Daily Bloom is the shortform blog of New Bloom, covering breaking news events as they occur in real-time.
Probably yesterday will go down as a day of great heroism and tragedy for Taiwan. Tragedy, of course, lay in the suicide of Lin Kuan-hua, a student leader of recent anti-textbook revision protests which led to yesterday’s series of protests that culminated in the occupation of the Ministry of Education courtyard.
Lin killed himself yesterday morning, on what would have been his twentieth birthday, after participating in the attempt to occupy the Ministry of Education on July 23rd which culminated in in his arrest as the first of the would-be-occupiers who made their way into Minister of Education Wu Se-Hwa’s office that were arrested—numbering 33 individuals including 24 students, six members of the public, and three journalists. In part it is speculated that Lin killed himself because of the pressures of that the Ministry of Education pursuing charges against him would have him unable to find employment or work in the future. However, a large part of Lin’s suicide would also seem to be attributed to his parents’ disagreement with Lin’s political views and possibly the confrontation that they had with Lin the previous night about the matter. Indeed, following Lin’s suicide, it is reported that his parents expressed their disapproval of the wave of protests which broke out after Lin’s death.
Up for question is whether Lin’s suicide was premeditated, given that Lin is reported to have been in a depressed mood since the end of June, Lin was in the habit of stating he would not live past twenty—hence a suicide on his twentieth birthday—and that in a Line group, Lin stated that he would do something big on the 30th, which would galvanize the anti-textbook revision movement. This was revealed on a talk show by senior DPP legislator Chen Chi-Mai, to some outrage that Chen would reveal such private details on air, although Lin posted this in a very large public Line group. However, where this has led to psychologistic attempts to discount Lin’s suicide and its direct relation to the textbook revision issue, it is that Lin’s death has provoked outrage because he is perceived as a martyr of the anti-textbook revision campaign—killed by the KMT government, its China-centric education policies, and with ultimate fault lying with Minister of Education Wu Se-Hwa.
But outside of the ultimate question of the cause of Lin’s suicide and where “blame” can be said to lie, the KMT has largely done quite badly in attempting to deflect blame for Lin’s death, KMT public officials claiming everything from that the textbook revision controversy was all orchestrated by the DPP and so the DPP was to blame for Lin’s death or even that Tsai Ing-Wen herself should be made to apologize for Lin’s death because of the DPP’s role as an instigator of hooliganism among Taiwanese youth. If anything should point to the unbridgeable disconnect between the KMT and Taiwan’s young, or the fundamentally undemocratic thrust of of the KMT worldview it is apparent that Taiwan’s young have no agency whatsoever in the KMT worldview, even when it comes to such a matter as an individual young person deciding to kill himself of his own accord.
And the tragedy of Lin’s death provoked strong reactions from the get-go, activists attempting block Wu Se-Hwa’s car after he paid a visit to Lin’s family after hearing news of the incident. A memorial vigil took place later that night outside the Ministry of Education, with candles being placed on the razor wire fencing which had been placed outside the Ministry of Education since recent protests, and flyers accusing Wu Se-Hwa of being a killer stuck to the fencing as well. This vigil seems to have drawn only fifty, but the vigil would later transform into a rally after news broke of attempts to invade the Legislative Yuan. It is ultimately unclear how many students got into the Legislative Yuan building, which had minimal security at that point compared to the Ministry of Education. Yet a large amount of students scaled the fences of the Legislative Yuan to occupy its courtyard and the surrounding roads, before organizers later directed the crowd to move to the Ministry of Education. On-site reports indicate that the students who had entered the Legislative Yuan later left and joined the larger crowd building outside of the Ministry of Education as the vigil transformed into a rally.
Though the vigil would ultimately become a rally which saw the forceful entering of the Ministry of Education courtyard, the rally had elements which were altogether quite poignant, including a speech by Lin’s boyfriend, and the crowd singing “Happy Birthday To You”, seeing as the date of Lin’s suicide had also been his birthday. The rally also featured other musical tributes and the burning of ghost money for Lin. In a more angry vein, caricatures of Wu Se-Hwa were also set ablaze.
The occupation of the Ministry of Education courtyard began with an announcement by organizers that something would happen at 1:30 AM, once the crowd had built up in numbers to a certain level. This occurred despite that the number of protestors seemed to be dwindling after trains had stopped; though protestors would number well over one thousand by the nights end, at that point there might not have been more than two hundred demonstrators. Organizers declared that they would occupy the Ministry of Education, leading to charge where protestors broke down the eight or nine foot tall razor wall barriers surrounding the Ministry of Education through rattling the barriers until they broke while avoiding the thorns through use of cardboard or other objects. Protestors then gathered in the Ministry of Education courtyard as well as on the road outside the Ministry of Education, the installation of loudspeakers in both sites serving to facilitate communication between the two. But protestors entered the courtyard en masse after the threat of imminent police action. This involved forcing open a mechanical gate on the right side of the Ministry of Education.
The mass entrance of protestors into the Ministry of Education courtyard—which had a guard of riot police in front of the Ministry of Education but was otherwise still largely sealed off by razor wire—was probably a key factor in why police never were able to remove protestors. Though water cannon trucks are known to have been on standby during that time, they would be ineffective with a barrier as the razor wire barriers between the cannons and protestors. Likewise, it would be difficult for police to storm into the courtyard to remove protestors so long as the number of protestors was high enough to occupy the entire courtyard and the limited entrances and exits into the courtyard left police with little room to maneuver.
As the night wore on, police declared several warnings of imminent attempts to drive out protestors, but none were ever made. Protestors began to settle in after awhile, with the distribution of food, water, and sleeping bags, and to keep spirits up, a series of live musicians did live performers over the loudspeaker system—although many protestors wondered why music was being played when many protestors, anticipating an occupation which would at least last through the night, were settling in to sleep. Police started up their own loudspeakers to issue warnings several times but were shouted down by protestors. An eviction attempt seemed imminent once police raised the third of the three warnings that police are required to issue before conducting a forcible eviction of demonstrators. But although tensions were high as to whether the size of the crowd would be able to maintain itself until morning, when trains were running and reinforcements could arrive, this eviction attempt never happened. The crowd did thin as the night went on, some leaving for work or school, still others leaving temporarily to get breakfast before returning. Yet by morning, the threat of immediate eviction had probably faded, with the arrival of an enormous amount of media to cover the occupation.
Organizers declared that their demands were a repeal of the textbook revisions and that Wu Se-Hwa resign and that they would wait it out until 8:30 AM, the start of Wu Se-Hwa’s workday, to see if he would come and they could present their demands to him directly. This having failed, they would wait until 10:00 AM to declare their next step. But at 10:00 AM, another announcement followed asking for members of the public to continue to stay until 12:00 PM.
Later announcements indicated that the KMT had agreed to a meeting, but they wanted this meeting to take place on Monday—probably fearing the possibility of large crowds of demonstrators that would build because of the coming weekend. Ministry of Education officials agreed to speak with students, but students demand to speak to Wu Se-Hwa directly. At this point, however, many of the students within the Ministry of Education courtyard had left, and older individuals had begun to filter in. It is known that Ministry of Education employees went to work today slightly later than usual, entering through underground tunnels which apparently exist underneath the Ministry of Education building and have been used to allow Ministry of Education employees to enter the building in previous incidents of protest. It is also known Wu Se-Hwa did not go to work today, however. As of writing, demonstrators are still camped out in the Ministry of Education courtyard, though numbers have dropped somewhat since their peak of well over one thousand.
What, now, however, for the anti-textbook revision protest movement? Actually, where the movement had been billed as a “second Sunflower Movement,” certainly yesterday recalled the Sunflower Movement down to the siege of the Ministry of Education building which involved pushing down and scaling razor wall barriers as well as confrontations with police outside the entrance to the Ministry of Education—in fact, in a set-up which eerily reminded of the deployment of riot police during the Sunflower Movement. The means by which the high school led anti-textbook revision movement is modeled after the Sunflower Movement has drawn from criticism from college age Sunflower Movement veterans for fetishizing the Sunflower Movement down to its preferred tactic of building occupation.
Where yesterday’s actions brought out college age activists who had been less active in the anti-textbook revision movement but had been very active in the Sunflower Movement, we can point to accumulated experience. Veterans of 318 and 324 were actively discussing tactics in terms of their past experiences as they overcame police barriers and resistance in order to occupy the Ministry of Education courtyard. We can point to other similarities, where Wu Se-Hwa is singled out as the sole object of blame for Lin Kuan-Hua’s death the same way Jiang Yi-Huah was singled out as the perpetrator of the violence against Executive Yuan occupiers, for example.
But where does the question of justice truly lie for Lin Kuan-Hua lie? Will protest ultimately be able to arrive at the answer? This is what up in the air in the present as the KMT continues with its usual stalling tactics. However, after an exhausting night, the struggle of Taiwan’s young is far from finished. This is what we will see as to in coming days, with more protests expected in the near future.
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.