The protests by high-school students in front of the Ministry of Education have subsided and the students and activists have returned home. However, their tearful exit on the night of Aug. 5 is not the end of the movement: Students and activists will continue to fight against the biased texts and the non- democratic procedures of Minister of Education Wu Se-hwa (吳思華) and the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).
How should these new social movements — such as last year’s Sunflower movement and even younger organizers and activists of the curriculum protests — be interpreted?
Some critics try to portray them as a “radicalization” of the younger generation, calling them “anti-Chinese.” However, young people represent the new norm: They have moved away from the old-fashioned nationalism of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and are proud of their new-found Taiwanese identity.
This trend has been going on for some time. It actually started in the early 1990s with the transition to democracy. According to a survey by the Election Study Center of National Chengchi University, the percentage of people viewing themselves as “Taiwanese” rather than “both Taiwanese and Chinese” has reached almost 60 percent, and has accelerated since 2008, when Ma came to power.
So what are young people doing with their new-found identity? They value and treasure what people have achieved: a vibrant democracy and active civil society. That is why they take to the streets to protest — they perceive the actions of the Ma administration, including over the trade in services agreement and the curriculum revisions, as non-transparent, anti-democratic moves that undermine the well-being of the people.
The two movements were not “anti-China” per se, but were a protest against the closed-door, smoke-filled backroom ways in which the Ma administration was manipulating to push a newly democratic Taiwan closer to an autocratic and repressive China. These moves were a violation of the new norm of society in a free and democratic nation.
As an activist who participated in the Sunflower movement, I can say that what really disturbed us was the nonchalant and arrogant way the Ma government tried to push the service trade agreement through the legislature. This made a mockery of the principle of checks and balances that should be an integral part of a democratic system.
By the same token, the high-school students who took to the streets were first and foremost disturbed by the authoritarian way in which the government planned and implemented the self-serving and distorted changes to history textbooks. They felt that such manipulation of history has no place in a modern democracy.
So, where does Taiwan go from here? What does “I am Taiwanese” mean? It means that we the young people are proud of who we are. We are proud of our rich and multicultural history. Yes, many of our ancestors came from China, but they were pioneers who built a new life here. Our history also includes our roots in the Aboriginal communities and the new immigrants of Southeast Asia in recent decades. Also the nation was ruled by the Dutch, Spanish and Japanese. These cultures are also part of our heritage and add to our diversity.
The most important element is that Taiwanese want to determine our own fate. We have worked hard to make this a free and democratic country. We want to help make it a vibrant democracy that cares for its people and listens to its people. That is what it means to be Taiwanese.
June Lin is a student at National Taiwan University’s Graduate Institute of National Development. She has worked this month as an intern with the Formosan Association for Public Affairs in Washington.
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