This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre, a bloodstained day in history when the CCP decided to end the movement towards opening, and to set a precedent within China: stability over everything.
China has spent a lot of effort trying to erase this chapter in its history, but does not recognize any part of its actions during this movement as a “mistake.” Rather, in the eyes of the party, it was a deliberate use of justified force to prevent the spread of unorganized chaos that threatened the continuity of the state. Thus, to the CCP, the communist state is the end that justifies all means.
The other consequence of that dark period in Chinese history of repression and closing is the international reaction. No longer was China viewed as an inert, mysterious, impenetrable monolith which could be viewed as a trade partner alone: it was a totalitarian state, with global ambitions. For years after the 1970s detente with the West that saw the US betray its ally the ROC in order to counter the Soviets in the region, China was seen as a country that could be worked with, but not influenced. The illusion of a unified state, the hypnotic communist fervor of the cultural revolution, Mao’s psychotic suicidal statements toying with nuclear war, eerily reminiscent of the younger Kims who could come later and Trump, and limited interaction with the Chinese in a political sense, other than state to state interactions, was shattered. It suddenly became clear to the world that there was always a rift between the Chinese state and its people, the size of which oscillated, but should have been clearly recognized at the time.
The West, at this time, stood for its values. Even with increasing trade, the US and many other Western countries were horrified; they condemned China, and lay down deep economic sanctions. But the raw emotions always fade, and after a handful of years, it was forgotten: it takes abrasion, raw political conflict to stir up emotions, solidify opinions, and engage the public politically.
What does the anniversary of this even have to do with Han Guo Yu? It is that the phenomenon has had the same effect. A politically divisive, deeply polarizing, center of attention politician has reawakened political interest in the country across the strait, Taiwan. The new mayor of Kaohsiung, an unexpected blue-party win in the heart of the deep green south of Taiwan in an election that left many bewildered has served for the catalyst for a new movement amongst Taiwanese searching for the soul of their country.
An election, a candidate that should have been just a blip on the map, in a city whose population would barely make it a third tier city in China, has electrified the Taiwanese electorate. Social media has become politically reawakened, with memes, commentary, and daily polls asking Taiwanese people to take a stand on the issues that the general public has been ignoring for decades. What should Taiwan’s relationship with China be? To what degree should Taiwan open investment to FDI? How long can the “status-quo” really last, and should a peace agreement be signed or independence declared? These issues, left untouched in mainstream discourse for years, are on the tip of the tongues of more and more Taiwanese, and in particular, the young.
While many Southerners and DPP supporters bemoan the changing political landscape, especially in Southern Taiwan, his win has caused many Taiwanese to reckon with the very issues that those outside the KMT have been raising since the Chinese civil war, and into the period of the KMT’s warming relations with communist China. Perhaps, the legacy of Han Guo Yu’s administration won’t be his policies or his rule, but will instead be the influence that he has had on Taiwanese discourse and public opinion as people finally decide on an identity.
Taiwan must decide, will it place greater emphasis on economic growth, even if opening up threatens its very democracy?
Should Taiwan be a part of some form of greater China, or is Taiwan culturally, linguistically, and politically different from China to validate the independence of Taiwan as a state?
This author has made very clear what the stance of the Free China Post is in regards to these issues in previous articles, but these are the issues that Taiwan as a whole must ponder, and truly search its soul to answer.
Staff writer: Ari B