SOAS University of London

Centre of Taiwan Studies

Institutionalization Foretold: Re-examining Sunflower Discourse

Dr Martin Boyle

Date: 4 February 2020Time: 7:00 PM

Finishes: 4 February 2020Time: 9:00 PM

Venue: Brunei Gallery Room: B103

Type of Event: Talk


Research on the effects of Taiwan’s Sunflower Movement indicates, first, partial implementation of a heterogeneous matrix of progressive political demands driven by youth economic discontent, Taiwanese identity and democratization in the context of the China Factor; second, success in forcing major change in government policy where previous social movements had failed and, third, a rapid post-protest shift from activism to institutionalization. The existing research, however, does not satisfactorily explain why such rapid policy change and institutionalization occurred in the first place. To do this, we must bring in the ROC state and its invocation in Sunflower discourse.

Through a close linguistics-driven analysis of one discourse fragment – the Sunflowers’ 7 April 2014 press statement – this study argues that the Sunflower leaders provisionally resolved a diverse range of cross-cutting demands through the strategic rhetorical manipulation of competing demands. This produced a policy statement that presented an ideal image of what a Taiwanized and democratic ROC ought to look like and who had the right to represent it to China and the world. This policy statement demolished the KMT’s claim to be legitimate agents of the ROC and presented the Sunflowers as more legitimate agents instead. That is, rather than seeking to overthrow the ROC, the Sunflowers were driven by and appropriated the ROC’s power. In so doing, the Sunflowers legitimized the ROC, achieved buy-in from wider Taiwanese society and prompted a limited progressive left turn (and counter-turn) in domestic politics during the 2016-20 DPP administration. This, however, did not break the Blue-Green nationalist spectrum or turn the DPP into a European-style social democratic party. Nor did it violate the cross-Strait status quo. A re-examination of the 7 April statement foretells subsequent KMT collapse, post-Sunflower institutionalization and Taipei’s articulation of what Taiwan is in 2020.

Speaker Biography


Martin Boyle received his PhD in International Relations from the University of Kent in 2019 with a thesis on Taiwan’s state identity. His professional background is in English language teaching; in this capacity, he has taught and examined international students for the British Council and at a number of universities in the UK and overseas and has published on English for Academic Purposes, Second Language Acquisition and acculturation among international scholars. His initial interest in Taiwan’s politics was sparked by teaching at CETRA (now TAITRA) in Hsinchu in the early 1990s. He was an Erasmus Mundus visiting scholar at Peking University in 2010 and received the 2015 EATS library scholarship, which he used to conduct research at Leiden University. Martin’s research explores the interface between applied-linguistics methods and political discourse and critically interrogates a range of realist and constructivist approaches to International Relations. His chapter, Huadu: A Realist-Constructivist Account of Taiwan’s Anomalous Status, is forthcoming in Samuel Barkin’s The Social Construction of State Power: Applying Realist Constructivism (2020).

* All SOAS Centre of Taiwan Studies are free and open to all to attend. We suggest you arrive a few minutes early at the venue to secure your seat.

Organiser: SOAS Centre of Taiwan Studies

Contact email: