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The Sunflower Movement represents something unique

Hundreds of thousands gathered on Ketagalan Blvd. in front of the Presidential Office in Taipei yesterday, nearly two weeks after a group of protesters occupied the Legislative Yuan to oppose a controversial service trade pact with China.

The news coverage of the 13-day protest, dubbed the “Sunflower Movement,” has saturated local airwaves over the past two weeks, and for once the Taiwanese media outlets have served the public right with their 24/7 coverage (albeit not without bias) of the once-in-a-decade event.

The Taiwanese political talk shows, notorious for their lack of informed content, were filled with genuine debate over issues such as the merits and dangers of the service trade pact, the legitimacy of the protesters' occupation of government buildings and of the authorities' use of force in evicting people from these buildings.

The event also caught the attention of the outside world, but the international media generally regard the Sunflower Movement with an equal measure of amusement and detachment. While many described Taiwan as a mature democracy and the rarity of a protester occupation of a government building, the global media see the event mostly as a Taiwanese issue, not a democracy issue. Most noted the unprecedented nature of the occupation and then duly continued their coverage on the China-Taiwan relation issues behind the controversy.

The Wall Street Journal observed that the rejection of mainland China's influence and the Kuomintang administration's rapprochement policy “may soon come to dictate Taiwanese politics.” The Economist pointed out that the protesters “have tapped a vein of popular mistrust of Mr. Ma (Ying-jeou) and of economic integration with the mainland.”

April 1, 2014    jim@
Yes as the older generation who always vote KMT pass away, they are replaced with people who actually dare to vote for their beliefs.

The KMT is facing a falling voting population.
April 1, 2014    wallee@
Since 2012, these student activists have mobilized over a variety of issues. These include, but are not limited to: the Losheng Sanatorium demolitions; nuclear waste storage on Lanyu; forced evictions and demolitions in Shilin, Huaguang, Dapu and Taoyuan; mistreatment of laid-off factory workers; abuse of soldiers in the military; controversy over the Miramar Hotel Resort in Taitung County’s Shanyuan Bay; the expropriation of ancestral Aboriginal land at Sun-Moon Lake for a BOT hotel project and the eviction of small businesses in the area; the eviction of elderly fruit farmers on Lishan in Taichung; temple demolitions; improper building of wind turbines in Yuanli, Miaoli County, opposition to the legalization of same-sex marriages; the Tamhai New Town development project in Tamsui District; controversial changes to school textbooks; contempt for democratic expression on university campuses; a court system stacked in favor of the wealthy (or pro-unification criminals like Chang An-le) against ordinary people; and several other environmental issues. And the list goes on.

The truly fascinating thing about this litany of discontent is how little those events were reported on by Taiwan's media outlets that instead chose to focus on trivial matters, or whose interest was too passing for them to be able to see the connections between them.

Another interesting aspect of all this is the overlapping groups and leaderships that took the lead. While Lin Fei-fan, to name just one leader, is now a national figure thanks to his eminent role in the LY occupation, how many remember that he was also among the leaders opposing the acquisition of the Next Media outlets in Taiwan by the China Times Group’s Tsai Eng-meng? Or that he was involved in the protests against the bulldozing of the entire, predominantly “mainlander,” Huaguang neighborhood in 2013? Or that as a high-school kid, the now-graduate student at NTU was involved in the Wild Strawberries?

Look closely, and you will see many like Lin who for months toiled against abuse while the rest of society — those who now accuse them of being “violent”, "DPP mobs" and “undemocratic” — completely ignored them and never lifted a finger against injustice. Those students have now burst onto the national stage, but they have been at it for quite a while.

The activists did not need political parties or other “hidden hands” to mobilize successfully. They, like many of the movements that overthrew despotic regimes across the Arab world, had the Internet and know how to use it well. These activists are up against a generation who probably need help from their grandchildren to operate the DVD player.
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