TIANANMEN REFLECTIONS: INTERVIEW: Wang Dan looks back on Tiananmen — and ahead

Tiananmen Square student leader and exiled Chinese dissident Wang Dan met with Wen Chun-hua, a staff reporter with the “Liberty Times” (the sister newspaper of the “Taipei Times”) to discuss the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Wang said he does not regret his actions 25 years ago and spoke about the impact of the Sunflower movement on cross-strait relations and Taiwan’s democracy

Tue, Jun 03, 2014 - Page 3

Liberty Times (LT): How do you feel about the Tiananmen Square Massacre with the 25th anniversary just over the horizon? Do you have any goals you would like to set for China’s democratization efforts?

Wang Dan (王丹): My heart is heavy when looking back [at what happened] 25 years ago. There was never a political rehabilitation of the event and historically, it has not yet received the redress it deserved. It has always been a great sadness that many sacrificed themselves in that event, yet it seems China’s democratization is still far off.

Despite my heavy feelings over the subject, I do not regret my actions. Although I have not accomplished much, I have struck to my course and have done my best to be consistent.

The ideals and passion of youth are the valuable assets of any society, and the most important thing I can do is to ensure that such vitality is passed down from generation to generation and influences more young men for the betterment of the country and the nation.

As a participant in the June 4 Incident, I feel it is my duty as a witness to pass on the truth of this particular event in history. I hope for the day when China will be ruled by democracy, but this is not just a problem stemming from the Chinese Communist Party. I also hope to see more Chinese come to the realization [that China needs democracy] and seek to reorder their lives and politics under a new system.

LT: After Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) came to power, he started to crack down on corrupt officials. What do you think his actual goal is?

Wang: Of course Xi’s crackdown on corruption is fake; it is simply a ruse he has been using since he came to power. Xi is calling for anti-corruption, [but] he is looking the other way when it comes to his own family. It is evident the anti-corruption crackdown is selective, and targets the action of corruption, not the corrupted system.

The system is important, especially if one wishes to provide a solution to corruption. Targeting specific actions for correction — ie, limiting spending on extravagant meals — will not solve corruption. The only way to solve corruption is [to allow the] democratization [of China], but Xi is unwilling to do so.

Xi’s anti-corruption crackdown, in this sense, is phony and is only a ploy to strike at his enemies and consolidate power. Ultimately, the target is not corruption, but power.

LT: Xi has adopted a more aggressive strategy on diplomacy than his predecessor, Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), and is actively challenging the US strategy of pivoting toward Asia. What are your thoughts on this?

Wang: The tougher stance the Xi regime has adopted on foreign policy [may stem from] Xi wishing to emulate Mao [Zedong (毛澤東).] Both in terms of language and policy, there are hints that Xi is strongly influenced by Mao. Xi’s wish to put himself in the role of the leader of nationalism, or his tendency to use blunt, straightforward methods to handle otherwise sensitive diplomatic situations [are examples].

However, the international diplomatic situation is quite complex, and Xi’s simplistic approach in handling it cannot allow him to arrive at his goals; quite the opposite, it will only bring him more trouble. I feel that he has taken on an erroneous attitude in this regard.

LT: Both the leaders of the Sunflower movement, Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆) and Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷), were once your students. What do you think of their performance during the movement’s protests? And what kind of advice would you give to young students if they were considering joining a civic movement?

Wang: I myself have created a piece of history by taking action. There is nothing more comforting than seeing my own students writing another chapter of history by doing something right. They are remarkable people who are full of passion.

To resolve the challenges and difficulties Taiwan has encountered during its [democratization] process, more young people must start caring about and getting involved in major social issues. Whether or not others are 100 percent satisfied with the pair’s conduct and performance, I, as an educator, am very proud of them.

The Sunflower movement has had two profound effects on the nation.

The first one is on its democracy. Triggered by people’s discontent with the system of representative politics in this country, the movement demonstrated the force of “people power” so magnificently that it has helped blaze a new path for the nation’s democratic development.

From now on, Taiwanese may begin to exercise people power more often to make up for the deficiency of the nation’s current democratic system.

The second effect is on its ties with China. To the communist regime, the appeals, stances and attitudes of participants in the movement were something completely unexpected. This surprise could force the regime to rethink or even change its policies toward Taiwan.

In addition to China, Hong Kong was also deeply influenced by the movement.

After the Sunflower movement was launched, many members of the Hong Kong Federation of Students and the Legislative Council flew to Taiwan to show their support for the student-led movement.

It is apparent that the “China factor” has underlined the importance of mutual support and understanding between Taiwanese and Hong Kongers and has brought them closer than ever.

One of the leaders of a recent 20,000-strong rally in Macau against a controversial bill is Su Jiahao (蘇嘉豪), a Macanese student in National Taiwan University’s political science department, whom I have known since he was a freshman.

Since I started teaching in Taiwan [in 2009], I have held a memorial event for [the massacre] on June 4 of each year. Chen and Su were both among the organizers for the first such event, which I believe signaled the beginning of a mutually supportive relationship between the younger generation of Taiwanese and their counterparts across the Taiwan Strait.

Only by standing together and joining forces can these young people channel enough power to have a fighting chance against their mutual enemy — the Chinese government.

LT: President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has endeavored to make breakthroughs in cross-strait ties in a desperate attempt to prop up his dismal approval ratings at home. How do you think China would evaluate Ma’s remaining term and what kind of adjustments do you think it would make on its policies toward Taiwan?

Wang: China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) has made its stance quite clear and has hinted that it is determined to make some adjustments. It has repeatedly pledged to reach out to people from southern Taiwan, to the proprietors of small and medium-sized enterprises, and to the nation’s younger generation.

In the past, it never occurred to China that there would be another political power in Taiwan apart from the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party — the power of civil society.

I believe the TAO has learned its lessons and will start paying more heed to this particular power. Efforts will also be made to get in touch with Taiwan’s civic society.

With regard to President Ma’s performance, his recent approval ratings suggest that there is still ample room for improvement. While the president has repeatedly reassured the public that he has always listened to the voices of the people, I doubt he is truly willing to open his mind to different opinions.

For instance, Ma held a forum with a number of young people after the conclusion of the Sunflower movement to solicit their opinions, but none of the prominent participants of the Sunflower movement were invited.

LT: You have been teaching in Taiwan for nearly five years. What is your impression of Taiwan and what advice would you give?

Wang: Taiwan has experienced plenty of changes over the past years, but far too many them were in the political spectrum. The country has been unable to find a clear path forward and many of the changes were made in the absence of a national consensus.

The country’s next tasks will be more profound than democratization, including making changes to existing ideas and creating a new set of social values.

China has been luring Taiwanese with high salaries, but that trick does not seem to work on Europeans and Americans.

This phenomenon poses a tough question to Taiwanese society: Is being able to live freely and with dignity more important than being wealthy?

If you choose money, it is only a matter of time before you are drawn to China’s bait, particularly at a time when its rapid economic growth has turned it into a powerful magnet for global talent. However, if you attach more importance to your values, then there is no need for you to move to China.

Following the student movement, Taiwan has seen a new generation of youth who are concerned about public affairs and are no longer indifferent to reality and politics.

From this point of view, I believe there is still hope for Taiwan.

Translated by Jake Chung and Stacy Hsu