We're now nearly 3 weeks into what has become known as the Sunflower Movement 太陽花學運, a student led protest, which begun on March 18th when a group of young activists occupied Taiwan's Legislative Yuan 立法院 (a.k.a. parliament) to block the passing of a controversial trade deal with China, that would allow Chinese companies to establish branches in Taiwan, and compete in the local services industry (such as healthcare, tourism, telecommunications, banking, and even publishing). Not only are people afraid that local companies will have to compete with cheap labor and cheaper prices (something China is known to be best at), but that a greater involvement of the communist neighbor in Taiwan's economy will be a threat to democracy and freedom of speech in the future. This is based on the fact that China (an authoritarian one-party state, one of the worst offenders of human rights) often uses its economic power to assert political influence on other smaller countries. What started as protest of a shady legislative procedure has now evolved into a general anti-government movement, accompanied with an awakening of national identity and greater participation of civil society in policies concerning agreements with China.
Outside the Legislative Yuan: 3 different areas
Ever since the movement started, I have reported on it on my Facebook Page almost daily, because I have great interest in what's happening, but I was not part of any protest, nor was physically present anywhere close to the Legislative Yuan. While I admire the courage of those who peacefully and legally protest for something they strongly believe will make their country's future brighter, I also acknowledged that this is not my fight, and that as a foreigner I do not want to get involved, and that my family is right now my first priority. Today however I had the spontaneous idea to see the area around the Legislative Yuan with my own eyes, take some photos, and share them with my readers. That way I can have an even better understanding of the whole situation, and since I have a lot of readers who are not able to be in Taipei right now, I hope to give them the chance to see how the area actually looks like these days. As I arrived at the site, I realized that there are actually 3 different areas :
1) Qingdao East Road: This is the main area, most people are located at the crossing with Zhenjiang Street. The students are sitting there, and there's also a heavy media presence.
2) Jinan Road: This is the second area where students have erected tents and are sitting in protest. The road is wider, and less crowded. There's also more police presence, and some parts are protected with barbed wire.
3) A small strip of Zhongshan South Road: This area is located between the first two and is mainly occupied by members of the Taiwan Independence movement. They had speeches (in Taiwanese), and they were covering the street with their banners as I was walking by this morning. Most of them are of older generation.
Click here to enlarge my map.
Photos from the Sunflower Movement
I went out at the NTU Hospital Station Exit 2, and walked towards Zhongshan South Road, which was the main site of excessive police force on March 23. As I was walking northwards towards the Legislative Yuan, I felt a little bit uneasy. It looked so clean and peaceful now (today is a beautiful sunny day with 27 degrees Celsius), but less than two weeks ago water canons and riot police with batons were clearing the street, leaving a trace of blood and bruises along the way. As I finally reached the area, I decided to take some photos from afar before I entered, and see what the protesters are doing today, and how everything looks like.
These protesters are often seen in Ximending.
After walking around Jinan Road for a while, I decided to head back home, but I wanted to pass by the Office of the President to see what's going on there. The Ketagalan Boulevard was half empty, the barricades are still intact, and the police presence is high. I was wondering what is the president thinking right now? What will be his next move? It's hard to say, but I'm sure he's considering all possibilities. I'm rather pessimistic, and I'm expecting a police crackdown at the Legislative Yuan, but we will see. Next week might be crucial, the occupation will be in its fourth week. There are signs of exhaustion on both sides. In the past week a KMT legislator has openly voiced support for the students, while a group of students disillusioned with the leader Lin Fei-fan split and left. Who will be the first to crack and crumble? Who will be the first to lose nerves, and use violence to achieve their goal? All that we might find out next week, or maybe much later. There's only one thing I hope: I hope that after this conflict is finally over, Taiwan's democracy will be stronger, not weaker as before.
Follow me on Facebook or Twitter to get instant updates on the Sunflower Movement.