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Reframing Rio

‘Armed Youth’ to Rock Rio

TAIPEI, Jun 19 2012 (IPS) - Environmental and community activists from Taiwan will enliven the United Nations Sustainable Development Conference, dubbed Rio+20, and the parallel People’s Summit, with one of the island’s most prominent social protest music groups, the Village Armed Youth Band.

Even though Taiwan’s 23 million people have not been represented in the U.N. since October 1971, several delegations will attend the Rio+20 conference and its side events, including a group of government officials led by Environmental Protection Administration Vice Minister, Yeh Hsin-cheng; environmental officials from the island nation’s five special municipalities; and a civic Taiwan Action NGO (TANGO) delegation.

Led by Taiwan Environmental Protection Union (TEPU) President Wang Chun-hsiu, who attended both the fist earth summit in Rio back in 1992 and the 2002 Johannesburg meetings, the 18-person TANGO delegation includes activists from the Homeworkers United Foundation, the Green Citizens’ Action Alliance Taiwan, the Community Empowering Society, the Taiwan Environmental Info Association, the Society of Wilderness and four youth delegates from the Taiwan Youth Climate Coalition.

On Sunday, the TANGO delegation held an event entitled, ‘From Energy Democrazy to Energy Democracy: Taiwan’s PPP (People’s Power Plant Movement) and Green Collar Taiwan.’

They also plan to hold two protest marches in Rio.

Wang said the TANGO delegation would enliven its activities with performances by the radical Taiwan folk-rock group, the Village Armed Youth Band, thereby introducing to People’s Summit participants the generally unappreciated richness of Taiwan’s social protest music.

Based in central Taiwan’s Taichung City, the three-person band has emerged as a potent grassroots voice for Taiwan’s anti-nuclear power movement and numerous other environmental causes as well as struggles by farmers to resist expropriation of their land by central and local governments for industrial development plans.

Village Armed Youth Band guitarist and vocalist Chiang Yu-da, usually known as “Ah Da”, composed a new song, ‘Formosa Etude’, specifically for the Rio+20 meet, which begins with the words, “Formosa, I have written a mother’s poem for you…will you not listen to my singing?”

“Taiwan should not just be seen, but also heard,” said Chiang, whose group features an almost entirely acoustic sound with Siao Chang-jhan (“Ah-Chan”) on djembe drums and Wei Hong-yang (“Lichun”) on violin.

“Most of our songs are concerned with the degradation of Taiwan’s agriculture and rural and land justice,” said Chiang, who stated that the five-year-old band took its inspiration from Taiwanese “rice bomber” and activist Yang Ju-men, who planted 17 small explosives made mainly of rice in the early 2000s to protest Taiwan’s entry into the World Trade Organisation and push the government to protect the interests of farmers.

“I brought that attitude of being armed into our music, whose ideals are the same as those which Yang Ju-men expressed with his bombs,” said Chiang, a graduate of the philosophy department at Tunghai University in Taichung.

A notable example of this theme was Chiang’s ‘The Song of the White Dolphin’, which protested the threat posed to the critically endangered marine mammal (also known as the Taiwan Pink Dolphin) by the government’s plans to build a major Kuokuang Petrochemical Project on Taiwan’s central west coast, on “reclaimed” land in the Dacheng Wetlands that are the white dolphin’s last habitat in the country.

The song, whose simple lyrics comprise a lament by the white dolphin that “cannot find its mother”, helped fuel a nationwide civic movement in which over 30,000 citizens offered to contribute to a proposed fund to buy 200 hectares of wetlands as a reserve for the dolphins.

The ‘Save the Taiwan Pink Dolphin’ movement gave national and international prominence to the decade-long campaign by local farmers and environmentalists to block the massive project led by the state-owned CPC Corporation and other petrochemical firms and played a major role in the announcement by President and ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang or KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou on Apr. 22, 2011 that the complex “will not be built in Changhua County.”

Besides performing in numerous protest rallies, on university campuses and at NGO meetings around Taiwan, the Village Armed Youth has issued two VCDs, the first in 2009 and the second, ‘Return Our Lands’, a year later, while ‘The Song of the White Dolphin’ was included in a collection called ‘Petrochemical Nation’ issued by the Changhua County Environmental Protection Union in 2011.

‘Return Our Land’, which has also been produced as a seven-minute MTV video, was written and performed in support of the ongoing struggle of residents of Siangsihliao village against expropriation of their land for an expansion project of the Taichung Technological Zone.

Chiang said the group would perform mainly environmental and land justice songs in Rio. These may include ‘No Justice, No Peace’, ‘I Don`t Want to Work the Farm Anymore’ and ‘The Devil’s Gift’, a protest song about the government’s continued push to develop nuclear power.

Relating that he translated the band’s songs into English with photographs illustrating their backgrounds, Chiang told IPS, “I hope through our music we can have dialogue with people from other countries and explain Taiwan’s experiences, what is happening now in Taiwan and what the Taiwan people are doing about it.”


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