Thursday, September 26, 2019

Immigration and racism in Taiwan: it's not about who you are when you come, but who you become after you arrive

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Silhouettes of a visitor and a foreign resident in Taiwan

Perhaps an explosive title, but hear me out. I'm going to talk mostly about Taiwan in this post, but the ideas I want to express can be applied to more or less any country (there may be a few exceptions that I'm not aware of  - but by and large this is a global problem). Otherwise, let's just jump right in.

In Taiwan, it's fairly easy for professionals to immigrate and gain permanent residency, at least compared to much of the rest of the world. If you are a professional with at least two years' experience in your field or a Master's degree in any field (which has to be a face-to-face program and in some cases, excludes part-time programs) and someone will hire you, you can come to Taiwan with few problems. If you stay for five years, you can get permanent residency. That's actually not bad by global standards. It's much harder to get a visa to work in most Western countries, and permanent residency (e.g. a green card) can take ages. Of course, some are easier than others.

But it is discriminatory - if you're from a family that is middle class or wealthy, you're more likely to have access to the education you need to get hired. You're more likely to speak an international language (such as English, though for Taiwan, Mandarin is a huge help), because you had access to that same education which probably included it. You probably also come from a worldlier 'family culture' that would have encouraged knowing such a language: families where parents and relatives speak a foreign language are more likely to have offspring who also grow up to speak that language.

So, off the bat, any sort of points-based or 'professional' based visa system is automatically classist, because mostly people born into certain social classes have the access to the education and training they need to get hired and obtain a visa in a country like Taiwan (or Australia, or the US, or...etc.)

If you come from a 'developed' country, many (or most) of which are majority-white for historical reasons that are deeply unfair, you are far more likely to be born into such a family. What is the likelihood of, say, a European being born into circumstances that would allow them these advantages, compared to, say, someone from Southeast Asia outside Singapore? A lot greater. So what are your chances of meeting visa requirements calibrated to attract 'professionals' if you already come from a developed (and therefore more likely - though not necessarily - majority white) country? Comparatively speaking, how likely are you to be able to meet those same requirements if you come from a developing country that is almost certainly not white? Anecdotal evidence does not count. "I'm white but my life was tough" does not count - that's not statistical likelihood. "I'm from Vietnam but my family was rich" is also not statistical likelihood. On average, what are your chances?

Since race intersects with class - the color line is the power line is the poverty line - and you are simply more likely to be from a privileged background if you are white - such a system also gives an unfair advantage to people who are white. There are exceptions for sure, but again, we're talking averages here.

In Taiwan's case, I simply don't care if the goal is to attract certain kinds of professionals, in part because doing so is simply inherently classist (and therefore racist) - and that is exactly how Taiwan's immigration system works, both in terms of getting visas to come here, getting permanent residency, and getting citizenship. If you qualify for a professional visa, permanent residency is fairly easy, but if you come here to study - say, you are one of the Southeast Asian students that Taiwan hopes to attract - that doesn't count, and it can be difficult to transition. If you are a blue-collar worker, there's no path at all. To be a citizen, you have to be even more 'qualified', which probably means coming from an even wealthier background, or have 'Chinese ancestry' (which is a law that's obliquely about race).

You can come here and seek a better life, but probably only if your previous life was comparatively privileged, and you can stay forever, but you're probably already really privileged if qualify just isn't a good look.

I also believe that it doesn't actually achieve Taiwan's goals. The birthrate is falling, and while I don't necessarily think "we must unceasingly increase our population so the young can support the old" is a good long-term plan - Taiwan's easily habitable areas are already densely populated and there is finite space and resources - the best way to ensure population stability is to loosen immigration requirements. A lot of these immigrants will marry and have children locally, which is a huge bonus for Taiwan. Not just  professionals: everyone.

In addition, I'm not at all convinced that the visa requirements and citizenship, plum blossom and gold card requirements actually meet Taiwan's needs. Taiwanese media routinely talks about the need to train more vocational workers, there is an oversupply of local workers for white-collar jobs (which is one reason wages are low, though not the only one), and with a low birthrate, Taiwan's labor force depends on immigration. Yes, this is true even despite the brain drain due to low wages and stressful, borderline-tyrannical office culture. And yet, it's especially true for blue-collar workers, because local vocational training is not particularly good and not highly-respected.

It would simply be smarter and truly meet Taiwan's needs, then, to relax rules for blue-collar immigrants, not just white-collar ones. So why have white collar workers been specifically prioritized? (That's a rhetorical question. The answers are racism and classism.)

And, of course, that's not even getting into what white collar workers Taiwan actually needs compared to whom it is trying to attract. With an initiative to become "bilingual by 2030", you'd think they'd want more qualified teachers and teacher trainers who can train up newly-hired local and foreign teachers, and yet for the education sector, only "associate professors", not regular teachers, qualify for dual nationality. That makes no sense at all.

And finally, it's simply the right thing to do. A place - whether that's a country, region or city - prospers when it is open to everyone seeking a better life, and the drawbacks are few. Yes, an influx of labor may cause short-term drops in wages, but those tend to recover. Yes, increased multiculturalism can cause friction, but it doesn't have to be that way, and the advantages of being exposed to people whose backgrounds and worldviews are unlike your own outweigh the drawbacks. Plus, it's a super great way to not be racist! They bring talent and creativity as well as hard work. They open businesses, get married, start families. They fill needs and niches in society. They matter, even if they don't come with a pre-fab education or specific work experience.

In other words, it's not about who you are when you come. Or it shouldn't be. It's who you become after you arrive. 


I want to insert a little story about how I came here and taught English with very few qualifications (some teaching experience in a variety of settings, from children to adults, from monolingual to multilingual, in the US and outside of it, both English and native-speaker literacy, but no formal training.) I want to talk about how the only way I got to where I am now - the person who trains people like my former self - is because of the opportunities I could only access after I got to Taiwan. I want to talk about how I could never have afforded my subsequent training and education with the low purchasing power my American existence felt like it was dooming me to. But I won't (I mean, other than the fact that I just did). I grew up with English as my first language, and standard American English at that. I'm white. I was privileged enough to be born into a family that, with some difficulty, sent me to university. I'm already privileged, so my story isn't the point.

Otherwise, if you say you support immigration to Taiwan but you only mean immigration for the already-privileged, you don't really support immigration. You support classist, and therefore racist, immigration policy. You support people who look and sound like me, but not anyone really different from you. I mean that for Taiwanese as well: yes, we are different, from different backgrounds. Yes, this might lead to some differences in worldview. But, educated Taiwanese readers who can read this in English, you and I have more in common because of our class background than either of us have in common with someone from a truly marginalized community. Especially if you are Han Taiwanese - Han privilege is absolutely a thing, and you know it.

If those other people like us are Asian - say, Hong Kongers, Singaporeans or Japanese - then they are just that much more similar to you, coming from the same region, though not the same culture and society.

Do you really want to support only people who don't seem so different - people like me - or do you really want to support Taiwan being an international society where everyone can seek a better life?

Taiwan is already a multicultural society - though the rate fluctuates, the number of Taiwanese children with a foreign parent has always been higher than a lot of people realize. After all, most of the time, those foreign parents are Asian, so it's hard to tell. For the past few centuries, this country has had foreign travelers, residents, colonizers and spouses interwoven into its cultural and historical fabric. Although there's a 'majority' culture, it's only a monoculture if you want to believe it is (and if you think 'monoculture' includes other foreigners if those foreigners happen to be Asian).

I see no reason why that can't be reflected in a better, more egalitarian, more welcoming and less racist immigration policy. 

Monday, September 23, 2019

Let's keep highlighting women in Asian pro-democracy activism

Denise Ho at the US Capitol 2019
Denise Ho (Wikimedia Commons)

I'd like to start by saying that this is not a complaining post. I actually have something positive to say, so let's get the negative stuff out of the way first.

Back in 2017, the New Power Party held a forum with Hong Kong activists Joshua Wong and Nathan Law. The event itself was kind of forgettable, although I suppose it was important to demonstrate that activists from Taiwan and Hong Kong do have strong ties. You may remember that they were attacked at the airport by pro-China people of dubious affiliation when they arrived.

For something that wasn't too memorable, this event sticks in my head for an unrelated reason: the whole thing was a massive sausage fest, and no-one seemed to notice, at least not publicly.



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Source: New Power Party 


No, really: 

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Source: New Power Party Facebook page

Seriously, did you guys serve ketchup and mustard at that absolute hot dog stand of an event? Did you really (unintentionally, I'm sure) shove the one unsmiling woman off to the side?

This was just one event that I happen to remember for this reason, but it's indicative of a trend.

This, to me, looked a lot like the male-dominated social movements of 2014: in Hong Kong, the leaders who emerged from the Umbrella Movement were the aforementioned Wong and Law. From the Sunflowers, if you're not someone who closely follows this corner of Taiwanese politics, can you name any prominent figures beyond Lin Fei-fan, Chen Wei-ting and Huang Kuo-chang? Of course women were involved and some did play prominent roles, including going on to political involvement, but the media and general public seem to have mostly forgotten about them.

I've thought, over these years, that this was a two-pronged (heh) problem. The first is unintentional but deeply problematic: that long-forgotten 2017 event that nobody questioned as being exceedingly male made it quite clear that few involved in these movements was actively invested in encouraging more gender-balanced participation. Few were pointing out that sausage-festiness of it all or paying attention to disproportionate and unfair media representation (though some did - New Bloom is good at consistently drawing attention to this issue), and fewer were trying to make it right. Nobody was reaching out to women who wanted to get involved. It wasn't malicious, but it had the effect, combined with the public's tendency to listen to male voices over female ones, of making it seem like a bit of a boys' club.

The second was more malicious at an individual level. I've mentioned this before, and I'll say it again: there are multiple stories I simply cannot tell publicly about women I know who have been treated like dirt by the supposed 'good guys'. From being casually dismissed to treated like a secretary to unwelcome come-ons, and having nobody to turn to who really cared enough to stand up against such behavior alongside them, I am aware that, while some of 'the good guys' are genuinely good guys, others are not always all that great. 


But don't think that this is a grousing or whining post - things are getting better. I want to point that out and highlight this fact, to encourage you all to keep an eye on both the women involved in activism in Asia, and to be part of the push that encourages more women to get involved.

I was so happy to see Hong Kong singer and activist Denise Ho go to Washington DC earlier this week to testify before Congress along with Joshua Wong. I was even happier to see that Ho got just as much press for her remarks (which I personally thought were more powerful, but that's really a matter of opinion). In some cases, she got the spotlight. (The original article is from Reuters).

One of the bright sides - in a season of protests with very few bright sides - is that women just as much as men are now being seen in activist roles, even though the protests themselves are officially leaderless.

The #ProtestToo event called attention to allegations of sexual harassment and assault of female protesters by police - the first time I think a whole movement like this, in Asia, has taken an interest in a gender issue. I'm delighted to see not just Wong and Law, but also Agnes Chow Ting taking leading roles - and Yau Wai Ching before her.

Agnes Chow being interviewed in Jan 2018
Agnes Chow being interviewed in 2018 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

I think Taiwan is waking up too, and starting to actively seek out female activist voices (the News Lens article on Meredith Huang linked far above is from early 2019), but we'll have to wait and see.

That doesn't mean we've completely turned things around, though. That trip to DC where Denise Ho made the news? Yeah, well:


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Source: Joshua Wong's Facebook page
Huh. Maybe not so righteously feminist after all.

I've seen regular old journalists referred to on Twitter as "female journalists" covering Hong Kong for no discernible reason and thought - shall we also refer to 'male journalists'? 
Why not?


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Source: right there in the image, it's all over Facebook

I've also felt in some cases, however, that images of (mostly attractive) women protesting in Hong Kong have been used to rally people or draw sympathy simply because they are female, which - to me - doesn't really honor the reasons why those women are on the streets in the first place. I can't be too upset about this, after all, one of the most iconic figures of the protests has been Grandma Wong (who has apparently not been seen since August 13). On the other hand, it does seem like female images are used when they are either young and pretty, or venerable elders.

And yet, it's a (tiny) step forward. I can only hope the trend continues, and does something to kick the dudes here into action.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Su Beng has passed away, and the rain pours down

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Su Beng (史明), a true hero of the Taiwan independence movement, passed away late last night at the age of 103 (101 by Western age counting).

He's most famous for writing Taiwan's 400-Year History (available in English in Gongguan bookstores 台灣ㄟ店 and 南天書局 - the English version is much abridged from the massive tome in Chinese), but also for being forced into exile in Japan in 1952 due to his leading role in the Taiwan Independence Armed Corps (they really were armed, and had a plan to assassinate Chiang Kai-shek in the early years of the White Terror). Perhaps you've heard of his noodle shop in Japan, where he'd also gone to university. I believe the shop still exists - more than one of my friends and students in Taiwan have brought their children there while on vacation in Tokyo, so that the younger generation might understand something about Taiwan's history. Before 1949, he'd also 'worked undercover' in China; I don't know what he did there, but it could probably fill a whole new book of stories. He wasn't one for peaceful resistance, after all.

Enough with the bio - I met Su Beng once.

I was a young, silly Taiwan neophyte - in Taiwan for perhaps a year, perhaps two, but still just a flighty English teacher and not much more than that. I kind of knew who he was, but not really. Not really really. I didn't get a picture, and I still regret that - I can't join the friends of mine who are putting their photos with Su Beng online to mourn his passing. If I believed in anything like a conscious force behind the universe, I'd wonder why it put me in the presence of greatness before I was ready to truly appreciate that fact; as an atheist, I know it was just bad timing.

It feels odd to be so glum about the passing of such an ancient man, who lived a long and meaningful life and made a real contribution to Taiwan. Death is natural, it's part of life, and he was over a century old. But he was also a living legend, so it feels like a piece - a quarter or so of those 400 years - of Taiwan's history has also gone from present to past. If there's one thing all of us who fight for Taiwan - beyond all the infighting and personal fallouts, beyond all the attacks and power jockeying, beyond the far lefties and the ethnic chauvinists and the idealistic students - can agree on, it's that he was one of the greats. Perhaps even the greatest.

The rain poured down last night as we heard about Su Beng's passing. The land felt quieter; perhaps Taiwan was crying. This morning, it's intangible and indescribable, but the air feels...bereft


Rest in peace, Su Beng. You made Taiwan's history a little clearer and brighter for all of us, including that dumb white girl you met back in 2007.

And the fight - your fight - continues. 

Thursday, September 19, 2019

For the love of our good Lord and Savior, Jesus M.F. Christ in Heaven, please stop saying "Mainland" like it is a neutral term

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This is what I'd like to do to the hands of everyone who types the word "mainland" - I mean metaphorically...of course

So, I don't feel like writing about Terry Gou deciding not to run for president because reasons. I want to write about how the international media have taken Hong Kong off the front pages just as the Hong Kong government and their brutalizing thugs "police force" intended, but I'm waiting on that to see how it plays out. I could write about the Solomon Isl----yeah no.

Instead, I want to write about a thing someone messaged me about recently - hadn't I written something once about the use of the word "Mainland"? I thought I had, but other than a section in this piece, I can't find it. So - great. Let's do that now.

I'm going to take what I wrote there and expand it here.

Let me begin this first part by saying that I am not an expert on Cyprus. But, if one day I opened up the New York Times and saw an article about Cyprus with a sentence like "Cyprus just [did a thing that any normal sovereign nation would do], which drew a strong reaction from Mainland Turkey", my eyebrows might get stuck to the ceiling. The paper would almost certainly receive a flood of angry mail from indignant Cypriots and those who sympathize with them, and would probably be compelled to chastise the reporter or editor as well as issue a correction briefly explaining the true situation.

Or imagine if someone wrote about "Okinawa" and "Mainland China" (after all, China does claim Okinawa) - the reaction would be stunned, at best. In fact, Japan took the Ryukyus not long before it took Taiwan, there is some ancient history between the Ryukyus and China (not that it should matter), the US occupied the islands for decades after WWII and only gave them to Japan in the 1970s, and there is an independence movement there. And yet you'd never say "Okinawa and Mainland China" just because China might want you to.

So why is it so acceptable to use "Mainland" when referring to China in relation to Taiwan? Why do people think they can use that term apolitically? It is clearly not a neutral word.

Here is what it means, specifically: 


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The clear connotation of “mainland” is that it is the main/continental part of a territory, and that outlying islands which are referred to in relation to it are also part of said territory.

By that metric, the only reason to use the phrase “Mainland China” in relation to Taiwan is if you want to imply that China and Taiwan have some sort of territorial relationship, or that Taiwan is a part of some larger concept of China. If you believe they are two sovereign or at least self-ruled entities, it makes no sense at all. In that sense, Taiwan does not have a mainland, unless you want to refer to “mainland Asia” (as Taiwan is a part of Asia, but not a part of the People's Republic of China).

Why then do people keep saying it? Partly it is force of habit. Pro-China types insist on it, and the media often follows. It is unclear how people came to believe the word was neutral or apolitical. It is not. It implies that there not only is but also should be a territorial relationship.

Even if you want to claim that, because the ROC officially calls itself 'China', it's acceptable to call the PRC "mainland China", I'd still challenge you on that. The ROC came to Taiwan from China and occupied it at the behest of the Allies in 1945 (there is no binding treaty that definitively cedes Taiwan to any government of "China"). Regardless, that government was not invited here by the Taiwanese people. They were never asked whether they wanted to be a part of the ROC, most don't identify primarily as Chinese now, and most don't support any sort of unification. If it could be done without any threat of 'retaliation' from China, the ROC would quite likely - though not definitely - be on its way out by now, if not entirely gone in favor of a Republic of Taiwan. Most Taiwanese refer to their home and country as Taiwan, not "the ROC".

If you refer to the island that people who don't identify as Chinese as something off the coast of "mainland China" (implying a territorial relationship they never agreed to), is that much different from telling people how they must identify? Are you not telling them "you think of these islands as your home country, but it's actually a piece of territory connected to a larger 'mainland', whether you like it or not"?

Some might say that omitting the word "mainland" and just using "China" and "Taiwan" is overtly nationalistic. But it isn't - it's just stating the truth as it is now. Taiwan exists, and it's not part of the country commonly referred to as "China", which as of right now is the People's Republic. It's the name of an island, and it's also what almost 24 million people call their country. It's not nationalistic to refer to a place people consider a country as a country, and a different place that they don't consider part of their country without any qualifying markers implying that it might be otherwise. 
Right now, there's a country called "China", and there's an island, which you can also call a country, called "Taiwan" with a different government than the one in "China". How is it 'nationalistic' to just say so? How is it not nationalistic to draw specific kind of connection between Taiwan and China by calling one the "mainland" of the other?

Simply using "China" and "Taiwan" is also the most open way to refer to these two places without closing off any future possibilities. "Mainland" implies that there ought to be some kind of future relationship in which the two places are connected. "China" and "Taiwan" are two existing places whose statuses may change in the future - referring to them as such doesn't cut off any potential outcomes. "Taiwan" and "Mainland China", however, does: it neuters the notion of Taiwanese independence in the present, by giving Taiwan a "mainland" that the Taiwanese never asked for. 


How political is “mainland”? It is required as a corresponding term to “Taiwan” in Xinhua’s style guide, a reflection of Chinese government policy. When you use it, you are quite literally referring to Taiwan-China relations exactly as the CCP wants you to. If you want to talk about Taiwan exactly the way the Chinese government prefers, by all means use “mainland”. But why would you?

Think of it this way: you may not necessarily default to Taiwanese independence as the only possible future for Taiwan. You may think the ROC is legitimate. I don't agree with you, but fine. These are valid (if flawed) opinions. Great news! You can still believe those things while calling China "China" and calling Taiwan "Taiwan", because a place exists called China, and another place exists called Taiwan! That terminology has room for your views while also making room for opinions which disagree with yours, whereas "Mainland China" does not. 

I know what you're thinking. But acktchuelly, you want to say, Taiwan's situation is diffrennnt than Cyprus or Okinawa! Yeah, sure, it is. Taiwan is in a unique position. But I do think they are comparable enough for this purpose: saying Turkey is the "mainland" of Cyprus makes a political statement about who you think should ultimately govern Cyprus: and unlike the PRC in Taiwan, Turkey actually already occupies part of that island. Saying "Taiwan and mainland China" similarly makes a political statement, implying that some government of China which includes the current China would be a more legitimate government than an autonomous, mainland-free Taiwan.

And sure, nobody reasonable disputes that Okinawa is, at least currently, Japanese territory. But then nobody reasonably thinks that Taiwan should be a part of the PRC, and nobody reasonably thinks that the ROC is going to "defeat the communists and take back the mainland". And the PRC has about as much right to claim Taiwan as it does to claim Okinawa - and they try to use historical arguments to justify both, even though the current government of China has never controlled either. And as far as I'm aware, just like the Taiwanese, neither the Cypriots nor the Okinawans want to be a part of Turkey or China, respectively.

So why would we all instinctively consider the use of "mainland" to be offensive in those situations or at least to be making political judgement calls we have no right to make, but not in the case of Taiwan? Is it a good idea to keep using the exact terminology that China wants us to use? Do we really want to keep being useful idiots?

Monday, September 9, 2019

"This movement has a large youth following? Let's use sex to discredit them again!"

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A tale as old as time: a social movement with broad support that is either youth-led or has lots of youth visibility breaks out, challenging the power structures that seek to actively move some part of Asia towards illiberalism or outright authoritarianism.

Then, the conservative underpinning of that power structure - and it is always conservative, whether that's due to age, money, religion or some combination of these - realizes it can't make a convincing case to the broader public that the protesters are wrong and the status quo is better. So it appeals to the base conservative instincts many still hold through a massive straw man: discrediting the youth vanguard of these movements by accusing them of doing lots of very bad very wrong immoral dirty sexy sex.

And a legitimate fight for social and political change, this thinking goes, can't come from young people and their raging hormones because their movement has now been tainted by evil, bad sex and therefore can't actually be about social and political change, because sex! Therefore, they must be wrong. QED.


The rubber mallet is thus applied to the public's knee and the inherently conservative among them jump to attention just as they're expected to. Moral degeneracy!

They did it during the Sunflowers, and they're doing it again in Hong Kong



It's truly an ancient story: people in power are challenged by people with better ideas but less power, the powerful folks know they can't win by attacking the better ideas, so they do a ceremonial dance around those ideas to find some totally random thing to criticize about their challengers that will get the dullards who support the status quo all riled up. It's misogynist and supremacist - it reeks of patriarchy.

I could go look up the old gossip rag news from 2014, but I won't bother. We all know that it was full of stories of activists hooking up, or just joining the Sunflowers "for the sex". I don't know how much of it actually went on, and to be frank, I don't care. The sexual harassment/assault allegations against Chen Wei-ting are the most serious thing I've heard about (though I don't hear everything), and nothing reported on all this sex going on in the Legislative Yuan made it sound as though any of it was non-consensual. So who cares? People are free to do what they want with their bodies as long as everybody involved agrees, and it doesn't make their cause any less legitimate.

Of course, more recently, the same sort of (generally allied) people tried to do the same thing to fight marriage equality in Taiwan: realizing that denying the basic humanity of LGBT people wasn't working, they turned to a combination of "but all the gay sex! Diseases! And won't someone think of the children?" I'm not sure it occurred to them that all the gay sex was going to happen whether or not the people having it could get married.

And now, with Hong Kong, we have 'blue ribbon' uptight Dolores Umbridge Fanny Law decrying the "free sex" being "offered" to protesters as though this - if true - delegitimizes what the protesters are fighting for (it doesn't).

First, she provides no source for her claim (I'm sorry, this is not a 'source'). "I think we have confirmed that this is a true case" is something anyone can say. Where's the proof, Aunt Fanny?

Second, even if it is true, she's taking on the guise of a concerned advocate for these women while actually peddling misogynist sexual norms: the idea that these women can't possibly have decided to have sex in a way you wouldn't approve of on their own, with full mental faculties intact. No, because this is the "wrong" kind of sex, apparently, they must have been "misled" by these big, bad protester men. It's almost the opposite of a healthy attitude towards sexuality: whether both parties consent doesn't seem to matter, if it's the "wrong kind" of sex, she is essentially calling the men involved rapists (and the women involved incapable of making independent decisions)! That is offensive and makes it harder for women to speak up about actual rape or sexual assault they may have experienced.

Third, "young girls"? So, Aunt Fanny, are they underaged girls which is a truly serious issue and must be investigated, or are you calling women of legal age "young girls" in order to infantilize them? If it's the former, then you are implying that statutory rape is happening, which seems tonally inconsistent with your throwaway comment. What are these "confirmed cases"? What proof can we use to investigate this?

Let's say there is a bunch of free (assumed consensual) sex happening while, I dunno, tear gas billows overhead. I think it would be hard to get in the mood with those masks on and people running down the street while police brutalize them indiscriminately, but okay.

So what? Even if that is "moral degeneracy" (it's not), it doesn't take away from the validity of their cause - it didn't for the Sunflowers and it doesn't in Hong Kong now.

Of course, the conservative power structure knows that the cause is ultimately just, and will win over quite a few of their own support base if the message gets spread too widely, so they go after the evil bad immoral sex that Grandma would not approve of and peddle regressive gender politics and morality instead. Those always have some takers.

So of course Aunt Fanny has to paint this as dissolute immoral men and vapid unthinking "girls" because she, like many conservatives, doesn't understand consent. To her, whether sex is "the right kind" or "the wrong kind" has more to do with the social roles in which it takes place (in the confines of a married monogamous relationship = the right kind; everything else = the wrong kind) than whether the people involved actively agree to engage (consensual sex between people with no outstanding commitments = the right kind; non-consensual sex regardless of social role or relationship = the wrong kind).

So of course "free sex" - if this is even a thing, which it probably isn't - would be seen as "the wrong kind" of sex to her, but the power structure she resides within allows police to sexually assault female protesters without punishment (so far), dallied until 2002 before making marital rape illegal (marital rape is still legal in China - you know, that country that intends to fully absorb Taiwan by 2047) and allows a real domestic violence problem to fester. Those are all non-priorities to someone like her, but young men and women gettin' jiggy during protests? Oh no! The sky is falling! 




And so it goes.

If you think there isn't a direct thread between her talk about "young girls being misled into free sex" and illiberal, pro-authoritarian moralmongering, she couches that assertion in a long-winded interview in which she decries "violence" among the youth (ignoring the fact that it's the police who are instigating the violence and the youth who are pushing back against it) and calls for "civility" (as the protesters have not been violent and are fighting for values that are vital to a healthy civilization, this must mean "shut up and do what you're told, fighting back in any way is 'uncivil'"). She basically makes it sound like Hong Kong is going to hell not because a powerful, anti-democracy, anti-human rights behemoth who treats the city like a colonial possession is tightening the screws, but because a few kids weren't spanked enough by their parents so now they're running around throwin' bombs and havin' sex. What those kids stand for doesn't matter to her.

It's just another way for the power structure to try to hold on to that power: by telling us what we can say and how we can say it, where we can go, what we can wear, what we should think, what we should learn, and now, how and were we can fuck. Sex - like food, money and speech - is just another way to control us. In fact, a huge chunk of the history of the world is just people with power trying to control how other people have sex, as a way of controlling the rest of their lives as well.

When the next youth-led movement in Taiwan rises - and there will probably be one, as the threats we face have not receded - you can expect more shrieks and howls about all that terrible, dirty sex those terrible young children are having. Mark my words.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

If the Hong Kong government delegitimizes protests now, what happens in 2047?

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I try to take a break for a day then Carrie "Lizard Woman" Lam makes me work. Damn it, Carrie. 

News broke today that Carrie Lam has announced the full withdrawal of the controversial bill that would have allowed extraditions of suspected criminals in Hong Kong to China, which has a deeply flawed justice system (China has a conviction rate of 99+% and lacks an independent judiciary). As the bill was already essentially dead, it's being called a symbolic gesture of conciliation to the Hong Kong protesters in an attempt to quell rising unrest in the city.

So...great. Right?

The thing is, this solves nothing. The extradition bill was the match set to dry kindling. Saying "the match has been put out" can't stop the fire it's started. 


First, this is likely the easiest move for the government to make vis-a-vis the protesters' demands, and is likely a maneuver to delegitimize further protest in the eyes of the greater Hong Kong public and the world community. Many will see it as a "victory" for the protesters, and wonder, if they've "won", why they're still on the streets (if the demonstrations continue)? They'll start to question the purpose of mass gatherings that have routinely ground crucial city infrastructure to a halt. More conservative locals will consider the protesters an inconvenience - many already do. The huge turnouts we've been seeing will turn to a trickle, without a clear rallying cry, and those who are left will be labeled as "radicals".

This is exactly the intent of the government: give them the thing that is already a fait accompli, so that further demonstrations can be delegitimized.

Much of the international media will probably play along, because they don't know how to narrate the truth of the matter: that Hong Kong may be legally part of China but that 'legality' is a form of barely-disguised colonialism, and China is not and can never be an appropriate steward for Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, the arrests will quietly continue, and those targeted will start to slowly disappear. Sentences will be harsh, because the government won't have retracted the term "rioters" to describe them. Police who have engaged in unconscionable brutality and violence will keep their jobs; there will be no full inquiry if the government can help it.

If the government retracts the term "riot", that entails forcing them to admit that this sort of large scale social movement and civil disobedience is acceptable, not just to the Hong Kong government, but also their masters in Beijing. And if there's one thing Beijing wants to make it clear is unacceptable to them, it's exactly this. Plus, they'd have no grounds to execute (perhaps literally) their plan above to begin arresting and disappearing protesters.

What's more, they'd have less justification for taking those same actions later, as the end of the 50-year "One Country Two Systems" draws closer and creates more unrest. They know perfectly well they're going to have to deal with escalating protests, and they want to ensure that there's precedent to label the protesters 'separatists'
, 'radicals' and 'rioters' so as to more easily punish them.

Remember how they didn't outlaw freedom of speech in Hong Kong but slowly went after journalists and publishers through abduction, stabbing, threats and other, subtler means? In such a way that it could never be definitively linked back to the government?

Yeah, like that. That's also their plan for Taiwan, by the way.

If the government opens a full inquiry into police violence, that amounts to admitting that the police engaged in unreasonable violence: opening such an inquiry and then concluding that inquiry with "well, we didn't find any instances of police violence! They used reasonable force!" will just spark more protests. It also would require scores of police officers to lose their jobs, which would look bad for the government.

When the protesters - dissidents, really - rightly claim that trust between the police and the public has broken down, the government will gaslight them, and portray them to more conservative Hong Kongers and the world as unreasonable and hotheaded.

Think of it this way: why would a government that fully intends to become authoritarian within the next 30 years admit that the police were violent and the protesters were right? They're going to need those police officers to beat up more protesters over the next few decades, and those officers need to know that acts of brutality against pro-democracy demonstrators will go unpunished. There's no other way for a planned authoritarian state to prepare for what's to come.

Much better to try to wrest back the narrative from the protests now, so that they lose local and international support. There's already a far-too-loud contingent of tankies who are shouting that this is all a CIA plot, or that the protesters are Western imperialism-loving neoliberal scum (or whatever), and they should just shut up and learn to love living under an unfree dictatorship because 'if the West is bad, China must be good'. 


Nevermind that all the protesters are asking for are the same rights and freedoms that Westerners enjoy - only the evil West can "do imperialism", and I guess human rights are just for white people or something (barf).

Those voices will gain more traction. This is what China wants. 


The whole time, both the government and the protesters will know that the movement has in fact failed, and the government will have successfully taken away the ability of the protesters to garner international support.

You know how people who know about the Sunflower Movement often consider it a success because the trade bill that sparked the occupation was essentially killed? And how the Sunflowers themselves have been known to refer to it as a failure, because it brought about no lasting change in Taiwanese politics? Yeah, like that.

Because, of course, the ultimate desire of the Sunflowers was to reshape the way we approach political dialogue and Taiwanese identity vis-a-vis China. The ultimate goal of the Hong Kong is even clearer: true democracy. It was never wholly about extradition to China, not even when this began.

Which leads me to the last part - universal suffrage and 2047.

Seriously, if the protests hadn't broken out now, what did you expect was going to happen 28 years from now?

The Hong Kong China government was never going to offer true universal suffrage or true democracy. It wasn't willing to do that in 2014, and it's not willing to do that now. It has never intended for Hong Kong to move towards universal suffrage; the intent was always to veer away from that, and towards authoritarian rule. The plan is still on for China and Hong Kong to fully integrate in 2047, and the essential problem remains that Hong Kongers simply do not want to live under a fully Chinese political system. They don't want it now, and they'll never want it.

Even scarier, if China did offer Hong Kong more democratic reforms, ultimately they'd try to control that democracy through subtler means - the same way they've been interfering in Taiwanese elections despite having no authority in Taiwan. 


That's a problem that has no solution - there is no middle ground. Even if there were, the CCP is not a trustworthy negotiating partner. As I've said before, there's no emulsifying ingredient for compromise between China's oil and Hong Kong's water. What China plans in the long term is wholly unacceptable to Hong Kong, and what Hong Kong demands is wholly unacceptable to China. Period, hard stop, brick wall, what now?

So while Hong Kong China tries to stave off current protests, the larger problem still looms: what exactly are we going to do as we approach 2047? 


I've said it before and I'll say it again - we all know how this ends. Even if the protests die out tomorrow, in the long run it either ends in a broken Hong Kong, or it ends in a bent-and-cowed China that allows true democracy to flourish within its borders.

Which do you honestly think is more likely? 

Where I'm drinking in 2019 - I get older, the bars get quieter

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Fancy G&Ts at Xiang Se


Because I can't write about politics all the time (literally, I can't - it induces too much anxiety), I decided to punt for the day and write up something about where I've been drinking in the past year. You know, to give the world a few more Taipei drinking choices - and one place in Tainan! - reviewed by a real person. I've tried to avoid the big restaurants, the fancy hotels and the huge (and already well-known) expat bars, because I prefer quieter, more intimate drinking experiences with friends. But, just to make a point, I'll address the big expat bars at the end.

My recent post on cafes also includes a few places that are good for drinking (notably Cafe Costumice, Cafe Le Zinc and Shake House), and an upcoming post on where I'm eating in Taipei in 2019 will also include a few places that are good for drinks (including Tanuki Koji for high-end sake and pretty much any of the Italian restaurants I'll mention for wine, Aperol spritzes and more). Of course, there will always be some overlap. 



Trio Original and Trio Bitters


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A lovely specialty cocktail at Trio Bitters

Some local friends introduced me to Trio Bitters near Zhongxiao Xinsheng. They have pretty good bistro food, a range of both regular and specialty cocktails, and a wine list. The wine is neither particularly cheap nor overly expensive and is fairly good, but I'd particularly recommend the specialty cocktails. I don't think I've ever seen another foreigner here, but it's popular with Millenial Taiwanese.

Another popular bar in this area is B Line By A Train - it's on the 2nd floor of a nondescript building on Zhongxiao East Road. I haven't actually been, but it's also very popular with the hip Millenial Taiwanese crowd, so it's probably worth a try.

I found Trio Original after trying Trio Bitters, and am reasonably sure the two bars are related. This one is just off Xinyi-Anhe - they have plenty of seating downstairs (though I like the upstairs atmosphere more) and will make you an excellent Manhattan with proper maraschino cherries, not those bright red things you can buy in any supermarket. 



L'arriere-cour (Backyard)

Hands down the best whiskey bar in Taipei, though it can be hard to get a seat - and there's nowhere to stand, so reserve in advance, even on ostensibly 'slow' nights. While not cheap, they have over 400 kinds of whiskey, the staff is friendly and will chat with you if you're alone, and the wasabi popcorn chicken is excellent. Get water with that - whiskey doesn't do a great job of cooling the heat of wasabi. I especially love the low lighting that makes you feel like you're in an upscale whiskey cave for hedonistic nihilists (or nihilistic hedonists).

The best part? They have so many types of whiskey that you won't be limited to the big names and the smooth, non-peaty blends popular in Asia. If you want a whiskey so peaty that it smells like the bottle smoked a cigarette by the ocean, this is the place to go. 



23 Public


This tiny little beer bar with floor-to-ceiling windows is simple and comfortable, and has a good mix of local and foreign. Right between Shi-da and NTU, it's not surprising that the local crowd is very grad-studenty. 23 Public only does local craft beer, and many of its beers are Taiwan themed (there's Taiwan #1 IPA, Love Motel Love, 22k IPA, a DPP-themed cucumber sour beer and more). They have light bar snacks - think small pizzas, spicy edamame, salted pork slices and rosemary fava beans. This place gets crowded so either go on a less popular night or make a reservation. 


Prozac Balcony


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Cool presentation at Prozac Balcony - the drink was good too


I haven't been here in awhile, but I like the shabby chic feel of this place, and their signature drinks are sometimes displayed in very fancy ways. I had a cocktail with fresh blood orange here once that cost NT$500, was absolutely delicious and was served in a large traditional teacup with a dragon design perched on a tray strewn with flower petals.

It's near a few more watering holes on Fuxing South Road south of Heping, including at least one whiskey bar with tinted windows that looks so masculine, I just want to go in there, order a drink and boast about how great I am while manspreading or something. Haven't done it yet, though. 



The Local 


Another beer bar! These are super popular in Taipei these days, at least until the next craze comes along (rum bars anyone?). The Local doesn't have a lot of seating but it's rarely crowded so it's easy to have a conversation. There are some video games you can play, and usually some amusing sport or other on the TV - who knew drinking beer and making light fun of extreme skateboarding could be so engaging? The big selling point of The Local, though, is the grilled cheese sandwiches, and the nachos aren't bad either. They occasionally have special events or food trucks stopping by. 


Xiang Se


This is the most hipster of hipster places to drink. With a funky garden - try to do some weekend day drinking in it, you won't regret it - and Brooklyn-meets-Miss-Havisham decor (think candles in weird holders with wax dripped artfully on reclaimed-wood tables - like that), you'll feel like a cooler person for having come here. The food is fun and unique as well, though I remember the atmosphere more than anything. A bottle of white wine in the garden on a hot summer weekend day is an excellent way to spend the day, and their gin and tonics come with sprigs of rosemary and the fancy tonic in glass bottles. Do reserve.


Zhang Men


Oh, yes, another beer bar! Like the others, this has a great atmosphere and local beer on tap. I habitually steal their coasters because they look so cool, and it's a solid drinking choice in the Yongkang Street area, which is more known for cafes and Japanese tourists than drinking, generally. 


Tavern D - The Rum Bar



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This place has good mojitos and great atmosphere


This place could go on a food list for its excellent Cuban sandwiches, corn tortilla chips and homemade salsa, but I'm putting it here because the real highlight is the excellent rum selection and fancy mojitos. The decor - think wooden bar, big green ferns, a Cuban-style wall mural - accentuates the drinking experience. It's not cheap but worth it for the best mojitos in town. It's not the only rum bar in town, but it's the one I prefer, and the only bar in Xinyi that I'll recommend here. Huge bonus points: they have fancy mocktails for your teetotalling friends. 


Le Puzzle Creperie and Bar 


This place could - and probably will - also go on a food list. Run by a friendly Frenchman whose name I've forgotten, I'm including it in the bar list because New Taipei deserves a mention, plus you can get a good bottle of wine for NT$700. You honestly can't beat that deal. They also do cocktails. The crepes here are absolutely worth trucking out to Banqiao for (it's a short walk from Xinpu MRT) - imagine an evening of wine, lemon crepes with sugar and delicious sorbet, or go all out and have one of their excellent dinner crepes as well. Just don't forget the wine. 


The Hammer

While we're in New Taipei, let's head on over to The Hammer, a small bar very close to MRT Dingxi Station. The San Miguel draft is a good deal, they have some nice bottled beers and you can get a decent glass of house wine. The food's pretty good too. It gets a bit loud and busy downstairs on weekends, but you can try to score a seat upstairs or come at a quieter time. A great place to go for a beer after a spicy dinner at Tianfu (天府川菜) which is right nearby, and has the best Sichuanese food not just in the Taipei area, but quite possibly all of Taiwan. 



BeerCat

The area between MRT Zhongshan and Dihua Street is slowly becoming populated with bars, cafes, teahouses and more. I could name a number of places in this area to drink, but I'm choosing this one not because the drinks on offer are particularly special (it's another beer bar), but because...guys. They have two cats. They have two cats. You can have a beer and pet a cat. You can beer and cat in the same place! BeerCat! The cats are pretty friendly too. We went to this place to drink away our sorrows the night of Taiwan's 2018 elections, and having beer to drink and a cat to pet really was therapeutic. 


Bar Ansleep


You would never know this tiny Japanese bar existed if someone didn't tell you, so here I am telling you. It's hidden away in a quiet lane near MRT Zhongshan Elementary School, on the 2nd floor. I don't even remember if there's a sign. The space is narrow but there are a few larger tables, and they do excellent cocktails in a quiet atmosphere.


Tuga


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Generous wine by the glass at Tuga


While technically a Portuguese restaurant (try the pan-seared green chilis - yum!), the real selling point of Tuga is the massive wine selection and inexpensive, generously portioned house wine by the glass. You can also buy wine by the bottle here - some bottles can run quite pricey, though - as well as some Portuguese condiments and cooking ingredients (think sardines, piri piri sauce). It's also near ABV, which has good-enough food, and an absolutely amazing beer selection.

Driftwood

Yes, yes, yes, another beer bar. This one is run by the folks at Taihu Brewing. I've had some great beers here, and a few misses (but not too many). The huge selling point is that it's pretty spacious and uniquely decorated, so you can probably get a seat. Ximenting, once the haunt of local teens and tourists, perhaps a few tattoo shops and not a lot else, is starting to become a great place for beer. Driftwood is one good option; try Ximen Beer Bar for another (yes, another beer bar). 



Bonus! Taikoo (in Tainan) 



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The balcony at Taikoo, in Tainan

It's not in Taipei, but hands-down it's our favorite bar when traveling in southern Taiwan. On Shennong Street in Tainan - you know, the famous old street with lots of quaint shops in lovely old buildings - there are two Taikoos, run by the same people. A cafe, and a bar. We prefer the bar. Taikoo (the bar) is in a two-story old house and has comfortable couch seating downstairs, with outdoor seating in the courtyard and even more seating in the (non-air-conditioned) building behind. Up a set of extremely dangerous old stairs, there's even more seating in a dimly lit space. The original roof beams are still visible, and there's a lovely balcony back here (it creaks ominously but I assure you it's safe) where you can sip your drink looking out over the courtyard below. They have a reasonable beer selection and make very good cocktails - I've never had anything I didn't love at Taikoo, and the staff is super friendly (and they speak good English, if that's something you prefer). 


As for the popular expat bars: 

Here's the thing about the Brass Monkey, Carnegie's, Revolver, Bobwundaye and relative (but very popular) newcomer, Red Point Taproom - I like these places quite a bit for drinking, at the right times. Go on a typically slow night - that is, avoiding Friday and Saturday (and in some cases Wednesdays, if there's a Ladies' Night) and grabbing a table or seat at the bar on a Tuesday, Thursday or Sunday. Brass Monkey has a solid selection of British beers, including Old Peculier, a particular favorite of mine. They also have an excellent range of British food. Carnegie's has an affordable "Crazy Hour", excellent brunch and they do make good cocktails, though they messed up once by putting sours mix in a Tom Collins - which might have been the worst drink I've ever had. Red Point has a great selection of local beers on tap, excellent appetizers and a fantastic Reuben sandwich, just don't go when it's busy. And Bobwundaye also makes a fine cocktail (some of the meals are good, but I've not been keen on the appetizers). Revolver is a great place to hang out when it first opens for the evening (around 6:30) and their nachos are tops. I find it's time to go, though, when it starts getting loud.

The main reasons why they get their own paragraph rather than a spot on the list are 1.) you already know about them, 2.) they aren't 'quiet, intimate' places to have a drink and 3.) they are extremely crowded on weekend nights, which is something I try to avoid these days.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

A visit to Academia Sinica's history museum: the good, the bad and the weirdly supremacist

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A few weeks ago, we decided to escape the scathing summer heat and check out the history museum at Academia Sinica. It's a little hard to find once on campus and far from the MRT, but also air conditioned to the point of being refrigerated (seriously, bring a jacket) and best of all, it's free!

We expected a fairly small collection and were surprised to find that the two hours we'd set aside to explore the museum was not enough to see everything - it's far larger than it looks, with lots of interconnected rooms and corridors you don't know are there until you're upon them. We never even made it to the lower level but no matter, it's a good excuse to return.


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One of the coolest things on display: a letter from the Manchu emperor in China requesting one of Zheng Chenggong's descendants (either Zheng Jing or Zheng Keshuang) to leave Taiwan and return to China, written in both Manchu and Chinese

The best parts of the museum were the ones showcasing artifacts relevant to Taiwanese history, like the scroll above. Below, although a scroll announcing the capture of the Yongli Emperor (last of the Southern Ming, after a fashion) in Burma doesn't seem particularly related to Taiwan, it is. If I remember correctly, that was the emperor who gave Zheng Chenggong/Koxinga his title (Lord of the Imperial Surname), and so the Yongli Emperor's rise and fall is directly related to the events that spurred Koxinga to come to Taiwan, and for his descendants to stay on as Ming loyalists for a few generations.


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Here's another one regarding sea traffic between Qing Dynasty China and Taiwan:


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And then we have this, the explanatory plaque for the cover photo of this post:
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This is a request from the "eldest son of the king of Liuqiu" for a new patent and seal, sent in 1654 to the Ming imperial court in China.

Okay, so what? You might ask.

Well, this is exactly the sort of "historical proof" that China routinely uses when making territorial claims on various islands off its coast, most notably the Senkaku islands (not the same as the Ryukyu islands, but nearby). Of course, they also claim the Ryukyu islands, including Okinawa.

This is relevant to Taiwan not only due to these islands' geographical proximity to Taiwan - some of them are actually off the coast of Taiwan, not China, including Ishigaki and Yonaguni, which are closer to Yilan in eastern Taiwan than either Japan or China. It also matters because the Republic of China (you know, that old colonialist windbag of a government currently on life support as the official government on Taiwan - yeah, that) tends to claim everything China claims. The ROC officially claims the Senkakus - Diaoyutai in Chinese - just as China does, as well as those islands in the South China Sea. I think all of that is completely ridiculous, but, anyway, it's a thing.

(As far as I know, the ROC does not claim the Ryukyu Islands, but I could be wrong.)

The museum also has a large collection of rubbings of stelae and other large engravings. Many of the original stone and metal artifacts have been lost; some I presume are still in existence somewhere in China. To be honest, although these are valuable pieces, they come from various parts of China and are not directly relevant to Taiwan. So, while I enjoyed looking at them for their aesthetic beauty, they weren't of particular historical interest to me. Which, of course, does not mean they're not worthwhile. Not everyone has a laser focus on Taiwan the way I do.





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Yes, I made a joke about "full-surface rubbing". Because I'm 12. 

One of the great things about this museum is that everything is rendered in competent English. Although the National Museum of History, for example, has more artifacts from Taiwan's Austronesian past (which makes up the bulk of its history, but is often ignored due to a lack of recorded history), but no English. It's also clearly designed for adults, whereas the National Museum of History is more of a place to take your kids for the day.

On the other hand, there is a tendency in the information on items in the collection to expend way too much verbiage on the archaeological processes or techniques used to unearth the artifacts, or how the artifacts were made (see the tutorial on "full surface rubbing" above) and not nearly enough - if any - telling the stories behind the artifacts or what we can learn about history from them. 


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Here's a prime example. We learn what kind of shells these were (the shells themselves are not very photogenic), and why they matter, but we don't learn anything about the bits that are actually interesting: what kinds of ornaments and tools were they and what were they used for? What were the consumption habits of ancient Austronesians living in Taiwan? What was the ancient environment like, and what were the harvesting seasons? All we learn are that archaeologists have ways of finding these things out, but we never get to read about what they learned.

The most egregious example of this - and I wish I'd taken a photo - was an ancient scroll described as having something to do with some 'lama drama' in Tibet. I don't remember exactly, but it briefly mentioned that one lama could no longer be lama and was stepping down, and another lama would take his place, all written to the imperial court.

Cool, but it seems like there's a real story there! What happened? Why'd the first lama step down? That would be an interesting thing to know, and also an engaging narrative to really get visitors interested in the colorful history behind these items, but we never find out.

Here's another:

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Interesting! What was the discrepancy? Do we know why? Any hypotheses? Also, who are Kao Lishi, Pan Yan and Zhang Shaoti, and why do they matter?

We never find out.


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I'd also be interested in knowing more about the cultural underpinnings behind the use of human teeth as ornaments.

But, we don't learn that either. We do learn quite a bit about how archaeologists unearth all of this stuff, though.

This is a minor complaint, however. If even that - more a kind suggestion that perhaps there are more engaging ways to put together a museum collection, which it would be fully within Academia Sinica's ability to implement. Think about it, guys?

If you thought that was critical, wait 'til you hear what I've got to say below.


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I already knew that in minority communities in China, the men tend to dress in ways that imitate the dominant group (that is, Han Chinese) whereas women are more likely to wear their traditional clothing, because men were more likely to leave their villages and mingle with society at large, and would want or need to 'fit in'. These days, that means men from these communities in China are more likely to dress in Western clothing, but women might not. In fact, here are some of my old photos from my life in Guizhou, China, when I went traveling in the countryside:

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I'm sorry they're not that clear - I only have hard copies. A friendly local in Kaili offered to accompany me on my travels and helped with translation, so all of these photos were taken with the permission of the subjects.

What bothers me is this:

"'National tradition' reinforces the unification of nationality yet at the same time represents a backward past."

Excuse me, but what?

I get the notion that the dominant group - Han Chinese - often view minority communities as "backward" but what's up with saying that in a way that takes it at face value, rather than interrogating it? Why would you drop that word in there as though it's a legitimate way of describing the cultures and histories of these groups?

The same goes for "the unification of nationality". "National tradition" in China only exists as it does because the authoritarian government there decided it would be that way. They decided to promote the notion of all citizens of China as Chinese, sharing the same blood, language, traditions etc. They - not some amorphous, societally-agreed-on force - decided to treat 'ethnic minorities' like adorable living museum exhibits with cool costumes, existing mostly as people the government can point to and say "see! China is tolerant and diverse!" while treating them in very intolerant and marginalizing ways. Or, if not that, as entertainment for domestic tourists who show up as visitors to their festivals and surround them with audio-visual equipment without their consent.

That's not "national tradition", it's a form of cultural assault. Come on Academia Sinica, how are you not even questioning it or highlighting how problematic it is?

And that's not getting into how none of the clothing of minority groups on display looked particularly similar to what I saw in China - I'm willing to let that be, as a lot of those groups are actually quite differentiated, and dress styles may vary even between nearby valleys, let alone longer distances. 


If you think that was a one-off, poorly-translated information panel, get a load of this: 


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It says:
Under the impact of modern nationalism, 'nation' has been defined as a group of people with common physical traits, language and culture persisting through generations. Since the early twentieth century, scholars have investigated native cultures or traced the migration and diffusion of various peoples for the purposes of identifying and classifying nationalities in China, providing a basis for carrying out national policy, and illustrating the unity of the Chinese nation. 
Based on ethnographic and historical materials, non-Han natives in southwestern China have been classified into twenty-five minority nationalities. The identification of nationalities and the concomitant principles of national policy and education have changed traditional relations among the natives and also the relations between the Han peoples and the natives.

I just...excuse me? The Chinese doesn't seem much better to me, but a native-speaking friend looked it over and said the Chinese is, in fact, more acceptable, but still. Excuse me? 

First, I'm not sure calling them 'natives' is a great idea. Don't we have words with fewer negative connotations? "Indigenous", perhaps?


Second, "common physical traits"? If by "modern nationalism" you mean the kind of ethnocentric nationalism that got us into world wars a century ago, sure. But these days we can talk about nationalism as a shared cultural and historical identification - which can include immigrants who come to identify as part of that society - or perhaps as a group of people with shared values and principles of how they'd like to exercise self-determination. So I really don't know what to say there. I have a friend who doesn't share "common physical traits" with Taiwanese who nevertheless is a citizen of Taiwan now. There is a pathway - albeit a narrow one - for me to become a citizen someday as well, and it is not possible to look less Taiwanese than me. Taiwanese themselves don't have that many "common physical traits" - having backgrounds from Indigenous to Han Chinese to non-Han Chinese to modern Southeast Asian and beyond - unless you think all Asians are the same (they're not, and indigenous Taiwanese are Pacific Islander anyway.)

In any case, that sounds like making an argument for biology determining political destiny and I'm sorry, that's just not on.

And no, saying so is not a "Western" idea. Taiwan is diverse and multicultural too. Always has been. The same is true for China. Plenty of Taiwanese, including indigenous Austronesian Taiwanese, Southeast Asian immigrants who have married and settled here, Hakka who have also been historically discriminated against and a good number of 'dominant' Han Chinese have been pushing for more acknowledgement of Taiwan as a nation bound by shared identity and cultural and political values. That's coming from them, not 'the West'.

Third, and most importantly, is Academia Sinica really justifying the study of minority cultures in order to enact national policy that seeks to assimilate those cultures? To either turn them into groups who willingly subject themselves to being seen as costumed, dancing entertainment for Han Chinese, or to eviscerate their cultural heritage altogether in the name of "national unity"?

Because seriously, that sounds like something the Communist Party of China would write, and it's really not cool. Taiwan doesn't need to have museums with exhibits that follow the same ethnocentric, jingoistic, nationalistic, supremacist garbage logic that the Chinese government puts out.

I don't think Academia Sinica is intentionally writing supremacist placards for their museum collection. Either it's a failure of English translation, or they are in dire need of updating but nobody's really taken that on. In any case, it's time to do some updating. Imagine if a foreign visitor who can't read the Chinese or doesn't have a well-connected local friend to discuss these things with goes to this museum and reads the English here - what will they think? That the English doesn't clearly express the sentiments of Academia Sinica, or that Academia Sinica has supremacist views on indigenous peoples?

We can, and must, do better.