Taiwanese student sit-in for democratic reform (Wild Lily Movement) 1990

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Time Period:  
March 16
March 22
Location and Goals
Location City/State/Province: 
Memorial Park, Taipei
1. Dissolve the National Assembly

2. Abolish the “Temporary Provisions Effective during the Period of the Communist Rebellion” (emergency legislation passed in 1948 that restricted many of the freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution and enacting martial law)

3. Hold a national conference to discuss constitutional changes

4. Set a timetable for political and economic reform


Following Chiang Ching-kuo’s death in 1988, Lee Teng-hui continued to implement reforms. He promoted Taiwanese nationalism, and also worked to suspend the Taiwan Provincial Government, among other actions. Nonetheless, Lee Teng-hui’s actions proved to not be enough for the Taiwanese people. Frustrated with the outdated National Assembly and its members’ attempts to gain more power and influence, Taiwanese university students began to demonstrate on 16 March 1990.

The first protesters were students from National Taiwan University or Taita. Their first action was a sit down in the center of Taipei, in front of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial, carrying a banner that read, “Countrymen, how can we tolerate the oppression of 700 emperors?” referring to the 700 members of the National Assembly. Soon after, students from across Taiwan traveled to Taipei to join the protest. Four days into the sit-in, the protesters numbered in the thousands. In order to ensure the peaceful nature of their demonstration, seven students formed a coordination center. They then released a statement to President Lee Teng-hui, asking for the dissolution of the National Assembly, the abolition of the “Temporary Provisions Effective during the Period of the Communist Rebellion,” the holding of a “national conference to discuss constitutional changes,” and the setting of a timetable for political and economic changes.

The students were not the only group interested in reform. The opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) also held a large demonstration at Liberty Square on 18 and 19 March 1990. However, the students refused to align with DPP to maintain their political independence throughout their campaign. The students ensured the safety of their fellow demonstrators, standing guard day and night and maintaining order in the square. Their dedication to the cause of democracy motivated a number of professors and thousands of onlookers to join the sit-in. Additionally, a supportive public donated food, drinks, sleeping bags, and money to the group at the square.

Lee Teng-hui’s first response to the demonstration came at 2 a.m. on 19 March. He sent Mao Kao-wen, his Minister of Education, to the square to deliver a letter to the students. In the letter, President Lee promised to continue to reform the Taiwanese political system, and called for the end of the protest and the return of the students to their classrooms. The letter made no reference to the students’ demands, and in response, ten students began a hunger strike on 19 March. The next day, the number of hunger strikers quadrupled to 40 protesters, and by the end of the day on 20 March, 62 students were fasting. Later that day, President Lee announced that the national conference on political reform that the students had requested was scheduled to take place after the upcoming presidential election.

The next day, 21 March, the students built a seven-meter tall sculpture of a wild lily on the square. A symbol of purity and strength, the wild lily became the symbol of the movement. Additionally, two professors from National Taiwan University had been in talks with the Ministry of Education, and on the 21st, they announced that 50 student representatives of the movement would meet with President Lee in his palace. The meeting took place later that same evening, and Lee Teng-hui confirmed the timing of the national conference for May 1990, after his inauguration. He announced the timing of the political and economic changes in his inaugural speech, and he declared that constitutional changes and reelection of the parliament would take place within two years. However, the president did not hold the power to dissolve the National Assembly, but he promised to bring up the issue at the national conference.

On 22 March, the Wild Lily demonstration ended. The student leaders of the movement decided to leave the square, given President Lee’s reply to their demands, and their worry that the protest could turn violent based on the large number (around 10,000) of demonstrators in the square. Moreover, there were reports that pro-KMT students and military advisers had joined the crowd to cause problems.

Though the campaign was short, the Wild Lily movement was incredibly effective. In a mere six days, the students gained the support of thousands of people, the attention of the president, and opened the door to extensive democratic reform in Taiwan. Six years after the protest, Lee Teng-hui was elected president democratically. The dissolution of the National Assembly followed in 2005.

Research Notes

The Wild Lily Movement inspired the Wild Strawberry Movement in 2008 (see: Taiwanese student sit-in for human rights (The Wild Strawberry Movement), 2008) (2)

Beck, Scott. Taiwan’s Quest for Self-Determination and the Language of Resistance: An Analysis of Social Unrest in Taiwan. Undergraduate Research Journal for the Human Sciences. Vol. 9 (2010). <https://web.archive.org/web/20151101175535/http://kon.org/urc/v9/beck.html>.

Huang, Jewel. "TSU proposes changing date of Youth Day to March 21." Taipei Times. N.p., 22 Mar. 2005. Web. 27 Nov. 2011. <https://web.archive.org/web/20151101175606/http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2005/03/22/2003247307>.

International Committee for Human Rights in Taiwan. "'Taipei Spring?'" Taiwan Communique 44 Apr. 1990: 1-11. Print. https://web.archive.org/web/20151101175638/http://www.taiwandc.org/twcom/tc44-int.pdf

Van Kemenade, Willem. "Taiwan, Voting for Trouble?" The Washington Quarterly Spring 2000: 135-151. Print. https://web.archive.org/web/20151101175713/https://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/washington_quarterly/v023/23.2kemenade.pdf

"Wild Lily Student Movement." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation Inc., 26 Nov. 2011. Web. 27 Nov. 2011. <https://web.archive.org/web/20151101175814/https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_Lily_student_movement>.

Additional Notes: 
This action occurred only one year after the June 4 student protests at Tiananmen Square (see: Chinese students campaign for democratic reform (Tiananmen Square), 1989) and contrasts sharply in the way the government responded to the protests.
Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Nancy Liu 27/11/2011, Caroline Dreyfuss 04/10/2015