They Used To Be Anti-Communist, But Now They Play To Beijing's Tune
77-year old Zhou Qingjun (周慶峻) drives his car to Guiyang Street, just south of the Presidential Office Building. As he's about to turn left, he hits a red light and stops at the intersection. Suddenly, he rolls down his window, turns around, and yells to the military police guarding the Southeastern corner of the Presidential Office Building.
“When can we get rid of Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文)?”
The military police turns his head but remains silent. Just another protester, he thinks.
Zhou's car, painted in glaring red with the sign “Concentric Patriotism Association”, soon starts blaring out grandiose music from the two large speakers installed on top of the car. “Without the Communist Party, there would be no New China…” The song instantly fills the streets surrounding the Presidential Office Building.
Zhou tells his peers in the car: “When the Communist Party comes, they won't forget you!” But Zhou’s thick Cantonese accent makes it sound like “When the Communist Party comes, they will not help you!”
Their day starts at 10am, where almost 20 members and supporters of the Concentric Patriotism Alliance—a pro-Chinese Communist Party organization that supports the immediate unification of China and Taiwan—have gathered at the corner of Ketagalan Boulevard.
Suddenly, the intersection is full of Communist Party flags with their hammers and sickles, as well as five-star red flags—the official canton of the People's Republic of China. The scene occasionally attracts onlookers to gawk or take photos.
Who is this guy?
Zhou wears a bright red jacket, a red tie, with a moustache on his upper lip. Born in 1943 in Shanwei, Guangdong province, he moved to Hong Kong in 1962, and immigrated to his wife's homeland of Taiwan in 1982. Having benefited from lenient immigration laws in Taiwan’s early years, he obtained Taiwanese citizenship just one year later.
The Concentric Patriotism Association (also referred to as the Concentric Patriotism Alliance or the Chinese Patriot Alliance Association) was established with Zhou as its founding (and only) president.
For the past two decades, the Alliance remained an obscure organization. That all changed in October 2014, when the Alliance started raising five-star red flags—the flag of the People's Republic of China, a rare sight in democratic Taiwan—in front of a number of famous Taipei landmarks, including the Presidential Office Building, Ximending and Taipei 101.
But it's not just the PRC flags that makes this group so conspicuous. Zhou is already in his 70s, and the rest of the Alliance is similarly grey-haired.
Association Vice-president Li You-ming (李有明) is 89 years old, but still spry for his age. Tall and skinny, Li hails from Yancheng, Jiangsu Province.
During the civil war between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Li participated in the 1949 Battle of Shanghai as a member of the Republic of China Armed Forces. After retreating to Kinmen, he also fought under Hu Lien's (胡璉) troops in the Battle of Guningtou.
Li says that in the past, he was brainwashed to be anti-communist. His left calf still retains a scar from a bullet fired at him by the People's Liberation Army (PLA). However, seeing Taiwan evolve into something quite different from the Republic of China (ROC) of the martial law era, he has long stopped hating the CCP. In fact, he is looking forward to Taiwan's “reunification” with China.
The Association's CEO is 76-year old Xiao Qin (萧勤) from Shandong province. After a 20 year stint in the PLA and three years in Macau, he moved to Taiwan in 1995. He obtained a Taiwanese passport through a preferential process for Chinese diaspora members from Hong Kong and Macau.
When Xiao is interviewed for this piece, other members of the Association secretly snicker about the KMT's incompetency for failing to screen out people like Xiao from gaining citizenship. Xiao responds with a serious face, “all my procedures and documents are legal.”
Association Secretary-General, Zhang Xiuye (張秀葉), is a woman in her 50s, and the group's most spirited member. She arrived in Taiwan from Shanghai in 1992 through marriage, but is currently divorced. She has worked with the Association for more than ten years.
The vast majority of participants at the Association's events, Zhang says, are spouses who have married to Taiwan from mainland China. “Among them, many are working in the domestic care industry in Taiwan, which means their work hours are relatively flexible. They join us for events when they are free.”
Then there are the second-generation Mainlanders, like Lu Hsin-shang (呂欣尚). Lu is 64 years old, and always wears glasses with black frames. He has a refined and gentle demeanour. His business card reads “Deputy Secretary-General of the Taiwan People's Communist Party”.
The Association and the Taiwan People's Communist Party, in the eyes of Lu, are the two most authentically “red” political organizations, because only they use China's five-star red flag. These two organizations also receive the most media attention and the most momentum.
In contrast, the Chinese Unification Promotion Party (CUPP)—a pro-unification party with strong ties to both Beijing and organized crime in Taiwan—only raises the five-star red flag concurrently with the Republic China's “blue sky, white sun” flag.
This past January, Lu received an invitation from Zhou to join the Association and migrate to northern Taiwan for this position.
The Association currently has about 200 members, around 100 of them regularly attend events. Their membership is mostly comprised of Mainlanders who fled with the KMT to Taiwan after 1949, and more recent Mainland Chinese immigrants to Taiwan. But this number also includes a minority of local Taiwanese people.
Most of their event participants are middle-aged or elderly individuals who are relatively marginalized in both social status and income. Many of them work as drivers, parking managers, or caretakers, while others have already retired.
The Association claims that there are also young people in their ranks, but “they need to go to work, and can only attend our events when they are free.”
Members are often busy running around at these events, but then again, so are the police officers who block off the surrounding area where Association events take place, and then tie the ROC's “blue sky, white sun” flags to all the temporary police barricades.
Suddenly, the two sides of Ketagalan Boulevard are decorated with flags from both sides of the strait, as if a negotiation between the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese Nationalist Party is about to take place.
Disdain for democracy
The Association raised its first five-star red flag on Ketagalan Boulevard on October 1, 2005—the day the People's Republic of China commemorates “National Day”.
The event was a reaction to a similar flag raising ceremony held by an organization that supports Taiwanese independence.
In the summer of 2005, a citizen-led initiative called the 908 Taiwan Republic Campaign proposed establishing September 8—the day Japan gave up its territorial claims to Taiwan in the 1951 Treaty of San Francisco—as the independence day of a future Republic of Taiwan. On the morning of the 8th, about 500 supporters watched as 908 Taiwan Republic Campaign convenor Peter Wang (王獻極) raised a new blue, green, white and red flag with the words “Republic of Taiwan” place in the centre.
In retaliation, the Association raised China's five-star red flag in the same location, celebrating the establishment of the PRC.
In the years following that incident, the Association has been relatively quiet.
That all changed when Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) took office in 2012. Since then, a series of complex changes began to arise among “red” organizations promoting unification in Taiwan.
The Reporter accessed more than 20 files relevant to the Association from the archives of Taiwan’s Department of Civil Affairs. Documents show that the Association amended the party constitution just one year into Xi's first term.
What was once their mandate to “firmly defend the Republic of China, oppose the secession or separation of national territory, and oppose communism” has now become “to firmly defend the common interests of the Chinese nation, and oppose the secession and separation of national territory.”
Beginning in October 2014, the Association started to hold regular events in front of the Presidential Office Building. At these events, Association members invariably hold five-star red flags to protest Taiwanese independence and promote “one country, two systems, and China's reunification.”
In the latter half of 2015, members began putting up flags in Ximending, a popular shopping area in Taipei. The Reporter observed many of these events, and counted about 40 to 50 people in attendance. Zhou is often seen at these events waving two five-star red flags, shouting “Go China!” in his Cantonese accent.
Zhou claims he met with President Xi in Beijing in September 2014, deepening his conviction to hold regular events. “Of course I was very encouraged, because I saw the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Central Committee,” said Zhou. “We are giving it our all. When the country is reunified, I will retire.”
Amid low approval ratings for then-president Ma Ying-jeou and the events of the Sunflower Movement, members of the Association worried that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) could take office again, and would deny the group the right to protest. Association events were then re-framed to become regular occurrences and a conventional practice.
A core member of the Association who wished to remain anonymous said that in the past, the KMT would monopolize resources sent by Beijing. But over the past several years, more attention is being paid to smaller political parties and groups.
Wu Chieh-min (吳介民), an Associate Professor at the Institute of Sociology at Academia Sinica in Taiwan and editor of the book “The Anaconda in the Chandelier” once wrote:
“After the ground-breaking Sunflower Student Movement, collaboration between the Kuomintang and the Chinese Communist Party fell apart, which led to the KMT's massive failure in the subsequent election. The every-day person can recognize the importance of the “China factor” in this electoral outcome. However, the methods through which Beijing is developing on-the-ground allies and when Beijing is exerting pressure on its supporters in Taiwan remain in the dark.”
How does Beijing develop on-the-ground allies? In an interview with The Reporter, Wu emphasizes that the “China factor has been operating in Taiwan for more than a decade.”
“Their most important model operate like this: the Chinese government takes advantage of cross-strait trade relations to build government-business relations,” says Wu. “And then uses its on-the-ground allies to promote Beijing's political agenda regarding Taiwan with the end goal of merging Taiwan and absorbing its sovereignty.”
Wu adds that Association members are different from traditional Taiwanese business people who support China's model of authoritarian development out of opportunistic commercial interests.
“Members of the Association reflect characteristics of a pre-modern, blood-based conception of national identity. They share a strong sense of identification with the Chinese nation, in contrast to a modern-day civic nationalism”, says Wu.
Among these people, many have a personal background or trajectory of migrating from China to Hong Kong or Macau, and then to Taiwan.
This trend also mirrors Beijing's strategy in recent years to develop on-the-ground alliance networks in Hong Kong, the most visible example of which being groups whose names start with the first Chinese character “love”. These groups spare no effort in helping the CCP resist the democracy movement in Hong Kong.
Taiwan is not spared from such infiltration. China's “united front activities” have indeed taken root in Taiwan, but the full reach of these activities is still unclear.
In October 2017, members of the public used a government-backed online participation platform to propose banning the use of the PRC's five-star red flag on Taiwanese soil.
The proposal was rejected by Taiwan's Ministry of Justice, noting that the ban “is not consistent with the ROC Constitution's protections on freedom of expression.”
Freedom of speech ensures the right to wave the flag of an opposing political administration. However, the Association remain disapproving of Taiwan's democracy.
“Taiwan is indeed democratic, but so what? Look at Taiwan's economy. It has been stagnant for the past twenty years. When I first came to Taiwan, it was indeed better than Shanghai. But now, Taiwan is far behind Shanghai,” says Zhang.
Her comments represent the attitude of most of the Association. Compared to intangible democratic freedoms, they care more about a “strong motherland”. Witnessing the rapid development of the Chinese economy has further fuelled their longing for the “China model” and cross-strait unification.
“Look, products made in mainland China are also very high-quality,” says Chang Lu-tai (張魯台), a 63-year-old second-generation mainlander, and a member of the Association. He pulls out his Xiaomi cell phone and starts to fiddle with the Chinese-made device. In his opinion, “democracy is fake, but a nation's power is real.”
Yuan Huanzhen (袁煥珍), a woman who migrated to Taiwan from Sichuan province for marriage, once spoke to Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) at a campaign event when he was running to be the party chairman of the KMT in 2017.
She told Wu during the event, “Mr. Wu, I hope that after you are elected party chairman, you will follow the path of Sun Yat-Sen's (孫逸仙) one-China principle.” According to Yuan, Wu replied with “Yes, China will be unified under the banner of the Republic of China.”
But Yuan found Wu's answer to be absurd. “China is the first or second most powerful country in the world. How could reunification ever be under the terms of Taiwan—The Republic of China?” she says. “At the end of the day, Wu is still a supporter of Taiwanese independence.”
Some members of the Alliance, however, are not so contemptuous of everything in Taiwan.
Xiao Qin is quick to praise the Taiwanese government's public housing allocation process. “This place is good for precisely this reason - there is no distinction based on class differences, between nobleness and lowliness,” says Xiao. “You just line up, and when it's time for your turn, you will receive the housing allocation.”
With regards to the survival of “red” pro-unification organizations in democratic Taiwan, Wu Jiemin looks at this phenomenon from the theoretical perspective of civil society.
“Theirs is a ‘fake civil society’ that fundamentally does not recognize Taiwan as a political community, but proceeds to take advantage of Taiwan's democratic public wealth,” says Wu.
The China factor is deepening
“Your height is just about the same as Zhou”, says Xiao Qin to this reporter.
Xiao isn't referring to Zhou Qingjun, the leader of the Association, but to Zhou Hongxu (周泓旭), a Chinese national recently arrested for spying for the CCP.
A graduate of National Chengchi University, Zhou Hongxu was taken into custody in March 2017, becoming the first case of a Chinese exchange student working as an undercover operative in Taiwan.
Xiao says Zhou Hongxu attended Concentric Patriotism Association events frequently. “Wang Ping-chung (王炳忠) has also attended our events,” says Xiao.
Wang Ping-chung is the New Party's 31 year-old spokesman, and leader of the New Party's Youth Corps. The New Party is the product of a 1993 split within the then-ruling KMT, and has gone on to become the most vocal mainstream political party to advocate for unification. This June, Wang and three other New Party Youth Corps members were arrested on charges of espionage. Prosecutors found evidence that Wang had worked with Zhou Hongxu to infiltrate Taiwan's military, and attempted to create a network of young, pro-Beijing collaborators within political circles.
“Perhaps their contact was too frequent, which attracted these wrongful lawsuits against Zhou,” says Xiao.
The Association believe that Zhou's court verdict was unjust.
But from a Taiwan's perspective, as cross-strait relations continue to deteriorate, the impact of the “China factor” continues to deepen, leading the Taiwanese government to pay closer attention to possible infiltration by the CCP.
The majority DPP caucus in Taiwan's Legislative Yuan recently proposed changing the definition of organized crime in Taiwan's Regulations on the Prevention of Organized Crime from “continuous and profit-seeking” to “continuous or profit-seeking.” Based on the context of the proposed changes, it's likely the DPP's bill seeks to target pro-unification political parties like the Association and the Chinese Unification Promotion Party (CUPP).
The CUPP and the Association believe that Taiwan's Ministry of Interior—the ministry responsible for managing the country's political parties—is deliberately making things difficult for their respective parties by sending auditors to monitor their finances. When Xiao Qin encounters said auditors, he doesn't miss a chance to scold them.
“Today, you have the power to clear our accounts, but when I have the power one day, it will be me who's clearing yours!” says Xiao.
However, auditing the Association's finances has little to do with creating obstacles for the group. For instance, the annual report submitted by the Association to the Ministry in 2017 lists $560,000 New Taiwan dollars ($18,000 USD) of “political party funding”.
Taiwan's regulations on political party funding states that political organizations must report and seek approval from the Control Yuan—the political body tasked with monitoring the government—before accepting funds.
The Association has never reported special accounts for political party funding, leading the Department of Civil Affairs to send a letter on September 6, 2017 requesting an explanation.
But the Association claims that this lump sum of “political party funding” is actually personal donations from Association President Zhou Qingjun. They claim that they changed the budgetized item in the annual report to “special funding”, and wrote the following to the Department of Civil Affairs:
“The Concentric Patriotism Association and its members support the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, support the reunification of the country, oppose separatism of national territory, and firmly denounce Taiwan's independence. This position will not waver regardless of which political party is in power. If anyone wishes to indict us for our opposition to Taiwanese independence, they will bear the effects of karma within one or two years. We sincerely call upon public servants to strictly observe a neutral position as the political scene in Taiwan is about to change.”
According to the Act Governing Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area, unless granted permission, organizations in Taiwan may not engage in any form of cooperation with Chinese political parties, the government, or military institutions.
Members of the Association do not shy away from discussing their contact with various levels of the Chinese government, including the Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO), the main political body tasked with setting China's guidelines and policies related to Taiwan. Xiao Qin mentions that he's dined with Gong Qinggai (龚清概), the TAO's former Deputy Director.
In the past, Xiao has written recommendations about how to promote unification and submitted them to officers at the TAO. One of the TAO officers responded passionately with: “Rest assured, you can count on the organization.”
However, Xiao admits that after these suggestions were submitted, he has yet to receive a response. According to him, many Chinese officers are “too high to be reached, and impossible to have a conversation with.”
Over the past few years, the TAO system has started to pay increasing attention to local organizations in Taiwan. The Association is deeply aware of this shift. One of their core members said to The Reporter in a serious tone: “To be honest, what we want the most is for the other side [the TAO] to send core executive members here and deliver lessons, just like they used to do in the ‘underground political party’ days.”
Members of the Association often describe their life in a grandiose and dramatic fashion, full of intrigue and intelligence activity. For instance, they assume their telephone calls are monitored and compromised, and believe they are on the Taiwan government's “black list”.
“Xiao Qin never uses WeChat or other chat apps, and he only contacts me by calling me over the phone,” says Lu Hsin-shang. “It seems like he has received professional training. I think he is here with a special mission.”
The truth is far less glamorous. During Xiao's time in the PLA, he directed the department of health and did some work for the Communist Youth League of China. After arriving in Taiwan, he worked as a baker, not a spy.
Nevertheless, Lu still believes he's being watched. “For people who do work like us, it is probably better to stick to small alleys and restaurants.”
Conflicts between “red” pro-unification organizations
At 201 Xining South Road, near the busy Ximending shopping area, the Association occupies floors two to five in an old walk-up apartment building.
The Main office on the second floor is covered with framed portraits of Sun Yat-sen and XI Jinping, with printed Chinese characters reading: “Complete the founding father's mission of national reunification.
Sources say the Association spends more than $100,000 NTD ($3,200 USD) on expenses every month, the majority of which is covered by Zhou Qingjun.
The Association's official website says that “after Zhou immigrated to Taiwan, he worked with Chang Wei-kuang (張偉光) and Hsu Cheng-tsung (許承宗), both members of the former ROC National Assembly, to establish the ‘Anti-Communist Patriotic Front.’ On November 12, 1993, Zhou left the Anti-Communist Patriotic Front, and established the Association, which operates to this day.“
But aside from Zhou, there are few other members that have been with the organization since the beginning, and the origins of the group are buried in rumours and gossip.
Li You-ming believes the Association was founded by Ma Ying-jeou's father, Ma Ho-ling (馬鶴凌), and also shares a connection to the martial law era KMT party magazine Ji Feng (疾風).
Zhou also insists that the Association has no history as an anti-communist organization. But documents from the Department of Civil Affairs show this to be false. Even Xiao Qin mentions that the Association initially opposed communism.
“Back then, Zhou escaped from Guangdong, and he himself used to be an anti-communist,” says Xiao. “However, after witnessing the development of mainland China, his political attitude changed, so my role is to urge him to continue on this path.”
The relationship between the Concentric Patriotism Association and the Chinese Unification Promotion Party is also complex and difficult to summarize. Founded by former Bamboo Union crime boss Chang An-le (張安樂), the CUPP shares a close bond with the CPP, formed when Chang was hiding in China while on the run from Taiwanese law enforcement.
Many Taiwanese people believe that the two organizations share similar political positions and operations. In fact, some even confuse the two. A link to the CUPP even appears in a cached snapshot of the Association's old website.
Zhang Xiuye also mentions that a CUPP candidate running for Taipei City Council, Lee Cheng-lung (李承龍), has close ties to the Association, and is a frequent participant in their events.
However, according to Zhou, the CUPP at most shares similar political ideas with the Association, and the two have no substantial connection. “We do our thing, and they do theirs,” says Zhou.
In fact, it appears one event in particular led to a rift between the two pro-reunification organizations. During the “Sunflower Movement” student protests against a secretive free trade pact between Taiwan and China, the CUPP and the Association bandied together to hold a counter-protest in support of the KMT-CCP negotiated deal.
On April 1, 2014, the day of the event, the Association and the CUPP were unable to properly coordinate their respective automobile convoys, with the CUPP's Chang believing the Association were trying to steal his thunder. The two groups had a public falling out at the scene of the counter-protest.
Despite the bad blood, some members of the CUPP express concern for the Association. “Because many in the Association are elderly or physically weak individuals, I've routinely brought a few people to support their monthly events at Ximending,” said an anonymous CUPP party branch member.
However, due to recent scuffles with pro-independence groups, said branch member has become embroiled in a lawsuit himself, and has been unable to organize support for their events.
Love and bread
During the Association's protests at Ketagalan Boulevard, people occasionally approach Zhou Qingjun to initiate a conversation.
In April, an elderly male participant pulled Zhou aside, seemingly complaining about an unresolved situation he has encountered. At the end of the conversation, Zhou tells him: “if this issue cannot be addressed, I will deal with it for you when the Communist Party arrives!” Afterwards, the elderly man talking to Zhou decides to join in, and starts to wave a five-star red flag. Zhou quickly finds an opportunity to snap a picture of this elderly new Association volunteer.
With PRC flags fluttering in front of the Presidential Office, it's not just tourists and passerby's snapping photos of this strange event, sometimes Zhou himself needs to stop and document the “red sea” of five-star red flags.
“When Zhou is not in Taiwan, he will remind us every day that we must take photos at our events,” says Lu Hsin-shang.
What is the purpose of these photos? “So we can tell China's Taiwan Affairs Office that we hosted many events,” says Xiao Qin in a matter-of-fact way.
“I hope that my involvement in the Association can create lasting change that will take root in Taiwan,” he says. “However, some red and pro-unification organizations simply take photos and do not do practical, concrete work.”
Xiao has lost his temper with other pro-unification parties in the past. He accused Lu Yuexiang (盧月香) of the China Production Party—a political party that mobilizes Mainland Chinese spouses living in Taiwan to vote for pan-blue or pro-unification parties—for reaping financial benefits in China while neglecting the party's “due diligence” to influence Taiwan public opinion to support the CCP.
So the question has become, are red and pro-unification political organizations united by a similar political ideology, or are they mere supporters of practical benefit?
One anonymous member bristles at the question: “I have never accepted money from the Association, but it is evident that some people come to these events at a cost.” The member goes on:
“I have participated in types of events where I can earn $1200 NTD ($38 USD) by holding banners or shouting slogans for 10 to 20 minutes. I have attended this type of event twice. The other instance is when former Vice President of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) Zhang Mingqing (张铭清) came to Taiwan. When he left, red and pro-unification political parties mobilized their members to bid him farewell. In reality, these organizations just wanted to create an image for the Chinese government and media to use, in order to demonstrate how people in Taiwan strongly welcomed his visit.”
The Reporter spoke regularly with participants at Association events, many of them said they attended every week (even every week day) and insisted their participation was entirely voluntary. Some say that these participants have a high level of commitment to the cause because they were former CCP members prior to coming to Taiwan.
Zhang Xiuye admits that because she works full-time at the Association, she does receive a salary. Others do not earn an income for their involvement. But Zhou Qingjun says everyone is a volunteer, and at most, members only receive a reimbursement for travel costs.
Zhou holds other interests outside the Association, including, at one time, investments in China's Hubei province. He admits that he covers most of the organization's expenses through his business dealings. “If I don't have investments in mainland China, where would I get the money for this?”
According to documents from China's department for industry and commerce, Zhou and his wife Lin Mingmei (林明美) registered an investment firm with $2 million RMB ($288,000 USD) in registered capital in 2011.
Zhou’s firm was reported to have initially invested in golden snapper aquaculture breeding grounds, with plans to invest a further $50 million RMB ($7.2 million USD). The author of the report was a TAO media officer in Hubei province, where Zhou began his investments in 2010. Other articles claim he invested in about 66 hectares of mountainous land in the city of Dangyang, Hubei.
When an epidemic erupted in his fish ponds, the city-level TAO director in Dangyang sent experts to resolve the situation. When his fish became unsellable, Hubei's provincial-level TAO director made personal calls to channel sales for his company.
Despite the local government's support, Zhou's business earned dismal profits, and ended in failure. This April, a TAO website published a notice that Zhou'property in Dangyang has been left untouched for a long period of time, due to its location and the nature of the land.
The TAO notice explained “the importance of properly managing the legal assets of Taiwanese merchants, and the significance of ensuring the legal rights of Taiwanese merchants,” and later persuaded a local Chinese company to purchase the property.
When pressed about these reports, Zhou laughs and denies the existence of the aforementioned assets. However, he did note to The Reporter that “it's really not good” that the TAO writes about his investments and publishes it on the internet.
He says that he does not understand the internet, and asks to be sent the article links so he can decide whether he should talk to the TAO to have the articles retracted. At the same time, Zhou emphasizes: “We cannot accept money from the Chinese government, that is against Taiwanese law.”
Zhang Xiuye is Zhou's closest associate, and confirmed his investment in Dangyang, Hubei.
She refutes the claim that Zhou planned to invest $50 million RMB and that $2.2 million RMB ($322,000 USD) is a far more likely figure.
His business was supported by the Dangyang government because there was no electricity when he started his investment, says Zhang. The climate was cold, and the fish didn't grow well. He also wasn't clear about the nature of the land, and spent $300,000 RMB ($43,000 USD) on building a second floor. He went on to sell the property for only $100,000 RMB ($14,000 USD).
Zhou has since moved on to investments in the coastal city of Zhuhai, in Guangdong province, where he plans to open a retirement home. “To clarify, this is not to make a profit” he says.
He was recently reported to have invested in agricultural land in Zhuhai's surrounding countryside, where he's said to have a number of aquaculture breeding ponds. Although Zhou says the land and ponds are quite sizeable, Zhang says the true size is smaller than he claims.
“Investments there can in fact return profits,” says Zhang “which subsidize some of the Association's expenses.” She adds that Zhou rented the new land in Zhuhai from the people, and not from the government.
Core members are aware of Zhou's investments in China, but don't seem to mind. “Business is fundamentally profit-seeking,” says Xiao Qin “and receiving special treatment is also justified, because we are siding with the Chinese government.”
The Falun Gong next door
Between three and five in the afternoon, every Monday to Friday, the Association promotes “red, pro-reunification thought” in front of Taipei 101, where half a dozen supporters show up. These regular events are how many visitors to Taiwan learn about the Association, and their display of five-star red flags has become an unusual attraction in Taipei City.
For six years, Xiao Qin has worn his army cap, held a five-star red flag, and sang his own edition of “Ode to the Motherland”—a famous patriotic song written shortly after the founding of the People's Republic of China.
He sometimes gives a chipmunk-style performance to get a rise from the crowd. “Hello everyone, let's unite to grow our economy, and stop using rations for cloth, grain, and rice; now we only want big money with Chairman Mao printed on it.”
Charter buses loaded with tourists from China will stop in front of Taipei 101. Xiao Qin usually approaches them, many of whom are eager to take photos or clap for him.
The Reporter asks Zhou, shouldn't promoting national unification with China mainly be targeted towards Taiwanese people? He gives an unusual response. Stationing themselves in front of Taipei 101 is to ensure “Mainland Chinese tourists aren't pulled away by ‘bad people’”.
Zhou is referring to members of the Falun Gong, who have stationed themselves in front of Taipei 101 for the past ten years. Members of the religious group often gather at major landmarks visited by Chinese tour groups. They hand out pamphlets about CCP abuses against Falun Gong practitioners in China, perform Qi Gong exercises, or sit in silent meditation. That led the Association to bring banners and posters of their own.
Over the years, the Association and the Falun Gong have sued and counter-sued each other for dozens of transgressions, including defamation, violating social order, compensation for damage and infringing on personal freedoms. Some suits are successful while others fail. In the most serious criminal case, Xiao Qin was sentenced to 55 days in custody.
Many of the cases, however, can appear quite ridiculous, with most documented instances consisting of name-calling and yelling: “I think you're a witch!” or descriptions of assault such as “had the intention to harm the victim, kicked a Falun Gong member's inner right thigh with his right foot.”
“Association members are quite rude, and accuse us of being shameless or dramatic, and sometimes they even get physical,” said a member of the Falun Gong at Taipei 101. “But we never engage in fights with them, which is why we’ve never been punished by the police.”
Because the two groups have been “warring” with each other for so long, members of the Association and the Falun Gong have gradually gotten to know each other. When they're not fighting, they sometimes share a few words of conversation.
Once, Xiao Qin happened to be standing in front of a pile of Falun Gong promotional materials. He saw a piece of paper fly from the pile, and fall to the ground. Xiao bent down to pick up the piece of paper, and after a brief moment of hesitation, put the piece of paper back in its original place.
“End scene” or merely “scene change” for the Association?
Over the last five years, the Association have seemingly become a permanent fixture at Taipei 101 and Ximending. But things are about to change for the organization.
According to the Political Party Act passed in 2017, political organizations established under the Civil Associations Act must revise their articles of association to become political parties with the next two years; they are then obligated to nominate candidates to run for office.
If organizations like the Association do not complete this process in a four-year time frame, they will be disqualified and disbanded.
For a political organization that still handwrites their correspondence with Taiwan's Department of Civil Affairs, the Act is pushing the 25-year old Association to consider change. Zhou says elections have been on his list of initiatives for a long time, and he wants to put forward Association candidates to run in the November 2018 local elections.
But Zhang Xiuye lacks confidence, and admits that the Association's participation in the election is somewhat forced. “We're walking the red, pro-reunification path, but we need to know if Taiwanese people agree or disagree with this idea. We are also just giving it a try.”
After President Xi took the stage, Beijing moved to create a network of collaborators by appealing to a blood-based national culture; pro-unification organizations in Taiwan gained a new life.
The Association is by no means, representative of public opinion in Taiwan, but scenes of grey-haired supporters holding five-star red flags singing “red songs” will continue in this democratic country. Then again, cooperation (and competition) between Taiwan's various red, pro-reunification organizations is also unlikely to see a curtain call any time soon.