This is the age of the "sixties babies." These days many in the media are paying close attention to the leading representatives of this generation, which is succeeding the baby boomers who were born in the 1950s.
The book The Student Movement Generation is the work of a veteran writer who is himself a sixties baby. It is a series of reports and interviews with people of the same generation, gathering together their common experiences and collective memories.
Presidential secretary Ma Yong-cheng; Fan Yuan, an associate researcher in the Institute of Sociology at the Academia Sinica; Chen Cheng-jan, the top man at www.yam. com.tw; legislators Julian Kuo, Tuan Yi-kang, and Lo Wen-jia. . . . These are all important members of the "student movement generation." Their accomplishments have been widely noted, and the spirit in which they struggled to achieve their ideals in those days makes one nostalgic.
In March of 1990, nearly 6000 university students from all over Taiwan staged a continuous six-day sit-in at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, or, as they habitually called it, the "Temple to Chiang Kai-shek." They made four main demands: disbandment of the National Assembly, elimination of the Temporary Provisions to the Constitution, convening of a National Affairs Conference, and creation of a timetable for political and economic reform. It was the largest student protest since the ROC government retreated to Taiwan in 1949, and is known to history as the "March student movement" or the "wild lily student movement."
Ho Jung-hsing, the author of The Student Movement Generation, was a participant in the March student movement. Eschewing a theoretical or historical approach, Ho takes the individual as the starting point. The book contains exclusive, in-depth, objective interviews with 42 participants, tracing their life histories.
At the end of the 1980s, Taiwan society was going through a dramatic transformation: the end of martial law, the lifting of restrictions on the press and on the formation of political parties, rising dynamism in civil society.... Everywhere in Taiwan there was sweeping disaffection with the status quo. This turbulent tide naturally washed over campuses as well.
"We all read Marx, and were really fascinated by leftism. It was the fad, just like young people today going to Internet cafes," explains Ku Yuling, who at that time was a senior majoring in English at Fu Jen Catholic University and was elected an inter-school delegate in the student movement. Ku, who is now secretary-general of the Taiwan Association for Victims of Occupational Injuries (TAVOI), concludes: "It was the times that shaped the student movement, not the student movement that influenced the times." Reflecting on the current status of former "wild lilies" in society today with a cool, distanced eye, she also avers: "Those people [from the student movement] never had to pay any price, and they acquired power too quickly and easily."
Kuo Wen-pin, who for many years served as an assistant to DPP elder statesman Shih Ming-teh and is now a consultant in the Office of the President, admits: "Coming to power was so unexpected, we were completely unprepared. After the 'party of evil' [the Kuomintang] was toppled, how could the fighters for justice and the holy warriors have done so badly?" "What battle is there to fight next? We already have social welfare for the elderly and for children," adds Kuo, who retains idealism for the future but cannot help but feel a loss of direction.
In fact, compared to the "Kaohsiung Incident generation" of political activists (so known because so many were arrested after the 1979 Kaohsiung incident) in the era of oppressive authoritarian rule, who displayed a spirit of tragic heroism, lifetime dedication to ideals, and willingness to sacrifice their lives, "the people of the student movement era didn't necessarily have any great character," says Liu Yi-te, who was a leader of the student movement on the campus of National Taiwan University back in the early 1990s. Instead, as Kuo Wen-pin acknowledges, "The main role of our group was substantive."
Lin Chia-lung, who is now an advisory member of the National Security Council responsible for cross-strait and foreign policies, could be considered one of "the core leaders within the core leadership" of the student movement at that time. Thoroughly versed in the ideas of Weber and Marx, Lin says that every generation has its challenges, and the methods of struggle will naturally differ depending upon the larger environment. In the martial law era, under highly oppressive rule, it was necessary to adopt relatively strident methods to make one's point. But after the lifting of martial law, there was much greater freedom of expression and it became easier for a diversity of voices to make themselves heard. Thus the opposition movement was transformed, giving up street tactics and turning to a combination of organization and substantive governance.
Lin notes that each era has its needs and circumstances, so it is wrong to compare the Kaohsiung incident and student movement generations dialectically, painting the former as idealistic and courageous, and the latter as unprincipled and willing to "join the system."
It is a result of fate and opportunity that the student movement veterans have been able to play important roles in various fields so as to win plaudits from observers. Taking this historical situation into account, Lin, who in his style of speaking retains the earnestness of the intellectual, hopes that student activists will "be more humble, reflect more deeply on their own attitudes, and make strict demands of themselves."
At the time of the March student movement, Chen Feng-wei spent all night on the train from Kaohsiung in order to join the sit-in. Chen, who later founded the South Newsletter and is director of www.url.com.tw, is one of the few student movement participants who have stayed in southern Taiwan and remained active in community and social movements. For him, participating in the student movement was valuable not only in political terms. Chen tells young people that they can gain a lot by joining a movement: organizational and communication skills, character development, cultivation of a broad world view and philosophy of life, and approaches by which to channel their concern for the community and for Taiwan.
The Taiwan wild lily grows everywhere, from sea level to mountain peaks of over 3000 meters. The wild lily is a symbol of vitality, of purity, of nobility, of autonomy, and of attachment to the land. The wild lilies of youth have perhaps entered the "harvest" stage, but the spirit of the wild lily has not been forgotten. l
The Student Movement Generation: Ten Turbulent Years
Author: Ho Jung-hsing
Publisher: China Times
Date: October 2001