TAICHUNG (Taiwan News) — The headline of this column is not slander, editorial or malicious.
It’s how Kuomintang (KMT) Taipei City Councilor Hsu Chiao-hsin (徐巧芯) describes herself when she takes on her political opponents in the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP): As “vicious and merciless” (心狠手辣) and as an “evil woman” (惡女).
She is the most visible of the “Vigorous Youth Faction” (青壯派), a group of (perhaps as many as 13) KMT Taipei city councilors that, in spite of only having just been elected in November, are planning to stand in the KMT primaries for legislative seats. Hsu, aged 33, is the most audacious of the group.
Having only served one full term as city councilor, she announced she plans to take down and oust veteran lawmaker Fei Hung-tai (費鴻泰), an incumbent from her own party. She claims that Fei promised the south Songshan/Xinyi (南松山信義) seat to her, which is apparently news to Fei.
She and her fellow “vigorous youth” are openly calling for generational change in the KMT. For the traditionally hierarchical party, this is radical stuff.
Critics are calling them the “runaway faction” for abandoning their seats so soon after the election, but this is not deterring the group. Fei clearly feels betrayed, long-standing incumbents are not usually challenged like this, especially not by someone so young.
Fei is calling for a party member-only primary because that would favor him, while Hsu is calling for a public opinion poll primary. As we have examined previously, Taiwan has a variety of methods of holding primaries, and they are often used strategically by the party to accomplish specific political ends.
Bombshell or dud?
On Sunday (Feb. 19) a bombshell was dropped that a source or sources in the KMT said they were planning a “general situation clause” that would favor incumbents. It was widely assumed to be targeting her specifically.
Hsu knew how to use this to dominate the news cycle. She likened it to “domestic violence” and said it was the most “heartbreaking day” since entering politics and thoroughly dominated the news cycle with her comments.
The KMT promptly came out and denied there was any such clause. Hsu was not about the have the limelight stolen from her and ignored that statement, acting as if it were still true and crying on a television talk show, generating yet more headlines.
All of this is playing out very publicly. In Taiwan, Taipei city councilors are often better known nationally than local legislators are.
Because they are in Taipei, and most of the political journalists and all the big television and radio talk shows are based there, they are frequent guests and interview subjects. Their constant exposure on these platforms makes many of them stars.
Hsu is one of the very best at playing the game. She’s a politician to watch.
Who is Hsu Chiao-hsin?
Hsu’s father is Hakka, and her mother’s family 49ers who fled the Chinese Civil War. Both demographics lean heavily toward the KMT.
She started out in the KMT Youth League. Starting in 2015, despite only being in her mid-20s, she was picked as a spokesperson for the office of Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱), then as a campaign spokesperson for Eric Chu’s (朱立倫) presidential campaign followed by a stint as spokesperson for former President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) office in 2016.
In 2018, she won a seat on the Taipei City Council with the second-highest vote count in her district, and last November was re-elected. City council districts are multi-seat constituencies.
In appearance, like fellow politicians Eric Chu, Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) and Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), she looks fairly harmless, but appearances are deceiving. Like those fellow politicians, she is formidable, even when she has campaigned dressed in a schoolgirl uniform.
She refers to herself as the Songshan Honey Badger and says she follows a honey badger philosophy. As she puts it: “Don’t look at them as small and cute, one of them can take on ten enemies, stand off against lions, eat cobras like french fries, and their reputation is as the world’s most fearless animal, indifferent to life and death struggle.”
As she puts it, she is “not to be trifled with” and is proud of working long hours looking for damaging dirt on her political opponents. She claims to have 60,000 photographs on her phone collected to do battle with “pan-green jackals.”
“I want to see a river of blood”
In December she announced that she planned to launch lawsuits against 107 pan-green figures, saying “I want to see a river of blood.” She kept the names and subject of the lawsuits a secret, though, and it is unclear if she ever went through with it.
She also is not afraid of embarrassing her former boss Eric Chu, as was shown during the ugly nominating process for the party’s candidate for Taoyuan mayor. She went to bat for her former colleague Lo Chih-chiang (羅智強) and released an account of a private phone call Chu had that showed Chu in a very bad light.
She’s a trench fighter who gets into many controversies and spins things her way. For example, during the Taipei mayoral race last year, she accused DPP candidate Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) of being a “pervert” after he was photographed leaving a restaurant with a group of people and he briefly held a female friend’s hand.
She was sued, but when the case was dropped she claimed on Facebook that the “court authenticated he was a pervert,” which of course was not the case at all. It was clever politically, though, as some people may actually believe her.
She also promotes terms like “taluban” (塔綠班) to describe the DPP. That is a play on words with Taliban, but substituting the ‘li’ in the center with ‘lu’ meaning green, the color associated with the DPP (there are netizen equivalents on the pan-green side that are similarly vicious, but usually are not used by politicians).
How will KMT handle Hsu’s challenge?
It is hard to say how Eric Chu and the KMT will handle this situation. On the one hand, the party is traditionally hierarchical and long-term loyalty is rewarded, and Hsu is not playing by the unofficial rulebook on this.
There are a lot of people in the party upset with her challenge, not just Fei. Probably many in the older generations are feeling nervous about their futures.
On the other hand, Chu went out of his way to try and run more younger candidates in the last election. The KMT had been losing youth support for years and the party has been worried about being eventually aged out of existence in the coming years.
Hsu is a media darling, and potentially could lead the charge with her fellow Vigorous Youth. I have yet to see any polling that breaks down her support by age, though, so it is speculative.
If Chu decides to make a move to stop her, it will likely be through his choice of primary method.