Activist profiles: Leaders of the Sunflower Movement



TAIPEI — Sunday, March 30 saw the opening of a new chapter in Taiwan’s rich history of student rallies as the Sunflower Student Movement reached what is likely to be its peak.

Official figures from police say that 116,000 people attended the rally that packed streets leading from the Presidential Office, while organizers claimed that as many as half a million people showed up.

Regardless of the numbers, Sunday’s events have certainly shown how student leaders Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆) and Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷) have captured the hearts and minds of not only the nation’s students, but many other members of the public, too.

Lin Fei-fan As reported in the Chinese-language United Daily News, a defining moment came in the afternoon as Lin made his way to the stage to address the awaiting crowd, when a group of middle-aged women broke through to get a glance of the young leader — still only 25 years old.

“We love you!” they shouted, as he weaved through a crowd of reporters, almost like a celebrity. “Run for president!” yelled others.

Lin and the others who have organized the movement that includes the occupation of the nation’s parliament since March 18 are clearly no strangers to the world of civic movements, but until this month, they were little known outside of their circle of activists.

Today, the boy who grew up in the southern city of Tainan has become a full-blown political activist and can be called the face of the Sunflower Student Movement.

In 2008, Lin joined the Wild Strawberries Movement that arose in response to police suppressing the showing of the Republic of China (Taiwan) flag during a groundbreaking visit from China’s top negotiator. He became the convener of a student group aimed at closely monitoring the cross-strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) signed in 2010.

Lin’s name is now familiar to any student or media worker who has been following the protests against the cross-Taiwan Strait trade-in-services agreement at home and abroad.

The celebrity of his now iconic green jacket is matched only by that of his composed disposition and propensity for expressions that tug at the heartstrings of anyone listening.

Words like “peoples’ hero” and “charismatic” have been attached to the young man, a graduate student at National Taiwan University, and he has been characterized as the more level-headed of the two outspoken student leaders of the movement also being called the 318 Student Movement.

His willingness to speak to the media regularly has resulted in more media attention on Lin, whose father is a devoted supporter of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and a campaigner for Taiwanese independence, than on his partner and fellow activist Chen Wei ting.

Lin is now certainly the better-known of the two — but this wasn’t always the case.