Thousands of Taiwanese students are occupying government offices to protest against a trade deal that will open the country’s services sectors to firms in mainland China. Police sprayed students with water cannons, arrested over 50 protesters, and ordered media to stop reporting from inside the building housing the country’s executive branch.
Meanwhile, about 180 km (110 miles) away, mainland Chinese are watching the events unfold with rapt attention—and concluding that democracy is not all that it’s cracked up to be.
Mainland Chinese have always watched political events in Taiwan with special interest; many view the island as a test case for democracy in a Chinese society. The latest unrest is causing some mainland social media users to question the wisdom of protests that impede the government’s ability to govern.
“Taiwan is a democratically elected government…Capturing the Executive Yuan is contrary to the rule of law and undermines democracy,” one blogger in Beijing said (registration required). Some called the protesters “radicals,” while one blogger just said, “Complete chaos.” Another said, “Your democracy has shocked us.” The Global Times called the demonstrations “a farce.”
Still, some support the students’ freedom of expression, and the rights of the media to cover the protests. One blogger whose account says he is in Fuzhou, China said: “Taiwan, hold on! Tonight, we are all Taiwan.” Some even questioned why Chinese students were not also demonstrating against a trade deal that could mean mainland jobs may be given to Taiwanese workers.
A few bloggers drew a dark parallel with a student-led demonstrations on the mainland that most young Chinese hardly ever discuss. One blogger said, “This looks like 6/4 Taiwan version,” a reference to the violent crackdown on China’s student protests on June 4, 1989, often just called “6/4” in China. “Chinese people’s belligerent instincts are the same all over the world.”