Monday, August 28, 2017

Women are not your cultural ambassadors

Please "enjoy" this (mostly bullshit) article in the Japan Times.

What he says about his relationships to the women he has dated is striking, if not a bit annoying:

In my early relationships with Japanese girlfriends — I’d dated a Kyoto University student when I was 20 — I’d followed the standard pattern of being the curious Western male being introduced to the intricacies of the Japanese language and culture by a helpful girlfriend. But by my late 20s — when I was a graduate student in Japanese literature at Kobe University — I’d discovered that the dynamic of that type of relationship had started to fail.
Slowly it dawned on me that my language and cultural proficiency had finally come to the point where I no longer needed to be “tutored” by a girlfriend. Liberation!
By then I felt quite comfortable — indeed, slightly bored — in an exclusively Japanese world. I was spending all week in university libraries, taxing my brain, reading Japanese books. The last thing I wanted to do in my spare time, at the weekend, was indulge in more “Japanese.”

I can relate to this guy's desire to want to have his relationship to a culture be on his terms rather than deal with the ins-and-outs of expectations and obligations that come with dating someone from that culture, I couldn't help but feel squicked out by the whole article.

Yes, it is a common enough dynamic: man discovers exotic new world through woman he dates who giggles at his adorable cultural mishaps as she leads him to better knowledge of the secrets of this foreign place. I won't say it's essentially wrong - frankly, what goes on in a relationship I am not a part of is not my (or anyone else's) business. I'm not even sure it's always a bad thing. But there is something icky and 'conquering explorer'-y about it that rubs me the wrong way. 

Perhaps it would be different if a whole raft of gender expectations and stereotypes shaped by culture didn't run right up against a (mostly white male) power differential in terms of white privilege and, in some cases, socioeconomic development. It is impossible, however, to remove those from the equation.

Although this scenario can happen between any two cultures - I could just as easily imagine someone thinking a cute young girl they meet from, I dunno, Amsterdam will introduce them to European culture - I can only best describe what I see in Asia. However, I can imagine someone treating a non-Asian woman this way too, and I certainly don't want to make it sound as though I think all Asian woman/Western man pairings have this problem. The problem is the problem, not who chooses to date whom. 

 I have a lot of Taiwanese female friends and more than once I have heard, essentially, that they are whole human woman, not reducible to some foreigner's Cultural Attache.

What other reaction can one have to a man who says he "doesn't date ______ women" because he doesn't want the "cultural ambassador as girlfriend" role to play out again: why would he decide before he knows her not to date her, based on a role he doesn't want her to play that she likely didn't want anyway because she's a whole person? Why would he assume she would want that role in the first place?

It just bothers me that some men still seem to think women, from anywhere, exist primarily to highlight, change, influence, brighten or complicate the lives of men, rather than those women having their own lives. I am not qualified to comment on what happens when that attitude of treating women as an accessory or catalyst on your own journey, rather than as wholly realized human beings on their own journeys. They're trying to beautify their life paths by adding a partner to it, rather than looking for another person whose own life path is compatible with theirs. A tagalong, not a travel companion.

Again, this is not limited to one culture. I've had (mercifully brief) dating experiences where it felt as though the man was looking more for someone to liven up his journey, rather than respecting mine. Or as though I were there for his benefit, in service to his life plans: to entertain, teach, free or enlighten him, rather than being a full human being who has her own life going on. And I'm a boring white lady, not even a conventionally pretty one at that! And kind of acerbic, frankly. Why anyone would think they could shove that role on me is beyond me - if it happened to me, it could happen to anyone.

And while there are certainly women out there who do the same thing to the men they date, I've just observed that for the most part, it's men who treat women this way. I could comment on the way this attitude intersects with the whole "Western guy 'finding himself' in Asia" narrative (that is to say, "privileged guy using someone else's country, culture and society as a stage for their personal life drama in which they are the star and the 'foreigners' bit actors" narrative), to the point where this particular writer seems to first categorize all Japanese women as, I dunno, Manic Pixie Dream Asians.

And then, after casting them all in a role they never said they wanted, paints himself as the better guy for not wanting them to play it. Barf. He is even so kind as to acknowledge that there is more than one kind of Japanese woman, before categorizing all of his relationships in them as, well, kind of the same.

Are we supposed to applaud?

But I'll stop there, not only because the commentary coming from that wouldn't be particularly enlightening, and not only because I'm not really qualified to comment, but also because this is just one guy whose relationship to a foreign country and to the women in that country seems deeply problematic, and cannot be used as a treatise against all Western men who live and date in Asia, nor all cross-cultural relationships.

But this guy, creating in his head and then trashing "Manic Pixie Dream Asians"?

Fuck this guy.

Women, of any race or background, are not your cultural ambassadors. You invented that role for them, and it doesn't fit.

So stop it. 

Friday, August 25, 2017

Look at this postcard I sent to Taipei, Thailand from Vienna, Australia!


Why, I had a lovely vacation in Australia, thanks for asking!

It's really too bad that I didn't see any kangaroos in Australia, I mean I thought there would be a lot, as kangaroos' natural habitat is in the Alps, which separate Australia from New Zealand.

I guess I can't blame Australians for not knowing geography very well. I mean they are basically a huge island nation in the middle of Europe. But their capital city, Wienertown, is really lovely. I was surprised that it was so warm in August, what with it being in the southern hemisphere and all.

But seriously, my vacation in Greater Germany was great. The Prussians are so friendly!

There are so many famous Australian cities I didn't visit, such as Geneva and Europe. I thought it would be really cool to go to the outback or the Crocodile Dundee Theme Park (he's a famous Australian folk hero, everybody in Wienerville knows about him) but there wasn't time.

Did you know the people of Vienna, Australia are called "Vietnamese"?

Anyway next time I go to Australia, I will definitely be sure to send some postcards to Thailand so they'll be sent to Taiwan and therefore arrive faster - or maybe that only works in one direction. I'll also visit some famous cities such as Melbourne, Salzburg, Berlin and Kinshasa. I really love traditional Australian food, such as Sachertorte, Wienerschnitzel and emu jerky.

They have such a vibrant and mystical culture! So mysterious and inscrutable! It's really an exotic place to visit, it will change your life. Next time I want to really understand Australian culture on a deeper level by doing some castle tours and also kangaroo hunting. Bonjour! 

Maybe I can teach them how to say "你好", which is a traditional Thai greeting. I don't think anyone in Greater Wienerston knows how to speak Thailandish.


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The ethics of being a foreigner writing about Taiwan

Screen Shot 2017-08-23 at 12.57.20 PM

 Two posts within a few hours of each other caught my eye in an unexpected way, and caused a resurfacing of an old question I'd asked of myself before.

First, there was this excellent post by Tricky Taipei, which I highlighted in my previous post (really just a link - there is nothing I need to add). The friend who brought this post to my attention pointed out that, although he'd also noticed the issue of casual sexism in Taiwan, he hadn't written about it because, as a man (and a foreign one at that), he could never truly write from the same perspective of experience, whereas Kathy Cheng, coming from the group actually affected by this, could.

I tended to agree - and although I am female, I am not Taiwanese. I would like to acquire Taiwanese nationality someday, and do not believe that being Taiwanese must be linked to ethnicity or race, simply because it's not actually linked now (something like one in five Taiwanese children born these days has a foreign parent), my life is here and this is my home, and most Taiwanese already support dual nationality - the issue isn't a lack of support, it's lack of awareness that it is an issue. But, I will not deny that culturally, I am not Taiwanese. I'm just not - I look different, which matters insofar as I'm treated differently, and I come from a cultural background that is very different. I can't change this - it's just the truth and it's okay to admit it. I will always come at things from a different angle, because of how my race affects how I'm treated in Taiwan, and my cultural background. This doesn't mean I can't try to understand as much as possible, and it doesn't mean I can never, ever understand anything (that's just condescending - being a white person in Taiwan doesn't mean I'm stupid or incapable of grasping yet another iteration of the cultural differences one may discover around the world). It just means I'll always have a different experience.

For example, although I am aware of, and could have written about, these sorts of issues:

In Taiwan, women don’t get catcalls from creepy strangers on the sidewalk. Instead you’ll get unsolicited comments about your hairstyle from male colleagues the first week you start a new job.
Women don’t get honked at by cars or trucks either. Instead your uncle might decide to announce to everyone at the family reunion how you’re looking “thick”.
Is it still sexism if it comes from these benign, everyday voices? Is it still sexism if it’s so mainstream that young girls are groomed to ignore it, and grown men feel no embarrassment or shame when they’re called out on it?
...but I haven't. I have never gotten unsolicited comments about my hairstyle at work, or been told by an uncle that I'm looking "thick". I've never had to deal with the lack of embarrassment by men for acting this way (if a white woman calls you out on this behavior, I can assure you, the man is embarrassed. Yes, there is a racial element to who calls out whom). 

So, as a white woman, I have to say, I don't think I could have written on this topic as authoritatively or from real lived experience as Cheng was able to. This did need to come from a Taiwanese woman. I have not tried to tackle quite this subject for the same reason: no matter how much knowledge, experience or empathy I acquire, the impossibility of coming from that background and writing from that experience means I could never do a topic like this justice. I may know these things happen, but I haven't actually experienced them. Yes, there is a difference.

The second post was by Irish blogger Mossy on Nihao's It Going? about how he learned to stop worrying and love Taiwan.

What caught my eye was not the topic of the post so much as this part at the end:
A few months back I tweeted one of the Sad Asians girls. They were two women who started a group that railed against the stereotypes and labels of Asian women. They were an interesting group and I liked their stuff for a while. They tweeted back that as a white person, I shouldn’t be writing about Taiwan. I was blocked and couldn’t defend myself. It was a bit of a shocker if I being honest.

I understand where the Sad Asian Girls were coming from. Why does it so often have to be foreigners - mostly white people - writing about Taiwan in English? Even in the realm of books, why is it that so many of the non-fiction books on my shelf about Taiwan were written by white men? I just did a survey - 18 foreigners, all but three of them male (and I am pretty sure all of those male foreigners are white). 9 Taiwanese, all but two of them male. Wouldn't locals come at the topic with more expertise and a more nuanced understanding from having grown up in the culture? (That was a rhetorical question - of course they would). Shouldn't we be promoting writing by Taiwanese, especially in English (content written in Chinese, as far as I am aware, is not a problem)? Yes, of course. I get it - it feels kind of sucky to read about your country in English and see that it's mostly non-Taiwanese doing the talking, and maybe our voices are not the most important ones.

But, are they right that we shouldn't be writing about Taiwan at all?

That's where I am going to disagree.

There seem to be two camps of people these days who have very different ideas about who gets to speak about and advocate for what. On one side, you have those who'd agree that some people should not write on a given topic, ever: white voices have overridden local voices for so long and in so many parts of the world that it's almost a cliche: white guy goes to foreign country, writes about it, everybody reads it and nods at his presumed sagacity and unique interactions with this exotic foreign culture. Ugh. Gross. Local voices, especially in the past, might have had far less agency to get their work out there. Not because they're not white necessarily, or at a surface level, but because systemically, those who get published in English have ties to influential organizations in Western countries: universities, think tanks, government and more, that locals often don't, or have overcome more hurdles to attain.

So I completely understand why people would be sick and tired of this, and have a blanket view that Taiwanese issues are best discussed by Taiwanese, rather than a bunch of whiteys sitting around circle-jerking about their experiences in the Far East. Nobody likes it when someone else tries to speak for them, and it is far too easy to fall into the trap that Mossy rightly calls a "jaded, infantilizing, orientalist tone". Although I have not gone back to read my early posts, it is entirely possible that a younger, dumber me did fall into that trap and older, more experienced me would cringe at my well-meaning but more naive past self.

The other camp thinks this entire system of thought boils down to identity politics: e.g. Taiwanese people fight for Taiwanese rights and talk about Taiwanese issues, and only people with the right credentials (i.e. being Taiwanese) are allowed to comment. 
They point out that if this belief were put into practice at its logical conclusion, people would be banned from commenting on certain things, which is a gross violation of free speech. 

Certainly, that's a bit of a straw man: I don't think anybody on the other side wants to actually ban people from speaking. They are likely content with the natural consequences of speaking out when they feel you shouldn't: being called out on it, being criticized for it, being ignored. Most would likely agree with this sentiment:

...and I agree with that.

However, I don't think criticism of this sentiment is overblown: even without taking the "only Taiwanese can write about Taiwan" perspective as far as it will go, you run into problems. You are essentially saying that no matter how long one lives in Taiwan and actively strives to understand the country and live there as a normal person among other people, they will never, ever have anything valuable to say. Not just that there will always be topics that they will be less able or qualified to write about because they didn't grow up in this culture, but that they truly have nothing at all to add. Not even the ways they experience Taiwan differently as foreigners.

It also creates a vicious cycle of trying to decide who is "Taiwanese" enough to be qualified to comment. I have had Taiwanese American activist friends tell me that, while most of the activist community in Taiwan is welcoming, there are those who think Taiwanese Americans are not "Taiwanese" enough to really be a part of a local movement. This strikes me as ridiculous and self-destructive.

But who decides, really, on a macro level, who is "Taiwanese" enough? (Again, a rhetorical question).

Would these same people say that my other friend, who is white, born to Western parents, but born in Taiwan and grew up in the context of Taiwanese culture is "not Taiwanese enough"? If I acquire citizenship and live here for the rest of my life, am I still, always and forever, a foreigner no matter what?

Doesn't that tie a little too closely to ethnocentrism (you know, Taiwan is for Taiwanese only, foreigners need not apply), when most people agree the "ethnic state" argument is not a good fit for the country? Does that mean that the 'internationalization' that many young activists are calling for, so that Taiwan can participate on equal footing and market itself well internationally is no longer desirable? You can't have both: internationalization won't happen if you view every foreigner as a detriment to Taiwan and every experience they might share as worthless.

In the end, I cannot fully agree with the idea that white people should never write about Asia (even if they live there, even long term - perhaps even if they were born there), although I support their work. They not only told Mossy he shouldn't write on Taiwan, they blocked him, giving him no recourse. That's not the "we aren't saying shut up, we're saying listen" that I agree with wholeheartedly. That's a final "shut up". They are free to do that - free speech doesn't mean people must listen. But, they are perhaps cutting off that nose a bit, ensuring that an ally who might otherwise share their work now cannot.

These tactics also feel a little tribalistic and are at odds with the general goal of Taiwan to be more international and move away from ethnocentric or Hoklo (or Chinese) chauvinistic arguments. I don't know if the Sad Asian Girls think that being Taiwanese is about race, but if they do, what race do they mean? If they name one, which groups - and Taiwan has many, including indigenous - are they leaving out?

Perhaps that's a little self-serving: there is not much I can do but admit that this might be the case, and strive to render it untrue.

Like many other foreign bloggers in Taiwan, I try to engage in English-language discussion of Taiwanese issues with sensitivity, understanding that we come from a different perspective and cannot fully inhabit the range of experiences people who have grown up in this culture or come from heritage based in this culture have had. I can't speak for every Westerner who blogs on Taiwan, but I do try to "stay in my lane" and blog knowingly from the angle of a foreigner's life here (although I hope to not be "a foreigner" someday), rather than pretending that I can speak authoritatively on the Taiwanese experience as a Taiwanese person. I do try - and will try - to elevate voices, especially local ones, when they write about experiences and issues that I cannot do justice to. If I have not always done so in the past (perhaps I ought to go back and read the archives to see) it is something I am constantly trying to improve upon.

No, I do not believe that choosing to 'stay in my lane' means I am censoring myself or agreeing with the loss of my own freedom of speech. There is nothing wrong with deciding to write about things one feels one is qualified to write about, and leaving other things alone, for more appropriate voices to tackle. Nobody can tell me what I should or should not write about - or at least, nobody can realistically enforce it in a free country. My choice to pick and choose my topics is mine alone. So while I acknowledge the current and historical problem of white people writing about non-white countries (often as the sole voices), which is just so painfully neo-colonialist (or just colonialist), in the end the only realistic path is to let the quality of what someone says speak for itself, regardless of who they are. I can choose not to write about topics when I don't adequately know what I'm talking about, and really, more people should. If I say something dumb, I'll be criticized for it. If people decide they'd rather hear more local voices, I'll be ignored. Both of these are fine - natural consequences.

But saying one "should" and "should not" write about something is going too far - even as I understand that the balance of power and who has a 'voice' has for too long favored whites.

This is because I do think I have something to offer, and something valuable to contribute, in certain areas. That can be done while still "staying in my lane" and doing my best not to 'center' myself in issues where I am not - and could not be - the most authoritative or qualified voice. It is possible to approach blogging about Taiwan in the same way I've approached supporting activist and pro-Taiwan movements here: I have had opportunities to help and be of service, and taken them (whether or not it will make a difference, I don't know). But I cannot imagine that I would ever want to take the spotlight. It doesn't belong to me, nor should it. The same in blogging: I don't want to be the voice of Taiwan in English, I want to be a voice, and not even the most visible one. I want to render my perspective, leaving plenty of room and spotlight for others - and you can read or not, it's all fine. If you eschew my blog because you think I suck for even attempting to write on Taiwan, well, sorry to hear that. If you eschew it because you are spending your time reading English-language blogs by local voices, I think that's great. Please do that more.

Or, in the words of that brilliant tweeter above, I don't feel I have to "shut up". But I do - and will - try to listen. 

Read this post by Tricky Taipei

...I cannot recommend it enough.

Let's Talk About Taiwan's Totally Casual Sexism

Also, there is nothing I can add to it, it would be gilding the lily. It is 100% accurate, a real problem, and a topic I honestly think only a Taiwanese woman could do justice to.

So go read it.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

China is not the problem - we are

Another day, another instance of China being awful.

(And I hope by now you all know that when I say "China", I mean "the CCP" or "the Chinese government". Countries can't be good or bad, but governments certainly can be).

This time, they demanded that Cambridge University Press (CUP) delete around 300 articles in China, so scholars within China would not be able to access them. Essentially, telling them that they must block access to academics, who now cannot operate in China with a full bevy of information.

I don't even need to say why this is a problem. If you are only permitted to read, know and say certain things to appease an authority, you cannot work within true academia. It is simply not possible; the two things cannot co-exist. Either you have academic freedom and access, and as such may be an academic, or you don't, and therefore can't. Scholars in China (I'm not quite ready to call them "would-be scholars", but give me a few years) are now fed a "sanitized", Party-approved view of their country rather than the truth - and the two are quite different indeed.

I have said in the past that I don't know how one could even seriously study many of the humanities in China. Certainly history would not be possible. Now, the situation is much more dire.

But you know what? Imma say it.

China is not the problem.

We are the problem.

We - the West, not-China, CUP, everyone else who does what China orders them to do - are the problem precisely because we listen.

Haters gonna hate, Qyburn gonna Qyburn, and China gonna China. You can't expect anything else from a government such as this. You know the old advice column adage that you cannot change others, only your response to their behavior? And that often, the problem is that you are enabling or validating their behavior by tolerating it? That your horrible relative is not the problem so much as that you still listen to that horrible relative, or, even worse, expect that horrible relative will miraculously start acting better than they always have?

That's what we're doing. We're making excuses for an abusive entity. We're enabling China. They (the CCP) are going to do this, that's just how they are. They are the horrible relative or toxic co-worker. You wouldn't attend a Nazi rally if your racist aunt told you to, and you wouldn't hand over the reins of a project you love just because your narcissistic coworker demanded to be put in charge, so why would you (generic "you") get a demand from shitty, toxic, horrible China and actually do it?

CUP was ordered to make those articles unavailable in China. CUP is the problem, because they actually did so. Regardless of the origins of "Chinese Taipei" and Taiwan's participation in international sporting events, at this point in time the IOC and other international sports bodies are "forced" use "Chinese Taipei" because China insists on it. The IOC (and others) are the problem, because they actually do so.

Reuters - which sucks by the way - publishes reams of pro-China nonsense because they are afraid of the CCP (yes, I do believe that this is the reason). The CCP is not the problem - they are what they are - Reuters is, for letting fear of being banned in China guide their editorial line.

Every time we do what the CCP demands, we are the problem. Every time we don't stand up to them, that's on us. No, there are no excuses. Either you do the right thing, or you don't. Either you are a trustworthy news or academic source, or you're not.

It is quite clear that China's mid-term goal is to control how every other country interacts with China, and to control its message to such a degree that everyone around the world is essentially made to accept a CCP view of China and its history. It is also quite clear that their long-term goal is likely to control not only how we interact with China, but also how the world works. They are happy doing away with true academic freedom in China for now, but someday they will want to do away with it everywhere. They're happy to insist on their version of Chinese history and politics in China now (and only encourage it elsewhere), but their ultimate goal is to get everyone in the world to believe it because they don't know any better. They are happy now to make demands on organizations like Google, CUP and the IOC (and Reuters, though perhaps through being more scary than directly threatening) and more for now, but ultimately they want final say over all content they don't like.

They are satisfied to force the continued use of "Chinese Taipei" on Taiwan, but eventually, we will all be, in some form or other, metaphorically speaking, "Chinese Taipei"-ified.

And it will be our fault, because we listened and obeyed.

Shame on you, CUP, and everyone who listens to the toxic demands of the Communist Party of Chinai

Friday, August 18, 2017

On Hong Kong, Asia and Western Hypocrisy


Three leaders of Hong Kong's Umbrella Revolution - Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow - who have already completed the community service they were originally sentenced to, have been re-sentenced to 6-8 (varied by individual) months in prison for their role in the 2014 Umbrella Revolution. Or, more accurately, they are being thrown in jail for daring to stand up for democracy.

It is, in fact, a slap in the face of democracy, in a city that until 2014 was under the impression that it would, as a special autonomous region (SAR), be granted a democratic system. China failed to keep that promise, and is failing to even uphold the terms of the deeply flawed treaty it did sign with Great Britain at the Hong Kong handover.

Do not think for a second that this is a matter internal to Hong Kong. China has broken every promise it made to the Hong Kong people, which is nothing to be surprised at. It's China, after all. The Chinese government is behind the renewed pressure on the Hong Kong government to suppress democracy within its territory, despite the city being ostensibly "free". The blame here goes straight to the Communist Party, not a local court.
These three activists took a great risk and, if you believe in democracy and basic human rights, are being unjustly punished for it. Yet, even if they had known the outcome, I bet they would have stood up for what was right anyway.

What I'm saying is, yes, this is a slap in the face of democracy. But also, maybe the West needs to get over its stupid stereotypes of Asian people being too nerdy, submissive, obedient or overly respectful of authority. It's bullshit - some of the bravest people I know are nerdy Asian kids. And maybe we Westerners, already comfortable in our democracies, need to stand with them. 

They are quite literally risking their lives, fortunes and honor to stand up for what is right, and they are not backing down - everything Westerners who don't have to risk anything say they should be willing to do. 

Or are we afraid - too submissive, overly respectful of Chinese totalitarianism, obedient to the demands of the CCP - to do the right thing?

Chances are that China will face no real consequences for its actions. It will be allowed to force Hong Kong into submission. Trade will continue to puff along, the international media will continue to write China-friendly puff pieces and carefully monitor its coverage out of fear of being kicked out of China, so that none of us get an accurate reporting of the region. People, some of whom are my friends, will continue to defend China based on a rosy view of how things work there - mostly fueled by the inaccurate reporting and puff pieces they read. They'll defend human rights violations on a massive scale because "we can't force Western ideas onto non-Western countries, that's cultural imperialism" (no - basic human rights are not Western ideas, they are human ideas. If they were purely Western you wouldn't see a country like Taiwan championing them). Maybe they'll do a bit of time travel to the 1990s and defend "Asian-style democracy" (there is nothing inherently Asian about it, and it isn't democracy). 
They will take vacations to China and call it "such a wonderful place" (and it can be - just not politically). 

They might even come out with that old bit o' nonsense that "in Asia there's such a reverence for authority", as an easy way to discount the atrocities that China commits. They might even talk about how "popular" Xi Jinping is or how "happy" the Chinese are with their government (as though it is possible to do any meaningful political research in China on these topics).

They won't spare a thought to the activists now languishing in a jail cell for standing up for what is right, people who don't have a "reverence for authority", people who don't obey - because standing up for what is right is not "Western", it's human.
They'll ignore it, because it puts them in the uncomfortable position of being Westerners criticizing an Asian system, and they don't want to be that kind of person (and I get it - I don't, either).

They will do all of this, and in the next breath defend democracy and human rights and talk about how much they care about these things. They'll talk about how free speech is so important, and we must preserve it at all costs. They'll talk about how American democracy is in danger.

They will think these rights are very important...for them. If they even consider that, by making excuses for China, they are condoning the denial of these same rights to others, they'll explain it away.

The hypocrisy won't even register.

In any case, China will get away with it. The puff pieces will continue, the careful monitoring of China coverage so as not to offend the CCP's delicate sensibilities will continue, people - even well-meaning, educated liberals - will read that garbage and call it news. They won't look any deeper, if they even know who Joshua, Nathan and Alex are.

We'll all buy the newest iPhone and China will make a few bucks on each one while Joshua, Nathan and Alex sit in jail standing up for all those things we claim to care about. We won't think of them (well, I will). Some people will take their vacations to China this year, and come back thinking that there can't possibly be anything deeply wrong or dysfunctional with the way it's run, because they saw some pretty mountains and a few temples.

A few politicians will make statements, but these won't result in any actual consequences.

Some of us will continue to characterize Asians as "nerdy", "submissive" or "respectful of authority". It won't begin to register how wrong we are.

The Chinese government is the problem, but perhaps we are the problem too.

The next time you are tempted to explain it and your own discomfort away with "but it's Asia and in Asian cultures people are more respectful of authority", have a think about that stereotype while these three activists sit in jail, okay?

Human rights are just that, human. Not Western - human. How can you say "it's their culture" not to have human rights, when three people from that culture are paying the price for standing up for these very rights? Clearly it's not endemic to the place or people. Liu Xiaobo died for them, and many others before him that you never heard of because the media is afraid of China. 

There's not much I can do except write. I can't even vote for people who will do better, because there aren't any. The few who want to stand up to China have such odious platforms in other areas that I cannot in good conscience vote for them either. Maybe I'm part of the problem too, for failing to be creative enough to think of more I could do.

But I can refuse to listen to the China apologists and say it straight up - fuck you, China, for what you did to those activists.

Fuck. You. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Mythbusting Dual Nationality


When I first moved to Taiwan, dual nationality for long-term foreigners was not even on the radar. At the time, I wasn't too concerned: I didn't think I'd come to care this much about the country, did not imagine I'd stay for more than a few years, and if I did, figured that permanent residency would be sufficient.

Now, it's a concerted movement, and we've even had some victories (sort of).

With this sort of movement, there will always be detractors. The best we can do is defeat their arguments and see that they remain a minority without derailing us. I don't really understand them: it feels like opposing for the sake of opposing, often not really understanding what it is exactly that they are against (this also seems true for a lot of arguments made by conservatives). Immigrants against immigrants for no good reason at all.

In any case, there are a few things that I've heard from members of this camp, and I'd like to gather them all here so that I don't have to keep repeating myself when I see these things come up again and again.

We can't just let anyone fresh off the plane get citizenship!

Nobody is suggesting this - it's a massive straw man. Pretty much every advocate of dual nationality agrees that there must be restrictions on it. A general consensus seems to be 5 years for the APRC is fair (though the "no break in your visa" rule is a bit archaic when plenty of vindictive bosses will ensure you do have a break - how about no period of illegal stay in Taiwan or an easier process for changing jobs that doesn't allow a boss to screw over a foreigner this way?), and another 5 years for citizenship. I would even accept a detailed application process. Quite literally nobody thinks that you should be allowed to just walk off a plane and be granted this.

Even with children who were born here to non-citizen parents, as birthright citizenship is not likely to happen, the obvious solution is to give them permanent residency when one parent gains it, and then the same waiting period for citizenship we all have to go through.

If we hand out citizenship like candy, Taiwan will be swamped! 

Not really. Permanent residency (the APRC) is available to all professional workers in Taiwan now, but very few of them apply - there maybe a few thousand in the entire country who have it. This is because most do intend to only be in Taiwan temporarily, and either leave of their own volition or are transferred out by their companies long before the 5 years' residency necessary to obtain an APRC. Or, they stay but are on a JFRV (essentially a marriage visa), which confers similar-but-different rights.

It is likely that, with so few APRC holders, even fewer would seek citizenship.

Secondly, most people who would seek citizenship are already here. I don't anticipate a huge influx of people. Things would stay more or less the same, except one group of people who has made Taiwan their home will have more equal rights and have that relationship to Taiwan made official. That's all.

Thirdly, Taiwan is an aging country which isn't replacing its own population. I don't think the country can grow safely grow much denser, but in terms of simply maintaining a youthful and productive population, immigration is a pretty clear answer. Immigration would actually benefit Taiwan in this way more than people realize.

Sure, maybe not many Westerners will apply, but we'll be Southeast Asians!

So? Do you think that's a problem simply based on where they come from - like there is a problem with them simply because of their origin? If so, that's racist (no really, that's like a classic definition of racism).

Secondly, I doubt it. Most SE Asians who stay do so because they married locally, and as such have a visa regardless. Something like one in every five children born in Taiwan today has a foreign parent. The connection is real and already exists. Those who want to stay but don't marry are also a fairly small percentage of those who come here to work - most, rather like Westerners, intend to eventually return to the country of their birth after earning money in Taiwan for a few years. I just don't think this will be the problem people imagine.

Thirdly, Southeast Asian laborers working in Taiwan have few rights and little recourse when they encounter problems (which range from being abused by their captors employers, not being paid for work they do (that is, slavery), rape, extortion and more. I can't imagine a scenario where it's a bad idea to give them more rights and better treatment.

Finally, and yes I do think this is unfair, remember that foreign laborers in Taiwan, as opposed to "foreign professionals", do not have the same path to an APRC. Westerners - most professionals are Western, most laborers SE Asian - already have an advantage. That's not right, and I would like to see a change, but the argument above is false simply because this is the way things currently are.

An APRC is sufficient if you want to stay in Taiwan.

No, it isn't. Not when you get old.

A lot of people think we just want the right to vote. In fact, while that matters to me, it's toward the bottom of the list of reasons why I want dual nationality. At the top of the list are all the things I will need to arrange if I am going to live out my days here.

We cannot get a mortgage here - it's not illegal, it's that banks won't lend to non-citizens - but with the amount of money we are able to save at Taiwanese pay rates, we won't be able to pay rent well into our old age. At some point, probably within the next ten years, we will need to buy a place to live. Even if we could rent forever, Taiwanese landlords don't like to rent to the elderly. It's just not a good plan for the future, even though neither of us is very big on home ownership for its own sake (it doesn't seem to be a particularly good investment if that's all you're buying it for, but it does make sense if you are trying to arrange things so that you have a paid-off place to live someday).

I'm not even sure how we would be able to keep our National Health Insurance after retirement, though I am told it is possible.

At some point I am intending to go after a more academic job. These jobs tend to come with pensions, but APRC holders are not eligible for them (I believe they get a lump sum payment which is less than the pension typically pays out).

And finally, although I hope never to need it, if it ever came down to one of us being incapacitated and needing a home health aid, there are subsidies available through the government for citizens that are not available to non-citizens.

All of these things are important if we are going to live here in our old age, and none are possible on an APRC alone. Without citizenship, I've run the numbers and it is not possible for us to stay in Taiwan forever. We are not spendthrifts, and we are not lazy. This is just how the numbers roll out for two normal, non-wealthy people.

It is, truly, a dealbreaker.

You're just selfish, thinking about what you are entitled to. Me, I'm so wonderful, I just want to contribute to this country without demanding entitlements in return like a selfish person, with your selfish demand for "rights". 

It's not selfish to want equal rights and to build a normal life in the place you call home. That quite literally doesn't make any sense. It's natural and normal to want rights, and to be able to live as an equal where you are, if you have been there long enough to put down roots.

In fact, I don't even understand the relationship drawn here. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Wanting equal and reciprocal rights when we've already made Taiwan our home (we didn't just land here and demand them - nobody did, at least nobody sane) is not incompatible with wanting to contribute to Taiwan. It's not like once you want rights, you suddenly don't care about the country anymore, and saying you don't "need" these rights doesn't suddenly make you a selfless martyr for the country.

Besides, I am sure these self-professed angels will be first in line for a new passport if we successfully gain these rights for all. I doubt, then, that they will look back and realize they let us do all the work while they sat around casting aspersions, and they are now benefiting from our activism.

But it's hard for Taiwanese to immigrate to your country. Why do you think you are more deserving?

I won't deny that it is difficult for a Taiwanese person to immigrate to the US and obtain citizenship, especially in today's political climate. However, a path does exist for them which does not exist for me because of Taiwan's laws, not the laws of my birthplace. Besides, it's simple reciprocity: Taiwanese are allowed to have dual nationality, so there is no reason to withhold it from naturalized citizens. Few, if any, other countries have such a stunning lack of reciprocity, mostly stemming from ethnocentric and racially prejudiced ROC laws written in the 1920s.

And yes, I think I'm just as deserving as any current Taiwanese citizen who lives here, works here, participates in society and contributes to Taiwan in whatever way I can. We shouldn't have to give up everything so the church can pay our bills while we work in a rural village to both do good things and also win converts to that same church in order to qualify.

If you really want to be Taiwanese, then renounce your original nationality. Simple! 

No, it's not simple.

Let's set aside the fact that naturalized citizens face a threat that Taiwanese don't, which is that if at any point Taiwan is annexed by China, we will be immediately stateless. I'm setting that aside because, while Taiwanese won't be "stateless", they would become Chinese citizens and that is only marginally better (and quite unacceptable to most Taiwanese), and also because I think it's unlikely.

Instead, let's look pragmatically at what many of us face: in my case, I have a single dad near retirement age to worry about. Taiwanese quite eloquently point out that they don't give up their Taiwanese nationality because they have aging family members in Taiwan they might have to return to look after. Well, it's exactly the same for me. I might have to return to the US someday, temporarily, to be there for my dad. I can't do so as a tourist, if they let me in at all (the US is not that welcoming to renounced citizens) - the length of time I might need to be there is indeterminate, and I'm not rich; I'd need to work. We can't afford to pay someone else to take care of him, either, should it come to that.

I have no real loyalty to the USA, but giving up my American citizenship means quite literally abandoning my father. Generally speaking, Taiwanese are too "filial" to do something like that. Frankly, so am I.

That's not even getting into the injustice of a double standard for born vs. naturalized citizens - someone born here doesn't have to make that choice, so neither should I.

You're a foreigner - why SHOULD you have the right to vote? I wouldn't want a bunch of foreigners trying to change Taiwan once they get political power. 

I highly doubt that a few thousand - and I doubt there would be many more than that - foreign citizens would have any real impact. I'm not even sure we'd vote in a bloc. But even if we did have more power through political representation, so what? So people who call Taiwan home have a say in how that home is governed? Oh no, call the Atrocity Police, what these foreigners are doing by being responsible civic participants in the place where they live is so heinous and unthinkable! Oooh noooo!

And anyway, what exactly makes us foreigners? Two things - the first is that we usually look different and have a different culture (which doesn't mean we can't assimilate and live within Taiwanese culture). The second is that we are not citizens.

So, if we become citizens, by law we won't be foreigners. Most of us can and do live within Taiwanese cultural norms, although mishaps do happen. The only difference, then, will be that we look different. None of us is trying to play at yellow face or pretend we are Asian when we're not, so I don't really see why that matters. We want to participate in a society whose values we share and whose future we care about, that's all.

Are you really saying we don't deserve citizenship based on our race? Do you really think Taiwan is so homogenous when so many Taiwanese children have a foreign parent, and so many waves of colonists have come to its shores? Do you really think ethnic homogeneity is even a reasonable argument?

But what about China? They'll send tons of people over, and many of them might work to destabilize Taiwan. 

I would like to wave this away, but I have to agree it's a very real threat. Although I am loathe to say that there should be restrictions on who has a path to dual nationality based on national origin, in China's case the threat is very real. It's a core threat, in fact, to the very existence of Taiwan. It is justified, then, to not extend this right to Chinese citizens at this time for very real security concerns.

This is just what YOU want, with your WESTERN attitudes about immigration, but Taiwan isn't ready for this and you can't force them, you cultural imperialist!

Taiwan has been a place of immigration for centuries and still is. The majority of Taiwanese have ancestry that did not originate in Taiwan. This is nothing different, and even Taiwanese are realizing that an argument for Taiwanese nationality based on race is not a strong one.

I have never met a Taiwanese person who thinks I don't ever deserve Taiwanese nationality no matter how long I stay. I've met some who assume I don't want it, or I don't consider this home, or I will leave someday, but none who think I shouldn't want it, shouldn't consider this home, or must leave someday.

In fact, the main issue I encounter among locals is that they don't realize we face this restriction. The majority of people I talk to believe that, after a certain number of years, we can become citizens and the only reason we don't is that we don't want to. They are often shocked to find out that that's not the case. Often, they ask why our country won't allow it, and are again shocked to learn that the problem is their own government. All - every single person I've ever talked to about this, and I talk about it a lot if you hadn't noticed - every single one and I'm not exaggerating - has then come out in support of changing the laws and expressed a desire to welcome 'New Taiwanese' to their country. Every single one has said that they believe the criteria to be Taiwanese should be based on living in Taiwan, caring about Taiwan and identifying with Taiwan. Nobody has ever, ever made it about race or Western ideas or any of that.

This is perhaps because this facet of liberalism isn't inherently "Western". It's human. Nobody from "The West" came over and told Taiwanese to think this way. They just do, because they are human beings who have built the most liberal society in Asia.

It's only other foreigners who do so. I am sure there are Taiwanese who also feel this way, but it says a lot for how common that belief is that I have never met one.

Think about that, next time you try to speak for an entire country and get it wrong.

Whatever. You want dual nationality but you wouldn't fight for Taiwan!

You've got that relationship backward.

Right now, while I want to say I'd stand up for Taiwan if it were ever threatened, I have to ask: why would I stand up for a country that won't stand up for me? Why would I risk my life for a country whose government explicitly wants me to remain an outsider?

I'm not even sure they'd let me fight if I tried.

My notion of what responsibilities I have to Taiwan would change drastically if I felt the government accepted me here as a true immigrant, as a new kind of Taiwanese. That's a country I would stand up for.

Of course, there are a lot of other issues to consider here: I'm not a fighter in the traditional sense, I'd probably create more problems than I'd help solve in an actual war-time situation, being someone who looks foreign and isn't really trained, experienced in or even good at hand-to-hand combat (not that I've ever tried - I've never gotten into a physical altercation in my adult life). So if I did stay and fight, how much would that be a White Savior thing that just creates more problems, and how much would I really be of use? The army certainly wouldn't recruit me considering my poor eyesight, age and general academic doughiness.

All that aside, there are things one can do in the event of war that don't involve front-line fighting. Given citizenship, I would do everything in my power to help in any way that I could effectively do so. I suspect many foreign residents here feel the same way.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

OK, Stephen Yates didn't really say a stupid thing

...but I still don't totally agree with him.

When I wrote my original reaction to this piece in the Taipei Times, I was - and I said this outright - taking the writer, Tom Lee, at his word that these were direct quotes of Yates's, and assuming he would not "make it up out of whole cloth".

It seems I was wrong: he didn't totally make it up, but the mistranslation is pretty damn bad and in many cases, Yates said nearly the opposite of what was quoted:

Watch for yourselves:

Stephen Yates and Tom Lee discuss Taiwan independence (mostly in Chinese - listen from about 13-19 minutes).

He did not say "Taiwanese do not deserve independence" - he said that Taiwanese, at least the leaders, need to be willing to trade "their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor". He didn't say all Taiwanese ought to be willing to trade their lives, he said there needs to be a "consensus" (and specifically mentioned leaders).

Mea culpa: I did actually attempt to fact-check the original article. I'm not so lackadaisical. However, my searching did not turn up this video. Perhaps it's because I didn't know Tom Lee's Chinese name (I know a lot of Taiwan advocates, but not too many in the older generation, to be honest.) I certainly didn't know Stephen Yates's Chinese name, and why would I? So, it seemed clear to me at the time that there was no video, that Tom and Stephen talked but it wasn't recorded. This turned out to be wrong.

But, the fault is mine here in that I know a fair number of people who would know these things, and I could have and should have asked around rather than relying on a few searches. As a matter of fact, I was sent the video recently to watch for myself.

I also will admit to having a strong anti-conservative bias, and nonsense like "you should be willing to die for your freedom and your country!" sounds to me like typical conservative talk. In this case, it was not fair, however, and I'll cop to that. However, I stand by my concerns that Taiwan having mostly conservative/GOP allies in the US is going to be a problem eventually, as most (not all, but most) Taiwan advocates in Taiwan tend toward the liberal/progressive/leftist end of the spectrum, and frankly, that is the future that I think Taiwan is headed towards, as it is not the "conservative" society you may have been led to believe. I am not, and will not be, comfortable with this group being our main bastion of US support and it is a key reason why I am not more involved. I just can't work with people whose party is also working to take away my rights to things like reproductive health care in the US. I do feel this way, and I make no apologies.

Side note: I was also pleased to see that my Chinese seems - just from this video - to be at about a similar level to Stephen Yates's, which is nice considering that I am almost entirely self-taught (I placed into intermediate classes at Shi-da years ago and quit in annoyance at the poor materials and teaching methods I encountered).

So, while my original comments stand vis-a-vis the idea that "Taiwan does not deserve independence/the Taiwanese should be willing to trade their lives for it", that is simply not what he said.

I actually agree with him vis-a-vis the need for a consensus on independence. I actually do think a majority support it (and this is borne out by a plenty of research), and if I were to only ask friends and even acquaintances I'd get a very pro-independence response, because those are the people I hang out with. But I am quite aware that there is a deep division among politicians. The KMT still has some supporters, somewhere, I guess, and the KMT leadership is not even remotely ready to join a consensus on the future of Taiwan. I have met people who, while not pro-unification per se, think it's inevitable and have accepted this fact, and don't seem terribly perturbed by it. I'm not sure if they fully understand what it would mean for them, but there you are. The current upswing of Taiwanese identity and pro-Taiwan sentiment needs to continue, and to win over the great, big, uncaring middle demographic as the old deep blue guard dies off. Then, maybe, we can get somewhere.

There are a few areas where I still don't fully agree with Yates, however. First, it's easy to talk about what one's forefathers did - but unless you yourself are willing to also trade your "life, fortune and sacred honor" for your freedom, you have no place telling others that this is a necessary attitude. Is he? I don't know, but considering some of the people he's worked for, I'm not so sure.

Secondly, I reserve a lot of skepticism for the idea that Taiwan's situation is similar to America's leading up to 1776. Taiwan is already independent. America's leaders at that time were fighting for a real change in how their nation, as they saw it, was governed. Taiwan is fighting simply to be recognized for what it already is. Is it fair to say people should be willing to sacrifice their "lives, fortunes and sacred honor" for what is effectively no change in their day-to-day lives beyond the international community recognizing what is already true? Seems a bit much, no?

The problem here is not with the Taiwanese - a need for consensus not withstanding - it's with the international community. In any case, I believe that all people deserve freedom, even those who are not willing to give up these things for it.

I also remain skeptical that this sort of change would really do much for Taiwan without precipitating a war. As I mentioned - and I stand by this - the international media jumps on Taiwan for every little thing, even when Taiwan has done nothing wrong (or, in fact, has made the right call). When China gets aggressive, "tensions" are spoken of in the passive voice, with no agent, as though they appeared out of thin air.

If Taiwan reaches this consensus on its future, and advertises as much, China will rattle its saber and the media will be quick to, once again, blame Taiwan (or blame some ghostly, apparently naturally-occurring 'tensions' - anyone but China). Governments will follow suit. It will help in that it will present a united front from Taiwan that the world can't ignore, making it harder to plausibly say "but it's a complicated issue, not all Taiwanese agree", but I'm not sure it will change much.

A friend of mine included - though I did not hear Yates say this - that the US, when it declared independence, did so because there was an internal consensus to do so among American leaders, and they did not ask the international community for help. As far as I'm aware that's not the case - they sent Benjamin Franklin to France to drum up support, and the war likely would not have been won without it. It is no different for Taiwan. They can't win this alone.

As for the independence advocates we already have among Taiwan's leaders, I can assure you that the older generation was willing to give up their reputations (many went to jail), their fortunes (many left their lives behind to flee to the US) and their lives (many died) for Taiwan, and the younger generation is just as passionate. There is no need to convince them.

But, while I'm not totally on board with everything he said here, it's certainly a lot more reasonable and nuanced than what Tom Lee wrote, and deserves to be heard on its own merits.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

While comparatively better, Taiwan is not a paradise for women

A casual reader of this blog might come to the conclusion, after a few posts where I defend or even praise Taiwan for being as I've called it "the best country in Asia for women", that I think of Taiwan as some sort of elysian idyll for women where gender equality is the norm and women's rights are universally respected and defended as equal to men's.

However, I'd like to add this as a reminder - perhaps a periodic one, with more to come - that when I say Taiwan is a "good" place for women, I mean that it is comparatively good. For instance, many people talk about foreigners who choose Taiwan over China and Hong Kong due to dissatisfaction with life in a "closed off and racist" (and politically unfree, and polluted) society. I would add something here: I chose to leave China and eventually make my way to Taiwan because I found China unrepentantly and unbearably sexist, and Taiwan less so.

Being better than the rest of Asia is a low bar to clear, however: most if not all of the world still struggles with the basic concept of women's equality, and while Asia is not the total smoking dumpster fire a lot of Westerners think it is vis-a-vis women (remember pretty much every country here has a home-grown feminist movement), it is hardly a shining paragon of gender equity.

To take just one tiny example, despite women having more equality in the workforce than other Asian countries, very few of them are among the nation's top earners. Yet I doubt too many people care about this outside of a core group of activists: rather like in the West. And rather like in the West, many people who think they have good intentions and egalitarian principles will wave these figures away saying it's a "choice" women tend to make to pursue something other than high-earning, high-stress careers (that stupid ex-googler is a good example of this - not even going to link it). Then the issue is left to rot, with no consideration beyond those core activists that no, it is not really a choice if you are pushed into it by societal factors, or if the profession you choose to enter is lower-paid not because it is low-stress or less necessary, but simply because it is dominated by women. Remember that coding and programming were low-paid fields when they were dominated by women, and that teaching was a well-paid, high-status career when it was dominated by men.

This country is not perfect, and still has a long way to go before it can even approach a country like, say, Sweden, despite slow steps toward progress such as hosting a Council for Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD) summit for the first time - something that would not likely have happened in the previous administration which was not so much anti-woman as they simply ignored women's issues, nor, perhaps, the one before that despite former vice president Lu being an active feminist (and person with otherwise crazy views - old link but relevant).

In politics, it's not so much that people disagree on deficiencies in women's rights, it's that they just don't care. Take, for example, the way that the National Congress on Judicial Reform ignored important changes, all urgently needed, to issues affecting women and children. A rape shield law? Ignored. Ending the criminalization of adultery? Ignored.

I doubt that every member of the judicial reform congress thinks rape shield laws are a bad thing, or is still under the impression that criminalizing adultery is meant to help rather than harm women. Some of them probably are deeply sexist enough to believe these things, but most likely they ignored the report in question because they just don't give a damn and don't think any of it is particularly important. Casual sexism rather than virulent sexism.

That's how Taiwan often operates - while the US seems to lean headlong into worsening its problems, Taiwan simply ignores them. While I wouldn't want to live in a place that was trying to actively persecute its women - as many places in the US are doing in their attempt to roll back reproductive rights and equality initiatives - nor can I conscientiously accept the attempts of many American politicians to redefine rape (and those who, on the very far right, even advocate legalizing it), this isn't great either.

A quick primer on why criminal adultery laws hurt women can be found in this excellent article which I strongly recommend you read.

The funny thing is that these laws were originally conceived to protect women. Well, some women. Married women. Presumably with children, as people around the world seem to have difficulty imagining a married child-free couple for some reason. Those women, apparently, are worth protecting. I'm guessing the people who put those laws in place thought of them as real women, unlike those evil adulteresses, who are, I dunno, un-women?

The divorce laws also need to change - the idea that one might not be granted a divorce is simply unacceptable. The idea that a no-fault divorce petitioned by only one spouse might not go through - so that a judge gets to decide if you ought to remain married or not despite how much you might not want to be - is unacceptable. A marriage contract is not the same thing as a contract with a landscaper, a contractor or a boss. You aren't expected to spend your free time with your boss, raise children with a graphic designer you hired or be intimate with your landscaper. It's just not the same. I'm in a happy marriage, with zero intention of divorcing, yet I would not marry under laws that wouldn't give me the right to do so (I also have no intention of having an abortion, but I would not live in a country where my right to do so was impinged upon. I do worry that that may soon be the case in the country of my birth).

As for why rape shield laws are important, that ought to be obvious and I'm sad that I even have to say why they are important, but I probably do. Essentially, when a rape charge actually goes to court (which is rare enough - most cases never do), without a rape shield law, the defense is able to turn the court proceedings away from the alleged crime being tried and instead make the trial all about the sexual history of the plaintiff. All of those garbage defenses like "well she has sex with lots of guys" and "how can you believe her, she's a slut and anyway look at what she was wearing" are suddenly inadmissible, because they aren't dealing with the rape in question and are essentially irrelevant. There are some strong and nuanced counterarguments (this is an interesting read) but ultimately, we do need laws that put rape cases on equal footing with trials for, say, armed robbery: if you wouldn't bring up the history of an alleged victim of robbery as someone who always showed off their flashy possessions and even gave them away in the past, then you shouldn't be doing that to an alleged rape victim either.

My point is, if I sound overly optimistic or cheery about women's issues in Taiwan, it's because I'm comparing Taiwan to the rest of Asia. On that rubric, Taiwan does well. But in terms of overall women's equality, we still have a very long way to go.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Anatomy of a Sunflower Hit Job

I wasn't going to blog about this, because it should be well-known that the South China Morning Post (SCMP) has gone from being a relatively free publication to one that seems to be little more than a Chinese government mouthpiece, and therefore little in it is worth paying attention to anymore.

However, at the encouragement of friends, and also because ignoring fake news as unworthy of our time to refute is one reason why one of the biggest douchelords of his generation ended up as President (barf) of the Unites States of America. Some things shouldn't be given any oxygen to grow, but others need to be held up to the light so everybody can see exactly how the people who create purposefully preposterous content are aiming to run democratic institutions into the ground to give their own agenda more seeming legitimacy.

Also, I did a few Google searches and this article is quite high up in the results, meaning it's time to tear it down and take it apart.

So, let's take this stinking heap of garbage for a spin, shall we?

FYI, as I already wrote out a lot of this where many of you may have already seen it, I'm going to cut and paste quite a bit.

I can think of at least five things wrong with this piece of garbage article.

First of all, the article states that "four" "former student leaders" took jobs in China. Since we don't know who these people are, they could be any one of the 300-or-so people who occupied the legislature:

Chang claims at least four former student leaders are working on the mainland. One works for a computer game developer in Shenzhen, earning the equivalent of HK$12,390 a month. 

I have a few (unverified - this is harder to source than I thought and even the BBC says the numbers are not available for how many young Taiwanese are going to China for work) numbers for you.

Someone I know pointed out that a little under 300 people occupied the legislature in 2014. Here we have stats saying 60% of young Taiwanese intend to leave Taiwan for work (how many would go to China is unclear), 73% of young Taiwanese saying they would be willing to consider jobs in China (how many would take them is again unclear), and nearly 60% of Taiwanese working abroad are in China, so we have enough data to know that it's common. Many go, more than half are planning to go abroad, more than half of them are likely to end up in China, and a large majority would be willing to at least consider it.

Therefore, if only 4 out of 300 occupiers (that's not even counting the supporters who camped out outside) took jobs in China, that would be well below the national average, not above it. So the real question is, why isn't that the story? Why is "four" painted as this big deal, when it's actually a very tiny number when compared to the general population? Why are so few former Sunflowers going to China to work?

That, right there, is fake news for you. Taking a number that actually shows how rarely former Sunflowers go to work in China, and therefore how possible it is to build a life and be pro-Taiwan without moving across the strait, and making it seem instead as though our former student heroes betrayed their cause. The whole thing is marketed so that the truth looks very different from what it actually is.

Secondly. as some of my friends have noted - and I obviously agree - the piece attempts to paint the Sunflowers as an "anti-China" movement:

So what’s the big deal? Plenty of Taiwanese live and work on the mainland [sic]. The Sunflower protesters, who once occupied Taiwan’s Legislative and Executive Yuan, were opposed to closer economic ties with the mainland [sic]. More specifically, they successfully fought in 2014 against the ratification of a key trade pact negotiated between the then ruling Kuomintang and Beijing.

However, that's not what the Sunflowers were about at all. The point of the protest was not the CSSTA (服貿) bill itself, but the way the bill was undemocratically rammed through the legislature with essentially no oversight, with most people not even knowing what the contents of the bill were (because they were purposely kept in the dark), a culmination of a number of undemocratic moves then-President Ma made in the lead-up to his biggest mistake.

Certainly, however, Alex Lo wants you to believe that this was an "anti-China" protest, because it's fundamental to the Chinese government's agenda that readers believe this, especially readers in China whose rage at students in Taiwan "hating" them would serve the CCP well in their quest to ramp up angry, jingoistic nationalism as a buttress for their power. It is also useful to remind Taiwanese citizens who did not agree with the Sunflowers of all the lies their own domestic pro-KMT news was telling them: they were on about "anti-China" this and "they just hate the KMT" that at the time, and some people believed it (hey, copraphiliacs exist in every culture, guys). It helps China to rekindle all of that anger years later. Keep those fires stoked and all.

I think we can safely say most were not in favor of greater integration with China, economically or otherwise, however, and many likely remain so. Once again, though, that wasn't the point of the protest. People who might well have supported the bill had it been deliberated and passed democratically did participate. Plenty of people who might have voted for the KMT did, too. As did plenty of social conservatives.

This is similar to most of the Hong Kong student leaders probably being in favor of HK sovereignty, but it's possible to be a pro-Hong Kong activist without necessarily advocating Hong Kong independence.

So it is quite possible to have been a Sunflower and yet later take a job in China without being a hypocrite. I wouldn't think it terribly common, and I can imagine why supporters of the movement might feel disappointed, but a deeper understanding of the movement would hopefully lead to a rational denouement in that thought arc.

Again, however, it is Alex Lo's and the Chinese government's agenda for you to believe that it would be hypocritical on its face for a former Sunflower to work in China. If you are going to be angry in all the ways that best serve the CCP agenda, a dose of rage at supposed hypocrisy is an even greater spark to light that fire than simply bringing back the old (false) "anti-China/anti-KMT" trope.

What's more, if a Sunflower supporter were to read this and buy its premise - possible, as not every supporter necessarily fully understood what the movement was about - a sense of being betrayed or a loss of faith in leaders formerly admired can also only help China. Their goal is not only to cause Taiwanese to lose faith in their democratic institutions (making them more susceptible, in their plan, to accepting undemocratic Chinese rule) but also in their "heroes" and role models. It serves China if pro-Taiwan voters and activists feel their strongest voices in the new generation have "betrayed" them and are now not worth listening to.

Thirdly,  there's this:

If Chang Yu-hua is right, several leaders of the so-called Sunflower student movement in Taiwan have now graduated from university and found work on the mainland [sic].

(Also, why "so-called"? That was what it was called. That or the 318 movement). 

One of the island’s [sic - it's an island, yes, but more importantly, it's a country] most influential pundits (really?), Chang said on a TV programme that the former student leaders should apologise for their past actions.

That's one excerpt, but throughout the article it uses the term "leaders" but never names a single person.

Alex Lo, by saying "leaders" without saying who those so-called "leaders" were, makes it sound like Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆) and Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷), among others, are working as, I dunno, game developers in Shenzhen or something. It sounds as though the core Sunflowers, those with the greatest visibility, those who went to court over what happened, have turned tail. It never says that outright but casual readers will immediately connect the words "Sunflower leaders" with the most visible people in the movement. There will be people who will come to believe something the article never says, and when discussing it with their friends, say just that. It's not a big leap to go from "Sunflower leaders working in China" to "hey did you read that article about how Lin Fei-fan and Chen Wei-ting are working in China?"

Of course, even cursory research will show that this is not the case. All you have to do is check the public Facebook page of either of these two most visible leaders, to know that neither is working, nor has any intention of working, in China. You don't even need me to tell you what they're up to - check for yourself! It's all right there online! Neither has been particularly secretive about the general outlines of their current activities or near-future plans.

Furthermore, it wouldn't be possible for them to do so, as both are banned from the country (in fact, pretty much every visible "leader" is most likely banned so using that term is incorrect on its face).

Knowing, however, that most people won't look into the facts and it makes a much more powerful fake news story to implant in people's minds that not just any Sunflowers but Sunflower leaders have been brought down to working in China - that gives people something to talk about. The purpose here is not just to make the Sunflowers look bad unjustly, but to make it look like the so-called "change" is happening even among the most ardent participants.

Note that Alex Lo doesn't name the so-called "leaders". Since it's not clear who these people are, it is not at all clear that they were "leaders" at all. The movement had hundreds of active participants, thousands if you count the supporters who camped out outside. Not every one of them is a "leader" but any one of them could have taken a job in China, which again would not be hypocritical. So what?

This is a key facet of fake news - implying heavily, drawing susceptible readers to a certain conclusion, but never actually stating it outright so it can't be fact-checked. We can't check to what extent any of the people Chang was referencing, if they exist at all, "led" the movement because we don't know who they are. Our minds are led to fill in the gaps in all the wrong ways.

My fourth point is related to this:  it's not clear who this Alex Lo person is talking about, stopping at "four" people with scant detail on just one, it is entirely possible the "scoop" is fabricated (even if some former Sunflowers did take jobs in China, that doesn't mean that Chang Yu-hua - the originator of this "news" - knows about it necessarily). In fact, I'd say it's highly likely that it was just made up, with the people involved assuming that someone must have gone to work in China so it probably wasn't "false", even if it was a lie to call it a "scoop" (and it probably was).

That's yet another facet of fake news: making up a news story to further your agenda with plenty of assumed or fabricated facts, figuring that somewhere, somehow, there must be an example of what you are talking about if you are called on it. It's the "but rape culture isn't real because some women lie about being raped" of Taiwan news (yes, it does occasionally happen, on very rare occasions, that a woman has lied about being raped. But the person saying that most likely doesn't know of any cases off the top of their heads, and is just assuming that, if confronted on that factoid, they can find an example quickly enough).

It wouldn't be the first time anti-Taiwan news had made something up out of whole cloth, not said outright that it was true, but implied it in such a way as to cause people to believe it. My favorite example is the person I know who deeply believed that President Tsai had called up a pro-KMT talk show (something-something 酸辣湯, I don't remember the full name because they're a bunch of fucking clowns and I can't be bothered) and told them that once she took office they were no longer allowed to criticize her, and if they did she'd take them off the air. They were even crying and hugging each other saying "this is our last episode!"

This is absolutely ridiculous, and of course it wasn't true, but my acquaintance believed it.

It wasn't even hard to find out it wasn't true - if such a phone call was made, evidence would most likely exist. If it existed, that would have been a huge news story, not only a very damaging one but one that could have cost Tsai her job. Whoever made it up clearly didn't think very deeply about how freedom of speech laws - yes, laws, so a president violating them would be breaking the law - work in Taiwan, or assumed the audience wouldn't. It's not a hard assumption to make: most of that show's viewers are KMT supporters. The KMT is the party that suppressed free speech in Taiwan for nearly half the twentieth century. If you still support it, well, you clearly think doing so was, on some level, acceptable enough that a president could do it without it creating a huge scandal or causing that president to lose legitimacy even among her supporters. After all, the former leaders of their preferred party did it, and they still support that party.

Anyway, I digress. The point is, it's possible to fact-check this stuff but those who publish it assume people won't.

And you know what? I'm sure some former Sunflowers did take jobs in China. In fact, I've had several people say they can confirm that. I'm not sure to what extent these people were "leaders" (because, again, the leaders are mostly or entirely banned from China), but it doesn't matter, as doing what they did was not hypocritical.

In fact, that some Sunflowers did do this says more about problems in Taiwanese corporate culture (low pay, long hours, few perks, overbearing management) than about any virtues of China or any problems in Taiwanese politics.

And finally, by pinning the whole thing on a report by some other guy, SCMP - which is hardly a bastion of press freedom - is basically washing its hands of any culpability or being accused of "fake news". "I'm just reporting on what Chang said!" is the easy excuse. Another key strategy of fake news - write something from an uncredible source that, even if discredited, can be blamed on that source. "I just heard it from _______!" - but of course when _________ and you, and some other guy after you, and some dude who links to that, and another news source that picks up on it, and the Chinese state-run media who likes what you wrote because it serves their agenda, all publish it, it will look like these "facts" are coming from a number of sources when in fact they originated with just one: Chang Yu-hua, who, as one friend of mine put it, "if his words were worth listening to, shit can be eaten".

And then, if anyone bothers to refute it all as I am doing,  you have a bevy of competing sources which makes it look as though the two sides of the so-called "debate" are roughly matched, and therefore both deserve equal consideration, meaning facts don't matter and distortion of those facts is as equally valid as a clear interpretation of them.

That's how it works, and that's China's game - make it seem as though the CCP-approved perspective is, if not the correct one, than one that is on equal footing with other interpretations and deserves the same legitimacy. Because SCMP is owned by Alibaba (a huge company that is a big supporter of the Chinese government), and Alex Lo is a pro-China mouthpiece, they are happily playing along.