#Taiwan Journal 1: Sunflowers and Barricades

April 20th, 2014, 9pm

Walking toward 228 Peace Memorial Park in Taipei, we were stopped by a series of barricades. Our initial plan was to circle around the Presidential Office Building, designed by a Japanese architect in 1912 and was completed in 1916. But we could not even get into those streets leading to the building. The compound also includes the Legislative Yuan and the Executive Yuan, two governmental buildings occupied by college students from March 18 through April 10, 2014. The students were protesting the passing of the trade pact with the People’s Republic of China. The ruling party had passed it quickly without any deliberate review.

We were surprised that barricades were still up, two weeks later.

During my stay in Taiwan, I asked several Taiwanese what they thought about the Sunflower Student Movement as well as the trade pact. All of them expressed their support for the students and seemed to be weary of more mainland Chinese expanding their businesses in Taiwan. One female taxi driver in Kenting, a southernmost town, told me that five times more Chinese tourists were now coming into Taiwan because of the new treaty pact. She didn’t sound happy but cynical. I first felt odd since more tourists could be better for her business.

Later, I would learn that the pact will allow large-scale Chinese tourists companies to dominate the industry. Like her taxi company in a resort town, there are many small and midsize businesses in Taiwan, and they may have tougher times ahead of them. Meanwhile, the mainland Chinese officials, too, claim the pact is “beneficial” to Taiwan.

Recalling the tone of the taxi driver’s voice, I now speculate that not all small/midsize businesses want to grow large. Some of them may be content to be small and sustainable. But once Chinese large companies break into the Taiwanese market, small businesses may lose such freedom.

That seems to be what is at stake here: freedom. The ruling party states that Taiwan cannot survive and grow unless it obtains help from China. Maybe this is true, but such prosperity may sacrifice existing small and midsize businesses. Their freedom is compromised. Also, many Taiwanese are concerned that freedom of speech might be restricted due to the strong presence of Chinese corporations.

Traveling from Taipei to the southmost tip of the country, I saw old infrastructure on the verge of falling down. This country needs investments. I am sure that those student protesters knew that, too, but that was not really the point. The ruling party had skipped some democratic processes to decide, and that was what the students protested: Is our system democratic? Are we still able to exercise freedom of speech? I was glad that the barricades were still there on the street. Otherwise, I would have never got to learn the complexity of this student movement.

Gould, Ragini and Sanna said thanks.

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Shu Kuge

Woodcut printmaker

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