Former student leader Wang Dan has called for a boycott of a newspaper owned by prominent Taiwanese entrepreneur Tsai Eng Meng who defended Beijing’s military crackdown on the 1989 democracy movement in Tiananmen Square.
Tsai, the chairman and CEO of the Want Want Group, which owns the China Times, told the Washington Post on Saturday that the June 3-4 crackdown was “no massacre,” despite Chinese government figures that say hundreds were killed in the incident.
“We saw on TV that the man who blocked a column of tanks was not killed [at Tiananmen Square],” Tsai told the newspaper, referring to the iconic image of a protester daring the Chinese military to run him over as it made its way to the heart of the square.
“If the Chinese government had wanted, it could have killed so many. Therefore, you cannot call it a ‘massacre,’” he said, adding that the handling of the incident had earned the Communist regime his trust.
Tsai also warned that, “Whether you like it or not, [Taiwan’s] unification [with China] is going to happen sooner or later.”
Taiwan has been governed separately from China since Chiang Kai-shek's KMT forces fled to the island in 1949 after losing a civil war with Mao Zedong's communists on the mainland.
Tsai’s words infuriated many, including Wang Dan, a former student leader of the Tiananmen protests and an eyewitness to the brutal killings at the square.
“To protest his blatant effrontery, from now on I will never buy a copy of the China Times newspaper,” Wang posted via his Twitter account on Tuesday.
Several other netizens vowed on the Internet to boycott food products by Tsai’s business chains.
In addition to ownership of the China Times, the Want Want Group also consists of a giant food manufacturer, several hotels, and other real estate ventures.
“In the first place, Tsai’s words are illogical,” said Mo Zhixu, a Beijing-based cyber commentator, during an interview on Tuesday.
“The murders of June 4 cannot be whitewashed by the fact that the young man who blocked the tanks was not killed right away. This is because the footage showing his act was taken on June 5.”
“Why did he say this? Apparently he is trying to present servile flattery to the Chinese Communist government. That is completely unnecessary,” Mo said.
Cai Yaochang, a pro-democracy activist in Hong Kong, called it an “indisputable fact that Chinese soldiers killed their own people in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.”
“Irrelevant of China’s fast economic development, it is never tolerable that a government could use its military forces against its own people,” he said.
“A society cannot achieve stability through killing and China’s development cannot be sustained through a brutal crackdown.”
This year marks the 23rd anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown and many Internet sites in China have already begun to filter sensitive keywords including “June 4.”
The number of people killed on the night of June 3-4 remains a mystery. China’s official death toll is 241, including 36 students.
The crackdown set off a wave of condemnation across the globe as Western governments offered asylum to student leaders fleeing into exile.
There have been recent calls for a public reckoning with the event, which has been blotted out of history books and media reports inside China.
The 1989 crackdown was ordered by then supreme leader Deng Xiaoping and carried out after initial resistance from within the PLA itself.
Lt. Gen. Xu Qinxian served a five-year jail term for refusing to lead his 38th Army troops into Beijing on the eve of the crackdown, which was completed by the 27th Army.
Former student leaders have said that they were expecting the army to use water cannons and rubber bullets, and that no one thought they would use live ammunition and tanks until it was too late.
Reported by Xin Yu for RFA’s Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Ping Chen.