Week Six: Interview and Incense

Week Six (8/11 – 8/17)

On Monday I had the privilege of interviewing a young woman named 吳奕柔 (I-jou Wu). I-jou is a student at National Taiwan University and is a leader in the Taiwan Youth Association for Democracy (TYAD), a NGO founded to unify students to on issues related to democracy. I met with her to discuss the Youth Combatting Fake News Front, a student movement that she and TYAD help to lead. She told us that her motivation for advocacy is to combat the threat of China, delay the day that Hong-Kong-type street protests are necessary, and to build support networks to prepare for when that day comes.

My interview with I-jou and an emailed Q&A with Cofacts (a fact-checking organization) provided the central points for my report, so I was able to finish writing it this week. It will still need to make it through several editors but the report could be put in the TFD’s Taiwan Democracy Bulletin.

This month on the lunar calendar is apparently “ghost month,” according to the local religion (a mix of folk deities, Buddhism, and Chinese philosophy). I never got a thorough explanation of the belief, but it seems that ghosts are more active during this month. So one custom is for businesses to perform a ceremony to honor the ancestor spirits. At TFD, all (or nearly all) the employees went out to the courtyard where there was a table with fruit and snacks laid out. Everyone was invited to take incense sticks to bow with, an action called 拜拜 (bai-bai), as one person read some prayers. I’ve walked past stores this week that also burned fake money as offerings. I declined to participate, along with a few others, though I watched with interest. One coworker told me that the first time she encountered this practice she was shocked because she is a second-generation Christian, so her family doesn’t do this. I suppose it may be surprising that the whole organization participates, but the custom of ancestor worship is common. My family home in Beigang has a family shrine, and temples are everywhere in Taiwan.

Setting up for the 拜拜 (Bai-bai) ceremony.

Setting up for the 拜拜 (Bai-bai) ceremony.

On Friday, all the TFD watched a documentary together during lunch. Titled “我们” (“We”), the film is a past work of a current TFD visiting fellow. He follows several democracy advocates in China, including some old gentlemen who have been agitating for a long time. The activists debate things like how quickly they should go, how long they will be allowed to continue, and whether China will ever democratize. Perhaps it is surprising that democracy advocates can even exist, but one thing I’ve learned while researching disinformation is that China realizes there will always be dissent, and focuses on preventing actions like organizing or gathering, rather than squashing all criticism.