Based on first-hand participant-observation, this talk will examine the culture, politics, and spatiality of the Sunflower Movement. Taiwan's most significant social movement in decades, the Sunflower Movement not only blocked the passage of a major trade deal with China, but reshaped popular discourse and redirected Taiwan's political and cultural trajectory. It re-energized student and civil society, precipitated the historic defeat of the KMT in the 2014 local elections, and prefigured the DPP's strong position coming into the 2016 presidential and legislative election season.
The primary spatial tactic of the Sunflowers-- occupation of a government building-- was so successful that a series of protests in the summer of 2015 by high school students was partly conceived and represented as a "second Sunflower Movement". These students, protesting "China-centric" curriculum changes, attempted to occupy the Ministry of Education building. Thwarted by police, these students settled for the front courtyard, where a Sunflower-style pattern of encampments and performances emerged. While this movement did not galvanize the wider public as dramatically as its predecessor, it did demonstrate the staying power of the Sunflower Movement and its occupation tactics for an even younger cohort of activists.
The Sunflower Movement showed that contingent, street-level, grassroots action can have a major impact on Taiwan's cross-Strait policies, and inspired and trained a new generation of youth activists. But with the likely 2016 presidential win of the DPP, which has attempted to draw support from student activists while presenting a less radical vision to mainstream voters, what's in store for the future of Taiwanese student and civic activism? And with strong evidence of growing Taiwanese national identification and pro-independence sentiment, particularly among youth, what's in store for the future of Taiwan's political culture?
Ian Rowen is PhD Candidate in Geography at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and recent Visiting Fellow at the European Research Center on Contemporary Taiwan, Academia Sinica’s Institute of Sociology, and Fudan University. He participated in both the Sunflower and Umbrella Movements and has written about them for The Journal of Asian Studies, The Guardian, and The BBC (Chinese), among other outlets. He has also published about Asian politics and protest in the Annals of the Association of American Geographers (forthcoming) and the Annals of Tourism Research. His PhD research, funded by the US National Science Foundation, the Fulbright Program, and the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, has focused on the political geography of tourism and protest in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.