Monday, May 25, 2009

Taiwan 2009 (part 3) - from May 4th to May 17th

What is the significance of these two dates - May 4th and May 17th and what is that to do with my trip?

Sunday May 17th was my last day in Taiwan. It happens to be the day that Taiwan’s leading opposition party - Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) called for anti-government demonstrations in Taipei 台北 and GaoXiong 高雄. The official agenda of the demonstration was multifold: protest against the (pro-) China policy and handling of the economic crisis and recession by President Ma and the ruling party KMT. Everyone knows however that the basic agenda as far as some factions of DPP are concerned remain the same; they perceive government’s China policy is a clear indication of favoring unification with China and moving away from Taiwan independence. Further, the ongoing trials of the corruption of former president Chen Shui-Bian, his family and several associates are politically motivated.

All told, the demonstration was peaceful and did not have much nuances; nor did it generate new energy, momentum and substance discussions. The total number of participants of the demonstration was estimated at between 50 thousands and 600 thousands in Taipei (my own educated guess is somewhere 100-200 thousands). As always, you can pretty much see the correlation of the estimates and the political affiliations or positions of the source. As a comparison, the 2006 August non-partisan anti-corruption demonstration (so called the “Red Shirts” 紅衫軍) against then President Chen Shui-Bian and DPP government gathered an estimated 400 thousands to 1 million demonstrators in Taipei.

In Taipei, one of the four routes of marches by demonstrators began at my alma mater NTU (National Taiwan University) and ended at the front of the Presidential Hall. As the marchers headed north from the main entrance of NTU, I was arriving at the neighborhood walking in opposite direction. I saw a portion of the march and caught a glance of the tail of it; banners, flags, and loudspeaker blasts included.

The scene brought back my memory of my own first participation of political demonstrations. Almost 38 years earlier, on June 17, 1971, I was a college junior standing at the same spot in school uniform, along with few thousand NTU students (current President Ma YingJeo included), in participate of the first “sanctioned” student demonstration in Taiwan under martial law. We marched north to the embassies of U.S. and Japan to demonstrate against the unilateral handover of DiaoYuTai 釣魚台 islands by U.S. Government to Japan.

Perhaps not so surprisingly, the news of events and discussions led by students and intellectuals in Taiwan, U.S. and across the globe excited the nationalism once more that ultimately resulted in critical re-examination of Chiang Kai-Shek’s KMT (KuoMing Tang, aka Nationalist Party) government in Taiwan. Indeed many overseas Chinese and Taiwanese students subsequently became strong believers of unification of Taiwan and China. Meanwhile backlashes in Taiwan swelled with media attacks and suppression from conservative elements of KMT as well as pro-Taiwan independence forces who shared one common enemy – communist China.

It wasn’t an accident that NTU has been the epicenter of many movements and efforts by intellectuals and students in advancing the principle of liberty and democracy. One of my purposes of the walk the afternoon of May 17th was to visit the preserved residence of a legendary figure in that part of the history – the late Professor Yin HaiGuang 殷海光 of Department of Philosophy at NTU, a thinker, philosopher and relentless promoter of liberalism and multiparty democratic system in Taiwan in 1950s and 60s till his death.

As the march passed by the main avenues a few blocks away from his residence, I wonder what would Professor Yin say if he were alive? He spoke up through his life against the tyranny of authoritarian rules and corruptions of power. His 17 years tenure at NTU ended in 1966 when he was practically under house arrest. A true believer of “Pen is sharper than sword”, he was a chief-editor and lead contributor for the Free China magazine between 1949 and 1960 when the magazine was shut down by the government. He was well-known for his impeccable logic and fearless pursuit of liberty and justice for the larger good and people’s rights.

Professor Yin joined NTU in 1949 during the defining and tone-setting lead of the revered University President Fu SiNian 傅斯年. What I did not mention about our 1971 DiaoYuTai demonstration was that large banners was hung seeing us off that day over the university building next the main entrance. It said 「中國的土地可以征服,不可以斷送。中國的人民可以殺戮,不可以低頭。」 That is, “Our land could be conquered but will never be given up. Our people could be killed but will never yield.” This was a part of the famous May 4th demonstration declaration drafted by Luo JiaLun 羅家倫 in 1919. The protest itself was under the command of none other than the late president Fu SiNian who was the chair of the Beijing University Student Association.

Now you probably can begin to appreciate why I chose this subtitle as the encounters in Taipei of my trip have awakened a deeper nerve and memory of mine. You hopefully by now also have a little feel for the history of the development of modern China that can be traced all the way back to the single most important event 90 years ago – the May Fourth Movement 五四運動.

I will not elaborate further on the details and aspects of the Mary 4th Movement. There have been volumes of writings and discussions of it, some politically biased and colored. I do want to mention that shortly after I arrived at Taipei from U.S., I had the opportunity to attend the opening ceremony for the celebration of 90th anniversary of the May 4th Movement, sponsored by government organizations and private foundations. There was a panel discussion by Professors Lee OuFan 李歐梵 of Chinese University in HongKong, Chen PingYuan 陳平原 of Beijing University and Ke QingMing 柯慶明 of NTU, moderated by Yang Zhao 楊照. In his opening statement, Professor Chen PingYuan made observation and contrasted the basic attitudes and spins of the event by later Communist Party and Nationalist Party: the latter has been fearful of student movements while the former embraced and utilized them to advantage. He also gave a concise and insightful read of how communist China interprets and re-interprets the meanings and implications of May 4th Movement based on its political agenda and focus at the time, referring to the editorials of People’s Daily News on every 10th anniversary of the Movement.

But if one takes a snapshot every 30 years that Chinese traditionally considered as one generation period, it is interesting to note that the year of 1949 was when Communist Party won the civil war and established the People Republic of China and the year of 1979 was when it and U.S. formally recognized each other and established diplomatic relation.

What about the year of 2009 and looking forward? Rapid economic development in China powered by experiences and resources of Taiwan is accelerating and there is little doubt that China will be one of two superpowers of the global economy in 21st century. What is still yet to be settled is its answer to the call for liberty and democracy that the students put up on the streets of Beijing 90 years ago. There are multiple political parties and two peaceful transition of power between parties in Taiwan so far. People there now do have the freedom to express their anti-government view through many avenues including street demonstrations like the May 17th event showed. Compared to May 4th, the agenda and the level of the discussion however are less about the fundamentals and much more about petty politics. In both sides of the strait, the question of identity and the duality of Chinese and Western cultures/values remain open. Imperialism that triggered May 4th Movement has long been replaced by forces of globalization. But where are the new thought and intellectual leaders and discussions in China and Taiwan? I worry…

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