Sun, Mar 11, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: Life after the Wild Lily

The student protest in March 1990 was a pivotal moment in Taiwan’s democracy movement, with many of its members still active in politics and activism

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

A sculpture of a lily flower was constructed at today’s Liberty Square during the Wild Lily Student Movement of 1990.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

March 12 to March 18

Entering the 21st century, many believed that Taiwan would not see another student protest on the scale of the Wild Lily Student Movement (野百合學運) of March 1990.

“When I published Student Movement Generation (學運時代) in 2001, most people saw the Wild Lily Student Movement as something legendary, something that wouldn’t happen again on such a large scale in democratized Taiwan,” journalist Ho Jung-hsing (何榮幸) writes in the 2014 update to the book.

Initiated by university students, thousands of protesters occupied today’s Liberty Square from March 16 to March 22, 1990, calling for items such as the dissolution of the National Assembly (which had not held general elections since 1947), direct presidential elections and the lifting of the Temporary Provisions Effective During the Period of National Mobilization for Suppression of the Communist Rebellion (動員戡亂時期臨時條款), which greatly restricted civil and political freedoms.

Their demands were mostly met, and the event is seen today as a critical point in Taiwan’s democratization process. But Ho was pleasantly surprised when the Sunflower movement happened in 2014, whose scale far surpassed the 1990 events. This prompted him to rerelease the book with material from the Sunflower movement as well as updates from a number of Wild Lily Student Movement veterans.


While social and political movements exploded with the lifting of martial law in 1987, Taiwan was no closer to democracy in 1990. Citizens still weren’t allowed to vote in the March 1990 presidential “elections,” which consisted of only one candidate — Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) — who was voted in by members of the antiquated National Assembly, some of which were so old they attended the meetings in wheelchairs.

Student voices had remained mostly quiet throughout the White Terror era, ever since police cracked down on young protesters on April 6, 1949. The next mass public incident would not take place until 1985, as students marched for direct elections for National Taiwan University president.

About a week before the 1990 sham elections, the National Assembly amended the Temporary Provisions to extend the terms for their new members added in 1986 and also proposed other provisions that would expand their power and privileges, causing an uproar in a society that was already on edge due to earlier factional clashes in the KMT over who would “run” for president.

The opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) staged a mock popular election to satirize Taiwan’s lack of democracy, nominating Huang Hua (黃華), who was in jail for proposing Taiwanese independence, as their candidate.

On March 16, nine students from today’s National Taiwan University of Science and Technology staged a sit-in at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, holding a banner that stated, “Compatriots, how can we tolerate the oppression of 700 more emperors?”

The crowd ballooned over the next few days with many going on hunger strike, but on March 21, the “election” took place as scheduled, with Lee as the obvious winner. He did not ignore the students, however, meeting with representatives the day of his inauguration and promising to hold a national affairs conference in June where reforms would be discussed.

According to the Taiwan Communique, the students voluntarily dispersed on March 22. They believed in Lee’s sincerity, and they did not want the protest to get out of hand as the numbers broke 10,000. They also heard that pro-KMT students and military advisers had infiltrated the crowd and were planning to cause trouble.

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