Taiwan Marks Massacre, Tiananmen Probe Sought

2013-02-28
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A man looks at a ceremony marking a massacre by Chinese nationalist troops 66 years ago, held in downtown Taipei, Feb. 28, 2013.
AFP

As government and community groups around the world marked the anniversary of the Feb. 28, 1947 massacre in Taiwan, the relatives of victims of China's 1989 Tiananmen crackdown have written to the new leadership in Beijing calling for an investigation into the military assault on pro-democracy protesters.

While the Taiwan massacre became a driving force for political change on the island, there has been scant public discussion of the June 4 Tiananmen massacre, and victims' families are routinely put under surveillance and denied permission for public memorials, 24 years later.

"The National People's Congress (NPC) should set up a June 4 investigation committee, and report the results to the whole nation," the letter said. "This includes publishing a list of those who died."

It also called for the setting up of a compensation fund for victims' families, as well as the punishment of those responsible for the killings.

"The question before China's leadership is whether China's June 4 incident was just something we went through, or was it a lesson?" the Tiananmen Mothers victims' group said in an open letter to incoming president Xi Jinping ahead of the annual parliament in March.

"A regime that relies on machine guns and tanks to maintain political power will not be a long-lasting one," it warned, hailing as "China's heroes" those who opposed the crackdown by the People's Liberation Army following weeks of student-led mass demonstrations on Tiananmen Square.

Group founder Ding Zilin, whose 17-year-old son was killed in the crackdown, said the group had spoken out to take issue with recent remarks by Xi during a tour of China's southern provinces.

"He wants the Party to learn from the collapse of the former Soviet Union, but this happened because the nationalized military remained neutral [during anti-communist protests]," Ding said.

"He didn't mention it explicitly, but there is a very close connection with [June 4, 1989]...because the regime only fell because no one shot at the people."

"We hope that delegates to the parliamentary sessions will urge the leadership to face up to June 4," Ding added. "The Chinese dream can only be fulfilled if the people go along with it."

Xi, who took the reins of the ruling Chinese Communist Party last November, will be sworn in as China's new president during the NPC annual session, which starts March 5.

Beijing authorities once put the death toll in the Tiananmen crackdown at "nearly 300,"  but the central government, which labelled the six weeks of pro-democracy protests a "counterrevolutionary uprising," has not issued an official toll or name list.

Condemnations

The crackdown sparked a wave of international condemnation against the Communist Party, and for several years China was treated as a near-pariah, as Western governments offered asylum to student leaders fleeing into exile.

The Chinese Red Cross initially reported 2,600 deaths but quickly retracted its statement, while the Tiananmen Mothers, which represents all victims of the crackdown who died or were maimed, says it has confirmed 186 deaths, although not all at the hands of the army.

The group has repeatedly called for a dialogue with Chinese officials on a reappraisal of the crackdown, and for victims' families to be allowed to pursue legal claims against the government.

Ding said China would be in a much better place today if the leadership of the day had heeded their demands.

"The students were...against corruption, and they wanted freedom and democracy," she said. "If they had listened to the people instead of shooting at them, then we wouldn't have the level of corruption we see today."

"We have been writing like this to President Hu Jintao ever since he came to power, presenting our demands, every year for 24 years," she said.

"We want to say to Xi Jinping that the Chinese people won't be as patient with you as they were with Hu," she said.

Taiwan

Meanwhile, across the Taiwan Strait, president Ma Ying-jeou attended a government-sponsored memorial event in Yilan county, honoring families of victims of the Feb. 28 repressive crackdown of a spontaneous and popular uprising of the Taiwanese people against Chinese rule of occupied Taiwan following World War II.

Tens of thousands of Taiwanese, many of them among the intellectual elite, were believed to have been killed when Chiang Kai-shek, leader of the Kuomintang, or Chinese Nationalists, then based in mainland China,  ordered his troops to Taiwan to quell the riots.

The turmoil was sparked after an altercation with a cigarette vendor turned violent on Feb. 27, 1947, 16 months after the end of Japanese colonial rule.

Two years later, Chiang and his supporters fled to the island after losing to the Communists in the Chinese civil war.

It led to nearly four decades of martial law in Taiwan, with routine imprisonment of political dissidents.

The island's government, which moved to a fully elected political system in 1996 and launched the 228 Memorial Foundation last year to mark the massacre, is also sponsoring a memorial concert and play, as well as a human rights film festival at the National 228 Memorial Museum in Taipei.

"We hope to use the museum to further promote human rights education," Liao, who is also director of the museum, told local media.

Chinese-Americans

In Los Angeles, Chinese Americans with roots in Taiwan marked the massacre with a concert, organizer Jyu-hwei Pan-Fang said.

"We mustn't forget our history," Pan-Fang said. "Through music, we remember that there are still many people in the world who go through extreme suffering."

Retired doctor Chen Hui-ting said his family had emigrated to the U.S. in the wake of the crackdown.

"This was a great tragedy," said Chen, recalling an era of political oppression that surrounded his time in high school in Taiwan.

"There was a kid in my class who they decided had an ideological problem," he said.

"He was detained and thrown in jail, until he suffered a mental breakdown. He was very young when he was arrested, and he had dared to speak out for what was right."

Reported by Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese service, and by Xin Lin and Xiao Rong for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.