Being in Taiwan in this pivotal period of the nation's history was something that I, nor the people of Taiwan could have ever expected to happen. I'm not sure how much people know about the Sunflower movement, a protest that started on the 18th of March and is currently ongoing at the Legislative yuan (and previously, Executive yuan) in Taipei, Taiwan, but what I do know is that it is something everyone should be aware of. I was really shocked to see that pretty much no-one back home knew anything about this event. Perhaps being at the scene of the event and actually physically being involved in it has changed my perspective of things, but this movement has been compared to the Tiananmen Square Massacre in beijing, with leaders of the latter movement coming to Taiwan to show their support for the protesters, made up mainly from university students.
So here's pretty much what you need to know about the Sunflower movement:
WHEN: Protesters began to occupy the Legislative Yuan on the 18th of March, throwing quilts over the razor walls and climbing in. They barricaded doors and refused to leave, with supporters sending in supplies daily.
After 21 days of occupying the legislative yuan in an unprecedented move throughout the history of Taiwan's protests, the remaining protesters have announced that they will move out of the Yuan by 6pm tomorrow.
WHAT: The protest was held over a cross-strait trade agreement between China and Taiwan, headed by President Ma ying-Zhou, which brought about criticism over the possible disappearance of democracy from Taiwanese society. Due to the political tensions between China and Taiwan with Taiwan struggling in recent years to find its independence while China has been persisting in Taiwan returning to the 'motherland', one wrong move could make or break Taiwan's struggle for independence.
The free trade agreement meant that many small and medium-sized taiwanese businesses could not grow as more and more mainland chinese businesses would start to take over each and every sector of the economy with its bigger and more successful companies. Especially for the younger generations, this could mean a even larger decrease in income due to lesser job opportunities for the taiwanese youth.
THE PROBLEM: The main problem that many groups including the DDP, the students (unaffiliated with the DDP) and other societies found with the trade agreement was not the agreement itself entirely, but the way in which the agreement was signed. The Taiwanese public were not made aware of the decision to sign a trade agreement with China in June last year, and this protest calls for transparency of policies and an upholding of democratic ideals which have clearly been put aside in this scenario. Protesters made several demands, including that they wanted the trade agreement to be reviewed clause by clause, and after weeks of support from those including the likes of artists such as Deserts xuan, Yoga Lin, William Wei and liao Wen Qiang, some progress has been shown on the demands made by the students.
There has also been an uproar over the use of violence to remove the students from the executive yuan, with the police and the KMT government stating that they did not use violence to remove them, merely tapping them on the shoulder and telling them to leave. However, this much is clear; over 100 people were injured by this event, and medics, students at the scene have evidence to show that police were indeed violently attacking the students despite the students not treating them as enemies, and not trying to resist their removal in any way. This too reflects on the lack of transparency of the movements of the KMT government.
AND SO... Although the students have decided to leave the legislative yuan, the movement is far from over. I for one am especially impressed by the sheer unity that I've felt being part of this movement, observing and participating in it. Despite what media reports may say, it was an extremely well-organised and peaceful movement in which each and every student was striving for the same aim in a unified and completely non-violent manner. Although the fruits of their labour are yet to be decided, I am and always will be profoundly touched by the willpower and bravery that the youth of Taiwan have shown for their country and their own freedom. In a strange way, I'm glad to have been a part of this event, and wherever I go, seeing people that are so concerned be they professors or students , lawyers or doctors, in a way its kind of heartwarming to see that kinder side of human nature for once.