Wed, Jun 07, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Tiananmen movement’s impact on Taiwan

By Lin Thung-hong 林宗弘

It has been 28 years since the Tiananmen Square Massacre on June 4, 1989, which has become known as a critical event in the third wave of democratization. Although the massacre that followed the protest was a major historic setback for democracy, the movement had an immense impact on Eastern Europe, as well as Taiwan, which was going through political transformation at the time.

Taiwanese reformers have been deeply inspired by the Tiananmen movement. Those who sacrificed their lives have influenced Taiwanese democracy and human rights development in complex ways. Their contributions should be remembered and pondered upon.

In the past 30 years, the contrast between Taiwan’s democracy and China’s authoritarianism has become increasingly apparent. On May 24, the Council of Grand Justices ruled that a ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, as it contravenes the rights to equality protected by the Constitution. The council concluded that the Civil Code must be revised within two years, or same-sex marriage would be automatically legalized. As a result, Taiwan is set to become the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage.

Many reports have described the ruling as the result of the life-long contribution of a few lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights advocates. However, the effort of a few people would not have been enough to make this happen. It was the fruit of a series of efforts throughout the nation’s history by Taiwanese who have worked hard to improve freedom of speech, democracy, public interests and gender equality. It was never just one person’s revolution.

The issue of legalizing same-sex marriage has inadvertently proved Taiwan’s sovereignty, as democracy and human rights are deeply valued in the nation. As Taiwanese celebrate their progress in human rights at this historic moment, Beijing and foreign media outlets found themselves in an awkward situation. While foreign media outlets do not know whether they should call Taiwan a country, a self-ruled island or a region, the spokesperson for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) was unable to provide an answer when asked whether Beijing would accept same-sex marriage between Chinese and Taiwanese nationals following the ruling.

Before the Dragon Boat Festival long weekend, the TAO announced that Taiwanese democracy advocate Lee Ming-che (李明哲) had been arrested for “subversion of state power” in China. Meanwhile, at an event for Taiwanese businesses, the TAO announced that from the end of this year, Taiwanese would be able to enjoy almost the same benefits as Chinese citizens in China. At the same time, a social search app for homosexual women — Rela, with about 5 million users — was shut down and dozens of human rights activists have disappeared after taking part in events to mark the Tiananmen Square Massacre or to promote LGBT rights.

In the past 10 years, when China’s economy was rapidly growing, several Taiwanese and international academics have praised the nation for its firm hand and distinctively “Chinese” approach, in turn preventing people from seeing the significance of the Tiananmen movement. However, China’s recent history has proved that, without democracy, economic progress alone is unable to bring progress in human rights.

Indeed, it is impossible for any one person to carry out a reform single-handedly. And it is clear that authoritarianism secures itself by killing dissidents to create fear. Considering that, who in Taiwan would still want to be treated like a Chinese citizen in China?

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