Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Book Review: Lord of Formosa

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It is a pleasure for a work of historical fiction to come out on an area of history I am particularly interested in (Taiwan, obviously). It is an even greater pleasure when that work of historical fiction is not only engaging, but generally accurate. Joyce Bergvelt's Lord of Formosa has earned both of these adjectives.

Lord of Formosa is essentially a biography of Koxinga (國姓爺 or 鄭成功), the 17th-century scholar/pirate/businessman/military leader/talented crazy dude, from his early life on the Japanese island of Hirado (off Nagasaki) with his Japanese mother, Tagawa Matsu to his upbringing at his father Zheng Zhilong's (鄭芝龍) estate in Fujian, followed by his rise as one of the most talented loyalist military leaders resisting the encroaching Manchu (Qing) conquerers to his conquest of the Dutch colony on Taiwan. It's interspersed with viewpoint chapters from the Dutch colonial officers as well as Koxinga's parents.

It tells the story, in short, of a man given the Imperial Surname (國姓爺) by a dying empire, a man given the title 'Success' (成功) who was, in the end, not all that successful.

The story itself is somewhat tragic: Koxinga fulfills what the novel depicts as his 'destiny' but pays for it dearly. He has to choose between remaining loyal to the collapsing Ming dynasty or to his father, and watches the devastation of his family at the hands of the Qing.

"He literally died of a broken heart," an acquaintance of mine noted.

But no, to hear historians tell it, he probably died of syphilis.

In this way, the thick novel is cinematic in scope, at times reading like a biopic. It would make an excellent film, and I can only hope someone will pick up the rights and do just that (as long as it's not a Chinese company hoping to use it as a propaganda vehicle for their government's aggressive territorial expansionism).

From the beginning, I was interested in how accurate Lord of Formosa really was. So, just after reading it, I picked up Tonio Andrade's Lost Colony, figuring it would be a good nonfiction counterpoint. I'm partway through that book now, and am surprised more by how much is accurate than the small details which are spun with more artistic license.

However, this isn't even the highlight of the book: the best part is simply how much fun it is to read. Despite being extremely busy, I read Lord of Formosa in three days, staying up late one evening to finish it. You know a book is good when it's 3am and you know you aren't going to get enough rest that night, but you just keep going because sleep won't happen anyway.

I also appreciated how forthright Bergvelt is with her characters' flaws. Zheng Zhilong is, to be frank, a total douchehole both in terms of his defection to the Qing and his treatment of his first wife. If his son Koxinga was any kind of hero, he was a deeply flawed one: often cruel and despotic, suffering from fits of uncontrollable rage which might have been brought about by the aforementioned syphilis. Of course, the syphilis would have been brought about by all the mostly-nonconsensual sex he was having.

What I'm trying to say is that Koxinga might have been brilliant, but he was also super rapey.

His regretting it later (in the novel's telling) doesn't change that. Oh, and like father, like son.

In fact, that Bergvelt successfully created a story that includes a variety of relevant, realistic female voices - not all of them kind, pure-hearted heroic martyrs - in a story and era that is so deeply, unrepentantly penis-driven (my masts are bigger than your masts - let us do naval warfare!) is a literary feat. While she could have done more with the housekeeper, Lady Yan and Koxinga's wife Cuiying, she does enough to show that behind every story of dueling dicks, there are women who also drive the plot. And yet, she doesn't shy away from exactly how those women are treated.

The Dutch, who are portrayed not entirely unsympathetically, still come across as stupid - not really understanding Asia or the goings-on in the colonies they ruled - as well as greedy and racist. This was historically accurate: they did consider Chinese men to be 'effeminate', not a fighting force that could vanquish their (smaller) military might. That's racist. They didn't care nearly as much about the welfare of the people on Formosa, be they indigenous or Hoklo, as they did their profits. This is not only historically accurate, but also racist. 

On the other hand, Koxinga was kind of racist too - believing he had the right to take Taiwan because most residents by that time were Chinese (mostly brought over as laborers by the Dutch, who worked them like serfs) and therefore Taiwan ought to be a part of China, is just a different way to be racist. He didn't 'liberate' Taiwan from colonizers - he was just another kind of colonizer.

If I have any criticism of Lord of Formosa, it's that that point could have been made more forcefully.

Bergvelt takes a few artistic liberties. There was a fortune-teller in Japan who was more of a plot device than real character. I'm not sure how many of the Hoklo characters on Formosa were real people (though at least two - Guo Huai-yi and He [Ting]-bin certainly are). It is not clear how Tagawa Matsu died, although Bergvelt's telling of it is plausible, or even likely. Koxinga is depicted as growing less rapey over time (but still, again, super rapey) due to the effect his mother's death has on him. I'm not sure this would have played out in quite that way in real life - more likely, he was incapable of comprehending that the sex he unilaterally decided to have with women who didn't resist per se but also didn't consent is just as rapey as what Qing soldiers were doing. In other words, he didn't stop being rapey - he was just another kind of rapist.

That said, Bergvelt is a talented writer, understanding seemingly innately where to hew to historical accuracy and where to apply a bit of soft focus or streamlining. The story moves forward when it needs to (although I would have liked to have seen more of Koxinga's childhood in China) and lingers where it needs to.

Whether you are into historical fiction, want an engaging read of a period of Taiwanese history in particular, or just like a good novel, I strongly recommend it.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Book review: Women's Movements in Twentieth-Century Taiwan

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When talking about Taiwanese history, it's quite common to come across a belief that modern Taiwanese beliefs have their roots in the 1970s, and did not really exist before that. From "there was no real sense of Taiwanese identity or a Taiwanese identity movement before the 1970s/the Kaohsiung Incident" to "there is no history of feminism in Taiwan before the 1970s/before the end of the Chiang Kai-shek era" and more, it surprises me how many people truly think this is the case.

Of course, when it comes to Taiwanese identity, this is manifestly false. There are records of autonomous rule movements as early as the late 1800s, and several sources reference similar autonomous movements in the Japanese colonial era. When it comes to women's movements, the same applies. While several feminist pioneers did bring ideas of gender equality to the mainstream in the 1970s, the first stirrings of modern autonomous (that is, not connected to, supported or funded by the government) women's movements in Taiwan have their roots in the Japanese era, although there's no evidence to suggest that the 1970s feminists were directly influenced by them.

It seems to me that misrepresenting both of these movements as originating in the 1970s rather than several decades earlier is an intellectual sleight-of-hand meant to create the idea that both are new, "Western" notions that have no natural roots in Taiwanese culture or history (therefore creating a platform from which to criticize modern Taiwanese identity and feminism). In both cases, such notions are disingenuous.

This is just one of the many things I learned from Women's Movements in Twentieth-Century Taiwan, a slim volume (for an academic book) by Doris Chang. And, for an academic title, it reads surprisingly smoothly.

As an individualist feminist, I appreciated being challenged on the different notions of what feminism could be. I am not a relational feminist - I don't believe my equal place in society comes from the fulfilling of my different but complementary duties vis-a-vis a family or collective society - but as Chang makes clear, this is indeed a form of feminism, and one of two strands that continues to exist in Taiwan (and, arguably, the one that can strike the best compromise with traditional notions of role, duty and family in Taiwan). Chang further clarifies, however, that this is not the only strand of feminist thought present in Taiwan, as many would believe: radical feminism, woman-identified, X-centric and individual feminism also exist.

If I took one thing from this book, it's a reminder that Taiwanese society is not so simply categorized as traditional/collective/Confucian/whatever adjective you want to describe your idea about ~*~The Mystic East~*~. It's far more complex than that, and there is a place in public discourse for ideas that don't fit neatly into this narrative.

Chang makes other important points as well: for example, until fairly recently, the story of women's movements in Taiwan was once controlled by a China-centered narrative which began not in Taiwan, but with the founding of the Republic of China in, well, China. Taiwan only enters this narrative after 1945 (you can guess why), with women's history under Japanese rule being erased: non-existent, foreign or irrelevant to the story that the Sinicizers want to push.

Hmm, that sounds similar to Taiwanese national history as a whole, doesn't it? Not so different from teaching schoolchildren that their country was founded in 1911 (nevermind that that happened in China, and nothing important happened in Taiwan on that day) and then erasing Japanese era history in Taiwan to cover the Republic of China's Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 instead, no?

Chang also provides short histories of notable women in the early and mid-twentieth century, and devotes entire chapters to scions of the movement such as Annette Lu and Lee Yuan-chen, showing that the only reason we believe history to be full of notable male characters but few notable women is because we've constructed it that way, not because it always happened that way.

She also discusses the ways in which autonomous women's movements differed from government-affiliated ones. You won't be surprised to learn that the Japanese and ROC-affiliated women's movements promoted not feminism, but the fulfillment of traditional gender roles (shocking, I know.) She covers Soong Mei-ling's use of women's organizations mid-century to work toward national goals with very little concern for the actual issues facing middle-class and poor Taiwanese women.

I was interested to learn about the origin of those "Model Mother Awards" as well (you won't be shocked to learn they began in the worst years of the ROC dictatorship, because doling them out supported national goals), and her touching on the ways in which women's labor helped catalyze the Taiwan Miracle, although I think she could have made that point more forcefully than she did.

And, of course, she covers the ins and outs of elitism in women's movements, the relationship of women's movements to democracy/pro-Taiwan movements, Awakening and the Taipei Women's Rescue Foundation, the cooperation and rift between liberal feminists and lesbians, domestic abuse hotlines and more, finishing up with the ways in which the pioneers of the 1970s were able to really flourish (as well as separate into different groups) with the lifting of Martial Law, and the bevy of women's rights laws that were passed between the mid-1980s and the end of the 20th century.

I have one abiding criticism of Women's Movements in Twentieth-Century Taiwan, which is that it follows a bluer narrative than you would expect. That is not to say it doesn't criticize the KMT, the Republic of China or its leaders (it absolutely does, often viciously and entirely rightly), but that it includes certain problematic historical constructions that if anything are surprising. Here is just a taste (underlined emphasis points are mine):


In 1987, the Kuomintang lifted martial law and ushered in Taiwan's democratization. 

(No, the Kuomintang was forced by the Taiwanese to do that.)


The Dutch colonized the island....the government of the Qing dynasty incorporated Taiwan into the Chinese Empire.

(
You already know how I feel about this.)



With the defeat of Japan in World War II, the Allies transferred the governance of Taiwan to the Kuomintang government.

(Nope. And the KMT knew this - scroll down).


The Taiwanese duality of both sameness and with difference from mainland China has contributed to the Taiwanese people's unresolved national identity since the 1940s. 

(While identity has absolutely been a core question in Taiwan, the origin of ambiguity in Taiwan's national identity comes from colonial regimes from China - first the Qing, now the ROC - who insist on promoting a Chinese-centered national identity. If they had not pushed that point from their foreign perspectives so forcefully, Taiwanese national identity would not be in question. In fact, these days the question is mostly resolved, but the book was published in 2009 so I can forgive this.)


There are a few more examples, including many jarring uses of that horrible word "mainland", implying a territorial connection that simply isn't there - the current PRC government of China has never ruled Taiwan - but you get the point.

In any case, it was a worthwhile book if you can look beyond the odd blueness of the language used - as engaging as an academic text can be (though a bit heavy on the 'thesis statements' as though someone is grading it), full of lots of knowledge drops. Despite one or two confusing narrations of timeline (I'm still not sure when and why the New Life movement moved away from May Fourth Movement ideals and toward more traditional precepts, and the section on that did not clarify), I learned a lot and am happy I read it.

If you are not already knowledgeable about women's history in Taiwan, I recommend you do, too.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

I read a book and obsessed over Annette Lu

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This passage is about Lee Yuan-chen, not Annette Lu, but the point applies regarding how she's been treated.



Add former Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) to the list of people who vex me. Reading more about her contributions to the feminist movement in Taiwan was the most impactful part of Doris Chang's Women's Movements in Twentieth-Century Taiwan for me, so I'd like to devote a post to talking about that before I drop a more complete review.

The book devotes a long chapter to Lu, who these days has a reputation for being both off-kilter and out-of-touch. It's not hard to see why.

When looking into what people dislike about Lu, I find stories that range from an odd trip to Indonesia as vice president (reported sympathetically in the Taipei Times) to comments on AIDS that many took as blaming gay men for the AIDS crisis as "God's punishment" (and frankly, I have to agree with that interpretation of her meaning) to a confusing proposal for Taiwan's diplomatic neutrality to completely unwarranted attacks on Mayor Ko and last year's Universiade. And, of course, announcing her intention to run for Taipei mayor when she is, frankly, not all that popular and doesn't seem to realize it. And, of course, there's her support of the ill-fated 'independence referendum' which takes so much energy that could be used to combat real threats to a more liberal future for Taiwan, and pours it into a big fat waste of time.

Then there is what I saw myself: She came to the 330 protest to support the 2014 Sunflower Movement (I don't have a link, I'm telling you this because I watched her walk by with my own eyes), despite the movement having little to do with her, and the general feeling that the DPP was trying to capitalize on the movement to build their own support when the Sunflowers themselves were not particularly interested in DPP party politics. Actions like this were a part of why many Taiwanese on the fence about the Sunflowers came to believe they were a DPP plot, when they were nothing of the sort.

Chang, on the other hand, focuses specifically on Lu's activities in the 1970s, and makes it quite clear that Taiwan would not be where it is today vis-a-vis women's equality if not for her. A thread of belief is drawn between her - the first and most prominent Taiwanese feminist of the second half of the twentieth century - and the women's groups of early-20th century Japanese Taiwan, but makes it clear that from a research/scholarship standpoint, there is no evidence that the movement Lu ignited (no, it is not an exaggeration to say so) was directly related to earlier women's rights activities in the country. I do not think it is too much of a stretch to say that perhaps the reason why Taiwan is ahead of the rest of Asia when it comes to women's issues is in large part thanks to her. She didn't do everything - there are many other notable Taiwanese feminists of the 80s and 90s - but she struck the match in the 1970s and that means something. She printed books, founded associations and opened hotlines during a time when one could be arrested or 'watched' for doing so: and she was.

Her feminism was not perfect: she was in favor of ending arranged marriage (still somewhat common in Taiwan even as late as the 1970s) and she herself chose not to marry. She spoke out in favor of women succeeding professionally, as she had done. However, she tried to build support through compromise: not attacking the (wrong) idea that women still had specific duties in the home that should not be done by male family members, with no ideas as to how to ease the 'double burden' this dual set of responsibilities - familial and professional - puts on women. She was not in favor of pre-marital sex (though advocating for not discriminating against those who chose to engage in it). She tried to marry feminism with the idea of Confucian duty, and frankly, it didn't work well for good reasons.


In fact, she came into feminism long before she became a dangwai or pro-independence activist, to the consternation of many of her less party-bound (or simply blue-leaning) feminist peers who felt that the fight for women's equality should not be bound to other political goals (many if not most did not join the dangwai as Lu did).

Her doing so anyway - and suffering for it, having been imprisoned and tortured with other pro-Taiwan activists for her role in the Kaohsiung Incident - could be said to be part of why feminism in Taiwan is now linked to some extent with pro-independence, human rights and other liberal activist movements. It's a logical progression: women's movements supported by the KMT, especially in the White Terror era, were not equality-minded at all but rather promoted the continuation of traditional gender roles and beliefs about gender and duty. It only makes sense that a different set of beliefs about equality would eventually be tied into an anti-KMT, pro-Taiwan platform. Yet without Lu, this might not have happened.

This national amnesia about her contributions to the women's movement means that her current beliefs are often presumed, perhaps unfairly. Some say she opposes marriage equality, but the only source I can find for that are interpretations of the aforementioned AIDS comments. Having been made 15 years ago, I'm not sure that's a strong enough case to interpret her feelings on the issue today. Soon after those comments, she drafted a basic human rights law that included marriage equality, which didn't pass.

Yet, people assume that one (extremely stupid and bigoted, to be true) comment about AIDS represents her entire worldview, which I feel is unfair, and it seems nobody has asked her what she thinks of marriage equality today.

This has led me to believe that perhaps she doesn't get enough credit, even as we acknowledge that she has not represented the zeitgeist for decades and regularly makes groanworthy statements today. It doesn't surprise me: scions of other liberal movements are regularly forgiven for their later missteps - Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins come to mind - but women like Lu? Well, I wonder why they aren't. Why are her past contributions so easily forgotten? If her statement on AIDS, which rightly deserves all of the criticism thrown at it, is used to frame her entire belief system, why is the same not often done for so many male public figures?

I can't help but notice that, while other human rights advocates of her era such as Shih Ming-te are also rightly criticized for their out-of-touch and off-kilter (and often downright insane-sounding) pronouncements today, some are quick to point out that serving time in prison under the KMT dictatorship would drive anyone to be a bit, uh, nutty. Yet few seem to remember that Lu spent over five years as a political prisoner as well. Shih gets the background context for his behavior, Lu just gets eyerolls.


(That said, if I could vote, I would not vote for her for Taipei mayor. She's done a lot, but she would not be a good mayor, period.)

There is still more work to be done: Lu is brushed aside - sometimes rightly so, sometimes perhaps without due consideration of her important contributions to the women's movement - and the slow liberalization of Taiwan chugs along. The southern and older social conservatives who make up much of the DPP's pro-independence supporters are growing old, and will be replaced by younger, more progressive voters. In the here and now, though, these older conservatives still matter, yet we forget that there are people like Lu who began challenging them, however imperfectly, decades ago.

The younger, more liberal generation itself has work to do. As Chang notes in Women's Movements in Twentieth-Century Taiwan:


Due to the male-dominated power structure of Taiwan's democracy movement, the professed ideals of liberty, justice and equality did not necessarily translate into male activists' equal treatment of and respect for female activists. 


This was true when the book was written, and it was true in Lu's time as well. She challenged it, and made it to the vice presidency.


The problem is, it's still true today. Look at the Sunflowers, whose large-scale protest she attended. How many prominent Sunflowers are male? How many are female? How often are male NPP legislators (Freddy Lim, Huang Kuo-chang and Hsu Yung-ming) in the public eye? How often are the female legislators (Kawlo Iyun Pacidal, Hung Tzu-yung) in the public eye?

Despite a great deal of progress having been made, do we really think that today's liberal progressive youth is that much better vis-a-vis women's equality than in Lu's generation?

Because as I see it, Lu understood this before the rest of us did. Maybe she's out-of-touch now, and it is frankly time for her to retire. She is now hindering the movements she once championed. But that doesn't mean we give her enough credit or that we can ignore the ways in which the work she started still is not done.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Reason number six zillion why international media coverage of Asia sucks

My new queen Joanna Chiu hits the nail so perfectly on the head that the nail goes straight through the wood, through the table and right into the foot of some guy who was probably standing over her explaining how hammers work in this piece about men, journalism and Asia. She also manages to get Foreign Policy to publish the words "fuck", "swinging dick", "dick pic" and "sexpat", which is kind of wonderful.

Chiu firsts outlines some of the horrific, unprofessional, misogynist and also just downright rapey behavior she's experienced while covering Asia:


Once, a fellow journalist exited our shared taxi outside my apartment. I thought we were sharing a cab to our respective homes, but he had other expectations, and suddenly his tongue was in my face. On another evening, another journalist grabbed my wrist and dragged me out of a nightclub without a word....

The incidents aren’t limited by proximity. I have received multiple unsolicited “dick pics” from foreign correspondents — generally on the highly monitored messaging service WeChatI have received multiple unsolicited “dick pics” from foreign correspondents — generally on the highly monitored messaging service WeChat. Somewhere deep in the Chinese surveillance apparatus there is a startling collection of images of journalists’ genitalia....

Most disturbingly, a source tried to rape the correspondent while she was on assignment in China. She never told her bosses for fear that disclosure would hurt her career.


Then she reminds us that these are the exact same men covering sensitive local and regional issues in Asia which include women's issues.


I have seen correspondents I know to be serial offenders in private take the lead role in reporting on the sufferings of Asian women, or boast of their bravery in covering human rights. In too many stories, Asian men are treated as the sole meaningful actors, while Asian women are reduced to sex objects or victims. And this bad behavior — and the bad coverage that follows — is a pattern that repeats across Asia, from Tokyo to Phnom Penh.

There's a fair bit of intersectional fuck-uppery going on here too, with large numbers of underpaid local staff hired at news bureaus across Asia, the vast majority of them female, treated like errand girls and second-class employees, with little or no recourse or channels for reporting misconduct:


The problems are worsened by the unequal power dynamics in the offices of multinational media that employ “local staff” to provide translation, conduct research, and navigate complex bureaucracies, but pay them a fraction of what their foreign colleagues earn. In China, these “news assistants” are mostly young women. This pattern is mirrored in other countries, where the pool of those with the English-language skills needed for the job often skew female....

“They have no job security — if there is any conflict, they can be fired the next day,” says Yajun Zhang, a former news assistant. As a result, sexual harassment and gender- or race-based discrimination can occur with impunity. Even if they raise concerns, investigation can often prove extremely difficult over distance and cultural barriers.


Considering this, are we still surprised that international media coverage in Asia is so bad (you were aware it is mostly bad, yes, with few gems shining through the murk)?

It ties together a host of issues why the media has, in a lot of cases, failed in giving the world a somewhat accurate picture of what really goes on in media (and expat circles) in Asia. It's not only that men who treat women like garbage then report on women's issues here, but also that the people with real local knowledge who could add detail, nuance and accuracy to their reports are often at best ignored, treated as "less than" and sent on non-work-related errands, and at worst are sexually assaulted.

There are not only so few non-male voices not only in international media in Asia, but in the expat community in East Asia generally (and, frankly, local communities too - from Taiwanese student activists to the CCP and their propaganda machine to Japanese corporate leadership and politics, the voices are still overwhelmingly male). As such, those with the life experience that will help them notice and pick up certain stories are systematically discriminated against (or assaulted) - and those stories get ignored.

And it's not only that so many people who report on Asia - even for highly pretigious media - are "parachuted in" and don't know the issue on a local level at all, which shows in their lackluster coverage. Even these reporters act badly - they are mostly male, because the world runs on penises spouting their penis opinions:


Journalists parachuting in from the home office for one-off trips have also developed a reputation for treating local residents they rely on for their stories badly — especially women.


But it's also that - Imma be honest here - most of these swinging dicks are bad at their jobs. I don't know, in the craptacular coverage of Asia I've read (and there is a LOT of it), how much of it is written by dudes who are decent guys who just aren't very good reporters, and which are sexual assailants or misogynist pricks who will disparage women or troll victims of sexual assault. I just don't know. I'm sure some of the sexual assailants are men who write brilliant copy. But I can say with a fair amount of confidence that the Venn diagram of mediocre (mostly male) reporters doing a bad job in Asia and reporters who sexually harass and assault (or denigrate) women likely has far more overlap than most people care to think about.

Is it such a leap to think that a dude who is so arrogant, entitled and self-absorbed that he thinks he can grab any pussy he likes (not every man who does this is Donald Trump) would also be the sort of dude who thinks he is qualified or able to cover Asia well, when in fact he is stunningly mediocre at it?

A final thought:

This story broke about a week ago. As usual, people climbed out of the primordial Internet soup to find some way, truly any goddamn way, to blame the Asian women who go with these guys for their behavior rather than blaming the assholes themselves, at least when all the sex they're having is consensual. Because why point fingers at a guy who sends unsolicited dick pics and gropes women in taxis when there are women you can blame instead?

There was one stupid comment calling the Asian women who go for these guys (the ones who do so consensually) a "threat to Asian culture": as though it's women's choices which need to be policed and judged, not men's behavior. As though they are responsible for upholding some other person's idea of what their culture should be. As though they aren't making a personal choice. As though they shouldn't be allowed to have any choice at all (if some choices are deemed 'unacceptable', then that simply is not choice.) As though consensual sex - even a lot of it - is necessarily a bad thing.

Some will blame the men too - in true "they're rogering our women!" fashion. Instead of screaming "culture traitor!" at an Asian woman who makes a choice they don't like, they cast her instead as a stupid victim who isn't capable of making the choice. That's just as bad.

That's just for the women who go with these guys consensually. For the ones assaulted non-consensually, well, they get this instead:


As the New York Times reported, former club president Jonathan Kaiman, who had resigned in January after being accused of sexual misconduct by Laura Tucker, a former friend of his, was now accused of sexually assaulting a female journalist, Felicia Sonmez. After the second accusation, the Los Angeles Times quickly suspended him from his role as Beijing bureau chief and has begun an investigation. But as the Hong Kong Free Press noted, the original accusation had prompted many male correspondents to launch misogynistic attacks on Tucker in online conversations.

Such actions, and entitlement, reflect a sense of privilege and a penchant for sexual aggression that threatens to distort the stories told about Asia, and that too often leaves the telling in the hands of the same men preying on their colleagues.


Lovely.

These are the guys who write the stories about Asia that you read.

How do you feel about that?

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A review of Metal Politics Taiwan - my latest for Ketagalan Media

”He has a devil inside him,” Chthonic guitarist Jesse Black Liu says of Freddy Lim, the subject of German filmmaker Marco Wilms’ latest documentary, Metal Politics Taiwan. But he’s also a suited-up politician, elected to the national legislature.

In  my review of the film, I make the case that Freddy is Taiwan and Taiwan is Freddy - that the country, too, has a devil inside it.

Metal Politics Taiwan will screen again this Saturday at the Urban Nomad Film Festival. Get tickets here.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Rectification of Colonial Names

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This is talked about in Chinese, but not so much in English. 

Everyone agrees that the Japanese era was a colonial one and nobody disputes that the Dutch era was colonial, as well. This is true in all languages: English, Mandarin, Taiwanese, Hakka, any given indigenous language.

It's not new in political discussions in Chinese and Taiwanese to label the Qing era and the ROC era as "colonial", as well. It happens occasionally in English too: see here and here. Yet I've noticed that in English, such references still seem quite rare. The more nonfiction I read about Taiwan in English the more I notice this: the Dutch and the Japanese are "colonial", but the Qing and the ROC are rarely referred to as such. The way we talk about them lends these regimes legitimacy, a sense of being less "foreign", or a sense that if the colonizers come from China, they are somehow not just as colonial as any other invading force. They are simply "the Qing" or "the Qing era" or "the ROC on Taiwan" - as though they belong here, or it is their destiny, or Taiwan is somehow conceptually a part of China and that somehow makes it acceptable.

Calling the two Chinese regimes in Taiwan "colonial", however, is an idea I agree with. The Qing and the ROC came and extracted what they wanted from Taiwan rather than attempting to rule it as an integral part of their territory. The Qing used it as a place from which to take resources rather than a place to develop by pouring resources in - that is, exactly what a colonial power does. At their best, they treated it as a mere defensive perimeter, a "ball of mud beyond the pale of civilization" (海外泥丸,不足為中國加廣) that they controlled simply to keep other invaders who might cause trouble for China out, not a part of China itself (only in the last decade or so of their rule over Taiwan was Taiwan upgraded to individual province).

The Qing had to be convinced it was worth taking, and the whole notion that China could rule lands beyond its natural borders (mountains, desert and sea) is actually quite modern. They didn't even bother taking over the whole island or to map the eastern half until some other colonial power (Japan) showed a stronger interest in it. Or, in other words, they treated it like a colony.

So why don't we call it that? Why not the Qing Colonial Era in English? Hell, why isn't it more common in Chinese?

This treatment of Taiwan hurts us even today. When it comes to the ROC, the main argument against the idea that they too are a colonial power is a historical one: Taiwan used to be a part of China under the Qing, and therefore it can't be considered 'colonial' in the same way as the two were 'historically' united.

Otherwise, the only difference between Japan or the Dutch and the ROC is that the ROC comes from the same country as the ancestors of many Taiwanese. Even if this were definitively true (with many Taiwanese children born to a foreign parent these days - looking for a clear source on that - and Taiwan's genetic makeup being more similar to Southeast Asia than China, I doubt it is), it doesn't matter. If your only argument for being a legitimate government is "we're the same ethnicity" (whatever that means - ethnicity is a cultural construct, not a scientific grouping based on genetics), you simply do not have an argument. Ethnicity doesn't determine political destiny. We figured that out in the 20th century and it's time to apply a more modern understanding of what it means to be a nation to Taiwan.

I mean, what do we call a foreign government that takes over a piece of land and declares itself the sole legitimate government of that land without the consent of the local population? We call it colonialism.

That same power extracted resources from the land it rules - as the ROC did by gobbling up resources, putting its own in charge of large state monopolies under a command economy, expropriating land (much of which was taken for their own benefit), and using revenue from Taiwan - at one point over 90% of it - to fund the building of a military that could accomplish its real goal: "retaking the Mainland". At no point was it concerned with ruling Taiwan for its own sake. You can see that legacy in the haphazard and "who cares this is just a backwater" infrastructure development - if you could call the crumbling craphouses they built even that - that still plagues Taiwanese skylines. As Taiwan took a generation to recover from the economic double-blow of World War II and the KMT invasion, the KMT itself grew rich. As they hunted down and murdered a generation of local Taiwanese leaders and intellectuals, they themselves grew in stature and power.

What do we call such a system? Colonialism.

This is doubly true when the people are at no point allowed to vote or exercise self-determination as to whether they'd like to keep that government (even if elections are held within its framework - that's not the same as voting on the fate of the system as a whole). That it came from China makes no difference. It's still colonialism.

So why aren't we, English-speaking supporters of Taiwan, calling the ROC era, the era in which we live, the "ROC Colonial Era"? Why are we not calling it what it is?

These two ideas are intertwined: if we call the Qing era by what it really was we strike a blow against the 'historical' argument for the ROC not being 'colonial' as well. If the only other time China held Taiwan was also colonial, there is no basis for a non-colonial Chinese government in Taiwan.

In short, why aren't we more commonly telling the truth about Taiwan: that since the 1600s it has, with almost total continuity, been a colonial territory of three countries: the Netherlands, Japan and China (twice)?

I know I've got a tough hill to climb on this one: I'm still riding people's butts about not calling China "Mainland China" or the "Mainland", even among people who are pro-Taiwan. We are ceding semantic ground we really ought not to be ceding to the CCP and to annexationism in general (related: can we please stop calling it 'reunification' or even 'unification'? It's annexation. Make your names for things reflect reality). The fewer linguistic footholds we give for justification of annexation by China, the better.

But if we can't even kick that ridiculous 'Mainland' habit, I wonder how long it will be before we start using English to make reality plain.

China's designs on Taiwan are just as colonial as anyone else's. The only non-colonial government of Taiwan can come from Taiwanese self-determination, and we live in a colonial state now.

Friday, May 18, 2018

My formal application for China's "Taiwan Separatist Blacklist"

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I am quite serious. I want to be on China's blacklist. 

Update: we have a Facebook group! Join us, and apply for China's competitive "Taiwan Separatist Blacklist" position today!
Dear China:

Please consider my application for the position of "blacklisted person" on the "Taiwan separatist blacklist". I learned of this exciting opportunity in The Diplomat and feel that I am a perfect fit for the role. I have the qualities you are looking for in a suitable candidate: I am hardworking, driven and committed to the cause of Taiwanese independence. I mainly contribute through writing, but have been involved in other pro-independence activities which I would be delighted to discuss in further detail.

In terms of personal attributes, I not only support full de jure Taiwanese independence, but also hold many other positions that make me an excellent candidate for the blacklist. I support ending the government of the "Republic of China", which I view to be a colonialist state, and replacing it with a more appropriately-structured "Republic of Taiwan" (or any other suitable name that does not include "China"). I hold progressive values and believe that this vision of the Republic of Taiwan include democracy, human rights (including marriage equality) a fair and independent judiciary and suitable aspects of a social democratic state. Furthermore, I view the Republic of Taiwan as a multicultural entity, based on shared values rather than ethnicity, which has fully come to terms with its unique history as a colonial and settler state. While this history intertwines with China's at several key points, I do feel it to be separate and unique to Taiwan.

As a result, I bring to the table not only a strong support of Taiwanese independence, but progressive values which many candidates may lack and which (despite the requirements being somewhat vague) I understand your organization holds in particularly high regard when considering successful applicants to the blacklist.

On a personal note, it has always been my dream to be blacklisted and banned from China, and selecting me for this coveted position on your blacklist will be a culmination of my work as a writer to this date.

As the writer behind Lao Ren Cha (老人茶), a blog which is in English, not Chinese, and my status as commentator rather than activist, I understand that my professional credentials for this highly sought-after position on your blacklist might not be as illustrious as others. However, I can assure you, what I lack in qualifications I more than make up for in passion and vigor. If selected for your prestigious blacklist, I can assure you I will more than live up to expectations as a supporter and perhaps agitator for Taiwanese independence.

Sincerely,

Jenna Cody
Lao Ren Cha

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

It's not the name, it's the helplessness

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Not entirely accurate, but funny



Another day, another instance of the Chinese government being assparrots.

First, the Gap sells a really cool t-shirt that shows a map of China that doesn't include Taiwan (the picture above is a photoshopped joke version by a friend - the real one didn't include a Taiwan running away or the year 1949), and then apologizing for printing a map of China with "incorrect borders".

The borders are entirely correct (even in areas where I don't think they should be, such as Tibet and Xinjiang).

But, of course, selling t-shirts in China is more important than having a spine, and I can't even really bother to argue against that because it's about as useful as farting in a stiff breeze. T-shirts are going to matter more than values, principles or ethics for as long as I'm alive, most likely, and when I am consumed by rats or worms, they will continue to matter more than what is right.

Then, Air Canada - wobbly jellyfish to the last - changes Taiwan on their destination list to "Taipei, CN". Of course that destination does not exist. It's like trying to book a flight to Heaven, or Hell, or Oz, or wherever the Care Bears and Smurfs live. A wonderland of CCP revisionism. An imaginarium of a less just world.

"Travel everywhere with us," one of their Facebook posts says. Everywhere, it seems, except Taipei, Taiwan.

"Get your friends to travel together," another one says (on their Chinese-language Facebook page). Sure, let's travel to China (since apparently Taiwan doesn't exist), to get on our knees and pleasure Xi Jin-ping because watching him make his O-Face matters more than correct geographical labeling.

People have started petitions. Great. I went and trolled Gap on Facebook because I have nothing better to do with my time, the universe is cold and uncaring and not only are we all going to die, it won't even matter that we lived in the first place - tiny germs on a speck of dust hanging in a vast, rock-and-gas filled amoral vacuum that will also cease to exist one day. But, trolling Gap is fun so there's that.

This follows a string of "Orwellian nonsense" that's been going on for years as China acts like a massive baby - the tenderest snowflake there is - at the mere mention that a democratic nation called Taiwan exists. It's nothing new.

Of course, it hurts not that China does this - China's gonna China - but that the rest of the world caves in. That they are such cowards and hypocrites. They give in to fantasy land. Their actual moral compasses are about as sturdy as a cheap shit Gap t-shirt made in China.

And it hurts even more that there's so little we can do about it. We sign petitions as the rats get ready to gnaw our bones. We make snarky Facebook posts. Perhaps we contact our elected representative, who also cares more about t-shirts than principles. We gnash our teeth and feel upset, and it happens again and again as the vast coldness of space whirls around us, unaware.

From dust we came and to dust we shall return, but in the meantime, you really should sign the petition. I guess.

Taiwan's defamation laws can silence sexual assault victims

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Much has been made in the foreign community recently about Taiwan's insane defamation and personal insult laws, what with some guy who got flipped off acting like a massive can of Tender Pieces and suing over it, among other things that I won't write about here.

In Taiwan, you can get sued for flipping someone off, shouting a swear word at them (including "fuck"), writing something critical that the person criticized simply doesn't like, or less. According to this interpretation, telling the truth (or believing you are) is a valid defense, but to be frank, I've been privy to court cases where that didn't seem to play out as cleanly as the text would imply it ought to. 

I mean, I thought we'd gotten rid of authoritarianism and suppression of freedom of expression in Taiwan, but clearly not entirely. There have been times when there were things I know to be true that I would have liked to have published here, which I feel were in the public interest and have refrained knowing that being right isn't necessarily enough. Honestly, the implications for freedom of speech for this are horrifying - you can be telling the truth about some awful people or organizations that should be publicly known, and still have it come back to bite you. I have more than one gut-wrenching story that I will only share in private.

So, what to do if you are a victim of sexual assault? I've written about this elsewhere as part of a longer piece, and after much thought, still don't have a good answer.

Sexual assailants often strike where there are no witnesses or cameras. It's your word against theirs. Even if there are witnesses, they might not come forward for you. It's hard to press charges in such situations, especially when it's not the type of sexual assault that leaves physical evidence behind.


Leaving aside cultural taboos that prevent victims from coming forward (a different topic), let alone pressing charges, the law is not on the side of anyone assaulted in this way. In the US, if your goal is to warn others about someone's predatory behavior and see that there are natural consequences to their actions, but don't want to or can't press charges, you can still come forward. Your speech is protected by law unless it can be shown that it was intentionally false and malicious. The burden of proof is on the accuser.

In Taiwan, all you need to do is get flipped off or have someone say "fuck you" in your general direction because you did something to piss them off to win. If you sexually assault someone but they can't prove that you did so, the burden of proof is on the accuser-turned-defendant if they want to speak out.

What do you do in Taiwan, then, when you have been sexually assaulted and you want to #MeToo the hell out of it - warn other women, make it clear that there are social consequences for such actions - but cannot or don't want to (or can't afford to) press charges?

If you speak out, you could very well be slapped with a defamation lawsuit. Literally, some guy grabs your ass, you talk about it publicly (but don't want to press charges) and he sues you for defamation. He might not win the case, but he's cost you quite a bit of money in lawyer's fees even if it never goes to trial. There is no guarantee, however, that it won't go to trial and you won't lose. I've seen weirder, less well-argued verdicts handed down.

A reliable source of mine says the laws protect those who speak out about being sexually assaulted or harassed, but to be honest, I've looked and I can find no such explicit legal protection. If anyone does a better research job than I have, please feel free to let me know.


No wonder there is no #MeToo movement in Taiwan. Beyond the tendency to not report due to cultural pressures - don't rock the boat, you'll ruin his career over a pat on the ass, what were you wearing anyway, don't make waves, it will make things difficult, just let it go - one simply cannot report without fear of entirely unfair legal repercussions.

In this particular way, I cannot say that Taiwan deserves credit for having robust freedom of speech protections.

It doesn't.

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Contortions of a Dove in Hawk's Clothing

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Guard the alley, cat. 



Taiwan makes me contort myself in weird ways.

I don't mean living here, I'm pretty used to that. I mean in figuring out how the hell to reconcile my international political beliefs.

Because I'm not an expert in IR (having majored in it in undergrad 16 years ago doesn't count) I'm not going to try to analyze anything. I'm just going to say - so many people seem to think all of these  Korea-focused summits between Moon, Kim, Trump, Xi in various permutations are fantastic, and I too would love to be on the side of discussion, negotiation and diplomacy carrying the day toward peace and nuclear non-proliferation. I'm a liberal, right? We're foreign policy doves, are we not?
This is better than troops stationed for decades in foreign countries, nuclear tests, threat of war and ever-increasing military spending, is it not?

I'm not so sure of either.

The dove in me would love to see fewer American troops stationed abroad. The realist in me knows that Kim wants this, Trump is already talking about it, Xi definitely wants it, but it would be terrible for Taiwan. Mostly, I'm afraid that this is Xi's game: fewer US troops in the region that could potentially be deployed quickly is a clear strategic advantage for China and its designs on Taiwan. To continue the strongest possible deterrent to Chinese attack on Taiwan, I have to be in favor of continuing to station (and pay for) US troops in South Korea. I have to set myself against de-escalation and for the (heavily militarized) status quo.

I don't like that one bit. It goes against everything I believe in otherwise. But I also believe in Taiwan and have no doubt that deterring Chinese designs on Taiwan is not only the right thing to do, it's essential.

It is clear to me that the person who benefits from Trump looking like he's doing some good is Xi. He knows Trump is a paper tiger in most respects who can't be controlled but can be played, whose saber-rattling only makes China look like a victim when it isn't one (he is probably more worried about Trump's pro-Taiwan advisors, but also knows Trump people can and do get fired all the time).

The person who benefits from a US troop withdrawal in South Korea, in terms of regional influence? Xi. (I'd say "China" but it's all run by Xi anyway). The person who benefits from a denuclearized North Korea (if that actually happens, which I doubt - North Korea wouldn't be willing to talk if it didn't think it already had a deterrent to US attack, has broken promises after negotiating concessions), and from it seeming as though the region is peaceful and therefore there is no reason to maintain US influence at current levels? Xi. The person who benefits if the rest of the world decides Taiwan is not geostrategically important enough because Asia is quiet? Xi. Who keeps meeting with Kim with timings so fortuitous that they're practically announcing who is directing the "North Korea is suddenly playing nice" train? Xi.

Who is Taiwan's greatest enemy? Xi. Not the CCP (though they're pretty bad), not China. Xi. He’s not the next Mao Zedong. Mao had (messed up) ideals. He’s the next Chiang Kai-shek: ruthless, amoral, immoral, power-hungry, and weirdly obsessed with Taiwan.

It terrifies me that the small country that always breaks promises is being directed - and I do believe they are - by a big country that always breaks promises, which has designs on the country I live in and love. It terrifies me that so many people think peace always benefits everyone and that all players are honest and well-intentioned, when they are not, and the peace these people broker now could well lead to a war for Taiwan's continued freedom later.

But winning the hearts and minds of my fellow Western doves means convincing them that US military presence in Asia has more pros than cons and what looks on the surface like ‘peace’ actually isn’t. Good luck with that.

Granted, I don't think a troop drawdown in Korea is the only thing standing between Taiwan and China. We have troops elsewhere too and influence can mean as much as military might. It's more that every drop of US defensive capability that disappears from Asia is one drop less that China might have to contend with if it invades Taiwan (and it knows it). Every bit less of US influence in Asia is a bit more influence that China wins. Besides, troop drawdowns in S. Korea also affect Japan - this won't be good for Japan either if what I think is going on actually is.

I know this sounds a lot like wanting to keep letting the US run the show around the world rather than letting Asia (and Asians) manage their own affairs - and that too makes me as uncomfortable as doing a crazy yoga position. I don't particularly like US global hegemony, it was created to serve US interests, not the interests of the world as a whole.

But peace isn't always what it appears to be - you can bet Xi wants increasing power (and territory) in Asia to look "peaceful" so the West will stay away. Destruction can be rebuilt from - avoiding it is not always the top priority. CCP oppression is forever.


And so I'm stuck being a hawk even though I really, really don't want to be.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Republic of Tayovan

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From Jerome Keating's book, The Mapping of Taiwan. p. 76-77.
I have seen (reprints of) maps that spell it as "Tayovan" but I don't have access to them right now. 

Let's say you have a beautiful island. It's so beautiful that some random Europeans sailing by one day named it "The Beautiful Island".

Let's say that since that time, your island has never quite been free of colonialism.

First, the Dutch came. They called your island Formosa, just as the Portuguese named it. They imported immigrants from China to work for them, who called it "Tai'ouan", a Hokkien rejiggering of the indigenous - Siraya - name for bit of land near present-day Tainan, which was established as the capital. This can also be written as 臺員, and I've seen it written as 代員. This is the foundation for the modern name "Taiwan". That name was "Tayovan", and it can be seen on maps from that era.

Taiwan has been known by a number of names. There's Tungning (東寧), Tungtu (東都), Taiwan, The Republic of Taiwan (also sometimes called the Republic of Formosa), Ryukyu, Takasago (高砂), Taiwan Prefecture, Taiwan Province, The Republic of China - not in that order. In all cases, Taiwan was treated as a colony: Koxinga, the Qing, the Japanese, the ROC. Every last one is a colonizing power, in that they came from a foreign land and claimed ownership of Taiwan, without the consent of the locals. It's not common to call the Qing or the ROC colonizers, at least not in English - some sort of deference to ethnic chauvinism there maybe - but they most certainly are.

Now, there is an ongoing social discussion of what to call Taiwan. Die-hard blues with roots in China cling to "the Republic of China", but nobody who is even nominally forward-thinking takes this idea seriously. One of the main points of this discussion is that Taiwan is not a part of China, and deserves its own name.

Taiwan? I know someone who refuses to use the word, and insists on being referred to as "Formosan", because "Taiwan" is a "Chinese" name and he is not Chinese. (Of course, the name is an indigenous borrowing, it's not originally Chinese...but, that's cool.) In any case, he's not wrong that China would love for everyone to call this island "Taiwan", as in "Taiwan, Province of China".

He is not young, but a lot of young politically-minded Taiwanese have also landed on "Formosa" as the ideal name for Taiwan. It seems like a nice choice - it was a name given by Portuguese explorers, and Portugal never colonized Taiwan. It's a compliment, a reminder that while Taiwanese cities are not particularly attractive, the island as a whole is very beautiful indeed.

But I'd like to make the case for "Tayovan" (or "Taivan", but "Tayovan" makes it clearer that this is a departure from "Taiwan"). The Republic of Tayovan. Has a nice ring to it, no?

First, although it was originally a name for only a small bit of land around Tainan, it was the basis for which "Taiwan" came to be.

Second, this idea is not unheard-of in Mandarin and Taiwanese language discourse. I searched and can't find any links, but I know I've heard it discussed. I don't hear anyone talking about it in English, though.

Next, it has indigenous roots. No colonization involved. No other name has that pedigree - the Portuguese never colonized Taiwan, but they did brutally colonize other parts of the world. They were not Taiwanese - it's still a name bestowed on this island by Europeans (just as 'Taiwan' was bestowed on this island by Chinese).

There are a number of indigenous tribes in Taiwan (don't let the 'officially recognized' number fool you), all with their unique history, language and culture. All might wish to be the group honored in the hypothetical choosing of a new name for the country in recognition of its first inhabitants. However, because this is the specific name that came to be used for the whole island, it makes the most sense. It also comes from a language that is no longer spoken natively, so it's harder to accuse the government of giving preferential treatment to a currently-used language.

Finally, wouldn't be a big change - just switch your pronunciation, a little adjustment to spelling, maybe change the characters - and honors a deeper history that is uniquely Taiwanese. The waves of colonizers - the Dutch, the Zhengs, the Qing, the Japanese, the ROC - cannot lay claim to this. It doesn't speak to their history, it speaks to the history of this island. It recalls an Austronesian history that is so often overlooked.

And, y'know, it just sounds super cool.

Somehow I doubt I'm going to convince the entire nation to get on board. But, if I'm ever allowed to cast a vote on this, count me in for Republic of Tayovan.

Come on guys - Tayovan!

Friday, May 11, 2018

The Real Taiwan Miracle

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Look to the heavens, girl. You own half the sky or more.


I'll try to keep this short (for me) and sweet.

In my last post, I wrote about how hewing to outdated notions of women in Taiwan - "this is how it works in Asia", that sort of thing - leads to overgeneralizing about how gender roles really play out here.

In the days since, I've been mulling over the historical contexts behind the evolution of gender roles in East Asia. And I realized that what Taiwan has pulled off vis-a-vis women is nothing short of a miracle, if you look at it in a certain light. Asia is not a bastion of women's equality, but of all countries of Asia, I still contend that despite its problems, Taiwan is the best place on the continent to be a woman. How is it that Taiwan managed this, given its history?

For most of the 19th century, Taiwan was an underdeveloped and mostly ignored backwater, a far-flung defensive outpost. It would not be remiss to call it a colony of the Qing. Whatever liberal or revolutionary ideas might have been discussed among intellectuals - and I'm not sure much was before 1895 though I'd surmise that liberal ideas were not unheard-of - they didn't seem to have made it to Taiwan in any meaningful sense. (If I'm wrong about this, please correct me.)

As I noted in my previous post, the ideas that drove the feminist discourse of autonomous women's groups in Taiwan during the brief period when freedom of expression was tolerated under the Japanese came mostly from elite Taiwanese women studying in China and Japan. Therefore, feminist discourse clearly existed there.

However, Japan attempted to keep Taiwan under-educated: universities here preferred to admit Japanese students, and for much of the Japanese era, most Taiwanese never moved beyond a junior high school education, if not less. Some Taiwanese intellectuals did break this mold, but Japan remained a scholarly epicenter.

(That said, Japan did make an effort to establish schools teaching literacy and numeracy to Taiwanese, so despite the relatively low level of education in Taiwan as compared to Japan, it was still one of the more literate parts of Asia. Yet, to quote Jonathan Manthorpe in Forbidden Nation, the Japanese certainly did not want Taiwanese to "cultivate ideas of their own". This is what I mean by 'under-educated'.)

At the end of World War II, Japan would leave Taiwan and go on to rebuild a developed economy as well as a new era of liberal democracy following Western models. In China, this would be a time when Communism's emphasis on equality - including gender equality - would usher in a (temporarily) more egalitarian society for women.

What was happening in Taiwan? Brutal dictatorship. Autonomous women's groups, like all other social activist groups, were not allowed to form. Government-affiliated women's groups espoused traditional gender roles (though not necessarily condemning women working outside the home, these groups viewed women's income as secondary to her family duties and her husband's role as provider), headed by sexist-in-chief, Madame Chiang Kai-shek. Taiwan had neither the Communist egalitarian ideals nor the boost of liberal democracy to guide it toward greater gender equality.

Taiwan did develop - thanks to the hard work of its small-and-medium-size business owners (not KMT prescience, as some would have you believe). Of course, much of that work was done by women, who worked in 'home factories', did other jobs or helped run the family business. However, these women have gone mostly unthanked for their role in Taiwan's economic miracle.

So, of these three countries - China, Japan and Taiwan - you would expect that China and Japan would be years ahead of Taiwan when it comes to women in society. Taiwan just didn't have the same indicators.

And yet, what do we have today? Various strains of feminism exist in China and Japan, but neither can compare to the relatively better status of women in Taiwan. Taiwan is not perfect; it's rife with problems pertaining to gender and society, just like any other country. However, it doesn't have to contend with problems as bad as this (though the gender ratio in Taiwan still raises questionsthisthisthisthisthis, or this (for that last one, while it would not shock me to learn that 'maternity harassment' happens occasionally in Taiwan, I have not heard of it being the norm.) Nobody is talking about how Tsainomics or Manomics "failed women", how Taiwan is "the worst of all developed countries for women", or recruitment ads for tech companies where female employees pole dance to entice men to apply. When talking about marital statistics, the issue isn't a gender ratio imbalance so much as women choosing not to marry.

That's the real Taiwan miracle - ignored, underdeveloped, at times barred from seeking higher education, brutally oppressed, sexist "traditional Chinese" thought piggybacking on KMT campaigns to Sinicize (and subjugate) the island, diplomatically isolated, seen as a backwater for much of its history (though not now). And yet, Taiwan has managed to do better by women than either China or Japan, which had much better odds.

I might explore some reasons for this in a future post, but for now, I just want y'all to ruminate on that.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The same "Mystic Orient/Confucian Values" nonsense that hurts Taiwan also hurts women

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You think they're going this way, but they're going that way.


Something struck me as I read this clickbait-reconfobulated piece on women's expectations of salary, both of themselves (as mothers) and their husbands.

What jumped out at me - assuming the piece got the numbers right - was this:

Taiwan’s female workers will not consider entering marriage if their prospective husbands earn less than NT$51,872 (US$1,730)


and

Asked about the reasonable monthly salary for “mothers,” if to be paid, female respondents expected an amount of NT$53,031 (US$1,769) on average, NT$3,042 (US$101.5) higher than the 2017 figure of monthly income released by the government's Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics, standing at NT$49,989 (US$1,668), reported CNA.


Note the discrepancy: women have higher expectations of their own salaries than they do of a prospective husband's salary.


This is awesome: women setting goals for themselves that exceed what they expect men to provide for them. Not only that, women expect to earn a bit more, as mothers, than they expect the father (traditional role: provider) to earn. That's huge! This wasn't academic research (it was a survey by a jobs website) but it indicates a fertile area for research and discussion.

There is a quote by someone from the website that did the survey talking about how women think mothers deserve higher pay, but it's impossible to really parse it, as it's never clarified if any questions are asked about women's salary expectations for themselves independent of marital/childbearing considerations. In any case, it makes little sense that women would expect a salary boost from employers when having children doesn't make them better workers (though it doesn't make them worse, either.)


Yet not only did the article get it wrong - it's not reported whether the survey included a comparison question on what women expect to earn if they are not mothers - but the headline did too:


Taiwan's female workers expect prospective husbands to earn NT$51,872 at minimum: poll


Why focus on that (except other than to create clickbait) when the aforementioned comparison is far more interesting? Why focus on the same old tropes of what women expect of their husbands when the more fruitful discussion is centered on what women expect of themselves?

These problematic and harmful stereotypes about what 'Asian values' are and what they mean, even when stated in the spirit of trying to be 'respectful' of the spectrum of Asian cultures, not only hurt Taiwan but also hurt women.
 

I've written before about how Taiwan's struggle for recognition in a world that seems determined to ignore it mirrors what women deal with as they struggle for equality and recognition in a world that seems determined to focus on male achievement. I've also talked 
about how so many Western liberals get it so completely wrong when talking about "Asian values" or their version of what it means to be a moral or cultural relativist who "respects cultural differences" and how that impacts Taiwan. This is a country that is best understood not through the lens of what Westerners believe Asians think, but through the lens of universal values: freedom, democracy, equality, human rights and self-determination. 


It's the same regarding women in Taiwan. It's easy to conclude from chaff like this that in Asia, women's expectations and ideas are focused on traditional roles or relational notions of family, role and gender when the discussion is framed specifically to make you think that. In fact, a great deal of wordage is spilled trying to make exactly this point: it's traditional. It's their culture.

This is mirrored in the way discussions on issues like Taiwan's sovereignty are framed in such a way that they often make Westerners, whom you'd think would be supportive of Taiwan's pro-liberal democracy message, see things from a pro-China perspective. China aggressively pushes and benefits from this whole 'we're Asians, we think differently, it's our culture'  worldview. Just ignore those pesky Taiwanese creating all those tensions with their determination to keep their freedom. This is Asia, don't call it dictatorship - call it 'Asian-style governance'.

Let me give you a glimpse of what is lost when we flatten the discussion this way. 


Under Japanese rule, there was a brief period when Japan tolerated some freedom of expression in Taiwan. This was also a period when a small number of elite Taiwanese women studied in Japan or China, and were exposed to feminist discourse there. Granted, many of the ideas originated in the West, but crucially, they were being discussed by Asian women in Asian contexts. They disseminated to Taiwan not from the West directly but via intellectual centers in China and Japan - Asian women talking to other Asian women. While not autochthonous, it was not impossible to conceive of Western ideas of gender equality and individualism in Asian cultural frameworks, though most of this discourse was confined to elite/wealthy social classes. Anyone familiar with the May Fourth movement already knows this.

This was eventually quashed - first by the Japanese and then by the KMT - and didn't return until the 1970s, when Taiwanese pro-democracy and pro-independence activism also experienced a rebirth (emphasis mine) and reanimating burst of activist vigor (if you think Taiwanese identity and independence rhetoric originated in the 1970s, you are wrong on that count, too.) It really took flight - just as Taiwanese activism did - in the 1990s with the democratization of Taiwan, not as a gift from geneous KMT benefactors (don't make me laugh), but at the insistence of the Taiwanese people.

So, please, let's spare each other the embarrassment of a gamut of well-meaning Westerners who flatten Asia and think by doing so, they have understood it. Let's end the implication of such discourse: that Taiwanese (or any Asian culture) are incapable of grasping concepts of equality, individuality and freedom. Of course they are. They're not stupid.

And let's stop pretending that everything in Asia - from Taiwanese identity to women's equality - can be explained, sorted and filed away under outdated assumptions of what "Asians" think. Both in terms of women's roles and beliefs, and in terms of Taiwan.

Nothing is ever that simple.


(Historical source: Chang, D.  - Women's Movements in Twentieth-Century Taiwan)

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

"It's all in your head, Taiwan"

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This says: 國民黨永遠與你在一起 or "The KMT will be with you forever" (or perhaps "The KMT - forever together with you.")


What do you mean, you don't think we're right for each other? Haven't I always treated you well? What do you mean I haven't? Ugh, Taiwan, you know I care about you but I just can't deal with your craziness sometimes, you know? 

Ask anyone - ask my ex, China - yes, I know she's your cousin, but she's also my ex - even she'll tell you you're being crazy. She always says "KMT, you're right - I don't know why you stay with that crazy bitch."

What? Yes, we still talk. What's wrong with that? Are you jealous that I have friends now, too? What? You think she wants to get back together with me? Again - more craziness. Jealous and crazy. It's a wonder I even put up with you.


All the things I've had to do to make sure this relationship works, and not only are you not even grateful, you still get mad at me as though I'm the problem.

Remember the time when you went totally psycho for no reason and I had to break up this huge fight you started and even bring in soldiers to calm you down until you could be reasonable? Yeah, it took awhile but you finally realized how awful you were being. And then you demanded "more freedom" - god, you were really a bitch about that, you know? I even gave it to you, but somehow that wasn't enough.  I gave you everything and you just wanted more, more, more. No more Martial Law. Free democracy. Human rights. It was never enough. You're so high-maintenance, and you don't even know it.

I mean, ugh, I only went through your mail and took reading material out of the house that I didn't want you reading for your own good and safety, because you were being so illogical and hysterical and it wasn't good for you to be reading that stuff. 


I'm the one who got you back on your feet after World War II. You wouldn't be anywhere without me. You seem to think you did that - that your citizens built an economy from small and medium size businesses which was actually hindered by my Leninist attempts at creating a command economy that served to line my own pockets. Do you know how crazy that sounds?  It's so clear that it's just more of your histrionic fantasies - what, you think you could have gotten to where we are on your own? You? You had nothing, and I saved you.

I mean, it's not just me. Everyone thinks you're the problem. They know you've got issues - you know China thinks so. 

But it's not just China. The rest of the world, too. Why do you think they barely talk to you? Most of them pretend they don't even know you. Even the ones you work with. Don't pretend you haven't noticed. Do you think they're doing that because of me? No, it's because of you.

Leave China out of this. If you want everyone to start talking to you again, you know you have to stop being such a bitch to China. You insist she started this stupid argument, but she's been nothing but patient with you, too. You're the one causing all these tensions and everyone knows it.


What do you mean I beat you? You really are insane, you know that? I was defending myself - you were attacking me. And then you go around saying "The KMT treats me so bad", trying to ruin my reputation, but I'm the innocent one here. I mean, I know a few months ago you tried to steal money from me. I have to hide everything from you. You're unhinged. You think I took it from you? More crazy talk. I earned that money. You're still trying to get your claws on my pension but it's not going to work.

Let me tell you something, Taiwan. Nobody will love you like I do. Nobody will be patient with your insane fits like I will. You were meant to be with me. We'll be together forever.

Now calm down, Taiwan. You're being hysterical again.