The spatial dimensions of Taiwan’s Sunflower and Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movements

Key information

3:30 PM to 5:00 PM
Virtual Event

About this event

Speaker: Leon N. Kunz

This session will be held using Microsoft Teams. Click the LINK to join.


In 2014 large-scale protests for democracy broke out in the periphery of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Taiwan’s “Sunflower Movement” emerged in March 2014 to block the ratification of a trade deal with the PRC. Protesters occupied the main chamber of Taiwan’s parliament for 24 days in a bid to “defend democracy”. In September of the same year, participants in the “Umbrella Movement” occupied streets in Hong Kong for 79 days to pursue “genuine” universal suffrage. While both movements had in common that they involved the maintenance of occupation zones to pressure the authorities, each of them created very different spatial arrangements. The occupation in Taiwan was cut into two parts: there was a vanguard of occupiers nested in the main chamber of parliament that was sealed off from the supporting encampments outside the building by a police cordon. Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement, by contrast, developed a more decentralized structure. It involved sustained street occupations in three main districts that each developed distinct characteristics. Instead of repurposing the main chamber of the legislature into the headquarter of a democratic movement, protesters in Hong Kong created a “main stage” in the Admiralty occupation zone that served as the symbolic center from which leadership figures spoke for the movement. What can this comparison teach us about the role of spatial order and imagination in social movements? Based on in-depth interviews with activists, primary documents, and secondary sources, this talk argues that both movements created real and imaginary spatial configurations that became the subject of factional contestation over movement strategy. The spatial experience of the two movements points to deeper shifts in in organizational culture in social movements in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and beyond.

Speaker's Bio

Leon N. Kunz received his PhD in Politics and International Studies from SOAS University of London. His thesis explored how participants in Taiwan’s Sunflower and Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement conceived and practiced democracy in order to reflect on broader questions of strategy, prefiguration, and deliberation. Leon’s wider research interests include comparative political theory, social movements, democratization, the politics of memory, and East Asian international relations.

Organiser: Centre of Taiwan Studies

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