and I spent some time in various thinktanks.
Most recently, I took an appointment as DPP spokesperson, as one of the DPP’s party spokespersons. I did this until September, when I announced that I would be running for the legislature in Matsu.
BH: Why did you decide to participate in the election this time?
LW: For the DPP, Matsu is quite difficult as an electoral district. In 2016, Tsai Ing-wen only won 16% of the vote. For a long period of time, the DPP didn’t run any legislative candidate in Matsu. But I decided to run, not hoping that the DPP would give up on any citizen and that we could really protect all 23 million citizens, without giving up on anyone’s individual rights, anyone’s safety or livelihood. Regardless of political party, even if this was in a place that is traditionally more pan-Blue, my party—the DPP—shouldn’t give up on attempts to take care of residents of Taiwan’s outlying islands.
My other strong belief, which I emphasize very strongly is that “Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, and Matsu are one in heart and spirit.” What I mean by this is that our country is formed from many different ethnic groups, people with different languages, histories, and backgrounds. Yet what we all share is support for our democratic system of government and that we hope for a transparent government.
So for Matsu, it’s traditional culture is Mindong culture, different from the Minnan culture found in Kinmen, Matsu, Penghu. We can say that Mindong culture is more similar to the culture in Fuzhou. But what that leads us to consider is, what is it that unites our country?
The Republic of China doesn’t require us to be a country with a homogeneous culture. We have different cultures, including indigenous cultures, southeast Asian cultures, Minnan culture, and Mindong culture. There are many people that identify with “Zhonghua” (Chinese) culture, such as the national flag, and the tradition and history of the Republic of China.
These are all components that form our country. So it is values that unite our country, such as our democracy, that as part of the history, different parts of the country, we fought for our democracy. Such as that there was the Dangwai movement in Taiwan the past.
But martial law lasted longer than in Taiwan in Kinmen and Matsu, martial law was only lifted in 1992 with the dissolution of the so-called military government. There are also forerunners who fought for democratic freedoms in Kinmen and Matsu, similarly to Taiwan. This can be a foundation for us to come together.
BH: What do you think is particular about your election campaign?
LW: For this election, it’s true that the DPP hasn’t traditionally had the advantage in Matsu, with no electoral base in the area. I would say that because of this, we have to be especially creative, to think of new discourses. You could say that Matsu is a creative testbed and a place for experimentation for us. We hope that Matsu can stimulate our creativity.
On this point, I think we’ve been partly successful. I began wearing an election balloon around Matsu and I walked a circle around all of Matsu’s islands wearing this balloon for two weeks in September. This was a total of 68 kilometers, since of the five inhabited islands in Matsu, their circumferences is around 68 kilometers.
We decided to use a balloon, because we needed to have the most effective means of campaigning using the least amount of resources. Matsu is very suited for traveling on foot, as a form of tourism.
Later on, many different candidates began to imitate us in using an election balloon to campaign. There are at least ten to twenty at this point, which we count as a success in our campaign advertising.
Apart from this, I’ve also taken to wearing a mussel shell. This is a humorous way of highlighting a special maritime product of Matsu’s.
But apart from costumes, we’ve put a great deal of thought into the discourse of our advertising. For example, many of our campaign advertisements have both two flags, including the ROC flag and the DPP flag, or this green Matsu flag that we made. It’s like the DPP flag, except at the center isn’t Taiwan, but Matsu, as a way of highlighting Matsu’s particular culture.
The use of the two flags reflects that…Matsu is a place which has seen warfare in the past. You can see many flags and military slogans. Many people identify strongly with the view that the “Military and the people are one family” and identification with the ROC is quite strong.
Looking back on our past, how should the DPP relate to the ROC flag? Is it that only the KMT can identify with the flag? If the DPP wants to use the ROC flag, to use the ROC flag in our campaign advertising, what’s different from our interpretation of what the flag stands for than the KMT?
For me personally, I believe that the national flag stands for the military protecting national sovereignty, resisting authoritarianism. When I served in the military, our troops used the national flag. So it stands for protecting the nation and the national flag shouldn’t be monopolized by any political party or any politician, nor is it Han Kuo-yu’s personal symbol.
The use of two flags is quite interesting. In my campaign advertising, two flags often appear side by side, such as on my business card. One time that DPP chair Cho Jung-tai came to visit me, he gave me this pin. He said that it was from his personal collection, from Chen Shui-bian’s second election inauguration ceremony. It also has the ROC and DPP flags, indicating the hope to highlight both the ROC’s sovereignty and the DPP’s traditions. So it’s not as though the DPP hasn’t tried this before. It’s just how we can make this more meaningful.
BH: What do you think is the most important issue for voters in Matsu? What issues would you emphasize yourself?
LW: Transportation issues are, traditionally speaking, very important in Matsu. But because Matsu is an outlying island county, many important resources, such as regarding education and work, come from Taiwan.
Matsu is quite interesting in this respect. Matsu is geographically very close to China, but many important resources, such as regarding infrastructure or transportation, primarily come from Taiwan. It’s very interesting, because Matsu may be close to the mainland in terms of community of shared life, but it is part of Taiwan’s community of shared of shared destiny. Is that the right term?
BH: Shared destiny? It’s Benedict Anderson or something, right?
LW: Shared destiny, shared communities, communities of destiny, or whatever. Transportation between Matsu and Taiwan is very important and transportation internally within Matsu is also very important.
In the past few years, the DPP government has committed a comparatively large amount of resources to transportation infrastructure in Matsu, such as constructing between the two largest islands in Matsu, Beigan, and Nangan. This bridge was something that Matsu residents had been waiting for over ten years to be completed. It was only after then-Premier William Lai passed the annual budget that the first step toward this bridge was taken.
Apart from this, Premier Su Tseng-chang set out expenditures to construct a boat to travel between Taiwan and Matsu, serving as a new way of connecting Taiwan and Matsu. This cost a total of 1.14 billion NTD. This has also been something that Matsu residents have also been waiting for for a long time.
So I repeatedly emphasize, and indeed many Matsu residents have told me, the DPP hasn’t devoted fewer resources to infrastructure in Matsu than the KMT, and perhaps it can be said that the DPP has displayed stronger government efficiency and paid more attention to Matsu.
But on the other hand, many people feel that the DPP is unfamiliar with Matsu, and that the DPP doesn’t think of Matsu residents as their own people. Or they’ll worry that the DPP would abandon the people of Kinmen and Matsu, particularly seeing as Kinmen and Matsu have sacrificed much for Taiwan in the past. They wonder if there were a crisis, whether the DPP would stand up for Kinmen and Matsu.
In confronting this skepticism, there is much that we have to continue to work on, to obtain everyone’s support. I hope to gradually convince everyone that the DPP pays attention to issues regarding resources, expenditures, infrastructure, and development Matsu.
I also believe that education is a very important issue for Matsu. But this is something that traditional politicians pay less attention to. Matsu has the highest birthrate in the entire nation, Matsu residents have many, many children. Those working in the field of education there work very hard.
But…educational issues have been neglected by traditional politicians. What I hope more to see is that, first, is to ensure preschool education, as well as to attracted skilled educators to Matsu, so that they would be willing to stay in a smaller island like Matsu, without an outflow of educational personnel.
Whether with regard to local issues or national issues, I hope to improve the pay for educators, to make staying in Matsu more attractive for educators. Regarding preschool education, I hope to follow suit on President Tsai Ing-wen’s policy to provide educational subsidies for preschool.
I was just talking with an NGO called Parks and Playgrounds For Children By Children. I hope to promote local consultation, so that local playgrounds can fit the needs of the children there, to reflect the specificities of different areas. This can even be a way of making playgrounds into tourist attractions into themselves.
This quite fits with my views for Matsu, hoping that Matsu can become a place for children to live, and a place suitable for children to stay, and in which more resources can be devoted to culture.
Music video released by Lii’s campaign. Film credit: 李問/Facebook
BH: There are many young candidates running this time in elections, including yourself. What are your views regarding this? What do you believe that this reflects about Taiwanese politics?
LW: This reflects that the DPP is willing to give young people opportunities, that it is a political party that allows young people to reveal their talents.
I believe that this is especially necessary for Matsu, because the majority of politicians in Matsu are of an older generation. They may not understand young people who wish to return to Matsu to start new businesses, to raise their kids there, or the issues faced by these young fathers and mothers.
And for tourism in Matsu, there is a need to depend on the creativity of young people for marketing, such as with online marketing. I often feel that for many industries, those belonging to older generations may understand techniques, but they may not understand the Internet or advertising. It may be younger people who are more creative and have newer ideas regarding this.
The government in Matsu is often trying to promote the “Blue Tears” of Matsu, but it seems almost as though people go to Matsu only to see the Blue Tears. There are actually many other things to be done in Matsu, many stories worthy to be told, which we hope for people to know more about. This necessarily depends on young people. But this is what traditional politicians don’t understand, and this has led to a vicious cycle.
Of course, I hope that young people can have more opportunities nationwide, whether with regard to the economy or politically. Politically, allowing young people to have more opportunities to participate in civic activities, or to economically allow them to participate in politics, these industries can give young people more opportunities to show their talents, to allow industries to become more diverse, and to give young people more opportunities for growth.
BH: Lastly, what do you have to say to readers, both Taiwanese and international?
LW: Matsu is a very special place. Like I said before, it’s a place that has stimulated our creativity and provided for new ways of thinking. Matsu lets us think about things such as the relation between democracy and culture, and whether these things have a dependent relationship,
The government of China might tell us that Chinese culture is incompatible with western values regarding democracy. But whether the experience of Taiwan, Kinmen, or Matsu, we find that many voters are very devoted to Chinese culture and strongly identify with it. But they may hope to protect a democratic system of governance.
Such voters sometimes haven’t had a party to represent them in terms of Taiwan’s political spectrum. Some believe that there is no way that the DPP can represent them.
But this leads us to reflect on the question of what the DPP’s core values are. Is it that we emphasize identification with a specific culture or is it that we emphasize identification with democratic values? If we are a sufficiently inclusive and sufficiently open party, then we shouldn’t just identify a specific set of cultural values, but we should allow for people with different cultural identities. This includes indigenous culture, Southeast Asian culture, Chinese culture; the DPP should try to win their support.
There are some voters who might especially like some form of cultural activities, such as calligraphy or tai chi. Because they like these cultural activities derived from Chinese culture, they might be skeptical of the DPP. However, I don’t believe that it needs to be this way.
So I hope that in running in Matsu, I can establish a dialogue with these people who love Chinese culture, who identify strongly with Chinese culture. I hope that this can lead the DPP to become more inclusive, and to become a party that represents the people of the nation as a whole. Such ideas regarding culture and democracy can serve as a mirror for other countries, and other countries can learn from us in this way.