Petals of Peace and Protest: #Day 4

Inspired by the Flower of Srebrenica, this six-day special series on the anniversary of the Srebrenica Massacre (11 – 22 July, 1995) looks at six floral iconographies that have come to define war, revolution and resistance. Today we look at the pro-democracy movement in Taiwan that named itself after the wild lily.

Taiwan’s Wild Lily Movement

The Formosa lily or the Taiwanese lily, as is widely known, is a lily native to Taiwan found pretty much everywhere on the island from its mountains to its coast. Known to endure harsh conditions, it is a traditional metaphor for simplicity, grace and resilience in Taiwanese literature and art. It is also an indispensible part of its aboriginal culture where it is used as an item of decorative headwear, signifying the indomitably free nativist spirit. For example in the chieftain system of Rukai, an indigenous tribe of Taiwan, the Formosa/ wild lily is a symbol of honour, achievements of men and ideal of female perfection. This sturdy and pristinely white flower has, therefore, quite naturally lent its name to the largest student-led pro-democracy movement in Taiwanese history.

Formosa lily. Courtesy : Wikimedia Commons

The Kuomingtang (KMT) or Chinese Nationalist Party, after its retreat to Taiwan, declared martial law and governed it as the only political party, restricting freedom of speech, press and assembly. On March 16, 1990, nine students from National Taiwan University (NTU) held a sit-in protest at the Chiang Kai-Shek (CKS) Memorial Hall demanding democratic reforms. They were soon joined by other students, civil society members and citizens taking the number of protestors from nine to more than twenty two thousand. Four main demands were placed — to abolish the existing National Assembly and re-establish a new infrastructure based on democratic ideals; to nullify the Temporary Provisions against the Communist Rebellion; to host a National Affairs Conference; and to establish a timetable for their plans to reform. The protest ended six days later when President Lee Teng-hui accepted the demands of the students and promised political reform, which came into place the following year. The protestors had also constructed a giant replica of the wild lily to embody the spirit of the movement. It was a spring of freedom and democracy ushered in by the young protestors whose purity and zeal were aptly captured by the bright pristine white lilies. For a movement that was spontaneous, autonomous, homegrown and grassroot, there was indeed no better symbol than the big blossom endemic to the nation.

Replica of the wild lily constructed at Liberty Square during the 1990 movement. In the backdrop is the Chiang Kai-Shek (CKS) Memorial Hall. Source: Taipei Times news/feat/archives.

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