It has taken me a while to gather my thoughts on 太陽花學運 (sunflower student movement, the name later given to the occupation of the 立法院 (Legislative Yuan)). This is mostly because the battle has not finished. There are also many other social issues to continue fighting for and to increase awareness. I tried to jot down notes as the 立法院 occupation continued. I also have some general reflections. I’ve tried to organize them into major themes.
I had seen pictures of protesters outside 立法院, but had no idea that students and activists would make their way inside the building. I think the first week was mostly nervousness because it was not clear when and how (or if) they would be forced to leave. The internet provided plenty of resources to witness the action inside and outside 立法院. I was most impressed by very eloquent first year university students and even high school students who were mature beyond their years and so aware of current social issues.
I found it pretty amusing when I read English articles that expressed surprise and astonishment that the students were organized and cleaned up after themselves, inside 立法院 and outside on the streets. At school, we are taught to clean our classrooms, restrooms, and outside areas at the end of the day. This becomes second nature at large events. It also showed that these were thoughtful students and activists – they were not the violent thugs the government wanted people to believe.
The number of professionals that supported the activists was overwhelming. I remember watching the live stream, seeing groups of doctors, lawyers, and ministers speak to the activists. I also saw students express themselves through song and story. By the time the first week was over, my eyes would fill with tears every time I heard even the basic melody of 晚安台灣 by 滅火器.
It was clear that there was a generational divide between supporters and dissenters of the movement: parents vs. children. Those born in the 1960s and 1970s remember or participated in the Wild Lily movement, and supported this movement. It was finally a chance for those born in the 1980s and 1990s to stand up. Current college students saw the erosion of freedoms that they grew up knowing. At the same time, I see that our parents have still not emerged from the shadow of martial law and White Terror. It is common that parents would prefer that their children not speak up about politics. I can understand they would rather keep the status quo for fear of repercussions from China. But any thriving system must move forward.
Violence of 03/24 and a return to the past
I think everyone’s worst nightmare occurred during the early hours of 03/24. The violence that we thought was in the past was right in front of us. The brutal beatings and police brutality was being broadcast live online, and pictures and videos were being posted to BBS. Soon, there was the frightening realization that video evidence being posted on Youtube were being taken down.
There were also stories of TECRO offices wanting names of participants at overseas protest and discussion events. It had the feeling of White Terror, when the government would blacklist overseas students. This was later denied by TECRO and overseas student groups. I don’t think there was a final resolution to what happened.
25th anniversary of the self immolation of 鄭南榕 (Nylon Cheng)
As the protest movement kept going, we marked the 25th anniversary of the self-immolation of 鄭南榕 on 04/07. It was a reminder of how far we have come, but also how far we still have to go. It was already a significant anniversary with events planned to celebrate free speech and to keep his memory alive. 臺南 renamed the street in front of city hall after him. It became even more significant as we realized we still had to fight for free speech and that the brave words of 鄭南榕 still had not been heard.
公民覺醒 (citizen’s awakening)
This protest movement was the result of the government not listening to its citizens for a long period of time. Citizen protests had begun in 2012 with the fear of media monopoly, and reached a peak with the death of 洪仲丘 and the demolitions at 大埔 towards the end of 2013. Throughout all these protests, the sincere hope is that citizens wake up. That people begin to realize that the government is not doing its job, that the voice of the people is important and should be heard, and that things need to change.
I was watching the live broadcast from outside 立法院 as the sun rose on the first or second day. Students were giving testimonials. One student suggested that they sing the national anthem. Someone spoke up and said that the national anthem is based on the KMT party song. The first student then decided that they shouldn’t sing the national anthem after all. It’s this type of realization that what we are taught in school is not the complete story. We are taught many historical events, but we are also not taught other historical events. We learn about the untold part of our history in different ways.
As someone who was born in the early 1980s, and experienced the KMT ruled school system, I had to find out many historical things on my own because it was not mentioned. I envy the current students, born in the late 1980s and early 1990s, who experienced a changed educational system and grew up during a time when talk of the past was open and not kept underground. The late 1980s and early 1990s marked the end of martial law, the direct election of the national assembly, but the textbooks did not change. My parents could tell me the exact content of my textbooks because it was the same as what they learned. Even though martial law was abolished, events such as the 228 Incident were not in textbooks. I did not learn Taiwanese history in school, instead I learned the history of ancient China, memorizing dynasties and emperors.
It was not until I was in high school in the U.S., in the late 1990s, while discussing the Sino-Japanese war (1937-1945) in U.S. history, that I realized how much I learned was KMT propaganda. My history teacher was equally surprised that I had spent time in the Taiwanese school system but had no knowledge of the atrocities of the KMT. The realization that I had been through some sort of government brainwashing, that I had saluted to a flag, and bowed to founding fathers, belonging to a government that was not what it seemed to be on the surface, was frightening. It is a very queasy feeling and resulted in a lot of internal questioning. I realized I had to do my own research and do my own reading to find the truth. To this day, I am always finding new things that I did not know before.
If anything, I hope the movement has given Taiwanese everywhere – in Taiwan, overseas, nth generation overseas, by birth, by culture, by heart – a chance to learn, a chance to reflect, a chance to wake up, to never forget our past, and to continue to fight for our future.