Not a lot of well-known metal musicians have run for public office. And as a genre that tends to be very apolitical in the first place, as far as day-to-day partisan politics is concerned, you don't often get the chance to dive into a detailed discussion about issues, events and matters of principle. But Chthonic's Freddy Lim is the ultimate exception to the rule. On Saturday, January 16, Taiwan will hold presidential elections, along with elections for its 113-seat legislature (The Legislative Yuan, as it's called there).
Taiwan tends not to receive intense coverage in the western media, but the country is actually very important from a geopolitical perspective. After the defeat of Japan in the Second World War, China fell back into civil war, fought between the Nationalist and Maoist Communist factions. When the Nationalists were defeated on the mainland in 1949, the official government of The Republic of China evacuated to Taiwan. Since then, the issues of nationhood and sovereignty have been a consistent issue dogging the island nation. It lost its UN seat in 1971 to the People's Republic of China, and most of the world holds "non-diplomatic official" relations with it. The nation is basically caught in a perpetual push-and-pull between full independence (Beijing has threatened military invasion if that occurs) and full integration with the mainland (which would of course destroy the country's democratic system, placing it under the heel of the Chinese Communist Party). For it's part, the United States has been providing military hardware to Taiwan since 1979, a move reinforce by every President since. It's become a tradition for lame-duck Presidents to send over an aid package as they exit office (Obama sent another one last year, causing a temporary row with Beijing).
Chthonic front-man Freddy Lim is currently running as part of the New Power Party (NPP), a centre-left party who's platform is founded on human rights, civil liberties and Taiwanese independence. The party proposes a rewrite to the country's constitution, whereby it would cede legitimacy of governing China to the mainland, and restrict Taiwan to just Taiwan. As Metal Injection readers may know, he has fronted Chthonic since 1995, bringing the band's innovative and energetic form of blackened death metal to audiences the world over. I saw them perform in 2007, opening for Cradle of Filth, and had the honor of briefly meeting the band after they played.
For the questions below, I wanted to get an idea of why Lim went into politics, and how this is related to his music. Many of the questions demand complicated, nuanced answers, and Lim was gracious enough to provide some insight into why he's running for office:
Metal Injection: Hello Freddie, first off- what drove you to seek public office in your home country? How were your views shaped as you grew up? Was there a particular event that spurred you into action?
Freddy Lim: I’ve been participating civil movements and public issues in Taiwan for a long time. I also served as the chair of Amnesty International Taiwan for 4 years (2 terms), and continue to push for political reforms. Many social movements in the past 2-3 years in Taiwan are the result of higher political participation among the younger generation. The call for reform by the Minister of Defense back in 2013 motivated 250,000 supporters to march. And the Sunflower Movement in 2014 also brought 500,000 people to the street after occupying the Legislature, just to name a few. All these newly established social awareness and forged the critical juncture for a new political party to form. Also for the same reason, my friends and I devoted ourselves to the election one after another.
What do you see as the connection between Chthonic's music and your activities with the NPP? In what ways have you used your music to push your political message?
Chthonic’s music has always been taking Taiwanese history and legends as the background. This local elements have been deliberately covered up by the KMT government (which fled from China after the Chinese civil wars ensuing after WWII) through education and all sorts of political means. Taiwanese society and Taiwanese politics, therefore, contain a lot of distortions and disconnections of people from their own land. The raison d’être of Chthonic is to write Metal songs, which we love the most. Nonetheless, to form the New Power Party and run for congressmen is to pursue a better Taiwan though political reform and progression.
Since 1979, the United States has been formally selling arms to Taiwan for its defense. As an American I cannot help but ask, what role should the United States (and the West for that matter) play in "cross-straight relations" between Taiwan and the PRC?
This is a very complicated question that can be discussed from various perspectives. The bottom line is that the United States should give equal weight to China and Taiwan, treating both countries as autonomous, and helping Taiwan become a normal member of international society, rather than this ambiguous status quo.
The PRC government in Beijing has threatened military force if Taiwan was to formally declare independence. What does the NPP see as a solution to this issue?
This is also a question that deserves quite a length for a full-fledged answer. Chiefly, the majority of Taiwanese people recognize the need to protect de-facto independence as a liberal, democratic society. To assure this, we have to reform domestic politics steadily, while strengthening our international relations at the same time.
The conditions within any country greatly depend on the economic situation. Along with the NPP's platform of human rights and civil liberties, what is the party's economic agenda?
This is yet another question that has to be answered with thousands of words. In principle, the NPP takes sustainable development of the environment as the premise of economic growth, and opposes industrial policies that lean towards big corporations and high pollution. We propose policies that strengthen Taiwanese SMEs (subject-matter experts), start-ups and green energies, as well as building a fair, competitive environment for private sectors. As for agricultural policies, we call for assurance of agricultural use on farmlands and to in the assist development of local and innovative agriculture to increase the food self-sufficiency ratio in Taiwan, and to create the grounds for an environmentally-friendly agricultural sector to thrive.
I fondly remember seeing Chthonic play in 2007, opening for Cradle of Filth, and got to meet all of you afterward for autographs. Are there any touring plans currently in the works?
Not for now. But we hope to finish our new album this year, and I’m looking forward to meeting the fans in North America in the near future!
If you like what you read here, I write about this kind of stuff on a regular basis at For the Sake of Argument