Daily Bloom is the shortform blog of New Bloom, covering breaking news events as they occur in real-time.
It was hard not to recall last year’s Sunflower Movement occupation walking into the Ministry of Education courtyard last night. It would seem that refusal to withdraw from occupied space in spite of dwindling numbers on Friday morning was probably the correct strategic decision, for by night on Friday, the Ministry of Education courtyard had filled with tents and stalls as a small tent city sprouted up overnight. Apart from the usual stalls of bookseller seen at protests, food was also sold, and there were special tents set up for medical and media needs.
And the resemblance to last year’s Sunflower Movement seems uncanny. Although not extending as extensively into the streets surrounding the Ministry of Education, given the larger size of the Ministry of Education courtyard compared to that of the Legislative Yuan, it is no exaggeration to say that the current occupation is comparable in scale to the Sunflower occupation encampment in the courtyard and surrounding streets of the Legislative Yuan.
But more uncanny is the complete resemblance of the occupation encampments in layout, down to the phalanx of police in the center of the encampment guarding the entrance to the Legislative Yuan or Ministry of Education, the location of another phalanx of police on the side of the encampment guarding a side exit, and the cluster of media facing the entrance of the Legislative Yuan or Ministry of Education. Indeed, where the set-up of the tents also recalled last year’s Legislative Yuan occupation as well, the art which had come to decorate the Ministry of Education courtyard was similarly reminiscent, with art plastered across the encampment and white lilies being placed on razor wire barriers. The excitement of the gathered crowd was palpable, as with the early days of the Sunflower Movement, with people filtering into the encampment well after the last trains had stopped running at midnight.
Artworks in the encampment were quite often condemnatory of Minister of Education Wu Se-Hwa who has been popularly singled out for blame in the death of student activist leader Lee Kuan-Hua which sparked off current protests, much as artworks last year where condemnatory of Ma Ying-Jeou. And though it remains to be seen whether the movement will adopt a flower-based name as last year’s Sunflower Movement, the flower symbolism recalls that of last year—although it seems unlikely the movement would name itself after the white lily, a symbol of mourning, given that an earlier precedent for Taiwanese students movements as this one or the Sunflower Movement is already the White Lily Movement of 1990.
Nevertheless, day two of the occupation saw little move beyond what had been demanded before in terms of negotiations with the government. Students rejected the KMT’s agreement to hold a meeting on Monday, probably seeing through the KMT’s attempt to hold avoid holding a meeting during the weekend, when the occupation encampment would no doubt be packed with people. Minister of Wu Se-Hwa came to the Ministry of Education to meet with students in the afternoon after not coming to meet with students in the morning, but, perhaps rather unsurprisingly, discussion broke down quickly. More significantly, Taipei mayor Ko Wen-Je came to visit students, stating that he would see to it that the police was not too severe if students restrained themselves, advising students to be careful of the natural elements, and calling on Wu Se-Hwa to resolve the situation. New Power Party politicians also arrived to express support, including Freddy Lim, Neil Peng, and Hung Tzu-Yung.
But actually, as day two of the occupation becomes day three, the questions in the air also recall those of last year’s Sunflower Movement. The current situation resembles that of the early stages of the Sunflower Movement in which frustration over a lack of a firm government response during the first few days led to the attempt to occupy the Executive Yuan which took place on March 24th, with stalled negotiations with government. Of course, if another building is targeted as an escalation this time around, it will probably be the Ministry of Education itself, given that demonstrators are occupying the Ministry of Education courtyard but not the Ministry of Education itself. Yet in comparison to last year, it is also true that the aims of this movement are in some sense lower, given the lack of importance of the Ministry of Education compared to the Legislative or Executive Yuans and the relative non-importance of Minister of Education Wu Se-Hwa to Premier Jiang Yi-Huah or president of the Legislative Yuan Wang Jinpyng. Versus last year, however, we can point to two concrete demands on the part of protestors thus far: a repeal of the planned textbook revisions and the resignation of Wu Se-Hwa.
Going forward, rallies are planned for 7 PM today and 4 PM on Sunday by the Ministry of Education premises.. We will see what emerges out of these rallies as to escalating actions or other attempts to resolve the textbook issue. However, as with any occupation at this sort, the occupation stands at risk of slowly bleeding off in terms of numbers and then suffering a police eviction or just simply withering away. The struggle is ongoing.
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 a resident of Taipei, Taiwan.