Could Taiwan become a center of Tiananmen memory?

Several activists who are very involved in organizing the memorial each year say that great efforts would be needed for the issue to take root locally

Activists in Hong Kong and Taiwan have expressed hope that in the future, Taiwan will keep alive the memory of the 1989 pro-democracy movement in Beijing after Hong Kong’s tradition of hosting the largest candlelight vigil worldwide has been banned for the third consecutive year. Saturday.

However, several activists who are keenly involved in organizing the memorial every June 4 in Taiwan to commemorate the victims of the Chinese military crackdown on the student movement in Tiananmen Square, said great efforts would be needed for the issue to take root locally. .

As in the past, Taiwan’s main June 4 commemorative event took place in Freedom Square in front of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei on Saturday evening. It marked the 33rd anniversary of the event and attracted several hundred people.

Photo: Reuters

Attendance at the event has varied over the years, according to some organizers.

There are usually at least a few hundred people, but crowds grew to around 3,000 in 2019 and 2020 after mass protests in Hong Kong against a proposed extradition bill, which was later shelved, caught the world’s attention, organizers said.

In Hong Kong, every June 4 since 1990, tens of thousands of people turned Victoria Park into a sea of ​​candles until the event was banned in 2020 by authorities, citing COVID-19 concerns. 19, which critics say was a pretext to stifle the local pro-democracy movement.

Photo: Reuters

However, not only was the symbolic vigil banned, but the national security law imposed by Beijing on Hong Kong in June 2020 intensified efforts to eradicate Tiananmen-related memories.

Since then, there have been reported cases of vigil organizers disbanded, people arrested for carrying flowers to mark the anniversary, churches canceling the Tiananmen Memorial Mass and the city’s June 4 Museum forced to close. and to access its blocked website.

As freedoms in Hong Kong have been curtailed, some activists have expressed hope that Taiwan will “take over” and become a new stronghold for Tiananmen commemorations.

Photo: Reuters

DEEPER SENSE

Despite its small scale, the June 4 Memorial in Taiwan still means a lot to Hong Kongers living in the country.

Being here on Tiananmen Incident Remembrance Day “added another layer of meaning for Hong Kongers this year” because they weren’t allowed to do so in Hong Kong, said Francis, who moved in Taiwan last year, at Liberty Square on Saturday.

Francis said she didn’t feel as obligated to attend the June 4 vigil in Victoria Park when she was in Hong Kong as she does now in Taiwan.

“Now I want to show the world that Hong Kong people remember June 4,” she said.

Stella, who emigrated to Taiwan in 2020, said attending the June 4 commemoration in Taiwan made her feel like she was still in Hong Kong. “It also reminded me that I’m from Hong Kong,” she said.

Like Francis, Stella said she was not enthusiastic about joining the June 4 vigil in Hong Kong, adding that since the emergence of the Umbrella Movement for Universal Suffrage in 2014, some groups pro-democracy supporters in Hong Kong have also gradually moved away from the vigil.

“Because we didn’t think China would embrace democracy. As Hong Kongers, we felt that our priority was to fight for democracy in Hong Kong,” she said.

Lam Wing-kei (林榮基), a former director of Causeway Bay Books in Hong Kong, detained in 2015 for selling materials critical of China’s political elite, also observed the growing tendency of Hong Kongers to take a more “detached” view. June 4 commemorations.

“I was very concerned about China because of my national identity. But in recent years, I felt there wasn’t much difference I could make. Like many Hong Kongers, I also felt identified more with Hong Kong than with China,” said Lam, who moved to Taiwan in 2019.

Along the same lines, Lam noted a lack of interest from the general public in Taiwan in commemorating the Tiananmen Square Massacre and in learning more about its history.

The “change of national identity” from China to Taiwan among many Taiwanese has alienated them from what is happening in China, Lam said. He reopened his bookstore in Taiwan.

DIVIDED VIEWS

Although Taiwan’s democratization has fostered a growing awareness of Taiwan-centered national identity, it is still divided over identification, which some activists say has influenced the extent to which Tiananmen-related issues resonate in the society.

A few years ago, students involved in organizing commemorative events for the June 4 incident preferred to focus on democratization in China, as they saw it as a favorable condition for unification between Taiwan and China. , Thomas Tu (涂京威), an organizer, said.

Other students argued that apart from “June 4 Vindication,” the main theme of the annual memorial, other issues to be highlighted should be the human rights abuses committed by the Chinese Communist Party government. (CCP), said Tu.

“Gradually, these students became less interested in the events of June 4. Some said they did not identify with China and did not live under CCP rule. They didn’t see the point of calling on China to justify June 4,” Tu said.

Similarly, an activist under the pseudonym Liang Wei-yuan (梁偉源) said some organizers of the June 4 event faced questions regarding their involvement in such activities.

A question that the Taiwan Association for Human Rights (TAHR) often asks when working on the June 4 events is “why don’t you focus on issues concerning Taiwan?” Liang said.

The June 4 anniversary celebration in Victoria Park has been an important force in shaping Hong Kong people’s identity, but it has not played a role in Taiwan’s democratization, said Wu Rwei-ren (吳叡人), associate researcher at the Academia Sinica Institute. of Taiwan’s history.

Due to the different historical memories of people in Hong Kong and Taiwan, compounded by the complexities associated with identification and cross-Strait relations, it will be very difficult to keep the June 4 issue in the public eye in Taiwan, as in Hong Kong.

Activists will have to go to great lengths to develop the narrative and convince society of the importance of commemorating June 4, Wu said.

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