As Taiwanese students in New York prepared posters and distributed sunflowers for the March 30 rally at Times Square, encouraging words from peers participating in the Sunflower Movement back home were trickling in through various social media and instant messaging apps.
“We all belong to the same social circle, so we know things about the movement that even the media hasn’t picked up on,” says Wang Yu-hsiu (王郁秀), a sociology graduate student at Columbia University, referring to the Legislative Yuan protests in Taipei against the cross-strait service trade agreement with China.
On the surface, the protests might seem like another example of young people rebelling against authority. Wang’s friend Liu Yen-ting (劉彥廷), a Columbia graduate student studying statistics said that there’s a misperception that people from their generation are irresponsible, unable to withstand societal pressure and “easily bruised” — hence the term “strawberry generation” (草莓族) ascribed to them. But the Sunflower Movement shows how “strawberries” are stepping up to wrest control of their future, which they believe the trade agreement will negatively impact.
Wang says that protesters in Taipei are an educated group of young adults who are concerned about their job prospects. Hanes Wu (吳政翰), a young entrepreneur, is a good example of someone who fits this demographic. He was on Facebook video call while finalizing the design of his new app which would allow one iPad user to simultaneously see what another user is drawing on their iPad. Dissatisfied with fixing computer bugs only to be told each time that the entire system was going to be overhauled, Wu quit his job and started his own tech company with a friend.
With plans to expand to the US market, Wu says it’s hard work but there’s a sense of entitlement which comes from being your own boss. He added that his parent’s generation were used to keeping quiet despite the hardships they endured due to fear of repercussions under Martial Law. Therefore, the strawberry generation is being judged by a set of outdated values and expectations stemming from a very different historical and political context, he said.
Yao Hsuan-hung (姚璇亨), another young protester who works for a design and advertising agency in Taipei, added that the so-called strawberry generation grew up in a society that was more stable, prosperous and democratic. As a result, they are not afraid to voice their opinions.
Yao had just returned from the Legislative Yuan late at night as he posted these messages on Facebook, when another protestor, a graduate student and indie musician who preferred to remain anonymous was signing out from Facebook to head to the protests, where he intended to stay until daybreak.
“Have you ever heard of more than 1,000 people gathering at a place, leaving no garbage behind and even remembering to recycle?” the musician asked.
Chou Hanwen (周漢文), a recent graduate who works in investment said that in addition to being clean and orderly, the Sunflower Movement has been “peaceful and rational.”
STRAWBERRIES CONCERNED FOR TAIWAN’S DEMOCRACY
The “sunflowers” believe that if passed, the trade agreement would allow China to exercise more control over some of Taiwan’s vital industries, including the media. This would not only impact their job prospects, but also challenge their way of thinking.