Sun, Jun 02, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: Remembering Tiananmen

Events to commemorate the Tiananmen Square Massacre continue 30 years after the incident, despite great transformations in Taiwan’s social and political landscape and relationship with China

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

A poster displays information on the commemorative event at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall for the first anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1990.

Photo courtesy of National Central Library

When the Tiananmen Square Massacre came to a head on June 4, 1989, then-president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) called it a “crazy act that, although within our predictions, has caused us immeasurable grief and shock.”

Lee called for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to stop the violence, and for Chinese compatriots around the world to support the brave protesters in a “final showdown” with the CCP.

“This inhumane response will be judged by history, and it will spark greater resistance by our Chinese compatriots. This will just hasten the demise of the CCP... I would like to remind the soldiers and citizens in [Taiwan] to remain alert in case the CCP resorts to desperate action before its collapse,” he said.

Thirty years on, the CCP not only persists, but is stronger than ever. Nobody in Taiwan talks of saving their suffering compatriots in China anymore. Taiwanese presidents still make a statement regarding the massacre each time its anniversary rolls by, and the rhetoric reflects the times.

Last year, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) posted in simplified Chinese on her Facebook page: “I sincerely believe that if Beijing can own up to the June 4 incident and admit that it was an act of state violence, the unfortunate history of June 4 will become a cornerstone upon which China builds its freedom and democracy.”

“I hope that in the future, Chinese citizens won’t have to breach a firewall to access my Facebook page. I hope that people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait will enjoy freedom and democracy, which will allow for more space for mutual understanding and cooperation,” she continued.


On the first anniversary of the massacre, 64 non-governmental organizations and 25 student groups put together a remembrance event at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. In the afternoon, they held a charity sale to “support China’s democracy movement,” followed by a candlelight vigil, performances and video interviews with the surviving activists who had fled abroad.

Curiously, both the state-run Central Daily News (中央日報) and the Taipei Times’ sister paper Liberty Times (自由時報) criticized the event for being too festive. The latter ran a photograph of dancers onstage with the caption: “Commemorate or celebrate?”

The Central Daily News printed a longer article titled: “The wounds of history have yet to heal, but have the blood and tears already dried up?”

According to the article, not only was attendance sparse in the afternoon, people’s attitudes also seemed indifferent. Few were willing to open their wallets, not even responding when someone made a passionate speech. During the colorful dance performances, upset attendees went backstage to complain to the organizers, sparking a full-blown war of words.

“The only part that stirred emotion was the interviews with the activists, but even that was brief,” the article stated. The activists were choking up onscreen, but “not a single tear was shed at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.”

That last bit is an exaggeration, but it shows the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) expectation that people would remain passionate about the tragedy, so they would continue to see the CCP as their enemy.

This was especially so with increasing interaction between both sides of the Taiwan Strait. Taiwanese were allowed to visit their relatives in China from November 1987, investment into China was continuing to grow at a fast pace and cultural and academic exchanges were on the rise.

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