Taiwan's environmental protection problems and movement Ⅲ
The Meinong anti-reservoir movement
Chen Rei-bin (Secretary-general , Taiwan Environmental Information Association): The Meinong anti-reservoir movement could be said to be an important index for the environmental protection movement in Taiwan, as it was one of the few successful cases. Despite the fact that the movement appeared successful, there has been subsequent talk about building another reservoir. This has been a reoccurring cycle. Let’s now ask Mr. Chang to talk a bit about the anti-reservoir movement, its operation and the establishment of community colleges.
Chang Cheng-yang (former director of the Meinong People's Association): I am very happy to have this opportunity to share with everyone the experiences we have had in a small farming village in southern Taiwan. We started our work in Meinong fifteen years ago in 1992. The whole process could be divided into two stages. The first stage involved getting things going in the community, with the second stage devoted to making our stand. The second stage could be further divided into two more stages; during both of these stages, we have continued to deepen community commitment.
During the first stage of initial social ferment, the central government had just lifted martial law, which marked a period of flourishing social movement. Three young people returned to Meinong and set up a working group. Most people under forty in Taiwan have gone through the pressures of trying to pursue advanced studies at the cost of alienation from the very environment in which we grew up. The ironic thing here is that the more you study, the further away you stray from your home villages. These idealistic youths wanted to do some things in their home village. The first difficulty was thus to reestablish themselves with the local network.
Meinong is a very typical Hakka farming community. This is why when the protests began many elements of Hakka culture were employed. The first stage of the protest process began on December 12, 1992, when some civic groups and the Meinong Township Office held the first public hearing. Even though the Meinong Township Office is a government bureau, it was still opposed to the reservoir initiative. Before the public hearing, probably about 99.9 percent of Meinong residents knew nothing about plans for the reservoir that had been in the works for over ten years. After the public hearing, much of our work, such as more frequent community meetings, got started.
The Meinong reservoir initiative had already gone through all necessary administrative channels at the time, including approval by the Executive Yuan. The following year the Legislative Yuan was getting ready to review the budget, which left us little choice but to make our way to Taipei to lobby legislators and try and stop the budget from passing. We were short of funds ourselves in those days, so in order to save money everyone decided to take an overnight coach and sleep on the bus. One member of our group even wrote about the trip calling his article "The Nocturnal Bus Ride." We decided not to go for the pitiful look when protesting in front of the Legislative Yuan, so we had the women dress in traditional blue Hakka outfits and carry the paper umbrellas that are a famous symbol of Meinong Hakka culture. This approach caught the attention of the media and we used the same tactics each time we made our way to the Legislative Yuan.
In the first stage of our protests, we made contact with an international river protection organization based in San Francisco. This organization helps with worldwide anti-reservoir causes, offering advice on how to present our cases to the public. In the process of making contact, we found we were not alone. Anti-reservoir protests are number two only behind anti-nuclear among worldwide environmental protection movements.
The two years after we succeeded in blocking the budget for the reservoir was a period of comparative peace. From around 1995 to 1998, the Meinong People's Association went about a number of tasks. This included compiling the Meinong Annals of Local History, planning the Meinong Hakka Culture Museum and starting Taiwan's first qualifying classes for teachers to instruct overseas brides. Our Meinong Local History Annals were different than other such efforts around Taiwan. At that time, most places writing local annals would hire a group of scholars or some expert to compile the book. In Meinong, however, we took a different approach. We gathered the teachers as well as other members of the community to write the annals as a group effort. This is why you see a more traditional as well as critical flavor in our annals. There were over fifty people who collectively wrote this book. One professor from Soochow University wrote a chapter as well; he said the process of writing the annals was basically a type of social movement.
On April 16, 1998, then premier Hsiao Wan-chang announced that work would have to begin on the reservoir within a year. When the news hit the headlines of the China Times the next day, the people of Meinong started to take action again. From that day until May of the next year, when the Legislative Yuan was scheduled to make its final assessment, many more people joined our cause. The movement went from a relatively local environmental protection effort in becoming the focus of national environmental protests.
In these years, we joined with many groups to push for many initiatives and received a great deal of support from many sectors. This included leading officials from three cities and counties that issued a joint statement against the building of the Meinong reservoir. But the ruling KMT used its number advantage in the Legislative Yuan to get what the party wanted. The budget was cancelled by the budget committee, but the KMT succeeded in getting the agenda before the assembly for a vote. The general assembly was able to override the budget committee and order work to begin on the reservoir. When Chen Shui-bian took office in 2000, he publicly proclaimed that the reservoir would not be built during his term. The whole process was a roller coaster ride, as the Meinong reservoir went from being actively promoted by the central government to being shelved. But there still has been money in the budget every year since then earmarked for constructing the reservoir.
From 1999 until the present day, we have continued doing a number projects aimed at developing community autonomy. We have two main projects; the first is civic organization development. Many organizations have allowed their public scope to grow, going from a local association to an organization with more of a public agenda. The second project we are working on is establishing a community college. The college would provide our residents with an opportunity to learn more and through this learning, the college both directly and indirectly would contribute to developing our town. We are also cooperating with Meinong spokespeople who help to educate the public regarding anti-reservoir efforts. We look at the possibility of reservoir construction as both a crisis and an opportunity. The opportunity the reservoir project has afforded us is a chance to rebuild our community. That’s why when we formed our organization we called it the Meinong People’s Association and not the Anti-reservoir Association.