Tiananmen: Lest Taiwanese forget

By Lin Thung-hong 林宗弘  / 

Sat, Jun 08, 2019 - Page 8

Tuesday marked the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. With the assistance of the New School for Democracy and other civic groups, exiled Chinese democracy activists — including Wang Dan (王丹), Wang Juntao (王軍濤), Fang Zheng (方政), Zhou Fengsuo (周鋒鎖), Wu Renhua (吳仁華) and Li Xiaoming (李曉明) — arrived in Taiwan before that day to participate in numerous events commemorating the event.

At the Liberty Square in front of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei, inflatable models of a tank and a protester are installed to represent “Tank Man,” the most famous photograph from the massacre — a young man with a bag in each hand, standing alone in the way of a line of tanks.

Many outstanding publications related to the event have also been published, such as Louisa Lim’s (林慕蓮) The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited, which not only analyzes the circumstances at that time, but also depicts the hardships endured by the eyewitnesses and their perseverance.

Photographer Hsieh San-tai’s (謝三泰) new photobook — Howling 1989 (吼叫1989) — shows a huge number of unpublished images of the student protest he captured in Beijing shortly before the massacre. For the first time in 30 years, on May 23 — and then again on Sunday last week — President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) received the June 4 democracy activists who took part in the Tiananmen Square protests, and expressed her concern in a formal meeting at the Presidential Office.

After 30 years, what did these activists want to tell Taiwanese?

On May 21, I was honored to be the moderator of a symposium at National Tsing Hua University to commemorate the massacre and discuss the prospect of China’s democratization. Wang Dan was invited to share his experience and its contemporary significance.

The symposium was packed with Tsinghua students from both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

Wang Juntao, one of the best-known former Chinese political prisoners, spoke about his experience of coming to Taiwan more than 20 years ago to call for public support for the democracy movement in China.

At the time, “some people were wondering why they should care what happened on the mainland,” he recalled.

Now, China’s threat to eradicate democracy and freedom in Taiwan is imminent, he said.

“Within 30 years, the tanks we saw on Tiananmen Square will advance on Liberty Square, and what we experienced in 1989 will be your fate,” he added.

Some Taiwanese fantasize about “getting rich,” but “your fate will be that of Hong Kong and Tibet,” Huang said. “China promised that the ‘liberation’ of Tibet would be peaceful and that everything would remain unchanged, but now we all see what has become of Tibet.”

Before Hong Kong was handed over to China in 1997, then-Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) assured everyone that “horse racing will continue and the dance parties will go on” for the next 50 years under the “one country, two systems” framework.

This month, the Hong Kong government is proposing amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance and the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Ordinance. The amendments would enable China to have fugitives from Chinese prosecution extradited to the mainland, threatening the life, property and freedom of expression of people in Hong Kong.

Wang Dan also shared his thoughts on Facebook.

“Thirty years ago, while we were in prison or in exile, Hong Kongers publicly expressed their support for us. Today, Hong Kongers are in exile. It only took 20 years for their freedom to disappear,” he said.

“With Hong Kong under its thumb, what is Beijing’s next objective? The answer is obvious: Taiwan,” he said.

“This is why next year’s presidential election is so crucial. Next year, if Taiwanese do not risk everything to safeguard [their freedom], Taiwan’s freedoms will gradually disappear, very possibly in less than 20 years,” he said.

The past 30 years of Hong Kong’s history proves that, far from being alarmist talk, these warnings should be a wake-up for all Taiwanese.

With the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) turning to despotism and international isolation, with Washington and Beijing locked in a geopolitical and technological power struggle, Taiwan has become the new battleground for liberal democracy.

Thirty years from now, the PRC’s Taiwan strategy is likely to take a leaf out of Sun Tzu’s (孫子) The Art of War (孫子兵法): “The highest form of generalship is to disrupt the enemy’s plans.”

In practice, this would mean that Beijing would continue to buy off or threaten a minority of Taiwanese, and use fake news and propaganda to put the public in a state of paralysis. China would also seek to manipulate public debate in a way that serves to intensify and exacerbate existing contradictions within Taiwanese society and help pro-China politicians seize power.

The more incompetent these pro-China politicians are, the greater the risk that the industrial upgrade would fail to materialize and technology would flow out of Taiwan. In such a situation, as Taiwan’s economy became ever more reliant on handouts from the PRC, public debate — both online and offline — would become filled with hate.

A current example of this is Chinese keyboard warriors masquerading as Taiwanese, who often post intimidating messages online, such as threatening to kill a person’s entire family.

As this happens, the public would become less able to distinguish who the real enemy is, self-censorship would creep into public debate and the nation would begin to lose confidence in liberal democracy. Today’s Hong Kong would be tomorrow’s Taiwan.

On the 60th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, if Taiwan has been stripped of its liberal democracy, and people’s lives and their financial assets are under threat from the PRC, who would dare to openly commemorate the massacre?

So perhaps the 30th anniversary of the massacre will serve as a looking glass into the future. Some will choose silence and willful amnesia (“we must look forward, not backward”). Others will attempt to distort history by arguing that nobody actually died on June 3 and 4, or that Western media have exaggerated the events.

Others still will try to whitewash the massacre by arguing that: “Although then-Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping authorized the violence, he did make valuable contributions.”

We must remember that — regardless of what confused arguments and muddled thinking that are put forth — they come from the mouths of pro-China politicians and are symptomatic of a fifth column in our midst.

At this key juncture, when we are fighting for the continued survival of Taiwanese democracy and domestic industry, we must support the global movement to commemorate the massacre, realize that we can save our future and revive the hope that one day both sides of the Taiwan Strait would cherish the liberal democratic values that we in Taiwan enjoy today.

Lin Thung-hong is an associate research fellow at Academia Sinica’s Institute of Sociology.

Translated by Chang Ho-ming and Edward Jones