Showing posts with label asian_politics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label asian_politics. Show all posts

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Taipei Pride 2019: Huge and Political

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This year's Taipei Pride, held earlier today - and the parties are surely still going on - merits so many "that's what she said" descriptors, I don't even know where to begin. It was massive. Huge. So very long. It just kept coming. By the end, my legs were practically falling off.

Basically, it was exactly what you'd expect for the first Pride after legalization of same-sex marriage in Taiwan, the first Asian country to do so.


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I have no idea exactly how big the parade was other than that it was the biggest Taiwan, and therefore Asia, has ever seen (Taipei Pride is the biggest LGBT event in the continent). I found it hard to estimate in part because the usual starting point and route of the parade changed from the Jingfu Gate circle and general 228 Park area to City Hall square - that big esplanade where Ren'ai Road ends - for reasons I'm not sure of. The News Lens puts the total conservatively, I think, at 170,000. New Bloom is perhaps a tad overgenerous with 350,000. All I can say is that I stopped walking and took up a permanent spot thinking the whole parade would pass me in about 20 minutes. Two hours later, it was still going. 



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It was big enough to make the front page of the BBC (to be honest, though, Taipei Pride usually does. And, of course, BBC had to add the stupid language about China and Taiwan, as though China is at all relevant to Taipei Pride (it isn't.) I won't even bother to quote it here.




All the usual corporate sponsors were there - something I don't love, but in an Asian context, also don't hate. Not because it signals that they don't (or don't intend to) discriminate against LGBT workers, job applicants and clients - that should be a given - but because the older generation which is less open to LGBT equality and rights won't necessary listen to their kids and grandkids: the young, liberal participants. But hoo boy, if they learn that the Taiwan branch of some fancy company (and therefore that company's CEO or branch office's General Manager, who is likely to be older and more like them) supports those things, they may be more likely to reconsider.

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LGBT-friendly churches were in attendance as well, a reminder that  while most Christian organizations in Taiwan are anti-gay, we can't judge anyone before we get to know them.


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What really struck me, though, was how much more political this year's Pride was. I mean, Taipei Pride has always had that legacy, acting as it does to offer a beacon of hope to the region that, as President Tsai put it, "progressive ideals may take root in an East Asian society". It's quite typical that people from around Asia and the world come to Taiwan to celebrate Pride here because they simply cannot do so in their own countries, and this year was no exception. What's more, young supporters of political causes, including Taiwanese de jure independence, have typically also been supportive of LGBT causes (older Taiwan independence supporters...not so much).

But this year there was a very strong undercurrent of support for the Hong Kong protesters, mockery of repressive China, and more open support of Taiwanese identity. Other flags and signs supporting Tibet and Xinjiang could also be seen.




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If, by the way, you're pro-LGBT but were still thinking that you could support any candidate in the Taiwanese 2020 elections and it wouldn't matter, think again. It's quite clear not only from the candidates' own messaging but the overall attitude at Pride that if you're not heteronormative, Han Kuo-yu is not the guy for you. Tsai Ing-wen's administration on the other hand, while not perfect, is your best bet (yeah, I needed help to understand this, my Taiwanese sucks).

International organizations that have a presence in Asia such as Amnesty International and Greenpeace were also present - with some participants flying in from abroad to march with their organization's banner.

This was cast in stark relief by one sign in particular:





Homonationalism is an ideology that uses liberal, often pro-LGBT positions as a means to discriminate against immigrants from more "conservative" societies, saying that they bring their anti-LGBT (or illiberal) values with them, so we're in trouble if we let too many of them in. Or, more generally, it's just used as an excuse for prejudice and discrimination in societies where things like marriage equality are now taken as normal and may be supported even by members of the right wing, but xenophobia remains a problem.

And yes, perhaps you'll meet immigrants who live up to the "their values are not like ours" stereotype - nevermind that our values weren't much different just a few years or decades ago - but the fact that Taipei Pride is a massive welcome party for marginalized groups across Asia from these "conservative" societies - shows that one cannot assume liberalism or illiberalism simply by national origin. 




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Of course, the usual bevy of left-leaning political parties showed up, including the much reduced and humbled New Power Party (with a few flags), the Green Party, the State-building Party (with their own truck, spouting very serious political messages) and I assume others. I'm not sure at all if the NPP being on more equal footing representation-wise with these smaller parties is a good thing or not - none of them are currently strong contenders to take down the DPP/KMT two-party vortex, but then it never quite felt fair before that the NPP got all the thunder, y'know?


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This year also felt more sexually diverse than previous years - with huge bisexual, transgender and asexual flags in addition to the usual rainbow.


 
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My own visit to Pride was cut short in part because the route was just so slow, especially before it reached Zhongxiao Dunhua, where things sped up a little bit. I was stuck in a mass of people at City Hall well past the 1:30pm departure time, and by 3pm we hadn't even made it past Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall yet, with several very long waits. This was due at least in part to how little space the parade was allocated. I remember previous demonstrations in this part of Taipei taking up all of Zhongxiao Road or all of Ren-ai Road, or at least one full half of it, but Pride got just one or two lanes, with several close calls (including people trying to speed up a bit walking on the outer edge of the march, quite close to traffic). Some marchers got stuck trying to use the fenced-off walkway by the Taipei White Elephant Dome construction site, only to be forced back into the much-delayed and swollen crowd when that walkway ended.


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I could try to assign blame for this poor planning but we don't really know...oh whatever, let's go for it. Maybe it'll become clearer in a few weeks but right now, it sure looks like the authorities are just less willing to give space to Pride and that could be in part due to homophobia. After all, one aspect of homophobia is reducing the 'space' in which LGBT people may exist, and in today's case, that felt literally true.

But let's not assign blame to every member of law enforcement. Several traffic cops I saw today were wearing small but noticeable rainbow items in a show of support, and the police I saw here and there looked friendly and relaxed, not serious or unsupportive. 


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To end this on a fun note, I did enjoy the preponderance of music this year. 






In previous years each parade route might have had one or two trucks playing music for participants to dance to - otherwise you sort of walked and talked with your friends but there was nothing to keep your energy up. This year, everyone from the usual drag queens to the Korean truck (who were not the only Korean participants) blasting K-Pop to LesPark (which always has great music) and more kept the mood upbeat.


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And, of course, the costumes - with Taipei Pride being so close to Halloween, it'd make sense that it turns into something of a costume party (though I suppose most Pride parades do - I've only ever attended in Taipei though.) Not to get too gossip-rag about it but let me tell you: in 2019, dog daddies and Pikachu are super hot, and the Joker is super not (as a friend I ran into put it, the new Joker is kind of an Angry Straight White Guy thing so that makes sense). Disney princesses, ruling like a queen or goddess, video game and cartoon characters, BDSM, Hong Kong solidarity, Free Hugs and angel wings are in. Showing too much, however, seems to be out.











Plan your Halloween party attire accordingly. 



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Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Humiliation

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I just think this picture works with what I am trying to express here, though I couldn't tell you why.

A few years ago, I wrote a long, rambling post that nobody read about a short trip to Athens. One of the central plot threads of that post - which was more of a story that jumped across generations - was the nature of an attempted betrayal of my great-grandfather. As I understand the story, before the 1915 genocide, Armenian children in Turkey were already being taken from their homes and sold as 'adopted' children to Turkish families. The people spearheading the abduction campaign were not Turks hell-bent on persecuting Armenians, although some were surely involved. Rather, it was an Armenian family harming their own.

They attempted to have the Turkish authorities detain my great-grandfather (a fellow Armenian) for stopping the child trade, but it was a Turk who saved him: the captain of the law enforcement unit that tracked him down had served in the military with my great-grandfather and respected him immensely. 


That story wedged itself into my brain last night - my last night in China - built a little nest there and simply will not leave.

The night before that, I was invited to a fancy dinner and drinking with two of the "big bosses" of the company I was contracting for. One was Taiwanese, the other Chinese, and others were present, including another Taiwanese employee of this Chinese company. I was there to deliver a training session; I'm not an employee. I'm not a big fan of the 'company culture' there - I don't like enforced patriotism - but I keep my mouth shut because I'm not an employee and I don't live in China. My opinion is irrelevant.

After several beers, and speaking Mandarin exclusively, the Taiwanese boss asked me if I would stay in Taiwan forever, and I affirmed that I would. In fact, my dream would be to retire to Tainan. He scowled and called it a "DPP city". I indicated that I didn't mind and warned him not to ask me my opinion on the matter. I could tell he was deep blue and pro-unification - he'd made a joke that "we're already unified, at this dinner!" with his Chinese colleague - and was prepared to just let it be.

I know that seems odd for me, but I was in a foreign country, working as an outside contractor. I just didn't think the conversation would be necessary or helpful. Eventually, however, enough beer was drunk that I did affirm my support for Taiwanese independence and general pro-Taiwan leanings, while diplomatically saying "it's not about green or blue, I just love Taiwan." (I don't believe that - it is about green and blue: mostly that green may be imperfect, but blue is made up of China sellouts and former mass murderers, but I wanted to keep the banter friendly.)

I added that while I am not Taiwanese - I don't have citizenship or ancestry tying me to Taiwan - that in my heart, this was my home. He joked that my colleague and I had lived in Taiwan so long that we were in fact Taiwanese.

The Taiwanese boss indicated that he was fine with my views, and I further joked that I couldn't vote anyway, and I would never mention my views to the trainees in China - what would be the point? We ended the night amicably, and I thought that while we would never agree politically and didn't have to be friends, that we could work together. I even kind of liked him as a person, and thought I wouldn't mind drinking with him and others again.

The next day was the closing ceremony for the training session. The Taiwanese employee - not the boss - recounted my description of these classes in Taiwan being 'more relaxed'. Trainees show up with coffee, we chat a bit before the class starts, nobody wears matching shirts, we sit around a table as equals. It's laid-back, democratic and fun. He spun it into a story about how the Chinese trainees were harder working and more organized (which is true, but they all work for the same company, and that company has an authoritarian bent to their working culture, so of course they would be). I was slightly annoyed, because I hadn't meant it that way: I don't think either approach is 'better', just different, though my personal preference is for the more relaxed Taiwanese classes.

I decided, however, to let it go. Again, this may not sound like me, but I don't feel 'at home' in China the way I do in Taiwan. I'm a visitor and I act accordingly.

Then the Taiwanese boss took the stage. After some general motivational talk, he also told the story of our night of drinking, and said:

"Jenna says her heart is Taiwanese. And she and [her colleague] have both lived in Taiwan for a long time, they're Taiwanese! [Our employee] is Taiwanese, and so am I. You are all Mainlanders. So together we are all..."

...and in unison he, the rest of the staff and the trainees all shouted: "Chinese!"

The word they used was 中國人, of course - with the implication that we're all residents of the same country.

Everyone applauded but me. I sat there, not clapping, shooting daggers at the stage. In Taiwanese they call that look a "shit face" (賽面) and that's exactly what it was.

Honestly, I felt stabbed in the back. Betrayed. I may not be Taiwanese, but this is my home, and to have a Taiwanese person say that - and sell me out like that, by throwing my words back at me in a way that I couldn't possibly counteract.

All the while, the Chinese staff of the company have been nothing short of amazing. I genuinely like them all, and they do their best to make sure we are comfortable and have what we need to do our jobs. My students have been wonderful, and they are truly hard-working. The other boss - the Chinese one - never said a single impolite thing. Obviously, my beef is not with the general concept of 'being Chinese', if you have the ancestry and identify that way. (I shouldn't have to say that, but you'd be surprised the way some people interpret what they read.) It's with deliberately twisting my words into a narrative I do not endorse in a way that makes me seem complicit, and forcing an identity on the majority of Taiwanese who do not accept it. And it's harder to swallow coming not from a Chinese person whose entire worldview has been shaped to believe in that perspective, but a Taiwanese person quite literally selling out his own people.

Doubly so, as I'd never say something like that publicly to them. Speaking frankly after several beers in a private room is one thing, going on stage and doing it is quite another. I do believe that if I extend the courtesy of not publicly discussing my pro-Taiwan views, that they can sing their anthem and do patriotic chants all they like, but I also deserve the courtesy of not being forced against my will into being woven into a pro-China speech as though I endorse it. Yes, even when I am in China. I doubt many Taiwanese would do that to Chinese in Taiwan, and it should go both ways.

Honestly, it felt like a form of harassment. A bullying tactic. Sure, he's playing a role and knew the trainees would enjoy it, but it wasn't compulsory, like singing the national anthem or doing group chants (which they have to do, Taiwanese employees included, and I make no comment on. Not my company, not my country, not my issue.) He chose to say that. He did it intentionally, knowing it would anger, or at least bother, me. He did it knowing I would have no tools whatsoever with which to fight back. I would have to sit there and take it, because I'm a freelancer and he's the boss, even though I am also a trainer and that commands respect. Because I'm in the audience and he's on stage. Because everyone in the room agrees with him, not me. Because it's a formal ceremony and the 'face' was thick in that room. Simply not clapping and twisting my face into a look of disgust was already quite bold.

He knew all that and did it anyway. I wouldn't say it was an intentionally personal attack - he probably didn't think too much about it, assuming I'd just take it and it didn't matter, and was more using me as a setup for his own political gain. But I don't forgive that sort of sideswipe easily, and do feel it's part of his job to make the trainers they hire feel comfortable, and instead I felt sold out. I'm not even trying to describe my fury, because I simply cannot.

I know this sort of thing happens to Taiwanese in China all the time, and they have even fewer resources to fight back with than I do. I have read - and friends have told be - about being forced to publicly agree with "One China" while in China or dealing with Chinese counterparts - and not even being able to refuse to comment, look disgusted or metaphorically "not clap". And all that while being truly Taiwanese - I'm a foreigner who calls this place home, nothing more. Because of my relative privilege, I don't think I can ever know on a deeper level what that feels like to be in their position, but I've now had a brush with it and even that was unbearable. I'm still incensed. I can only imagine the gut-wrenching torture and lingering ache of being forced to vocally affirm an identity you don't believe in just to collect a paycheck that you might truly need.

It also happens in international organizations. I'll write more about this later, but even when Taiwan does something that earns international recognition, there are people who give the credit to China. Again, there are few tools available to Taiwan to fight this, though I am happy to see that as time goes on, everyday Taiwanese less willing to just bear it.

So, I meant two things by the title "Humiliation" - how I was made to feel in that moment, but also how pro-China people frequently seek to humiliate those who support Taiwan. The humiliation of a nation and identity, with few channels to stand up for ourselves.

I left the ceremony at the earliest possible opportunity, declined a second drinking session that he personally invited me to, skipped breakfast the next morning and was quiet on the way to the airport (he drove). I cited being 'tired' and 'having a migraine'. Those excuses were true, but caused by the situation. In other words, I was passive-aggressive about it. Those were the tools at my disposal.

What reads to me as 'passive aggression', however, reads in this part of the world as 'making your thoughts known without causing trouble'. What I consider professional - to bring up the matter at a later date - would be seen as overly aggressive here. My reaction that night and signaling in the hours following the incident probably made my feelings clear enough. Nobody commented, but nobody asked me why I'd suddenly become so withdrawn - and even declined free alcohol! - implying that they knew.

Of course, there's also this blog. I'm aware that there might be professional repercussions to writing this, but feel the need to say something anyway. I deserved better in that moment, and Taiwan deserves better in general.

It still bothers me, however, that I have no professional channels through which to ensure it doesn't happen again. I could tell the company in Taiwan that sent me, but I truly don't think they'd care. They'd just expect me to suck it up. Or perhaps they would care, but wouldn't say anything about the actions of a high-level boss at a company they have a highly profitable relationship with, even to ask that Taiwan-China issues please not be brought up publicly as it makes the foreign trainers uncomfortable. I'm not even convinced they'd understand why I was so upset - to them, what he said was just an obvious truth, so what could my problem with it possibly be?

Will I return to China? I don't know. The money is nice but I'd be fine without it - it's not about the cash. On one hand, I feel deeply upset at the notion of returning to a place where my words were twisted and mocked in that way. On the other, he's one person in a company of people who have been otherwise wonderful hosts. As I can't even publicly acknowledge (to them) how I feel about what happened, those who are less aware of my perspective on Taiwan and China might privately wonder if they had somehow upset me, when that simply wasn't the case. I'm not even sure how I'd tell my company in Taiwan that I won't go back, if I know that telling them about the incident at all would lead nowhere and might get be labeled as overly demanding.

It just still kills me, two days later, that it was the Taiwanese person's words that denied the existence of a unique Taiwanese identity and history and caught me in the gut like a well-fired arrow. I hear a lot of complaints in Taiwan that "Chinese" are rude, or bullies regarding Taiwan and Hong Kong. While I am aware that happens, it's just not been my experience. It's the deep blue Taiwanese who are the worst. They have freedom and access to better information, and yet they still choose a path that takes freedom away from their own country.

A good reminder, I suppose, that being respectful and doing the right thing have nothing at all to do with national boundaries. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Don't Trust Terry Gou

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This man is not your maker.
(image from Wikimedia, with my embellishment)

I mean, that should go without saying, but I feel I have to state it obliquely - you simply should not trust Foxconn CEO and businessjerk Terry Gou (郭台銘).

When he says things like "Taiwan shouldn't buy defensive weapons from the US" because:

- "no parent wants to see their child die on the battlefield"
- "why should Chinese fight other Chinese?"
- "if you have no knives or guns, who will want to fight you?"
- the arms that Taiwan buys from the US are "secondhand" (which is apparently not entirely true)

...this is all you need to know about why he should not be the next president of Taiwan.





Let's look first at his "why should Chinese fight other Chinese?" line.

What struck me is how closely it echoes something Xi Jinping himself said not that long ago: "中國人不打中國人" or "Chinese don't attack other Chinese".

Why would Terry Gou echo Xi's own words? That's a rhetorical question: this is no intricate strategy or game of 4D chess in which he's looking to outfox Emperor Xi. His echo is not so much a dogwhistle as a clarion call, saying "Hey China, I'm your guy". When Gou says it, he doesn't mean it any differently from the way Xi intended it just a few months ago.

That's not even getting into how such a phrase assumes both sides are "Chinese", so it isn't a justification for a certain policy of 'peace' in defending Taiwan so much as just saying outright that Taiwan is a part of China anyway, so why fight? Second, the historical illiteracy such a comment assumes is downright offensive. Forget ancient dynastic wars in China (which were almost always between groups of Chinese) - the 1940s is ample-enough proof that Chinese do, in fact, fight Chinese before we even involve Taiwan in the discussion. He didn't even use the term for being culturally/ethnically Chinese (華人). He used the term that implies that Taiwanese are one part of a country called China (中國人). There's nothing to misinterpret here.

Don't believe for a second that his "we should invest in high-tech weapons instead" is sincere, either. It doesn't square with anything else he's said on the subject (if you have high-tech weapons, by definition you are not fostering a dialogue of diplomacy and peace by "not having guns or knives" - instead, you have the fanciest guns and knives money can buy). High-tech weapons on Taiwan's side aren't going to determine how many Taiwanese die fighting in the event of war with China: that'll be determined in part by what China throws at us. And, of course, why would you need R&D into high-tech weaponry if "Chinese shouldn't fight other Chinese"? Taken on its own, his "high-tech defense" comment is reasonable-ish (ish), but in the full context of everything he's said, it's nonsense. Smoke and mirrors. Best set aside as insincere at best, actively deceptive at worst.

Don't fall into the trap that some have and try to claim that he's somehow playing a long game with Taiwan's enemies and will ultimately not obey them. This is a joke. His comments about defense are exactly what Beijing wants to hear - he is positioning himself as their man, floating these turds to the Taiwanese public to see if any of them are mistaken for policy insight. In order to be someone who could talk to China without selling out Taiwan, he'd have to fundamentally care about the sovereignty and democratic norms of Taiwan. He's already proven he doesn't with his comments that "you can't eat democracy" and his implicit, Beijing-echoing language choices (above) that Taiwanese are "Chinese".

Besides, even if he did care about Taiwan's sovereignty (which he doesn't), what bargaining chips would he have against China as a politician? When it comes to Taiwan...Taiwan is the bargaining chip. Either you sell it out or you don't. In any case, China is not a partner with which one can make a good-faith deal with Taiwan. To imply it is possible is to essentially say "I'm fine with selling this country's future to an unscrupulous negotiating partner."

This mythos of a candidate being more than they seem - smarter, cannier, more insightful, with more intricate strategic aims that mere mortals cannot comprehend - has been tried on before. I've seen people apply it to Taipei's Mayor Ko Wen-je (turns out Ko is just a sexist jackass who can't even keep his own comments straight, whose words have also echoed Xi's, to undetermined but probably not good ends). Of course it's been applied to Donald Trump as well. Do I even need to go there?

Don't believe he's somehow above the fray because he has a business to run: every time someone points out problems with the words he uses, he accuses them of "quoting him out of context" and then, at least in the case of President Tsai, attacks them with the same level of maturity as a 14-year-old online troll.

Of course, she didn't take his comment out of context. "民主不能當飯吃" is quite clear and can't be misinterpreted "out of context"- it does not mean "democratic momentum must be converted into economic gains" as he now claims. That's a made-up interpretation, and it is just plain not what he said. He knows that, he meant it then and he means it now. He's just a jackass.

Terry Gou is not a master dealmaker who has a well-thought-out plan for continued peace in Taiwan: he is a petulantsexist man-child. There's no more there there. It's the plain truth of who he is.

Don't believe him when he says his other comments were misinterpreted, either. When he said "if you have no guns and no knives, who will attack you?", that is what he meant, and not some other thing. He did not mean "the defense budget should be spent on the 'sharp edge of the knife,' such as developing indigenous high-tech weaponry" as he now claims.

He's not making brilliant, nuanced points that others are consistently failing to understand. He's floating turds and then yelling at people who call a turd what it is, insisting that his turds are in fact golden nuggets and we plebes just didn't understand the first time around. They're not, and we didn't. Don't be fooled.

Don't fall into the same morass as the media, either, taking what is quite clear - that he thinks Taiwan doesn't need defensive weapons - and turning into a massive bubbling crapfest of truthiness that utterly fails to get to the heart of the matter.

Don't pull a Bloomberg and fail to report that Gou's strongest claim was that Taiwan should not buy defensive weapons, instead spinning it into an article about how he wants to strengthen defense. Don't take that garbage one step further and cast doubt on whether the Taiwan Strait is international waters through dubious language (if you're not clear, the Taiwan Strait indeed counts as international waters. There was no need to imply that Tsai was somehow wrong about this. Shame on you, Bloomberg.)

Don't take Gou's re-jiggered comments as the truth of what he initially said, as Asia Times did, either. Gou did not say "we should spend wisely". He said "if you don't have guns or knives, who will attack you?" and "why should Chinese fight other Chinese?"

Don't. Just don't. Don't buy it. Don't make him into another Trump. Don't defend his floating turds. For goodness sake, don't swallow them.

Do the smart thing and take what he says at face value. 

Then flush it right down the toilet where it belongs.

Or do what President Tsai and NPP legislator Hsu Yung-ming did, and tell him that when it comes to lowering defenses and promoting peace, to "tell it to China."

I hope this is the last I ever say about him, because I find him about as interesting as Han Kuo-yu, which is to say, not very. All I can hope is that these two get locked in an internecine struggle that tears the KMT apart by 2020. It's the best possible outcome for either of them. 

Friday, December 7, 2018

Getting over electoral heartbreak

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This post is coming late, because I took a short blogging break following my two post-election posts. The reason, dear readers, is that I was just so utterly heartbroken: every time I tried to sit down and write about 11/24, I'd get that sinking feeling in my chest and have to fight back tears. I just couldn't do it, so I gave myself permission to disengage for a bit.

It didn't help that immediately after my paper (for grad school) was due, which was immediately before the election, I got sick. I spent most of the week post 11/24 hopped up on decongestants and mucolytics. It wasn't pretty. Not even Sudafed could cut through the snot.

I can't say I'm entirely back. My heart still weeps, and I'm about to return to the US for the holidays (which I am genuinely excited about). So, the next few posts will probably be lighter "lifestyle" posts. Merry effin' Christmas.

Anyway. Before we get into hairstyles, British curry house curry and trips to the mountains, I do have some thoughts on marriage equality and political parties in Taiwan. Will populate with links later when I have more time. Taiwan Sentinel, Frozen Garlic, Taiwan Insight, The News Lens and New Bloom all deserve some linkbacks, and they will get them.

Looking at analysis of the election results, obviously I agree with the experts that Taiwanese voters rejected wonky 'policy' candidates (who were unexciting, establishment types that were heavy on experience and competence, but light on vision) in favor of "it's the economy, stupid!" talking-points-focused ones. I had hoped that this wave of electing sweet-talking, visionary-sounding, "let's try something new" populist candidates with authoritarian tendencies would be a global trend that Taiwan would have been wise to reject. Sadly, I was proven wrong. It's cold comfort to be reminded that Taiwanese voters are just like voters anywhere: no dumber, but also no smarter. They fell for it too. Damn. Time to stop pretending Taiwan is this wonderful, magical place where democracy works better. It's not.

But what this shows me is not that Taiwanese voters are "more conservative" than was previously thought (although they are not that liberal by global standards, they are still quite liberal by Asian standards), but that at least as of 2018, they're more willing to put their trust in a candidate that presents a powerful and cohesive vision, no matter how heavy that vision is on insane promises, or how light it is on actual policy details. It makes sense: when things are looking good and people feel secure, they'll vote for the wonky nerd candidate. When things are scary, they look for more of a leader. If that leader seems like "one of us", all the better. Who do you think most people want to lead them through the apocalypse: Professor McNerdington, or straight-talkin' Big Uncle Dirk?

(I want Professor McNerdington, personally - hell, I married Professor McNerdington - but I have to admit that most people seem to want Big Uncle Dirk. Nevermind that Big Uncle Dirk is a dumbass proto-fascist who can't even answer questions properly.)

This isn't to say that Taiwanese voters are dumb or ignorant for electing Big Uncle Dirk. They're anxious. It's not the same thing. They're no dumber or smarter than any other voters, and frankly although I don't agree with their choices this time, I kind of get it. 


The key, however, is that when it comes to voting for these types of candidates, it isn't necessary to agree completely with their platform. Do you think that most Kaohsiung voters agreed with their city government recognizing the 1992 Consensus despite national policy? Hell no! When your lizard brain is scared and wants to vote for the person with the most visionary talking points, it's fairly easy to justify the things you don't like with "well, I don't agree with everything he says, but we need to rejuvenate the economy and Big Uncle Dirk will do that! Professor McNerdington doesn't care about average folks like me!"

This matters! It means that embracing marriage equality was not - not not not not not - the reason why the DPP lost. Had they run better, more visionary campaigns that played to their and their candidates' achievements and strengths, conservative DPP voters would have shrugged their shoulders and thought "well, maybe I don't like it when dudes kiss, but this person is the better candidate". They don't have to agree with everything you say, they just have to buy into your overall vision. Super deep greens, no matter how conservative, are not going to vote for the KMT. And playing to conservatives who aren't committed to the DPP - some of whom would never vote DPP, including all those members of deep-blue anti-gay churches - was never a winning strategy. What they needed was a vision strong enough to allow voters predisposed to choose them to shrug their shoulders at marriage equality (which most Taiwanese seem to do, with the majority not expressing a strong opinion for or against) but vote for the overall idea of Taiwan's (or Kaohsiung's, or Taichung's) future.

Even better, if they'd enshrined marriage equality in the civil code back when the Council of Grand Justices issued their ruling, it would have been normalized by now, and they wouldn't have felt the need to present the conflicting message of a new, internationalized, outward-looking Taiwan, but...oh no, we're not sure what to do about the gays, um, uh...maybe we could...uh...duh...vote for us!

Then the deep-green conservatives and DPP Christians would have shrugged, figured the civil code change was a done deal, and voted for them anyway. They could have even spun it as "look at all the international publicity Taiwan is getting for this! Look at how we've differentiated ourselves from China! Taiwan stands for human rights, and that means equal rights for all!" The progressives would have had more faith in the DPP in that case, and turned out for them, too. That this was allowed to become the issue it did shows not how badly the DPP misunderstood conservative voters, but how badly the DPP got played. It became a problem because they let it become one.

And I do believe that marriage equality having been a done deal, or a part of a stronger overall vision, would have allowed the progressive column of DPP supporters to make up for whatever conservative votes they lost. But I doubt they would have lost as many as some believe, for two reasons: first, the NPP came pretty close to achieving its electoral goals (the News Lens calls their gains "modest", but many didn't even think they'd win what they did. I call it a victory). That shows that voters both want fresh faces and will vote for a cohesive platform, whether it's a liberal or conservative one. Dark blue Da'an voted for two openly gay Third Force city councilors. I realize that Da'an, heart of wealthy 天龍 Taipei, can't speak for all of Taiwan, but it does tell me that the marriage equality "issue" did not have to be the issue it was. Second, aside from the fact that the only reason the anti-gay referendums passed was because the benchmark for passing is far too low (and therefore it is not actually a particularly strong indicator of sustained public consensus), the only way the anti-gay groups were able to get their referendums passed was to change their language from "homsexuality is evil and brings disease!" to "let's have a separate law to protect 'their rights and interests'!"

That the left managed to push the issue that far shows not only that Asia is not a monolithically conservative place, but also that (and I'm quoting a friend here), the values being discussed are not "Asian values". That implies they are static and somehow inextricably tied to being "Asian" - that to change them means to change what it means to be "Asian". This is not true: these values are traditional. Values do change, in all societies. If you don't believe me, consider that 100 years ago in Taiwan, marriages were arranged and often involved actual sales ("I'll sell you my daughter as a maid and when she's 15 she can marry your son!") or multiple wives/concubines. That doesn't happen anymore. Cultures change. 100 years ago, many Western societies were not that different from Asian ones. My great aunt had an arranged marriage...in the United States. My great-grandfather asked to marry my great-grandmother when she was, like, 10 (in a stunning show of liberalism for the time and place - around 1900 in southern Turkey - my great-great grandfather told him that she'd have to agree to the match, which she eventually did.)

We can and are changing the script on marriage equality in Taiwan and the DPP needed to take control of that narrative, and maybe wrap up the pill in some bacon so the conservatives would swallow it. They didn't. They backed away from it in trying to please conservatives and thereby let the other side control the narrative. That freaked out both conservatives and liberals. None of it was necessary.

Further to that point, for once I agree with Shelley Rigger (I've disagreed with her in the past): this election wasn't a referendum on the DPP's cross-strait policies, which I think most Taiwanese actually support. What the voters want is to stand our ground on China without instigating anything, but also to rejuvenate what is seen as a stagnant economy (I don't know how stagnant it actually is, but wages sure aren't doing well.) That's a difficult story to spin, as in many cases voters want conflicting things. We can't have warmer relations with China and stand our ground. China makes that impossible.

On that note, the fact that voters want conflicting things - nuclear-free with reduced pollution, for example - is a key reason why referendums are a bad idea. 
But the KMT somehow convinced voters in this election cycle that they could do it, so the DPP could have, as well.

And frankly, that's just it. The DPP - to quote a friend - needed to step up and take control of the story. To render marriage equality a non-issue. To advertise their achievements better (to put a better spin on pension reform, remind the working class of the gains in minimum wage, remind their core supporters of the ill-gotten assets committee and their no-confrontation-no-backing-down stance on China, their inroads into renewable energy vis-a-vis the KMT's complacency in that area) and have strong talking points on the economy, and to campaign on their candidates' strengths. To do less talking about their policy positions and more talking to the people: Tsai recently said she was going to talk to the youth about their disappointment with the DPP (will post the link once I find it). I have to ask: why didn't she do that before the election? People are saying rural Kaohsiungers are sick of feeling as though the DPP ignores them. Why didn't the party address that earlier?

Instead, they let the KMT and their anti-gay buddies control the narrative. They let Kaohsiungers be convinced that Kaohsiung - which is a much better city to live in than it was before the DPP ran it for so long - is horrible. It's not. Or that marriage equality is some sort of horrible assault on Taiwanese values (or that traditional values shouldn't change). It isn't, and they should. Or that pollution in Taichung is entirely the DPP's fault. It's not. Or that the need to shore up denuclearization with fossil fuels is the DPP's fault. Again, it's not. Or that it is acceptable to recognize the 1992 Consensus if it "rejuvenates the economy". It isn't.

Now we live in a Taiwan that is being called "post-Sunflower". In some cases yes - I am sure some activists think that everything they've tried to do has come to nothing - but this assumes that "voting for the DPP" is the same as "supporting the ideals of the Sunflowers". This is not the case, and never was. The Sunflowers were not a DPP-affiliated movement - the DPP has always been quite a bit more conservative - and while the DPP was able to coast in on their vision for awhile, I doubt they would have been able to maintain it even in the mildest of adversity. In fact, the increasing power of independent/unaffiliated voters and candidates is very much a legacy of the Sunflowers. The electoral success of the NPP is, too. The KMT was able to co-opt the Sunflower 'we need a change' image much to the actual Sunflowers' chagrin, but I doubt they'll be able to sustain it, either. 


I know it's hard to have that kind of vision - to control that story - when you are in power and therefore all problems can be pointed to as your fault by the opposition (nevermind that the opposition, in this case, created many of those problems). I know it's difficult to market achievements when voters seem to want instant results and are more likely to vote for Big Uncle Dirk if he promises them the world, even if he's light on substance.

But it is possible, and progressive forces in Taiwan (not just the DPP) have to do it, because we've already just taken one big step backward. We can't afford to take another: China is ramping up its threat, at least rhetorically. LGBT Taiwanese are committing suicide as a result of their perceived rejection by society. This is urgent. We can fight to counteract the surge in so-called 'conservatism', but will we?

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The party's starting late (or: it's your country - save it yourself)

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We are all Taiwan souls


Just some thoughts in the warm light of day. 

I'm a little hungover this morning, so I got up late and put up this flag just to remind myself that the fight's not over. 

I have less to say about the races so I'll talk about marriage equality. Honestly, I think that's the one we all cared about the most. 

First, yes, despite the deliberately confusing wording of the referendums, we were a bit too early to the party for marriage equality in Taiwan. The old folks came out and voted, and they showed that the wrong side of history still holds sway here. 

But let's remember a few things. We were early to the party, but what we heard last night wasn't the voice of eternal conservatism in Taiwan. What we heard is that the party is still on, it's just going to start later than expected. 

Young people are more disenfranchised in Taiwan's voting system: they're broke, they can't vote absentee even though they're less likely to live where they are registered, they work long hours so it's hard to travel back. Some perhaps didn't vote because they knew they'd be harangued by their elders for voting the "wrong" (actually the right) way. It doesn't change the fact that the younger generation DOES think differently for the most part, and unlike views on things like fiscal policy, this isn't a view that grows more conservative with age. They got complacent perhaps, because all their friends are pro-equality too so it seemed like the country was more firmly on their side. They thought 10, 11 and 12 would be defeated, so it didn't matter if it was inconvenient to vote. But the old folks will die and the younger ones will do better. 

Let's remember as well that the pro-equality side had far less funding - why aren't you guys donating, by the way? - and young people are too busy and broke to volunteer. You could see it in their materials: their brochures weren't as glossy or thick, or as great in number, because they didn't have the cash. Unlike the bigots, who could recruit housewives with nothing better to do, their supporters work long hours just to get by and so they couldn't get out and volunteer as much. But that doesn't mean supporters don't exist. 

People might say "Taiwan is a conservative society" and I have to admit there's some truth to that. But it is not conservative across the board: older folks still hold a lot of cultural power, but the winds of change are blowing. They were blowing in the US in the 1960s, even though most people still opposed civil rights (the majority were against the Civil Rights Act when it passed). They were blowing in the 1970s and 80s, when most people thought the participants of the Kaohsiung Incident were ruffians and 'bad elements', because the KMT dictatorship portrayed them that way in the media. Now we know better. Both the US and Taiwan still have a long way to go, but we have come some distance. 

And yes, some people were tricked. My student on Friday was talking about how a "separate law" could still be "equal", and I had to set him straight (he'd heard misinformation). A former student said the referendums were so confusing that they seemed to have been written by "an elementary-school student". A lot of people who theoretically believe in equality but are still coming to terms with this new world of LGBT acceptance thought the wording of #12 sounded tempting. A lot of people were misled to believe that the problem with sex education in schools is that it starts too young (it doesn't, by the way) - that's what the commercials said - and don't realize that the intention is to ban it from school altogether. 

While the anti-gay referendums might still have gotten more votes than the pro-equality ones had the wording been clearer, I honestly doubt they would have passed. That's what the anti-gay Christians had to do to get votes: to deliberately confuse people. If Taiwan really agreed with them, they could have written three clear proposals. It says a lot that they didn't. 


The fact that the bigots had to deliberately make the wording fuzzy and spread lies to get votes, that they had to pour so much money into their campaign, and that they had to move from trying to "portray LGBT people as morally degenerate" (to quote a friend) to "we support a separate law to protect LGBT rights and interests" shows that they had to pretend to care about equality to get all those votes. Taiwanese people did not vote "WE HATE GAYS" last night. The Christian jerks lost that battle. They voted "we're scared of change, so let's pick this thing that seems like equality so we don't feel too terrible. After all, aren't we still protecting LGBT rights if there's a separate law?"

(No, but I can see why some people were convinced that this was the case.)


Someone else I know pointed out that conservative forces in Taiwan have been studying US electoral politics, and I agree. The deep green conservatives who want global recognition for Taiwan got played with a bunch of needless 'culture war' garbage that has actually set back their goal. Marriage equality was one way to get Taiwan into the headlines, and now Taiwan looks bad. I hope they're happy. They pulled a Trump in Kaohsiung (Han Kuo-yu is not only terrifyingly right-wing populist, he can barely answer questions and never gives details, and beats people up for no reason at all). They're doing a really good job in getting us lefties to all hate each other for no goddamn reason. 

The US voted right-wing in 2016 too, and those of us who are trying to bend the arc of history towards justice realized we weren't fighting hard enough, and we weren't fighting well enough. We realized that marching around with signs is only part of the equation, and we needed to start politicking (again to quote a friend) and stop shitting all over every incremental improvement that was not the total change we wanted. I think Taiwanese youth will realize this too, and stop thinking that only 100% moral purity will do, or that anything less than 100% victory is defeat - and it's time to start politicking. 

We should have learned this in 2014, when the Sunflowers stopped CSSTA and effected a huge electoral change not because every one of their demands was met, but because they ended the occupation after a sufficient victory. Their slogan was 自己的國家,自己救 (it's your country, save it yourself) - and we should have learned from that and not just trusted politicians to do the right thing or for 10, 11 and 12 to fail.

Or we could have learned it during the Wild Strawberries, where they were broadly ignored in their time but have had a big influence on Taiwan in the 2010s. Or we could have learned this during the Kaohsiung Incident, which broadly failed in its day (many participants went to jail, some were tortured), but they kept fighting.


Culture wars work to get out the vote, and as I do suspect that the KMT cut a deal with churches to quash marriage equality for votes (I can't prove this; I just suspect it), which with the deep green conservatives, pushed the anti-equality initiatives over the top. But neither the US nor Taiwan is homogenously bigoted. We might be post-Sunflower in Taiwan now, but Taiwan is not only a 'conservative society'. Remember that it was the Christians - people who follow a Western religion - who spearheaded this. They got others to agree, but non-Christian Taiwanese were not leading the fight. 

And it's ridiculous to let Christians define what it means to be Taiwanese. Taiwan is not a Christian nation. Even if you consider Taiwanese culture to be an outgrowth of Chinese culture (which I don't), Chinese culture was not particularly traditionally opposed to homosexuality. While things may have been different for everyday people, rulers often had gay lovers and nobody cared as long as they produced heirs. There's an entire opera - The Butterfly Lovers (梁祝) - in which a boy falls in love with a girl dressed like a boy, and is conflicted (in the end she's to be married to someone else and they both commit suicide.) In the opera, his confusion over his feelings is merely described; it is not condemned. Being anti-gay is not inherently Chinese (if you think Taiwan has Chinese heritage, which, again, I don't). It may be Neo-Confucian and Christian-tinged authoritarian (the Chiangs were Christian), but it is not "Chinese". 

The 100,000+ people who have turned out for pro-equality events are Taiwanese too. The few million who did vote for equality are Taiwanese too. Those who got tricked into voting for 'a separate law' but are actually not bigoted are Taiwanese too. People say that ascribing certain 'Western' values to Taiwan makes white folks like me 'culturally imperialist', but I'm not the one doing it. I'm describing what they are doing, and they have just as much of a say in what is or is not 'Taiwanese' as the old conservatives.

I mean, when America sort-of voted for Trump, liberals didn't think "oh, I guess that means we don't have any say in what it means to be American". We re-evaluated what we thought we knew about our country, realized we needed a new strategy, and kept fighting, because we were and are just as American as anyone from Trump Country.

What's more, in the US once marriage equality was made law, it ceased to be a relevant issue. Just as with every other country in the world - and even in the US's own past with abolition, suffrage and civil rights - often popular opinion follows law rather than preceding it. That's not the typical order in Asia (generally things don't change here until popular opinion supports a change), but that doesn't mean it's impossible. In fact, I suspect in the years after May 2019 when some sort of same-sex unions become law, they will then become normalized. Then, the groundwork will be there for true equality. 


And yes, a lot of young people also voted against equality, because they grew up in conservative families. Because Taiwan is more "filial piety"-oriented (well, Neo-Confucian obedience-oriented - Confucius never envisioned 'filial piety' this way) it will take longer, but more will break free as they grow, and the ones who do not will not be the definitive voice of the next generation. 

So we need to support them - with our time, our advice from the battles we've fought in our own countries, and our money (DONATE, YOU GUYS) - so they can make this party happen for real. We need to engage with them and they need to figure out how to engage with their elders. 

Let's remember as well that the DPP may be spineless, and they don't all support us, but they didn't want marriage equality to be decided by the electorate for just this reason. They knew how it'd turn out, and they knew what the more conservative wing of their base thought. So they may lack moral courage, but we do have allies among some of them. We can't make the mistake of thinking that electing them will fix everything again: it's your country, save it yourself. 

The good news is that their conservative base is pro-Taiwan, and Taiwan stands for equality and human rights. I do believe that some of them can be convinced in the coming years, if we make the right arguments about marriage equality being good for the country's international profile, for Taiwan's economy, and for Taiwanese values, of which equality is a part.


Another bright spot as well is that the NPP won several city council seats, and Miao Poya, the first openly LGBT city councilor, was elected last night in my district. We do have allies. The old people don't get to define all of what it means to be Taiwanese. The Council of Grand Justices has already said their ruling stands. 

That shows we've already pushed the conversation a little bit in the right direction. The "gays are degenerate and have AIDS!" argument no longer works here. And no matter what, there will be some form of same-sex partnerships in May. This is not a 100% victory, but it's a step. Once that happens, and people realized that AIDS doesn't start falling from the sky, then we can actually get this party started. 

I'm here in my party dress and I have to believe it will start. 

In other words, that flag above and the people who fly it are *just* as Taiwanese as any old bigot at the polls. And we've got one thing that most of Asia doesn't: actual democracy. China says "'Chinese' [by their definition] people are not ready for democracy", but although we don't like the results, and some outcomes seem straight-up stupid, you have to admit: people were engaged and talking about the races and referendums. People turned out to vote. They didn't vote the way wed've liked, but Taiwan can still prove that 'Chinese' [again, China's definition, not mine] can and have built a democracy. We only have to hope that it stands, because there are some huge tests coming.

Well. We are all Taiwan souls. Some of us were born into it, some of us are not actually Taiwanese but this is our home. I don't get any say in what is or is not "Taiwanese", but our liberal Taiwanese friends do. We need to support them. Now. 

I am deeply disappointed in Taiwan today. I still love this country, but I don't like it very much right now. But this is my home and I may be crying and hungover, but I have to keep fighting for it.

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.