The Wild Strawberry Movement: The Most Direct Predecessor of the Sunflower Movement?

The Wild Strawberry Movement: The Most Direct Predecessor of the Sunflower Movement?

The Sunflower Movement was importantly preceded by the Wild Stawberry Movement, the monthlong occupation of the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial in 2008

The Sunflower Movement did not appear out of nowhere. What led up to the Sunflower Movement was a series of single-issue social movements which coalesced in the form of the Sunflower Movement, including the revival of Taiwan’s longstanding anti-nuclear movement after the Fukushima Incident, social movements against forced evictions and gentrification in both urban and rural areas in Taiwan, the movement to realize marriage equality in Taiwan, and manifold other social movements.

Taiwanese civil society played a vital role in the process of Taiwanese democratization. But after the election of Chen Shui-Bian (陳水扁), Taiwan’s first non-KMT president, many civil society actors entered into government, or otherwise left activism, seeing their role as complete. However, the return to power of the KMT and the economic and political and rise of China led to the revival of Taiwanese civil society activism.

Many account the revival of civil society activism to the wave of protests which swept Taiwan after Chen Yunlin (陳雲林), the head of China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (海峽兩岸關係協會), visited Taiwan for the first time in 2008. This was the first time in Taiwanese history that such a high-ranking Chinese official had visited Taiwan and led to the month-long occupation of Liberty Plaza (自由廣場) in 2008 which was known as the Wild Strawberry movement.

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The Wild Strawberry Movement was the month-long occupation of public space in Taipei (台北) in protest of Chen Yunlin’s visit, with a sit-in of four hundred students which began on November 6th, 2008 in front of the Executive Yuan. This was preceded by demonstrations at the Regent Taipei (台北晶華酒店), where Chen was staying, on November 4th and 5th. In particular, what provoked such outrage was the pro-China Ma administration in the course of Chen’s visit.

Police ordered the removal of Republic of China flags from places Chen was supposed to visit, in an attempt to hide visible markers of Taiwan being distinguished from China, and broke down the door of a record shop playing Taiwanese songs near a dinner reception Chen was attending to order the owner to stop playing the songs. Police also arrested four Taichung (台中) city councillors who attempted to drop protest banners in the room next to Chen’s at the Grand Hotel (圓山大飯店) where he was staying, arrested a Taipei city councillor who attended a reception with Chen wearing a shirt that said “No Conspiracy With China” on front of it, arrested three bloggers carrying Taiwanese and Tibetan flags by where Chen was visiting Cecilia Koo Yen (辜嚴倬雲), the former head of the Straits Exchange Foundation, and arrested a number of journalists and demonstrators. Pro-Taiwanese heavy metal musician Freddy Lim (林昶佐) was arrested for simply crossing a street nearby where Chen

The Republic of China is the official name that Taiwan is known by internationally, as distinguished from China, which is known as the People’s Republic of China. Yet, of course, it provoked outrage that apparently the visit of a Chinese officially meant removing any suggestion that Taiwan was a de facto independent nation-state separate from China and brutal repression of demonstrations conducted in the spirit of free speech. This contributed to the growing sense of young people that they were not living in a democracy and that the government did not reflect their popular will. These were the actions which prompted the start of the Wild Strawberry Movement.

The Structure and Development of the Movement

According to some reports, demonstrators were outnumbered three-to-one by police in the early days of the demonstration at the Executive Yuan. The movement was largely leaderless, with general assemblies held daily to make decisions, and initial calls for the movement had begun on a PTT board. Working groups formed included a medical group, discourse group, and translation but working groups were not always aware of each other. Student participants notably mostly did not know each other, whereas many Sunflower Movement activists later on did, marking the formation of Taiwanese civil society and the development of the internal order of the Sunflower Movement out of preexisting personal relationships.

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The movement took its name in self-mockery from the description of young people as an apolitical, soft, “Strawberry Generation,” specifically after a song was written by the netizen “Xiaohai” (小海) on November 8th entitled “Song of the Wild Strawberries” (野草莓之歌) after the use of police violence against the sit-in at the Executive Yuan. After being evicted by police, students moved to Liberty Plaza and began a monthlong occupation on November 7th. Similar occupations began around Taiwan in the following days and civil disobedience actions lasted until January 4th, 2009. Although the occupation eventually ended, the Wild Strawberry Movement would be instrumental in the subsequent development of Taiwanese student activism.

The three demands of the Wild Strawberry Movement on March 6th were that:

  1. Ma Ying-Jeou (馬英九) and Executive Yuan president Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) apologize to the people of the nation
  2. Wang Cho-chiun (王卓鈞), head of the National Police Agency, and Tsai Chao-Ming (蔡朝明), head of the National Security Bureau, resign
  3. The Legislative Yuan amend the Assembly and Parade Act (集會遊行法))

These demands were further reiterated when participants voted at Liberty Plaza (自由廣場) to decide the course of their movement once they relocated there. In retrospect, the Wild Strawberry Movement pioneered the Sunflower Movement’s use of livestreaming through the use of Yahoo! Live for livestreaming, with neitzen Wenli accumulating over 2,300 viewers through his livestreaming. [1]

Sit-ins began to be held in other parts of Taiwan, with sit-ins starting on November 8 at National Cheng Kung University (國立成功大學) in Kaohsiung (高雄), on November 9th at Taichung City Park, on November 10th at National Tsing Hua University (國立清華大學) in Hsinchu (新竹), at the Urban Spotlight Arcade (城市光廊) in Kaohsiung (高雄) on November 11th, and on November 12th at the 228 Memorial Park (二二八和平紀念公園) in Chiayi (嘉義).

On November 11th, elderly KMT member Liu Boyan (劉柏煙), an eighty year old retired teacher, attempted to self-immolate himself at Liberty Plaza in demonstration of the Ma administration’s pro-China actions, suffering burns to 80% of his body but prompting few reactions from the KMT. Wang Yikai (王奕凱), of later Sunflower Movement fame, was one of those who attempted to put out the flames with a fire extinguisher. Liu later died from his injuries.

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On November 15th, over 10,000 gathered in Taipei in protest, although sit-ins outside of Taipei began to disperse and instead sent representatives to Taipei.

A large scale protest was held on December 7th. In conjunction with the Taiwan Association of University Professors (台灣教授協會), and the Taiwan Bar Association (全國律師協會), the Wild Strawberries demanded an investigation into Chen Yunlin’s visit to Taiwan, an amendment of the Assembly and Parade Act, a rectification of Taiwan’s deteriorating human rights situation, and a strengthening of democratic education in Taiwan. Over 10,000 participated in this rally, with demonstrators marching past the Executive Yuan, Legislative Yuan, and Zhongshan South Road (中山南路), and converging in front of Ketagalan Boulevard.

Sunflower Seeds

Perhaps we can trace back to the Wild Strawberry movement, the development of an “activist subculture” in Taiwan then. In the years leading up to the Sunflower Movement, Taiwan saw the revival of a number of single-issue social movements, targeting issues ranging from nuclear energy, gentrification, labor, indigenous issues, gender/sexuality, and other social issues.

In part, this is because while the Wild Strawberries only numbered several hundred in number, the eventual failure of the movement led participants to realize that more would need to take action in order to prevent Taiwan’s gradual loss of sovereignty to China. Many went back to their schools and began to organize on campus, particularly through the organization of reading groups about different social issues.

Likewise, though the Wild Strawberry occupation had lasted only a month, it proved inspiring of young people, and led more individuals to participate in social activism. Despite the lack of any successful outcome as derived from the movement, the Wild Strawberry movement illustrated that young people taking political action directly into their hands could have large effects on political discourse. The Wild Strawberry, for example, did create a crisis for the Ma administration in resolving public backlash over how it handled Chen Yunlin’s visit. Many of the key actors of the Sunflower Movement, including Lin Fei-Fan (林飛帆), Chen Wei-Ting (陳為廷), and Wei Yang (魏揚), were participants in the Wild Strawberry Movement. With Lin, this as part of his organization the “Zero Two Society” (零貳社) and with Chen and Wei, this was as part of their organization Radical Notes (基金筆記).

In particular, including Chen and Wei, many of the participants in the Wild Strawberry Movement from National Tsing Hua University were later also participants in the Sunflower Movement, illustrating how many of the trust networks among Taiwanese youth activists originated in the Wild Strawberry Movement. Early signs of the split between more radical left elements of the Sunflower Movement such as the Untouchables’ Liberation Area were visible in conflict between the movement mainstream and attempts by Losheng Sanatorium Struggle participants to prevent McDonald’s food from being brought into the occupation as a way of protesting American imperialism. [2]

Photo credit:《廣場》The Right Thing/Facebook

This would be the first time that young people took the lead in politics after much bemoaning about the “Strawberry Generation” (草莓族), shattering the perception of young people being indifferent to political issues and spending more time staring at their cell phones than anything else. But, with increasing amounts of young people taking action on social issues, this was demonstrated to hardly be the case, with young people willing to shoulder the fate of Taiwan on their shoulders. This also led to the revival of Taiwanese civil society after a period of quiescence under Chen Shui-Bian. What came to exist subsequently, in the wake of the Wild Strawberry Movement, was an “activist subculture” in Taiwan. Although attempts took place to unify youth activist groups prior to the Sunflower Movement, such as with the organization “Go South” (行南), these were not successful until the Sunflower Movement. 

Documentaries later produced about the Wild Strawberry Movement include The Right Thing (廣場), directed by Chiang Wei-Hua (江偉華) and Civil Disobedience (公民不服從), directed by Chen Yu-ching (陳育青).


[1] Chen Shunxiao 陳順孝. “Wang lu gongmin xingdong de jiti yanhua: Cong qiangjiu le sheng yuan, ye caomei yundong dao taiyang hua yundong 網路公民行動的集體演化:從搶救樂生院、野草莓運動到太陽花運動” in Sunflower Movement, New Citizenry, and New Media 我是公民也是媒體:太陽花與新媒體實踐. Edited by Chen-Ling Hung 洪貞玲. Locus Publishing 大塊文化出版社, Taipei (2015). Print. P. 66.
[2] Ho Ming-Sho. Challenging Beijing’s Mandate from Heaven: Taiwan’s Sunflower Movement and Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement. Forthcoming. P. 179.


Photo credit: H.T. Yu/Flickr/CC