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Home Editorials of Interest Taipei Times Where have all Taiwan’s Sunflowers gone to?

Where have all Taiwan’s Sunflowers gone to?

In the run-up to last month’s presidential and legislative elections, the old Peter Paul and Mary folksong from the 1960s kept ringing in my ears: Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

Of course, as this is related to Taiwan, I was thinking of the Sunflowers, the generation of young people led by student leaders Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆) and Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷) who brought about a major change in Taiwan’s political system when they organized the peaceful occupation of the Legislative Yuan in 2014, which helped clear the path for President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) momentous victory in 2016.

The Sunflowers displayed a clear vision for what they wanted Taiwan’s democracy to be, and took action to help bring that about. In a sense, they were true descendants of the earlier Wild Strawberry movement of 2008 and the Wild Mountain Lily movement of 1990-1991, which each in their own way were decisive influences at particular points along Taiwan’s road to democracy.


In contrast to that history of young people playing a role in Taiwan’s democracy, the younger generation in last month’s elections appeared to be very self-centered, caring more about their own well-being than about the overall direction of the country.

It was reported that many young people these days take Taiwan’s freedom and democracy for granted, and in the campaign, were primarily focused on issues directly affecting their livelihoods, such as affordable housing and entry-level wages.

Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) Chairman Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) played on these sentiments cunningly, and while he lost the presidential race, his party won eight seats in the Legislative Yuan and is now playing a “kingmaker” role.

The question is whether Ko will play his role wisely and constructively. The first indications are not very positive. In the elections for legislative speaker on Thursday last week, the TPP withheld its support for the previous speaker, You Si-kun (游錫堃), and thus gave the speakership to the KMT’s erratic Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜), who is expected to follow a very obstructive and confrontational line in the legislature.


Under these circumstances, very little attention is expected to be paid to the issues that young people care about, such as affordable housing, entry-level wages or clean government.

Instead, Han is likely to wage a protracted battle for power and influence that will set back Taiwan’s democracy, damage its image in the free and democratic world, and provide openings to the Chinese Communist regime in Beijing to further divide Taiwanese society.


The new generation of young people in Taiwan must realize that one cannot take the country’s freedoms and democracy for granted. The older generation in Taiwan fought hard to attain the vibrant democracy that Taiwanese enjoy today.

It is up to this generation of young people to work hard to preserve, cherish and defend democracy against those forces — from within Taiwan and outside it — determined to undermine and ultimately eradicate it.

Hong Kong and Xinjiang are good examples of places where freedom-loving people lost their freedoms pretty quickly.

Let us not let that happen to Taiwan.

Gerrit van der Wees is a former Dutch diplomat who teaches Taiwan history and US relations with East Asia at George Mason University, and previously taught at the George Washington University Elliott School for International Affairs in Washington.

Source: Taipei Times - Editorials 2024/02/06

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Former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) revealed her interest in running for the presidency again in 2016 for the first time since losing in January’s presidential election, saying in a television interview aired last night that she would make herself an “option.”

“As a politician, I will continue to make myself an option,” Tsai said in response to a question on whether she plans to run again in four years in an interview with Sanlih television, the first she has given since the election.