Sun, Mar 13, 2016 - Page 12 News List

Taiwan in Time: Warming up for the Wild Lily

On the anniversary of the March, 1990 mass student protests, ‘Taiwan in Time’ takes a look at the decade of campus activism that led up to the main event

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

Anti-Chiang Kai-shek messages are painted on a cloth draped on the steps of Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall during the 1990 Wild Lily student movement.

Photo: Tang Chia-lin, Taipei Times

Taiwan in Time: March 14 to March 20

On May 11, 1985, student protesters marched through the National Taiwan University (NTU) campus shouting “general elections (普選)” and “I love NTU.”

Mirroring the era’s national political situation, only class representatives could vote for student president. School officials tried to stop the students, who had been calling for direct elections since 1982, but after some fierce arguing, the students went ahead with the plan.

Taiwan was still under martial law and public gatherings were illegal. Students were handed demerits by the school and nothing would change for a few more years.

But this event marked the first open student operation after years of simmering campus unrest. It started with the clandestine circulation of flyers about free speech in 1981 and culminated in the massive Wild Lily Student Movement (野百合學運), where students occupied Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Square (today’s Liberty Square) from March 16 to March 22, 1990.

For decades, campus voices had largely been silent. Student protests over police brutality on April 6, 1949 led to mass arrests and several alleged executions.

When martial law was declared a month later, which lasted 38 years, schools were militarized and all activities placed under strict government control as the country hurtled towards the dark years of the White Terror era.


Teng Pi-yun (鄧丕雲) writes in his book, A History of Taiwan Student Movements in the 80s (80年代台灣學生運動史) that although school activities were still heavily monitored in the late 1970s, the political situation was changing with the rise of the dangwai (黨外, outside the party) movement and its publications critical of the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) one-party rule, which were often passed around in secret on campus.

During the early 1980s, campus activism was limited to unorganized small groups who called for more freedom of expression through underground posters, graffiti and campus rallies and speeches. Off-campus, some students helped with dangwai campaigns and activities — but faced punishment if their schools found out.

“The biggest difference [before martial law was lifted] was the high level of risk that came with any type of activity,” Teng writes. “Student activists faced a great deal of uncertainty, not knowing what would happen to them.”

But it was no longer the 1950s, and most of the time students just received warnings, demerits and, at worst, expulsion.

Meanwhile, student publication staff were in frequent conflict with school officials, who had to approve all output beforehand. Many publications were suspended, shut down or restructured for bypassing the censor or writing “inappropriate” commentary. This led to the proliferation of underground publications such as National Central University’s Wildfire (野火) and NTU’s Love for Freedom (自由之愛).

Kuo Kai-ti (郭凱迪) writes in a study of Taiwanese student movements that the staff at these publications felt government suppression most directly, and often became the first to take part in student movements.

Teng writes that the first organized movement with a clear objective took place in September 1982, when several NTU clubs banded together before the student government elections and called for change to the system. With their publications censored and activities blocked, the members mostly operated by privately distributing brochures and fliers, including one that appeared on election day that urged the class representatives to boycott the election.

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