"Pay close attention to that man behind the curtain!"

Sunday, March 27, 2005

326 Rally for Democracy and Peace

Just before midnight, I returned from Taipei, where had I spent much of the day Saturday among those protesting China's recently adopted "anti-secession" law.

A parade consisting of ten separate routes merged into a huge mass of people near the front of Taiwan's Presidential Office. News reports have the number of participants ranging from "[Shhhh!]" (Xinhua via The China Post (Taiwan)) to "thousands" (Axcess News) to "hundreds of thousands" (New York Times, Taiwan Central News Agency, CNN) to "just more than 230,000" (Reuters/Yahoo) to "about a million" (Tri-City Herald) to "over one million" (AP/Yahoo). I'd have to say that it's impossible to confirm exactly how many were present, but it was certainly at least in the hundreds of thousands as these pictures would seem to indicate.

Whatever the actual turnout, it shocked China into "silen[ce]" about the numbers and had pan-blue TV stations reporting on things like the amount of garbage left behind and traffic complaints. (As I left the rally, I had seen an ETTV cameraman on the sidewalk and admonished him, "Try not to lie too much.") The garbage that I did see was piled around overflowing garbage cans -- not randomly disposed of in the middle of the street -- and was already being cleaned up before the crowd had finished dispersing. As for traffic problems, the protesters were quite patient as police controlled the flow of people and vehicles through intersections, and there was relatively little horn-blowing for Taiwan -- probably less than what I heard in the taxi coming home from the train station.

Pan-blue politicians themselves have already begun to put their own spin on the news of the rally. KMT chairman and last year's crybaby sore loser presidential candidate Lien Chan compared the protesters to "homeless people with nowhere to go," blaming Chen Shui-bian for this. Taipei City Mayor Ma Ying-jeou, comparing apples with oranges, reported the number of protesters as "275,000," adding that this was "fewer than last year's 313 [pan-blue campaign] rally" which -- even if this comparison were true -- took place "throughout the nation's 25 cities and counties" and on the same day that a single-city rally organized by Chen Shui-bian's Democratic Progressive Party "mobilized nearly 500,000 people."

I almost felt like a celebrity among the crowd, standing out even more than I usually do. People were patting me on the back thanking me for supporting Taiwan. I didn't really know what to say, as it was natural for me to be there. Mostly, I replied to them in Taiwanese, "You're welcome" or "Go, Taiwan, go!"

The crowd was enthusiastic, but just like last year's "228 Hand-in-Hand Rally," it was more peaceful than you could imagine for a crowd that size. President Chen Shui-bian marched with the crowd accompanied by his daughter, her husband, and their firstborn son. Former President Lee Teng-hui marched along another route, raising up his shirt at one point for TV reporters who had asked him if he was wearing a bulletproof vest. "No. I'm not afraid," was his reply.

Despite the spin, the people of Taipei, the pan-blue crybabies, and even the leaders of China heard the voice of the people of Taiwan yesterday shouting, "Cherish peace, defend democracy, and protect Taiwan." I hope the rest of the world takes notice of the situation before it develops into something even more serious.
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