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Why Do the Taiwanese Need to Remember the Tiananmen Massacre?

Written by Sophie Hsu On 8 June 2014 @ 14:47 pm | 1 Comment

In China, East Asia, English, History, Human Rights, Politics, Taiwan (ROC), Weblog

Hong Kong may have taken the lead in observing the Anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre [1], but other Chinese speaking communities, such as the people of Taiwan, also organize annual candlelight vigils in memory of the incident.

In 1989, thousands of Taiwanese had rallied in support of of the student-led protests that took place in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, protests that were forcibly suppressed by the authorities through a military crackdown that resulted in [2] a large number of student and other civil casualties.This year too, hundreds of Taiwanese attended the candle night vigil [3] at the Liberty Square in Taipei to mark the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre.

The backdrop of the candle-light vigil shows two tanks in front of the Gate of Tiananmen. The slogan said, "Passing-by Tiananmen, Everyone can be the Tankman". Photo from event organizer. [4]

The backdrop of the candle-light vigil shows two tanks in front of the Gate of Tiananmen. The slogan said, “Passing-by Tiananmen, Everyone can be the Tankman”. Photo from event organizer.

This year, the theme of the vigil was ‘Passing-by Tiananmen'. The huge backdrop showing the tanks entering the Tiananmen Square highlighted the message that people would be able to stop the tanks, which represent the authoritarian rule in China. The organizers of the event, Taiwan Association for China Human Rights, Taiwan Students for the Advancement of Democratization in China and the New School for Democracy explained in their event statement [zh] why it is important for the Taiwanese society to remember the Tiananmen Massacre:

馬政府上台後積極推動兩岸經濟統合,逐漸走向政治談判,使台灣與中國關係日益密切。台灣人可以摀住耳朵,幻想不統、不獨、不武的維持現狀,但很難扭轉政府逐漸向中國靠攏的政策。[...]六四事件並沒有過去,它形塑出現在此時此刻我們所正經歷的「中國因素」。因此,紀念六四,是對以壓制人權為代價的「中國模式」和「大國崛起」的嚴正抗拒,是對依附在中國黨國體制下的東亞政商權貴聯盟的徹底批判。[...]六四的議題,就在不只是遙遠他國「天朝」的問題,而有著在地的政治意涵。紀念六四,對台灣人,已經不再只是關心中國民主化,也是防止台灣再度極權化。

Taiwan government under President Ma Ying Jeou, has been active in unifying the cross-strait economy and the economic deal has slowly evolved into a political negotiation that tightens the connection between China and Taiwan. Taiwanese people can cover up their ears, imagine that the status quo of no independence, no unification and no military confrontation remains unchanged. But the policy of Taiwan government will continue to strengthen the connection with China.[...] The June 4 incident is not just history. It is the foundation of “China factor” that we are facing today. To remember June 4 is to resist “China model” and “the rise of a strong state” that builds upon the repression of human rights. It is also a critique of the coalition of crony capitalists in East Asia whose wealth and interests are relied upon by the China party-state political system. [...] June 4 is not just an issue of the “Kingdom” which is far away from us. It has local political meaning. To remember June 4, is not only a concern for the democratization of China, but an awareness to prevent the Taiwan government from going backward to authoritarianism.

The statement has been echoed by many human rights activists, such as Yang Hsien-hung, an advocate for China human rights. Yang urged [5] [zh]:

台灣社會如果有一天不再紀念六四,台灣就完了。美國社會如果有一天不再紀念六四,世界就完了。還好,這不是事實,真正的狀況是,不論台灣或美國,紀念六四都已經承傳,新的學運世代,已在台灣生根,他們在台灣發起「路過天安門,人人坦克人」的活動。

If Taiwanese society no longer remembers June 4th, Taiwan [civic society as a whole] would be finished, and same would be for American society. Fortunately, this is not the case now because whether in Taiwan or in the United States, it has become a tradition to commemorate Tiananmen [massacre]. The era of student movements have already taken root in Taiwan, and this time, they launched in Taiwan the activity, “Passing-by Tiananmen, All the People are Tank Man”.

In response to the criticism of his six-year silence on the issue, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou issued a “reflection” this year. Rather than a straight forward condemnation, he described the incident as a tragedy that is a “great historic wound [6] [zh]” but expressed optimism about the development of rule of law and democracy in China. On the other hand, the opposition party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) addressed the current human right situation [7] [zh] in China and condemned the arrest and prosecution of dissidents on the eve of the June 4 anniversary.

Hundreds of people attended the candle-light vigil at liberty square, Taipei. Photo taken and provided by Paul Huang. Used with permission.

Hundreds of people attended the candle-light vigil at Liberty Square, Taipei. Photo taken by Paul Huang. Used with permission.

Despite the effort to connect the human rights condition in China with the concerns of the Taiwanese people, there have been very few discussions online about the incident.

Jeff Huang, who attended the vigil observed lack of emotional attachment [8] [zh] among the Taiwanese, to the historical incident:

臺灣人對於六四只是歷史課本上的必考題,缺乏認同感,想起我之前在香港做的中國人調查,這種國家認同感在香港還是非常強烈,年年六四晚會都有上萬人參與。臺灣關心六四不是來自認同感,而是對民主與自由的堅持,不把民主送給中國,中國會把獨裁送給臺灣。不管地球上哪個角落的人權問題,我們都應該站出來聲援。

In Taiwan, 6/4 is only an examination question in history textbooks, and it lacks a sense of identification. I remember when previously I was in Hong Kong doing research on the Chinese people, this kind of national identification in Hong Kong was extremely strong, and every year, there are tens of thousands that attend 6/4 rallies. The concern of the Taiwanese people towards 6/4 does not originate from identification, but rather from a persistence in (the idea of) democracy and freedom, and they will not willingly give up democracy for China or accept China’s authoritarianism on Taiwan. Regardless of which part of the world it comes from, the ideal of human rights should be a promoted in one voice by all of us.

Lin Feifan, a student leader of the Sunflower Movement [9] (a movement led by a coalition of students and civic groups between March 18 and April 10 2014 to protest against the cross-strait trade pact [10] between mainland China and Taiwan) explained [11] why the Taiwanese youth were apathetic towards June 4th Incident:

台灣人不是對六四無感,而是對『中國』沒有特別的感情,特別是年輕一代,這當然有他的歷史成因。

Taiwanese people are not apathetic towards June 4th commemorations, Rather, they have no particular feelings on ‘China', especially the youth and this could be a result caused by history.

 However, for the attendance at the candle-light vigil, it is obvious that many in Taiwan are not indifferent – rather they feel the need to remember history both for championing human rights in general as well as ensure that Taiwan upholds it's democratic values and does not go ‘the China way'.


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URL to article: http://globalvoicesonline.org/2014/06/08/why-do-the-taiwanese-need-to-remember-the-tiananmen-massacre/

URLs in this post:

[1] Tiananmen Square Massacre: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiananmen_Square_protests_of_1989

[2] resulted in: http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/june/4/newsid_2496000/2496277.stm

[3] attended the candle night vigil: http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/front/archives/2014/06/05/2003592020

[4] Image: https://www.facebook.com/events/1387017301540388/?fref=ts

[5] urged: https://tw.news.yahoo.com/blogs/society-watch/%E6%B0%91%E9%81%8B%E5%8F%8D%E6%94%BB%E7%9A%84%E6%A9%9F%E9%81%87-%E9%9B%86%E9%AB%94%E5%9B%9E%E6%95%85%E9%84%89-%E9%87%8D%E8%BF%94%E5%A4%A9%E5%AE%89%E9%96%80-065428863.html

[6] great historic wound: http://sinosphere.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/06/03/live-blogging-the-25-tiananmen-square-anniversary/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

[7] addressed the current human right situation: http://www.dpp.org.tw/news_content.php?&sn=7158

[8] observed lack of emotional attachment: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=884186468261857&set=p.884186468261857&type=1

[9] Sunflower Movement: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunflower_Student_Movement

[10] cross-strait trade pact: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cross-Strait_Service_Trade_Agreement

[11] explained: http://www.stormmediagroup.com/opencms/news/detail/1c546d62-eb9b-11e3-aa1f-ef2804cba5a1/?uuid=1c546d62-eb9b-11e3-aa1f-ef2804cba5a1

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