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Would Confucius Support the Sunflower Movement in Taiwan?

Opinions are divided in Taiwan following the end of #CongressOccupied protests against a secretly negotiated trade deal with China. Members of the movement left the country's legislature on April 10, 2014 after occupying the building for more than three weeks.

Protesters conceded after the speaker of the Legislative Yuan, as the Taiwanese Congress is called, promised to pass legislation monitoring future agreements proposed by the executive branch before deliberating on the current Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement (CSSTA). Some had worried the deal would make Taiwan vulnerable to political pressure from Beijing.

While members of the Sunflower Movement, as the protests were dubbed, exited the building, protesters from the Free Taiwan Alliance and the Alliance for a Referendum on Taiwan decided to continue their public gathering outside the legislature. However, they were forcibly removed from the scene by police on April 11 at 7 a.m.

In response, 2,000 protesters demonstrated outside the police station. The next day, supporters of the police also organized a gathering criticizing the protesters for disturbing public order.

Online, some have questioned protesters’ voluntary exit from the Legislative Yuan, while others believe the protest against police has shifted the attention away from the trade agreement to police violence.

Many pro-government and pro-police comments have emerged. There are quite a number of debates concerning who is to blame for the aggression against protesters.

Lidance looked into the two different positions that the Taiwanese generally take on the Sunflower Movement in a blog post:

學生控制立院議場後,網路上立刻出現「挺學運方」(以下簡稱A)與「挺政府方」(以下簡稱B)的大規模混戰。
我認為A的倫理思考是「批判式」的,B則有很濃的「直覺」傾向。
A方,也就是挺學運方,當他們看到衝突暴力的場面,思考的並不是暴力的表面道德價值,而是暴力的意義:「為什麼他們要採用暴力?」
B方,即挺府院方,當他們看到暴力場面,會運用道德直覺給予評價,包括否定學生暴力與肯定警方的國家暴力。

After the students occupied the legislature, we could see the furious debate on the Internet between the pro-protester side (A) and the pro-government side (B).

I think the A side is more “analytic” in their thinking and the B side tends to be more “intuitive”.

When the pro-protester A side witnessed violence, instead of making a direct moral judgment of the violence, they reflected on its purpose and ask, “Why do they use violence?”

When the pro-government B side witnessed violence, they evaluated it based on their moral intuition, and they opposed the students’ violence and accepted the police and the government’s violence.

Political Satire of the super-peaceful protester by Nydia Chen and reposted by Med Front. CC BY-NC 2.0

Political satire of a peaceful protester by Nydia Chen and reposted by Med Front. CC BY-NC 2.0. The Buddha was chained with all the “requirements” of a peaceful protest, including: lawful, rational, no disruption, no demand, no social cost and etc.

Some believe the pro-government opinions are rooted in Confucianism, an ideology that has great impact on Chinese society. In Taiwan, there is an ongoing discussion on on whether Confucianism can get along with democracy.

Wang Li believed that pro-government and pro-stability opinions are rooted in Confucianism in his blog:

就從這次太陽花學運作為標準,讀者可以從自我身邊看到很多例子,足以佐證這個被儒家思想控制的結構存在。
他們之所以反對學運,是因為既有的秩序被破壞…他們反對的是階級的上下關係被打破,學生本分就是聽大人的話念書,好好的磨練十年爬上來,怎麼現在突然爆紅成了領袖。他們真正反對的是,這個穩定的結構不可以被破壞。

什麼結構?子女要對父母跪拜、學生要對老師問安、人民要對官員的決策信服。所以學生反抗是錯的,因為晚輩不可以指導長輩,也不能沒有禮貌。

If we look at people’s reactions toward the Sunflower Movement, you can observe a lot of examples that prove the psychological structure of our political society is rooted in Confucianism.

They oppose the student movement because it disrupts the social order… What they oppose is the disruption of the relationship between the dominate classes and the subordinate classes. Say, the students should listen to the adults and study hard, then they will have their chance to climb up the social ladder after ten years. How come these students became so popular and became leaders of society overnight? What they really object to is a disruption of societal stability.

What is the stable social structure that they have in mind? In such a society, children should bow to their parents, students should pay respect to their teachers, and people should obey the government. As a result, the students’ resistance must be wrong. The young should not teach the old what to do, and the young cannot be impolite.

Wang continued: 

結果呢?憲政問題不重要,但學生不讀書超重要。執政黨執政無方幾年沒關係,反對黨打架抗議三天就不可以。產業政策失敗沒差,學生不可以阻擋更差的政策上桌就是。工商大老自己營運無方也無所謂,反正開除的都是基層員工跟中階幹部。

The result? These people think that the violation of the constitution is not a big problem, but if the students skip their classes, that is a big issue. The ruling party’s failure to lead the country for years is not a problem, but the opposition party fighting back and protests that last for a few days are unacceptable. The failure of industrial policy is not a problem, but the students’ objection to the policy is a big problem. [According to their logic], the incapable bosses do not need to leave, but the workers and middle ranking staffs should leave.

On the other hand, some argued that even Confucius himself might rethink the CSSTA and protest against it. Lidance quoted the words of Confucian Chinese philosopher Mencius:

孟子見梁惠王。王曰:「叟不遠千里而來,亦將有以利吾國乎?」
孟子對曰:「王何必曰利?亦有仁義而已矣。王曰『何以利吾國』?大夫曰『何以利吾家』?士庶人曰『何以利吾身』?上下交征利,而國危矣。萬乘之國,弒其君者,必千乘之家;千乘之國,弒其君者,必百乘之家。萬取千焉,千取百焉,不為不多矣。苟為後義而先利,不奪不饜。未有仁而遺其親者也,未有義而後其君者也。王亦曰仁義而已矣,何必曰利?」
學生也知道自由貿易是不可逆的大勢,但更重要的是社群內部的利益分配與人際關係維持。有錢,但是家破人亡,好嗎?你賺到很多錢,但原本台灣的社會關係崩解了,好嗎?

“When Mencius met King Hui of Liang, the king asked him, ‘Since you have traveled a long way to see me, do you have some suggestions to profit my country?’ Mencius said, ‘Why does your highness ask me about profit? Benevolence and justice are more important. If your highness asks about what to do to profit your country, your courtiers would ask what to do to profit their families, and the common people would ask what to do to profit themselves. If everyone focuses on profiting themselves, this country is in a dangerous situation. On a large scale, if what everyone thinks about is profiting himself instead of justice, a courtier who owns 1,000 chariots would kill his king who owns 10,000 chariots, and a courtier who owns 100 chariots would kill his king who owns 1,000 chariots.

It is simple mathematics. People would not stop grabbing others’ belongings until they were satisfied with what they have. On the other hand, a man who is benevolent would never leave his family behind, and a man who believes in justice would never kill his king. Your highness should ask about benevolence and justice instead of profit.”

These students understand that free trade is an unstoppable trend, but it is more important to benefit everyone in our society and keep relationships. If we have money but lose our family and friends, is it a good choice? If we earn a lot of money but lose societal relations in Taiwan, is it a good choice?

Mr. Hsieh, a high school teacher, also quoted Confucius to show that the philosopher would have condemned the injustice in his blog:

「季氏富於周公,而求也為之聚斂而附益之。子曰:「非吾徒也。小子鳴鼓而攻之,可也。」

“Mr. Chi is already wealthier than the Duke of Zhou, but Jan Chiu is still helping him get more money. Confucius said, ‘He [Jan Chiu] is not my student any more, you should beat a drum to condemn him.’”

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