Bob Dylan sang in his song The Times They Are a-Changin: “Come gather ‘round people, wherever you roam … you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone, for the times they are a-changin’.”
This year is likely to be remembered as the year young people in the Sunflower movement spurred independent candidate Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) to win the Taipei mayoral election and rocked the nation’s political paradigm to the core.
To understand the magnitude of this political shift, one must start by looking at the arrival of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) in 1945 after the Japanese lost World War II, ending 50 years of colonial rule.
The US allowed the KMT to occupy Taiwan despite then-US president Harry Truman’s declaration that “the Chiangs (蔣), the Kungs (孔) and the Soongs (宋) [were] all thieves,” having taken US$750 million in US aid.
It was from this time on that the KMT enforced its own brand of dominance over Taiwan and its naive citizenry.
For many generations Taiwanese lived in fear of their government. From 1895 to 1987 they where subservient to their Japanese and then KMT overlords. When former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) began reforms which led him to become the nation’s first democratically elected president in 1996, it was the beginning of the end of 100 years of tyranny for the descendants of the early Chinese immigrants and Aborigines.
Though the nation became a full-fledged democracy, it is still in the development stages and the buds of democracy must be nurtured to guarantee true universal suffrage, but changing the “status quo” is left to a blind government, which seems impervious to public demand for change.
The KMT’s abuse of power has not been lost on Taiwanese, which it dubbed “taike” (inferior low-class Taiwanese).
Government corruption and graft are ubiquitous. Through decades of martial law and brutal suppression there was nothing anyone could do about it without disappearing off the face of the Earth or ending up incarcerated.
A century of suppression represses the spirit of a people; they no longer speak their mind for they sadly succumb and learn to suppress their needs, desires and emotions.
These years of repression coupled with the Chinese culture of Confucianism and its filial respect for authority and seniority allowed the KMT to have their way with the slavish people and resources of Taiwan.
However, with the turn of the millennium one key dynamic in this equation changed.
A new generation of citizens aged from 20 to 35 years old came of voting age, a generation who never experienced the era of the KMT’s repression and fear modus operandi; hence they do not kowtow to such a government.
It is also a generation with social media at its fingertips and access to advances in technology previously unseen. Unlike past generations, which were forbidden to know about social changes around the world, serenaded by Dylan or The Beatles, this modern generation grew up witnessing and relating to the freedom of the world outside.
They gleefully embraced a new path and used media to demonstrate their civic pride. They are able to organize and advertise with the tap of a finger, or even expose government secrecy and wrongdoings.
So unafraid of the KMT are they that they stormed the legislature and peacefully occupied its main chamber for more than three weeks while the Sunflower movement was in full bloom.