Big Citizen Is Watching You

The death of a young soldier has sent both political and social shockwaves through Taiwan, culminating in a rally of more than 100,000 people outside the Presidential Office in Taipei on Saturday August 4th – the eve of the young man’s funeral.

The protest was organised by activist group, Citizen 1985, a group of 39 anonymous members that were strangers before being united by the death of 24 year old Army Corporal, Hung Chung-chiu.

It has been reported that Hung died due to excessive physical activity as punishment for bringing a smartphone onto the army base without permission. The conditions under which he was made to perform these rigorous punishments caused Hung to suffer heatstroke.

President Ma Ying-jeou has promised Hung’s family an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding his death, and so far 18 officers have been indicted in the case. In addition, legislators are looking at certain laws such as the Code of Court Martial Procedure, the Code of Criminal Procedure and the National Security Act, in the hope of amending them to ensure nothing of this kind happens again.

Despite the steps being taken towards atoning for wrongs committed, Hung’s family are unsatisfied with President Ma’s actions and his administration, saying that he has been vague and generally unhelpful. This sentiment is mirrored in the general public; thousands have been touched by this case and feel that drastic action needs to be taken.

Citizen 1985 formed over the internet, where they continue to correspond and gather support. The Facebook event for their first rally, held on 20th July, indicated 9,000 people would attend, but the actual turnout was over 30,000.

The 100,000 protestors united by Citizen 1985 on August 4th were predominantly young people, with many wearing white as a sign of mourning. The crowd sung a variation of a revolutionary song from Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, ‘Do You Hear the People Sing’ while holding up placards with an image of a bleeding eye. This eye, the symbol chosen for the rally, signified “the eye of the citizens”, according to the two group spokespeople who came forward.

The movement gained inspiration for this from George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 and the line “Big Brother is watching you”. Orwell’s 1984 describes a future in which society is controlled by “Big Brother”, and nowhere is safe from his ever watching eye, not even your own home.

This totalitarian government is incredibly restrictive and overpowers free thought with people unable to even think outside state guidelines in fear that the Thought Police will make them disappear forever. In this way the citizens’ minds are kept completely under control.

Citizen 1985 has turned this concept on its head by using the collaborative power of the citizens to pressure and control the government. Orwell’s “Big Brother is watching you” is inverted to “Big Citizen is watching you”, hence the ever watching citizen eye utilised by protestors.

Three demands were put forward at the rally in regard to Hung’s death and the military in general. Firstly, that the military sector and the judicial system carry out joint investigations into the case; secondly, for the military to set up a special committee to investigate any previously recorded wrongful deaths; and lastly, for the president to be fully responsible for the human rights of soldiers and for the civilian judicial system to take over the currently military run prosecution system.

It seems Taiwanese citizens have taken the whole situation to heart. A 31 year old man said that he had never been to a political rally before but he attended this one because he felt it sent a strong and necessary message to the government.

If Citizen 1985 succeeds in pressuring the government to make these changes to the military sector, it will have been an incredible revolutionary movement.

With diverse influences, from classic literature to social media, and the group’s popularity and success that has so far stemmed from them, we are left with a notion of what the public are indeed capable of, and how, despite the dominance of the internet it can also work in conjunction with more traditional forms of media to create something truly revolutionary.

Maia Coghlan

The author Maia Coghlan

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