TAIPEI (CNA) – Hsu Hsin-liang (許信良), the key figure that triggered the “Zhongli Incident” against ballot-rigging in 1977, hopes Taiwan can be a western Europe-style welfare state.
He expressed his sincere hope as he recently marked the 40 anniversary of Taiwan’s first mass demonstration since martial law was imposed in 1949.
Then a rising star in the ruling Kuomintang (KMT), Hsu broke ranks to run for magistrate of then Taoyuan County amid burgeoning opposition to one-party rule.
On the election day on Nov. 19, a large-scale riot broke out in Zhongli of Taoyuan after a voter reported witnessing the KMT rigging the ballot, culminating in the protesters setting fire on the Zhongli police station.
The KMT authorities responded to the protest with brutal force, resulting in two civilian deaths. The incident that eventually forced the KMT to accept the victory of Hsu was often seen as a “watershed” in Taiwan’s democratic development.
In a recent interview with the CNA, Hsu said that after three decades of efforts, Taiwan is now a democracy that enjoys freedom and openness and what it should pursue next is “economic democracy” because “the essence of democracy is equality.”
Taiwan should set its sights on establishing a social welfare system like those adopted in Western Europe countries to develop a humane and just society based on the principles of equal opportunity and progressive value, Hsu said.
To achieve the goals, the Democratic Progressive Party administration and whoever is in power in the future should provide adequate care for people through social welfare programs based on the respect for human rights, he added.
Turning to cross-strait relations, Hsu, who serves as chairman of Foundation on Asia-Pacific Peace Studies, a government-affiliated think tank, said that making Taiwan better in terms of wellbeing of the people and the value it embraces, would “exert a positive influence on the development of China.”
Sponsored by the KMT to pursue a master degree in the U.K., Hsu said he was deeply influenced by the student movements around the world in the 1960s when he studied political philosophy at the University of Edinburgh from 1967 to 1969.
Being able to witness firsthand the civil rights movements and the fight for democracy, freedom and human rights made him feel ashamed of himself and forced him to do things for Taiwan and his generation, Hsu said.
“I was lucky to see that the hard work so many people had done has eventually come to fruition 40 years later,” Hsu added.
Hsu said that he was drawn into the study of the European common market, the predecessor of the European Union set up in 1957 by France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg, when he studied in the U.K. — when whether the U.K. should join the market was heatedly debated.
Hsu said that his views on cross-strait relations between Taiwan and China can also be traced back to what he had learned from the history of Europe.
“Is the problem between Taiwan and China more difficult to solve than the feud between France and Germany? No, it’s not. Then why can’t Taiwan and China collaborate with each other to make the world more equitable and humane?” Hsu said.
By Wu Jui-chi, Fan Cheng-hsiang and Shih Hsiu-chuan