This week marks the 30th anniversary of the June 4, 1989, suppression of the democracy movement in Beijing. In Taiwan, Chinese Television System planned to premiere its documentary 1989: Restless Ideals (1989躁動的理想) at the art house cinema of Eslite bookstore’s Songyan store in Taipei, but Eslite canceled the booking on the pretext that the cinema only shows films with artistic and cultural themes, not those involving direct marketing, religious preaching or political activities.
Meanwhile, Public Television Service chose Friday last week to broadcast the French-made documentary Operation Yellow Bird, the inside story of a little-known operation after the June 4 crackdown to rescue people wanted in China for their involvement in the democracy movement.
Looking at the fate of the two documentaries, people are surprised at the attitude of Eslite, which used to be called the “pride of Taiwan.”
Could it be that just because Eslite has set up shop in China, it has forgotten Taiwan’s value as the only ethnic Chinese liberal democracy?
If Eslite’s share price and superficial success depend on bowing down to totalitarianism, it had better quit boasting that it has ever been the “pride of Taiwan.”
Eslite, like any other bookshop in Taiwan, can display books and magazines that express all kinds of political ideologies, but it has slapped itself in the face by refusing to show a documentary about China’s 1989 democracy movement.
It makes one wonder what Eslite thinks about Hong Kong’s “Umbrella movement” or Taiwan’s Wild Lily and Sunflower movements. Would Eslite dare to display books about these movements on the shelves of its branches in China?
Eslite says that it is not appropriate to show films about political activities, but what it is doing is practicing self-censorship for fear of offending the Chinese government.
The National Human Rights Museum displays information about crimes against human rights, and some local governments screen films and videos about these and other issues. The point of such activities is to explore whether there is equality of rights and powers between the public and the government, or whether the government is exploiting and controlling the public.
The US documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 has a similar objective. It questions whether the true purpose behind the US’ war against Iraq was to uphold the interests of the state and big business, while the public had to pay for the war and ordinary people lost their lives in the conflict.
China’s democracy movement, Deng Xiaoping’s (鄧小平) reforms and opening up, and today’s struggle for domination between China and the US all have to do with choosing a path for national development.
Surely a film that reflects on the democracy movement and the June 4 crackdown is a lesson in history and the issue of human rights, but Eslite insists on labeling it as a political activity. It is very poor judgement on Eslite’s part.
Some media outlets in Taiwan act like the official media of the Chinese Communist Party by always speaking out for the Chinese communist government. It has become so bad that international news organizations have voiced their concerns to Taiwan. Now even Eslite’s Songyan store has imposed political censorship on a film to comply with Beijing’s political standards.
From the “pride of Taiwan” to bowing to China’s whim, what we are seeing is not just the downfall of Eslite, but also a somber cloud hanging over Taiwan.
Chang Hsun-ching is a former librarian.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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