Daily Bloom is the shortform blog of New Bloom, covering breaking news events as they occur in real-time.
30 students arrested, crowd of over 200 gathers outside of Ministry of Education as night sees two attempts to forcibly enter and occupy the Ministry of Education. As part of ongoing protests against textbook revisions mandated by the KMT government which teach a China-centric vision of Taiwanese history in high school activists, student activists had been camped out of the Ministry of Education since Wednesday. Some had actually been camped out since Tuesday night, in preparation for another outbreak of mass protest akin to last year’s Sunflower Movement. This, of course, comes out of a larger campaign against textbook revisions which saw large-scale protest earlier this month.
Indeed, government officials were preparing for a siege in previous weeks, with the installation of eight foot tall barriers, government employees being mandated to enter the Ministry of Education through secret tunnels that exist by government buildings by Shandao Temple. In rather paranoid fashion, to prevent a repeat of last year’s Executive Yuan occupation, in which occupiers got into the office of Premier Jiang Yi-Huah, maps within the Ministry of Education being removed in order that would-be student occupiers would have difficulty navigating within the building.
Although because of rain, numbers for Wednesday’s protest and the ensuing “civic discussion” were not as high as expected, students camped out the night while demanding that Ministry of Education officials meet with them. Though Minister of Education Wu Se-Hwa was actually out of the country on Wednesday, he came to “greet” students and inquire about their health on Thursday morning. But this was largely seen by student activists as an event in which Wu came with a large police escort, made a showing in front of the media as though he was sincerely concerned about students, then went on his way without actually acknowledging their demands.
Subsequently, the planned encirclement of the Ministry of Education was called off, likely because of insufficient numbers to actually encircle the Ministry of Education for a month, as was originally planned. Instead, the focus of planning shifted to the open forum “civic discussion” rally which was planned for night. However, though this occurred, shortly before midnight on Thursday, students attempted to storm the Ministry of Education and occupy it.
Students got as far as the Minister of Education’s office before they were arrested, apparently the removal of maps within the Ministry of Education building being no obstacle. 30 were arrested, including a Liberty Times journalist and a citizen journalist, with the use of riot police force against students. Pictures have since emerged of the barricades they made from chairs in an attempt to prevent police from breaking in and arresting them. A little after one, some of the students who had been arrested were removed and sent to processing around 2:30, but the status of some students who seemed to have remained within the building was unclear as a result of their cell phones and means of contacting the outside world being confiscated.
It would be this situation in which the status of arrested students was unclear which prompted the second attempt to occupy the Ministry of Education around 2:50 AM. The attempt began after a member of the protest organizers who had a microphone began chanting “Enter and search for students! Enter and search for students!” He then suddenly himself began throwing himself at the riot police who were blocking off the entrance to the Ministry of Education and the crowd began pushing against riot police, a wedge of media forming around those pushing against police. This attempt to force through police was largely disorganized until someone, perhaps a veteran of the the Legislative Yuan or Executive Yuan occupations of last year, began shouting, “One, two, push! One, two, push!” Though attempts to force down the police barricade became more organized after this, they remained unsuccessful, and the crowd relented around 3:00 AM as riot police reinforcements arrived.
After a few moments of quiet, police, however, then attempt to drive out protestors, announcing that protestors were breaking the law, and attempting to push protestors back. This was not successful where protestors resisted and eventually police fell back, though the amount of territory held by protestors had certainly declined. Not too long after, police and protestors fell into stalemate, protestors largely dispersing from their positions directly up against the police barrier and organizers focusing their efforts on figuring out the status of arrested students—i.e., whether or not they had been physically injured, whether the lawyers dispatched to represent them had made contact, and whether or not they had gotten their cell phones back in order to make direct contact. The crowd began to thin between 3:30 AM and 4:00 AM, with it looking like little else would happen, although organizers stated that they would wait it out until they had established direct contact with arrested students, and until students would be able to come back to the site in front of the Ministry of Education and share their experiences.
Police decided to take advantage of the dispersed status of demonstrators around 4:15, advancing concertedly with their riot shields and pushing protestors away from the Ministry of Education. At time of writing, protestors have been pushed to the intersection of Jinan Road and Linsen South Road, directly outside of the 7/11 by the Chinese Maritime Building. As it nears five AM, organizers stated that they will continue to wait until arrested students are able to come back out to where protestors remained gathered. A press conference is slated for when students return.
Past protests regarding the textbook issue in Taiwan had not previously seen the numbers needed for it to become, as the movement against “black box” textbook revisions has been billed, a “second Sunflower Movement.” But will that change after tonight? Apart from that the two occupation attempts do obviously recall the Sunflower Movement and its Legislative and Executive Yuan occupations, if numbers of demonstrators which came out tonight remain far lower than the amount of protestors we saw on the night of March 18th perhaps it is because the occupation attempt by students was too short and was not successful.
By contrast, on March 18th, large amounts of student activists came out after hearing that students had successfully entered and blockaded themselves against police in the Legislative Yuan. Alternatively, more student activists may have come out last year because of that the occupation began earlier in the night, before trains stopped running at midnight. Yet it is probably true that the movement against textbook revisions has had less momentum behind it overall than the series of demonstrations which led up to last year’s Sunflower Movement. Sunflower Movement veterans have also been critical at times of the means by which the movement was falling into some of the same pitfalls the Sunflower Movement fell into because of the relative inexperience of high school activists.
Certainly, the wave of demonstrations was expected around the past Wednesday’s protest led to some international coverage of the issue, although it actually seemed as though the protests a disappointment because they did not bring out as many people as expected. Where controversy over textbook revisions is a worldwide phenomenon, that provided an easy frame to allow for reportage by international media. And that tonight’s two attempts at occupying the Ministry of Education and past protests were carried largely by students concerned with the history which is taught to them in school would seem to be rather extraordinary where textbook controversy are concerned. All too rare is when it is students themselves who reject textbook revisions, in that sense, rejecting the version of history taught to them in textbooks—the only examples would seem to be Taiwan and Hong Kong. We shall see as to if international media coverage, if it occurs, allows for demonstrations about the textbook issue to amplify by way of reverberation effect. But at least within Taiwanese domestic media, of any attempts at direct action in the year following Sunflower Movement, only tonight and the spontaneous outbreak of demonstrations on March about the Ma administration’s unilateral decision to apply for the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) have prompted such protest—a demonstration concurrent with just after the one year anniversary of the Sunflower Movement and just after the anniversary of 500,000 took the streets of Taipei on March 30th, 2014.
But is proof already that whatever attempts of the KMT government to instill Taiwan’s next generation with its China-centered ideology in order to maintain its claim to the legitimacy of government in Taiwan, this will be resisted by Taiwan’s young. At 5 AM, demonstrators were singing “Island’s Sunrise,” the song which had been the anthem of last year’s Sunflower Movement.
Author: Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: Brian Hioe
Biography: Brian Hioe (丘琦欣) is an M.A. student at Columbia University, a freelance writer on politics and social activism, and an occasional translator. He is formerly a resident of Taipei, Taiwan.