On the ground in the Taiwan Sunflower and Hong Kong Umbrella Movements

Presented by ANU College of Asia & the Pacific

In 2014, the Sunflower Movement started as a youth-led protest against the near-passage of a trade deal between Taiwan and China. This sparked a 24-day occupation of Taiwan's parliament and the biggest pro-democracy protest rally in the island's history. The movement reset discussion about the island's political and social trajectory, precipitated the electoral defeat of the ruling party, prompted the creation of a new political party that won several legislative seats, and revitalized Taiwan's civil society.

Like the Sunflower Movement, Hong Kong's 2014 Umbrella Movement was propelled by seasoned youth activists, accelerated in unpredictable ways, and received a name not of its participants' own choosing. Unlike the Sunflower Movement, it began as a protest not against an opaque trade deal, but against Beijing's deferral of democratic elections for the region. Yet it ended without any concrete policy achievements, although it did consolidate a new generation of activists.

Based on first-hand participant-observation, this talk will compare and contrast the emergence and outcomes of both of these protests, the largest episodes of political contention in the histories of each polity. It will also explore their spatial and communicative tactics. Rather than provide a simple verdict on the two movements, it will explore how activists and state officials have themselves socially constructed notions of "success" and "failure" for these complex and unfinished struggles.

About the speaker

Ian Rowen is Assistant Professor of Sociology and an inaugural faculty member in the program in Geography and Urban Planning at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. A Fulbright Scholar (2013-14), he has written about geopolitics, social movements, and tourism for publications including Annals of the American Association of Geographers, The Journal of Asian Studies, Annals of Tourism Research, International Journal of Transitional Justice, Asian Anthropology, Journal of Archaeology and Anthropology, BBC, and The Guardian, and has been frequently quoted by The New York Times and Financial Times. Before earning a PhD in Geography from the University of Colorado, Boulder, he worked as a journalist, translator, and tour guide in China, Taiwan, and elsewhere.

Before the seminar

All attendees are invited to join us in the CIW Tea House from 3.30pm for an informal discussion with the guest speaker before the seminar.

The ANU China Seminar Series is supported by the China Institute and the Australian Centre on China in the World at The Australian National University's College of Asia & the Pacific.