FireEx 10th Anniversary Sunflower Movement: Sam Yang Tells How “Island Sunrise” Became Its Anthem

Felicia Lin
5 min readMar 18, 2024

Ten years ago, on the night of March 18, 2014 students and activists broke into Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan in an effort to block the passage of the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement, a trade agreement between Taiwan and China. The day before, on March 17, the Kuomintang (KMT) had attempted to force through passage of the trade agreement in the Legislative Yuan, without giving it a clause-by-clause review.

The occupation of the Legislative Yuan lasted over 20 days, until April 10th and Fire EX.’s song Island’s Sunrise became the anthem of the movement, which came to known as the Sunflower Movement.

To commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Sunflower Movement, I sat down and spoke with Sam Yang, the lead singer of the band Fire EX. about how the opportunity to write the song Island’s Sunrise came about. As it turns out there’s a New York connection to the story and an exhibit and event to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the Sunflower Movement be taking place in New York on March 15 and running until April 15. Sam and I also spoke about where he gets his musical inspiration and how the band nearly broke up in 2015, the same year that Island’s Sunrise was named Song of the Year at the Golden Melody Awards.

[LISTEN to the Complete Episode HERE on APPLE PODCASTS or SPOTIFY]

Fire EX. now has its own music production company and since 2017 they have been organizing something called Fireball Fest. The band is now on a North American tour and most notably will be performing at this year’s South by Southwest in Austin Texas. We’ll share their tour dates below.

This interview was a real treat for me because I happened to be in Taiwan in 2014 when the Sunflower Movement happened. I remember all of the events that unfolded and being so moved when I heard the song Island’s Sunrise. Special thanks to Katie Wei for her translation and May Wu for her help in making this interview possible. Katie Wei is a singer-songwriter who writes music to inspire and heal herself and others; she describes her music as pop style with soulful infusion, and can be found on Instagram @creativesoulkw

Here’s a little preview of what we talked about in this podcast episode:

  • How Sam got interested in music
  • How Fire EX. got started and where its name comes from
  • Fire EX.’s musical influences
  • Sam’s path to becoming a full-time musician
  • Sam’s advice for young aspiring musicians
  • How the opportunity for Fire EX. to write a song for the Sunflower Movement happened
  • The New York connection to the story of how Fire EX. was asked to write a song for the Sunflower Movement
  • How there will be a month-long exhibit in New York to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the Sunflower Movement from March 15-April 15 at the Tenri Cultural Institute in New York City
  • March 18, 2014 the night students and activists broke into and occupied the Legislative Yuan
  • The March 23, 2014 attempt to occupy the Executive Yuan
  • The rallies that happened worldwide on March 30, 2014 in support of the students and activists’ actions to block the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement
  • How students who occupied the Legislative Yuan often listened to Fire EX.’s song Good Night Formosa before falling asleep
  • Why students of the Taipei National University of the Arts approached Sam to writ a song for the Sunflower Movement
  • Sam’s approach to writing the song Island’s Sunrise
  • How Sam decides to write songs in Holo Taiwanese or Mandarin Chinese
  • Sam’s thoughts on the differences and challenges of the twenty-somethings who were involved in the Sunflower Movement vs. the twenty-somethings who just voted in Taiwan’s recent election (January 13, 2024)
  • How Sam’s sense of social activism was influenced by his roommate Wu Zhining (吳志寧) whose father Wu Sheng (吳晟) is a famous Taiwanese poet
  • How Fire EX. almost broke up in 2015
  • The Fireball Festival
  • How Fire EX. will be touring in North American in March and performing at South by Southwest in Austin, TX
  • One of the most touching things that Sam has heard from one of the band’s fans
  • What we can expect from Fire EX. in the future, a concert in Taipei on June 15 and Fireball Festival at the end of November

Related Links:

Sunflower Movement: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunflower_Student_Movement

Legislative Yuan: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legislative_Yuan

Democracy at 4am: https://4am.tw/

Fire EX. North American Tour Dates:

Fire EX. on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/artist/7qBIgabdHdcr6NLujDxWAU?si=78Nxug5rSG-ZMcCQCduEPA

Fire EX. website: https://www.fireex.com.tw/20th/

Fire EX. YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/@FireEX.

Fire EX. on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FireEX

Island’s Sunrise: https://youtu.be/iV8JDbtXZm4?si=NoqVQRvUVD4ETocF

Goodnight Formosa: https://youtu.be/MaJYdrJP3uw?si=Y1jMP1vxY32Q8eYi

Sunflower Movement 10th Anniversary (March 15-April 15, 2024)

People’s Movement — Taiwan Sunflower, Hong Kong Umbrella, Ukraine Maiden, Chilean Winter, and Arab Spring

At Tenri Cultural Institute: 43A W. 13th St, New York, NY 10011

Eric Chang on the Occupation of the Executive Yuan During the Sunflower Movement Ep 121

LISTEN to Episode 278: FireEx 10th Anniversary Sunflower Movement: Sam Yang Tells How “Island Sunrise” Became Its Anthem HERE

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iHeartRADIO: Click HERE to ListenReliving the Sunflower Movement from Ground Zero: Jiho Chang Tells the Inside Story Ep 174

Eric Chang: On the Unfolding Situation at the Legislative Yuan during the Sunflower Movement Ep 231

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Felicia Lin

Felicia Lin is the producer and host of Talking Taiwan, the longest running Taiwan-related podcast, and Golden Crane Podcast Award Winner.