It might seem hard to imagine now but 20 years ago there were many similarities between the political situation in Taiwan and China. Both countries had an authoritarian polity with strict controls on freedom of speech. On university campuses the party-state (KMT or CCP) maintained tight control over student organisations and political activities. The situation in Taiwan was less repressive and there was a formal opposition movement in the DPP.
In The Perils of Protest, Teresa Wright makes a comparative study of the 1989 student protests in Beijing and the March 1990 Wild Lily Student Movement in Taipei. She examines in detail the organisational and decision making behaviour of the students. The actions taken by the students in Beijing and Taipei had many similarities including the launching of hunger strikes and separation of students from non-students during protests.
At the time both the KMT and CCP were in the midst of factional struggles for power. In China the reform-minded Zhao Ziyang (趙紫陽) was then the likely successor to Deng Xiaoping. However, Zhao’s reform plans met with opposition from the conservative Premier Li Peng (李鵬). In Taiwan Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) became the President following the death of Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) in 1988. Under the constitution Lee had to stand for reelection by the National Assembly in March 1990. This was the cause of a power struggle between the mainstream faction of Lee and the non-mainstream faction, consisting of “mainlanders”.
The student movements that developed in both countries had the potential to promote genuine political reform. In Taiwan the Wild Lily Movement demanded the re-election of the National Assembly and convening a National Affairs Conference to discuss direct elections for the President. President Lee met with the students and agreed to their demands leading to the Wild Lily protest ending peacefully.
In Beijing the protests met with an increasingly hardline response from the government that culminated in the tragedy of the Tian’anmen Square Massacre. While Taiwan developed into a democracy, China has remained strictly authoritarian. 20 years on there seems even less hope for democracy in China than there was in 1989. One can only imagine what might have been if the brave students in Tian’anmen Square had sparked reform instead of meeting with a brutal crackdown.
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In Taipei there will be an event to commemorate the Tian’anmen Square Massacre at 7pm on Wednesday 4 June at the park opposite Watson’s in Shi-Da Road.
On the twentieth anniversary of June 4th, we call on all sectors of Taiwanese society to express our firm commitment to the pursuit of democracy and human rights, to support the prosecution of those responsible for June 4th, and to push for democracy in China.
The DPP have also issued a statement (中文).