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Inside Taiwan's Sunflower Movement: Twenty-Four Days in a Student-Occupied Parliament, and the Future of the Region


“Say goodbye to Taiwan,” wrote political scientist John Mearsheimer in a widely read article in the March-April 2014 issue of The National Interest. Threatened by China's rising economic might and abandoned by a weakening United States, one of Asia's most vibrant democracies was facing, in his “realist” analysis, an almost inevitable annexation via economic if not military force. “Time,” he wrote, “is running out for the little island coveted by its gigantic, growing neighbor.” But only days after publication, on March 18, activists and armchair analysts alike said hello to a new reality.

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1 John J. Mearsheimer, “Say Goodbye to Taiwan,” The National Interest, March-April 2014, (accessed November 14, 2014).

2 Having entered the Legislative Yuan on March 19 and stayed inside and around the building for most of the occupation, this reflection and the rest of the article is based on a mix of first-hand participant-observation, interviews, and analysis. Coming from an embedded researcher, this account more reflects voices from inside the movement than those of its outside critics.

3 For an account of the complicated legislative machinations, see J. Michael Cole, “Taiwanese Occupy Legislature over China Pact,” The Diplomat, March 20, 2014, (accessed October 23, 2014).

4 As Taiwan and China do not recognize each other's sovereignty, such quasi-state, quasi-private institutions are used for formal negotiations.

5 For more details about the economics of the CSSTA, see JoAnn Fan, “The Economics of the Cross-Strait Services Agreement,” The Diplomat, April 18, 2014, (accessed October 23, 2014).

6 This name has been changed.

7 Throughout the occupation, volleys of text and Facebook messages were sent in attempts to link Black Island's most visible spokespeople, Chen Wei-ting and Lin Fei-fan, to the DPP's past presidential candidate, Tsai Ying-wen, a legal scholar and former chair of the Mainland Affairs Council. Pro-KMT pundits repeated a similar line on television talk shows. Indeed, both Chen and Lin had volunteered for local youth committees of Tsai's 2012 campaign, but there is no evidence that Tsai was involved in initiating the occupation.

8 This name has been changed.

9 “King Pu-tsung's Behind-The-Scenes Role in China Pact Protest,” Want China Times, March 31, 2014, (accessed November 14, 2014).

10 Pan Hua-sheng, “KMT Should Continue to Push Economic Benefits of Trade Pacts,” Want China Times, April 3, 2014, (accessed November 6, 2014).

11 See Taiwan-based political scientist Nathan Batto's discussion, “Can Extra-Democratic Tactics Be Democratic?,” Frozen Garlic, March 21, 2014, (accessed November 6, 2014).

12 This result was reported even by TVBS, a news station usually described as mildly pro-KMT. See TVBS, “CSSTA and Student Occupation Poll,” March 21, 2014, (accessed November 14, 2014).

13 This name has been changed.

14 For analysis of the campaign, see Taiwan specialist Mark Harrison's account, “The Anti-Media Monopoly Movement in Taiwan,” The China Story, December 20, 2012, (accessed October 23, 2014).

15 This name has been changed.

16 Interview with author, March 24, 2014.

17 For a Chinese-language statistical analysis of the backgrounds of the protesters, see the results of a randomly sampled survey conducted on-site by Chen Wan-chi, “Who Joined the ‘Student Movement’? A Picture of the Population of the Sunflower Movement,” Taiwan Street Corner, (accessed November 14, 2014). For results from an online, post-occupation survey, see Yang Man-yu, “Post-Sunflower Movement Survey: Participants Brought Unexpected Force,” (accessed November 14, 2014).

18 For a detailed general account, see Vincent Y. Chao, “How Technology Revolutionized Taiwan's Sunflower Movement,” The Diplomat, April 15, 2014, (accessed November 8, 2014).

19 Taiwan Voice, (accessed October 23, 2014).

20 This name has been changed.

21 Taiwan Voice, (accessed November 14, 2014).

22 See “When the Wind Blows,” The Economist, May 3, 2014, (accessed October 23, 2014).

23 This name has been changed.

24 Vincent Y. Chao, “How Technology Revolutionized Taiwan's Sunflower Movement,” The Diplomat, April 15, 2014, (accessed November 8, 2014).

25 Chen Hui-ping and Jake Chung, “Ex-DPP Legislator Seeks Independence Clause's Freezing,” Taipei Times, June 20, 2014, (accessed November 14, 2014).

26 Min-hua Huang, “Taiwan's Changing Political Landscape: The KMT's Landslide Defeat in the Nine-in-One Elections,” Brookings East Asia Commentary, December 2014, (accessed December 18, 2014).

27 Lii Wen, “2014 ELECTIONS: Smaller parties clinch big victories”, Taipei Times, December 1, 2014, (accessed December 18, 2014).

28 While the SAR's Occupy Central demonstrations were planned separately, grounds for collaboration were accelerated when several Hong Kong activists visited the occupied Legislative Yuan. Several Sunflower leaders attempted to visit Hong Kong in late June 2014 to join meetings and conferences. Their applications for entry permits to the territory were rejected without explanation.

29 Ian Rowen, “A Tale of Sunflowers and Umbrellas,” Thinking Taiwan, October 3, 2014, (accessed November 14, 2014).

30 Lii Wen, “Protesters Storm HK Office in Taipei in a Display of Solidarity,” Taipei Times, September 30, 2014, (accessed November 14, 2014).

31 Cindy Sui, “Why Taiwan Is Watching Hong Kong Protests,” BBC, September 30, 2014, (accessed November 14, 2014).

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The Journal of Asian Studies
  • ISSN: 0021-9118
  • EISSN: 1752-0401
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-asian-studies
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