This week in Taiwan history: The Wild Strawberry Movement

The Wild Strawberry movement was considered the third largest student movement in Taiwan since the Wild Lily movement.

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Students staging a sit-in in front of the Executive Yuan.

Students staging a sit-in in front of the Executive Yuan. (By Taiwan News)

In November, 2008, when Beijing sent Chen Yun-lin, the chairman of China’s Association for Relations across the Taiwan Strait to Taiwan for negotiations, a protest broke out in the nation over the then President Ma Ying-jeou’s pro-China policy.

Opposing Ma administration’s rapprochement with China, hundreds of students, scholars and intellectuals joined in on the demonstration in front of the Executive Yuan.

Starting out dogging Chen’s movement, the demonstration soon turned into a sit-in protesting police and executive misuse of power during Chen’s visit, and calling for government’s immediate response to the Big Three Demands: A public apology from President Ma and Premier Liu Chao-shiun; resignations of the directors of the police and national security agencies; review and amend the Assembly and Parade Law.

Meant to overturn people’s stereotype on the young generation as “strawberry generation” (self-involved, disengaged from politics, and cannot perform well under pressure due to over-protection by their parents’ generation), the movement highlighted the generational differences in terms of political preferences, especially their worries about engaging China economically.

The protestors, all dressed in black and wore black masks as a symbol of their heartfelt discontent over police and government misconduct, successfully drew the government’s attention to their cause.

Even though the responses from the government were later criticized as being scant and general, with only one out of the Big Three Demands - review and amend of the Assembly and Parade Law was met, the Wild Strawberry movement was still considered as the third largest student movement in Taiwan since the Wild Lily movement in terms of its significance.

The Wild Lily in 1990 is generally thought to be the most important student movement in Taiwan’s history, which changed the course of the nation’s politics completely. The rapid economic development during the time paved the way for a more liberal society, and eventually democracy.

Taiwan’s transition from authoritarian rule to democratic governance came about peacefully, so much so that some called it a “political miracle.” The authoritarian Kuomintang regime handed over the reins of power to the people without a fight, a rarity which only few countries in the world had witnessed.

It is a progress that began in 1986, when the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was founded. One thing led to another, the KMT lifted the martial law, which allowed a more open space for public speech, and ultimately initiated the transformation of Taiwan politics from a closed system to a democratic one.

The role of social movements and their contribution to the nation’s political transformation is thus widely recognized as crucial in Taiwan’s democratization.

Even though the Wild Strawberry movement did not make an earth shattering progress as opposed to the Wild Lily, the event brought together the young generation and those who aspired to make an impact on society.

It encouraged otherwise lackluster political participation among young people, as many of the movement participants still kept in contact with each other long after the event ended. Some of them became leaders of various social and political organizations, and ultimately became key influencers on the next political movement (the Sunflower in 2014).