Showing posts with label activism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label activism. Show all posts

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. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

It's like air: Tiananmen in Taipei, 2018

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Honestly, I feel the need to write about the Tiananmen Square memorial event held yesterday, June 4th not because I think I have anything unique to say about it that others couldn't, but because this year it felt so lightweight that if we don't note it down for the collective Internet memory, the event as a whole will just float away, as though it never happened. Which is, of course, exactly what the Communist Part of China wants. Nobody likes the world remembering massacres they perpetrated.

The event was mostly in Chinese, with a few speakers addressing the crowd in English. I would like to suggest here that the entire event should be bilingual, and next year's 30th anniversary event might actually make the news, so it would be smart to have translators ensuring all talks are available in English and Chinese. I can follow the Chinese, but I can imagine many foreigners in Taipei who'd be otherwise interested in attending might not, because it's not very exciting to hear speeches in a language you don't understand.

As usual, the event featured a number of speakers from a variety of activist groups across Asia, including recorded talks from Uighur activists, two speakers from Reporters Without Borders (based in Taipei) and a particularly electrifying speech by Vietnamese activist and Taipei resident Trinh Huu Long. Yu Mei-nu, Yibee Huang and Zheng Xiu-juan (Lee Ming-che's boss, although that sounds odd to say in English) were some of the Taiwanese speakers.

Zheng likened China's human rights abuses to its intractable pollution problem, saying that "human rights are like air" - when you're breathing comfortably you don't notice them, but when the pollution ratchets up to PM 2.5, you realize how vital clean air to breathe is, and suddenly you're suffocating. (I'm translating roughly from memory here).


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Zheng Xiu-juan (鄭秀娟) and Yibee Huang (黃怡碧)


There were also performances, including a memorable entrance by Taiwanese rapper Chang Jui-chuan (張睿銓), who sang one of his newer songs, Gin-a. The lyrics (in Taiwanese) discuss Taiwanese democracy movements and freedom fighters post-1949:

Killing after killing, jail after jail...
Hey kid, you must remember

Their blood and sweat, torment and sacrifice
Gave you the air you're breathing



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Empty chairs at empty tables



And that's just it - the 6/4 event, held every year, feels like a part of the air here in Taiwan. It just happens, everyone knows it happens, and they assume others will attend so they take it for granted. It's there, it's always there, maybe next year, someone will show up. I don't need to worry about it. Ugh, Monday night.

What you get, then, is an attendance rate that looks like it might have been less than 100 (but damn it, Ketagalan Media made the effort. We showed up.) Which, again, is exactly what the CCP wants - for us to forget.

In 2014 this event was huge, with camera lights stretching back into the distance and prominent Taiwanese activists showed up - including Sunflowers fresh off the high of electrifying society and about to watch the tsunami they started wash across the 2014 elections. We thought we could change Asia. We thought it was within our grasp...and now there are empty chairs stretching back, and nobody seems to notice the air they're breathing.

Some say it doesn't matter, or is odd to hold in Taiwan, as China is a different country. It's true that China and Taiwan are two different nations. What happens in China affects Taiwan, though, and hosting memorial events so close to China and in venues where a number of Chinese are likely to walk by does make a difference, if a small one. We're on the front lines in the fight against China's encroaching territorial and authoritarian expansionism, so it means something to take a stand - even a small one - here.

In 2016 an entire group of Chinese tourists walked right past the event - this year, someone seems to have ensured that wouldn't happen again. For once, Dead Dictator Memorial Hall was completely devoid of Chinese tour groups and I doubt that was a coincidence. What I'm saying is, somebody noticed.

It also serves as a reminder that Taiwan is not China - we can and do hold these events here, and we do so freely and without fear. We talk about our history, as Chang does in Gin-A. We discuss our common cause, as democracy activists from across Asia did last night. What we do - let's not forget human rights abuses that happen in Taiwan - may not perfectly align with what we stand for, but we talk about it, and we have the space and air we need to work toward something better. In China you can't breathe at all.

But the people who died at Tiananmen 29 years ago are among those whose sacrifice may eventually give China the air it needs to breathe - though I grow less sure that it might happen in my lifetime. Fighters like Lee Ming-che, thrust into the national spotlight and just as quickly forgotten even in Taiwan, give Taiwan the air it needs to breathe. We give ourselves air and beat back the oppressive particulates trying to suffocate us, by standing up for what's right and refusing to forget the massacres of the past.

We must remember. We can't let this event float away on the air, as though it doesn't matter, or it doesn't matter for Taiwan. It absolutely does.

I mean, I get it - I'd like to feel totally safe knowing my freedom and guaranteed access to human rights was not in question. I'd like to sit on the couch and eat Doritos and not even worry about it, because I don't have to. It's tiring to keep showing up. Unfortunately, Taiwan really is on the front line, and we can't do that - we can't pretend it doesn't (or shouldn't) matter.

Next year is the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Mark your calendar now, make sure you're free, and show up.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Time to ride that dragon (and Ker Chien-ming is a coward)

Please enjoy this photo of cowardly garbage person 柯建銘 sneaking out a side door of the Legislative Yuan after the stankerific amendments to the Labor Standards Act passed, like the loser and all-around character-lacking person he is. Taken by a good friend.

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He's the one with the bald head.

Oh yeah, protests broke out today, for good reason.

There's a big protest on Sunday 12/10 in Kaohsiung and on 12/23 in Taipei - I advise you to be there. I am supposed to make 5 curries, and I will, but I also need to be there. I'll make it work.

Let's ride this dragon. 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

民進黨不行,國民黨再贏: on dragons and not riding them

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Look, I know I said I was going to take a break, but I'm taking a break from taking a break so here you go.

Still working on my personal junk, you'll hear about it when I'm ready to talk about it. Still working on grad school, just needed a break from that. Don't worry, I'm plugging right along.

Anyway.

I'm not particularly surprised that the DPP has turned around and betrayed Taiwanese labor with their new bullshit changes to labor regulations. (Quick note: the seven public holidays mentioned in this article only snapped back into existence for a year - otherwise, we haven't had them for the entirety of the decade I've lived in Taiwan. They're also not great holidays, to be honest. It's not as though we lost something we'd grown used to over many years.)

They might have a better origin story - I mean, they didn't commit mass murder and pillage and steal from Taiwan for decades after flying and sailing over from another country and settling in like they owned the place - but their ascendancy to the main opposition party of the (even worse) KMT hasn't left them as pure of heart as they might have started out. Sure, they began more idealistically but I don't think anyone can realistically say that they've maintained their dangwai-era vision. They'll line their own pockets, set up their own patronage networks and kowtow to special interests just as much as the KMT will. We've known that for awhile.

I think we've all known for awhile that the DPP is a corruption-filled pustule - perhaps we just told ourselves until recently that all the pus was because they were fighting the KMT infection. But come on, we knew.

Oh but they're not willing to sell us out to China, and they didn't perpetrate a murderous half-century or so of political and social oppression, so they only really look better by comparison. They were always going to bend over and take it from big business. The major difference is that they're pro-independence buttmonkeys who didn't kill people.

Likewise, I'm not even really shocked that they've gone so limp on marriage equality. I'm angry, but I think deep down I always knew that this was in their nature. They were always going to bend over and take it from conservative and Christian groups. Again, the only real difference is that they're pro-independence buttmonkeys who didn't kill people.

They have a better origin story, that's really all at this point. At one point they surely meant what they said with all of that idealism about a better Taiwan. I don't know when things changed, but the spirit of the dangwai who fought for a better Taiwan seems to be dead. Now, they're in it for the power just like the KMT it seems.

I guess deep down, as I can't be surprised, I'm mostly just sad.

Perhaps we always knew that neither of Taiwan's two major parties ever really had the people's backs, but until recently at least we could pretend. We could tell ourselves that if we could just hand the DPP a presidency along with a legislative majority, we could actually get something done. We could transform the country, or at least start down that path.

Now we know that's not true. Now we know there's no major party that really will do the right thing, that will govern as representatives of the people, that will really have our backs rather than letting those with more power than Taiwanese labor (or marriage equality activists and the LGBT community) get up on their backs.

Now we know - there's no one to vote for. Not among the major parties.

I mean, if anything, activism is in the same old rut it always was. We all though things would get better when Tsai's inaugural parade featured that huge sunflower-bedecked float touting the strides Taiwan has made in social movements. And yet we still have a few hundred people turning out for protests until something huge blows up, we still have the same old muddy turmoil, the same old pro-China zealots beating people up and the same old police not responding. The same old turned back from the government. Did the DPP really think that activists would back off because the less-bad party won? That fighting back was something we only did to the KMT because they sucked so hard? That sucking only slightly less hard would be good enough?

So what now? Punishing the DPP - which they roundly deserve - will only hand the KMT a victory. The KMT deserves to be punished more harshly than anyone and it seems they never quite get what's coming to them. We criticize the DPP, calling Lai Ching-te "God Lai" and making fun of him, but the KMT is full of princelings who fancy themselves as gods come across the water from China. This is not a solution.

A buildup of smaller parties? Great. I would love to see the Third Force come together, I'd love to see the two big parties fracture and split and a true multiparty democracy flower. But let's be honest, that's probably not going to happen. I'd love to see the NPP gain support and really challenge the DPP without splitting the liberal vote and handing victories to the KMT - but I'm not sure about either.

At the local and legislative level we can vote for these Third Force parties, but who do we vote for at the presidential level when the DPP has gone down the tubes, and the KMT is already in the gutter?

What I fear is going to happen is this. Tsai will win a second term because presidents here generally do. Ma wasn't punished for being a terrible president. Tsai won't be punished for being a weak one who seems to have betrayed the people she campaigned to win. She'll muddle along just like she is doing in this term, things won't get better, the DPP will continue to suck, and the KMT will start seeming "not that bad" in comparison.

Of course, they are so much worse. But that's not how I think the electorate, sick of 8 years of DPP bullshit, will see it. They'll see it as a "change", and will be willing to give the Chinese princelings another go-'round.

This doesn't mean that Taiwan will suddenly swing pro-China. I don't see that happening again. The conditions for Taiwanese identity to remain strong and even grow are still there. I just see a lot of light blue and green people who aren't as politically attached to "Taiwanese identity" decide that they can preserve their support for it while still voting blue. You know, just like they did when they voted for Ma. You know, deciding that their love for Taiwan can exist under a KMT leader, or that civil society will keep that leader in check. They may forget what happened the last time they thought that.

And in 2024, blammo. We'll be back to the same old bullshit from the KMT.

We thought it couldn't happen in the US, that the Republicans were dead, and yet look what happened. It can happen here too, even if the KMT's core ideology is dead (one major difference: the Republicans' core ideology only seemed dead).

Yay.

The DPP can do better and needs to do better, but I think it's clear that they won't. What's worse, for now they're impossible to punish. Nobody has our backs, and there's no way right now to force them to. This is what happens in two-party systems: no matter their origins, both sides slowly morph into a giant douche fighting a turd sandwich for your votes. 

The NPP also needs to do better - this could be their moment, and they have captured it to some extent - Hsu Yong-ming is my new hero - but they need to really grab this dragon and ride it. Get those labor votes and get them now. Do it while the KMT is still in shambles. Don't let those apolitical votes turn light blue again. They need to hold it together and get those votes right now so that some of their younger leaders can gain experience to assume the mantle before the party's momentum withers and their base goes with it.

But - Hsu's filibustering aside - if that were happening we'd see bigger turnouts for these protests, and we're not. We're not seeing enough public calls to action from the NPP - we're seeing Freddy Lim talking about how "useless" the old Tibetan and Mongolian Affairs Committee was (which may be true, but I don't know that he's asked Tibetan refugees, perhaps, what they think of it?). We've got Huang Kuo-chang worried that he's going to be unseated in a few days. We've got former Sunflowers trying to encourage people to turn out, but no big names in youth activism really leading the charge (to be fair, some can't right now). We've got the DPP shouting "your Sunflower movement has collapsed!" and the Third Force not responding in a way that's proving them wrong.

Hsu Yong-ming can't do it alone, but I just don't see the sort of rallying that we need. We need another 400,000 people to go downtown, sit their asses down at Jingfu Gate and tell the DPP what's fucking what, and it's not happening.

Seriously, it feels like 2013 up in here.

I know these things need to evolve naturally, and maybe it'll be a slow burn until the big blowout, but hey, I'm waiting. In any case, what's waiting for us at the other end of that blowout? In 2014 there was a clear path forward: kick out the KMT. Hell, we chanted it in the streets: 國民黨不倒,台灣不會好. What now? 民進黨不行,國民黨再贏?

The dragon seems to be passing the NPP and Third Force right by.

Come on, guys.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Some thoughts on the "Sing China Music Festival" protests and violence

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Photo from student activist public posts on Facebook 

Earlier today, a music festival meant to "showcase the talents" of Chinese and Taiwanese musicians and bring them together so they could "learn from each other" (this was the official talking point, anyway) was stopped early as pro-Taiwan protests broke out. At one point, at least one pro-China unificationist, an older man, confronted the protesting students, beating at least one with a stick to the point that he was bleeding profusely and had to be taken to a hospital for treatment.

Update: Taipei Times has by far the best story. This gives a full accounting of what happened before the pro-China people got involved. And here's an article from New Bloom which has some great legwork on the history of Sing China and how its rebranding could well be a part of attempts at cultural unification, as well as background on the backlash against Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je. 

Focus Taiwan ran a "story" in English, with Apple Daily publishing something in Chinese and Freddy Lim commenting on Facebook (also in Chinese). There is also a bilingual report from a Facebook poster here, and a video - do watch the video - here.

Here's another video (which will link to more) showing more of what happened.  It looks pretty clear that the students are not the ones who started the altercation.






The initial protests seemed to have two purposes: on one hand, they were clearly pro-Taiwan protests who did not want this Chinese music festival to take place. You can see that by the flags they are carrying, which are either the Taiwan flag that pro-independence activists use (a green Taiwan on a white field with green sides, looking similar to but not the same as the flag of the Democratic Progressive Party) or the sea green "I support Taiwan independence" banners with Taiwan inside of a stylized whale.

On the other, stated complaints where that the festival monopolized (and damaged) facilities on the NTU campus, including an athletic field that had been off-limits to students for some time to prepare for the festival.

There is also a discussion on constitutional reform (discussed today by Tsai Ying-wen at the DPP Party Congress) and 'students' rights' surrounding this that I'm still trying to unpack, which I'm going to go ahead and admit rather than pretend I understand every aspect of this incident.

Some reports say the protesters originally held tickets to the event, but were blocked from entering. Eventually, the festival was halted well before the scheduled 10pm ending time. Protesters later stormed the stage bearing pro-Taiwan signs. 

Then, near the venue, at least one unificationist counter-protester from the Concentric Patriotism Association (愛國同心會), the same people responsible for violence outside Taipei 101 and for confrontational tactics even when protesting legally, approached, yelled at, threatened and beat one of the pro-Taiwan protesters. (Yes, I am sure it's them as behind him you can see one of their vans covered in Chinese flags in the video).


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Photo from student activist public posts on Facebook

According to the Facebook post, the police were called but took over 50 minutes to respond. This is clearly a problem, as it happened in a central location. The time it takes for the police to get a call and send someone does not account for that.

There's a lot to unpack here, so let's take a look.

First, why protest a music festival? Protesting that an unwanted festival is taking facilities away from students is one thing, but why the obvious pro-independence bent?

The most obvious issue, as Taipei Times pointed out, is that despite taking over student facilities including a track and athletic field at NTU, and despite this being billed as a cooperative "sister city" event between Taipei and Shanghai, in fact, the event organizers called National Taiwan University "Taipei City Taiwan University". Some protested that they were not "China Taiwan University", as well. The students - quite rightly in my view - were offended by the event stripping NTU of its real name and status, in the same way that Taiwan is stripped of its real name and dignity and is forced to compete in international sporting events as "Chinese Taipei".

It's also noteworthy that, although similar events have taken place before, in the past they were approved under a KMT-led city government. Now that the KMT is out of power in both Taipei and the national government, people expect better, not more humiliating name changes. Hence the anger at Mayor Ko, who was once seen as a pro-Taiwan politician but whose record on pro-Taiwan issues has since been marred. 

From the Focus Taiwan article, you might be led to believe that this was just an innocuous cultural activity that was halted by thuggish immature students. You would probably be wrong. Although the festival was, according to Focus Taiwan, "legally permitted", it is widely believed to be connected to China's United Front work (the United Front being the amalgamation of Chinese organizations that work together to promote a pro-China and anti-Taiwan worldview - among other things - on a global scale. They do this through a number of means which you can read about here and here). New Bloom (linked above) lays out what this might look like in practice well:

Sing! China, the rebranding of the earlier The Voice of China singing competition, is a well-known Chinese reality television show. What is notable about Sing! China and its predecessor The Voice of China, however, is that the show goes out of its way to feature contestants drawn from “greater China,” including Taiwan and Hong Kong. This is also true of the television show’s judging panel, in which two of the six judges, Jay Chou and Harlem Yu, are Taiwanese. Judge Eason Chan, likewise, hails from Hong Kong, meaning that three out of the show’s six judges are not actually from the China mainland. The notion of “greater China” emphasized in the show goes to great odds to show that its contestants are drawn from all across “greater China”, with contestants oftentimes stating which province they are at the beginning of their self-introduction, and with their home province listed in their profile. Obviously, “Taiwan” is always a “province” of China on Sing! China.



Everyone I've talked to about this believes the festival to be connected to the United Front. Freddy Lim's post also alludes to this. He doesn't use the exact words "United Front" (統派) but he does say "這雖然是學生權益事件,大家也想知道,台大校方與台北市政府,怎麼能夠容許這樣帶有統戰意味、會稱來自「中國台北」的活動,進入校園、進入台北市" - "Although this is a student rights issue, everyone wants to know, how could NTU and the Taipei City government allow such a united front, coming from "Chinese Taipei" activities into the campus and into Taipei?" (Emphasis mine).
I don't think it's an accident that Freddy used words that literally mean "united front" without actually referring to the United Front by name. What I'm saying is, these students, it seems to me, did not just protest a music festival because it happened to be related to China. They protested it because they knew it was just one of the United Front's many tactics in their war of attrition and propaganda against Taiwan. Their mission - disruption of campus facilities or Taiwan independence? - was not confused. In this light, it makes perfect sense. Next, let's look at the Focus Taiwan article, which I am trying very hard to refrain from calling all manner of names. Did one of the oldsters from the Concentric Patriotism Association get a job at CNA or Focus Taiwan? The article paints the festival as innocently as possible - perhaps fair as there is no proof it was anything other than that, but any even halfway intelligent person should be able to deduce that there's more than meets the eye here. But not Focus Taiwan. They say:  


The MAC noted that Sing China Music Festival was a legally permitted activity that was meant to showcase Taiwan's music talent and give young musicians in Taiwan and China a chance to learn from each other.


This is perhaps forgivable, as the bare facts are that it was a permitted festival that, by being allowed by Taipei City and NTU, was obviously "supported" by Taipei in some way.

However, you won't see any mention of the protesters pro-Taiwan stance or the "Taipei City Taiwan University" issue in the article, either. It's purposeful omission is telling.

But if you read the article in its entirety, you'll note that while there is mention of "injuring a student", the writers make it sound as though the injuries were the result of a fight that was instigated by both sides being
confrontational. In fact, every other picture from the pro-Taiwan protest shows a peaceful, albeit disruptive, demonstration. This was not "commotion" caused by "both sides". 


Protesters splashed banners, chanted slogans and stormed onto the stage while supporters of the festival shouted back, creating tension as both sides confronted each other.

Four people were injured during ensuing scuffle, and police arrested a man surnamed Hu on charges of injuring an NTU student. Hu was taken to Da'an Police Station for investigation.


This was pro-China unificationist protesters doing what we already know they do: roughing up anyone who disagrees with them. Note, as well, the implication that the protesters "chanting slogans" and "storming onto the stage" were the instigators, with the unificationists seeming to merely react. Absolutely biased, in the most insidious way. 


If you watch the video, however, while it starts after the beating begins, you'll note that the pro-Taiwan person "confronting" him was saying "What do you want?" (你要什麼?) and "What are you doing?" (你幹嘛) - not something you say if you were a part of the fight starting.

It is also much more serious than simply "injuring" a student. "Injuries" happen when there's a little pushing or shoving. This was a full-on beat-down with a stick that resulting in the student going to the hospital. Nothing that student could have done would have merited being beaten like that. Focus Taiwan makes it sound like maybe they were pushing each other and the student fell. Although the video doesn't go back that far, this seems unlikely.

At the end, you'll also note this little gem:

Li Wenhui (李文輝), Shanghai City's Taiwan affairs chief who was present at the time of protest, kept a low profile and declined to make any comment on the untoward commotion. 


(Rest assured that if they change this wording, I have a screenshot).

Isn't this meant to be a straight news article? I get to editorialize - this is my blog. CNA reporters whose work is appearing in Focus Taiwan don't, or shouldn't. The fact that they ran the "untoward commotion" comment at the end tells you all you need to know about how trustworthy they are as a news source. What right do they have to decide what "commotion" is untoward and what isn't?

I know Focus Taiwan can be somewhat conservative, and CNA even moreso (and also very politically biased), but here's the problem: at the time I wrote this post, other than Yiting Wang's post, this was the only English-language source on what happened available. There weren't multiple sources coming together so that people could consider the event from more than one angle and reach conclusions. Reading this, those who cannot read Chinese might get a very skewed idea of what exactly happened.

This is a problem. If we want more people in the international community to be cognizant of, and care about, Taiwanese affairs, we have to make sure they are aware of these incidents in a fully-informed way. The Focus Taiwan article, if anything, contradicts that goal rather than supporting it.

Finally, a thought.

For all of those people who take a pro-China viewpoint, or tend to clutch their pearls at pro-Taiwan demonstrations and protests, for those who think that the best or more realistic goal is eventual unification, who might even think annexation is acceptable, who think that the Concentric Patriotism Association is just as legitimate as the students who protested today, consider this.

You are on the same side as an old man who beat a student with a stick so badly that he was bleeding from the head and went to the hospital - someone who claims the freedom to protest, but uses it to attempt to aggressively and violently stop others from exercising those same rights. You are on the side that is against freedom, or rather, allowing only one viewpoint to express itself without fear.

If this is what you support, this is the Taiwan you will have should China win. This is just a taste of what authoritarian rule looks like: one side is free to say what it likes and enforce its views, whereas the other is beaten, or in China, kidnapped, tortured, disappeared, or killed.

Is this the Taiwan you want? Where one side is derided and even beaten for protesting whereas the other is free to do the beating, with the police not intervening for nearly an hour? (The police always come quickly, mind you, when the protesters are students or pro-Taiwan. It's, shall we say, odd that they seem to take so long when the call is about the Concentric Patriotism Association).

This is not free speech. This is not freedom of assembly. This is not civil disobedience, and it is certainly not non-violent resistance. It is very violent, and very anti-freedom. If you see a Chinese future for Taiwan, this is what you support.

The Concentric Patriotism Association has the right to protest and demonstrate peacefully. When they have proven again and again that they cannot and will not be peaceful, I think it's time we discussed what measures must be taken to ensure the safety of pro-Taiwan activists. 


Monday, September 18, 2017

On China's event horizon and screaming into the void

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Yesterday was my birthday. I turned...well, ancient. That's fine. As a friend pointed out, life keeps getting better, so there's no reason to complain about not being that young anymore. I did all the things that I love to do: seeing friends, organizing things (I completely cleaned and organized my spice shelf, labeling all of the weirder flavorings I've bought in packets and put in jars - sumac, dried lavender, juniper berries, gentian root, black salt, kalonji...), eating Indian food (we went to mik'sutras, the newest offering from the fantastic Mayur Indian Kitchen - review coming soon) and, of course, attending protests.

So, before dinner, we participated in China! Free Li!, dutifully donning red shirts (mine was emblazoned with University of Exeter, because that's the only red t-shirt I have) and going to the Central Culture Park (中央藝文公園) near Shandao Temple to help spell out the words "China! Free Li!" on the grass.

I don't think I need to pretend I'm a real journalist and cover the particulars of the protest: you can read about that here, here and here. I'm even quoted in Storm Media about it (link in Chinese).

What I want to say is this:

I'm perfectly aware that this protest will amount to exactly nothing. Lee Ming-che's "trial" is a joke, the verdict pre-determined. China has set up a toy train with tracks that only run in one direction, and there is little we can do if we're not in the government to derail it. China is not going to free Lee just because we spelled out letters asking it to, nor is the Taiwanese government going to alter its (probably correct) strategy of working to bring him home in a behind-the-scenes way.

Literally not one thing will change as a result of my or any of us attending yesterday. Lee's case and human rights generally in China are a void into which we scream. We are not heard, and there can be no reply because a reply would require some sort of human or collective conscience or system of ethics, and the Chinese government has proven that it possesses neither. By attending, we primarily make ourselves feel better.

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We can "make statements", "send a message", "call on" China, "rally" in support, and all of it is about as useful as writing our statements "calling on China" on construction paper and mailing them in envelopes addressed to "Santa at the North Pole" and waiting for a response.

That's not to say that protests are never useful. Around the world, they have been instrumental in effecting change, although they are rarely the primary force behind that change. The civil rights movement in the United States did not succeed in changing laws and minds primarily because they marched. They succeeded because underneath that a long, hard, quiet campaign of registering black voters, lobbying, petitioning and other forms of less-visible activism created the undercurrent necessary to bring about that change.

What protests do is put all of the activism that actually accomplishes something into the public eye, perhaps providing a catalyst moment, perhaps not, but at least creating some visibility.

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The question is, visibility to whom?

The People's Republic of China is a vacuum - a black hole devoid of any sort of moral or ethical rightness - that is trying to suck up everything on its periphery. Black holes don't listen. They can't listen. They lack the humanity to do so. The government of China, while comprised of human beings, is not humane. There can be no visibility in a system where all light is sucked into blackness, where no light escapes.

I don't even think I'm being melodramatic. It is really that bad. The situation is truly that dire. They aim to not only eradicate the concept of human rights in China, but the world. They aim to force the CCP's amoral, ethics-free, humanity-free way of looking at the world onto the rest of us - and we aren't paying attention - we don't see it coming because they're not using guns to do it.

Taiwan is close to China's event horizon, and yet, outside of Taiwan's activist circles few seem to think this is an immediate threat. We aren't going to be sucked in tomorrow, or this year, or even next year, but black holes know nothing but sucking, and they are going to keep sucking until we - and everything we stand for - no longer exists.

Those are the people I want to see this - that is the visibility I desire. They're the ones I want to hear about this case and the more general threat from China. They are the ones who, as they go about their lives - although I thrive on worry and agitation, I wouldn't want to take from anyone the ability to have worry-free days where they are not terrified for the fate of their country at every moment - should keep in mind that this is a more general threat, and to vote and be prepared to fight accordingly.

I want them to know what it would mean to be on China's event horizon - it means a fate similar to that of Hong Kong. Does Taiwan want a shell democracy in which China decides who stands for election, disbarring and even imprisoning anyone whose beliefs don't fit their narrative? Do they want a shell press where journalists and writers theoretically have freedom, but in actuality are kidnapped, tortured and killed by faceless thugs?

 The Chinese government will hear nothing because voids do not hear, they only exist as a place where sound dies. But the people of Taiwan and much of the rest of the world still possess their right minds and senses. They can see and hear. They are the ones I want to reach, the ones I want to start thinking and act accordingly.

I want them to know that these issues exist, and people care about them. I don't want them to think that Lee, or China generally, are not a threat because people are apathetic. I want them and the world to know we are paying attention and perhaps get some of them to pay attention, too.

It is doubtful that the rest of the world will notice this small protest. I wouldn't even expect them to. But if Taiwan notices, and the rest of the world notices that Taiwan's vision of the future is fundamentally incompatible with China's, that will be one positive long-term outcome.

So I didn't attend China Free Li because I thought it would actually help free Lee Ming-che, or because I thought it would send a strong message to China. Fuck China.

I did it to send a strong message to Taiwan. 

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So after Miao Poya speaks and while everyone's clapping, I shouted "we love you, Miao Poya!"
I'm not sure if I hope she heard me. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

On Hong Kong, Asia and Western Hypocrisy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

The hypocrisy won't even register.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Fuck. You. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Come out for equality tomorrow (because this is what we're up against)

I haven't talked much about marriage equality since the Legislative Yuan went into recess - we ended 2016 with something of a sorta-kinda victory, with the bill to amend the civil code to allow same-sex unions the same protection as opposite-sex ones passing committee - and perhaps it felt like time to take a break.

However, while marriage equality advocates (myself included) have been fairly quiet in the past few months, anti-equality factions have been ramping up the hate, and it's time to call them out.

Why now? Well, tomorrow there will be oral arguments regarding the marriage equality bill (here - be there at 9am - I will be). There are several events planned and several groups trying to get people out. I once again encourage and ask anyone reading this to attend, as well. We must continue to keep beating them by numbers. We can't get lazy and we can't get soft.

Again, this shouldn't matter, but it does. There is social consensus in favor of equality, the legislature has the votes, Tsai has said she supports it, and the DPP has typically been friendlier to it than the KMT. This should be passing with ease, but we are up against an organized force - mostly, Christian churches despite the fact that only about 5% of the Taiwanese population is Christian - that have far more political power than they ought to given the percentage of the population they represent. They have their tentacles (yes, I'm using biased language - eat me) in both the DPP and the KMT, with only the New Power Party and their 5 seats being consistently in favor of justice (yes - justice. When it is a matter of equal rights that affect a group of people directly, especially if there is social consensus, this truly is a matter of justice).

So, please, come out again tomorrow. I know it's yet another rally, and yet another hurdle of bureaucracy, but we truly cannot let up. They are organized and consistent - we must be too.

Remember, this is what we're up against. This flier was found in Xizhi (by a friend of an acquaintance) and shows, simply by the rhetoric it uses, how much Western-style bigotry is driving the anti-equality side in Taiwan. It sounds very much like something I might have seen in the USA in the months leading up to marriage equality and might still see now, in slightly updated form.


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A back-of-the-hand translation - it talks about how marriage equality has "caused distress" in countries where it has been legalized, and gives three (ridiculous) examples:

In France it has apparently caused a 17-year old Vietnamese 'orphan' (adoptee?) to give a talk opposing marriage equality, because it has meant that same-sex couples can adopt children (it is simply assumed to be bad that this might be allowed, which is not the consensus of the scientific community). It hardly matters - in any free society somebody is going to oppose something, just because one kid gave a talk doesn't mean there are deep grievances in society.

In Canada people have "complained online and on the street" since marriage equality was introduced some years ago (again, this is meaningless: there is all sorts of crap online, much of it trolling and much more not worth one's time or not reflecting a general social opinion, and on the street...well, there are always going to be dicks spewing their nonsense.) It goes on to say that Canadian parents are distressed that they cannot prevent their children from learning about same-sex unions and homosexuality in school. There is no evidence that this is a major social issue, however. Again, there will always be people who feel this way. It doesn't mean that society is deeply aggrieved.

In the US it talks about how marriage equality has paved the way for transgender bathroom use (with no evidence provided that this is actually a bad thing, or a problem in any way), and has "led to the election of anti-marriage-equality Donald Trump" (I highly doubt that was the issue that led straight to Trump's election - even if it were, it does not mean marriage equality is a problem).

This science-and-fact-free piece of garbage is not significant on its own. Ignorance is spewed in many forms - it means little in the face of social consensus and there is no evidence that these shallow and illogical arguments are doing anything to sway Taiwanese society, which is more progressive than one might imagine on this issue.

What matters is that an organized group took the time to write, print and distribute it. They are still around, causing disturbances in fast food restaurants, preaching to their congregations, networking to bring crowds that do not represent Taiwanese society...and passing out this garbage by the fistful.

They are still around, and still spreading hate. Their arguments are facile and not only are not based in research, but actively go against it. Their ideas are outdated. They want to keep approximately 10% of the Taiwanese population from gaining access to rights that directly affect their lives, simply so they, the anti-equality protesters, can feel morally superior (and for no other benefit). They are simply wrong.

But they're organized, and they're still at it, while we've been resting.

It's time to stop resting. We can't let up.

I hope to see you tomorrow.

Friday, March 10, 2017

It's time to stop those pro-China protesters

Yeah, China!

Awhile back, I ran into those odious but seemingly-legal pro-unification protesters that sometimes pop up at major Taipei landmarks. Imade the case that, as strongly as I disagreed with their views and goals, that as Taiwanese citizens they had the right to protest. I find it ironic that they have been protesting in support of Taiwan being unified against its will with a country that would immediately take away their right to protest, but they still had, I argued, the right to protest. Their ironic goals make them stupid, but don't negate their rights. 

I want to take that back. I no longer feel they should be allowed to demonstrate.


This is not because I vehemently disagree with their views (though I do). I disagree with lots of people, but it doesn't mean they don't have the same rights I enjoy. It is not even because what they essentially advocate is the termination of the existence of the nation they live in: if Taiwan were to democratically decide to unify with China, I wouldn't like it one bit (I'd probably sob for days), but there wouldn't be much I could say about it if the vote was fair and not done under threat. A nation can, in theory, vote to terminate its own existence. I don't even feel this way because their views are so out of line with the vast majority of Taiwanese - they would still have the right to voice them through legal protest.

No - they should not be allowed to demonstrate for a few key reasons, none of which go against the basic rights of freedom of speech and expression that I believe in.

The first is that they are one of the few protest groups whose violence is internal. 

Violence sometimes erupts even at peaceful protests - which the vast majority of protests are in both intention and execution - for what I have observed are three reasons (says this person who is not an expert in social movements or protest). The first is because law enforcement or some other force is pushing back on them in a way that begets violence. Even if your intentions are peaceful, if the police (or some other group) are coming at you with clubs, mace, smoke bombs and water cannons, or trying to keep you from exercising your right to protest through aggressively breaking up groups or fencing them in, it's easy for what is intended to be a peaceful demonstration to get out of control. The second is when an outside group or force - perhaps loosely in agreement with the protesting group, perhaps in opposition to it - intentionally steps in to sow a bit of chaos. This is what often happens in Taiwan and Hong Kong when gangsters, in the employ of other forces, try to incite violence by aggressively bullying peaceful demonstrators. The third is when the injustice set upon an aggrieved community is so great that people just snap. 

None of the reasons above is cause to dismiss the idea of peaceful demonstration.

However, there are also groups who use aggression and violence as a tactic - as above, their violence is internal. Perhaps they do it to create fear among another group (anti-abortion protesters do this, to the point that some women feel unsafe going to a women's health clinic - and that's the point). Perhaps they are in the employ of someone who wants to discredit the idea of protesting at all. Or, perhaps it is simply to anger others into striking back, or simply to get media attention.

The pro-China protests in Taiwan cannot be classified as one where violence is brought in by outside forces. They are one of the ones for whom it is a tactic - most likely for media attention. They need it - there are only, what, five of them? They have been aggressive and will continue to be aggressive because it is intrinsic to their goals to do so, not because law enforcement, gangsters with dubious motives or the righteous anger of deep injustice. They were given several chances to stop the violence and protest peacefully, yet they persisted.

Update: apparently the most recent video of protest violence is not of this group but of another gangster-led pro-unification group. Still, my point stands - they're not going to demonstrate peacefully because nobody will pay attention to them if they do, so it's time to stop them for good. Freedom of speech does not mean the freedom to be violent. They had their chance, and now they need to go.

Even when they are not physically violent, they purposely skirt noise ordinances: there is no way their Musical China Douchemobile is within the legally allowed decibel level for...whatever it is they are doing. Blasting pro-China opera songs? Yet it's difficult to stop them because they are hard to report when they keep driving around. 

Another reason why they ought to be stopped? Because I am no longer convinced that they are simply private citizens with a strongly held opinion demonstrating for what they believe in. I am sure there are a few sincere pro-unificationists running around Taiwan: every society has its extremists. However, I truly don't believe that this group is so sincere. Given how common it is for pro-China, anti-localist and anti-self-determination protesters in Taiwan and Hong Kong to have ties back to gangs who, in turn, have ties back to government (it seems to usually be the Chinese government, but I wouldn't put it past some of the more radical deep blue factions of the Taiwanese government to do this too), it is not crazy to think these guys might also be paid PRC stooges, too. If - and this is a big if, but I think a plausible one - the PRC has something to do with the little show they put on at various high-traffic sites around the city, then that amounts to a foreign government sticking its hands into Taiwanese affairs. Governments do this all the time, but that doesn't mean it should be tolerated.

It also calls into question exactly who the police are listening to when they cordon off or act aggressively toward peaceful protesters (harassing the indigenous rights protesters at night, or isolating peaceful marriage equality demonstrators), but allow this group to start fights unchecked until the mayor steps in (and similarly do little to stop anti-marriage-equality protesters, blue-camp-aligned protesters or actions by groups organized by known gangsters such as White Wolf).

This is quite similar to my reasoning behind supporting laws that do not allow non-residents to participate in protests or demonstrations beyond observation: if we allowed it, thousands of paid Chinese "protesters" would be on the next flights over from China, marching in the streets for unification. Stopping that may mean that some well-meaning people who don't have the right visa can't engage, but I find this a reasonable price to pay.

The final reason why I think it's time to pull the plug on this group is related to the point above. I do not think they are sincere because they don't seem that concerned about actually convincing anybody. That's good in one sense, because if they were, they'd be failing. It raises the question, though, of who exactly they are protesting for. My best guess - and a lot of my friends agree - is that they're doing it to create good photo ops in China. Perhaps for a time they were there to put on a show for Chinese tourists streaming into Taipei 101 - look, we were right, our Chinese brothers across the strait do want to be a part of China, you can see them protesting for it against their evil government right here! - but those are basically gone now. Now, I'd put money on it being done for photo ops that can be strategically placed in Chinese media.

In short, they're not there to convince Taiwanese. They're there to make Taiwanese society seem more divided on the issue than it really is (as it's not actually that divided at all).

Freedom of speech and assembly comes with some basic assumptions: that you are acting of your own accord and not in someone else's shadowy employ; that your motives are sincere and your goals genuine; that you are not a part of some foreign government's strategy and that your intentions are non-violent.

This doesn't mean I think we should ban all pro-China or pro-unification protests. Not even close - as much as I disagree with it, the actual viewpoint being expressed is not the problem. My problem is with this particular group.

While it's difficult to say for sure, my honest opinion is that these specific pro-China protesters meet none of these standards. In such a case, I truly do not believe it violates the basic right to freedom of expression to stop allowing them to demonstrate.

The chances of the Taiwanese government investigating, let alone doing something about this?

Most likely zero. I'd love to be proven wrong.

I suppose we can look forward to them blasting music and pushing us around for awhile yet.