Lessons from the Sunflower Movement


By Daniel J. Bauer

I don’t believe I have ever written three times within four weeks in this space on the same topic. I hope that after today I can toss my political hat back into the closet and cover my balding pate with something more fun to wear. For today, however, there seems to be no way to avoid the question: what have we learned from these recent, difficult days? Surely we have learned that Taiwan’s society remains a decidedly divided society. The gulf between the views of the Sunflower protestors, for example, and those of the president and, apparently, most of his party and a certain segment of the public, could hardly be wider than it is today. As in the long days of the street movement against Chen Shui-bian some years ago, we have seen members of the same family fiercely split in their opinions. We’ve seen friendships rattled and entire generations shoving against one another, different sides absolutely convinced they are right and their “opponents” are wrong.

I know students who for years have affectionately called each other classmates and pals who are now unable to smile at one another (for the time being, at least) and exchange a civil “hello.” Colleagues are not overly eager to share their take on questions related to punishment, prosecution or amnesty for students guilty of behavior that was technically illegal, the destruction of property and so forth. Our current days thus teach us that we are a people badly in need of healing. This is not to say that the proposed pact between the two sides of the strait was or is wrong in all ways or that the Sunflowers are useless weeds that never should have sprouted. Democracy in Taiwan is stronger today because of what these young people and their supporters have done. The events of the past three weeks have also reminded us of the Latin term “ad hominem.” English language uses this expression, of course, to describe a form of rhetoric that leaves issues aside and attacks a perceived enemy in a personal way. When critics of the Sunflower students ridiculed the way one of its leaders dressed, or when some of the protestors threw ugly names at public officials, we saw pure “ad hominem” attacks. This type of ridiculousness is never productive and always destructive. “Ad hominem” here lately should have taught us that it is counter-productive to go after people with whom we disagree through personal negativism. Assaulting others with nasty words rather than arguing issues, and jeering at social position or sartorial preference is, to say the least, unhelpful in human relations.