Attempts At International Outreach During The Movement

Attempts At International Outreach During The Movement

The Sunflower Movement sought international outreach from the beginning of the movement

The Sunflower Movement was highly cognizant that international outreach would be a highly effective and necessary means of placing pressure on the Ma administration. Namely, however happy the Ma administration was to shrug off growing anger in Taiwan domestically at his actions, international pressure could prove limiting of its actions. After all, for the sake of its survival, the KMT has to continue win the votes of the Taiwanese public and even the KMT cannot shrug off reactions from the international world.

The translation group of the Sunflower Movement. Photo credit: VOA

As with many things regarding the Sunflower Movement, many of the earliest attempts at international outreach were crowdsourced. On the night of 318, Yeh Jiunn Tyng (葉俊廷), a student at National Yang Ming University (國立陽明大學), crowdsourced the translation of an explanation of the events of the initial Legislative Yuan occupation which was translated into 31 languages, received over 9,300 likes, and 14,629 shares. Livestreaming of the events in the Legislative Yuan as they happened was rapidly translated into multiple languages by participants, with a UStream attracting more than 48,000 viewers by 4 AM, and livestreaming on NicoNico with Japanese translation for a Japanese audience. CNN iReports were also filed one after another, also as an effort to attract international attention. Hackfoldrs on the Hackpad website were also used to coordinate in realtime, something used by over 1,500 people at once, necessitating new servers to be set up. On the other hand, Firechat was the preferred app of occupiers for encrypting communications among themselves. An online tool was also set up by g0v for individuals to type in the name of their companies and see how they would be affected by the CSSTA,

An official “translation group” for the Sunflower Movement, coordinating international press outreach was soon established as well, translating into thirteen languages including English, Japanese, Korean, German, French, Arabic, Spanish, Dutch, and other languages, as led by National Taiwan University (國立臺灣大學) graduate student Oliver Chen, who was fluent in English, Japanese, German and French.Chen later died following the events of the movement under tragic, as well as mysterious circumstances, with some suggesting foul play. Other groups sprung up outside of the occupation within the Legislative Yuan itself. Taiwan Voice, which consisted of Taiwanese, diasporic Taiwanese, and expatriates mainly covered breaking news events as they happened in English.

This eventually grew to 125 people working in14 languages producing CNN iReports, and updates on Facebook. Material sourced from the translation group appeared in CNN, BBC, NHK, Al Jazeera, Neue Zurcher Zeitung, Le Monde, and other media outlets. Some people with native language skills in those languages helped out. Following the movement, the international section of this became Taiwan Watch, One More Story and the domestic section of this became Democracy Sausage Grandpa (民主香腸阿伯). 

Reader holding a copy of the Baomin newspaper. Photo credit: Toomore Chiang/Flickr/CC

The Baomin (報民) newspaper assembled and distributed during the Sunflower Movement is first released explain the effects of the TPP, RCEP, ECFA, and other free trade agreements also produced editions in Japanese and other languages. Baomin, using the characters for “report” (報) and “people” (民), was a pun on baomin (暴民), or rioter, a term which social activists used to jokingly refer to themselves.

Democracy at 4am, which later featured design work by famous designer Aaron Nieh (聶永真), later the designer for Tsai Ing-Wen’s presidential campaign, established a website explaining the events of the movement, with the aid of 10 translators and four engineers. This was crowdfunded enough funds to take out a full page ad in the New York Times explaining the events of the movement. This crowdfunded involved contributions from 3,495 individuals on the Taiwanese crowdfunding platform FlyingV, although because this technically violated FlyingV’s company terms, this necessitated a new platform,, to be set up.

The ad appeared in the New York Times on March 29th, featuring the tagline taken from Emily Dickinson, “Morning without YOU is a dwindled dawn.” This effort began as a reaction to the use of police force against students during the attempted occupation of the Executive Yuan on 324 with its first goal be to raise the 1,500,000 NT needed to take out a half page ad in the Apple Daily (蘋果日報) and its second goal to raise the funds necessary to take out an ad in the New York Times. Launched at 9 AM on the morning of March 24th, it reached its first stage goal within 36 minutes, and by noon had raised 6,700,000 NT. This was spearheaded by Lin Zuyi (林祖儀) of Watchout, but originally proposed by anonymous netizen, “C”, on PTT.

The Democracy at 4am ad

Were these efforts successful? It is hard to say. Responses included attempts to reach out to students by the American Tea Party, which were actually turned down because of the left political orientation of the movement, and an online video produced by participants in the 2014 Ukrainian revolution expressing support of the Sunflower Movement. Certainly, efforts to make the Sunflower Movement a household name alongside global events such as the Arab Spring or Occupy Wall Street were unsuccessful, although in efforts as outreach, sometimes the attempt was made to distill the events of the movement into this framework through the use of hashtags as “#occupylegislature”. Arguably, such efforts remained forever hampered by Taiwan’s more general condition of international marginalization and its general obscurity as a nation.


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Photo credit: Democracy at 4am