The Sunflower Movement was from start to finish a non-violent movement, despite the fever pitch that the movement reached at times, when police violence all too reminiscent of Taiwan’s authoritarian days was used against demonstrators. It is, in fact, a very good question as to why proposals for the movement to shift towards a willingness to use violence or otherwise escalate actions never gained traction. As some pointed out after 330, if the 500,000 individuals gathered in Taipei had refused to leave until their demands were met and police force was used to try and forcibly remove them, instead of disperse rapidly at the appointed time, 330 could have very easily been the start of a revolution. This is despite the fact that social movement activists had been facetiously referring to themselves as “rioters” for some time, in response to social criticism.
Papers posted over Zhongzheng First Police Precinct on April 11th, 2014. Photo credit: Brian Hioe
The point at which proposals to escalate and consider using violence actually were highest during Lin Yi-Hsiung’s (林義雄) hunger strike against nuclear energy, when it looked like Lin might die in the course of his hunger strike. What was it about Lin’s hunger strike that was so angering, when the rest of the movement was not, then? Lin’s history of personal tragedy at the hands of the party-state? Personalist politics stemming back to Lin’s former political career as a former DPP chair? Or the possibility of someone dying, when nobody in fact died during the Sunflower Movement proper? One can compare to spontaneous outrage after Alliance of Referendum for Taiwan head Tsay Ting-Kuei (蔡丁貴) was struck by a scooter while police were clearing those who refused to leave following the withdrawal from the Legislative Yuan on 410 and thousands gathered to encircle Zhongzheng First Police Precinct (台北市政府警察局中正第一分局) the next evening after calls were put out on PTT.
That much is unknown. Nevertheless, the fact that non-violence was adhered to throughout and the use of violence never entered discourse until Lin’s hunger strike is a fact worth pondering about Taiwanese social movement activism and the political reactions of Taiwanese society.