Tuesday, June 29, 2021

BREAKING NEWS: Racism Still Racist

Except it's not just Miaoli, is it?

Now with updates! Don't worry, the updates are still about how racism is racist.

Yesterday, news broke that Miaoli County was ending the forced containment of blue-collar migrant workers (quoted at length because Focus Taiwan makes their archives inaccessible after a few months):

A controversial stay-at-home order imposed by the Miaoli County government on migrant workers earlier this month will end Tuesday, as the number of new COVID-19 cases recorded among the group has fallen.

In a statement, the county government said that while some migrant workers continue to test positive for the disease in Miaoli, they have all been in quarantine because they were contacts of previously confirmed patients....

The Miaoli County government banned migrant workers from going outside, with the exception of traveling to and from work, on June 7....On June 10, the order was partially relaxed to allow migrant social welfare workers, such as caregivers and domestic helpers who usually live with their employers, to go out when necessary, such as buying basic necessities.

I refuse to call it a "stay at home order" as Focus Taiwan does. Honestly, these were closer to internment camp conditions as the dormitories where many factory workers live are overcrowded, poorly ventilated and frankly, perfect sites for fast viral spread. 

it's unclear that the order was indeed fully rescinded. Some reports indicate that it was merely relaxed:

Focus Taiwan: if this is indeed the case, your reporting leaves something to be desired.

Before you say "but I only go out for 45 minutes a day!" or whatever, remember that nobody is forcing you to do that. Besides, you almost certainly live in better conditions than most foreign blue-collar workers. You probably don't live in a cramped hellhole where 6 people share a room meant for perhaps 2.

Despite human rights groups rightly calling the order discriminatory (or in my words, racist), Miaoli County Magistrate and Racist Clown said...well, here's the quote:

In response to the criticism, Miaoli Magistrate Hsu Yao-chang (徐耀昌) said the county government was forced to issue the order to curb the spread of COVID-19 in migrant worker clusters and to prevent a transmission of the virus in communities.

"If new cases, more deaths are reported, how can human rights protection be possible?" Hsu argued at the time.

In other words, he refused to admit that the racist thing he did was racist. And it was racist, as the people forced to stay in their accommodations were decided based on national origin (that is, they are not Taiwanese), and Taiwanese coworkers of the affected groups were not subject to the same order. Foriegn white-collar workers in Miaoli were not subject to the order, or we'd be hearing about cram school teachers in Nanzhuang forced to stay in their apartments.

The forced internment of these workers was not due to contact history with infected individuals, and the Miaoli county government was not "forced" do to anything. It chose to be racist. 

But of course, Hsu will never admit that. And sadly, he doesn't have to: foreign workers can't vote, and Taiwanese voters most likely don't see this as a critical issue. Certainly there has not been strong agitation for change despite being aware of how badly most Southeast Asian immigrants are treated, and some even (wrongly) defend such practices. Nobody in Miaoli is going to lose their elected office over this, even though arguably most of them should. 

Obviously, trying to avoid accountability for such actions is a global phenomenon: I could imagine a political suit from just about any country refusing to own up to their own racism (some, including several former US presidents, build entire brands on it). 

What I'm curious about is this: 

When questioned by reporters, Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) officials said on June 9 that it had "reminded" Miaoli authorities that it could only enforce orders that were in line with the national Level 3 COVID-19 alert.

The CECC did not revoke the order, however, as it had done previously with other local government policies it had not authorized.

I freely admit that I haven't paid much attention to which local government policies the CECC has revoked. (Update: here's one example of where they did just that).

This implies they always had the power to just shut the Miaoli government's racism down, yet chose not to. The Tsai government, sadly, has a track record just as abhorrent as previous administrations on human rights for blue-collar immigrants: a weak spot in an administration that is competent in most other ways. There's a chance they simply don't care enough, or did political calculations on what this would cost them and made a choice. There are a lot of questions there that I simply can't answer (but feel free to leave observations in the comments). 

There are some bright spots, however. The international media, which until recently tended to ignore Taiwanese domestic issues or presented them only in the light of "China tensions" somehow mysteriously being enrisen-ified, took up this issue across several media outlets (including Channel News Asia, which is usually more of a concern troll regarding Taiwan than actual reliable news). 

Locally, there's been some movement too. Not just on the part of human rights groups either. To vent my own rage, every few days I go into Hsu's Facebook page and call him a racist, because he is one (this has zero effect but makes me feel better). Generally, even though sometimes I get lazy and post in English -- I think enough Taiwanese know the word "racist" that it probably doesn't matter -- there are often locals doing the same thing. This issue does seem to have brought more attention to the overall issue of foreign worker treatment in Taiwan.

It's hard to say what happened. I find it hard to believe that the Miaoli government decided to be slightly less racist (without apologizing at all) because it was making Taiwan look bad internationally. International media attention does tend to have an effect nationally, so it's possible that the CECC's public "reminder" came with stronger behind-the-scenes recriminations. But would the KMT-led county government really care what the DPP-led national government had to say? Did getting slammed by human rights groups make a difference? Probably not: this is the KMT, it's not like they care about human rights! 

More likely -- and I am wildly speculating here -- the national KMT apparatus realized it was getting dunked on an international scale, called up their Miaoli people and told them to quit it. 

That possibility carries a lot of implications. Generally, I've concluded that international media exposure is a one way to get the national government to stop dicking around. Overall, while it's good for critical domestic issues to receive international attention for this reason, I find it wise to try to promote a positive image for Taiwan internationally. I have less confidence that it has an effect at more local levels. However, if the international media can (potentially) help create change by getting one of the major parties to rein in their own? Well, that matters.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

A Concise History of Taiwan (Bilingual Edition) Review, and more!

The Concise History of Taiwan: Chinese-English Bilingual Edition
By Tai Pao-tsun, translated by Ruby Lee

I know I haven't been blogging that much in the past week or so: in part I needed a break, but I've also been busy with other things. I did a podcast with Startup Taiwan on the Bilingual by 2030 initiative (similar to my other podcast with Taiwan Context on the same issue). And perhaps you've noticed an article in the Taipei Times about my debilitating insomnia-driven push to get Last Week Tonight to do an episode on Taiwan. While I'm not spending a huge amount of actual time on this, I did take the time to give the Taipei Times an interview. The petition is still going, so by all means please do sign. 

But mostly, it's that these days I live in front of the computer for work, so I just haven't wanted to spend more screen time blogging. But anyway, down to business. 

A year or so ago, I realized that Brendan and I had, combined, managed to read almost every general history book on Taiwan in existence in English, and that no direct comparison exists. So we made a final push. I'd been working through the politically subjective works (think Taiwan's 400 Year History) while Brendan read the drier tomes (such as Taiwan: A New History, which is more of a collection of articles than a true general history). We both read the works we consider to be most seminal (Forbidden Nation and A New Illustrated History of Taiwan). 

Then, just as we were about to write the piece together, another publication popped up on my radar: The Concise History of Taiwan: Chinese-English Bilingual Edition by Tai Pao-tsun, translated by Ruby Lee. As it is indeed concise, I thought I'd give it a review before including it in the longer article. 

The book itself lives up to the name: it's not particularly thick, and with half the pages in Mandarin and a double-spaced font, it can be read in an easy day. It follows the same notion of how to cover history as many other 21st century publications (this was published in 2007): rather than a chronological telling of events, it covers areas of interest. Specifically, these are Indigenous Peoples, Immigrants, Colonization, Towards a National State and Taiwanese and World Citizens (which has the least clear title and is also the least clear chapter). Chapters 1-3 look at the whole of history, although only Chapter 1 goes into pre-written Indigenous history, and only at the very end does the narrative follow a clear chronology, from KMT authoritarianism to democratization.

I appreciated certain elements of this book: the clear case for Taiwanese sovereignty without fiery political soapboxing or outdated references to long-dead compradores. (I admire what it would have meant at the time for Su Beng to call them out by name, and the fact of their existence is worth including, but in 2021 I'm not sure we need a list.) I noted the attempt to discuss Indigenous affairs through the modern era, rather than relegating all discussion of Indigenous culture to "prehistory". And anyone could improve on Ong Iok-tek's (A History of Agonies) abject anti-Indigenous racism.

In some ways, Tai outdoes Chou Wan-yao: at no point does this book pretend that it is in any way acceptable for an occupying foreign government to force a "national language" on a people who've never spoken it before. (I've said it before and I'll say it again: this was the single worst line of reasoning in Chou's book, which was otherwise a delight to read. It brought the whole thing down.)

In others, however, the Concise History leaves a lot to be desired. The chapter on immigrants considers Taiwanese with Han ancestry to be immigrants, which is correct (or settlers, or colonizers: choose your discourse) and handles this well. It then covers "New Taiwanese" (the KMT diaspora that accompanied the 1940s occupation) and it handles the topic critically but fairly. It even covers immigration from Southeast Asia. But -- I dunno man, call me selfish -- a single sentence pointing out that there is a small community of long-term Westerners who also call Taiwan home would have been appreciated. Truly, just a sentence would have been enough. I don't want Westerners in Taiwan to take up too much space when we are a tiny minority of immigrants, but we do exist. 

In Colonization, Tai considers the Dutch and Japanese eras, but completely elides the Qing colonization and the ways that the ROC is itself a colonizer of Taiwan. Other historians have dealt with this in different ways: Su Beng was anti-Qing but pro-Han immigration. Manthorpe (Forbidden Nation) says obliquely that there is a case to be made for both the Qing and the ROC to be considered colonizers. Chou (A New Illustrated History of Taiwan) doesn't quite take that step, but she does offer up all the objective evidence for coming to that conclusion oneself. 

By not engaging with the issue at all, Tai is essentially saying that there is no need to question whether the Qing and the ROC acted as colonizers: it is assumed by their exclusion from this chapter that they did not. I disagree, strongly. What is the justification for this? How did they act meaningfully differently from any other foreign occupiers? Is it because some people still argue that the legal structures that kept (and keep) these governments in place are not generally considered "colonial", even if the actions of the government absolutely are? Is it because the colonizers came from China, so they aren't different enough to be "colonizers"? None of these options is convincing, so it doesn't really matter which assumption informed Tai's thinking. 

One final matter must be dealt with: the translation. I don't want to say too much about this, as I am not against a non-native speaker doing a translation, and don't want to come across otherwise. However, there are some real issues here. Some of these are mildly humorous rather than overtly confusing ("The Taiwanese are a generous and tolerable people" -- a stereotype, but I understood what was meant).  Other areas, however, simply don't cohere well, and small mistakes come across as unprofessional, such as calling the DPP the "DDP". 

Even native-speaker translations benefit from a good editor, and that's what this book needs, too. Translators are not editors and shouldn't be asked to do both jobs: in an ideal world, there's funding for both. It's a shame that dedicated and sincere Taiwanese voices are perhaps not being heard more widely because the funding just isn't there to hire a good editor. 

There are reasons to choose this particular book, however. Like every other general history we've read, it takes a pro-Taiwan stance. Honestly, I think this is because reality leans pro-Taiwan: the case for Taiwan is based on certain objective truths, such as the traumas of the authoritarian era or the simple fact that the Taiwan is not currently controlled by China, and does not wish to be a part of China, period. There's probably another reason at play, however: if you're so in love with the concept of Taiwan-as-China, why would you write a history book focusing on Taiwan? You'd probably just write a history of China and include Taiwan as a small part of it. 

(Which, incidentally, is exactly how China would treat a subjugated Taiwan: as an unimportant backwater, a footnote. That is, after the genocide.) 

And it is short: if you are a newcomer to Taiwan and don't even know things like the fact that the ROC is a decorative name underwriting a concept on life support, that Taiwan was once a colony of Japan, that the KMT have an awful history or that there even are Indigenous Taiwanese, this is a quick way to get up to speed on the basics. That said, Forbidden Nation covers most of that as well, and is only a little bit longer. 

Mostly, I'd recommend A Concise History of Taiwan: Chinese-English Bilingual Edition for one specific purpose. If you are looking to read about Taiwanese history and want to actually practice your foreign language skills, this could be a place to start. Say you studied Mandarin in college, maybe spent a year in China but also learned to read Traditional characters. Then you move to Taiwan because -- let's be real -- it's a better country to live in. You can read Chinese but aren't that well-versed in local history. Start here, and read in both languages. Or say you've lived here for awhile and your Chinese reading comprehension is okay. You already know the history, so you want to practice reading in Chinese on a topic you're already familiar with -- the way Taiwanese teens read Harry Potter in English after having seen the movies or read the books in Mandarin. Perhaps you need the English there to support you. 

In those circumstances, this would be a good book to pick up. A learner of English could do the same, although I'd warn them to be aware that the translation is not always polished and clear. However, if we're considering English as a lingua franca or an international language, it's good enough for that purpose. 

A Concise History of Taiwan: Chinese-English Bilingual Edition is available on books.com.tw, and the price is quite attractive.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

ONE WEIRD TRICK to stop INFLAMMATION OF CHINA TENSIONS that doctors don't want you to know!


If you need this explained to you like Richard Dawkins needs explanations of literature, China is the shark.

Two articles appeared recently over Taiwan's vaccine struggles amid a global shortage, one in Nikkei Asia and one in The Guardian. Both articles are fine, though they both get the same thing wrong (which I'll address later). They both cover how Taiwan's attempts to secure enough vaccines to beat the outbreak have turned into a political imbroglio.

However, the media narrative from both can be examined through the titles that editors chose for them, and that's what I'd like to look at. How does an article about Taiwan where the media outlet wishes to center Taiwan craft a headline, compared to an article about Taiwan where editors are stuck in the past and feel they must stick to tired cliches about the Taiwan-China relationship?

Both do the right thing by questioning China's narrative, or by putting it in parentheses, like this: 

China’s altruistic statements have been somewhat contradicted by its objections to the US and Japan donations, and by Taiwanese allegations (which China denies) that it actively blocked a deal Taiwan was working on with the German vaccine producer BioNTech.

This is great: it shows increased interest in and reporting on Taiwan by major international media, and it shows more willingness to look at the Taiwanese perspective or at least consider it through an international or local, rather than Chinese, lens. While international reporting on Taiwan is still tied to China, it's no longer guaranteed to follow the script that China puts forward. That's an improvement. 

However, I will come out and say that the Asia Nikkei piece is superior to the Guardian one. This is not a slight against Helen Davidson, and I'm not trying to pit her against Erin Hale. Rather, the issue is with the titles. 

Asia Nikkei:

Vaccines become political as Taiwan wakes up to COVID reality

President Tsai's approval rating drops as island struggles to procure doses

This isn't great news for Taiwan, but it is a good headline. It's neutral, and it centers Taiwan. China enters the narrative in the actual article, as it must (because it's the one doing the politicizing, with the help of the KMT and their various compradores) but the reader of this article is brought in through a focus on Taiwan.

Skimmers who just read the headlines will come away with that with a reasonably accurate view that something dodgy is going on with vaccine procurement in Taiwan, and might click to find out what those struggles are. Then they learn that the struggles are caused in part by a global shortage, but also Chinese interference.

Compare that to The Guardian: 

How Taiwan’s struggle for Covid vaccines is inflaming tensions with China

As island faces new outbreak and mistrust of Chinese jabs, Beijing objects to donations from US and Japan 

This headline sucks

I want to make it clear that headlines are almost always written by editors; writers rarely get a say in them. This is not a jab at Helen Davidson (it is a jab at her editor, but I don't know who that person is.)

It sucks because it totally bungles who is doing the inflaming of what. "Taiwan's struggle for coronavirus vaccines" is not inflaming tensions with China. China is inflaming tensions over Taiwan's vaccine struggle. This is an active choice on the part of the Chinese government, which does indeed have free will. 

All Taiwan is trying to do is get some damn vaccines. They don't want to play political games or "inflame" anything. And tensions aren't gout. They don't inflame on their own. Someone has to inflame them. That someone is China.

The subtitle isn't great either. It's not wrong per se, but the reader is invited to wonder "why would Taiwan distrust Chinese vaccines?" If they don't really know a lot about Taiwan/China issues, and the headline has not clarified that China is the inflamer (not the inflamee) they might preemptively conclude that Taiwan is being unreasonable, when it is not.

It also centers Beijing's reaction to the US and Japanese donations, rather than how these have affected the Taiwanese situation, even though the article is ostensibly about Taiwan. China starts out being centered, and the reader is then invited to keep centering China. 

The actual article is a lot better -- again, this isn't about Davidson's work -- but someone really ought to inflame tensions with the Guardian editors.

You may be curious what the two articles get wrong. It's relatively minor, but worth pointing out one last time. Both include some version of this narrative:

China said Fosun – the Shanghai-based manufacturer with exclusive regional production rights for Pfizer/BioNTech – had offered to supply Taiwan, but Taiwan had refused.

[Drew] Thompson said there were scientific and transparency concerns about China’s vaccines, which made it unsurprising and potentially sensible for Taiwan to reject an offer of Chinese-developed vaccines. But if the Fosun offer is legitimate, refusing it is “entirely political”.

Clearly, Thompson doesn't actually know that Fosun never made a legitimate offer. To distribute your drug in Taiwan, you need to apply through the Taiwan FDA. It is possible to do this, though as Terry Gou is finding out, you can't just leave out important documents. 

Fosun never applied. So it never offered those vaccines to Taiwan in any capacity that Taiwan could officially accept. How can Taiwan reject an offer it never actually received? 

I explore this process in more detail here, by the way.

Hale's article also commits this error, and includes discussion of vaccines actually manufactured in China, not Germany. I can't quote it because I've hit the paywall on Asia Nikkei (I read the article days ago), but it leaves out the fact that Chinese-made drugs are banned in Taiwan, by law. To accept drugs made in China would require changing the law. That's not going to happen. The German-made doses are a gray area, but Fosun would still need to apply. To date, it has not done so. 

A minor point, but one I wish the international media would get this point right.

I'm also really starting to wonder about this Thompson fellow in the Guardian article, however. He says: 


“Pfizer and BioNTech have a huge incentive to ensure that the Fosun product is equivalent, so I would think there is no concern,” he said. “There’s no reason not to take it.”


But he himself provides a very good reason just a few paragraphs up:


If Taiwan accepted Chinese vaccines it would be the political “kiss of death for the DPP [Taiwan’s ruling party]”, Thompson said. “It’s quite likely China would take some sort of gratuitous swipe … see it as a capitulation or recognition of Beijing’s superiority.”

Right -- how is that not a good reason not to take this "offer"? Why is Thompson spinning this as somehow Taiwan's fault?

This is not entirely political: it's also about public health and safety.

China does indeed have every reason to try to harm Taiwan, including tampering with vaccines. And of course, the main reason Fosun never applied is probably because it would require a level of submission that national governments require, not regional ones. Fosun can't just treat Taiwan like Hong Kong and Macau, but to apply, it would essentially have to admit that Taiwan is a place not controlled by China

So instead it uses its doses as media fodder, because it knows they're never going to make it to Taiwan. The China-proffered solution to a problem China created is (perhaps literally) a poison chalice.

Why Thompson is implying that this is mostly political on the Taiwanese side despite laying out exactly why it's actually a political move on the Chinese side is beyond me. How is China deliberately inflaming tensions somehow politicking on the part of Taiwan?

There is one more thing both articles fail to clarify. Both are correct that Tsai's popularity has fallen, however, both fail to contextualize this: the general reader might be left with the impression that Tsai's drop in approval is especially concerning. In fact, at about the same time in their administrations (mid-2nd term) both Chen Shui-bian and Ma Ying-jeou had lower popularity ratings than Tsai. Chen dropped to about 18% I believe, and Ma hit an astounding 9%: the latter was so awful that students occupied the legislature. And they managed to be that unpopular without a pandemic (and with Ma not being constantly attacked by the CCP). 

Taiwanese voters have high expectations and tend to be critical. Properly contextualized, Tsai's 40% is actually pretty impressive. I won't say it's great, but frankly, it's better than one might expect, and surprisingly so. The typical international reader, however, won't realize that from reading these pieces.

A lot of people who think they are knowledgeable about Taiwan and China don't seem to want you to know how to stop this kind of inflammation. A lot of them have PhDs, so it's fair to say that there is indeed one weird trick to stop inflammation of China tensions that doctors don't want you to know. 

It's simple to pinpoint, but difficult to execute. If you want to stop inflammation, the best thing you can do is look for the source. If your feet swell up because you're not wearing supportive shoes, the answer isn't to elevate your feet with an icepack. That will help, but the shoes will just cause inflammation again tomorrow.

The trick is to do something about your shoes.

Ahem. China is the shoes. 

Monday, June 14, 2021

Racist treatment of foreign blue-collar workers in Taiwan continues

A week ago, I was mentally preparing to draft a positive post about Taiwan's handling of the current outbreak. The main thesis? That the government had made mistakes, but coverage of those mistakes was devolving into taking potshots: people are frustrated, anxious, possibly out of work (our income has decreased, but we'll pull through) and it's leading to them kicking at Taiwan to a point I felt was unfair.

The shortened quarantine of pilots? A bad move, but few complained about it when there were no outbreaks. The slow vaccine rollout? Come on -- y'all didn't want AZ when it was available, and people like me signed up for self-paid shots because we thought we were saving them from the garbage. That Taiwan is facing Chinese interference and a global vaccine shortage? Not Taiwan's fault. That the government hadn't kept up with evolving data on the emerging variants? Not great, no -- but Taiwan is shut out of the WHO; was this entirely an issue of complacency? The worrying use of data to monitor people in outbreak areas such as Wanhua? Not ideal, but people who don't want to use the QR codes (a level of contact tracing that other countries never even attempted) can still register on pen and paper.

Basically, I was a bit annoyed that, as the rest of the world got an F in its coronavirus response (the US seems to have done a bit of extra credit and might squeak by with a D-), Taiwan was getting kicked because it got an A on the last test but only a B on this one. Like people were ready to turn on an administration that had competently seen us through 16 months of safety -- 16 months made necessary by the fact that (again!) the rest of the world couldn't get its shit together. 

I had intended to say that while some people in the Chinese-speaking public discourse sphere were indeed being constructive and offering ways to do better next time, some were absolutely using this as an opportunity to attack the Tsai administration, CCP-style. Some members of the foreign community were being outright ridiculous in their willingness to buy the bullshit the KMT, CCP and their associated compradores were selling. Although I can't influence local discourse, I was going to state that I would not be a party to this in the foreign community, and that while there are valid criticisms to be leveled at the government, I would not feed the growing toxicity of the discourse in English.

The thing is, I no longer want to write the longer version of that post. I'm angry. 

I can forgive a few mistakes. I can point out where constructive criticism turns toxic. What I cannot forgive is unconscionable racism towards the Southeast Asian immigrant community, which the central government isn't doing enough to combat.

We were all angry when the Miaoli County government forbade foreign blue-collar workers, who are generally from Southeast Asia, from leaving their quarters (most live in cramped factory dormitories or live with the families who employ them as caregivers). We all felt that relaxing restrictions for some foreign workers was completely insufficient.

The move can not be justified on any grounds except discrimination: those workers mix with Taiwanese workers at factories and Taiwanese families in homes, so locking them up while their Taiwanese colleagues and employers are free to move about makes these measures even more cruel and meaningless. The domestic workers are often tasked with running errands which include taking elderly charges out, refilling medication or accompanying them to the doctor. Unable to do this, families would have to do these things themselves -- what purpose did it serve, if other members of the household could still go out?

But now it's not just Miaoli. This is happening in Tainan, in Changhua, and beyond. The central government have handled this issue weakly at best, and have implemented their own restrictions, mostly regarding employee transfers. They have not done nearly enough.

As a result, it hasn't stopped, and with the central government limited in their ability or willingness to shut down the actions of the local governments, I'm not sure how it can be stopped.

I'm not really sure how it is that the government can lay claim to all our data -- including data we weren't asked if we wanted to provide and weren't told was being collected -- but not shut down the completely unacceptable treatment of these workers across the country.

Like a virus, it's spreading. It gets stamped out in one place and breaks out in another. Blame the foreigners. And not just any foreigners, blame the most marginalized foreigners (who happen to also be the majority of foreigners) in the country. If you thought barring foreigners from restaurants and cafes was bad -- and it was -- this is exponentially worse. The former was a form of unfair discrimination. This is outright, blatant, unacceptable and disgusting racism. 

Let me repeat: this is not acceptable. There is no justification. From an epidemic prevention standpoint it doesn't even make sense, because people do not spread diseases on the basis of their national fucking origin. The immigrants who live here interact with Taiwanese and will continue to interact with Taiwanese, because they're still going to work. Forcing them to stay in disease-prone crowded dorms with poor ventilation will only make it worse. 

If you think it is justified, then fuck you.

It's not about race plenty of Taiwanese citizens are from Southeast Asia because they married in and gave up their...no.


But COVID is spreading in those communities so it makes sense even though they're still interacting with locals who have freedom of moveme...no.

It is about race, and you know it's about race. 

There's a class element as well, but those factories also have Taiwanese workers who are not locked in, so it is primarily just plain old racism. 

Some companies even try to spin these lockdowns as "helping" the workers, rather than literally jailing them:


In fact, the right move both isn't just to end these racist practices immediately, but to reform the entire blue-collar labor system, top to bottom. It's to proactively prioritize these immigrants on the vaccination list because their living and working conditions increase chances of an outbreak, and to improve those living and working conditions in the long-term. This isn't just for them, but for the country: to prevent further spread, and also ensure the outbreak doesn't shut down vital industries.

What frustrates me -- and why I'm taking it out here -- is that I don't know what to do about it. 

When it was cafes banning foreigners I could contact them privately, and I spent hours doing so, among other actions. Most agreed to change their policy when presented with a reasonable argument and the chance to save face before their businesses got review-bombed. When it's something like trying to wheedle Last Week Tonight into doing an episode about Taiwan, I have a plan for balancing relentlessness with comedy that I hope will work (please sign, by the way). When it's discriminatory Youbike rules, I can write to Taipei City government. 

But this? Yes, we can donate, and should (see the links at the bottom of this post for places where you can do so). We can sign this petition. I suppose I could write to each government to lodge my complaints, but if they're not listening to the CECC, why would they listen to me? So I just don't know what to do except write about it. 

That is incredibly frustrating. I would help occupy the street outside of one of these factories if I thought it would do any good, and if public gatherings were possible. I would write up a letter in Mandarin, if I thought I could influence the discourse, but there are native speakers more eloquent than me with a more local perspective who are better qualified to do this. 

In fact, there is one positive I can think of: there are locals angry about this too. On the social media of politicians promoting these restrictions, the pushback has been local (with a few of us angry foreigners mixed in too). Local friends have been sending me the aforementioned petition so it's getting local attention. Not everyone in Taiwan is as awful as those clowns in Miaoli.

In other words, I feel completely impotent in the face of this issue which angers me so very deeply. It's hard to even write more than a few pieces on it because "Racism Continues To Be Racist" only has so many variations. Your suggestions are welcome. 

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Voting in Taiwan: Gender, Age and Wild Speculation

Yes, yes, this picture is meant to be tongue-in-cheek (or tunic-in-loins)

Recently, political scientist Nathan Batto wrote about youth turnout in the 2020 vote on his blog, Frozen Garlic. He speculated that gender might be an interesting area to explore in voter differences, as women tend to support the KMT more than men by a surprising amount:

Newcomers to Taiwanese politics are always shocked that women are about 5% more pro-KMT than men since the much-publicized gender gap in the United States favors the more progressive party. My suspicion is that older women are much more conservative than younger women (ie: the age difference for voting behavior is much larger for women than men), but I don’t have any hard evidence of that right now.

This seems likely. The youth surge in 2020 was overwhelmingly pro-DPP -- men and women both. Women might support the KMT at a higher rate than men overall, but that doesn't mean a majority of women support the KMT. This all points to a difference in beliefs between younger and older Taiwanese women.

Like Frozen Garlic, I don't have any hard evidence either, but that won't stop me from throwing the nerdblogging equivalent of a kegger to explore the topic. 

Although the main cleavage between the two parties is still China, these days it's not ridiculous to consider the KMT the more socially conservative party and the DPP the slightly more socially liberal one, in some areas. (Marriage equality? Yes! Labor rights? Not really.)

Beyond a little speculation that older Taiwanese women are more likely to be KMT voters (and more conservative) than younger ones, Frozen Garlic stopped there. Freewheeling political analyst Donovan Smith agreed with him, and pointed out that he was in a position to speculate wildly about why this might be (but refrained from doing so).

I also tend to agree, and because I'm literally just a hobbyist, I'm at liberty to go hog-wild and talk about why.

Of course, a full and reliable answer would require real research. I'm not in a position to do that research, so the best I can offer is Lao Ren Cha Gone Wild.

So if you think Donovan is free to "speculate wildly", then when it comes to me, grab your tunic and gird your loins because here we go. 

Let me lay out the few key points before we begin. 

First, that (admittedly imperfect) parallels can be drawn to the political histories of other countries.

Second, that higher KMT support among women probably is driven by older women, and this has a lot to do with intentional targeting by the KMT on many fronts, over several decades.

Third, that the opposition which coalesced into the Tangwai and DPP was not necessarily friendlier to women than the KMT in the early years, and the feminist movement's initial aim for political neutrality meant that they were not a direct conduit turning women to the DPP. In fact, the Taiwanese feminism of the 1970s was, by today's standards, simply another flavor of conservatism.

And finally, that while there is a lot of overlap between social conservatism and KMT support, there are also areas of divergence -- women might support the KMT or DPP for their own reasons, which may not intersect entirely with where they fall on the spectrum of social liberalism/conservatism.

Even more importantly, I'm not attempting to explain why all women who support the KMT do so. There are many reasons, motivations and interplays of personal preference and societal conditions. The best I can do is offer a few reasons from history on why women support the KMT at a slightly higher rate than men.

I am not a Taiwanese woman, however, so I can't claim to speak for them. I suppose I count as "older" now, but I'm younger than the women I'll be discussing. I've talked with a few local female friends about this, even though they aren't KMT supporters themselves and also cast a slightly broader net, which resulted mostly in articulations of the varied reasons why individual women support the KMT and further speculation that this was almost certainly driven by older women. Women I spoke to cited their mothers, grandmothers or aunts, not themselves. This is not the same as actual research, but insights from those conversations have informed my own analysis. 

This is a (somewhat) global phenomenon

The reason why (I think) older Taiwanese women are likely more conservative than younger ones, and thus possibly more likely to vote KMT, is that this is not a phenomenon unique to Taiwan. Older people, in many countries, to tend to vote for the more conservative party than younger ones. The US and UK are clear examples of this.

Research shows that political views don't tend to change as much with age as folk wisdom indicates, although if this does happen, the trend is toward conservatism. This may be the by-product of what generation one was raised in. In other words, social norms tended to be more conservative in the past than they are now, and people stick with what they know. There's no reason why this wouldn't also be true for Taiwan.

Of course, this trend doesn't necessarily hold outside the West. South Korean youth have helped propel center/liberal-leaning parties to victory, but they tend to turn away fairly quickly and young South Korean men are much less likely to support them. In Japan, the youth seem to trend conservative. However, when comparing democratic systems, it seems to me -- again, wild speculation time -- that most Taiwanese would be as or more likely to measure their country against Western democracies than neighboring ones. 

If I'm right, there is surely a discussion of white supremacism and cultural imperialism to be had here, which could be its own post. However, it's also important to point out that Taiwan also has historic reasons to look westward, as its friendliest ally has generally been the US (despite some, well, bumps), and biggest neighbor has always been openly hostile. 

You might be thinking, okay -- but what does this have to do with older women? Aren't we talking about the gender dimension?

Yes, but the same holds true. Although women identifying with the more progressive party holds true across generations in the US, younger women are far less likely to be conservative than older ones, and white women are more likely to be Republican, period.

What's more, research also shows that while women across all age groups tend to be more liberal than men, that the tendency of older voters to be more conservative still holds

Although British women were once more likely to vote conservative than British men, that's changed in the past few years, and younger British women are more likely to vote Labour. 

In other words, the notion that women will be more likely to support the "more progressive" party because that party is more likely to advocate for their interests doesn't actually hold up when you look at the details. Women are not a bloc: they're divided by race, class and age. If that's true in the US and UK, why shouldn't it be true in Taiwan, as well?

Authoritarianism is also anti-feminist

In Women's Movements in Twentieth-Century Taiwan, Doris Chang beautifully lays out the women's movements women from these cohorts would have experienced. You can read a summarized version of much of her work here, with institutional access.

Essentially, although autonomous (not government-controlled) women's associations existed in Taiwan in the Japanese era, and in China, the May Fourth Movement also held a more liberal ideology toward women's place in society, these events are now almost entirely beyond living memory. 

Japanese-era attempts at organizing women to fight for equal rights were of course washed away by the arrival of the KMT. For the May Fourth Movement, these ideals were intentionally attacked.

I'm going to quote at length here because not everybody has institutional access, and I'm going to lose my own access soon:

From 1927 on, radical women, including feminist women, were under attack not only from conservative elements in Chinese society generally but also directly from the Kuomintang....

In the 1925-1927 period....the left wing of the KMT trained women organizers, set up women's unions, provided marriage and divorce bureaus, and educated local women in the meaning of the revolution. Several hundred women were trained to work as propagandists with the army. But after Chiang's coup, these women were in direct danger. Only a handful of the top leaders were able to escape the purges that followed....

In early 1934, Chiang Kai-shek launched the New Life Movement from his Nanchang headquarters....With the endorsement of the national government, the movement spread and became a part of the official ideology....It was at this time that Chiang looked to Germany, rather than the Soviet Union, as a model....The new order of fascism, with its emphasis on military power and total control, struck a chord of response within the KMT. So too did its emphasis on the patriarchal family and male supremacy.

This destruction of the left wing of the KMT by the right had a great effect on the course of women's issues in Taiwan after the KMT's arrival.

Neo-Confucianism and the New Life movement imitated a sort of modernism and claimed to promote greater civic participation, but were fundamentally illiberal, tradition-oriented and, as some have speculated, fascist, and this greatly affected the nature of the women's associations promoted by the KMT.

These associations were spearheaded by Chiang Kai-shek's wife, Soong Mei-ling -- if not as the founder, then as chair. Her Christian views, which were not incongruous with New Life, likely also played a role. (In fact I've often wondered if that's the reason why there are so many churches on Xinsheng 新生 -- New Life -- Road.)

These included the National Women's League 婦聯會 (which I believe is the same as the China Women's Federation, but please correct me if I'm wrong) and the Women's Union, established by a KMT committee. There was also the exclusionary International Women's Club, open only to elites.

Soong Mei-ling might have chaired women's organizations but she did not fight for women's rights. (From Wikimedia)

Soong took such initiatives because allowing "civic society" to exist was considered important to prevent (more) rebellion against the authoritarian KMT, but only if the government was solidly in control of them. The idea was to promote civic participation, but in a pro-establishment way. 

Soong's women's associations were organized around supporting the nation -- the Republic of China, not Taiwan -- and the traditional duties of home and family. They promoted motherhood, domestic sanitation and "being a wife that a husband can rely on, so our soldiers can keep on fighting".

These organizations were designed to prevent women's movements from gaining a political voice, and to keep women in traditional roles, not to help them speak out and break out. Explicitly founded on the illiberal ideals of New Life, there was no chance of any sort of reform or women's equality movement arising from them.

It's no surprise that many (though not all) of the women raised in such a society would have carried the echoes of these social norms from their younger years as they grew older. Surely there were women who disagreed with the roles society had given them, however, whether they were from Taiwan or China, they would be aware that the punishment for vocally dissenting from these prescribed norms was, at best, government scrutiny and at worst a trip to the prison at Green Island.

Did this attempted social control create women who were more conservative than men? It's difficult to say. I do think, however, that it influenced a few generations of women t0 be more likely to remain loyal to the KMT.

As far as I'm aware, there was no China Men's Federation / National Men's League. Women got their own group because, despite being half the population, they were Other. Within the greater attempt to subjugate society, there was a targeted attempt to subjugate and control women.

This sounds like a fantastic way to get women to hate you, but that's probably not what happened. 

These women's associations put a friendly face on the underlying misogyny: spinning acceptance of male supremacy into seeming like a form of patriotism. Anti-communism with feminine characteristics. 

Don't be shocked that it mostly worked. In the US, Republicans do it too. Where do you think all those white women voters talking about loving "America" and "family values" came from? This can be a very successful technique to turn targeted demographics under the right conditions. There may also be cultural reasons why it worked, but I won't speculate on those and do not want to overstate the culture factor.

The opposition groups that were quietly forming, which would later coalesce into the Tangwai, appear to have been mostly male. Additionally, they did not seem particularly concerned with the status of women -- at least not yet. In Chang's words: 

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

(This is still kind of true, by the way.)

Okay, so what did the Tangwai have to offer women? Not much, at that point. Is it surprising that they didn't join en masse?

This is also why I don't think trying to tie women's political affiliations to "Taiwanese culture" is helpful: although the KMT could not exert perfect mind control, their distorting effect on Taiwan was so palpable and severe that it's very difficult to say how Taiwan would have evolved culturally without them. 

The 1970s women's movements were liberal for their age, but conservative for ours

What The Feminine Mystique -- a deeply problematic book in some ways, but the cornerstone of second-wave feminism -- did for American feminism in the early 1960s, Annette Hsiu-lien Lu's New Feminism (新女性主義) did for Taiwan a decade later. 
She was not the only feminist of this era, but was indeed one of the founders of the that era's Taiwanese feminist movement, and her beliefs and the impact they made serve as an interesting case study.

Annette Lu from Wikimedia

While it was a turning point for Taiwan, certainly not all women would have boarded the women's rights train, even as Lu sought to equate women's rights with human rights. Movements take time, and this is no exception. 

Martial Law was still very much in force, so it wasn't really any safer to start expressing feminist views than it had been for the past two decades. Lu herself was subject to surveillance, harassment and eventually arrest. After decades of being told to accept their place in a patriarchal society -- and having that order backed up with very real threats of harassment and violence -- 1970s Taiwanese feminism was never going to win the hearts and minds of all. No early movement does.

Some accuse Lu of simply appropriating Western-style feminism and importing it to Taiwan. This is not true, although her own brand of relational feminism crafted to suit Taiwanese society at the time was not without its problems. 

Again, I quote at great length to get around barriers to academic work

Although the substitution of “human rights” for “women’s rights” and contributions over entitlements might be regarded as a rhetorical strategy to make her “new feminism” compatible with the conservatism of Taiwan in the 1970s, Lü in fact had strong points of disagreement with American feminism as she had encountered it. First, Lü rejected the “sameness feminist” position that equality meant elimination of gender differences.

Supporting instead “difference feminism,” Lü argued that women should not strive to be like men, but should be “who they are.” In effect, she endorsed women's pursuit of higher education and professional careers while maintaining traditional gender roles within the family. Lü championed the image of the new woman who “holds a spatula with her left hand, and a pen with her right hand (左手拿鍋鏟,右手握筆桿)(Lü, 1977b,32;   Lee, 2014,35). She furthermore advocated that talented women should show their femininity by using dress and makeup to cultivate a “soft” and “beautiful” appearance. 

Finally, understanding that sexual liberation would be a flashpoint for resistance in Taiwan’s highly conservative society of the 1970s, Lü proclaimed that “new feminism” endorsed “love before marriage, marriage then sex” (Lü, 1977a, 152–154). Hence, Lü fought against institutional gender discrimination, while simultaneously upholding certain traditional standards of femininity, domesticity, female beauty, and chastity. Lü's relational feminism, as Chang writes,“suggested that one's individual freedom should be counterbalanced by fulfillment of specific obligations in family and in society”(Chang, 2009, 92). 

Despite Lü's concerted efforts to make feminism compatible with aspects of Confucianism [ed: I'd say Neo-Confucianism], and to avoid challenging Taiwan's capitalist socio-political order, she drew fire from conservatives, and was soon subjected to political pressure and government surveillance. The martial law regime feared any political radicalism, and treated Lü's women's movement as a potential anti-government activity. 

In other words, Lu -- who would go on to serve as Vice President under Chen Shui-bian -- was a "women can have it all" feminist. In favor of equal rights and opportunity, but still admonishing women to continue to perform traditional roles. Letting men off the hook from having to evolve their thinking, pushing a 'second shift' on women, and not holding any space for women to be "who they are", if they don't feel a traditional role fits them.

Her conservative views extend to love, marriage and sex, and generally, they don't seem to have changed very much in the intervening decades. 

You may be wondering what her current views are. In 2003 (the same year that the Ministry of Justice proposed a human rights bill that would have legalized same-sex marriage, which didn't pass), although Lu was Vice President at the time and devoted a lot of time to human rights, she remarked that AIDS was "God's wrath" for homosexuality (she insists she was misinterpreted but has never offered a coherent explanation of what she claims to have meant). 

Notably, some versions of that 2003 bill which included same-sex marriage credit Lu with the drafting. This source cites her as the convener of a related advisory group but does not mention same-sex marriage, and there's no evidence her commission was directly related to the bill. I don't know how this squares with her obviously homophobic comment in the same year, so all I can do is lay out the facts.

Now, 2003 might seem recent, but it was actually quite a long time ago in terms of the evolution of discourse and public belief around social issues. Has she evolved her thinking as well?

Not really. 

More recently, she's tried to evade the issue by saying she "supports" LGBT people but that the courts were wrong to find a ban on same-sex marriage "unconstitutional", using some rather dubious logic. She went on to say that while she has no issue with it, society isn't ready for it, and the Tsai administration should focus on that rather than legalization. That equates to keeping it illegal, but with more steps. She also helped found the Formosa Alliance, which was pro-independence but opposed to marriage equality.

That sure sounds like someone trying to have it both ways: to oppose marriage equality without openly admitting it. Like someone trying to obstruct without looking like an obstructionist, trying to politic her way out of admitting she's not really an ally.

She also appears to be opposed to modern sex education, saying it will lead to an "overflow" of sex, which should instead "have dignity" (anyone familiar with, well, sex can affirm that it is many things, but "dignified" isn't really one of them. At least if it's good sex.)

All that said, Lu was one of the few early feminists who took a political position on the green-blue divide

Inasmuch as the freedom to openly debate Taiwanese national identities was severely circumscribed under the martial-law regime of the Chinese Nationalist Party (i.e., Kuomintang or KMT), feminist activists strategically adopted a nonpartisan stance and refrained from discussion of this controversial topic (Chang, 2009: 160; Fan, 2000: 13–19, 26). Yun Fan posited that it was not until the era of democratisation in 1994 that most members of the Taipei Association for the Promotion of Women’s Rights (女權會, nüquanhui) explicitly voiced their support for Taiwan independence (Fan, 2000: 28–35). Hsiu-lien Lu (呂秀蓮, a.k.a. Annette Lu) was a notable exception to the political neutrality in Taiwan’s feminist community during the 1970s. As a citizen of Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan, she advocated that Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) should peacefully coexist as two ethnic Chinese states (H-l. Lu, 1979: 241).

What did that offer to the young women coming of age in the 1970s, and their mothers -- some of whom are still alive to vote? A choice between KMT-approved traditionalism, and a feminist ethos that, by attempting to render itself more palatable to Taiwanese society, became something that sounds more like conservatism today. 

Certainly, some women simply chose to walk away from both models. Many, however, would have chosen a perspective that fit somewhere within what public discourse was offering.

The KMT finally began listening -- somewhat -- to feminist groups after the lifting of Martial Law in the mid-1980s, and granted some of their requests (the legalization of abortion happened around this time). While Annette Lu was in prison, Lee Yuan-chen and others formed a publishing house to keep the message of Taiwanese women's movements alive. 

At the same time, while the DPP did have prominent female public figures (Chen Chu 陳菊 comes to mind), they weren't necessarily a beacon of women's equality.


Chen Chu, still in politics and one of my faves (WIkimedia)

The women's movement in general supported women voting across the political spectrum, and took pains to remain non-partisan. Of course, in that political climate, many of their adherents would have chosen the KMT. And chances are, they have simply stayed that way.

At the same time, their daughters and granddaughters have grown up decades later, after society had moved beyond Lu's "exhaust yourself trying to have it all" brand of feminism. More role models and more complex and varied discourse exists: there's simply more to choose from. It's no wonder that they don't seem anywhere near as interested in the same values.

Where does that leave us, in terms of women's support for various parties throughout Taiwanese history?

It's Wild Speculation Time

So, there are certainly women who support the KMT due to their background regardless of their views on women's rights, and the same for the DPP. Then a women's movement came along, aiming (mostly) to be non-political, which pushed the post-Martial Law KMT to be a little more amenable to women's rights, while the DPP was not necessarily a beacon of egalitarianism for women. If you put it that way, it seems clear why the women's movement didn't necessarily move the party identification needle for women.

Liberal women might therefore have voted for either party, not necessarily providing a large bump to the DPP. Some disaffected "radicals" (whose beliefs we'd see as pretty normal today) were certainly around, but not enough to make a difference.

And those "liberal women"? The 1970s-80s movements were liberal for their time, but not liberal as we'd define the word now. By today's standards, they are conservative.

And they likely hold the same views today as they did then.

Is it any surprise that Millennial women (and the Zoomers who can vote), who never experienced those decades and have known only democracy and more contemporary forms of liberalism, would almost certainly be different?

Men, of course, lived through all of this too. But men have a history of not being affected as much by women's movements. One of the principal questions women's rights activists face now is essentially 'he for she': how do you get men to change?

In other words, men chose their political parties without really having to think too much about what those parties were saying about their position in society. As the dominant group in a patriarchal culture, that place was assured by both major parties, so they could choose purely based on other ideologies they held.

Perhaps this allowed "liberalism" to take on a different meaning for men, as some came to embrace it: free to ignore the back-and-forth of the feminist cause, and free to simply 'not see' the misogyny that didn't affect them, they might come to a more DPP-friendly political sensibility through simply looking at the KMT's past and deciding to support the party that pushed for democratization, instead. 

While I do think that older women trend far more conservative than younger women, and it's demonstrably true that Taiwanese women support the KMT at higher rates than men, I'm not sure this makes a case that women, as a whole, are more conservative than men. I would love to see a breakdown of the voting pattern of older vs. younger women, compared to that of older vs. younger men.

I bet you anything that the same trends we see in other countries holds true: political ideology tends to remain static, which is why older generations tend to be 'more conservative' as society liberalizes, but at the same time younger women are moving away from older ones ideologically. This may not show up in the data, however, perhaps because older women vote at higher rates, or because younger liberal women are more likely to turn to a smaller party instead of the DPP.

The party identification disparity is almost certainly not an artifact of the way the data was analyzed. It's highly unlikely to be due to factors such as longevity (women have a longer life expectancy than men, so there ought to be more very old women than very old men). According to Frozen Garlic, older men and women vote at about the same rate, but very old men vote at a higher rate than very old women. 

I would be interested to see what happens with all of this in the next few years, as the KMT digs into the culture wars it's trying to manufacture. Will it push younger women to the DPP?

Anecdotally speaking, I do know at least one woman who hasn't tied her support of the KMT to conservative values.  A thirtysomething, she supports marriage equality, and the LGBTQIA+ community as well. She has a career and aims to excel in it. She loves her family but doesn't necessarily feel the need for a 'traditional' life. Things like living with a boyfriend are not beyond the pale. I'd consider her a liberal, but she was also a die-hard supporter of Han Kuo-yu and reviles President Tsai. 

I do not think she sees those things as remotely contradictory. She doesn't see the KMT as a socially conservative choice. Yet.

Targeted Marketing

This is my wildest speculation yet, so please don't expect academic rigor. 

Think about the older female Taiwanese conservatives you know, or have seen on news shows talking about how Ma Ying-jeou is "handsome" or Han Kuo-yu is "charismatic". 

No party in Taiwan has ever fielded a truly handsome man for president (Freddy Lim hasn't run...yet.)  However, the KMT has a habit of fielding candidates appealing to older women, and I suspect this is intentional.

Ma Ying-jeou was once described to me as "my mom's idea of what a good 'catch' for a husband should be". Apparently, he once came across as refined, educated and upstanding. I understand that he was once conventionally "attractive" but honestly, I can't get past those cold, dead eyes. 

Whereas Freddy...


There's really just no comparison, is there?

Ahem. Anyway. My friends mostly don't agree with this assessment of Ma as a 'catch'. But their mothers and aunts often do! 
Even boring Eric Chu could be seen as a suitably "good" fellow if a woman could not snag herself a Ma. I guess.

Another way of putting this: the men the KMT fields for top positions tend to remind some women of their husbands or fathers.

Suffice it to say, Chen Shui-bian, Frank Hsieh and Tsai Ing-wen had no chance of winning the "aunties think he's handsome" vote. Although Chen has a certain charisma, it doesn't come from his looks. He might remind some of their lively friend, but perhaps not their dad. 

Tsai is an older woman herself, educated and refined. You'd think she'd attract those votes. But of course not: similar magnetic poles repel. She's everything their own mothers raised them not to be: single, childfree, leaning into her education and career. A woman like Tsai takes a look at the patriarchy and doesn't even bother to give it the finger before walking away and doing what she pleases. 

Shamelessly stolen from Chris Horton on Twitter. I hope he'll forgive me. Follow Chris Horton on Twitter!

The Ma dynamic seemed to play out with Han Kuo-yu. I think Han has a creepy look to him, personally. I don't know if the gambling, womanizing, temper and drinking rumors are true (well, we do know about some of it, seeing as he killed a guy and once beat up Chen Shui-bian.) 

But, there is a certain charisma about him that I can see some women finding appealing. It's not quite toxic masculinity (just look at the shiba inu t-shirts) but it's in the same genus.

He even slightly resembles Chiang Kai-shek who, for all his faults, was not physically unattractive -- his repulsiveness was on the inside. (Click the link.)

Han looks like he's good at making friends in local businesses and down at the town rechao 熱炒 place. Like he'll buy his wife a string of high-rise luxury condos and a BMW if she doesn't ask too much about his sketchy business, or helps him run it. A real Lin Xigeng type.

A friend once described Han -- as with Ma -- as the kind of man your older relatives would advise you to marry. 

To quote that friend -- after I gave her a look of utter horror -- "they think he's good looking, can be a provider and head of the family, and good at making money. They just expect husbands to cheat and gamble so they don't think that's important."

I cannot believe that most older Taiwanese women are influenced by this strategy, but the KMT wouldn't keep doing it if it didn't have some effect. Marketing is powerful. It's not an indictment of the target market when it works. They're even trying to export it to the "youth" with Wayne Chiang, despite the objective fact that the opposition has far more fanciable men.


There is so much I haven't explored here that I'd like to. Class surely plays a role, as it does in every other democracy. Is there a class divide in the voting behavior of Taiwanese women?

I have intentionally avoided too much discussion of "culture", because I don't think it's useful here. Culture is not static, and in any case, it's quite clear that how "Taiwanese culture" treats women has been deeply influenced, not only by the Japanese era (which allowed spaces for the modernization of women's spaces in some ways, but was deeply misogynist in others) but by the superimposition of the various pro-KMT "women's associations". What directions might Taiwanese culture have taken, if these colonizing influences had never imposed themselves on the country? I have no idea.

One area of culture I'd have liked to explore more is the way that traditional gender roles in Taiwan differ from the West, most notably (to me) in terms of accounting and financial responsibility. That women were entrusted not just with family budgets but often had a hand in running family businesses might offer insight into how the go-go-go capitalism of the Asian Tiger era affected women's views. 

Women's support for smaller parties would also be an interesting area to look into. Is it the case, as in Korea, that liberal women are turning not to the DPP but to smaller parties? I'd like to know. 

There is an entire contingent of families settled outside Taiwan, with Taiwanese heritage, where the older members are strong KMT supporters whereas their children and grandchildren may not be. Many of them can and do vote in Taiwan. They wouldn't have lived through the same things, and I have intentionally not discussed this group.

I have also stayed away from the most tempting argument: that a lot of older people were educated in a time when education was twisted to serve the KMT's goals and punish those who asked questions. First, although the Taiwanese education system has undergone reforms, I'm not sure it has changed enough. They're not making kids write about The Three Principles anymore, but neither are they really teaching critical thinking skills (which is not to say people don't develop them, just that they're not taught that in school). Second, because it would have affected women as well as men. 

All I can say is this: women are not a monolith. Even in Taiwan, they are not a singular voting bloc.

However, the trends we see are indeed real. It's easy to ascribe them to "culture", or worse, "Confucianism", and offer a few generalities about gender norms in East Asian societies. 

I think it's a lot more complicated than that, however, and has just as much to do with the history women of different generations lived through, and how they related to it. 

I've talked mostly about older women here, and almost completely ignored Millennials and the Zoomers who can vote. This is because I don't think the same trends will hold for them, and the reasons why should be fairly obvious: pan-green politics in Taiwan is a lot more woman-friendly than it used to be (though there's still some way to go), the old KMT attempts at subjugating women have ended, and there's an overall turn away from the KMT by the youth. 

It's impossible to wholly answer this question without doing dedicated research, which is not at all in my field. I hope, however, that this has provided a little historical insight into why women in general support the KMT at higher rates than men: that it's very likely a trend driven by older women rather than younger ones, and that there are likely large areas of overlap with social conservatism, but they're not exactly the same thing. That is, older women likely have their own reasons for supporting the DPP or KMT which may or may not align with their social views.

By the way, I've downloaded all the PDFs of the articles I've quoted here, so I'll be able to refer back to them when I lose institutional access. I am also fairly easy to find online. Email exists. Just saying.