by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Brian Hioe

DEMONSTRATORS GATHERED in Liberty Plaza in Taipei tonight to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. According to organizers, by around 7:30 PM, there were 2,000 participants in the demonstration.

Traditionally, the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre is commemorated annually in Liberty Plaza. This was no different this year. However, while the commemoration is often held underneath the Liberty Plaza archway, this year’s demonstration was held under the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial. Given the significance of the anniversary, as well as because the commemoration takes place in the wake of the recent Bluebird Movement protests, the commemoration this year was likely larger than usual.

Photo credit: Brian Hioe

A number of tents were set up for NGOs and civil society organizations to set up stalls. This included many of the stalwarts of Taiwanese civil society, such as the Taiwan Association for Human Rights, Covenants Watch, Taiwan Labour Front, and the Green Citizens’ Action Alliance. Likewise, a range of Hong Kong organizations in Taiwan were present, such as the Taiwan Hong Kong Association, Hong Kong Outlanders, New School for Democracy, and other groups. Indeed, one of the event’s two MCs was Hong Kong artist Kacey Wong, who has been based in Taiwan since July 2021, given the crackdown on political freedoms there. As such, the proceedings of the event were conducted in Mandarin and Cantonese.

Photo credit: Brian Hioe

Indeed, commemorations of the Tiananmen Square Massacre in Taiwan have had significant participation by Hongkongers in past years. This has been particularly the case after commemorations of the Tiananmen Square Massacre in Victoria Park, which historically drew tens of thousands and were one of the largest annual protests in Hong Kong, were forbidden from taking place by authorities in past years. Likewise, since the political crackdown that ensued after the 2019 protests in Hong Kong, Taiwan has seen increased immigration from Hong Kong, even as there have been some criticisms of the Taiwanese government for not doing enough to help Hongkongers that may need to flee political persecution. To this extent, many of the speakers of the event today reflected on how the authorities have used the occasion of the anniversary to crack down on activists in Hong Kong in past days, such as those involved in organizing the annual commemorations of the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

Photo credit: Brian Hioe

For the commemoration, a stage was set up for speeches, some of which were prerecorded and others of which were live. Speakers included survivors of the Tiananmen Square Massacre now living outside of China, as well as younger Chinese activists born after the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Many of these speeches referred to a now-famous video of a young Chinese man who was interviewed as to why he hoped to participate in the protests and responded, “It’s my duty.” The recent White Paper protests, too, were brought up.

It may not be surprising either that many speeches by Taiwanese participants touched on the question as to why Taiwanese, who perhaps do not think of themselves as part of China, should be concerned with commemorating the Tiananmen Square Massacre. The CCP was framed in some speeches as the shared enemy of Taiwanese, Uyghurs, Tibetans, and Hongkongers. In this vein, Taiwanese speakers referenced Taiwan’s history of authoritarianism, its struggle for democracy, and contemporary pluralistic values inclusive of the legalization of gay marriage.

Photo credit: Brian Hioe

Several installations were set up. This included a 3D printed replica of the Pillar of Shame, the sculpture made by Danish artist Jens Galschiøt to commemorate the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1997. The numbers 8964 were spelled out with electronic candles next to the Pillar of Shame and again in a tent with photos of the Tiananmen Square protests. Furthermore, video artwork and performance art took place. This included Kacey Wong showing a video art on memorializing those lost in the killings and riding a bicycle with pro-democracy slogans on a banner around the rally. A noise performance also took place, referencing not only the recent Bluebird Movement protests, self-immolation by Tibetans, the 324 crackdown against the attempted occupation of the Executive Yuan that took place during the Sunflower Movement, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Across the Taiwan Strait, there still are no official acknowledgments of the killings by the Chinese government, and efforts by the CCP to snuff out the memory of the protests 35 years ago continue. But the Tiananmen Square Massacre continues to be commemorated in Taiwan, then, 35 years on.

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