A New Wave of Overseas Taiwanese Student Movement

by Wen Liu

English /// 中文
Photo Credit: Sinru Ku

THE SUNFLOWER MOVEMENT has inspired a new wave of overseas Taiwanese student movement. The March 30th global mobilization against the undemocratic procedure of the Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement with China that the Ma’s Administration pushed the Congress to sign behind backdoor organized overseas Taiwanese people across 16 countries and 49 cities. Such solidarity and undeniable presence of the overseas Taiwanese social movement was not unprecedented; many of the overseas students involved first began to express support for Taiwan’s democracy since September 2012, during the Anti-Media Monopoly movement, where Taiwanese people from different cities across the globe held signs and uploaded photo collages onto the Internet as a show  of support. However, the Sunflower Movement has taken the overseas activist mobilization to a larger scale and towards addressing deeper contents. What is shared between overseas mobilizations regarding the Anti-Media Monopoly Movement and the Sunflower Movement, besides the obvious motive of protecting Taiwan’s democracy and maintaining freedom of speech, was overseas Taiwanese students’ felt urgency to resist against China’s aggressive political and economic invasions into Taiwan’s sovereignty.

Photo credit: Sinru Ku

It might be more difficult for those who reside in Taiwan to feel this crisis over Taiwan’s international status. In reality, we are a functional nation-state that hosts regular small to large elections throughout the year, issuing our own currency and passport. In this context, those who push for Taiwan’s independence are often deemed to be “radicals” who want to disrupt the “peaceful” status quo. We might only get angry every four years during the Olympics when our teams are marked as “Chinese Taipei” instead of “Taiwan.” But life goes on and goes back to the routines of political talk shows, sensational but insignificant news, all those elections that wasted too much money in Taiwan.

However, as someone who has lived abroad for over 12 years, it is always obvious to me that our nation is not recognized internationally. Foreigners are usually confused with the exact location of this island “Taiwan” that is not as popular as the Eastern paradise of “Thailand”, college friends ask if you are “Chinese after all”, and on the census survey, there is no option to choose Taiwanese as a nationality. These are the routine practices that attempt to maintain the ambiguity of Taiwan’s national status. And this is exactly the strategy of our current administration—to maintain the undefined status quo of Taiwan.

The reason behind why tens of thousands of people overseas came out to stand in solidarity with the Sunflower Movement was not simply because of the affective bond we have with the island, or pure nostalgia. It was because the Sunflower Movement has opened up a space for young people to express the political urgency to defend Taiwan’s national sovereignty as we witness how China has grown to be one of the global superpowers that is rapidly expanding and encroaching on Taiwan and other countries. Even the US government is obsessed with China—whether out of economic interests or political competition. Those of us overseas who came out last March to stand in the streets because we know that this international marginalization of Taiwan must end soon.

Of course, the mobilization of overseas Taiwanese for independence is not new. The history of such underground alliances can be traced back to the early 50s when mobilizations spread out in the radical overseas Taiwanese circles in Japan, the US, and Europe. Due to KMT’s repressive dictatorship and the White Terror, many of these Independence activists were either blacklisted while in Taiwan and thus came abroad, or blacklisted while mobilizing overseas by KMT party spies and eventually built a life abroad.

Due to this extreme repression and persecution over the movement activities, there has been an absence of large-scale overseas Taiwanese students movements for independence since the so-called “Blacklist period.” Fortunately, due to the convenience of the Internet and vibrant transnational networks, in the current moment we see the most rapid exchanges of information, discourses, and ideologies between the young people in Taiwan and abroad. The Overseas Taiwanese for Democracy, a coalition primarily based in the US that recently emerged out of the March 30th global mobilization precisely hopes to seize the present historical moment, consolidate and push forward the energy we gathered during Sunflower Movement, to deepen our local activist work and ideological discussion with our fellow Taiwanese students, as well as open up a regular, political space for Taiwanese students in the US that has been absent and marginalized for too long.

The primary strategy of the Overseas Taiwanese for Democracy is to create city-based groups of young Taiwanese to regularly discuss social issues related to Taiwan but also to hold larger public forums to raise awareness and build connection with those who may not have immediate ties with the social movements happening on the ground of Taiwan. We also hope to connect the previous generation of Taiwan Independence movement in the US by inviting the elders of the Independence movement to share their stories and experiences in the Blacklist period, and to openly debate the current strategies and shifting ideologies toward Taiwan’s sovereignty in our generation. Our goal is to host a large-scale conference next year to not only review the organizing activities, but also most importantly, to create new social and political discourses around Taiwan independence that speak to people in our generation.

As young people in our mid-20s, most of us grew up in Taiwan and have witnessed the vibrant social and ethnic diversity of our home: the increased presence of Southeast Asian and mainland Chinese immigrants, the significance of decades of Indigenous Movement, the LGBTQ Movement, and social struggles around the issues of class inequalities and gentrification. What we understand as a nation is never an ethnically monopolized, class static, gender- and sexuality- binary society. Where we may differ ideologically from some of the Taiwan Independence fighters before us, is our rejection against an ethnic-based, male-dominated imagination of a nation, and our ambivalence toward the DPP for another right-wing party leader to control the future of the nation.

As guests or immigrants ourselves in a white-dominated society, some of us have experienced racial segregation and discrimination first hand, and need to negotiate the anti-immigrant sentiments that we usually found in our own home and country. The primary tasks of this new wave of overseas movement is not just to “support” those who are in the streets back in Taiwan when needed, but to make the social issues in Taiwan relevant to the overseas places we currently reside in, and to make transnational alliances—not only to the politicians in Washington D.C. or the suits in the United Nations—but to the grassroots groups in the streets whom we share the same enemies and same goals. The Free Tibet Movement, the Anti-Nuclear Movement, the Anti-Gentrification Movement, the Palestine Solidarity Movement, the Pan-Asian Coalition against US militarism in the Asia Pacific, just to name a few. Those are the alliances we have to form, I argue. Instead of always constantly begging in between two major imperial powers of the US and China, we are islanders from a small country, and we ought to fight for it and build solidarity as we are.

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