Greetings from San Francisco!
Lao Ren Cha has been silent these past two weeks because I've been traveling in the US visiting family and friends, and frankly just haven't had the time. I wasn't even supposed to be in California, but I missed my flight and as a result I'm going to miss Taipei Pride 2017. I had had a rainbow skirt made for the occasion and everything.
But, with a bit of time to kill before my flight, I'd add a little commentary to two stories that caught my eye.
First, a petition to ban the Chinese flag in public places has passed the 5000-signature threshold for a government response.
I've made the case before that pro-unification demonstrators should be banned (and also made the case that they shouldn't), but I hope it's clear that I don't necessarily buy my own devil's advocate argument.
It's true that China bans the ROC flag, and this would be tit for tat. It's true that pro-China protesters have a track record of violence, it's true that the Chinese government is an existential threat to Taiwan and must therefore be treated differently from other foreign governments, and of course we all ought to know by now that few of these pro-unificationists are sincerely expressing an ideal. They're either gangsters, associated with gangsters, or as I suspect in many cases paid by the CCP as "fake civil society" agitators. Many protest not to convince Taiwanese - a lost cause if there ever was one - but to create appropriate photo ops in China of "pro-unification Taiwanese".
All of these are reasons, I suppose, to prohibit them from demonstrating.
But you know what? I don't think it matters. Yes, China bans the ROC flag, but we are better than them. It is a stronger example to show that we can allow the flag of a threatening country to be shown in public without fearing that its very image could destabilize Taiwan than to ban it out of fear. Treating China as an existential threat is important, but also a separate issue from allowing Taiwanese citizens and legal residents to exercise their rights of speech and assembly. Pointing out the irony that they are demonstrating in favor of a country that would take away their right to demonstrate is another way to handle this without putting an unnecessary gag on free speech.
And yes, we need to do something about the violence, but using "they are violent!" as an excuse to disallow certain kinds of protests is a path we really ought not to be going down. It could theoretically be used on anyone. Keeping an eye on certain individuals known to be violent and a law enforcement presence similar to that seen in other, peaceful protests is the way to deal with it - as well as finally locking up gangsters known to be pro-violence, pro-China agitators who have committed crimes (that is to say, White Wolf).
Certainly, we could ban them because they are disingenuous, but this is very hard to prove, and also a problematic approach. Do we also ban anyone from protesting who has received money in any capacity or is employed by an organization that advocates for the issue behind the demonstration? Do we ban paid political party staff from marching in support of an issue their party also supports? We can and should put more restrictions on foreign funding in Taiwan, but I suspect a lot of these payments are personal - think "red envelope full of cash" - and difficult if not impossible to trace.
As for the point that these demonstrations are more to generate visuals in China than to impact anything in Taiwan - who cares?
In short, there is just no way to reasonably ban these guys in a free society, although they should be held more fully legally accountable for any violence they incite. The best we can do is make sure the general public is educated about who they are and why they are doing this.
As for the second story, in this article on indigenous Taiwanese reclaiming their names, this line caught my eye:
First of all, many people could not pronounce his [Neqou Sokluman's] name because he chose a rare character. And whenever he went to a hospital or to a government agency, the staff would ask him in English, “Are you Taiwanese? Can you speak Chinese?” and treat him as a migrant worker from Southeast Asia. [emphasis mine].
It goes without saying that indigenous Taiwanese, and everyone, frankly - should be able to have and use their real name. I'd only add that it is also necessary to educate the general public on not only the existence of such names in Taiwan, but also the need to respect them. I'll also point out that the rule that one must adopt a Chinese-character name is not limited to indigenous people - if a foreigner registers a marriage in Taiwan with a Taiwanese citizen, they are also required to adopt a "Chinese name". In addition, it's not at all fair that I can have both my English and Chinese names and nobody whose opinion matters raises a fuss about it. And, of course, I have more than one Taiwanese friend who has been forced to choose and use an "English name" that they don't want. That's not right.
Although these situations are not the same as what indigenous people face, one can draw a few comparisons.
But...what really bothers me is this: I don't want indigenous Taiwanese to be treated better than Southeast Asian migrant workers. I don't want anyone to be treated better than Southeast Asian migrant workers, because these workers ought to be treated with just as much respect as anyone else, as equal human beings. I don't want the phrase to even have a reason to exist, because you can't equate poor treatment to the experience of a group if no group is treated poorly.
This goes way beyond elevating one group and right to the heart of treating all people with respect regardless of socioeconomic status, visa status or national or racial origin (or gender, or orientation, or creed, or weight, or age).
People deserve respect because they are people, not because they are "indigenous" or "Taiwanese" or the right kind of foreigner (so says the Garbage Foreigner), and everyone should be able to have the name that they want - their name - and just be who they are.