Chasing Sunflowers: Personal Firsthand Observations of the Student Occupation of the Legislative Yuan and Popular Protests in Taiwan, 18 March – 10 April 2014

  • David C. Wright Department of History, University of Calgary


The Sunflower Student Movement in Taiwan (March-April 2014) was an authentic public cri de coeur over the political fate and destiny of the island. What started out as a storming and occupation of the island's legislature by activists opposed to the controversial Trade in Services Agreement quickly became a much broader public protest against the ruling Kuomintang party's apparent lack of concern about the political dimensions and implications of ever-increasing economic integration of the fiercely and proudly democratic island with the People’s Republic of China, a state on the mainland run by a ruthless anti-democratic dictatorship. The Sunflower Movement has changed some minds in Taiwan, but how many still remains unclear. It seems likely that most people on the island who support the Kuomintang and the trade in services agreement and who have values higher than freedom, democracy, and human rights will continue to see the Sunflower Movement as a civil disturbance launched by left-wing academic ideologues bent on stirring up trouble among lazy, spoiled students and the island’s economically innumerate rabble. The story is quite different with a large and growing segment of the electorate that values Taiwan’s democratic system above all else. They have put Ma Ying-jeou, Taiwan’s now wildly unpopular pro-China president, on notice that he will no longer have a relatively easy time using economic integration with the PRC to nudge the island gradually and incrementally towards political control by Beijing. Taiwan's economic integration with the PRC will likely continue, but now less ineluctably towards political unification than before. It is not likely that a majority of Taiwan’s electorate would willingly and wittingly trade their political birthright for a mess of economic pottage. Strategically, this means that the so-called Taiwan issue will likely linger on for longer than had previously been expected. Mao may have been right in 1975 when he speculated to Henry Kissinger that the ultimate resolution of Taiwan’s status might take a hundred years.

Author Biography

David C. Wright, Department of History, University of Calgary
Dr. Wright earned his Ph.D. in East Asian Studies at Princeton University in 1993. His research interests focus on diplomacy and warfare in imperial China and the conquest dynasties (Kitan, Jurchen, Tangut, Mongol, and Manchu) that ruled some or all of China for over two-thirds of the last thousand years of imperial China's history. His current research is on the Mongols' development and use of naval forces for their thirteenth-century conquest of China.