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September 20, 2017

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To punish or not to punish Sunflower movement leaders

Japan's Chiushingura (忠臣藏) is probably the world's longest running audiovisual entertainment series. Variously translated as "The Loyal League" by F. V. Dickins in 1875, "The Treasury of Loyal Retainers" in 1958, but more commonly knows as "The Forty-seven Ronin," the series tells the story of 47 ronin — masterless samurai — who avenged their feudal lord in 1703. First presented in 1705 as joruri puppet drama, it is now run on TV every year close to Dec. 14, the day more than 310 years ago when the ronin killed Kira Kouzuke, a Tokugawa shogunate protocol officer. For attacking Kouzuke in Shogun Tsunayoshi's Castle in Edo, where drawing a sword was banned, their master Asano Takumi was ordered to commit hara-kiri.The loyal retainers surrendered themselves, but Tsunayoshi couldn't punish them because they were praised and adored as heroes for their devoted loyalty to their dead master. It was his advisor, Abbot Tenkai (天海僧正), who persuaded Tsunayoshi to have the loyal retainers sentenced to death by hara-kiri so that they would be remembered for their loyalty forever. They all did so and were immortalized.

The Buddhist abbot's advice to the shogun must be remembered by court judges when they start trying the Sunflower student movement leaders for crimes committed during their 24-day occupation of the Assembly Hall of the Legislative Yuan. Students sneaked into the assembly hall by climbing the fence on March 18, stormed the government house of the Executive Yuan, and left the Legislature last Thursday as heroes, like the 47 loyal retainers on the 14th day of the 12th moon of the 14th year of Genroku, which corresponds to Jan. 30, 1703. The Japanese switched to the Gregorian calendar only after the Meiji Restoration of 1868.

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