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The Kuomintang and the Sunflower Movement - A Few Thoughts About the Legitimacy of the Anti-Trade Pact Protests

The recent student protests in Taiwan have become a highly debated topic on the island's as well as international media. The movement, which calls itself 'Sunflower Movement', was formed on March 19, when students occupied Taiwan's Legislative Yuan. The reason for this act of protest was a trade agreement with China which the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) was pushing through parliament in a way that the opposition party DPP and a part of the population regarded as non-democratic (note 1, note 2).

While Taiwan's press was divided on whether the movement was legitimate or not, with the pro-KMT and the anti-KMT camps offering their own respective interpretation, Western media have universally celebrated the movement as a proof of Taiwan's democratic maturity.

As I have explained in my previous post, I am quite sceptical about the Sunflower Movement, mainly for three reasons:

1) the protesters are trying to delegitimise an elected - though unpopular - government through extra-parliamentary means;

2) the movement has a strong Taiwanese nationalistic undertone;

3) the media are glorifying the movement in a simplistic way;

1) the trade deal with China should not come as a surprise. The KMT (Chinese Nationalist Party) is a pan-Chinese party. One can see this clearly by visiting the official page of the KMT. The party's self-introduction explains:

The Kuomintang (KMT) is a political party with a long history and a wholesome ideal. This ideal is the establishment of the Republic of China (ROC) as a free, democratic, prosperous and dignified modern nation. The KMT’s long history is a glorious record of its committed struggle to the realization of this ideal. 
In 1894, at a critical juncture in the Sino-Japanese war of 1894-1895, Dr. Sun Yat-sen, with clear perception and vision, traveled to Honolulu to appeal to the overseas Chinese there to form a revolutionary organization with the aim of rescuing the Chinese nation. Named the Revive China Society, it was the beginning of the KMT. 
This event also marked the start of China’s drive for modernization. It has been 106 years since this remarkable process of change and development began (note).

It is obvious that the KMT regards itself as a Chinese and not as a Taiwanese party, and that it is committed to maintaining the principles established by the 1911 revolution in mainland China. Therefore, Ma Yingjiu sees himself as the President of the Republic of China, not as the President of Taiwan, which in pan-Chinese ideology is not a country but a province of China. 

Of course, the attempted revival of pan-Chinese nationalism during the Ma administration borders on absurdity. For instance, in 2013 a government document urged school teachers to explain to their students that the capital of the Republic of China is Nanjing, in mainland China, and that Taipei is just the current location of the government. In fact, the KMT's original purpose when it retreated to Taiwan in 1949 was to use the island as a base from which to retake the mainland and return to Nanjing. This prospect is completely unrealistic, to say the least. Another example is Mongolian and Tibetan Commission Minister Tsai Yu-ling (Cai Yuling, 蔡玉玲), who stated that Mongolia remains ROC territory (even the PRC has recognised Mongolia as independent!) (note).  

However, the KMT administration has been democratically elected. Ma's government defeated the DPP in two elections, in 2008 and 2012. According to the New York Times, the KMT gained support among business elites who have interests in China and people who wanted to maintain the status-quo with the PRC (note). Perhaps, also people who were disappointed by Chen Shui-bian's administration might have enlarged the KMT's electorate.

That the KMT wanted closer ties with China must have been clear to everyone. This was not only a consequence of the KMT's ideology, but also part of its electoral campaign programme. 

The DPP and anti-Chinese forces cannot delegitimise a democratically elected government by taking to the streets and trying to impose their own agenda. Rather, they should organise in order to defeat the KMT in the next elections and pursue their own policy. Apparently, the deligitimisation of the KMT is the goal not only of the opposition, but also of a large part of the expat population and foreign media. They all seem to be extremely anti-Chinese and anti-KMT. 

2) The anti-Chinese component of the Sunflower Movement is a mix of anti-Communism (to which KMT indoctrination during its one-party regime contributed greatly), Taiwanese nationalism, anti-KMT sentiment and anti-Chinese stereotypes. I have witnessed anti-Chinese stereotypes among the Taiwanese populationmany times, and although I am not denying that certain mainland Chinese individuals behave badly and that the CCP government gives enough reasons for criticism, anti-Chinese feelings often go too far.  

Former Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian fomented native Taiwanese nationalism which was directed against 'mainlanders' and non-Hoklo speakers. Chen's policies upset a part of Taiwan's population, including 'mainlanders',  Hakka, and aborigines (see John F. Copper: The KMT Returns to Power: Elections in Taiwan 2008 to 2012. 2012, Chapter I). Taiwanese nationalism also gave rise to more radical groups, such as the Taiwanese Nationalist Party (TNP), founded in July 2011, whose programme is based on ethnic strife and ethnic cleansing. The party's goal is, in fact, that of "expelling the Chinese and safeguarding Taiwan” and of holding a referendum for independence. As Chinese, the TNP defines all the people "who were born in or have lived in Taiwan for an extended period, but who identify [themselves] as Chinese” (note). I will explain in another post why I consider nationalism (and especially this kind of exclusive nationalism that politicises ethnic strife, collectivises identity and blurs the difference between individual and public sphere) as a negative force in politics.

In a previous post ("Does Taiwan Belong to China?") I wrote that, in my opinion, both pan-Chinese and Taiwanese nationalism are legitimate ideologies. It is up to every party to gain enough support and consensus among the populace and to secure the viability of their different perceptions. Since the KMT has managed to gain consensus even after the demise of the one-party state, it should be allowed to govern. Blocking a government and imposing on it a different agenda is not a sign of democratic spirit, but of intolerance and of ochlocratic tendencies. Of course, this argument is not valid if the KMT has breached the law. In this case, popular protest may very well be justified in order to restore legality. 

The nationalistic attitude of some protesters hinders a rational discussion about the economic reasons why the trade agreement might not be good for Taiwan. As Hsiao Hung-pai has explained in an article published on The Guardian, it is the free trade component of the agreement which many workers are afraid of. These economic considerations are certainly reasonable and are understandable as a reaction against neoliberalism, of which Ma Yingjiu seems to be a strong proponent. But again, if people don't like free trade, they have the chance to vote for a party that does not support it and change the government.
3) Public opinion seems to have double-standards when it comes to popular protests. When the police forcibly evicted activists from the Executive Yuan, leaving hundreds injured both among protesters and policemen, there was a public outcry, which is certainly justified since some police officers seem to have gone beyond the limits of what their duty allows them to do (note). 

However, I have seen little sympathy for many other protesters in other countries who were injured during demonstrations. The many victims of police violence against anti-austerity protesters in Europe have been ignored, or worse, mocked, while the EU, international organisations and the US not only watched idly, but also approved (note, see also a gallery of pictures of injured protesters). Many Taiwanese, too, have shown little interest in those people who suffered injuries during protests, as it was of no consequence for themselves or was done against 'lazy' people who somewhat deserved to be maltreated a bit. 

The reason why Taiwan's protests are seen in a positive light, is, in my opinion, their anti-Chinese element. This has actually become the main message of the demonstrations, while the economic component has been downplayed. 


  1. 看來中國大陸比較受你青睞,就像你很不解為什麼我們選的要總統還要反對他,我也很不解既然您對台灣各種現象有這麼多看不慣的地方,為何還住這麼久?太平洋又沒加蓋:)

  2. 您為甚麼覺得中國大陸比台灣受我的青睞? 如果一個人跟您的想法不同一, 他就是喜歡中國大陸, 就要馬上離開台灣嗎? 我只是說, 國民黨勝選, 所以現在這是中華民國的合法政府. 我知道有很多台灣人覺得台灣不是中國得一個部分, 可是大部分的台灣人2012選了國民黨, 台灣選民黨是一定應該知道中國國民黨還堅持孫中山的中國民族主義的原則. 我不是說, 台灣是中國得一個部分, 我只說, 是台灣選民要決定. 上次他們選了國民黨, 下一次可能選進民黨. 我不喜歡的室友的台灣覺得他們的想法對, 別的想法不對, 他們覺得, 國民黨要'回國'.

  3. I totally agree with your observation, it is anti-Chinese element that makes it news-worthy on western media.

  4. 這、看你這麼認真回我真的不好意思說,但,我真的看不懂你最後三行在寫什麼,方便翻譯一下嗎:-)我只有一點想回應,不只KMT死守一個(台灣版本)中國的政策,扁政府當政時也是如此默認。為什麼?因為我國偉大的憲法如此規定的,誰上去當總統都必須遵守。只不過條文說的統一,是ROC統一大陸,但依目前局勢,只求“匪共“不要用PRC來併吞我們就萬辛了。對很多台灣人來說,之所以强調“台灣“並不是不認同ROC, 只是不想跟PRC混為一談而已。


    1. 哈哈,不好意思,我打錯了。我的意思說,有的臺灣人覺得臺灣和中國全不一樣。如果你不同意他們的想法,他們就會說,如果你喜歡中國,你就可以去那裏。比如説,我有一個朋友,他是“外省人”。他覺得他是臺灣人,但是也覺得他是中國人。他的一些朋友說,他要“回中國”, 因爲它不是真正的臺灣人。我不太喜歡這種態度,因爲每個人的同一性是私人的事情。多元論是民主主義的非常重要的原則。


    2. 本省人和外省人情節在年輕一代族群已經很淡,頂多是拿來互開玩笑打嘴炮







  5. Wow! The reason why the protest is seen in a positive light is because they are anti- Chinese. I live in Taichung , Taiwan and I can tell you don't know what you are talking about. Let me put it to you like this - the average worker in China makes 1.36 USD(American dollars) an hour that equals about 40 NTD(Taiwanese dollars). This is not the future young Taiwanese want. This isn't really hard to figure out.

    1. Sorry, but that was not really the point of my post. I understand the problem of the decline of the middle class, this is a global issue that has affected Europe, the United States, and many other countries. I advise you to read Robert Reich, an American economist. So I totally agree on the point you mentioned. But this protest is not mainly focused on economic issues, but - at least in the media - it is depicted as a democracy (students, Taiwanese nationalists) vs. dictatorship (KMT), and as a China vs Taiwan issue. And I believe that it is exactly this anti-Chinese and anti-KMT undertone in the portests which makes it an interesting topic for international media and for expat. Most expats and international media seldom discuss other economic issues that involve Taiwan, such as strikes or trade union activities.

  6. Thanks for a refreshingly objective analysis of the student protests. As a Taiwanese who used to live in Europe for many many years, I find myself in agreement with your above blog post. I'm also getting tired of people, both locals and foreigners, who believe storming the parlament is an expression of a healthy democracy and that these students have every right to do whatever they want as long as it is anti-government and anti-China. Unfortunately, many foreigners seem to naively believe that the only "authentic" or "real" Taiwan is the Hoklo-speaking portion of the island as represented by the DPP and that anything else (Hakka, aborigines, waishengren, KMT, etc) has no place in Taiwan. And thus they blindly support this brand of nationalism. I'm very glad to see that you have a more differentiated view on Taiwan.

    1. Thanks a lot for your comment, I totally agree with you : )

  7. Seems this articles needs some reviews in what is democratic and what the government should do.
    Government and politicians are hired by the population to lead them through service and welfare in having a comfortable and enjoyable life.
    Since the government fails in this task, the citizens have any right to claim a better government of the current even with demonstration and extreme events, if the previous questions remain unanswered.
    This is the common way in each democratic country and, since Taiwan itself claims so much to be DEMOCRATIC, differently than PRC, should be allowed to go and show your disappointment in streets, squares, in front of the power's palaces.
    Taking the two Yuan is a speech a part, in your article is not mentioned about this particular action, is more likely a general complain on what the students are currently do.
    Does it pass in your mind that students are tired of corruption, depravation and criminal infiltrations.
    They just want to preserve their future, a future that everyday, every law becomes more and more unsure and poor.

    The anti-chinese feeling is something that is rising day by day everywhere, not only in Taiwan, but on a major way should be understood here.
    I find your paper quite bad descriptive in general, full of personal opinion of course, but pretty far from what is the point of view of others.
    The best is the part where you talk so arrogantly about how they protesters should act, or what they should do instead.
    It is too much a I-know-everything speech than just a objective comment. Too bad...

    Eventually, one sentence also on the protesters hit by policemen, you know it is not an everyday view to see policemen hit so clearly in face or other body parts with batons and shields or give stomps even on stomach or low abdomen with heavy boots, people who are just lying down, singing or yelling their right, and believe me, no matter where happens, everywhere in the world if this happens will be considered a shame for the policemen as well as for the government that legitimate this actions.
    In Europe now, in several countries people are in squares, complaining, asking for new government, how it is happening here, and in there nobody talks about the violence of such action, they talk about the right these people wants, their life, their money.
    Their future!

    1. Thanks for your comment. Well, I see democracy as something different. First of all, democracy is per definition pluralistic. Democracy is a system of institutional mechanisms that allow pluralistic views to be represented both in politics and in public opinion. Democracy solves a very old issue that destabilised many states such as the Roman Empire, or feudalistic regimes: how to allow a smooth change of government? Modern parliamentary democracy solves the problem through elections and political parties: those parties who gain enough consensus (but a consensus that represents only a fraction of the population) can govern for a while and implement their own programme. Therefore, the 'people' you talk about is a simplistic term; democracy is not about the fictional harmony of the 'people' as the totality of the population, but about a plurality of individuals and groups who seek to represent their divergent opinions and interests on the political level.

      Now, democracy is based on a deal; the party or the coalition that wins the elections and can form a government, and this government has to finish its term. Of course, every government must face an opposition, because not everyone can agree with the government. Nevertheless, groups and parties must organise themselves and wait until the next elections.

      Let us take an example: the Bush (son) administration. Rarely was an American government so controversial both in the US and abroad. I was absolutely opposed to Bush's policies on all levels, especially on the economic and foreign policy ones. In 2004 Bush won his second election. I was disappointed. Of course, perhaps there were people who wanted to storm the White House and force him to step down or to change his policies. But I wouldn't have supported such an action. It belongs to the civility of democracy that you accept when you have lost and let the government govern until the next elections.

      So, in my opinion, your strong anti-KMT and anti-Chinese sentiment (which I suppose you have, but I might be wrong) makes you blind towards the basics of a democratic system. If you delegitimise a democratically elected government, this is not a triumph for democracy, but a proof of intolerance.

    2. One more thing. I abolutely agree that the right to protest is a democratic right, and I am not against this. I also condemn police violence whenever it is excessive and not not solely conducive to restoring order, whether this happens in Taiwan, Europe, or elsewhere. My point is that a democratic protest should happen on the street, for example through strikes (where are all the people who work for Taiwanese companies who invest on the mainland now? If they striked, that would make a difference). But storming the parliament is not a democratic way. Besides, the international media coverage and expat comments have been extremely biased, depicting the protesters as the embodiment of democracy and the government as tyrannical. They also drew on the widespread anti-Chinese sentiment. I think such interpretation is way too biased.

  8. Hi Kade, thanks for your comment and interesting remarks. I must confess that I don't know much about the financial resources of the KMT and the DPP. I know that, since the Republic of China was governed dictatorially by the KMT, the party created a symbiosis with the institutions and a part of the population, and created allegiances in the army, police etc., which of course could favour the KMT. However, I have read no books about this topic and have no specific figures. Nevertheless, I would like to point out that the DPP won two elections, and this proved that the party could rally enough support to bring about a democratic change of government.

  9. 好吧我幫你總結一下你的盲點:



  10. 您的留言很膚淺。如果您不同意我的論調,您就可以提出您的立論。但是,您的留言裏除了 “我天笑了”,“(你)對‘現’代史興趣缺缺” 等等,什麽内容都沒有。


    抽象批評別人的想法 (你歷史知識,你的論調不對, 什麽的)只就是一種修辭方法。


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