Our Democracy
Must Not Die

Why Taiwan’s youths are worried their freedom of expression and very futures are at stake

Taiwanese people are rising up around the country in a movement lead by young people. In what has been dubbed the “Sunflower Revolution” they are protesting the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement, a Taiwan-China legislature that many fear will undermine Taiwan’s democracy and hurt the island’s economy. Young people are afraid the human rights and freedom of expression they hold so dearly will be threatened if the communist Chinese government is allowed to dominate them. They are also concerned for their future job prospects, seeing the deal as a way to effectively sell Taiwan’s assets and economy to their powerful neighbour, who has made no bones about their desire to seize control of Taiwan, by force if necessary.

“Selling your country for personal gain”
*The last Chinese character also contains a joke about deer antlers. President Ma Ying-Jeou recently became a laughing stock for saying that deer antlers are the hair that grows out from a deer’s ears.

Young people took to the streets with banners and slogans around the country, while in the capital Taipei hundreds of students have stormed and continue to occupy the parliament building.

The vast majority of protestors are peaceful and thoughtful young people; mainly students who are normally more concerned with their studies and friendships than with political shenanigans. However, they have been pushed too far and have become politicized by the ruling KMT party’s perceived desire to sell off their people’s rights, freedom and future for their own financial gain.

“If we don’t rise up today, we won’t be able to rise up tomorrow”

These peaceful protestors fear such protests as this will be crushed in the future if the Chinese Communist Party gains power over their politics through a slow process of economic stranglehold .

“I’m anti the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement —fight for democracy”

Freedom of expression should be a basic human right.

Pictured is a Taiwanese-language punk band, right after they performed at an spontaneous outdoor protest in Taiwan’s second most populous city Kaohsiung on Friday night. For now, musicians, writers and artists in Taiwan can express themselves freely, but many fear for their right to free speech without censorship should Beijing exert dominance on them.

The legislature is seen as being a secretive under-the-table deal as the full contents were never made publicly available for discussion.

“Down with the ‘black box’ deal” *the term black box deal means an under-the-table or backroom agreement
Young non-violent protestors in Taipei are demanding more transparency from their government

“I oppose selling off Taiwan. F**k this black box agreement”

Most Taiwanese people welcome opening up their economy to the world, but not via secretive deals with a threatening political power. The people are demanding a line-by-line review of the agreement, which was rushed through parliament in 30 seconds instead of following the promised in-depth review of the clauses. Opponents fear deals such as this could eventually threaten national security.

President Ma Ying-Jeou appears to be banking on the protestors getting weary and giving up. He doesn’t appear to think it necessary to respond them. This young person urges stamina and resilience until they get an answer.

They are demanding a response from their president Ma Ying-Jeou, who remains out of sight and unresponsive going into the fifth day of countrywide protests. This has only added to his cowardly reputation and poor approval (9.2% approval rating as of September 2013). EDIT: President Ma held a press conference with invited media 23rd March AM; he only answered a few questions and did not address the real issues. He still has not addressed the young people directly. They are hugely disappointed by his reaction; media is showing images of students crying with disappointment and despair at the disappointing response from Ma Ying-Jeou.

“I’m a Taiwanese person, I’m against the under-the-table deal”
“(Even if you) 1. Blacken our names in the media. 2. Threaten us with gangsters. 3. Block our communication. 4. Cut off our electricity — We will let the whole world know you suck”
“Sunflower” protestor studying on the streets in Taipei. Just outside the Legislative Yuan

Reports have surfaced of KMT-sponsored media apparently being told to report the student protestors as an angry and irresponsible mob, yet this couldn’t be further from the truth. Indeed, they have been completely non-violent, some holding flowers, others handwritten signs; some are so diligent in their academic work that they have even taken their course books with them so they can continue to study while they occupy streets and government buildings.

The protestors are expressing their discontent only with written words and chants.

“I am against the black box agreement. Protect Taiwan”

Other notable features of these protests have been: teachers and professors giving educational talks to the students in the streets; pleasant protestors looking after where they are, making sure they clear up litter; Taiwanese musicians putting on impromptu moral-boosting performances; and supporters in the broader community lending a hand by taking care of the people out protesting with supplies such as food, water and clothing. These are ordinary peaceful people demanding a response on an issue they are very worried about.

“It is okay to flunk your course, but (our) democracy must not die.”
“Save democracy” — “God bless Taiwan”

Please support the young protestors fighting for democracy in Taiwan by helping make this situation more well-known and talked about in the wider world.

I am a photographer based in Bristol, UK. I was living in Kaohsiung, Taiwan during the Sunflower Movement.

To see more of my blogs and photographs head to benedictyoung.wordpress.com or benedictyoung.co.uk