Personalism and Leadership in the Sunflower Movement

Personalism and Leadership in the Sunflower Movement

Much media coverage of the Sunflower Movement focused upon the two individuals who were seen as the primary leaders of the movement, Lin Fei-Fan and Chen Wei-Ting

Notably, much media coverage of the Sunflower Movement focused upon the two individuals who were seen as the primary leaders of the movement, Lin Fei-Fan (林飛帆) and Chen Wei-Ting (陳為廷). This led to criticisms that the movement was one which was very top-down in nature and that a personality cult developed around these two leaders.

Indeed, media and the public writ large did focus on Lin and Chen to a large extent. For example, through the course of the movement, the green jacket that Lin Fei-Fan wore through the movement became iconic, leading to the jacket to rise in popularity in online shopping. A photo of Chen hugging a teddy bear while sleeping in the Legislative Yuan became viral. A shirt thrown into a crowd by Chen in celebration after the withdrawal from the Legislative Yuan was later auctioned online on Ruten in order to raise funds for the Alliance of Referendum for Taiwan after its leader Tsay Ting-Kuei (蔡丁貴) was hit by a scooter following the forcibly police eviction of those who refused to withdraw from the Legislative Yuan. This sold for 120,000 NTD. A board game was also produced about the incident in which Chen threw his shoe at the Miaoli county commissioner by the board game company Godyu.

In mockery of this phenomenon of commodification, as well as perhaps a form of critique regarding how the central leaders of the movement were criticized for attempting to keep the movement a pure and sex-free one in public messaging, Lin Fei-Fan and Chen Wei-Ting dildos were later produced by Erotica, an LGBTQ and sex activist-themed brand. This likely also took inspiration from “Hehe”, a genre of manga-style fanfiction about male activist figures in a manner inspired by Japanese boy’s love comics.

Indeed, while it is true that Lin and Chen were the two most prominent speakers for a larger leadership body which was eventually convened in the course of the movement, there is no denying the major role they played in the movement. Research on social movement groups in Taiwan has suggested that, although there are groups which are led through a democratic, representational process, a large number of social movement groups orient around a small number of central leader figures who may be public celebrities. This was the case both before, during, and after the Sunflower Movement. Likewise, during the Sunflower Movement, either Lin or Chen stayed in the Legislative Yuan at all times to respond to urgent events when the other left the Legislative Yuan. Lin Fei-Fan was not among the original planners of the charge into the Legislative Yuan, although Chen seems to have been involved longer. Both were pulled in and became key figures due to their history of leadership in previous causes, despite having not previously been focused specifically on the CSSTA as an issue

As Taiwanese society has a long history of personalist cults of personality around political leaders, whether from the personality cult around Chiang Kai-Shek (蔣介石) and Chiang Ching-Kuo (蔣經國) to the diehard followers of individuals ranging from former president Chen Shui-Bian (陳水扁) or Shih Ming-Teh (施明德) and others, this was probably also the case with the Sunflower Movement. Likewise, with the formation of Taiwanese youth activism as a form of subculture, this led to the development of a public sphere in which certain individuals rose to public attention or significance through their actions.


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Photo credit: Artemas Liu/Flickr/CC