Showing posts with label democracy_in_asia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label democracy_in_asia. Show all posts

Friday, October 18, 2019

No, Chinese don't "like their government" because of economic, historical and cultural reasons: a media analysis/rant

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Some sort of "analysis" popped up recently on SupChina which I ardently disagree with. I normally wouldn't bother about writing a whole reaction post for something that's not entirely awful, in a media outlet that's not mainstream. But, I feel like addressing this time as doing so will hit on a few areas of China media literacy and criticality where we all need to stay sharp.

Let me first say that the piece, which talks about why so many Chinese seem to actually like, or even love, their absolutely awful government, isn't wrong per se (though some areas could use a bit more complexity). It's that it doesn't quite draw a clear cause-and-effect line the way it purports to.

In short, the reasons they give in the piece - "the economy! Chinese history! Cultural reasons!" - are all talking points for those who defend the CCP. There's nothing new - it's the same litany you'll hear from one of the more loquacious fifty-cent trolls. By repeating these excuses uncritically, SupChina is legitimizing them - but they are not legitimate.

Think about it this way: how do you get from "China is a country that has a literal gulag archipelago and comparisons to Nazism are not unwarranted" to "but many Chinese citizens like and will defend their government"? 


How could it be as simple as "the economy - and also, culture"? How could we possibly take such an answer on its face, either from SupChina or any given Chinese citizen spouting such excuses? I'll come back to these questions later.

Before I start in on how foolish it would be to do so - and I will start in at length, believe me - let me say two things. 


First, I really appreciate is the emphasis on the lack of political data for China. A lot of "Chinese people think...." analyses lack this crucial detail, making it sound like the writer actually knows what common sentiments are. Even if polling existed, it's doubtful that the people polled would feel comfortable being honest.

Second, I'm going to talk a lot about Chinese people often believing certain things because they're educated to do so, and that education is reinforced by Chinese media. I want to say now that this is not a simple "they're brainwashed!" or racist "they just can't think critically!" diatribe. People in China, as anywhere, are just as capable of critical thought as anyone else and many can and do form the ability. My point is only that institutional barriers to doing so are both intentional, and higher than in many other places.



It's not the economy, stupid - it's what people are primed to think about the economy

The piece expends a huge percentage of its word count on how improving the Chinese economy caused a lot of people in China to look favorably on their government, and almost none on education and media censorship. 

But those who have been positively affected by the economy - which I admit is a massive number - are taught at school that this miracle which has helped them and so much is entirely thanks to their government, whether or not that's true. This message is reinforced by the media. Sure, they can look around them and see that things have gotten a lot better economically (and they have, even since I lived there in the early 2000s). But when no competing stories are allowed regarding why that is, and no stories about those still living in poverty make it into the news, the real point here is that the economy improved stupendously and the CCP gets sole credit for it by taking that sole credit - by force. 

Does the Chinese government really deserve such kudos? I'm no economist, but one thing I've noticed in my adult life is that while economic policies have an impact, generally speaking economic ups and downs can be bolstered or mitigated with such policies but the actual waves can't be changed much. And when an economy has all the factors in place and the market is open enough to give it the necessary space to happen, it's going to happen no matter who's in charge.

It doesn't matter though, because that's not the story. I can't repeat this enough: many Chinese citizens will say "but the CCP lifted millions out of poverty!" not because the CCP itself necessarily did so, but because that's the only narrative they render possible in China.

There's also an implication here that all of the awful things the CCP have done - the genocides, the mass famine, the cultural destruction, the near-total lack of freedom - are not only justified by "the economy", but are necessary components to bolstering it. And that's just nonsense. 

But if you're not taught about all of the atrocities and so are only vaguely aware of them if at all, you don't hear about massive wealth inequality outside of your east coast Chinese bubble, you grow up with a lack of freedom being normal, and you're consistently fed the line that only the CCP could engineer such stunning growth and anything you hear about the horrors they've inflicted on the country are either justified, necessary or simply non-existent, and you are encouraged by both school and society not to think too deeply about it, only then could you ever use "it's the economy!" as a reason for supporting the CCP.


What about the people the economy left behind?

Oh yes, and the fact that you can only use this "but the economic growth! They lifted so many people out of poverty!" story if you are talking about (or to) the people that actually got lifted out of poverty. Of course they'll defend the current system - they benefit from it! And, to quote Upton Sinclair but with less sexism, it's difficult to get someone to understand something when their salary depends on their not understanding it. 

Ask any one of the millions of people in towns and villages that are not on the east coast, which benefited less (if at all) from the economic boom. Rather like Trump voters who really believe that their man is gonna make everything "great" "again" but just needs more time, you might meet a few who think they are temporarily displaced middle class that the CCP is coming to help any day now, but I wonder how many would just look at you like "whatever dude". Ask a Tibetan. Ask an Uighur. Ask a person of Hmong (Miao) or Dong or Li heritage.

But you didn't ask them, did you? You asked some rando on the street in Shanghai with a fashionable bag (real or not). The students who could afford to take your English class. Maybe you talked to Chinese wealthy enough to travel abroad. Or you didn't ask anyone personally and just read the online opinions of Han Chinese wealthy enough to have an Internet connection. 

You asked privileged voices, and so of course you'll get privileged answers.

Wanna know how I know? Here's how:


In the 1990s, the word for tourism (旅游 lǚyóu) was novel for most of China’s population; today, there’s not a single country in the world that Chinese tourists do not visit.

Great, but what you mean is that there's not a single country in the world that Han Chinese tourists do not visit - because good luck getting a passport if you're Uighur.

Again, the article itself isn't wrong per se, a lot of people of this class and background do support the government because they have benefited from the economic gains China has made. But I'm really curious what people who haven't benefited think, and there are still huge numbers of those thanks to that wealth inequality problem (though I concede that we don't really know what the true statistics are, they're probably worse than imagined.)


Can we please leave Confucius out of this?

This is where I think the article in question, and most commentary on China (and Taiwan, and most of East Asia...) goes off the rails and right into a ditch:


Confucian thought is of course an important part of China’s cultural fabric, and if there’s one thing that Confucius was very clear about, it was the need to respect authority.  
Many Chinese people argue that theirs is a more collectivist society, which means that they’re willing to give up some individual rights in exchange for prosperity and the greater good. This argument suits the Chinese government just fine.

No. I have no time for the excuse that "Chinese culture" provides less fertile soil for democracy to take root.

The article name-checks Taiwan, which is also "more collectivist" than the West, and which has Confucius temples and a few people who will tell you the old guy matters (though most people don't think about it much in their daily lives), and yet still has a pretty successful democracy. But Hong Kong is an important example too - it's quite clear that "Chinese culture" is not holding them back. Tiananmen Square happened, and "culture" didn't hold the demonstrators back - tanks and bullets did. So why do people keep saying this?

Again, it's not exactly wrong: the writers were quite right to point out that this line of thinking benefits the CCP and it's not as though Confucius is entirely unimportant. It's not that Chinese society isn't collective at all.

But it's a bit like arguing that "Aristotelian thought is of course an important part of Europe's cultural fabric, and if there's one thing Aristotle was very clear about, it was that a wise monarch would be better than a democracy. That's why European nations often still have royalty."

Besides, it also ignores the similar importance of Lao Tzu and other thinkers to Chinese cultural fabric, and (to oversimplify by a lot), that dude was all about how we should all do what you feel and just chill, okay? Of course, you don't hear as much about him because it benefits the CCP to elevate Confucius.

And, of course, it oversimplifies Confucius. Confucius was all about the need to respect competent authority, but he was just as critical of tyrannical authority. Didn't he say that a tyrannical government was worse than a ferocious tiger (苛政猛於虎)? That was my buddy C-dog, right? I don't have my Chinese proverbs mixed up?

Plus, he was very much a proponent of critical thinking, if you read him right. Confucian education was more than memorization - it was about applying everything you'd learned to real situations. Honestly - do you think some people (not me though) think Koxinga was a legendary general because of how much stuff he memorized? No - it was how well he applied what he'd learned to real battle situations.

So where's all this "Confucian thought is so important" and "we are a collectivist society" and "Confucius said respect authority" coming from? From the very last line quoted above.

These things are oft-quoted as "important" because the CCP has engineered them to be so. It's in the education system, the media, everywhere.

Todd, who lives in China: "But Chinese education is based on Confucianism! So if Confucianism encourages critical thinking, doesn't that mean that Chinese education teaches it?"

Nope. Chinese education isn't Confucian, it's authoritarian. They are very different things. Confucian education did involve a lot of memorization and strong respect for authority, but authoritarian education specifically seeks to instill in you exactly what the people in charge want you to believe. Confucian education was only available to a select wealthy few who could afford it. Authoritarian education seeks to be more universal - not for the noble reasons you might concoct (though good reasons for universal public education exist, and I support it more generally), but to make sure the Party's values are inculcated into as many minds as possible. They even build whole camps where they force it on you! And it definitely does not promote critical thought.

Of course, the CCP wants you to believe this is "Confucian". It sounds better, it comes across as culturally respectful, and provides a handy excuse for why it is so memorization-and-testing-heavy that doesn't sound so...well, authoritarian.

Todd: "But Taiwan's education is like that too!"

Me: "Yes, because Taiwan is in the unfortunate position of being a democracy with a holdover authoritarian education system created by the Japanese and continued by the KMT, which desperately needs to be updated to reflect contemporary Taiwanese society if its democracy is going to weather the coming storms."


If you still want to believe that the reason here is "culture", not "education and media working together as engineered by the CCP", I can't help you, but I also can't stop a Hong Kong protester from jump-kicking your wrong assumptions in the face.



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Actual Hong Kong protester who has no time for your bullshit

No, it's not about history either

I mean, everything SupChina said about Chinese history is true. The century of humiliation was a thing - for centuries, Western countries were all about being absolute titclowns to everyone else in the world, including that 1850-1950-or-so century. Of course they were jerks to China too.
This is what the Chinese call the century of humiliation (百年国耻 bǎinián guóchǐ), and every child learns about it at school [emphasis mine]. The Qing dynasty began in 1644. At the height of its powers, it expanded China’s territory to include Taiwan, Tibet, and what is now called Xinjiang. 

But what Chinese schoolchildren don't learn about is how incompetent or outright colonial their own governments used to be in imperial times. I'm sure Chinese history textbooks spend lots of time on the imperialism of Western powers, but very little (if any?) on how the Qing weren't considered Chinese at the time and were also therefore a kind of colonial power in China as well. They probably don't learn as much about how badly Qing forces obliterated the countryside during their conquest and how much poverty this wrought. (If you're curious about some of the cultural products spurred by this devastation, read up on the history of the green lion.)



Let's not forget straight-up racism!
Han chauvinism - that is, supremacist and racist sentiment against non-Han people by Han people in China - is a real thing. In part, it's just a tendency you see across humanity; the racism you see by Han Chinese against, say, Tibetans or Uighurs isn't that different in terms of attitude than what you see in other countries against marginalized groups there. But in part, it's encouraged by the CCP,  because it fits into their narrative of a 'superior Chinese race' and 'all Chinese people owe loyalty to China' to promote Han chauvinism. Plus, it's a handy excuse for the (almost entirely Han) elite to ignore the atrocities happening out west, if they hear about them. "But they're Uighurs. They're terrorists!" is an easy go-to if you want to pretend concentration camps aren't a problem. Same for "but China helped develop Tibet so much. It's good for those backward Tibetans that so many charitable Han Chinese have moved there."

Some of this is implicit in CCP messaging, both in school and the media - portraying ethnic minorities as just Chinese in different colorful costumes and funny hats, which makes it easy to accuse members of those groups that don't want to be "Chinese" of being "separatists". Some of it is more explicit (ever hear that song about being 'the same blood'?) All of it still goes right back to CCP social engineering.

But it's a lot harder to write honestly about the explicit use of racism in China by the CCP as a tool to stay in power than to just throw your hands up and say "Confucius! Century of humiliation! Wealthy east coast!"


What you're told, and what you need to tell yourself

So, of course, this all comes down to the same thing in the end: it's not about "the economy" or "Confucius" or "culture" or "history". It comes down to the CCP engineering what you learn, what you see on TV and online, what you read, what people are willing to say to you, and what you should be afraid of saying.

Why, then, does SupChina spend so much time on tangential issues but just 9½ lines (I counted) on education and the media, when that is literally the entire story and should be the main focus? Everything else branches off of that core, like spokes on a wheel, but this story is written as though the spokes make the wheel. 


This is an excellent time to bring up the way that the United States also has a string of concentration camps, many of which house families and children seeking a better life, or to escape near-certain death, and how many Trumpists will either ignore or defend this, despite having access to a freer media environment and better education than in China.

Yup, because they benefit from the system staying the way it is and are hostile to any changes that endanger their position, if not economic, then race-wise (and often both). They were always pre-disposed to turning a blind eye or making excuses. This hostility and reactionary fear has been harnessed intentionally under Trumpism. You see some of the undercurrents of it in China regarding 'fear' of Uighurs and general Han chauvinism.

In both cases, there's an element of Stockholm syndrome, too. If you see no way to speak out, and no way to escape the system, you find ways to live within the system. You rationalize. It's what human brains do to cope. You were handed all these excuses in school, after all, and it's easy to use them (I mean this for both the United States and China - after all, I grew up learning about so-called "American exceptionalism". Yikes.) You might not even be fully aware of the government's worst atrocities (again, I mean this for both countries, though it's a more intentional ignorance in the US).

The key differences are, first, that in China it's centrally-planned and intentional - most US educational policies vary by state. And, of course, that in the US we can talk about these issues freely. That alone causes so many of those barriers I mentioned in the beginning to come crashing down.

To end with the key question I posed in the beginning - how do you you rationalize or ignore literal gulags and mass murder and defend the regime perpetrating them?

Because it either benefits you to do so, you are taught to do so, or you've created a coping mechanism because you know you can't change it. Or - as I suppose is often true - some combination of the three. It's never actually because "the economy improved" or "it's our culture" or "the century of humiliation" (which ended almost a century ago). Never, ever, not ever.

So why, oh why, would you take the litany of Chinese excuses on their stupid, CCP-engineered faces, as SupChina wants to do?

Look instead at where every one of these excuses originated, and therein lies the answer. 

Monday, September 23, 2019

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

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

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

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

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



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Source: New Power Party 


No, really: 

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Source: New Power Party Facebook page

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Being a democracy activist in Asia is an act of extreme courage

Screen Shot 2019-08-31 at 12.19.45 AM


Asia woke up this morning to the news that several Hong Kong activists were being arrested or attacked for their alleged roles in the ongoing protest movement there. Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow Ting, Andy Chan, Jimmy Sham, Althea Suen and more (including some pro-democracy lawmakers) have been targeted in various ways - cornered and beaten, shoved into private cars and taken to police stations to face charges or arrested at the airport before a planned trip abroad. One activist was released from police custody and then attacked.

These are only the high-profile arrests. Hundreds more have been quietly arrested in previous weeks:



Notably, the Civil Human Rights Front march that Jimmy Sham was likely involved in organizing hasn't taken place yet. 

What that means is that these activists are being targeted - arrested or beaten - in some cases for things that China Hong Kong anticipates their doing, not things they have already allegedly done.


I cannot stress this enough. It's full-on Minority Report, as a friend put it: arresting someone for a "crime" that has not been committed (yet, allegedly, not that a peaceful march is a crime at all.)

That's not the sort of thing well-functioning societies do; it's the sort of thing fascist states do. It's White Terror. It's pre-massacre. If that alarms you, it should. 

The march has been officially canceled but I'll be very interested to see what actually happens tomorrow. 

These demonstrations are officially 'leaderless', and while organizers certainly exist, it sure looks to me like the Chinese Hong Kong government just decided to go after former protest leaders and other activists almost randomly, either assuming that they must be somehow involved or not caring and just looking to arrest some public pro-democracy figures on whatever charges they could drum up. 

In fact, there are serious doubts as to whether Joshua Wong had a leading role in the Wan Chai demonstration:



That this sudden crackdown on pro-democracy activists happened right before this weekend's planned march hints at China Hong Kong's true intentions: not to actually bring 'leaders' of these demonstrations 'to justice', but rather to scare demonstrators into ending the movement.

Add to this the detention in China of British Consulate employee Simon Cheng on unclear grounds (Cheng has since been released) and the disappearance of Taiwanese activist Morrison Lee after entering Shenzhen (in China) from Taiwan, and you've got yourself quite the 'crackdown' list indeed. What's more, with Cathay Pacific now stating that any employee who protests this weekend or joins the planned general strike next week may face termination, other companies are likely to follow suit. Even more than that, there are rumors of Hong Kong locking down its Internet access much in the way China does its own.

Perhaps most terrifying of all, Lizard Person Chief Executive Carrie Lam said that "all laws" were on the table as possible tools to end the protests. This includes the absolutely terrifying Emergency Regulations Ordinance, which is basically a state of Martial Law:


Such regulations grant a wide range of powers, including on arrests, detentions and deportations, the control of ports and all transport, the appropriation of property, and authorising the entry and search of premises and the censorship and suppression of publications and communications. 
The ordinance also allows the chief executive to decide on the penalties for the offences drawn under the emergency regulations, with a maximum of life imprisonment.

All of this was done by the Hong Kong government officially, but we know who's really running the show. To wit:


The Chinese central government rejected Lam’s proposal to withdraw the extradition bill and ordered her not to yield to any of the protesters’ other demands at that time, three individuals with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.... 
Beijing’s rebuff of Lam’s proposal for how to resolve the crisis, detailed for the first time by Reuters, represents concrete evidence of the extent to which China is controlling the Hong Kong government’s response to the unrest.

Of course, it's unclear what China hopes to gain by escalating rather than choosing a path that would bring peace (do not think for a moment that they couldn't choose such a path; they just don't want to. Don't pretend that Beijing is not responsible for its own choices.)

Is it a trap to provoke protesters into actions that could be spun by Chinese state media as "violence" and used as justification for further crackdowns?





Or, perhaps China Hong Kong isn't sure at all what to do about a leaderless protest with very specific demands - including the one thing they are completely opposed to offering (that is, true democracy) - is desperate to stop it, has started panicking and has started randomly arresting figureheads thinking they're all the same kind of 'roaches' anyway. Or, perhaps,  China Hong Kong law enforcement really is stupid enough to believe that these arrests along with talk of 'emergency powers', random attacks and disappearances and more will 'scare' democracy activists away and end the protests. (It won't.)

I don't know, and I'll be watching social media carefully this weekend just like everyone else to find out what the effects will be.

Given all of this, all I can say is - it takes guts of steel to be a democracy activist in Asia these days. Not a dilettante at a keyboard like me, but the ones in gas masks on the streets, the ones likely to be arrested, attacked or disappeared. That's true regardless of where you come from in Asia, and is especially true in Hong Kong now.

It's dangerous to travel, as you never know which countries might detain you at China's request as Thailand did with Joshua Wong. A Taiwanese activist friend of mine has said that as a result, he worries about travel to other parts of Asia. The Philippines, an ostensibly democratic nation, is turning 'death squads' on political activists. Constant threat of attack, detainment or disappearance bring both pride and anguish to their families. Taiwanese and Hong Kong activists now disappear in China regularly - Lee Ming-che, Simon Cheng, Morrison Lee - those who are banned from China got the better deal than those allowed to enter only to be thrown in a cell.

And yet, the protests must go on. The activism must continue. Having guts of steel is necessary, because giving in is not an option. They are not wrong - China is - and it's therefore on China to do the right thing. (They won't.)

For a part of the world that is relatively politically stable (well, outside China) and well-developed, it's an absolute tragedy that this is what one risks when one stands up for the basic right of self-determination, even in the Asian countries that protect such rights.

That leads me to a darker thought. During the 2016 US presidential campaign, I remember Hillary Clinton making an off-the-cuff remark (spoken, and I can't find video) about how the international affairs landscape had changed since the '90s - she said something like "we all believed it was supposed to be the End of History", admitting through her maudlin tone that it had not and would not come to pass. 


I remember Clinton shrugging it off, like "oh well, guess we got that one wrong", as though that's all there was to it. A scholar wrote a thing, we believed that thing, we acted according to our belief in that thing but...haha funny story, turns out he wasn't quite right that free markets under neoliberal capitalism through globalization and wealth creation would bring about liberal democratic reforms in currently illiberal nations and that didn't actually happen lol  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ !

But sitting here in Asia watching people I follow on social media - and in a few cases have some mutual friends with - be arrested or attacked for things that either haven't been done yet or would not be crimes even if they've committed them, it makes me furious. Beliefs like that led the rest of the world to praise China's rapid (if uneven, unreliably measured and volatile) economic development while not saying much at all about continued political oppression there, their escalating nationalist and fascist rhetoric, including 'moral education', and increasingly aggressive expansionism.

And now that big, mean giant is trying to call the shots in Asia well beyond its own borders, and is actively threatening exactly the democracy activists those '90s wonks would have wanted - nay, expected - to succeed.

Basically, the West's oopsie! on believing that freer markets would lead to freer societies has instead led straight to all of the dangers - including threats to their lives - that these brave activists must now face. Believing in hackneyed political philosophy and acting on that, it turns out, has real consequences.

Most of the blame for the poor current state of freedom and human rights in Asia lies with China. Some lies with a few other nations, but none are as powerful as China. But some of it lies with us - the West. We could have figured out in 1989 - the year of both Fukuyama's essay on The End of History and the Tiananmen Square Massacre - that we couldn't just rely on China to liberalize, and that freedoms must be consistently fought for and sometimes paid for with blood. We could have done right by Hong Kong before 1997, actually giving Hong Kongers a say and a true democracy then, rather than relying on China to do the right thing when it was so very clear that it would not. We could have woken up to the need to stand by Taiwan far earlier (some still haven't woken up).

But we didn't. Oops. And Asia suffered for it. 


Another bit of ‘90s era claptrap that hobbles today’s activists in Asia is the notion of ‘Asian-style democracy’ - relentlessly prompted by people like Lee Kuan-yew. This preposterous notion that it’s OK for democracy in Asia to be a bit more authoritarian and much less free ‘because of culture’ - which is what its rationale boils down to - made it that much harder for the millions in Asia, who never consented to this quasi-authoritarian model of limited democracy, to fight for the same freedoms that Westerners expect and enjoy. And it made life more dangerous for activists working for those goals, and who understand that human rights are not ‘cultural’, but universal. That they exist in large numbers and persist in their goals shows that the ‘different cultures’ argument is ultimately specious. 



Asian strongmen - the ones who benefit from the normalizing of this belief - still use the ‘Asian-style democracy’ argument to justify their tactics, China uses the ‘East-West values’ argument, and some Westerners, especially lefties and liberals, lap it up. It allows them to feel good about themselves for understanding ‘cultural differences’ while offering them an excuse to sit back and do nothing without moral guilt. Meanwhile, people who share their vision in Asia fight, are injured, disappear and die, ignored. 

Alongside ‘the end of history’, the troublesome persistence of the ‘Asian values’ paradigm has actively hurt democracy activism here, and continues to harm them. 

Arguably the logic behind the Handover was rooted somewhat in these beliefs (they were popular notions when it was being negotiated in the ‘80s and ‘90s). And now, Hong Kongers are feeling the result. Bad beliefs aren’t just oopsies. They have consequences. 

And now, thanks in some small part to us,  must be very brave and willing to risk everything to fight for democracy in Asia, and we are going to need a lot of gas masks, a lot of umbrellas, and wave upon wave of courageous people.

It should bother you, then, that the people - many of them young, some even teenagers - who are fighting on the front lines of the battle for democracy against authoritarianism are not fighting just for themselves, but for you. This is the front line but if you think China's not coming to subvert your democratic norms too, you're blinkered. In some cases, they already are. It should bother you a lot that they're fighting for themselves and for you, when you helped create a world where it was necessary for them to stand up in the face of bullets, 'private cars', trumped-up arrest charges, water cannons and tear gas. It should bother you that they're risking their livelihoods and their lives to fix a problem you helped create.

And it should bother you that the rest of the world is not standing with them as much as they should. It takes courage to be a democracy activist in Asia, and even greater courage to continue to fight when the world does not necessarily have your back.

So, fellow Westerners, global middle and upper classes, and political influencers. The next time you pat yourself on the back for buying into something that sounds so very clever, think about how many Joshua Wongs are going to end up disappeared, in jail or dead if you are wrong. Think about how many people might have to be brave because you wanted to think yourself smart. 

Monday, June 10, 2019

Hong Kong's proposed extradition law should terrify you

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I want to address this to my friends - especially real-life friends outside Asia, but really anybody who cares even nominally about my well-being. I'd like you to read this with the thought in your head that every possibility described below could very well happen to me - this isn't some abstract thing that might affect people you don't know in a place that's far away. It's a very real thing that might affect someone you do know. Please consider that, and read on.

A massive demonstration took place in Hong Kong today to protest a proposed extradition treaty that would allow people facing criminal charges to be sent to Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan for trial. Nobody is quite sure how many are in attendance but everyone agrees that it is at least several hundred thousand (well, the police don't, but they have a reputation for purposely under-reporting).

That may sound fine - boring, even. You might do a quick search and learn that Hong Kong already has extradition treaties with 20 other governments, so why not add these to the mix? Why would up to half a million people or more* take to the streets of Hong Kong Island to protest it, grinding much of the city to a halt?

Because, as this video from the Progressive Lawyers' Group in Hong Kong explains, there is simply no hope of a fair trial in China. The government decides whom it wants to convict, and throughout the sham trial their conviction is a foregone conclusion. Extradition treaties are based on the belief that the other country or territory will give the person a fair trial - and Hong Kongers would be right to have no such faith in China.

It's an even more troubling situation for Hong Kong, where the government is ostensibly partly elected, but in practice under the thumb of the CCP. They run their own Beijing-backed candidates; if too many pro-Hong Kong/anti-China candidates win seats in Hong Kong's legislative committee, they simply fabricate charges to get them kicked out of the government and in some cases put in jail.

If China decided that someone they wanted to punish, 'disappear' or sentence to death would not be adequately punished/disappeared/killed in Hong Kong, they could simply order the government they ultimately control to send that person to China - even if the alleged crime had not been committed in China. Even if whatever action the Chinese government wanted to punish was taken in a place where it was legal, such as Hong Kong or Taiwan. Then China could do what they liked with that person.

Don't believe me? Ask Lee Ming-che, who is currently serving a prison sentence in China despite having committed no crime (what he did took place in Taiwan, where such actions are quite legal - not China.) And he's not the only one.

Under such a system, Hong Kong would have the appearance of a semi-elected governing body and fair, independent judiciary tasked with upholding residents' and visitors' access to their legal and human rights, but in fact every last one of them would be ultimately subject to the much less fair and transparent Chinese legal system - as their extradition could be requested at any time. It would be very difficult to convince skeptics (and a complicit international media) that this is the case, because on paper, Hong Kong wouldn't have the same legal framework as China. In reality, the difference between them would not matter at all.

What does this have to do with me?

I go to China sometimes, and I know that I risk being detained over my criticisms of the CCP. It probably won't happen - there's an element of white privilege (although they have detained non-Asians), and the fact that I'm relatively obscure and will probably stay that way. They seem to be more reticent to detain US citizens. I write in English for an English-speaking audience on a platform blocked in China; my work isn't aimed at China or Chinese readers. But imagine that one day they do decide that I'm trouble, and need to be dealt with.

I'd probably be aware of that well before I tried to enter China, which at that point I might simply stop doing. Hong Kong, on the other hand, is supposed to be a place I can visit where I would still have some basic protections and access to human rights. Under this new extradition law, however, the Chinese government could order the Hong Kong government to send me to China for trial, despite having done nothing illegal in China itself - or anywhere else (nothing I write is illegal in Taiwan or, ostensibly, Hong Kong.)

Now imagine that Taiwan is forced to come under the same 'One Country Two Systems' framework as Hong Kong, either through some annexationist effort from China or Taiwanese blundering into electing a (potentially) a bought-and-paid-for stooge of the CCP groomed to run on a populist, "let's all get rich" platform with absolutely no substance or follow-through, but very attractive rhetoric that cuts right to some endorphin center in enough people's brains. That elected someone would sign over Taiwan's sovereignty for the right price, or no price at all.

China would insist that "One Country Two Systems" would allow Taiwan to keep its current political structure, but in practice everything that's happening in Hong Kong would start to happen here. Intentional flooding of immigrants from China who disrupt elections. Beijing-backed candidates running in races. Beijing-opposed candidates being kicked out of office on bogus charges until everyone in the "elected" Taiwanese government is sufficiently pro-China. The international media would play its same old fake neutrality card, claiming that perhaps this is problematic although the two places technically have different systems.

By then, the same extradition treaty they're forcing through in Hong Kong would be in force in Taiwan, as well.

And I wouldn't just be unsafe going to Hong Kong - I'd be unsafe in the country I call home. If this happens, every single thing I write on Lao Ren Cha could be the thing that lands me in a Chinese prison - despite living in a place that would seem to have its own democratic government and independent legal system. Both, however, would be irrelevant. China could simply tell the government it controls to "send her over", and that'd be that. For all intents and purposes, I'd be under the Chinese legal system.

You know I consider it a moral obligation not to keep my mouth shut about political injustice. How do you think that would go for me? I don't expect random readers to sympathize with the idea that Taiwan is my home and I don't have another one I can easily 'return' to, and I admit to the privilege of having that blue passport. But you guys - my actual friends and family - you know that this is my home and deciding to 'just leave' isn't so simple. 


This obviously affects Taiwanese citizens even more - they'd be more unsafe than me, with fewer places to go. Please remember that. But, as I'm addressing my friends outside Asia right now, all of those people might seem like abstractions. They're unknown - a large population you have no connection with. Far away. You know me, though. You have a connection with me. This shouldn't be an abstraction. It could affect someone who is actually a part of your life.

I shouldn't have to put it this way - that millions of Taiwanese people would be at risk should be enough to scare you. It should be enough to care. But I'm aware that when talking about large groups of people you don't know from a far-away foreign country you've never visited, it's hard to apply that same level of individual human concern. I ask you to try - but if your brain just won't cooperate, make it personal. Think of me.

Don't like that? Well, let me show you how it's even worse.

I can't substantiate this, but the story flicking around Twitter is that shady pro-CCP groups offered to pay pretty decent sums of money to get a few hundred people to come out to support the extradition law, because they know it's so unpopular. If true, they are literally fabricating support for CCP initiatives to make it seem like this is some sort of controversial issue with many sides. It's not - Hong Kong residents are quite clearly opposed to it.




There is also word (as of when I am writing this) that police beatings are breaking out in Hong Kong.

Even sadder?

Despite the massive size of this protest - I don't think either side estimated that many people would turn out - this law will probably be passed, and Hong Kong will become just as unsafe as China for anyone who expresses opinions the CCP doesn't like.

In Taiwan, a protest this size might just be a wake-up call. Though its light is fading, the Sunflower Movement had a real effect here and its spirit lives on in some of us. In Hong Kong, this should be a clarion call to LegCo (the city's legislative body) not to pass this law - but LegCo is in the CCP's pocket, and the CCP doesn't care.

But hold on tight - if these protests continue, things could get tense in Hong Kong, in exactly the way they need to. It counts for something that people are standing and fighting. Don't stop.

And friends in far-flung places - please don't forget that this isn't an abstraction. It's not some boring legal battle going on in a place you don't know well, affecting people you don't care about on a personal level. However tangentially, it affects me. I know we all have a lot of competing issues battling for space in our hearts and minds, but it's worth your time to care about this. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

I attended the Taipei commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre and...

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The event was emceed by Lin Fei-fan and Miao Poya

...I'm not going to give you a rundown. You can read one here (it comes after discussion of a conference that took place last weekend leading up to the event, which I was unable to attend for work reasons.


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I'll just say briefly that I've attended in years past, when the crowd was smaller and perhaps a bit more casual, there to remember the events of June 4th, 1989 but not terribly weighed down by them.


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This year's event was better-attended than those in years past. 


This year, I don't know what it was. I would simply expect that there'd be a greater number of PRC spies in the audience than usual, though I can always assume a few are around at any civil society event in Taiwan, so that wasn't it. Perhaps it was the importance of this being a 'Big 0' anniversary. Perhaps trepidation over China's increasing global influence, expansionism and belligerence. Perhaps its increasingly annexationist and violent rhetoric regarding Taiwan. Perhaps a latent knowledge and fear that political conditions in China are worsening, that a genocide is going on while the world shrugs its shoulders ("never again" my ass), that they've already silenced Hong Kong and Taiwan could be next - they intend for Taiwan to be next and this grows more obvious by the day. But I don't really know.

It was something though, and another friend picked up on it too.


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I got to meet Miao Poya

"Why does the crowd feel different?" he asked. I'd noticed it too, but couldn't put my finger on it.

I thought for a minute and answered, simply -


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Vice-President Chen Chien-jen speaks



"Fear."




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Thursday, March 28, 2019

Nobody should need a personal "refugee fund" to feel safe in a developed democracy

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Hey Taiwan residents - both foreign and local - do you have a refugee fund?

That is, personal savings or some other safety net that you are preparing in the event that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan forces you to leave?


I do. I don't want to leave, and would not do so unless I absolutely had to - we're not talking "the invasion is coming soon", we're talking "my house just got bombed, people are dying and I have nowhere to go." And I only mean that in the event that I am not a citizen: I don't owe my life to a country that won't even give me a passport. If I had obtained Taiwanese citizenship by that point, however, that's a different obligation and I would stay and fight.
The money I have set aside could be used as a down payment on property. If I don't need it, it will be part of my retirement fund. I could use it to pay off my student loans. There are a million other things I could do with it, but I may need it for this purpose and don't feel safe not having it available, so here we are. 

Of course I'm very privileged that I'd even be able to leave (a lot of locals would not be) and that the money is there, but here's the thing.

I should not need to set aside money specifically for my escape from a free and developed democracy due to a highly possible invasion by a hostile foreign power. Nobody should have to.

Not in a country that actively wants to exist in peace, and has no desire to start any wars with any other nation. 


I should not need to wonder, quite pragmatically, whether the rest of the world will tolerate a brutal dictatorship violently annexing the world's 22nd largest economy, one of the US's top trading partners, with a population comparable to that of Australia which is free, basically well-run and friendly to other nations. I should not need to consider whether my decision to stay or go - and the money I need to do that - may well hinge on whether that help comes. 


I'm reasonably sure all of my friends in Taiwan - local and foreign - can understand this.

I am not sure at all that my friends abroad do, though. I'm not sure especially if people I know in the US, Europe, Japan (all developed countries/regions, a group in which Taiwan also qualifies) and beyond are aware of what it's like to have a practical, non-insane notion that they might have 30 days' notice that their life and livelihood as they know it is about to be over. Where "getting out" and losing everything would be the better outcome, and how many more people (again, the population of Australia) might not even have that option.


So I still hear things like "oh but you don't want US help, it'd be just like Iraq or Syria, they'd wreck the place!" or "I don't want your city to become another Fallujah."

Do they understand that it is China who would turn Taipei into an East Asian Fallujah? 


And that their and their governments' wishy-washy response to Chinese threats against Taiwan are a part of why I need to have this fund at all? 

That they think they support peace, but in fact they'd leave us (foreign residents and Taiwanese both) to run or die in war? Do they understand what it would be like for Taiwan to be forcibly annexed by China? Do they understand that giving in and just surrendering to authoritarian rule - and the loss of very real and important freedom and human rights - is not an option? That there is no One Country, Two Systems?

Over the past few years I've come to realize that while at heart I want to be a dove, I can't. Sure, I agree that the US is a neo-imperialist murder machine. Fine. We suck. I won't even argue that we don't. We've done so much harm in the world.

But Taiwan is not Iraq. It's not Syria, it's not Iran or Afghanistan or Central America. It's just not. It's not even comparable. It has its own military and simply needs assistance (or the promise of it, to keep China from attempting an invasion). It has its own successful democratic government and rule of law (I mean...basically. Taiwan does okay.) There'd be no democracy-building or post-war occupation needed. It just needs friends. Big friends, who can tell the bully to back off.

So, y'know, I don't give a crap anymore about anyone's "but the US is evil!" I just don't. Y'all are not wrong, but it simply does not matter. China wants to wreck this country, not the US. China's the invader and (authoritarian) government-builder, not the US. China will turn their guns and bombs on Taiwanese, not the US.

And if you're not the one who has all those missiles pointed at them, you're not the one with lots of friends who could lose everything (including their lives), or lose everything yourself, and you're not the one actively building a refugee fund to escape an otherwise peaceful, developed and friendly country, then you can take all that "but the US is evil!" and shove it. This is a real world situation where we don't exactly have the luxury of choice in who stands by us. There isn't a "better option". There just...isn't.

Unless you think a friendly, open and vibrant democracy being swallowed by a massive dictatorship and losing all access to human rights is totally fine, or that having a refugee fund when living in said open democratic nation is normal.

It's not normal. My refugee fund should not have to exist. Please understand this. 

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Battle for the Story of Taiwan: De-centering Oppressive Narratives

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Spend any time around nerdy academic/historian types (or just socially aware people) and you'll eventually end up in a discussion about dominant narratives. A dominant narrative is basically the I-sound-like-smart-people way of describing the old "history is written by the winners" trope; the stories of those whose experiences don't align with the dominant narrative are "counter-narratives", as they're marginalized from the dominant narrative. (If you're already familiar with what this means, you can skip/skim the next few paragraphs).

These people may, in fact, be a majority of people spread across a variety of groups who aren't "the winners" in history. Considering, for example, that women's experiences are often not accounted for by the dominant narrative of most cultures, nor are those of people of color (or not in the ethnic majority), LGBT+ people and more, it's hard to argue that the "dominant narrative" is the one experienced by the most people; rather, it's the one experienced by the most privileged people.

Or, to give a real life example, in school in the US I learned the dominant narrative of American history. That history was dotted with august men who did brave things and propelled mind-blowing scientific and social advancements. Then, we evolved as a society and began talking about all the women whose contributions had been left out of this story: for instance, if you listen to the dominant narrative on the history of computer science, you'd think the whole field was developed by men, with the first technological advancements in the field by men, and the first coding done by men. That is far from true, however.

Then women's history became a thing, but it was mostly white women's history, so there was a lot of discussion about women not having access to work opportunities or even being "allowed" to work for pay. Of course, that left out women of color and working-class women, who had consistently earned money through labor...and it goes on.

And of course, it's not that the dominant narrative is totally wrong; it's just told as the whole story, when in fact it's simply one facet of the story. It's a cut in the diamond; not the whole damn stone.

I'm probably already losing a few readers here, and that's fine. If you're all "ugh but LOBSTERS" or some nonsense at this point, then do yourselves a favor and go. I won't notice. I'm not aiming this at you.

So, what does this have to do with China and Taiwan? Quick-thinking readers surely see where I'm going with this.

Liberal thinkers in many countries have done a fantastic job of pointing out and attempting to rectify the grip on historical interpretation that the old dominant narratives had. They'll readily point out that this or that telling of our collective cultural tale isn't including enough marginalized narratives.

But then they look across to the ocean at Asia and it's like all of that complex critical thinking just goes out the window; where we were discussing a beautifully-cut diamond with near-countless facets in our own culture, we're back to "it's a rock!" when discussing the other side of the world.

It's the result of a good-faith effort not to look at the world through a white/Western lens, and elevate narratives that are not white or Western, but it does exactly the thing that these same people warn against doing in their own cultures: it centers only the dominant narrative in this part of Asia, and marginalizes every other one. In other words, when de-centering Whiteness and choosing a different narrative, they again reach for the most dominant non-white narrative and there's a battle fought anew to argue for the inclusion of everything that is marginalized as a result of that choice.

And because it's big and populous and powerful (by powerful I mean "it has a lot of money"), that dominant narrative is China's.

Or rather, not even China's - it's the Communist Party of China (CCP) narrative. It's the wealthy straight cis male Chinese narrative. It's the Han narrative (oh, you thought only white people could be ethno-cultural chauvinists who try to erase the counter-narratives of others or pound them into submission as 'colorful' but ultimately obedient 'minority' 'ethnic' groups? You're wrong.)

Don't believe me? Okay, why is it that China relaxing its One Child Policy made the international news but nobody's talking about how the CCP still treats women's bodies as property of the state? Why does Taiwan's path to marriage equality make the international news, but no major Western media outlets seem to link it explicitly to Taiwan's cultural distinctness from China (which is nowhere near any sort of same-sex partnership)? Why do so many Westerners seem to think Chinese culture is so "traditionally" anti-gay when that's just not the whole story? I could go on.

So, when the question turns to Taiwan, that same prioritizing of the CCP/Han dominant narrative gets repeated by well-meaning Western liberals.

The results are devastating.  That same quicksilver liberal who could tear apart the way you looked at the world by pointing out every marginalized narrative in her own culture devolves into insisting - often loudly, even stupidly - on pre-fab garbage like "but Taiwan is China because their official name is the Republic of China!" or "but the Taiwanese are Chinese because historically they come from the same culture and heritage and they have the same history!" or "I don't think Taiwanese independence is a good idea because we need more unity in the world and less nationalism!" or "how can Taiwan be a country when it's not in the UN?"

Or - and this is the most insidious one of all in my opinion, a real rabbit hole - "but China has such a different culture and they conceive of these things so differently, we can't push our Western conception of what it means to be culturally Chinese on them!"

Except that's the CCP's line - we're not Western, your Western morals and ethics and concepts don't work here. It only works for everyone in Asia if the general consensus in Asia is that it's true - but that's not the case. Most Taiwanese don't; having as a population forced their own government to democratize and adopt (albeit imperfectly enforce) the basic tenets of universal human rights, they'd argue for the same freedoms and similar political values to the ones your typical Western liberal espouses (family and social values may differ, however).

So if you adopt that dominant narrative as the only narrative that counts in (ugh) "Greater China", you're just telling people in this part of Asia how to think based on your White conception of how people here should think, which is informed by what the dominant (and authoritarian) narrative in these parts is telling you. That dominant narrative will further imply that in order to "respect Asian values", you need to agree. Or, as a friend put it, the CCP picks apart the Western dominant narrative  - which, to be fair, deserves to be picked apart - but their goal is to supplant it with their own.

It is helpful to that dominant narrative if you - the well-meaning Westerner who wants to "respect different cultures" - don't notice that there is more than one narrative in Asia, and that there are all sorts of marginalized Asian narratives you could also be listening to.


In short, by adopting the CCP/China narrative when talking about Taiwan, you are doing to Taiwan exactly what you'd argue against in your own culture. You are telling people who are trying to express a marginalized narrative - of Taiwanese identity, Taiwanese shared history and its many cultural facets - that their stories don't matter and should not be included, that only what China thinks counts. And you're doing it while believing yourself enlightened; believing that by swallowing the CCP's Story of China and Taiwan, that you are "respecting Asian values and other cultures", when you are doing the opposite.

The KMT/Republic of China narrative functions similarly. If you buy into the "Taiwan's official name is the Republic of China, so they too claim to be 'China'", you're centering the dominant narrative of what a former military dictatorship forced on Taiwan, and ignoring the marginalized narrative of the vast majority of Taiwanese who simply don't believe that to be the case, but feel powerless to change what the government must continue to claim under threat of war. 


I've thought a lot about why this is. Part of it boils down to Asia just being far away and unfamiliar. When you don't have much direct experience of a place or its cultures - maybe one or two trips, maybe reading the news - when you hear a narrative from that unfamiliar part of the world, it's natural to seize on it as the narrative, something you didn't know before, yippee! It's human nature to think of something you've learned to be the last thing you need to learn, or to be as deep as you need to go.

People also have limited time; a Westerner without ties to this part of Asia simply doesn't have room in their daily life to learn more about how things work here, just as I simply don't have the time to delve into the intricacies of North African politics, let alone the narratives within any single North African country, and what marginalized narratives may lie beneath that.

And, of course, learning is a scaffolded process: when the average Westerner may not even be aware that Taiwan and China have two different, sovereign systems of government, it's quite difficult to then make the leap to specialized historical discussions about what was and was not historically considered "China" and why it matters, for instance.

Much easier for the average person to hear a new perspective and decide that it simply and succinctly covers what they need to know. The human tendency to seize on a dominant narrative and accept it because it simply and understandably helps them file away a difficult topic is both natural and global. If you recognize that bias for what it is, it's not even anything to be ashamed of.

The CCP has figured this out: they know people in other countries have limited time and brain space to devote to the full story here. So they expend massive resources to ensure that their narrative is the one everyone hears.

How to overcome it? After years of thinking about this, I'm still not sure, but I have a few pallid suggestions. Like tarps in a cyclone, they are certainly insufficient, and I make no promises as to their efficacy.

Once made aware of the tendency to abandon criticality when faced with a new narrative, most well-meaning people are able to work that muscle in their brain until it's instinctive: meet new narrative, absorb information, ask oneself: is this all there is to the story? There must be more. There's always more.

It's not always necessary to dive in and learn it all; simply being aware that there's a lot more going on underneath any narrative you hear, and that everything you hear may carry with it bias or intent, is often enough to maintain adequate criticality. When discussing Taiwan with people abroad who may be willing to listen, we need to get that muscle working first, but approach our request that one think critically about the narrative they've heard in a way that will be heeded. Keep it brief, and don't be afraid to break out the metalanguage. "De-centering" and "marginalized narratives" are terms that are used so often that they're practically cliché, but they make sense and accurately describe the situation. They're powerful tools when discussing Taiwan with those who are sympathetic to looking at the world through these lenses.


There are so many thoughtful experts, scholars and activists who are knowledgeable about Taiwan, who will pointedly argue for the inclusion of marginalized narratives here. Any contemporary telling of Taiwanese history to such an audience is likely to be met with a barrage of discussions about whether it adequately includes indigenous history, or women's history, or the history of lower-income or rural people. This is fantastic; the battle for the Story of Taiwan as more than the Story of Hoklo Han Taiwan is one we must fight.

And yet, there's also a larger battle we must attend to concurrently; the battle for the Story of Taiwan to be included in the narrative of East Asia, and we've got to keep our eyes on that fight, too.