Article 25

Archive for May, 2014|Monthly archive page

Sunflowers and Suncakes, Bananas and Blackness.

In Uncategorized on 05/07/2014 at 4:48 pm


What in the world is all of this wackiness?

By Matt Bronsil


If you have friends in Taiwan, let me assure you of something about their Facebook page: They did not turn into a banana, sunflower or a crossed-off Chinese flag. While their Facebook profile picture may have changed to this, most of them still look human. Those profile pictures are to show support for a recent Taiwan protest.

So what is going on? The news is sort of vague on the whole issue because it is a complicated one with a huge history attached to it. To top it off, the western media, particularly television media, has been largely silent about the protests in Taiwan. Let me begin with the history.
I should begin by generally describing Asia to people. It is sad that I have to do this, but after years of being in Taiwan, I still get questions about how Thailand is or whether an earthquake in Japan was felt in my house. In this brief lesson, I am going to focus on two areas: China and Taiwan.

China and Taiwan are right next to each other. (It’s true – look at it on a map). China is a lot bigger than Taiwan. (Source: Same map). As far as neighbors go, China sort of sucks as a neighbor.
Imagine your neighbor had a much bigger house than you, but he still wanted your house. To try to get your house, he runs around to all the other neighbors and to all the events you attend and complains that you are trying to claim yourself as a family, separate from theirs. He points guns and missiles at your house, ready to fire without warning, so that he can come in and take over your family and your house.
Now, the matter gets more confusing because somehow the neighbors used to own your house, and never really said they want to give it up. But the Japanese family across the street came in and ran things for a little bit around the house until they tried to fight the American family and lost that battle. So then the American family let a political group, who really like your bullying neighbors, run your household; and they eventually killed a bunch of people.
You see, this is getting confusing. And we haven’t even started in on this recent protest. But let’s just say Taiwan is now ruled entirely by a two-party system. You have the Kuomintang (KMT) – which actually caused the death and destruction mentioned above, and is still somehow around today – and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The biggest difference is that the KMT absolutely loves China and wants to make sure your house and their house are the same. The DPP says, “No. Screw the neighbors who want to kill us and say we are not a family. We have our own house. Let’s live like we have our own house.”
For the older generation in Taiwan, there might still be some love of China mixed in with the group. For the younger generation, it is anything but love. In their life, they never considered themselves having anything to do with China. China is that crappy neighbor I described above.

So now let’s fast forward to March 17 of this year. This is when the KMT pushed a law onto the floor that did not go through the proper channels to become voted on. It was supposed to go through a line-by-line review. Taiwan is not known for doing things correctly when it comes to carrying out laws, but this particular law is very important. It is a trade agreement with China. The biggest issue here is how the law was pushed through. It did not go through the line-by-line review, nor did it get the 15 or so public hearings it was supposed to get.
So then came the protestors. On March 18 in the late evening, protesters began climbing through fences, pushing past police and made their way in the legislative chamber. For Americans, that is like people pushing past the police and making it into Congress. Police tried halfheartedly to get them out, but the protesters blocked the entrances to the chamber, not allowing police to get through.
A group charged into the Executive Offices on March 23 (a different government building). This is probably the most violent part of the protests, as police used excessive force and water cannons to draw the students out of the area. Police were also captured using violence against the media, which is never a bright idea.
At its peak, as many as 500,000 people showed up in Taipei for the protests. (The only way they could have gotten more is if they offered free Hello Kitty stickers. If any of you ever lived in Taiwan, you know how big that is here.)

The students left the Legislative Yuan on April 10, but not before entirely cleaning the area.

Now that you are a little up to date with the situation, let me share some entertaining tidbits of information about it.

  • Facebook: Social media is playing a huge role in this protest. Right now there are protests in Turkey, but social media is severely being restricted there. In Taiwan, that won’t happen. If it does, you’ll get all the 20-30 year olds who are in the internet cafes coming out and protesting as well. That’s about half of Taiwan’s population. So you might notice a lot of profile pictures. A black photo is in reference to the law, which was passed without the people knowing about it or without a proper review. It’s black and you cannot see what is happening. See (or … not!?)?
  • The Sunflowers deal with the name of the protest group. The name gained popularity after about a thousand or so sunflowers were donated to the protesters.
  • You may also see bananas as Facebook profile pictures. I even posted a photo of a sunflower piece of art work made out of bananas. What do bananas have to do with it? Well, a former KMT official was enraged that the DPP would provide bananas to the protestors, which they never did. The bananas he saw in the pictures were sunflowers. Hello, internet meme of the week.
  • Lin Fei-Fan is the name of the main student protester. He is not really a fashion model by any stretch of the imagination. However, without a real change of clothes, he was continually shown in his sort of nondescript green jacket. Those jackets are selling out quickly in stores that can manage to order and get them in stock.
  • That brings us to suncakes, which is my favorite story of this event. Jia Chi Hsiao is an official working in the Executive Branch (the second building that got raided by protesters). After the offices were evacuated, he complained that his suncakes were stolen. In response, money was raised and several thousand suncakes were delivered to his office. He refused to accept the gift, so they actually went to protesters outside.
  • A well-known gangster known as “The White Wolf” returned to Taiwan from China, was arrested at the airport, posted bail and got a group together to protest at the rally. He and the group tried to push past police to get in to see the students, but the police did a wonderful job blocking him.

So now you know a little more about the craziness on this side of the world.

Matt Bronsil lived most of his life in Cincinnati before moving to Taiwan in 2008. He writes a blog about education (, but suggests if you want more information about Taiwan and politics in Taiwan, visit his friend’s blog at