Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Let's send the KMT to a nice farm upstate

from here

So, lots of articles since the election on the resounding defeat of the KMT, not only in elected office but as the clear loser in the current cultural zeitgeist. The KMT doesn't understand Taiwan, hasn't sufficiently 'Taiwanized', is trying and failing to imitate the Sunflower movement, is looking to rebrand itself to the youth...but what's to become of it? Why is it holding onto an anti-Taiwanese culture rhetoric that isn't working and is deeply out of touch with Taiwanese civil society? Can it reform itself? Is it or isn't it a 'monolith'?

(It isn't - no political party is, with very few exceptions. But I don't see how it matters if its various non-monolithic elements are still mostly either crappy or ridiculous).

At the heart of some, but not all, of these narratives is a worry that the KMT is doomed, that they will not successfully navigate the changed political and cultural landscape of Taiwan, in which their fusty old 'we are all Chinese / Three Principles of the People / we are the ones qualified to run Taiwan, not you provincials' values no longer have traction. Many - again, not all - of these articles seem to take it as a given that it would be a fundamentally good thing for the KMT to reform, to "Taiwanize", to finally divest itself of its authoritarian past.

I would like to make the argument, however, that it might not necessarily be a good thing - or at least, that it wouldn't be a bad thing - if the KMT really did sputter and die, and that perhaps Taiwan would be better off with an erstwhile, rather than active, Chinese Nationalist party.

Here's the thing - I do understand that it would be a political mess for most countries to rid themselves of every political party with an unsavory past. The US would have to shut down the Democratic and  Republican parties. (Though again I'm not so sure it would be a bad idea to do so in the long run. An America free of these two entrenched establishment powerhouse parties might end up in a better place). I do understand the impulse to hope for the KMT to atone for its past crimes, as for the time being it's not going anywhere. Better an atoned party in the system than one that can't quite move on from its dictatorial past, I guess.

But wouldn't it be better yet if a party that was the core leadership of a mass-murdering dictatorship in living memory, that people don't call genocidal on what I would say is a semantic technicality (though let's not get into that argument again), did cease to exist? Why is the best case scenario for a reformed KMT, rather than a non-existent KMT?

I do take a very hard line view on this, because my family survived the Armenian genocide in Turkey. I view such crimes - the mass murder of the KMT among them - to be unforgivable. People ask "what does the KMT need to do to be treated as a legitimate party in today's political system? When will people stop bringing up the past and look at who they are today? What do they need to do to prove they are not the same party that they once were?"

(Not kidding, I've seen several people ask this in more or less these words).

I would say - there is nothing they can do. There is no forgiveness. There is no way to absolve yourself of mass murder. There is no way to absolve yourself of dictatorship. If a party engaged in these crimes, why should they be forgiven? Why should they be given another chance in a democratic nation? What have they done to deserve it? The government recognizes the crimes committed against the people and even has a holiday and two museums to commemorate it (though they are trying to shut one down), but the KMT as a party has never adequately apologized for its actions - nor am I sure the KMT ever could adequately apologize. They have not adequately released records from that era, they have not adequately made reparations to families, they have not adequately owned up to what they've done. Transitional justice in this regard has not been done. They still have the same old attitude of "well that was in the past, you'd best forget it and by the way, don't forget to vote for us, also please don't take away all of the assets we stole from you".

There simply is no forgiveness for something like the White Terror, so I don't see any reason why one should heed the "the past is the past, the KMT is different now" calls for tolerance. I am not tolerant of Armenian genocide apologists or deniers, so I see no reason to be tolerant of the party that in living memory committed mass murder among other crimes against the people in Taiwan. There is quite literally nothing they can do to remove that stain, nor should there be. As far as I'm concerned, if you perpetrate a crime against society on that scale, there is no going back, you do not deserve to exist or be any sort of political or ruling force.

What's more, why should we hope that they reform themselves from being the party of stolen assets which they fight against returning?

Why should we hope they reform themselves from being the party of compulsory party education and attempted brainwashing?

Why should we hope they reform themselves from being the party that had the chance to keep Taiwan in the UN as a non-security council participant, and screwed the country by not doing so?

Why should we hope they reform themselves from being the party of trying to wipe out Taiwanese language and culture and replace it, in great cultural imperialist fashion, with Chinese nationalism and Mandarin?

Why should we hope they reform themselves from being the party of unapologetic and continued revisionist history?

Why should we hope they reform themselves from being the party of destroying and then ignoring Taiwan's economy until they couldn't anymore, rebuilding what they wrecked and then claiming credit for the "Taiwan miracle"?

Why should we hope they reform themselves from being the party of the 'we are the only true qualified rulers of Taiwan' attitude and all the condescension it implies?

Why should we hope they reform themselves from being the party of the rich, pro-China, powerful and nepotistic?

Why should we hope they reform themselves from being the party of eventual unification?

Why should we hope they reform themselves from being the party that blocks transitional justice at every turn?

Why does it matter if they "reform themselves" successfully? They are a stained party with a stained past. Why would it be such a bad thing if they simply ceased to exist? Why does one need to even consider forgiveness? Why do we need to let them 'move on' from their 'authoritarian past'? They are their authoritarian past, there is no divorcing the two.

In short, fuck the KMT.

I don't hope they reform themselves. I hope they die (as a party, obviously I don't want individual people to die). I was not affected by the White Terror, but as an Armenian I can feel quite clearly how insulting it is to imply that those who were terrorized or who had loved ones terrorized by the KMT should now accept the 'new', 'improved' party. There is no reason why they should have to do so. There is no reason why they should be told by others that they are no longer allowed to have their views colored by the past. In the words of a friend, it is deeply offensive to tell a victim when they must stop being a victim, if they feel atonement has not been made, or can never be made.

Obviously, an outright ban on the KMT wouldn't go over well. People do, for some reason, vote for them. There are some good people in their ranks (I suppose). While I wouldn't be opposed to banning a party that literally committed mass murder, I'm not sure it's a politically viable solution. They do have a (shrinking) support base, still.

Instead, let's just stop wringing our hands over "what's to be done about the KMT? Can they bounce back from this"? They probably will, someday, anyway, despite the wishful thinking I'm about to unleash below. Let's forget about making the KMT viable and see if maybe that support base continues to shrink, and if the KMT disappears because it just can't keep up with the rapid cultural and political changes in modern Taiwan.

Maybe the KMT won't have to be banned - maybe it will fracture and dissolve and eventually off itself.

Why on earth would we need to be upset about that? If people stop voting for a party and the party therefore ceases to exist, why is that necessarily a bad thing?

I don't mean to imply, by the way, that the DPP should be left as the sole major party in Taiwan. That would also be a terrible way forward. I don't even like the DPP very much! Instead, why not let a new party step in - not People First (James Soong has also done unforgivable things) but something like it - and fill the needs of broadly 'conservative' voters. I may not be a conservative but I recognize some people are, and they need people to represent them, after all. A party without a murderous, brutally dictatorial past, perhaps?

Hell, why not let Taiwan evolve into a KMT-less multi-party democracy? Would that really be so bad?

In short, who cares what's best for the KMT? We should be asking what's best for Taiwan, and would it not potentially be best for Taiwan not to have a KMT at all, and to evolve into a non-binary democracy where the political views of all voters can potentially, broadly, be met in a variety of candidates?

tl;dr - I just don't care if the KMT crashes and burns. I don't mean that I want a one-party DPP-run state, just that I want more non-KMT party options to fill that void. So let's stop worrying, 'k?

It's time to send the nationalists to a nice farm upstate. Don't do it with bans. Do it with votes.

Monday, August 15, 2016

A time to break down


I've been working for awhile on a story-like version of this topic: true events told in a narrative about my time away from Taiwan in 2014 and 2015 and subsequent return. But recently two people I know (a friend and a friend-of-a-friend) have taken or will take similar flights, so I felt like writing something more essay-like about it now. Look for the story in a month or two.

Most recently, I returned to the US for one week in order to attend a family reunion, as well as pack up my entire childhood. The reunion and other family visits were especially important as I have two living grandparents, both of which are near 90 and neither of which is in good health. It is a painful fact that every visit I make home could be the last time I see either or both of them.

In 2012, a few years before my mom passed away, she had expressed an interest in the various old and attractive, but not particularly valuable, antique decorative items I'd purchased for my apartment in Taiwan: mostly old carved wooden panels used to decorate the tops of walls and under eaves in houses and temples. So, I bought her a similar panel with carved peaches (symbols of long life) and a stylized 'long life' (壽) character, as we were returning to the US for Christmas that year. It turned out to be our final family holiday together before she passed away in 2014. The irony of this does not escape me.

This past week, after learning that our dad planned to rent out our family home and the house I grew up in for at least a year, and potentially sell it after that time, I asked if I could have the panel rather than see it go into storage. It was an easy request as I'd purchased it to begin with.

With too much in the suitcase, including books, large photo albums and other items, the fragile wood of this panel just couldn't take the pressure. As I was closing the back, I heard a crack. The cut was not a complete severance and could be repaired, but I didn't want it in that suitcase. I put it in my carry-on as gingerly as possible, only for the breakage to complete itself as that bag, too, was overstuffed.

When I took it out of its (inadequate) padding back in Taipei, only to see it completely severed, I was reminded of a favorite song of my mother's which my uncle sang at her memorial service:

A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones
A time to gather stones together
I couldn't help but draw some weird symbolic analogies to my long-term expat life - literally as far away as it is possible to go from my hometown - and that antique wooden panel. Bought in Taiwan, gifted to my mother in the US, only for its hope of long life to be dashed in a few remaining years and to crack on the way back to Taiwan, as I leave the home I grew up in quite possibly for the last time.

As you know if you read this blog even semi-regularly, my flight home in 2014 was sudden: I'd planned on leaving for up to a year, maybe two, but wasn't scheduled to depart on the day I did. I knew as I left for the airport with a few hours' notice that whatever happened would not be good: I didn't know if I'd have a few hours, a few days, a few months or a few years with my mom, but no matter how long I did have, I knew I was flying back to the US to say goodbye. As it turned out, within two days, maman est morte

Less than a year later, just before I was set to return to help my father after his heart surgery, I lost my grandmother somewhat suddenly (we'd known it wouldn't be long but we didn't know it would be quite so soon).

What I've become more aware of in the intervening year and a half is that I am not nearly the only expat or immigrant who has experienced that situation. Many of us who live abroad long-term and likely some of us who don't stay for that long in the grand scheme of things take that same flight. They're lucky in a sense if they do: not everyone can. I could return for my mother but there was no way for me to have done the same for my grandmother, as much as I wanted to.

It's a part of expat life that few talk about: if you choose to live far away long term, there is a chance the next time you see your loved ones 'back home' might be the last time, that you might have to take an unplanned 12-hour flight to say goodbye, or that there is a chance you could be half a planet away knowing there is nothing you can do.

What is even less discussed is the feeling of breakage that comes from this time away. Many of you know I no longer consider the US to be my home. I haven't for awhile but haven't been able to articulate it until recently. We may not stay in Taiwan forever - let's see if this country can get its act together on immigration and labor reform - but if we leave it will be to go forward, to somewhere new. I am married to a Canadian citizen after all. But if you plan to go forward that necessarily means you won't be going 'back', though it feels cruel to put it that way. If you don't go back, a crack forms between your life before and your life ahead. Given time, and despite one's best efforts, the crack will eventually turn into a break. Even if you keep in close touch with people back home, the number of times you will see them again in your life is reduced by your living so far away, and the amount of time you will spend with them before they, too, leave either your life or this world is necessarily less.

Does that 'goodbye' flight make up for such a trade-off? You must go forward, or at least, I must. The answer is not to stay behind, but you must also be aware of the consequences. You do not know when your 'goodbye' flight will come, or if you will be able to take it. You don't know when the crack will form, or when it will turn into a severance. You can pack as carefully as possible, pad yourself against all manner of unfortunate events, but they will find you. None of us living abroad are exempt from the 'goodbye' flight. None of us are exempt from the breakage.

It is easy, while living a relatively charmed existence in Taiwan, where my salary (as much as I complain about it, with reason I think) affords a comfortable lifestyle of downtown living, further education and travel, to pretend that every time is a time to dance. To pretend that I am a 21st century Meursault - that we are all little dancing Meursaults staring at the sky or the sun or whatever - that nothing between humans matters as much as the immediacy of life and nature, that only the constant forward-moving pace of the universe makes sense and nothing else can be explained rationally.

But, whether or not there is truth in such absurdity, human relationships do matter. You make new ones abroad: it's fairly common to write about this positive side of expat life. You meet all sorts of interesting people, not least among them local residents of your new country. And we all know that our relationships back home may cool due to this distance. But we like to pretend that there is no permanent consequence to this moving forward, that good relationships can always renew themselves. Generally, they can, but only if the people you leave behind are still alive when you come back.

This is an acute feeling while you are actually home. Living in the US in 2015 was like functioning with my arm chopped off (left or right, depending on the day). I was still alive, in a great deal of pain but able to get through the day and even keep other peoples' lives together as I planned my mom's memorial service, but something was just missing. I wasn't able to function normally due to this missing thing, this absence where there should be presence. Living in Taiwan, it's easy to forget that it happened at all. Any given day now in Taiwan is no different from any given day before late 2014 when I might not have talked to my parents (we talked frequently, but not on a daily basis).

It would be easy to pick right back up as though life was as before. It's almost eerie how nothing in Taiwan has changed even as I know rationally there is no reason for it to have. That's the other side of the expat life coin: after a monumental change or loss where you come from, the only change you see when you return to your country of residence is in you.

Back 'home', things have changed quite a bit. Others feel your loss, or rather, that loss is also felt by others. Their possessions are still around, in many cases. Whatever they built in their life still is, too. People offer memories or sympathy. The place where they lived, where you come from, has changed, even if just a tiny bit. Return to your new home, and that loss is not felt by most others (in my case, my sister - also in Taiwan - and husband were mourning, too). They can't miss someone they never knew, and a place that person never set foot in obviously wouldn't change because they are gone.

It's tempting and easy to try and avoid returning to a place where you feel your arm has been cut off by staying in a place where you can be whole-bodied if you want to be. To pretend that the breakage you've suffered, the human relationship you've lost, doesn't have as big an impact because it doesn't impact the immediacy of life and sensation in your new home.

I can't do that though. I don't regret moving abroad (it would also be easy, but futile, to wallow in regret). It is natural to move forward. To seek your fortune, in whatever form it takes, wherever it can be found. Go East, young woman. 

In order to atone for all of the time I didn't spend where I grew up, that I didn't see my mother or grandmother, all of the times I wasn't there rolled up into one goodbye flight I could take and one I couldn't, and to acknowledge that the same circumstances will present themselves again at some point in the not-too-distant future, it sometimes helps to spend some meditative time with my arm, figuratively speaking, behind my back.

So, today I broke out my arts and crafts tools, including the appropriate type of glue to repair wooden items, and set about gluing that antique wooden panel back together so I can hang it in my apartment here in Taipei.

The break will always be noticeable: it's my own fault for trying to carry it to the US and back in the first place. But then if I hadn't gone abroad I wouldn't have bought the panel at all. My mom knew that my move abroad was my own move forward and, as hard as it was, supported it.