'Born Independent,' Taiwan's Defiant New Generation Is Coming Of Age Much of Taiwan's older generation sees itself as exiles from China. Younger people, including a metal vocalist-turned-legislator, identify the island as home — a free society independent from China.
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'Born Independent,' Taiwan's Defiant New Generation Is Coming Of Age

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'Born Independent,' Taiwan's Defiant New Generation Is Coming Of Age

'Born Independent,' Taiwan's Defiant New Generation Is Coming Of Age

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/616083178/625746898" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A young, charismatic politician is shaking up politics in Taiwan, appealing to a younger generation that's fed up with China. As NPR's Rob Schmitz reports, he has an unconventional resume.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Before Freddy Lim was elected to Taiwan's parliament in 2016, he sang for a living.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUPREME PAIN FOR THE TYRANT")

CHTHONIC: (Singing) Nightfall, swallow the sun.

SCHMITZ: To be clear, he screamed for a living. He wrote songs with titles like "Grab The Soul To Hell" or this little ditty, "Supreme Pain For The Tyrant."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUPREME PAIN FOR THE TYRANT")

CHTHONIC: (Singing) Watch the blood of martyrs spill.

SCHMITZ: Lim is the lead screamer for Chthonic, the island's most popular speed metal band. So how did the man behind the album "Satan's Horns" become one of Taiwan's most popular parliamentarians? Lim says he became politically involved first as the head of the rights group Amnesty International in Taiwan. Then in 2014, when Taiwan's ruling party the Kuomintang attempted to rush a trade pact with China through Parliament, hundreds of young protesters occupied Taiwan's legislature.

(CROSSTALK)

SCHMITZ: For nearly a month, thousands of supporters took to streets. And Lim was soon one of the leaders of what became known as the Sunflower Movement, a popular stand against China's influence over Taiwan that revealed the widening generational gap in how Taiwanese see China's claim over their island.

FREDDY LIM: (Through interpreter) A lot of young Taiwanese see Taiwan as a country - a different perspective from their parents. They were born in a democratic, free society, and China is a threat to us.

SCHMITZ: Lim says young Taiwanese are tired of their country not being recognized by other countries like the U.S. and international organizations like the U.N. simply because they want to please China. One of Chthonic's songs, "Unlimited Taiwan," channels his frustration.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UNLIMITED TAIWAN")

CHTHONIC: (Singing, unintelligible).

SCHMITZ: In it, Lim sings, we have the land, the strength, the power. Rise up. Overcome. Take it over. Ignored too long, we become stronger. Tear down the walls and let us run over.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UNLIMITED TAIWAN")

CHTHONIC: (Singing, unintelligible).

SCHMITZ: Energized by the Sunflower Movement, Lim started his own political party, ran for office in 2016 and won. Inside his legislative office, he opts for a suit over heavy metal face paint and a leather studded jacket, and his long black hair is subdued into a ponytail. He's now the head of the New Power Party.

LIM: (Through interpreter) I hope our party will inspire more young people to join politics, turning their vision of our country into real policies. Senior politicians need to realize that we are Taiwan's future.

SCHMITZ: For young Taiwanese, says Taiwan Foundation for Democracy President Szu-chien Hsu, the dangers of growing closer to China are clear. Hsu says all they need to do is examine two protest movements against China's government that both took place in 2014 - the Sunflower Movement in Taiwan, an island with its own government, and the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong, whose government is ultimately controlled by Beijing. The Sunflower Movement, says Hsu, led to a change in governance...

SZU-CHIEN HSU: Whereas in Hong Kong, they have Umbrella Movement, ended up with nothing changed. Or should I say facing even more severe repression?

SCHMITZ: Back inside Freddy Lim's office, the metal musician turned politician works in front of a floor-to-ceiling mural of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhists who fled after communists took over China.

LIM: (Through interpreter) He's the leader of 6 million people, and he's been in exile for 60 years. I'd go crazy if I were him. The fact that he can still be a peaceful person is incredible.

SCHMITZ: Each time Lim runs up against a challenge as a legislator, he says he thinks of the spiritual leader's plight, takes a deep breath and reminds himself that Taiwan's problems with China seem trivial in comparison. And if that doesn't work, he screams into a microphone.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

CHTHONIC: (Singing, unintelligible).

SCHMITZ: Rob Schmitz, NPR News, Taipei.

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