Blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng, who sparked a diplomatic crisis between China and the United States when he fled house arrest and sought refuge at the US embassy in Beijing, said yesterday that Taiwan's democratisation was a "precious experience" for mainland China.
"Taiwan's success is a light that points the path for Chinese society," he said in a speech to hundreds of people at a public talk at the Legislative Yuan in Taipei.
Chen said Taiwan's past repression of government critics during the Kuomintang's one-party rule was "amazingly similar" to what was happening on the mainland today and the rise of rights awareness among ordinary people on the mainland had laid the foundation for democracy.
The Communist Party monopolised judicial power and the voice of the media, he said, and the individuals who dared to question its authority were often arbitrarily detained and harassed.
"This shows that they are aware that ordinary citizens' rights awareness is posing a threat to dictatorship," he said.
After he delivered his speech, Chen visited the legislative floor where he witnessed legislators from the opposition Democratic Progressive Party and the ruling KMT jostling for control of the podium during a debate about revisions to the island's capital gains tax.
As Chen showed up, the DPP legislators shouted: "Support freedom and democracy. Welcome civil rights fighter Chen Guangcheng."
Chen said later: "I'd rather see scuffles in the legislature than tanks storming the street".
Chen said he wanted to use his two-week visit to learn more about Taiwan's democratic system, rule of law and freedoms.
"Taiwan's experience is a precious experience and will facilitate China's road towards democracy," Chen said.
Chen, a high-profile activist who spent years in extra-legal detention and jail for exposing forced abortions in rural Shandong province, put Sino-US relations to the test when he fled house arrest in his village in April last year and took refuge in the US embassy in Beijing.
A spokesman for Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou said Ma had no plan to meet Chen but welcomed his visit and hoped he could experience democracy and civil society in Taiwan.
In his speech, Chen urged people to focus more of their attention on the mainland's rights defence movement rather than its economic development.
"People should turn their hopes and focus away from the authorities to the rights defenders - this is where the hopes lie," he said.
Later in the day, Chen and his mentor, New York University professor Jerome Cohen, were given a guided tour of a former prison for dissidents by former Taiwanese vice-president Annette Lu Hsiu-lien, who spent 10 months behind bars there. Chen said he was reminded of his own incarceration and hoped people could visit his former prison one day.
Additional reporting by Lawrence Chung