While Chinese netizens lambasted remarks Greater Tainan Mayor William Lai (賴清德) made in China that touched on Taiwan independence and the Tiananmen Square Massacre, Taiwanese netizens lauded Lai, who they described as the only domestic political figure with the backbone to address such topics in China.
On Friday, Lai took his first trip to China as mayor to preside over the opening ceremony of an exhibition of paintings by Taiwanese artist Chen Cheng-po (陳澄波) at the China Art Museum in Shanghai.
On his second and final day in Shanghai, the mayor said the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) pro-independence narratives represent the ideas of many Taiwanese and that China needs further understanding about the spirit of the party’s platform if it wishes to forge stronger cross-strait ties. The remarks were in response to comments from Fudan University professor Jiang Yihua (姜義華) at a gathering of Chinese academics.
In the same setting, Lai went on to mention the 1989 Tiananmen Square student movement, saying that “Fudan University students answered to the cause of the student movement that took place after the death of [Chinese Communist Party] secretary-general Hu Yaobang (胡耀邦) in 1989. And there were more than 400 professors who signed the petition urging the government to recognize the student movement as a patriotic movement.”
Some Chinese netizens criticized Lai’s comments about the exhibition being shown in “three nations and five cities.”
A commenter using the handle “Jiang Shan S8” said: “What sort of nation can Taiwan be? [They] should have embarrassed him [Lai] right then and there!”
Despite the dissatisfaction over Lai’s comments, most of the Chinese netizens’ ire was aimed at China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO).
Commenters said that the TAO and other Chinese officials should have “preserved some of the dignity of the 1.3 billion Chinese people,” adding that Lai’s comments were a “direct slap to the face.”
Netizen “Bi Mo Dan Xin” said: “The community is on one hand saying that Taiwanese are our brothers, but on the other hand they are arranging for pro-Taiwan independence individuals to put Chinese people to shame. It is very upsetting.”
On the other hand, Taiwanese netizens on the Professional Technology Temple (PTT) — the nation’s largest academic online bulletin board— applauded Lai’s actions, with more than 200 posts debating the issue as of yesterday.
Taiwanese commenter “KingKingCold” said the reason some groups in the Chinese forum were angered by Lai’s comments was because for the first time, Taiwanese officials who visited China did not bow and scrape to the Chinese.
“That we can talk about Taiwan independence while still interacting with the Chinese shattered the sense of superiority of those who saw themselves as ‘the spokesmen of a strong nation,’” he said.
Netizen “suntree” praised Lai as the only Taiwanese official so far who has the backbone to discuss Taiwan independence and the Tiananmen Square Massacre in China.