Social movements stir Taiwan’s hyperactive democracy

Material 1: Sunflower seeds,The Economist April 11, 2015 (THE MOST IMPORTANT ARTICLE)


Sunflower seeds


Social movements stir Taiwans hyperactive democracy

Apr 11th 2015 | TAIPEI | From the print edition

A YEAR ago Taiwanese students occupied the main debating chamber of Taiwan’s parliament, the Legislative Yuan, in an unprecedented protest against a trade deal with China. Thousands of people joined demonstrations in support, many of them brandishing sunflowers (see picture): a rebuke to the murkiness of cross-strait negotiations. The impact of the Sunflower Movement and other recent grassroots campaigns has been wide-ranging. Not only have efforts by Taiwan to liberalise its trade with China faltered, but the island’s political chemistry has begun to change too.


Activists are preparing to stage rallies on April 10th to mark the anniversary of the three-week sit-in, which they agreed to end following a promise by the government to give the legislature more oversight of cross-strait agreements (politicians are still bickering over the terms of this). Taiwan’s main opposition party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), would be delighted by a high turnout: as the island prepares for presidential and parliamentary elections next January, it welcomes any opportunity to highlight the discomfiture of the ruling Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang (KMT). The DPP has a good chance of winning the presidential polls, although the KMT—despite its recent drubbing in mayoral elections—is likely to keep a majority in the legislature.


The DPP sees former participants in the Sunflower Movement and other social activists as potential recruits. Many of them are young people who feel gloomy about job prospects, and who are quick to blame their woes on China. On March 25th, 119 Sunflower participants were put on trial, accused of offences such as trespass and violating laws on public assembly. One student leader, Chen Wei-ting, told the court that the protesters had saved Taiwan from economic domination by China. Tsai Ing-wen, the DPP’s presidential candidate, has hired a few young activists, including Sunflower ones, to lead party departments.


Observers speak of a new “third force” in the island’s politics led by such activists who have campaigned on issues ranging from nuclear power to bullying in the army. They sympathise far more with the DPP than with the KMT, but they complicate the strategies of both.


One of them is Fan Yun, an academic who gave street seminars to students about democracy during the Sunflower unrest. She plans to run in next January’s legislative elections as a candidate for the Social Democratic Party (SDP) which she launched on March 29th. Other SDP candidates include a lesbian-rights activist who is expected to run in a glitzy commercial district of Taipei, possibly against a stuffy KMT lawmaker who opposes gay marriage. The New Power Party, founded in January by a former heavy-metal rocker and human-rights campaigner, wants formal independence from China.


It is unclear whether any of these and more than a dozen other new parties that have registered in the past year will gain seats in the legislature. Some may merge with the KMT or, more likely, the DPP. Their supporters would help the DPP broaden its alliances beyond those who emphasise “ethnic” differences between original dwellers of Taiwan and immigrants (or their descendants) who fled to the island at the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949. KMT voters alienated by bickering between the two parties over relations with China may be attracted by third-force parties’ emphasis on domestic reforms.


The DPP has reason to worry, too. The new parties have profound misgivings about China’s economic relationship with Taiwan. As far as DPP leaders go, Ms Tsai is relatively pragmatic and wants to keep relations with China on an even keel, despite her resentment of the KMT’s cosiness with China. If she hopes to co-opt the young activists, she may have to take greater risks with the island’s truculent neighbour.

Even the KMT has adjusted its policies in response to grassroots activism—and not just on matters relating to cross-strait trade. It had long insisted that nuclear power was vital for the island, but in the past year it has halted the construction of a new nuclear reactor complex. The KMT’s recently appointed chairman, Eric Chu, says he wants Taiwan to become nuclear-free. That is a big break with tradition indeed.


Material 2: The Introduction to “Sunflower Students Movement” on Wikipedia


The Sunflower Student Movement (Chinese: 太陽花學運; pinyin: Tàiyánghuā Xuéyùn) is associated with a protest movement driven by a coalition of students and civic groups that came to a head on March 18 and April 10, 2014, in the Legislative Yuan and, later, also the Executive Yuan of the Republic of China (Taiwan).[3][4][5] The activists protested the passing of the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement (CSSTA) by the ruling party Kuomintang (KMT) at the legislature without clause-by-clause review. On July 23, 2015, a related protest occurred, as the Ministry of Education was stormed by Anti Black Box Movement protesters.


The Sunflower protesters perceived the trade pact with the People’s Republic of China (China; PRC) would hurt Taiwan’s economy and leave it vulnerable to political pressure from Beijing, while advocates of the treaty argued that increased Chinese investment would provide a necessary boost to Taiwan’s economy, that the still-unspecified details of the treaty’s implementation could be worked out favorably for Taiwan, and that to “pull out” of the treaty by not ratifying it would damage Taiwan’s international credibility.[6][7][8] The protesters initially demanded the clause-by-clause review of the agreement be reinstated,[9] later changing their demands toward the rejection of the trade pact, the passing of legislation allowing close monitoring of future agreements with China, and citizen conferences discussing constitutional amendment.[10] While the Kuomintang was open to a line-by-line review at a second reading of the agreement,[11][12] the party rejected the possibility that the pact be returned for a committee review.[13] The KMT backed down later, saying that a joint review committee could be formed if the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) did not boycott the proceedings. This offer was rejected by the DPP. The party asked for a review committee on all accords with China, citing “mainstream public opinion.”[14] In turn, the DPP proposal was turned down by the KMT.[15][16]


The movement marked the first time that the legislature has been occupied by citizens in the history of the Republic of China (ROC),[17][18] which has governed Taiwan since retrocession in 1945.



The term “Sunflower Student Movement” referred to the use of sunflowers by the protesters as a symbol of hope as the flower is heliotropic.[19] The movement’s name in Chinese is (Chinese: 太陽花; pinyin: taì yáng hua), a calque of the English word “sunflower”, rather than the native term, (Chinese: 向日葵; pinyin: xiàng rì kuí) [20] This term was popularised after a floristry contributed 1000 sunflowers to the students outside the Legislative Yuan building.[21] “Sunflower” was also an allusion to the Wild Lily Movement of 1990 which set a milestone in the democratization of Taiwan.[22] The movement is also known as the “March 18 Student Movement” (318學運) or “Occupy Taiwan Legislature” (佔領國會事件).


The movement’s anthem is Island’s Sunrise by the indie band Fire Ex from Kaohsiung.[23][24]



On March 17, Taiwan’s ruling Kuomintang party attempted a unilateral move in the Legislative Yuan to force the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement to the legislative floor without giving it a clause-by-clause review as previously established in a June 2013 agreement with the opposing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Previously, in September 2013, the two parties had agreed to hold 16 public hearings over the details of the trade agreement with academics, NGOs and representatives of trade sectors impacted by the agreement. The KMT had chaired eight public hearings within a week, and several members of social groups, NGOs, and business representatives from impacted industries were either not invited or were informed at the last minute.[9] When academics and business sector representatives gave their opinions at the hearings, the presiding chair of the legislature’s Internal Administrative Committee, KMT legislator Chang Ching-chung, said the agreement had to be adopted in its entirety and could not be amended.[25] Legislative gridlock followed, as the opposing DPP had not completed the eight hearings they had agreed to chair by March 17. Chang, citing Article 61 of the Legislative Yuan Functions Act, announced that the review process had gone beyond the 90 days allotted for review. The agreement, in the KMT’s view, should therefore be considered reviewed and should be submitted to a plenary session on March 21 for a final vote.[9]


(You can find more details about the occupation, resolution, aftermath, people’s reactions’ online, such as wikipedia)


Material 3: Will the Sunflower Movement change Taiwan?


Material 4: Taiwan’s Sunflower Revolution: One Year Later

Taiwan’s Sunflower Revolution: One Year Later


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