We associate Taiwan with economic miracle and peaceful transition to democracy. But to many in Taiwan today, Taiwan means growing inequality and flawed governance. Young people feel trapped by stagnant wages, while the media is filled with glamorous lives of well-connected wealthy families, and student activists feel no recourse but take to the streets.

Prof. Fan Yun has been watching since she herself helped bring democracy to Taiwan as a leader of the Wild Lily Movement in the 1990s, when she was just a college student. Today she teaches sociology at NTU, but last year, she helped found the Social Democratic Party, a left-wing party seeking to promote better social justice in Taiwan. She is running for member of parliament in Taipei’s Da’an District.

(In our two part interview, we also talk with Freddy Lim of the Taiwanese heavy metal band CHTHONIC, who is also running for parliament, but with the Taiwan New Power Party. We will have that interview next week. Here is our interview.)


Ketagalan Media (KM): Thank you Prof. Fan for your time today. First, why did you decide to found a party at this time, after working in academia on social issues for so long?  

Fan Yun (Fan): I think to start a party you need to be at the right place at the right time. The past two elections I’ve always supported new parties (other than the two major parties, the KMT and the DPP). Whether it’s the Green Party, or Third Society Party, I believe that a more progressive third party will push the two major parties to be progressive too, and bring new thinking into Taiwan’s politics.

Taiwan has a party-list ballot, and after two rounds of that people now have a better idea what that is. As for new political parties, I think the past few years Taiwan’s civil society gone through a lot of changes, and new civic powers have emerged. This new progressive civil power is not proportionally represented in our legislature. Therefore when a group of friends started this new political party, I encouraged and supported them. I never thought I would be at the center, but somehow I picked up this role. It’s a new chapter for Taiwan’s political society that I look forward to.

KM: Speaking of changes in Taiwan’s civil society, can you explain?

Fan: We saw that a string of events like Corporal Hung Chung-chiu, or Miaoli Dapu, the Sunflower Movement, neither the DPP or KMT stepped up. The DPP as the opposition party did not do its part in educating the public about the issues, but it was only after students, NGOs and citizens stormed the parliament that the society at large understood the seriousness of the problem. Civil society is ahead of our politicians, because our progressive power has not been represented. So I’ve always been encouraging something like this, just never thought I would become a core member.

KM: Surprisingly the name “Social Democratic Party” wasn’t already registered.

Fan: There was actually a “Chinese Social Democratic Party” founded by Chu Kao-cheng, and a

“Taiwan Social Democratic Party”. The former no longer exists, and the latter is pretty unknown. We just went with the plain vanilla “Social Democratic Party,” just to be more succinct.

KM: In contrast our name is rather not succinct. My impression of “Social Democratic Party” is from continental Europe, so how is Taiwan’s SDP similar or different from your European counterparts?

Fan: The idea of Social Democracy is a universal concept. Like Green Parties all over the world all subscribe to the same ideals. The central tenet of Social Democracy is liberty, equality, and solidarity. People must have freedom, but there is no real freedom without equality. Solidarity means that the winners and losers in the market work together and share, so the economy can sustain itself democratically.

Taiwan lacks all of these ideas. We have freedom and democracy, but we do not have equality, nor solidarity. In Taiwan, if you make a lot of money, people think that’s because you are capable. He doesn’t feel he should share. But his accomplishments are all attributable to the functioning of the society as a whole, such as transportation, labor, education, the land, etc. This is something we should realize at our stage of economic development.

But Taiwan has always focused on the question of unification versus independence, and ignored social issues. I think it’s about time. Also, Taiwan’s economic development was built on sacrificing labor conditions, sacrificing our land, sacrificing women, family, gender rights. We have hit a bottleneck for this kind of development. We have come to a time of reflection. In a new social economy, the state should be responsible for taking care of its citizens. People should not have vastly different living standards. Social Democracy believes that the things everyone needs should be public, and not turn into commercial commodities. If education becomes a commercial product, then only those who can afford it will get it, but everyone needs education for self-realization, or move up the social ladder. Therefore, education should be public. Same with healthcare, and senior care. We already have public healthcare, but we don’t have public senior care. We are not an agricultural society anymore, people don’t have the time to take care of seniors and kids at home. When you leave it to the market, you get what you see in Taiwan today: people hiring nannies, foreign nurses and maids, etc. Not everyone can afford that.

Healthcare, education, and senior care should be nationalized, according to Social Democracy. We want to harness the power of the whole, so every individual has the chance to pursue their own goals and happiness. This is something we should have in Taiwan.

KM: But Taiwan has had labor movements and gender movements for many years, for example in the 50s and 60s, there were left-wing leaders as well (of course, they were also oppressed by the anti-communist martial law regime). Why do you think Taiwan has not accepted social democratic ideals?

Fan: I think we just haven’t really discussed it properly in Taiwan. The party of Chu Kao-cheng didn’t do this, nor did the so-called Labor Party or Workers Party in the past. We don’t know if Taiwanese society cannot accept these ideas, we just haven’t tried hard enough.

We believe this is the way of the future. If the only difference between the Pan-Blue and Pan-Green camp is national identity, then that era is over because less than 10% of the people want unification with China. The only problem left is how to practically deal with China. So we should begin to talk about how to build Taiwan into a country where every person has the chance to pursue his or her own happiness.

KM: In other words, the old political axis was along national identity, but now you want to turn the axis around to be left and right, progressive and conservative?

Fan: Yes, because as a society we will face these questions sooner or later.

KM: More specifically, last year’s Sunflower Movement against the trade deal with China, some people were against it because they were against trade, but others are against it because it was closer ties to China. If today we are talking about a trade deal with the US like the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), or with Japan, Korea, or another democratic friendly nation, what is SDP’s position?

Fan: Our basic principle is against any trade that sacrifices labor, environment, gender, or any kind of rights. We are against trade for the sake of trade, that is prioritized over people themselves. This is a critique of the past. China will be part of this discussion, but the point is Taiwan’s next economic developmental model. If we can answer this question, our relationship with China may also change. We may not need to rely so much on trade with China to cut our costs. Therefore, our economic strategy will also affect cross-straits relations. If we look at this question this way, it has a lot of potential.

KM: Social democracy has a long history in Europe. But in Taiwan, how do you convince people in everyday situations? What do you say to people when you canvass in markets, parks and on the streets? In your district of Da’an (in Taipei), I assume they are mostly upper middle class, won’t they have mostly conservative views? How do you persuade them?

Fan: Actually upper middle class won’t necessarily reject us. Everyone wants a better quality of life, and more stable retirement. For most of our policies only the top 1% of less will feel threatened, say multi-million dollar conglomerates. From another angle, if people are thinking about their children’s welfare, a better overall environment is attractive to them.

Social Democracy is about internal cooperation and unity. So when we talk to people, we pinpoint the policies most relevant to them. For example, government pensions affect everyone, and we need pension reform. Everyone, even people in Da’an, wants better politics.

KM: And what are your voters’ reactions?

Fan: We talked to a lot of neighborhood wardens (lizhang) about this, and there’s always one policy they like. We feel quite encouraged. We just need more time to explain. After we talk to them, they’re usually quite supportive. Some care about senior care, or pensions, or tax reform. There’s always something.

KM: And The Palace [a luxury residential complex where KMT Taipei mayor candidate Sean Lien and Foxconn president Terry Guo lives] is also in your district…

Fan: That’s right! We haven’t tried talking to them, it’s harder to run into them.

KM: Previously, we have covered electoral systems and constitutional reforms about parliamentary systems. European social democratic parties are often part of the parliamentary system, either as the left-wing or the ruling party. Taiwan has direct presidential elections. How do you see the legitimacy of your party, when you don’t have a presidential candidate? How can SDP be involved in the presidential campaigns?

Fan: Presidential candidates can help with rallying voters. We don’t want to see presidential candidates from only the two major parties. We want to go beyond the two major parties, and we want to give people a third vision of politics. We want to get rid of the KMT, oversee the DPP, so support the SDP. Even if the DPP wins the presidency and majority in parliament, that makes many people uneasy too. If there is a progressive key player in parliament, I think that’s better.

KM: If you do get elected to the parliament, and it’s a multi-party parliament, how do you work together with either the two major parties or the smaller parties?

Fan: Once we are in, we will push for cross-party alliances based on issues. For example, we want to form a inter-party labor rights alliance, anyone from KMT or DPP, or New Power or any other party is welcomed. In Europe, this works quite well. We have a lot of experience working as alliances as NGOs, so I think it’s workable. We will also work with the Green Party, and we will have to see if other alliances are possible.

KM: So the SDP and Green Party will nominate one candidate list (run as one party in the proportional representation party ballot)?

Fan: Yes. We have similar ideals.

KM: Finally, say 50 years later if the KMT and DPP are both gone, how do you see SDP doing then?

Fan: Well, of course we would like to be the ruling party. Ideally, there will not be any pro-unification parties in the future, or if so, a tiny party. We could have two pro-independence parties, one progressive, and one conservative. Taiwan could be a parliamentary system, like northern Europe, there are many parties each representing a different sector of society, like farmers, laborers, the teachers; and the different parties can work things out together. If SDP can galvanize support from blue and white collar workers, women, environmental and other forces, we will have a chance to be the ruling party. As long as Taiwan’s society keeps progressing, we can be a better leading force for Taiwan.

KM: Thank you so much for your time.


台大社會系的范雲教授從參與野百合學運的時候,就都一切看在眼裡。1990 那時候,范雲還是大學生,就投入台灣民主化運動;之後她繼續關心社會運動,性別議題,直到去年她組織社會民主黨,參與台北市大安區的立法委員選舉。

(我們下禮拜將訪問閃靈主唱林昶佐 Freddy Lim, 現為台灣時代力量黨台北市中正萬華區立委參選人。)


Ketagalan Media (KM): 那我們今天就謝謝范雲范教授,我知道你叫我叫你范雲就好。但是我還是尊敬點叫您范教授。那麼就謝謝您今天的時間,第一,我第一個想要問的問題是您在耕耘這樣的社會民主的議題或是立場也耕耘了一段時間,那為什麼選擇在這個時候,組黨,參加參與這個選戰。



KM: 所以就是說台灣公民社會在過去幾年來的轉變?




KM: 所以剛好也就他們名字也比較落落長。就剛好有這樣社會民主黨。那一般社會民主黨,我的印象就是歐洲,普遍每個國家的這個社會民主黨。台灣現在的這個社會民主黨,跟歐陸的社會民主黨,有什麼相同的地方,有什麼不一樣的地方呢?





KM: 那過去,為什麼台灣社會想這樣子的,比如說勞工運動、性別運動,這些也不是說是最近幾年才有的事,那台灣社會可能一直都有。比如說,在五、六零年代,所謂的左派。那當然那個時候,可能是因為,反共產黨,打壓所謂的左派。你覺得在台灣的社會,為什麼到目前為止,還比較難接受社會民主這樣的一些理論或一些想法呢?



KM: 我可不可以這樣講,以前的政治光譜是統獨,或政治的主軸,是統跟獨。那現在可能要把他翻轉成,是左或右,或所謂進步跟保守。至少在經濟議題上是。


KM: 那我想請教一下個比較specific的問題。去年大家反的服貿,跟中國的這個服務貿易協定。很多人可能是因為自由貿易而反對他、很多人可能是因為他是跟中國而反對他,如果他今天的對象不是中國,如果說他今天的對象是跟美國的泛太平洋夥伴協議(TPP),或者是跟日本、韓國、跟台灣友好的這些民主國家,簽訂這個自由貿易協定。那社民黨、或是社會民主的立場會是怎麼樣的一個立場呢?」


KM: 那社會民主的這樣一個理論、一個立場,其實就是剛剛講的,在歐陸國家有一個很長的歷史跟傳統。那在台灣,比如現在已經是進入選戰,在一個比較執行或是比較實際的面上,如你現在去選區內跟選民、去菜市場啦、去公園啦、跟一般這些選民,我想大安區大部份應該都是中產、中上階級的。那他們的一些觀念、一些價值,是不是就比較保守呢?如果是這樣的時候,你怎麼去說服他們,或是怎樣去跟他們溝通?



KM: 所以,當您這樣在跟選民的反應接觸,那他們的反應是?


KM: 那,帝寶也在您的選區裡面呀。


KM: 之前我們的網站有提到過選舉制度和憲政改革,或者是總統制和內閣制,歐陸的社會民主黨在內閣制的體制下,或是左翼或是側翼或是主力。台灣是民選總統,如果一個黨沒有推出自己的總統候選人,新興的政黨如何在總統選戰中佔據一席之位?


KM: 假設進到國會之後,它是一個多黨的國會,會有什麼樣的想像跟其他新興的或者非兩大黨之外的政黨做合作的關係,有什麼合作或縱橫的可能嗎,在國會裡面?


KM: 所以就是說共同推不分區的名單?

范: 對,對,因為大家的力量結合在一起,大家的理念蠻接近的。

KM: 最後一個問題,50年之後前面​​提到的政治的光譜,從統獨,或者認同的主軸轉換到保守或進步,左跟右,如果國民黨和民進黨都消失不存在了,你希望的社會民主黨是什麼樣子的?


KM: 今天謝謝您的時間,聊的非常愉快,學到很多。

(Feature photo of Prof. Fan Yun, from her campaign Facebook page.)


The Ketagalan Project

History and culture are the frames that prescribe how we understand the world around us. Our co-hosts present in-depth interviews on how art, culture, history and politics intertwine throughout time and space to connect us. Find out about the cosmopolitan modern Taipei downtown in the 1920s, regional trade, the future of aboriginal culture and more.