Note from the author: Before you start reading this, it’ll help to play this track in the background. Trust me.
On a sunny August afternoon in 2012 at Catton Hall in Walton-on-Trent, UK, a diminutive Taiwanese man strode to the lip of the Ronnie James Dio stage at Bloodstock Open Air. Dressed in black, his forehead painted delicately in black and gold and clutching a microphone like his life depended on it, he addressed the thousands that stood before him.
In a voice far gentler than the monstrous one deployed when belting out the words to his band’s music, Chthonic frontman Freddy Lim spoke to his audience about an injustice being perpetrated around 200-odd kilometers away in London. That’s where his country was participating in the Olympics, except under the name Chinese Taipei.
“It’s not Chinese Taipei! My country is called Taiwan!”
Sure, it’s slightly paraphrased. But the sight of a predominantly British audience chanting “Taiwan! Taiwan! Taiwan!” will long live in this writer’s memory. Freddy’s knack for having audiences eat out of his hand was never in doubt, but on Saturday, his ability will undergo its biggest test: The Taiwanese parliamentary election.
That’s right, Amnesty International Taiwan’s chairman from 2010 to 2014 will be contesting Saturdays election under the banner of the New Power Party (NPP) that he co-founded a little under a year ago. Of the 113 seats in the Legislative Yuan (the unicameral legislation of Taiwan), it is the one that represents Wanhua and Zhongzheng districts of Taipei that Freddy will be contesting. His opponent? Lin Yu-fang of the country’s ruling Chinese Nationalist Party or Kuomintang (KMT).
Keeping it classy, Lin urged supporters at a rally on 8 January not to vote for someone whose “hair (is) longer than a woman’s and is mentally abnormal”. There’s really nothing to add here.
So what’s on the long-haired and allegedly ‘mentally abnormal’ Freddy’s manifesto? Unlimited sex, endless drugs and overflowing booze?
Among the NPP’s objectives is to rewrite the Constitution of the Republic of China (RoC).
For the uninitiated, a bit of disambiguation may be required: The RoC, as opposed to the People’s Republic of China refers to an erstwhile territory that includes Taiwan and 35 other provinces. The RoC would retreat to Taiwan after being defeated by the Communist Party of China at the tail-end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949. The Constitution had been drafted by the KMT in 1946 under the assumption that the party would rule all 36 provinces.
“Now we only have Taiwan,” popular Taiwanese author-screenwriter and NPP member Neil Peng told Foreign Policy, “Using it (the existing Constitution) is a joke.”
But that’s not all.
“Our goal is to be able to gradually eliminate the KMT,” said Freddy to Foreign Policy, adding, “(this is) because the KMT is an undemocratic, pre-modern political party.” Taiwan’s two-party system comprises the pro-Beijing KMT and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) that seeks a continuation of the status quo.
Given this backdrop, it’s unsurprising then that a movement like the NPP would emerge, tap into the imagination of the Taiwanese people and emerge as the third most popular party (with the support of 6.8 percent of the electorate).
The seed for the NPP’s inception in January 2015 was sowed (no pun intended) during the Sunflower Student Movement of April 2014. Protestors stormed the Legislative Yuan and Executive Yuan to demonstrate against the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement, a trade pact with the PRC that was being unilaterally pushed through by the KMT. This Taiwanese take on the ‘occupy’ movements cropping up across the world was driven by the fear that while the treaty would aid big business, it would destroy the small to medium-sized Taiwanese businesses. Restrictions on freedom of speech in Taiwan — given that the agreement also included provisions for substantial Chinese investment in the Taiwanese news media — was another major source of concern.
But Freddy — a proud supporter of the Free Tibet movement — didn’t always feel this way about China.
In fact, many years prior to Chthonic being banned from China for the political content of its lyrics, the band’s frontman was in favour of ‘unification’, while in school. “Probably everyone in Taiwan was at that time, because textbooks under the KMT were all ‘unification’ textbooks,” he told Taipei Times.
“After I graduated from high school, I started to have time to read books other than those given to us by the KMT and read a lot about Taiwanese history… It was a little bit like learning at age 18 that the parents you have respected all your life killed your real parents,” he continued with the sort of subtlety one normally associates with a sledge hammer being smashed over the head.
It’s one thing to complain, grumble and cry about everything that’s wrong with the world or even your own country. It’s quite another to try and do something about it.
And so, the logical next step for his awakening, apart from disseminating his thoughts in sung (sorry, screamed), spoken and written word, would be the co-founding of the NPP.
Freddy laid out his intentions in an online post that, among other things, said:
“I believe that, all Taiwanese have the right—or even obligation—to be part of the movement to create a party, to create a new age for Taiwan as a nation. Let’s make 'republic' a verb, and let’s open a new age of equality and freedom”
Take a moment to read the full text of his communiqué.
And now, nearly a year after he issued this call-to-arms, Freddy is set to take on his biggest challenge yet. And should he get elected, maybe his first foreign visit as member of the Legislative Yuan could be to Indonesia, whose president Joko Widodo is quite the metalhead.
But wait, will his election to office mean the end for Chthonic (in its present form, at any rate)?
“I will definitely continue to tour, probably not as extensively as before… I’m hoping (the new album will) be out by the end of the year, as I have to get elected first and then we’ll rush to record it,” said Freddy to TeamRock.
And finally, readers in Taiwan, if you still need a reason to vote for Freddy, there’s a strong one below. For the rest of you, here’s a reason to support him with your good wishes online: