As more than 1,000 students occupied Taiwan’s legislature to protest the ruling party’s handling of a trade pact with China, pictures and reports of the occupation - which soon went viral on Chinese social media on Thursday - triggered concerns and criticism from intellectuals and microbloggers on the mainland.
While many critics said they were disturbed by the dramatic images that reminded them of scenes from China’s Cultural Revolution, others said they were disappointed by the illegal occupation that they said borders on violence.
Students broke into the main assembly hall in Legislative Yuan building on Tuesday night and blocked the entrances with chairs. They had said they planned to stay there until Friday.
Taiwan has long been seen as a successful democracy that many of China’s liberals believe the mainland should emulate. Many especially believed its relatively peaceful transition from an autocracy to a democratic system served as a perfect example for the mainland’s future political reform.
Yet pictures of the student protesters vandalising facilities in the legislature seemed to have shattered the belief previously held by many mainlanders.
“This is not the democracy we want for China,” many wrote on Weibo.
“Are we sure the Cultural Revolution is over? Watch those Taiwanese ‘Red Guards’,” microbloggers commented on pictures which showed students tearing down and vandalising the plaque of the Taiwanese legislature.
“We can’t blame either side alone for the problem, ” Tong Zongjin, an associate professor at China University of Political Science and Law, said. “But political problems should best be resolved through legal channels instead of resorting to an occupation of this kind.”
Tong said the occupation of the Taiwanese legislature and vandalism were “absolutely illegal.”
Tao Duanfang, a Chinese scholar and columnist who had participated in the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protest, said Taiwanese students need to figure out exactly what they were opposing first.
“They also need to prove that they can be constructive besides being purely destructive,” he said.
Tao said when he took to the streets with other students in 1989, instructions were given by student leader Wang Dan to make sure that the protest would proceed in an orderly manner.
Yet he said Taiwanese students this time seemed to have been told exactly the opposite.
China’s famous Tiananmen protest leader Wang Dan, who now lives in exile in Taiwan, told Taiwanese media he supported students’ occupation of the legislature. He visited the student protesters at the legislature this morning, along with Wu’er Kaixi, another former Tiananmen student leader who also lives in exile in Taiwan, according to local media reports.
The occupation has received a more positive reaction from Hongkongers.
“I support you. Don’t let Taiwan become another Hong Kong, ”Hong Kong blogger “Jas”  wrote on the website of BBC news.
Several other Hong Kong bloggers similar support message.
Reports of the occupation have been absent from major mainland news outlets.
The trade pact was signed last year in Shangahi and was intended to liberalise investment between mainland China and Taiwan. Yet opponents feared that the benefits will only be enjoyed by conglomerates and Taiwan's economy might be hollowed out as more businesses head to China.