'I cried taking photos,' cameraman says of filming democracy pioneer

2017/07/16 21:03:39
Picture taken from Chiu Wan-hsing's Facebook page

Picture taken from Chiu Wan-hsing's Facebook page

Taipei, July 16 (CNA) "You had to be ready to go to prison anytime," Chiu Wan-hsing (邱萬興), a photographer who documented the democracy movement in Taiwan before and after the country's lifting of martial law, said of being a cameraman during that period of transformation in Taiwan.

Taiwan marked the 30th anniversary of the lifting of martial law on Saturday. Martial law was imposed on May 19, 1949 in Taiwan and lifted by President Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) on July 15, 1987.

During the martial law era, people were not allowed to form political parties, and there was no right of assembly, free speech and publication in Taiwan.

Many of the victims and families of those who lost their lives during the long period of repression revisited the past over the weekend to remember the period, including Chiu.

Born in Taoyuan, he graduated from Fu-Hsin Trade and Arts School and specialized in drawing and graphic design. After graduation, he worked for a construction company and was responsible for real estate advertising.

In the early 1980s, people from outside the Kuomintang fought fiercely for the freedom of speech, leading to the proliferation of opposition magazines. It was at that time that Chiu's friend asked him to help edit "The Eighties," a political journal.

Chiu documented many major events with his camera, including the Wild Lily student movement, a student sit-in demonstration in 1990 for democratic reform, the establishment of the Democratic Progressive Party in 1986, and the 1988 Peasant Movement.

He was also the first photographer to arrive at the scene of the death of pro-democracy pioneer Cheng Nan-jung (鄭南榕), who famously committed suicide by self-immolation in 1989 to fight for freedom of speech.

Chiu said he was taking photos at a museum in Taipei on April 7, 1989, when he heard that something had happened at the office of Freedom Era Weekly, a magazine founded by Cheng.

After rushing to the office on his scooter, Chiu said he saw a lot of smoke and a SWAT team at the site. After negotiating with the police, Chiu was allowed into the office, where he saw the charred body of Cheng.

"It was painful to take those photos. I cried while taking them. It was difficult to see a man being burned alive," he said.

"Without Cheng Nan-jung's determination and sacrifice, it would have been impossible for Taiwan's freedom of speech to come this far today," Chiu said. "Democracy did not just fall from the air. It was earned step by step."

Even during the period after martial law ended when Chiu started working for the DPP, he said he was often harassed and followed by the police and had to change his residence every two to three months.

"I once got a call and the caller said, 'I am your high school classmate and I would like to treat you to coffee.' The police often harassed you with these kinds of calls, to frighten you," he said.

(By Chen Chun-hua and Christie Chen)
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