Timed to coincide with the national day of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), an online school aimed at promoting Chinese democracy was launched yesterday in Taipei by democracy activist Wang Dan (王丹).
The New School for Democracy’s first semester, which started yesterday and runs through January, offers six free Internet courses on the democratic movements in Taiwan and Hong Kong, the history of the PRC, China’s foreign policy, human rights and its implementation, the role of media in democracy, and a workshop on citizen journalism.
“Today [Oct. 1] was not a day to celebrate the founding of the PRC, but a national mourning day, because the Chinese Communist Party [CCP] regime has done more harm than good to the country,” Wang said at the opening ceremony.
Wang, one of the student leaders of the 1989 pro-democracy protest in Tiananmen Square in Beijing and who is now a visiting professor at Taiwan’s National Cheng Kung University, said he hoped the online classes would reach out to many Chinese overseas.
Meanwhile, students in China are encouraged to use anti-censorship devices to “break the cyberwall,” Wang said, adding that they are the school’s “main targets among whom we want to sow the seeds of democracy.”
The initiative is the first-ever attempt at cooperation among civil groups from Taiwan, Hong Kong, China and other countries, Wang said.
The younger generation and the Internet are indispensable to China’s road to democracy, and civil groups in Taiwan, Hong Kong, China and overseas have to enhance cooperation so that students can turn theory into action rather than just learning, he said.
“[Former US president John F.] Kennedy once said: ‘Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.’ Here is what I want to say: Ask not what Chinese democracy can do for you; ask what you can do for Chinese democracy,” Wang said.
Andrew To (陶君行), a member of Hong Kong’s legislative council and chairman of the League of Social Democrats, said the school would not just serve as a platform for cyberdiscussion, but would promote “social movement” by establishing connections among activists worldwide.
Joseph Cheng (鄭宇碩), a political science professor at City University of Hong Kong who is the chancellor of the New School for Democracy, was also at the launch yesterday.
Dawa Tsering, chairman of the Tibet Religious Foundation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the de facto embassy of the Tibetan government-in-exile in Taiwan, expected the school to increase access to information for people in China.
“Authoritarian regimes are based on atrocity and lies. When people can freely access information, a false tale will betray itself,” Dawa said.
He added that he did not view China as a mighty country as some have said.
“No matter how far its material strength grows, it’s a country in spiritual vacuity. And its people are not respected because they lack freedom and a democratic system to safeguard liberty,” he said.
“From this point of view, pursuing democracy is an act of patriotism and democratization is the best gift for China,” Dawa said.
The school, first publicized in late May in Taipei, was registered in Hong Kong, with offices in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Its funding comes mainly from donations from civil groups in Hong Kong, said Tseng Chien-yuan (曾建元), a board member of the school.
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