Taiwanese protest sparks pro-democracy comments from mainland Chinese netizens

A 200,000 person protest over a Taiwanese soldier's death impresses Chinese internet users

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 August, 2013, 2:36pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 September, 2013, 5:44pm

Mainland netizens have reacted strongly to news of a recent Taiwanese protest over the death of a young military conscript, and many have praised democracy and asked why such protests are allowed in Taiwan but not on the mainland.

The protest occurred on August 3 and attracted an estimated 200,000 people. Protestors crowded outside Taipei’s presidential office, calling for Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou and military officials to reveal the truth behind the death of 24-year-old military corporal Hung Chung-chiu, who died from internal bleeding and organ failure after allegedly being abused by his superior officers.

“If this sort of event occurred on the mainland, who would dare attend it? Even the petitioners themselves would get thrown into prison,” one user on Sina Weibo, China’s leading social network, wrote in response to news and photographs of the protest.

“[Taiwan and the mainland] have the same ethnic groups,” another netizen wrote in response, “but the big difference [Taiwan has] is democracy!”

Praise for democracy was a common trend amongst many Weibo posters, and some pointed out the parallels between Hung’s death and the recent case of Hunan watermelon seller Deng Zhengjia, who was beaten to death by local authorities. Protestors on the mainland also took to the streets after Deng’s body was seized by authorities and his death hushed up, but their rallies were broken up by more than 200 riot police.

“[Taiwan] is a place … where the people call the shots,” one commentator wrote. “National leaders [there] must make decisions … that reflect the values of individuals in society, rather than simply corrupting and oppressing vulnerable groups.”

Another netizen wrote that President Xi Jinping’s new slogan, the “Chinese Dream”, was not something that could be found on the mainland.

“They have more Confucian social values in Taiwan, they’ve protected Chinese culture, human rights and freedom of speech [there],” the poster wrote. “If this is the case, why in the world would the Taiwanese people ever want to return to the motherland? I’ve finally realised that the Chinese Dream is actually in Taiwan, not [the mainland].”

In contrast to Weibo netizens, who commented more on the concept of Taiwan’s government allowing such a large protest, Taiwanese commentators on Facebook were much more concerned with the details of Hung’s case, and had harsh criticism for Taiwan’s military leaders.

“It’s time for vigilante justice,” one angered poster wrote. “The corrupt [military officials] consistently get away with such crimes [like Hung’s death] because they [think they are] above the law. They do not fear the citizenry or the turnstile puppet leaders ‘in charge’ of [Taiwan].”

“If it weren’t for Hung’s family and the media, [this death] would have been covered up,” another said. “[We] need to continue to push the issue.”

The August 3 rally was the second major protest over Hung’s death. On July 20, an estimated 30,000 citizens rallied outside Taipei’s defence ministry.

In the midst of public outcry, Taiwan Defence Minister Kao Hua-chu resigned in late July. Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou was also mobbed on August 4 by hundreds of protestors as he visited Hung’s family in central Taiwan to apologise for their son’s death.

Both Kao’s resignation and Ma’s apology have done little to subdue the voices of angry Taiwanese families, many of whom have also gone public about abuses that their sons suffered while completing Taiwan’s mandatory 12 month military service, which is scheduled to be phased out by the end of 2015.

Hung died on July 4, only two days before he was scheduled to be discharged. His death allegedly came from heatstroke that was brought on after superior officers sent him into a week-long confinement for bringing a mobile phone onto the military base and then forced him to participate in strenuous exercises shortly after his release. Military investigations into the matter have revealed that Hung’s superiors may have abused him because of a personal vendetta, since corruption amongst the officers in Hung’s brigade was rampant.

Resulting investigations have indicted 18 officers, but the proceedings have been largely condemned as “hasty and sloppy” by Taiwanese activist groups. Furthermore, only one sergeant was charged with involuntary manslaughter, while the others were indicted with lesser chargers and then released on bail before the August 3 protest.