Wed, Jun 12, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Democratization project unfinished

By Joseph Tse-Hei Lee 李榭熙

When the world commemorated the 30th anniversary of the Chinese government’s brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, public discussion of the events leading to the massacre remains off-limits in China.

Amnesia is incredibly dangerous, because it undermines the public’s moral and intellectual integrity, and lays the foundation for future violent persecutions.

Imposing collective amnesia is a signature feature of the state terror, and China is no exception. Accurate accounts of the Tiananmen Massacre are banned in the public domain.

Every time this year, Chinese authorities arrested political dissidents seeking to honor the massacre victims, and shut down their Sina Weibo accounts.

Beijing reinforces political quiescence and cynicism by denying people freedom of expression and assembly, and by propagating that China’s one-party rule and socialist economy are superior to multi-party democracy and free markets.

Unfortunately, a substantial portion of the Chinese population has accepted the post-Tiananmen bargain — “money yes, politics no,” expressing political loyalty in exchange for economic prosperity.

One long-term legacy of the Tiananmen tragedy is that authoritarianism has emerged as an influential geopolitical force in the early 21st century, with China and Russia championing anti-liberalism as an alternative to a teetering liberal order.

In contrast, the rest of the world strives to keep alive the Tiananmen memory in symbolic and substantive ways. Commemorating the June 4th anniversary has now become part of a global democratization project.

In Taipei, a gigantic inflatable model of the powerful “tank man” has been exhibited outside the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall since late last month. This icon of courageous resistance to military dictatorship transcends boundaries and inspires oppressed peoples worldwide.

President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) met with a delegation of former Tiananmen student leaders in the Presidential Office Building, and vowed to defend the nation’s fully fledged democracy against Beijing.

This high-profile gesture not only generated goodwill among exiled activists striving to democratize China, but also signified a new initiative to support democracy and human rights advocates in neighboring countries.

Undoubtedly, Hong Kong’s massive candlelight vigil attracted worldwide media coverage. More than 180,000 people gathered in Victoria Park to remember the victims and their families.

The huge turnout at the annual vigil was of great significance at many levels.

First, the event symbolized a smooth generational transition in the territory’s prodemocracy movement. The whole ceremony was presided over young activists, who were mostly born after 1997.

Since the months-long peaceful protests in late 2014, known as the “Umbrella movement,” the local pro-democracy struggle has become a youthful campaign.

Despite the imprisonment of several prominent leaders of the movement, many young activists have asserted themselves and stepped up to play a leadership role in this politically hostile environment.

Second, China’s democratic trajectory was thought to be better understood through the voices of Tiananmen survivors and human rights advocates.

This year’s annual vigil adopted the method of storytelling to emphasize unique personal experience. Accounts given by the Tiananmen mothers, and by Hong Kong student leaders and journalists who witnessed the massacre 30 years ago brought tears, sorrow and grief to everyone.

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