We Welcome the Sunflower Student Movement into the System
China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
March 17, 2015
Executive Summary: The Sunflower Student Movement has ended. Student leaders and closely linked citizens' groups are licking their lips as they gear up for the elections. The Sunflower Student Movement leaders have the passion and determination to foment revolution. They think and act outside the system. They have no shortage of revolutionary policy ideas. But no matter how passionate their battle cries, participating in elections amounts to recognition of the system. It means accepting reform within the system instead of protesting the system from without. It means seeking the most votes, rather than recruiting most revolutionary-minded comrades.
Full Text Below:
Tomorrow is the first anniversary of the Sunflower Student Movement. One year ago, the leaders of the student movement stormed the legislature. But even they probably did not realize that they had just started the largest student movement in Taiwan's history. The impact was a political tsunami that altered Taiwan's political stage and political atmosphere.
The Sunflower Student Movement did not materialize suddenly out of nowhere. It originated with interpersonal relations and shared ideological perspectives. It originated with opposition to the demolition and relocation of Ta Pu, and opposition to the Want Daily/China Times news organization. The flames of this increasingly politicized student movement originally belonged to a social movement. But they were vigorously fanned until they became a political movement for a specific political party.
Consider the broader social context. When Ma Ying-jeou took office in 2008, the two sides of the Strait began formal negotiations. Following a brief slump, the defeated DPP launched a new “anti-China” opposition movement. The anti-China sentiments of the DPP and its allies was cloaked in the rhetoric of "democracy, human rights, and social justice". But their real motivation was "Taiwan independence consciousness, Taiwanese consciousness, and anti-KMT consciousness". This opposition force advanced on the KMT. The Ma Ying-jeou government's cross-Strait rationale was rooted in economic interests and Taiwan's survival and prosperity. But cold economic data and remote international issues, invoked by ivory tower bureaucrats, failed to impress. They were no match for feelings and emotions.
After five or six years of agitation and ferment, the conditions for the Sunflower Student Movement were ripe. The Ma vs. Wang power struggle divided the KMT. The administration and the legislature could not work together. Ruling party rifts stalled the STA. Flames from the student movement spread upwards through the political cracks, eventually erupting into full scale student protests and civic movements. Recall the connivance of those in charge of the Legislative Yuan. Recall the political calculations of Ma and Wang -- their moves and counter moves. Under normal circumstances, as soon as the students stormed the legislature, they would have been immediately expelled. They would never have been able to continue their occupation and receive endless outside aid. The sunflower would never have bloomed.
Sunflower Student Movement influence is significant. Is that influence positive or negative? No matter. Either way, it was a rebellion of Taiwan's younger generation. It was a generational rebellion. Active participants in the student movement were mostly in the 20 to 40 age group. The Sunflower Student Movement was their movement. Movemetn leaders were actually quite opaque in their decision-making. The vast majority of participants were not privy to the “inner circle”. Nevertheless they became enthusiastic participants. They protested, attacked, propagandized, maintained discipline, cleaned, administered medical care, and learned by example. The manner in which they participated in the adult world has been heavily criticized. But in the passion and collective memory is unquestionably theirs.
These passions and memories have altered Taiwan's political landscape for the next 20 or 30 years. Many examples illustrate this point. Take Wen-Je Ko, for example. He said that before the student movement, he was only slightly ahead in the polls. After the student movement, the gap between him and Sean Lien widened significantly. Polls show that the younger generation supported Wen-Je Ko three to five times more than Sean Lien. As we all know, the KMT suffered an unprecedented defeat during last year's nine in one elections. The Taipei mayoral battle highlighted a key factor – the ideological and physical aging of the KMT. The Taipei mayoral election was closely watched and played a decisive role. The Sunflower Student Movement will continue to impact Taiwan's political landscape. Wen-Je Ko illustrates this point.
Equally important is the matter of cross-Strait relations. The media concluded that once the student movement blocked trade negotiations on the STA and MTA, the Ma Xi meeting was probably a bust. The Sunflower Student Movement interrupted Ma Ying-jeou's “[Mainland] China agenda." . If this agenda was Ma's personal agenda, it would not be a matter of importance. But this agenda is critical to Taiwan's survival and prosperity. Did the Sunflower Student Movement have any positive value? Perhaps it reminded leaders on both sides that fairness and justice are important. Emotional factors must also be considered. That said, we must ask the younger generation on Taiwan, what constitutes a reasonable cross-Strait policy? What is the proper balance between economic benefits, social justice, dignity, and sovereignty? This is the first anniversary of the Sunflower Student Movement, But society has yet to reach a consensus on these key issues. Obviously election season will lead to even greater divisions. Such divisions are not to Taiwan's benefit. When can we finally approach these questions calmly and peacefully?
The Sunflower Student Movement has ended. Student leaders and closely linked citizens' groups are licking their lips as they gear up for the elections. The Sunflower Student Movement leaders have the passion and determination to foment revolution. They think and act outside the system. They have no shortage of revolutionary policy ideas. But no matter how passionate their battle cries, participating in elections amounts to recognition of the system. It means accepting reform within the system instead of protesting the system from without. It means seeking the most votes, rather than recruiting most revolutionary-minded comrades. Under these circumstances, Sunflower Student Movement participation in the elections means that it must become more responsible than other party factions. In particular, it must seek cooperation and compromise with voters who hold different positions. It must determine what is necessary for Taiwan's survival and prosperity. It must seek the most feasible option, rather than the most “idealistic” goal.
This is our hope for the Sunflower Student Movement on its one year anniversary.