Nicholas Hung: Taiwan

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Nicholas Hung (left) with Ms. Hung Hsiu-chu, a former deputy chairperson of Taiwan’s Nationalist Party.

Nicholas Hung is a first-year student at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center (HNC), working towards a graduate certificate in Chinese and American Studies before completing his master’s degree at SAIS in Washington, D.C.

Nicholas spent his summer in Taipei, Taiwan as an intern for the Kuomintang (KMT), also known as the Nationalist Party, in the Republic of China. While interning in the KMT Central Committee’s foreign media and international affairs section, Nicholas completed Chinese-language courses at National Taiwan Normal University. Before embarking on his studies at the HNC, he graciously agreed to discuss his experience at the KMT headquarters with the SAIS Observer.

What were your responsibilities working at the KMT Central Committee’s foreign media and international affairs section?

I worked directly under the section chief, Mr. Eric Huang, who is actually now working towards a master’s degree at SAIS. My primary responsibility was to prepare daily news briefs by condensing information from various news sources into a single document. I also worked on local media outreach for press conferences. Additionally, I was involved in coordinating outreach to representatives of foreign countries and institutions such as Canada, Australia and the American Institute in Taiwan.

Why did you want to pursue this internship?

Personally, I’ve always been interested in politics. While I previously considered going into politics, I thought that the current political environment in the United States might make that quite difficult. On the other hand, I thought pursuing opportunities in foreign service, where I could be involved in political analysis at the macro level, might be more accessible.

What were some of the challenges and rewards of your internship?

It was great to be able to live in an environment where I could learn Chinese and meet a lot of interesting people. I shook the hand of the chairwoman of the KMT at the time, Ms. Hung Hsiu-chu, and I got to meet representatives from the European Union contingency and do some translating. But most of all, I think it was an opportunity to see how a political party works, especially in the context of Taiwan’s unique history, culture and democratically active society.

One challenge was language. While I was in a country I knew somewhat well, I was operating in a language that I was not as comfortable with. I grew up speaking Chinese at home, but did not really focus on reading and writing. But by working in a Chinese-speaking environment and taking language courses, I was able to make improvements and prepare myself for my studies at the HNC.

Another challenge was operating in the KMT itself, which has been around since 1912 and is somewhat set in its own ways. In Chinese culture, many believe that the elders are more experienced and have the right to control the dialogue. So for young Taiwanese people, myself included, it can be challenging to engage with different viewpoints, morals and values, especially on issues like LGBTQ policies. As an older political party, the KMT is not going to “rock the boat,” at least not as much as the Minjindang (Democratic Progressive Party) or the Shilidang (New Power Party). But, I was there to learn and regardless, there will always be similar challenges wherever I go. If the KMT can modernize and take stronger, more civil rights-oriented stances, I think they can make it.

Can you put your internship into an international perspective for us? In what ways was your work relevant?

Taiwan is one of our few democratic allies in the East Asian region. This is especially important in the context of Mainland China and its Belt and Road Initiative, investment initiatives in Africa, and so on. For someone like me who was born and raised in the United States, this was an opportunity to go out and understand a different culture and democratic political structure. The best part was to witness the young people of Taiwan so willing to go out and march for various causes. As an undergraduate, I wrote about the Sunflower Student Movement, which consisted of Taiwanese students who occupied the Taiwanese government’s legislative chamber in protest of the KMT passing the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement with Mainland China. This was so inspiring to me, especially given that in America, the younger age brackets have some of the lowest voting turnouts. If the United States could attain that same level of active participation, imagine the impact we could make! Beyond that, it’s all about comparison. We examine intercultural differences so that we can learn from both the positive and the negative.

How do you think this experience will apply to your studies at SAIS and beyond?

Here at the HNC, on the other side of the Taiwan Strait, I plan to study the Mainland Chinese outlook. With the aspiration of joining the foreign service, I want to focus on East Asia through either an international relations or comparative politics lens. Whether I have the opportunity to work at the American Institute in Taiwan or an embassy in China, I am eager to be back in this region. The experience has informed me about what I want to do academically and professionally; it also taught me about who I am as a Taiwanese-American. Even though Taiwan is small, we cannot forget our friends across the Taiwan Strait!