Left Perspectives on Connecting Taiwan to the International World: How New Bloom Magazine was Founded

Written by Brian Hioe.

Image Credit: New Bloom Magazine

New Bloom Magazine, which is approaching its sixth anniversary, was originally founded in 2014 in the aftermath of the Sunflower Movement. Other founders of the publication and myself were participants in the Sunflower Movement, and we first began talking about the need to found a bilingual publication to connect Taiwan to the international world in April, which was around the time of the withdrawal from the Legislative Yuan. The publication subsequently launched in July 2014.

The founders of New Bloom were primarily individuals who had known each other through attending a weekly anti-nuclear protest, the “4-5-6 Movement” (四五六運動, usually just 五六運動), which took place at Liberty Plaza weekly in the year before the outbreak of the Sunflower Movement. Many of the original members of New Bloom were drawn from a student activist group at National Yang-Ming University (NYMU), the Yang-Ming Meaningful Club (有意思社), members of which performed at the “4-5-6 Movement” weekly as an activist choir known as the “Windmill Chorus” (風車合唱團).

The Meaningful Club was one of many students activists groups that then existed on college campuses across Taiwan. Although I was not a student at NYMU but was actually studying at National Taiwan Normal University at the time, I came to know members of the Meaningful Club through the “4-5-6 Movement” protest, of which I was also in regular attendance. I began to attend their weekly reading groups on political thought and philosophy of mind, which was how we got to know each other.

Many members of the Meaningful Club were medical students at NYMU or graduate students in the department of philosophy of mind. As a result, individuals from these backgrounds were disproportionately represented in the founding membership of New Bloom. Other connections were primarily drawn from Taiwanese graduate students studying in the United States, particularly from New York, through connections that were initially made via social media. In the beginning, the youngest member of New Bloom was nineteen, and the oldest member was in his mid-thirties.

There were several English-language outreach efforts aimed at the international world that emerged during the Sunflower Movement. These efforts included Facebook pages such as the Taiwan Voice or the Sunflower Movement 太陽花學運 page, the latter of which had close to 58,000 “Likes,” and a moderator who later became part of New Bloom. Because the early membership of New Bloom tended to be individuals with high English ability, our early membership included individuals who were part of the translation working group in the Legislative Yuan. The person who wrote an English-language post about the movement on the first night of the occupation, which was later translated into 31 languages through crowdsourced translation and shared over 14,000 times, was also another early member. New Bloom can be seen as part of the wave of these international outreach efforts during the movement.

The other commonality between New Bloom members was our self-perception as being among the political left-wing of the movement. Furthermore, we hoped to not only carve out a space for articulating left-wing articulations of Taiwanese independence but to also connect with other social movements internationally. 

One remembers that 2014, when the Sunflower Movement broke out, was only three years after Occupy Wall Street and the wave of occupation-style movements that took place internationally in the wake of Occupy. Many of our members — who had spent a significant amount of time in New York — including me, were participants in Occupy Wall Street, and many of our Taiwan-based members saw the movement as an inspiration.

Consequently, in founding New Bloom, we were also influenced by the left-wing online publications ran by young people, which were popular around the time of Occupy Wall Street, such as Jacobin Magazine, The New Inquiry, and N+1. To some degree, we were hoping to emulate their success in a Taiwanese context with New Bloom.

Close to six years later, New Bloom is the largest it has ever been. Though still entirely volunteer-run, and generally lacking in resources, we have 24 members, though not all members continue to be active. The central hub of organizational activity is Taipei, in which about a dozen members live.

Current projects include restarting our podcast, expanding into video content — something we began doing for 2020 elections — and holding three events per month. These events include a monthly reading group, a monthly panel, talk, or screening, and a bimonthly salon-style party, which will also involve music and artistic performances. We have also been engaged in efforts to open a physical space for the last two years, though our first attempt at doing so was unsuccessful, and it is self-apparent to me that we are in a phase of rapid expansion.

It is sometimes unclear to me what has kept the publication going. Most of the English-language outreach efforts that emerged during or after the Sunflower Movement are no longer active. Though we have maintained a reasonably consistent membership, not all our original members are still active. Nevertheless, there is still a clear need for connections between Taiwan and the international world, plus we still believe that there is a need to articulate left-wing perspectives on independence.

I sometimes reflect on how the original membership of New Bloom has gotten older. Individuals who were college students during the Sunflower Movement are now graduate students or working; individuals who were then graduate students are now teaching. The past few months also saw the first time that an active member of New Bloom had a child. As for myself, when New Bloom began, I was in my “early twenties,” but now I’m close to thirty!

While the original founding members of New Bloom have become older, we continue to have younger members who are still in college. I hope that New Bloom can play a role in their political education. We wish to focus particularly individuals who are diasporic or overseas Taiwanese — second or third generation and beyond — who sometimes do not have Chinese-language reading ability but want to know more about Taiwanese politics and society. Either way, we intend to continue running New Bloom for a long time to come.

Brian Hioe was one of the founding editors of New Bloom. He is a freelance writer on social movements and politics, and occasional translator. This article is part of the special issue on new media.

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