As a structural cause of the Sunflower Movement, young people in Taiwan were in part reacting against the lack of economic opportunities available to them. This is summed up in descriptions of young people as “bone-sucking tribe” (啃老族) who were drains of resources on their elderly parents because they were unable to find work and had to return home. Or that college graduates sometimes only made 22,000 NT a month, which was not enough to survive on. There generally seemed to be lacking opportunities for young people in Taiwan.
On the other hand, young people could make much more if they went to work abroad in China. Perhaps members of the KMT were counting on this economic incentive to lead young people to work in China and become taishang (台商), or Taiwanese businessmen working in China, who unsurprisingly drift towards pro-China views for fear that poor cross-strait relations between Taiwan and China will affect their livelihoods.
But this instead perhaps led the KMT to become blamed for the poor conditions facing Taiwan, combined with general anger over the KMT’s lack of care for Taiwan. One does well to remember that in times of poor economic conditions, cultural or ethnic identities tend to strengthen, as a sociological tendency, especially among young people.
Photo credit: Charlie Chang/Flickr/CC
The Sunflower Movement was broadly a civic nationalist movement and did not evidence much anti-Chinese sentiment targeting Chinese themselves, only the Chinese party-state and their intermediaries in the KMT. Nevertheless, in full cognizance of that the rise of ethnic or cultural identities often has to do with poor economic conditions, China has broadly taken the strategy of attempting to convince countries and territories away from what it views as “separatism” by attempting to buy them off through economic incentives, thinking if that these countries are economically dependent on China, this will lead to a decrease in “separatist” identity. However, as this comes attendant with a decrease in democratic freedoms, more often than not, this has led to anger towards China and its local intermediaries, heightening the sense of powerlessness that young people have and in fact strengthening their independent senses of identity in that way and further pushing away these places from China.