The fact that Sunflower Movement activists adhered to politically progressive and even left stances is noteworthy, particularly in Taiwan, which had been dominated by the KMT for so many decades and in which “leftism” had been a taboo word since the White Terror (白色恐怖). But for younger individuals, born after the end of martial law, there is no such taboo on leftism.
We can in part situate the Sunflower Movement alongside socially progressive civic nationalist movements in recent years, as seen in Scotland or Catalan, which were also independence movements. Yet ultimately it may be structural reasons which explain the leftward drift of Taiwanese civil society. The central political cleavage in Taiwanese society is not between left/right political lines, but between the two political poles of independence and unification.
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The two major political parties in Taiwan are not, in fact, divided between a center-left party and a center-right party, but much more along the lines of the political opposition between independence and unification, just overlaid on top of the traditional left/right political divide. The Democratic Progressive Party, which emerged from the Taiwanese democracy movement, is not inherently a center-left political party, so much as it is a party originally formed by a number of political actors whose common consensus was opposition to the KMT. As such, the DPP in itself contains both a left-wing and a right-wing.
Nevertheless, the particularities of the Taiwanese political spectrum have led independence to broadly become aligned with a left political position. In the past, KMT persecution of leftism was seen with the view that to be a leftist was to be pro-China. But while pro-unification leftists still exist as a marginal political force in Taiwan, China increasingly drifting away from its past rhetoric in combination with the weakening stigma against leftism which came with the process of Taiwanese democratization, has allowed for the political Left to become aligned with a pro-independence political position and, structurally, this may have led Taiwanese young people to become predisposed to left and progressive political views. Likewise, the fact that Taiwanese capitalists are predisposed to pro-China views because of doing business with China led to anger again big business from youth activists which sometimes evolved into leftist anti-capitalism.
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Nevertheless, one observes that although the views of the leadership within the Legislative Yuan were actually also quite left, such views may have become closeted during the movement for the sake of appealing to the general public. On the other hand, splinter groups such as the Untouchables’ Liberation Area or Le Flanc Radical were more willing to express left political views overtly. There may have been a tension within the movement between leftism and pragmatism, in that light.