Friday, June 5, 2020

The Glue on a Post-It

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Yesterday evening, a few hundred people gathered at Freedom Square in a vigil to commemorate the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. In previous years, these events had been more formally organized, with red plastic stools, a stage and a sound system (which was often terrible, but nobody minded). Some were sparsely attended, such as in 2018. Others were packed - commemorations in 2014 following the Sunflower Movement and 2019 for the 30th anniversary were both packed, the latter probably also due to the recent outbreak of the Hong Kong protests.

This year's meeting felt more deconstructed, more like a spontaneous sit-in than a formally-planned event. There was no stage, no sound system to speak of - there was a speaker of some sort but it didn't really work. 2019 saw a host of high-profile hosts and speakers, including the then-vice president; this year I had no idea who was speaking. It could have been anyone. Instead, people sat on the ground and lit candles, in some cases simple tea lights. Hastily strung-up tape kept the central crowd from getting too big - probably as a coronavirus safety measure - but onlookers were welcome.

The feel of the gathering was a good reminder that these events aren't "official"; the government here supports them (even in the age of coronavirus, the permit to gather was clearly not rejected), but they're put together by regular people. Anybody can do it. Regular people keep the memory of Tiananmen alive and support Hong Kong from Taiwan. Regular people light the tea lights and play music from their laptops that almost nobody can hear, but everyone sings along with anyway. Governments don't light candles - people do. 


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To be honest, in 2019 the gathering felt full of anger and enthusiasm. Vigor, but also fear. It was like the rebel station on Yavin-4 just before the big mission to deal the Empire a blow they hoped would be fatal.

This year felt more grim and determined - like the rebel station on Hoth. Like all fear had been burnt away over the course of the past year, and all that was left was an embattled will to fight on. The National Security Law, the CCP Virus, the protests in the US - I don't need to tell you why.


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There is a right and a wrong in this war. Imagine you are right, and knowing not only that you are right, but that most of the world realizes it too, yet still feeling like you're losing. Imagine feeling like all reasonable people - including many in the establishment - understand the justness of your cause, but that doesn't stop the establishment from telling you that this is just how things are. Hong Kong is a part of China, Taiwan isn't, but cannot be recognized as such. Sorry. Shrug.


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This year was not just about Tiananmen. Many attendees were clearly Hong Kongers residing in Taiwan, and many of the chants were in Cantonese. Hong Kong protest flags and signs outnumbered remembrances of Tiananmen. One speaker said in Cantonese, "don't think that the Tiananmen Square Massacre has nothing to do with the Hong Kong protests", which I can assure you nobody was thinking. (I don't speak Cantonese but a friend I attended with does.) 

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Artwork commemorating yesterday's anniversary explicitly made this connection, and it's doubtful that any Hong Kong protester is unaware of how Tiananmen ended. They fight anyway.

Earlier in the day I dropped by Causeway Bay Books, the recently-opened Taipei bookstore run by Lam Wing-kee, the bookseller whose store of the same name in Hong Kong was closed due to "legal troubles", and who was driven into de facto political exile in Taiwan. Causeway Bay Books is small, and has no street-level entrance - it's on the 10th floor of an unremarkable building near MRT Zhongshan. It's not a swish department-store sized establishment like Eslite, or even as fancy as some of the higher-end bookshops near National Taiwan University (though I hope someday it will be).

Causeway Bay Books doesn't exist in Taiwan only because this is a country that is willing to look China in the face and tell it to take a hike. Nor because this is a country where everyday people were willing to look the KMT dictatorship in the face and tell it to stand down - and won. Causeway Bay Books is also here because regular people helped make it happen through local assistance.


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Of course, Taiwanese nationhood is also related, philosophically and ethically, to both the Hong Kong protests and Tiananmen Square. All of these issues cross-pollinate: that's why there were Tibetan flags at the Tiananmen Square memorial in Taipei last night, and pro-Hong Kong, Taiwan independence and Tibetan flags at Pride in late 2019. (I hope to see more East Turkestan flags in coming years; that issue is just as worthy). All of these issues center freedom, human rights and equality, and stand against the CCP's desire to control as many people it can, deny them basic rights and freedoms, and massacre them with impunity.

If you don't see that there is a clear right and wrong in this fight, you are deluded. There's a reason why the international media so often writes about China's authoritarianism in the passive voice: pointing fingers at an easily-angered member of the establishment feels scary, and the CCP's actions are so objectively wrong that simply to list them becomes a litany of (deserved) blame.

The truth is that Uighurs are imprisoned because China imprisons them. Hong Kongers and Tibetans are oppressed because China oppresses them. Tensions with Taiwan are raised because China raises them. Dissidents are murdered because China murders them. Bookstores are closed because China closes them. Protesters are run over with tanks because China runs over them.



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At Causeway Bay Books, there is a Post-It note written by President Tsai which says 自由的台灣撐住香港的自由: free Taiwan supports freedom in Hong Kong. Next to it, there are two more Post-Its, written by children - one saying "don't forget Tiananmen" with a child's drawing of a tank and the numbers "64" (the "4" is backwards). The other has a stick figure and says "Go Hong Kong"! 

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President Tsai's Post-It is held to the shelf by the thinnest strip of glue. A sharp gust of wind or a pair of fingers could dislodge it. Yet nobody would dare: it would probably make the news if they tried. It stays affixed to that shelf because people want it there. The seed of Causeway Bay Books has been planted and grows despite China's efforts to tear it out by the roots because people want it there.

The Tiananmen Square memorial in Hong Kong was banned this year, but lived on because people wanted it there.

The one in Taiwan lives on, in different forms, because people want it there. 


The past year or so has shown us how easy it is for these things to be peeled away. Post-Its aren't very securely attached. Bookstores open and close, and open again. A microscopic virus brings most of the world to its knees. An act of violence - similar to so many that came before - exposes the way in which even robust-seeming democracies were built on slavery and oppression, and are weaker for it. Protesters in Hong Kong take to the streets for months, and have a National Security Law shoved down their throats regardless. Western tankies still say that "Hong Kong was able to do what it wanted" and have the gall to praise Xi Jinping. Tom Cotton - a so-called supporter of Hong Kong and Taiwan - publishes an editorial calling for the US government to "send in the troops" against the protesters angry at the death of George Floyd, systemic racism and inequality in general...on June 3rd.

For Taiwan and Hong Kong, even one's allies are not really friends.

For those of us who still stand for what's right, it all feels about as sturdy as the shell of a weather-beaten conch. Or the glue on a Post-It.

But there's strength in it too. Because events like the Tiananmen Square memorial are organized by everyday people, they live on. Governments may try to tear away collective memory, or offend it by calling for history to repeat itself, but the memory clings. We teach our children about it, no matter what country we come from. 



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People I know have said they felt the Sunflowers ultimately were "unsuccessful" or didn't have the impact that had been hoped for. However, towards the end of the vigil, after singing Glory to Hong Kong, people sang along with a tremulous laptop speaker to slowly pick their way through Island Sunrise, the Sunflower Movement anthem by Fire EX. These are both songs of hope. 


The candles are still lit because we light them. Our countries may be in ruins, but the mountains and rivers remain. 

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Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Care workers, not employers, lack protections

I had a letter to the editor published in the Taipei Times today. I'll put the whole text here as they're my words, but first, a quick link to the letter that spurred my response.

Because my point is not to attack Ms. Chang, but rather to address some of the problematic beliefs expressed in her letter, which are unfortunately all too common in Taiwan, I want to state my final point at the beginning: if a potential employer of foreign blue-collar labor - care workers, fishermen, factory workers, anyone - thinks their rights are insufficient and those workers have "too many" protections, they are welcome to hire Taiwanese employees for those jobs. That means paying them a Taiwanese wage (which isn't all that high itself), under Taiwanese labor laws. You wouldn't have to wait a few months before hiring somebody - they can go out and find someone right now! So why don't they?

If these jobs are so great, then surely many Taiwanese are excited to take them and would happily accept the positions on offer.

Oh, they're not?

Could it be, perhaps, that the workers aren't the ones getting the best end of this deal? Could it be that "too many protections" to these employers still amounts to fewer protections than any Taiwanese citizen would accept, and the goal of some of these employers is to keep the workers they hire as exploitable and exploited as possible?

All I can say is, whenever an employer of a foreign worker says "they ran away! I didn't do anything wrong and they just absconded!", while they may be right (not all employers are bad), I sure want to hear that worker's story first.

And one final point: unionization could help in this regard. Fishing workers, care workers, factory workers - both local or foreign - would do well to unionize. Frankly, English teachers should too but that's a far-off dream and we're not the ones with the most to complain about.

Here's the letter:

Ms Heidi Chang’s (張姮燕) article (“Employers need protections too,” May 24, page 6) made the case that “migrant workers’” rights had improved in Taiwan, but employers’ rights had not, going so far as to complain that all employers are treated equally under the law — as though this was not how the law was supposed to work.

The truth is that the rights of foreign blue-collar workers have still not caught up with the rights their employers have always enjoyed.

This segment of the foreign community in Taiwan is more likely than other groups to encounter abuse. Recently, a care worker from the Philippines was threatened with deportation by her employer and brokerage agency for criticizing Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Recall the Indonesian care worker who was repeatedly raped by her employer, was ignored by her broker and attempted suicide.

The law in Taiwan allows employers who are convicted of abusing domestic workers — including rapists — to hire a new domestic worker, who is likely to be female and highly likely to become a new victim, after the first offense. They are only barred from hiring after multiple offenses.

Instead of asking what employers’ rights are, ask this: Why is one rape not enough to bar them from ever hiring a home care worker again?

Workers in the fishing industry are often subjected to horrific conditions, including beatings, having their documents withheld, or outright slavery. Even though such treatment is illegal, it is difficult for fishing boat workers to seek help.

This abuse is rampant and has resulted in deaths. Taiwanese employers are the focus of more complaints by Indonesian fishers than any other country.

Employers are legally able to pay foreign employees well below the minimum wage, and domestic workers are still not covered under the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法). It is relatively easy for them to force their employees to work overtime, often without days off, or to perform tasks outside their contracts. Cramped dorms, and unsafe work and living conditions are not only additional risks, they have also resulted in deaths.

The easiest way to ensure a foreign worker does not abscond is to treat them well. Most people want to work legally, keeping the scant protections they have and usually “run” because they have no better option. “Undocumented” work offers no protection at all and might pay much less.

This fantasy of workers from Southeast Asia amassing huge sums of money at the expense of hardworking Taiwanese so they might return to their home countries is just that, a fantasy.

This is not just a problem with employers, it is a systemic one. There is no easy way to switch employers. Brokerage firms often charge exorbitant fees and openly exploit workers. The entire brokerage system is akin to legalized indentured servitude or human trafficking. It must be abolished. It is a smear on Taiwan’s reputation as a bastion of liberal democratic and human rights in Asia.

Most Taiwanese employers do treat foreign employees well. For those who feel that their rights are insufficient, I kindly suggest hiring Taiwanese workers. If they do not want to, perhaps they should reconsider who really gets the better deal.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Even if the rumors are true, the DPP is not the bad guy here

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Screenshot: credit to one of the links below - you get to figure out which one! 


With the recall vote of bleach sniffer and guy who is mayor of Kaohsiung for some reason, Han Kuo-yu, allegations have surfaced on both sides of partisan attempts to sway the outcome.

On one hand, the DPP is rumored to be scheduling more trains to Kaohsiung so residents who work in other cities can return to vote:


Han says the government is conspiring to kick him out, alleging that more trains have been scheduled for Saturday so people can go vote. The DPP-led government says that is untrue.

On the other hand, the KMT is alleged to be colluding with gangsters who plan to intimidate people into not voting:

Separately yesterday, Chen told Kaohsiung police officials that he had received reports that gangsters, allegedly in collaboration with Han supporters, plan to intimidate voters at polling stations. 
“I have ordered Kaohsiung police to work with public prosecutors and investigate,” Chen said after the meeting.


Han has asked his supporters not to vote, in an attempt to keep numbers of overall voters below the percentage needed to recall him.

Hooooooookay. So.

Let's assume both rumors are true. They probably aren't - though gangsters are more likely to be involved than trains - but let's pretend they are. 


Even if that's true, how in the everloving sh*----- excuse me. Ahem. How on this gorgeous green Earth would that make the DPP the bad guy? Or even equivalent to the KMT in tactics?

More trains means more voters. More voters is good for democracy. It's never bad - ever - to have more of the electorate voting. Even if you don't like who wins. You should always want more people to vote.

If a politician doesn't, and surviving a recall vote (or getting elected) depends entirely on a low turnout, then the problem isn't the voters, it's the politician. 


On that alone, Han's allegation is stupid, because if it were true, that wouldn't be bad.

The only thing I can say to make the opposite case is that perhaps people who don't reside in Kaohsiung aren't the best people to vote on Kaohsiung's future. But that problem needs to be solved by changing the way Taiwan records residency and who is eligible to vote where.


So we've got the DPP allegedly trying to help people vote, and the KMT apparently trying to stop people from voting.

To be honest, I'm tepid at best on recall votes. Han was elected. I hate his guts but he was elected. I don't want him in office, but letting him continue to say dumb things in public might actually be a good thing. Perhaps this once rising-star has cratered so hard that it doesn't matter, but it still makes the KMT look like a gaggle of idiots and that's great.

It would also be expensive and tedious to have a new election with 2022 not that far away. That said, if I were a Kaohsiung voter, I'd vote to recall him. I'm just not super invested in the outcome of this is all.

Regardless, here's what matters: you may not like the side that wants people to vote freely, but the side that is trying to encourage you not to exercise your democratic rights is always wrong. Always.

Funny how that side always seems to be - allegedly - the KMT.

Hmmmmm.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

The rigged game, and how to feint

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This meme just seemed appropriate. 


I have a lot to do today, but wanted to quickly explore the game. 


Here's how it works. People who should be on the same team appear to be split. There are those who think Trump's rhetoric on China and the WHO is right, and we must stand up to them. This group tends to believe that, as a result, Trump's actual actions constitute good strategy.

Then there's the camp that think nothing Trump says can ever be correct, and therefore we shouldn't stand against China, as this could create "a new cold war". They also tend to view the WHO as mostly good, rather than mostly political.

Both sides are partially wrong. Rhetorically, the Trump administration is mostly correct. Leaving aside "they gutted American industry" - no, we did that to ourselves - and talk of excluding whole groups of Chinese citizens, it's not wrong to point out that China is planning to treat Hong Kong as just another Chinese province, and that they've basically taken control of the WHO.

The CCP is on the brink of committing an unthinkable atrocity and have already committed many others. The WHO is a political organization that prioritizes factional battles over actually helping people. Hong Kongers do need assurance of assistance, both locally and as potential refugees. These issues do need to be dealt with and can't be buried under talk of "engagement" with a government that simply cannot be trusted to keep its promises.


But strategically, Trump is wrong. Ending Hong Kong's special status makes sense in terms of ensuring that China doesn't benefit from Hong Kong while oppressing it. But China's ultimate goal is to make Hong Kong unimportant, an extension of Shenzhen rather than a distinct cultural and economic entity. The CCP so clearly wants to promote cities like Shanghai as finance hubs and gateways to China, and I doubt hey've realized that this won't be appealing to much of the world. Hong Kong's relative wealth and visibility make it difficult to control when its residents rebel against CCP brutality. Shanghai, on the other hand, is basically obedient.

On this front, I don't know what to say. The game is rigged. There is no right move. End Hong Kong's special status, and you hand China something that helps them destroy Hong Kong. Keep it in place, and you let China off the hook and help them economically, after all of the horrors they have perpetuated. Someone clearly foresaw this choice when thinking through their government's possible actions - and it wasn't anyone in the Trump administration. China had this in the bag before we even knew we were in a game.

This is basic strategy and it was not foregone that the CCP would figure it out first. In any case, it makes me absolutely furious that the US really should have known that this was the CCP's endgame. After all, Taiwan and Hong Kong have been ringing the warning bells since at least since 2014. The day the first Hong Kong bookseller was attacked was the day the US should have started figuring out what the end game might look like.

Instead, they ignored all of the Asian voices who honestly tried to raise the alarm - when I say that Taiwan has been trying to warn the world about the CCP Virus, I don't just mean COVID19. It's one of the fatal flaws of the West that they just don't seem to hear non-Western voices warning about a rising Nazi-like threat in their own backyard and boom, now we've got a Sudetenland situation.

The proposed exclusion of some Chinese students from the US is also a no-win strategy. CCP incursion into global (including Western) academia is a real thing and genuine security threat, and it's well-known that the CCP has a say in which students can go abroad, asking some to collect information in return for tuition paid. Banning Chinese students who studied at Chinese military universities as undergraduates (not all Chinese students, or even most, as some have claimed) seems to make sense.

But let's remember that the students themselves are not tied to any known wrongdoing, and security protocols already exist. If this is a threat it is probably not a highly pressing one - meaning it's showy but of negligible consequence - and that Trump wanted to institute a much broader ban in 2018, long before the Hong Kong protests began. Banning Chinese students as a broad category is a long-term goal of the Trump administration and many Republicans. It's not really about Hong Kong.

There are other things that can be done. Institute stricter security. Ban Confucius Institutes. End CCP funding for academic titles and other programs. You can enforce rules - which I am sure already exist - barring student groups from harassing other students and disbanding any groups that engage in such behavior. Why broadly target Chinese students?

In any case, Trump's rhetoric on Hong Kong doesn't exonerate him from the inherent racism of his administration, and doing everything he can to target Chinese students as a group, rather than looking for institutional ways to counter CCP threats, shows this.

How do we know they are racist, despite talk of helping Hong Kong refugees?  I mean - [gestures vaguely at Minneapolis]. But also, a big chunk of Trump's 2016 campaign was predicated on stoking racism-based fears of refugees, especially from majority Muslim and Latin American countries. Then, once in office, he defunded many refugee resettlement programs and slashed the number of refugees allowed in.  Don't delude yourself that Republicans care about "refugees" as a whole.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't help Hong Kong refugees. We absolutely should. But we should help refugees, from anywhere, period. Trump never wanted to do that, and he's not going to. 


Finally, withdrawing from the WHO is not the way to fix problems inherent to the WHO. I spent a short amount of time supporting the US defunding that absolute joke of an organization, but honestly, the US is just conceding ground here. The WHO is garbage and Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus should be removed from office, if not in jail. But it is still an organization that the rest of the world broadly believes in, for some reason, and China will simply be able to control it better. Not necessarily through funding, but through building up a block of allies:




(Go read the whole thread)

This rebranding of "authoritarian nations" as "the Global South" (a possibly once helpful way of thinking about the world which I think has lost its luster) is a part of what keeps the dumber among liberals still believing in them. 


A big chunk of China's argument for why it should be considered next global leader is that unlike the evil, imperialist, Western United States, China represents a new and better orientation away from the primacy of Western (and therefore historically imperialist) interests in the world. 

There are a lot of people who believe (correctly) that white, Western countries became rich in great part from plundering the wealth of the rest of the world, and that this is one of the great tragedies of history. However, there's a tendency to twist that argument around and insist that as imperialism in all its forms is most visibly white, that it can therefore only be white, and therefore anything "non-Western" must be preferable.

Frankly, I see the appeal. Nothing sounds better than re-orienting towards leadership by people of color who can build a more equitable post-colonial world.


Except, of course, China's not doing that. 


T
heir goal is not to break down divisions so that the "Global South" may enjoy the same level of development and well-being as the "Global North", which would include things like human rights. It's to cement its position as the permanent leader of these nations, supporting and replicating its own system of anti-humanitarian, authoritarian repression. It wants supplicants. Serfs. It wants its own colonial empire, cloaked in the language of leftie progressivism. 

The WHO is just a tool in that game. And by withdrawing, we're handing it to them.

Usually I say that when it comes to the CCP, the only way to win the game is not to play, but this is absolutely not what I mean. Opposition is not the same as playing. There are games bigger than those devised by the CCP that are worth playing, and this was one of them.

There are better ways, and if the rest of the world would only listen to Taiwan, perhaps they'd see that.

Rather than flouncing off in a huff and leaving the WHO to China, Taiwan has been trying to raise awareness of its exclusion. That not only helps Taiwan's global visibility, it highlights the ways that the CCP has been slowly taking over international organizations. Engaging, petitioning, speaking out, countering - yes, it feels like playing a game we can't win, but honestly, we got pretty far with it. There was an impact, however unsatisfying in the end.

In fact, one of the reasons I admire President Tsai is that she can look at China's ridiculous carnival games - hoops on an angle, balls that are too big for their buckets, weighted milk bottles, carefully-placed tables of a certain height - and see not just the game, but the rigging. If you can see the rigging, you can begin to devise a strategy to get around it. Tsai does this better than any other leader in the world. 

Even when it comes to issues such as framing the discussion on independence or potentially (maybe) gaining diplomatic recognition, she treads like a trained explosives detector across a minefield, not a tank. Trump? He's a tank with a particularly stupid driver.

She's doing that rather marvelously, and Trump is flailing like the screaming racist baby he is. He may be tough on the CCP, and I do actually think he is right about them, but he doesn't know what to do about it. His strategies will fail, because they were ham-fisted to begin with and certainly didn't take into account what's really going on with these games.

This is why Tsai, not Trump - and not "we have a strategic interest to engage" Merkel (translation: $$$), nor "did well with COVID19 but not so much the CCP Virus" Ardern - is the true leader of the free world. 


There is more that Taiwan can do, which I'd like to explore in a later post. There are reasons why pivoting away from the US and towards an "Asian Century" is not a bad idea, as long as that century does not include the CCP - again, for a later post.

What I'm trying to say here is: when deciding exactly how not to play the CCP's games, there is more strategy involved than people realize. It's not always a simple matter of walking away, because other players and bigger concerns need to be dealt with.

Taiwan has figured this out. One of the best strategies we can adopt is simply to listen to Taiwan and other Asian voices when they warn of encroaching CCP authoritarianism. For liberals, that means curbing the tendency to equate "we want to engage with the world and that includes China" with being a good liberal and global citizen. Good liberals don't pretend modern-day Nazis are acceptable negotiation partners and listen to marginalized voices around the world, not just dominant ones. For conservatives, it means ending racist platforms in all ways and actually paying attention to the voices of people of color, rather than acting like white saviors.

For both sides, just listen. The rest of Asia - and especially Taiwan - is telling you what to do and where the traps are.

When will the US and the rest of the world open its ears?

Friday, May 29, 2020

Taiwan decriminalizes adultery, but there is more to be done

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I don't have a good cover photo so please enjoy these creepy dolls















Just a few hours ago, the constitutional court in Taiwan ruled that adultery - until now a criminal offense in Taiwan - was in violation of the principles of autonomy and proportionality in the ROC constitution. 


Specifically, it was decided that the criminalization of adultery interfered too much with the principle of "sexual autonomy", in that it allowed for the prosecution not just of a married spouse, but of her or her lover, a third party to the marriage. In fact, as the law allowed not only for the prosecution of both the spouse and the lover, but also for the aggrieved to drop charges against their spouse while continuing with the prosecution of their affair partner, it had a tendency to enable "revenge" charges.

This is a key reason why the adultery law was found to be punitive against women more than men: male plaintiffs were more likely to prosecute their wives and wives' affair partners, whereas wives were more likely to drop charges against their husbands (possibly forcing them to stay in the marriage) while continuing to prosecute their husbands' lovers.

The number of women prosecuted relative to men amounts to very few actual people, as only a handful of these cases make it to court. Most allegations of adultery are used as bargaining chips in contentious divorces or worse, to blackmail a spouse into staying. However, with slightly more than half of defendants being women, it still works out to more women than men, and therefore affects women disproportionately.

Furthermore, at the time of the law's passage, views of gender roles and traditional marriage were different from what they are today, so the court found criminalizing extramarital affairs was not in congruence with the society Taiwan is today. Although decriminalization still wasn't something society at large favored, overall over the past few decades gender roles have in fact changed.

Of course, this changing consensus on marriage and gender also includes same-sex marriage. The law never covered same-sex couples, meaning it didn't even pertain to all married couples in Taiwan as of 2019. Rather than ask for the full equality of being included in this law, LGBT activists wisely supported abolishing it altogether.


Most constitutional court interpretations are not publicly announced, so this immediate announcement is unprecedented, and we can only hope the trend will continue.

It's interesting to me that the court arrived at exactly the right interpretation - this law hurt women more than men and in  - when the original law was conceived of to protect women. As the court itself stated, at the time, ideas about gender were very different from what they are now. It was believed that men were far more likely to cheat, and giving an aggrieved wife the ability to sue for damages, put her husband's affair partner in jail (and possibly even her husband) and get a divorce was considered to be a way to "level the playing field"...for women.

It is clear that if this ever was the case, it no longer is, and the court was correct to realize this.

This isn't the end of the story, though. Unilateral no-fault divorce is still hard to obtain in Taiwan - you essentially need a judge to approve it, and they may well not - meaning that if you want a divorce but your spouse won't agree to it, you need to prove fault. One possible "fault" that will allow the divorce to go through is adultery, meaning it is still possible in civil court to punish one's spouse for having an affair, by forcing them to pay damages, and in getting a "more favorable" divorce settlement for the aggrieved spouse.

In fact, one of the judges on the adultery case stated that, as some women, specifically, will feel a "bargaining chip to protect rights and interests" has been taken away, that the amount of damages or what they can claim in a divorce settlement should be raised.

The best way to deal with this isn't just to end adultery as an offense in civil court, although that should also happen. It's to legalize unilateral no-fault divorce. Public buy-in is also important: gaining a public consensus that ending a bad marriage is better than staying in it, and worth more than any amount of monetary payout (this also means pushing for greater wage equality in Taiwan, ensuring that women who get divorced will be able to support themselves).

It also includes fairer custody rulings - unlike the West, children in Taiwan often go to the father in a divorce as they are "his" lineage, not the mother, unless she can "prove fault". Awarding majority custody to the more capable parent is the better solution.

If Justice Hsu's comments are accurate, that buy-in doesn't exist yet, even if there is a consensus on decriminalization.

So, honestly, we're not there yet. But this is a step in the right direction for women in Taiwan as well as Taiwan as a liberal democratic country.


Oh yes, one final punch. For those of you who think the DPP is just as bad as the KMT, I ask: do you think this would have ever happened under a KMT administration? The KMT, whose "young", "reformist" chair (lol - he is neither) voted strongly against same-sex marriage - not the same as criminalized adultery but also a marriage/gender-related issue that is a litmus test for liberal thought?

Of course not. The two parties are not the same. Neither is faultless - no party is, not even the "ideological purists" like the NPP - but one is clearly worse than the other.

You may not love the DPP, and you may not care for Tsai's cautious, quiet, sneaking-up-on-you tactics, but more has been done for liberalism in Taiwanese society under Tsai than any other president and certainly any other KMTer. It will never be all you hoped for, but the country marches ever forward. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Should Taiwan formalize a political asylum process? (Yes.)

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I've used this as a cover photo before, and probably will again.
I hope someday it might actually be true. 

With the resurgence of protests in Hong Kong after China's announcement of a Beijing-imposed national security law which will certainly curtail the relative (but dwindling) freedoms that Hong Kongers currently have, there has been a lot of discussion in Taiwan on the degree of assistance the country can provide to Hong Kong. In particular, the discussion has focused on whether and how Taiwan might go about allowing political refugees to settle in Taiwan.

President Tsai's remarks on the matter, while hitting all the right notes in terms of promising that Taiwan will do what it can, have not offered much in the way of specific plans for this assistance. At the moment, Taiwan has no laws regarding refugees, nor a process for applying for political asylum. Regarding Hong Kong specifically, Article 18 of the Act Governing Relations with Hong Kong and Macau says that Taiwan may "help" residents of these two cities if their political freedom is in danger, but doesn't specify what that "help" would be (nor what would constitute a threat). The act provides special status to Hong Kong and Macau, allowing for greater investment and a popular immigration scheme. I know someone whose family immigrated this way when he was a child, and he holds both ROC nationality and a Hong Kong ID card.

While the TPP (Taiwan People's Party) has proposed amending Article 18 to specifically allow for political asylum (see link above), Tsai is moving cautiously. Previously, the Tsai administration had said that current laws were sufficient to determine whether to allow dissidents to settle in Taiwan on a case-by-case basis, though whether this still holds true is highly questionable. Furthermore, Tsai has announced that Hong Kong's (and presumably Macau's) special status may be revoked, which wouldn't even allow for the vague promise of "help" in the relevant act - Hong Kongers and Macanese would be treated like any other citizens of China.

So, as it stands now, there are surely plenty of Hong Kongers looking at Taiwan as a place they might run to if things get really bad, which they probably will, and Taiwan has no mechanism by which to aid them, despite promising some unclear form of "assistance".

Of course, it's more legally complicated than that, but I really don't want to get into the legal complexities of separating the notion of "Hong Kong" from the notion of "China" (or the PRC) under ROC law. I'm not qualified and honestly, I'm sure if Taiwan really wanted to create a mechanism for Hong Kong refugees, it could do so.

Public opinion in Taiwan remains somewhat divided. I have no data to back this up, but I would guess that most Taiwanese support Hong Kong's struggle in an abstract way. Surely they are aware that China's actions in Hong Kong are a look into the future that the authoritarian hell-state has planned for Taiwan. Surely, when it comes to individuals who need to get out, most Taiwanese would believe that their country should be a safe harbor for them. Surely, many Taiwanese recognize that while Hong Kong may not want 'independence' as much as Taiwan does - it was never part of the protesters' famous 'five demands' - they share a common enemy and their struggles are therefore linked in some way.


However, there are questions regarding the safety of allowing large numbers of refugees in - surely, Beijing would attempt to plant as many agents in that influx as possible. Furthermore, allowing a stream of Hong Kongers, who can naturalize more easily than foreigners like me, to potentially gain the right to vote has some people questioning the wisdom of large-scale resettlement. In theory, enough of them may maintain a 'Chinese' identity (rather than a Taiwanese one) that they'd support unification with China, were it to democratize. For many Taiwanese, however, their identity exists independently of China, meaning they would not support unification under any circumstances and wouldn't appreciate a population of newcomers who might feel differently.

Some Taiwanese might even feel that, until fairly recently, Hong Kongers looked down on Taiwan - while I can't personally comment on this, I can imagine it happening, and do believe it's happened - as sort of 'country cousins' who were relatively less prosperous. Now that Taiwan as emerged as a freer and more equal society, Taiwanese who have experienced this attitude from Hong Kong might be thinking - "oh, you mocked us for decades and now you want our help?"

And, of course, some feel that Taiwan is always expected to give to others, but is castigated when it looks out for its own self-interest and makes decisions that are best for itself as a nation, rather than feeling obligated to always absorb the suffering of others.

Should Taiwan feel obligated to assist Hong Kong, potentially allowing refugees to settle here? No.

Is it the right thing to do anyway? Yes.

Hong Kong is, unfortunately, legally a part of China. Taiwan is not. Taiwanese, by and large, don't identify as Chinese. Hong Kong is beginning to catch up in this regard, but you'll still meet plenty of Hong Kongers who identify as Chinese, especially among the older generations (not so much the younger ones). In that way, Taiwan doesn't 'owe' Hong Kong anything, any more than any other nation - they are two different countries with two different identities, after all. To her credit, Tsai did not use Hong Kong protesters as props during her re-election campaign - the connections between her vision for Taiwan and the struggle for freedom in Hong Kong were made entirely by supporters (and rightly so - but that does not change the fact that this was not Tsai's strategy).

However, Taiwan under Tsai has made it clear that it wants to be a beacon of freedom and democracy in Asia. Tsai has said clearly that Taiwan is independent, and outlined what kind of country it ought to be - one where liberal values can merge with local culture and be the stronger for it. This isn't a question of what Taiwan 'owes' Hong Kong, which is nothing. It's a question of what kind of country Taiwan wants to be.

I do think that liberal democracies should strive to be safe harbors for those persecuted under authoritarian regimes. That means that, while Taiwan isn't specifically obligated to Hong Kong, the liberal democratic world as a whole is. As a part of that world, I hope that Taiwan will see that it would simply be the ethical thing to do. That said, this means that other nations - the UK especially, as they helped create this mess, but not only them - should also step up and support Hong Kong in the same way. After all, while Taiwan and Hong Kong bear the brunt of China's aggressive expansionism, the CCP is a common enemy to us all.

The fear of Chinese 'plants' among fleeing Hong Kongers is real, and reasonable. The CCP will almost certainly try this. However, I have never met a proponent of helping refugees, in any country, who believes that every last one should be allowed in with no vetting process. Vetting processes are rarely discussed, but they do exist in the United States - well, they did back when the United States cared about refugees - as elsewhere. Of course, Taiwan's vetting process needs to be ironclad. Nobody can reasonably argue otherwise. Of course, any political asylum process would have to take into account what's best for Taiwan, first and foremost. Nobody can reasonably argue against that, either.

I'm in favor of rules and procedures surrounding the process, to make it safe and tenable. But to support that, one must support their being a process at all, which there currently isn't.

I'm less worried about a 'loss' of Taiwanese identity. While cultural and identity barriers are often unclear, there is a 'thing' we might label as 'Taiwanese identity'. I couldn't tell you where it begins and ends, but I can say that I'm not included in it, which means the border must exist. But, one thing I have come to love about this country is that identifying as Taiwanese has the potential to be more fluid, as it is a more multicultural society than people realize (just because most of the cultural groups within it look generally 'Asian' does not mean they are the same). It's the sort of country where, perhaps, someday, the words on the welcoming sign at the National Museum of Taiwan History might actually be true:



All those who identify with and are concerned about Taiwan, who love and accept Taiwan, and who wish to live together in this land can declare with a loud voice "I am a Taiwanese". 

This posits a civic rather than ethnic identity (in fact, the entire passage argues against an ethnic identity for Taiwan, both practically and ethically), where perhaps shared cultural norms and perceptions play a part, but shared values do too, and who your parents were doesn't have to matter as much.

I'd like to think that someday, with luck, that this could include me, though I wouldn't be so arrogant as to claim it does now. It has come to include the descendants of the KMT diaspora who wish to claim it, many of whom - especially the younger ones - have come to identify as Taiwanese and support Taiwanese nationhood. So why not Hong Kong refugees and their descendants, too?


That is to say, Hong Kong refugees might not arrive thinking of themselves as Taiwanese, but that does not mean they won't come to identify that way someday. The person I know who emigrated here as a child considers himself Taiwanese, after all.

As for any Hong Kongers' previous superiority complexes, my personal feeling (though I have absolutely no right to insist on this) is that it shouldn't cloud the question. I understand the hard feelings, but Taiwan has proven itself, period. It's shown that it is simply a great nation and open society, and can do great things, it is the inferior of no one, and there is no basis to treat it as such. It's the envy of Asia with its democratic values and the envy of the world in its coronavirus response. The point is clear and it doesn't need to be made through excluding refugees.


That said, the TPP is also wrong: Article 18 isn't the issue. If Taiwan wants to be a model of liberal democracy, and liberal democracies around the world have a moral imperative to accept refugees - which I believe they do - then there should be an asylum process that is theoretically accessible to people from anywhere, not just Hong Kong and Macau.

There is no obligation. Nobody 'owes' anyone anything. Taiwan doesn't 'have to' do this, just as nobody 'has to' help others in need. I understand the source of disquiet or unease surrounding the issue, and I am sympathetic to the concerns of people who don't necessarily support this.

But, considering the kind of country Taiwan clearly wants to be, and the country I truly believe it can be (and in many ways already is), I think it would simply be the right thing to do.

Just do it properly, with proper vetting and other procedures. Taiwan is a capable, successful country. It can surely pull this off. 

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Ten Great Books About Taiwan: or, how to start your Taiwan library

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Yes, I know I can write about Tsai's inauguration. I can write about how Johnny Chiang's promises of KMT reform are disingenuous. I could write about Hong Kong - and re-iterate that this was inevitable, as what Hong Kong wants for itself will never align with China's plans - but I've already cried once over it.

In fact, with my dissertation looming, please don't expect much from me this summer. I do have to get it done, and can't give Lao Ren Cha as much attention as I'd like until it is. On the upside, I have a lot to say about education in Taiwan as a result of my research.

So instead, let's do this.

Brendan has made the very astute point that people who espouse pro-China views (or anti-Taiwan views) tend to want you to unquestioningly accept their bottom lines - whether that's "Taiwan must be the ROC", "Taiwan is a part of China" or "the ROC is the real China and Taiwan is a part of it". The only book recommendation I've actually seen from one of these types is The Generalissimo, a ridiculous hagiography of Chiang Kai-shek.

Whereas if you spend any time with your average pro-Taiwan politics junkie, they'll throw so many book recommendations at you that you won't know where to begin. They'll tear each other's arguments apart, and then rebuild them to be better. They'll swipe at, say, the Hoklo chauvinism or the bad history of a purely Marxist perspective, of previous generations of activists and create something better. All the while, they'll want you to read, read, read. Read things that contradict other things! Talk about the contradictions! Discuss! Read! Learn more! 

Even if I weren't already strongly pro-Taiwan, it seems clear to me that the side that is excited for you to learn more is probably the right one.

With that in mind, it's occurred to me that people who want to learn more may not know where to start. I also have this list in a public Facebook album, and you are cordially invited to join Books About Taiwan: Discussion and Nerdiness.

I aimed for a wide variety of reading material: three memoirs, three works of fiction, three era- or social-issue specific histories and one general history - the one I recommend out of all of the "histories of Taiwan" out there.

If you want to know more about Taiwan but don't know where to start...well, here is where you start:


1.) Green Island 
Shawna Yang Ryan

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Why I love this book: it’s a highly engaging novel that takes the reader through Taiwanese history, starting on 228 (if you don’t know what “228” is, all the more reason to read it) and ending at the SARS outbreak of 2003. The family is fictional but they could easily be an everyday Taiwanese family - and it’s unpretentiously written. It’s highly realistic and was written from a place of deep knowledge, quoting Chinese poetry and taking a cue from Midnight's Children when it comes to the birth of the unnamed protagonist. And, because Taiwanese history can be so heartbreaking, it made me cry a few times.

Why you should read this book: Taiwanese history is complex and often sad, and non-fiction books usually fail to capture the ‘feel’ of it. This is a novel, so there’s a plot that keeps it moving. If you ever wondered what ‘Taiwan’ is really like, as a mood, a palette, an atmosphere - this is the book for you. While the characters are fictional, the historical events they experienced are not, and the experiences they have are quite typical. 21st century Taiwan differs somewhat from the mid-century depictions in this novel - in part because Taiwan is more developed now than it was then - but honestly, the ‘atmosphere’ is still here.
Doris T. Chang 

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Why I love this book: despite weird references to the ‘mainland’ (Taiwan has no mainland) and other quirks of language, this book really clarified for me how Western-style feminism is related to, but not the same as, feminist movements as manifested in different parts of Asia. Unlike many authors, Chang keeps her narrative in Taiwan for the entire 20th century, and discusses women’s movements in Japanese colonial Taiwan (some would start such a narrative in China, and talk only about the Republic of China, which is problematic in light of established Taiwanese identity).

Why you should read this book: this book clarifies that feminism isn’t some new imported idea in Asia or Taiwan. It’s been around  for awhile and been developed by local activists. Taiwanese culture has undergone several phases of women's movements and survived - patriarchy and sexism aren't facets of a culture, they are an external framework of injustice imposed upon cultures. Women’s equality is a human issue, not a Western one.

Also, while academic, it's a slim volume and highly readable. 


3.) Notes of a Crocodile 
Qiu Miaojin

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Why I love this book: the atmosphere of student life in 1990s Taipei, the crocodile allegories (which I liked more than the main story) illustrating what life was like for gay people being both objects of fear and obsessive curiosity if not imitation, the refusing to stereotype any LGBT characters, the description of love as the act of ultimate vulnerability. College kids of different orientations figuring out who they are and what that means against the backdrop of a country figuring out who it is and what it wants. This book explores identity, otherness and finding your way in your early adulthood, as well as the excruciating vulnerability of love, and how some people simply cannot open themselves up for that long.

I didn’t always understand the main character’s motivations, so I never properly reviewed this book as I felt unqualified to do so.

Why you should read this book: for all those reasons. Also, it’s short but impactful. As a straight white foreign resident in Taiwan, it was an appreciated window into the voice (and presumably fictionalized inner life) of a gay Taiwanese woman. I might not know how to review this book properly, but I am grateful for the opportunity to have read it. 


4.) Taiwan's Imagined Geography: Chinese Colonial Travel Writing and Pictures, 1683 to 1895 
Emma Jinhua Teng

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Why I love this book: it’s an engaging non-fiction read from a unique angle: not a straight history of Taiwan but looking at it as seen though the eyes of Chinese colonial writing about it. That word ‘colonial’ is key: the way Taiwan was depicted by these writers - “a ball of mud beyond civilization”, an “island of women”, a frontier barrier wilderness kept more for defense of ‘China’ than any real interest in Taiwan as a place - show how not Chinese Taiwan really was, even when it ‘belonged’ to China.

It brings to mind Chinese attitudes to Taiwan now - and I believe Teng wants us to make that connection.

Why you should read this book: non-fiction this engaging is rare. Also, it offers, through the eyes of Taiwan's Chinese colonizers, a conceptual basis for why a Taiwan is the way it is today. Chinese colonial attitudes have not gone away.




5.) My Fight for a New Taiwan: One Woman's Journey from Prison to Power
Lu Hsiu-lien (Annette) and Ashley Esarey

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This choice narrowly beat out the classic Formosa Betrayed. So why this autobiography of a polarizing political figure rather than a recounting of the 228 Incident so well-known it was made into a movie? Not only because, like her or not, Lu is a Taiwanese voice, but also because 228 is pretty well-covered in other books on this list, and women's experiences tend to get the short shrift overall. Also, George Kerr described what he saw, but Annette Lu changed Taiwan.

Annette Hsiu-lien Lu is a controversial figure in Taiwan politics, and I can't say she is someone who is suited to a leadership role in 21st century Taiwan (among other things, she has outdated views on LGBT issues and marriage, and...well...it would take a long time to explain why she's seen as such a headache. That view of her is not entirely undeserved.)

However, she deserves credit for being a leader of Taiwan's nascent non-party-affiliated feminist movement in the 1970s. Gender equality in Taiwan would not be where it is today without her work then, and she deserves credit for that. She also paved the way for women in political leadership by serving as Chen Shui-bian's vice president. She is one of the few feminist activists in Taiwan to 'take sides' politically and stand against the KMT.

Her autobiography is engagingly written and compulsively readable. Just keep in mind that as an autobiography, it is also something of a hagiography, and does not depict the 21st century complexity of Lu as a person or politician. It is fascinating, however, when she talks about her formative years and her awakening interest in feminism and activism.

You may not like her (I don’t, really) but Taiwan would not be what it is without her.




6.) A New Illustrated History of Taiwan
Wan-yao Chou

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To be honest, in order to choose the best general history of Taiwan, I skimmed all the ones we own. The most concise may be Forbidden Nation, but it focuses too much pn foreign notables in Taiwan and not enough on local efforts. Taiwan: A New History is a bit dry.

Other books - by Taiwanese and more focused on Taiwanese people (such as Taiwan: A History of Agonies and Taiwan's 400 Year History) were written as much as political manifestos as actual histories. They either neglect Indigenous history, are openly offensive towards it, or portray Indigenous-Hoklo relations through a distorted ideological lens that simply isn’t accurate.

Chou is the only writer who centers the Taiwanese in their own history and is most inclusive of Indigenous history.

If you are going to read a general history of Taiwan, I think this is the best choice.
Janet B. Montgomery McGovern

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I can't do this book justice in a short blurb - instead, go read my original review, linked above. Progressive for her time, McGovern was one of the few Westerners invited to live in Taiwan during the early/mid-Japanese colonial era, as a teacher. A trained anthropologist, she spent her free time becoming familiar with - and forming connections with - Indigenous groups that Hoklo and Japanese alike thought were ‘dangerous’ or ‘savage’ (though when one treats Indigenous people as badly as those two groups did, what could one expect?). Despite the name of the book, she describes the people she met with more respect and equanimity than almost anyone of her era.

Plus, she was funny, and a good writer, and an intrepid feminist.


Ed Lin

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I wanted to include at least one fiction novel set in more or less contemporary times (the other two fiction choices were either written in the 1990s, or are mostly about the 20th century) which is a light, easy, fun read that still captures the vibe of Taiwan. 

Ghost Month is that book - there are other great novels out there in English (like Bu San Bu Si, which was also a strong contender as it's quite possibly the best fiction novel about Taiwan written by a non-Taiwanese, but calling that book "a downer" is a massive understatement), but sometimes it’s fun to read an action/mystery in a Taiwanese setting and call it a day. Highly engaging and not as dark or overly metaphorical as a lot of Taiwanese fiction, I think it’s highly accessible to Western audiences, too.

Do you want to know what life in the city I call home is basically like, in the 21st century? It's...kind of like this, with less murder.


Hsiao-ting Lin

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Another historical look at a specific time period, Accidental State looks at the dynamics of the US, China and Taiwan to unravel the threads of why Taiwan has the status it does vis-a-vis nationhood, pointing out that nobody wanted or intended for things to turn out this way, and that Taiwan-as-ROC (or any form of ‘China’) was not a foregone conclusion at the time. It is a lie to say that Taiwanese identity and the independence movement was born in the 1970s - it wasn't. There were home rule movements far, far earlier than that. It is also a lie to say that there was no chance, historically speaking, of a post-war independent Taiwan. It was one of the options on the table, at least briefly.

This is the one to read if you know deep down the KMT is full of trash but aren’t sure of the historical specifics of why, or if you’re confused about the tumultuous decades around WWII. Or if you’re a good-hearted person who is wrong in thinking Taiwan’s destiny must be Chinese, but are willing to read and revisit those beliefs. Or, if you're curious where this whole "Taiwan is eternally Chinese" idea came from (mostly Chiang himself, who managed to convince the Allies that accepting this was in their strategic interest). 

Most of the arguments I’ve had with numpties online could have been avoided if they’d read this book.

It’s not the only source on the era but it is the clearest.



10.) Stories of the Sahara
Sanmao 

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I’ve just started reading this, so don't expect a long review (yet). That said, I feel comfortable recommending it - Sanmao (三毛) is one of the great writers of the 20th century, inspiring a generation of adventurous women in Taiwan and China. But until recently was ignored by English-language publishers. This new translation of her most famous masterwork is compulsively readable. 

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Now I want to hear from you - what would you add to this list if you could? Was I unfair in choosing Annette Lu over George Kerr? What niche era of history or social change have I overlooked? Which novel did I snub? You tell me!