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Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Tiananmen Square: Taiwan vigil remembers victims of China massacre

TAIPEI, Taiwan – Taiwanese locals joined survivors, activists, and artists in Taipei’s Freedom Square, Saturday to mark the 33rd anniversary of China’s violent suppression of the Tiananmen Square democracy protests by the People’s Liberation Army(PLA) in 1989.

As paramount leader of China in 1989, Deng Xiaoping, ordered the months-long democracy movement, attended by over a million Chinese students and protesters in Beijing, to be violently put down. Estimates of the number of victims killed range from several hundred to several thousand.

Having since come to Taiwan, usually via third countries such as the U.S. or Germany, survivors of the 1989 massacre in China attended Saturday’s memorial but were far outnumbered by more recent arrivals from Hong Kong, most dressed in the uniform of the city’s 2019 pro-democracy movement; black T-shirt, yellow hardhat, and a surgical mask or balaclava. Many are in self-exile from Hong Kong, where nearly 3,000 political prosecutions have been leveled against participants and supporters of the 2019 pro-democracy protests, according to the Hong Kong Democracy Council. 

“I decided to move away from Hong Kong last year… because I can see the freedom of artistic expression will no longer be possible in Hong Kong,” protest performance artist Kacey Wong told Fox News Digital. “Coming to Taiwan, for me the most important thing is the 100% freedom of artistic expression. That’s very, very important for me as an artist, as a creative person.” 


Wong said Hong Kongers, the term used to describe people from the Island, always sympathized with the victims of the 1989 crackdown, “But as Hong Kong’s political pressures start building up, you know we got our share of suppression from the Chinese Communist Party,” until Hong Kongers finally started to view June 4 as a local issue.

Back in 1989, Hong Kongers provided more material support to the protesters in Beijing than any other group, Tiananmen survivor, Wu Renhua, told Fox News Digital. “So when the democracy movement happened in Beijing, it gave Hong Kongers hope. If the 1989 movement successfully democratized China, then Hong Kong would be able to maintain its original legal system and rights after the handover (in 1997).” 

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    Lights dot a banner that commemorates the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, using the number 8964 which indicates the year, month and day, as dates are written in Chinese. (Michael Saul Garber)

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    A child helps lay out the lights on a banner that commemorates the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, using the number 8964 which indicates the date of the incident as written in Chinese.  (Michael Saul Garber)

“So Hong Kongers cared more than the people of any other country, including the people of Taiwan!”

After the crackdown, Wu and other dissidents were smuggled out of China with the help of the Hong Kong-based Operation Yellowbird, a collaborative effort involving Western intelligence agencies as well as wealthy residents of Hong Kong, and underworld networks.


In the 30 years since June 4, 1989, Hong Kongers took pride in the annual candlelight vigil, which attracted 180,000 people in 2019, the last year organizers received approval from the HK authorities. Even after Hong Kong’s retrocession to Chinese control in 1997, the right to protest the Tiananmen Square massacre was emblematic of the greater freedom of speech and civil liberties that citizens of the city enjoyed.

Beijing cracked down on massive pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong by implementing a broadly-worded National Security Law in Feb. 2020 and using COVID-19 control measures to ban all public assemblies. Pro-democracy media outlets had their assets frozen, and media executives and pro-democracy lawmakers were arrested en masse. 

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    A statue of a Hong Kong protestor that has been nicknamed "Lady Liberty."  (Michael Saul Garber)

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    The gate of Freedom Square in Taiwan, which served as the site for the commemoration of the Tiananmen Square massacre.  (Michael Saul Garber)

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    The Pillar of Shame by the Danish sculptor Jens Galschiøt serves as a monument to the Tiananmen Square massacre. The 1997 original version was taken down in Hong Kong last year at the city university but replicas were assembled for this year’s commemoration in Taipei and Oslo.  (Michael Saul Garber)

After the last impromptu candlelight vigil for the Tiananmen Square students in 2020, the organizers of that protest were later arrested and charged with incitement.


In 2021, the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong still authorized memorial mass on June 4, but even this year’s event was canceled. The Diocese’s announcement came two weeks after Cardinal Joseph Zen and three activists were arrested on national security charges. 

Now, the former residents of Beijing and Hong Kong are joined by the memories of pro-democracy mass movements ruthlessly crushed by the Chinese Communist Party, almost exactly 30 years apart. By late evening, Saturday, organizers said the Taipei memorial attracted over 2,000 attendees; mostly Taiwanese showing their solidarity with Hong Kong and Tiananmen survivors both. 

Children laid candle-shaped LED lights on a large ground cloth with the numbers “8964,” marking the date of the massacre, June 4th, 1989. Locals also joined in singing the banned protest anthem, “Glory to Hong Kong” and chanted “Revolution of our times!”


In Taiwan, a growing majority of the population sees a rival in China, which probes Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone with dozens of fighter jets on a daily basis, and challenges Taiwan’s sovereignty on the world stage. China’s president, Xi Jinping, says it is China’s “historic mission” to control Taiwan, and anyone who tries to bully China will be “bashed bloody against a great wall of steel.”

Many Taiwanese fear China will eventually use its immense military to subjugate them and inflict the kind of repression its unleashed on Hong Kong, the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, Tibet or on the Tiananmen Square protesters 33 years ago.

“I think the people of Taiwan do take vigilance when they look at the news from Hong Kong,” said Hong Kong artist Kacey Wong. “So, it is changing, but I think also the war in Ukraine has changed our opinion of the Taiwan people a lot since they have witnessed how to fight back.”


“So, before there was this kind of sentiment of surrender, maybe resisting (an invasion from China) for two days and then surrender. But Ukraine has set an extremely good example for the world to stand up for your rights, and to fight for your rights, to fight for your freedom and democracy. Because no one would give it to you. You have to fight for it.”

Michael Saul Garber is a Taiwan based journalist and documentary filmmaker

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