The siege of Bo’ai: an eyewitness account

Barbed-wire barricades block Zhongshan South Road, south of the Jingfu Gate

I went to the protest with Darren arriving at CKS Memorial Hall MRT station around midday. We found Zhongshan South Road entirely blocked off by barbed-wire barricades. This forced us to take a long detour around the back of NTU Hospital to reach the corner of Zhongshan South Road and Xuzhou Road where the main protest was taking place. The barricades had blocked off a large area including 228 Park, the Taipei Guest House and Ketagalan Boulevard. I am not sure about where they were placed on the west side.

Man leads chanting from the back of a truck

Th protest was typically noisy and passionate. People shouted “Ma Ying-jeou step down! Chen Yunlin go away!” (馬英九下台!陳雲林滾開!) The crowd starting marching away on Xuzhou Road. It is always difficult to estimate crowd numbers, but it would have been in the order of tens of thousands. I didn’t follow the march but wandered around taking more photos with Darren before he left for work.

At around 2:30 I noticed some protestors broke through the barbed-wire barricades and a confrontation with police began just to the north of the Jingfu Gate (景福門). I was quite some distance away near the corner of Zhongshan South Road and Xuzhou Road. I walked down past the NTU Hospital and found a large section of the barricades had been pushed flat to the ground. I crossed over them and continued down Zhongshan South Road. I saw some people carrying a man with a bloody head towards the hospital. I don’t know how the man sustained the injuries.

Projectiles which can be seen on the ground were being thrown at police

When I arrived at the scene of the confrontation the media were in the middle of the protestors and police. Some projectiles — plastic bottles, gas canisters (from airhorns), fruit and rocks — were being thrown at police. The media were calling the protestors to stop throwing things and acting as a buffer to prevent the protestors directly confronting the police. The police moved their position back a little.

As a larger crowd gathered most of the media moved back behind the police line. People were very angry and shouting at the police. Projectiles continued to be intermittently thrown. People in the crowd made efforts to stop people from throwing things.

People link arms to form a buffer between angry protestors and the police line

It was a very intense situation with the obvious potential to escalate into a bloody riot. A number of sensible people, mainly DPP workers, started to move along the front of the police line and make active efforts to calm angry protestors down and prevent them from challenging the police. At one stage they even linked arms to prevent people from getting too close to the police. The police for the most part simply held their line. There were a few minor scuffles that broke out, but these were due to angry protestors directly confronting the police.

Protestor clashes with police. Please note this clash was initiated by the protestor not the police.

There was now a tense standoff with police lined up behind their shields on one side and a large crowd of protestors on the other. Some people continued to actively calm down the angrier protestors. Many of the barbed-wire barricades were taken down and this allowed some “protest trucks” to move in and people made speeches.

During a scuffle that broke out I got caught between police and the protestors and had to escape behind the police line. I had less chance to see what was going on in the crowd from there. The situation eventually calmed down so that the “protest trucks” started driving to the north and most of the crowd followed them.

The police deserve some credit for their restraint. Most importantly it was the people who took responsibility for the situation and calmed down the crowd that deserve the most credit. There may have been some hot heads in the crowd but fortunately the cool heads prevailed.

As I was standing in the midst of the action I felt that the whole nation of Taiwan was teetering on the brink. The government and police via their actions throughout the week had created a pressure cooker situation which was bound to explode. I was also at the Grand Formosa Regent Hotel for some time on Wednesday night where I observed many things. The actions of police and protestors need to be discussed in more detail in a separate post.

*many photos from this protest can be found at flickr.

6 thoughts on “The siege of Bo’ai: an eyewitness account

  1. Good report. I have a few thoughts but I’ll wait until your future post about police and protester actions as they are probably more relevant there.

    Interestingly, down here in the centre of Taiwan, it’s business as usual – none of my Taiwanese friends, colleagues and neighbors seem to be too concerned with things regardless of which side of politics they are on.

  2. Crazy stuff! I’d go have a look but I’m a bit swamped with work. Good to hear things didn’t get too out of control.
    Even though I’m practically right down the street (near Shida) I feel like I’m a world away. My Taiwanese classmates here seem totally uninterested- though maybe they just don’t talk about it with me.

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  5. Thanks for the great post. Can’t find any information on this from the States. Thank goodness for bloggers who covered the events during the last few days.

  6. Ted, bloggers have done some great work this week informing the world about what is really going on in Taiwan. The international media have largely ignored the protests. Their reporting has generally focused on the talks with ARATS with the protests only being mentioned incidentally.

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