Showing posts with label foreign_labor. Show all posts
Showing posts with label foreign_labor. Show all posts

Monday, October 5, 2020

The Taichung City government is discriminating against foreign residents for no good reason

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It's time to complain again. I hate this as much as you do.


It was announced recently that the Taichung City government would be ending its program offering free public transportation for the first 10km of any ride to all passengers. Starting January 1st, the free transit is only available to some "Taichung residents". Of course, that doesn't mean all Taichung residents, only Taichung residents who are Taiwanese. 

Foreign residents of Taichung are out of luck. 

I'm not a Taichung resident, but if you are, you absolutely should complain. Here's a link to do exactly that. Pass it on. 


The policy will still include foreign spouses and students studying in Taichung, but foreigners without a local spouse will have to pay. 

Let's leave aside that Taichung public transportation is a bit of a joke (it's hard to get anywhere in a reasonable amount of time and every time I go I'm stuck taking taxis everywhere as I don't drive in cities). This is a shame, as good transit makes good cities for residents and visitors alike. The benefits are innumerable and undeniable. I'll be interested to see if the new MRT line improves the situation. 

Let's focus instead on the biggest impact: foreign blue-collar workers, typically factory workers and caregivers/home health aides. 

For "us" (relatively comfortable members of the foreign community who aren't going to hurt from having to pay a small amount for public transit), the insult is more symbolic. For me, it's entirely symbolic: I don't live in Taichung so I'd have to pay regardless, and I'm fine with that. 

For foreign residents who are routinely underpaid, work long hours and are more likely to rely on public transportation on a tight budget, the difference between being able to use the system for free like any other Taichung resident and being asked to pay is likely to exacerbate real struggles. 

As with every city in Taiwan, Taichung needs these workers. They are part of the backbone of a city's workforce. Here in Taipei, I don't know how my local community, full of senior citizens, would function without the large number of caregivers. Taichung's industrial centers surely need them as well. They are residents too, and it's offensive to treat them as outsiders, asking them pay for a service that's free for other residents, all while paying them below-average wages. 

Most visitors will bring or rent their own transportation, or use taxis like me. That means the vast majority of people asked to pay will still be Taichung residents -- just not Taiwanese ones. 

It's not a bad idea to charge for public transit, but it is deeply unfair to ask only some residents to pay, especially when so many of those residents struggle more than their Taiwanese neighbors.

Even though for us privileged foreigners, the issue is the principle and not the actual money involved, it's still offensive. We've been through this before -- again, again, and again. At this point, it's clear that forgetting that foreigners reside in Taiwan too, and we depend on the services that our taxes help pay for too, is either deliberate or deliberately obtuse.

In short, I am extremely tired of the whole "we forgot you guys existed!" game. It's getting old and it's got to stop. Especially when you don't know when the exclusion is deliberate and when your communities are just...forgotten. 

Plus, it reeks of a localist mindset - the only residents of Taiwan who matter are Taiwanese, apparently - that won't help Taiwan in its efforts to reach out internationally. Taiwan not only needs its local workers, both the blue-collar workers that basically keep Taiwan running and the white-collar ones who at the very least pay taxes and are an integral part of the economy, but we're also a strong source of soft power abroad. Some (like me) are privileged and some are underprivileged (a situation which really must be dealt with), but along with locals, we are all residents and we should all be in this together, and be a force that is good for Taiwan together. If the truth is "Taiwan for Taiwanese only and foreigners are only welcome to a certain extent, for what they can give us, but we'll shortchange them at every opportunity"...well, that's just not good for the country. 

And there's no good reason for it. Why can't Taichung residency be determined by the address on your ARC? Why include students (meaning that you're willing to include people without a local household registration) but not foreigners who've lived here for longer? If it's because "students are usually on a budget", well, blue-collar foreign workers are too because they're so underpaid so that's not an excuse either. I could understand making it free for all residents but charging visitors, but this is just plain discrimination as it's not going to be free for all residents! 

Yet it may be free for some visitors -- if your household registration is in Taichung it won't matter if you live in a different city, you'll get the benefit while plenty of actual Taichung residents won't. This isn't a "help Taichungers" strategy. It's an anti-foreigner one.

In short, Taiwan is never going to reach out to the international community abroad effectively if it can't even reach out to the international community locally. If it still forgets -- or stubbornly insists -- that we don't matter, or we don't exist, or that double-standard treatment for different residents is acceptable, or that some residents are more "real" residents than others.

It's not acceptable. It has to stop. 

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Officially on hiatus - enjoy some links!

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I've been clear on Lao Ren Cha's Facebook page that I'm unable to update regularly as I clear the home stretch of dissertation writing, but never really made it official here.

So, it's official. Expect very little (if anything) from me until the dissertation is behind me. At the latest that will be September, but I might find time for a few posts while I'm waiting for draft feedback or as I finish up final edits.

Until then, here are some links to work by others that I have enjoyed. I've already linked much of it on the Facebook page, but not here as I don't do weekly links. Some of it is recent, some less recent but of lasting value. If you're plugged in to news and commentary about Taiwan, you've probably come across much of it before, but consider this a shout-out to some of my favorite work on Taiwan. 



Taipei's homeless are few but desperate - Cindy Chang

Can Tsai Ing-wen avoid the second-term curse? - Kharis Templeman


Recent changes in national identity - Nathan Batto

Why Taiwan continues to fear an invasion (the title isn't great but the article is good) -  Fang-Yu Chen, Austin Wang, Charles K.S. Wu and Yao-Yuan Yeh

It's time for Taiwan to confront its ethnic discrimination issues - Hilton Yip

Metalhead Politics - a new podcast by Emily Y. Wu and Freddy Lim (new episode out July 1)

Island Utopia - Catherine Chou

Knit Together  (this is an older post but one I think about frequently as I consider what it's like to live far away from my own family, and the ongoing process of working through losing my mom in late 2014) - Katherine Alexander 

Taiwan's status is a geopolitical absurdity - Chris Horton

The Island the Left Neglected - Jeffrey Ngo (now outside the paywall on Dissent Magazine)

The Status Quo is Independence - Michael Turton (not new, but makes some key points)


The WHO Ignores Taiwan. The World Pays the Price. - Wilfred Chan

Taiwan's human rights miracle does not extend to its Southeast Asian foreign workers - Nick Aspinwall (also not new, but I keep it on hand)


Oh yes, and if you're still wondering about the KMT soap opera that helped Han Kuo-yu rise and fall (I mean other than his having been bought by the PRC at some point), of all the Taiwan Report podcasts, this is the one to listen to. - Donovan Smith


This is an old piece about local radio stations in southern Taiwan being co-opted by pro-China entities, but something about the story being told here sticks in my head. It's a small, personal story that has some truly ominous portent. - Voicettank

This is very old, but I like to keep a copy on hand every time someone insists that the flurry of treaties and declaration during and after WWII settled the status of Taiwan as a 'part of China'. They did not, and Chai Bhoon Kheng explains why.

* * *

Alright, that's it from me. I have a few drafts that I may or may not publish (one needs a clearer focus and the other is quite personal, so I'm holding off on both). Hopefully, however, by the time you hear from me again in any meaningful way, I'll have successfully completed graduate school.

Catch you on the other side! 


Monday, June 15, 2020

Foreign residents in Taiwan should get stimulus vouchers, too (and the government is specifically seeking to exclude blue collar foreign workers)

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I don't have a related picture so please enjoy this old gate

(Update) Thanks to a friend's helpful link, I'm able to include video evidence that not only do the stimulus vouchers not cover foreigners who aren't married to locals, but they specifically aimed to exclude foreign blue-collar workers (that is, the majority of the foreign community from Southeast Asia). It's in Mandarin, but watch at around the 1:04:25 mark, and you'll see that the reason given for not allowing all foreign taxpayers to get the vouchers is "因為我們有很多移工" - the rough but I think accurate translation being "because we have lots of migrant workers".

That's disgusting, and the government should honestly be ashamed. 


(Original post)

A few weeks ago, the government unveiled a plan to provide stimulus vouchers to jumpstart the economy as Taiwan copes (spectacularly well) with the CCP Virus. People with low incomes will be able to receive the vouchers free of charge, and wealthier citizens could pay NT$1000 for NT$3000 worth of vouchers. I'm not clear on the details, but there are also apparently specific voucher plans in the works for things like cultural activities, as well.

Here's the thing, as with the Ma-era stimulus plan in which citizens and those married to citizens received NT$3600 to bolster the economy, foreign residents with no local spouse are not eligible for any of these programs, either.

If you're wondering whether anyone's asked the government why they craft policies like this, the answer is yes. The response will sadden but not surprise you. From the link above:



When asked the reason for this policy, she [Su Wen-ling 蘇文玲 of the Ministry of Economic Affairs] said that the vouchers are "only meant for Taiwanese citizens," with the hope that they will spend more money on the economy.

This quite literally amounts to:

Q: "Why are foreign residents, who pay taxes just like Taiwanese citizens, not eligible for all of the benefits of those taxes?"

A: "Because they're not."



It was not only a bad answer, it was a non-answer, and Ms. Su should feel bad for giving it. She may as well have stuck out her tongue and blown a raspberry with lots of extra spit for emphasis.


The whole attitude is frankly ridiculous, for two reasons. I'll give you the less important one first: we pay taxes. It's also our tax money being spent on measures to improve the economy, and our money spent in Taiwan is just as good as the money spent by citizens.

If the purpose of this program is to help the economy, then more money being spent by more people is a good thing. You get less, uh, stimulation if you give out fewer vouchers, so why isn't every taxpayer eligible?

There's simply no reason to exclude us. Including all foreign residents (so that means not just the middle-class people like me, but also the far more sizable Southeast Asian workforce) wouldn't even amount to that much money when compared to the cost of the entire program. And, as any savvy business knows, giving out coupons entices most people to spend even more than they would have without the coupon. 


It's just bad policy, crafted for no reason, and "defended" with a joke of a non-answer.

That said, it's not like I need the stimulus money. I don't, and you probably don't either (though I suppose we could all benefit from it.) It's not really about the money - it's about being treated like a normal taxpayer, and about making better economic policy. Nobody's looking for a charity handout.

However, there's a more important reason why foreigners should be included.

Let me tell you about my community. We have a lot of elderly residents, which means there are a lot of care workers in the area, most of whom are from Indonesia and the Philippines. This means that my community has a higher-than-average concentration of shops that cater specifically to this community, at least by Taipei standards. here are three Indonesian markets within a 2-minute walk of my apartment.

They sell goods and provide shipping services that other foreign residents from Southeast Asia purchase and use (I also shop at these stores, both for ingredients and prepared food, which is generally excellent). I have never seen a Taiwanese person shopping in any of them - if any do, it's not common. 


What I'm trying to say is this: they are threads woven inextricably into the community life and economy of my neighborhood. They have value - providing needed goods, services and employment - and deserve the benefits of economic stimulus plans just as much as any other businesses frequented by Taiwanese.

But because the people who shop there won't get vouchers, and the people who get vouchers don't shop there, this entire sector of the economy will almost certainly see no benefit whatsoever. They bring so much value to this country, are owned by taxpayers and employ people who pay taxes, selling goods to people who pay taxes, but won't get the benefit of those taxes when the government feels the economy is lagging.

My neighborhood may be a little unique for Taipei, but the rest of Taiwan surely has areas where businesses such as these are a notable feature of the economy and streetscape.

I have to wonder, what other sectors of the economy that the folks at the Ministry of Economic Affairs have clearly not considered are going to be overlooked by this stimulus program?


I'm sorry, but that's not right, and someone really ought to tell Ms. Su and her colleagues, and demand a real answer. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Care workers, not employers, lack protections

I had a letter to the editor published in the Taipei Times today. I'll put the whole text here as they're my words, but first, a quick link to the letter that spurred my response.

Because my point is not to attack Ms. Chang, but rather to address some of the problematic beliefs expressed in her letter, which are unfortunately all too common in Taiwan, I want to state my final point at the beginning: if a potential employer of foreign blue-collar labor - care workers, fishermen, factory workers, anyone - thinks their rights are insufficient and those workers have "too many" protections, they are welcome to hire Taiwanese employees for those jobs. That means paying them a Taiwanese wage (which isn't all that high itself), under Taiwanese labor laws. You wouldn't have to wait a few months before hiring somebody - they can go out and find someone right now! So why don't they?

If these jobs are so great, then surely many Taiwanese are excited to take them and would happily accept the positions on offer.

Oh, they're not?

Could it be, perhaps, that the workers aren't the ones getting the best end of this deal? Could it be that "too many protections" to these employers still amounts to fewer protections than any Taiwanese citizen would accept, and the goal of some of these employers is to keep the workers they hire as exploitable and exploited as possible?

All I can say is, whenever an employer of a foreign worker says "they ran away! I didn't do anything wrong and they just absconded!", while they may be right (not all employers are bad), I sure want to hear that worker's story first.

And one final point: unionization could help in this regard. Fishing workers, care workers, factory workers - both local or foreign - would do well to unionize. Frankly, English teachers should too but that's a far-off dream and we're not the ones with the most to complain about.

Here's the letter:

Ms Heidi Chang’s (張姮燕) article (“Employers need protections too,” May 24, page 6) made the case that “migrant workers’” rights had improved in Taiwan, but employers’ rights had not, going so far as to complain that all employers are treated equally under the law — as though this was not how the law was supposed to work.

The truth is that the rights of foreign blue-collar workers have still not caught up with the rights their employers have always enjoyed.

This segment of the foreign community in Taiwan is more likely than other groups to encounter abuse. Recently, a care worker from the Philippines was threatened with deportation by her employer and brokerage agency for criticizing Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Recall the Indonesian care worker who was repeatedly raped by her employer, was ignored by her broker and attempted suicide.

The law in Taiwan allows employers who are convicted of abusing domestic workers — including rapists — to hire a new domestic worker, who is likely to be female and highly likely to become a new victim, after the first offense. They are only barred from hiring after multiple offenses.

Instead of asking what employers’ rights are, ask this: Why is one rape not enough to bar them from ever hiring a home care worker again?

Workers in the fishing industry are often subjected to horrific conditions, including beatings, having their documents withheld, or outright slavery. Even though such treatment is illegal, it is difficult for fishing boat workers to seek help.

This abuse is rampant and has resulted in deaths. Taiwanese employers are the focus of more complaints by Indonesian fishers than any other country.

Employers are legally able to pay foreign employees well below the minimum wage, and domestic workers are still not covered under the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法). It is relatively easy for them to force their employees to work overtime, often without days off, or to perform tasks outside their contracts. Cramped dorms, and unsafe work and living conditions are not only additional risks, they have also resulted in deaths.

The easiest way to ensure a foreign worker does not abscond is to treat them well. Most people want to work legally, keeping the scant protections they have and usually “run” because they have no better option. “Undocumented” work offers no protection at all and might pay much less.

This fantasy of workers from Southeast Asia amassing huge sums of money at the expense of hardworking Taiwanese so they might return to their home countries is just that, a fantasy.

This is not just a problem with employers, it is a systemic one. There is no easy way to switch employers. Brokerage firms often charge exorbitant fees and openly exploit workers. The entire brokerage system is akin to legalized indentured servitude or human trafficking. It must be abolished. It is a smear on Taiwan’s reputation as a bastion of liberal democratic and human rights in Asia.

Most Taiwanese employers do treat foreign employees well. For those who feel that their rights are insufficient, I kindly suggest hiring Taiwanese workers. If they do not want to, perhaps they should reconsider who really gets the better deal.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Paper Ninja Stars (or: Fear, Foreboding and the Taiwanese Left)

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The graphic that appeared by the names of some Taiwan Statebuilding Party candidates in the 2020 election on official ballots


First, an announcement: you’ll be seeing fewer (and shorter) posts from me between now and June. I am now officially shoulder-deep in dissertation writing and really must concentrate on that. I’ll update occasionally, but in the meantime I’ll be posting relevant content by others on the Lao Ren Cha Facebook page (yes, that is a thing which I never formally announced). 

Anyway, let me tell you a story. 

When I was in junior high, I was the target of a not-very-successful bully (everyone else hated him too; his bullying did not win him any popularity). He’d randomly trip me in the hall, push or whack me for no reason. Once, he ran into a classroom I was in, put some tape he’d pulled from a cassette around my neck and ran out holding both ends. One day, he made a paper ninja star and flung it at me just as a class we had together was about to start. It nearly hit me in the eye.

I lost it. I got up, slapped him hard across the face, picked him up by the neck - lots of adrenaline going - threw him into a row of desks, and then kicked him so he slammed further into those desks. I may have done more; I was a whirling dervish of rage and I truly don’t remember. 

My response was way out of proportion to his throwing a paper star at me. But honestly, considering everything else he’d done over the past two years, it had been a long time coming. I don’t condone violence and would not do this as an adult, but I’m also not sorry for beating the crap out of him as a teenager. 

So what? 


I’m not talking about those who pointed out the logistical issues or the question of priority. Those opinions are reasonable. I’m talking about those who expressed that the lives of those people were not Taiwan’s concern - despite their being family members of Taiwanese nationals.

I had been trying to start from kindness - that is, recognize that it’s important to treat even people you don’t like as human beings whose lives matter. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t care for the attitudes of Taishang generally. And, just as importantly, that it’s not right to dismiss children as ‘not our concern’ because you don’t like the decisions of their parents - decisions the children had no say in. 

After acknowledging that, talk of logistics becomes possible, and the same decision may have been made in the end because China has left Taiwan with so few options - but the process of the discourse matters. 

I stand by that view, but here’s what’s changed: I should have also started from kindness when considering Taiwanese public opinion. 

With a few exceptions of some extreme comments online that do not represent the norm, I highly doubt most people actually want to punish those children by refusing them evacuation because they dislike their parents. Most people are quite capable of realizing that those children did not choose to be Chinese nationals.

Rather, it was a howl of rage from Taiwanese who’ve chosen to stay and engage with their country, who are sick and tired of both China’s bullshit and Taishang opportunism and sellout behavior that actively harms Taiwan. Howls of rage are not always politically correct, but that does not render them unjustified. This one was a long time in coming, and I should have seen that immediately. 

In other ways, I’ve tried to be empathetic to these expressions of anger. While I appreciate the discussion of Sinophobia in Taiwanese discourse, generally I feel we should always - always - view statements that may seem aggressively nationalist or anti-China on their face in the context in which they are made. 

Taiwan has been treated like garbage by the Chinese government for so long - and individual Taiwanese have been insulted by a large number of Chinese citizens so regularly - that honestly, can you blame them for lashing out? Maybe give the victims in this game a break instead of (yet again) putting the burden of assuming a conciliatory tone on them. 

Especially when they already know that it’s logistically impossible to do much for those children and accompanying spouses, it becomes easy to vent one’s justified rage at Taishang who expect special treatment and whine and writhe with entitlement when they don’t get it. 

That said, my actual conclusions remain the same: a different active response is not logistically possible, but I still cannot condone a “those children aren’t Taiwanese so they are not our concern” attitude. Even when their parents often have an opportunistic, have-your-Chinese-money-but-get-Taiwanese-benefits-too attitude to Taiwan (to put it gently).

The difference is this: I’ve come to realize the public anger mostly did not stem from the question of the Taishang children specifically, just as my throwing that kid into a desk in junior high wasn’t really about a paper ninja star. 

And that’s just it: while remaining true to ethical convictions that do matter to me, I could have started from kindness when evaluating a facet of public opinion that bothered me deeply. Both were possible. 

So where did my original reaction come from? 

Fear, honestly.

I don’t think the ethical divide on this issue is really that great, if it’s there at all. But where I saw “people lashing out at foreigners...and I’m a foreigner!”, I suspect most people saw “we’ve been bullied for so long by China and people who sell out to China, and we’re sick of it!”

“Foreigners” as a general class was never really the point.

This fear also includes worries over the unstable life situations all immigrants face. I do wonder, for some people (though not all), at what point in a crisis I might be deemed “not Taiwanese enough” to receive the same assistance as everyone else, as a taxpayer and part of the system. 

I’ve had a few experiences in the past where expressing a political opinion that a Taiwanese local did not personally agree with caused that person to default to “well, you’re not Taiwanese” (implied: so you don’t matter). That a lot - if not most - locals might actually agree with my opinion didn’t seem to register. I’ve had people just assume that if Taiwan faced a true emergency I’d just leave, because theoretically I "can" (I wouldn’t - and there are real questions over whether I actually "can"). 

At what point does a reaction like that spill over into views on who should get access to what services?

But, overall, I doubt most people would think I should be denied, say, medical care in Taiwan during a pandemic. I pay for NHI just like everyone else, after all, and don’t try to game the system the way a lot of Taishang do. In any case, there’s an element of white privilege which would blunt such an effect. 

Remember, however, that the vast majority of foreigners in Taiwan are not white, they are Southeast Asian, and they have neither the privilege nor often the resources to weather a public opinion backlash against their access to health services in Taiwan.

Is it any wonder, then, that when I hear “Taiwanese citizens first!” that it puts me on edge, even though I know that’s not meant to include me?

But, there’s an even more complex fear: fear that the Taiwanese political left I generally support does not actually support people like me. 

As much as I hate them, I can’t deny that the immigration reforms the KMT passed under Ma Ying-jeou were genuinely helpful for foreigners and conveyed a more welcoming attitude (though, again, that was very much contingent on white and Han privilege - rules were relaxed for Chinese accompanying family, and foreign professionals like me, but nothing really improved for the blue-collar workers who make up the backbone of Taiwan’s foreign labor and community). 

I also don’t doubt that the Tsai administration is more or less on our side: they passed some pretty striking immigration reform themselves, though again they seemed to encode privilege into law, demarcating in even more detail which immigrants were ‘worthy’ and which were not (spoiler alert: I’m not). 

But those left of Tsai - think the NPP, back when they mattered? They were key voices in scrapping the proposed relaxation of rules on hiring foreign workers, such as the required salary floor and required previous work experience for professionals. (Their arguments did not make a lot of economic sense, either - they just ensured that people who wanted to move to Taiwan either could not do so, or got stuck teaching English when they really didn’t want to, which isn’t good for the profession.) I hear noises from them that immigration should be controlled to ‘protect Taiwanese jobs’ and no specific support from them on the ever-present dual nationality issue, despite their putting forward an ‘internationalized’ face more broadly. At the end of the day, a few (though not all) of them are still localists who may be friendly to ‘foreigners’, but will always consider immigrants in Taiwan to be just that - only foreigners, never ‘new’ members of a common community. That is, if they consider us at all. 

So, when newly-elected legislator Chen Bo-wei made the news saying that “foreigners” (外籍人士) should pay more for health insurance in Taiwan, surely it is understandable that it sounded as though he were referring to all foreigners. After all, the term he used is fairly broad: I might be considered 外籍人士

Several people asked his office for clarification, at which point it was explained that he specifically meant Chinese accompanying family, who are covered under a different category of National Health Insurance (foreign residents like me are covered like ordinary taxpayers as we work here), and whose 'residency requirements' were relaxed under Ma Ying-jeou. Simply put, Chen - a known localist - should have made himself clear from the beginning and not spoken so carelessly. 

In a world that made sense, I’d still disagree with Chen: Chinese are foreigners, just like me. Therefore, eligible Chinese nationals shouldn’t obtain NHI coverage under a special category, any more so than any other foreigner. Acknowledging that they’re not like other foreigners, if anything, implies that there is a special quasi-intranational relationship between Taiwan and China when I’d argue that there shouldn’t be. 

However, the world doesn’t make sense, and I don’t know that we’re at a point in international relations where adjusting the law in that direction would be feasible. 

In any case, surely one can see how a statement like Chen’s would raise concerns. The KMT is out of power and they’re awful (and Han supremacist) anyway - they might’ve passed some strong immigration reform, but to them Taiwan’s fate is ultimately Chinese, period. The DPP under Tsai is more internationally oriented than in the Hoklo chauvinist Chen years, when there was essentially no forward momentum on immigration policy. 

But, the Tsai administration is also slow and cautious. The Taiwanese left - those whom I’d otherwise tend to agree with - are not necessarily strong allies of the foreign community. This makes it hard to know quite who to support.

With all this in mind, is it any wonder that criticism of “non-Taiwanese” getting access to “Taiwanese” resources would cause worry in Taiwan’s foreign community? We’re not exactly sure who our allies are, though we know we have them.

And we're the most privileged foreigners (after perhaps overseas Chinese who have obtained ROC nationality). What about the most vulnerable?

But, there are times when something that looks on its face like an anti-foreigner backlash isn’t really that at all: it’s a reaction to years of being bullied (by China) and really has nothing to do with “foreigners”, or “children”. I can’t ever agree with the more extreme comments I saw (e.g. “bastard children of traitors and their mistresses”) and I still think that the child of a citizen deserves to be treated as more than just a foreigner regardless of their nationality. Context matters, however, and the anger I witnessed certainly has a a fraught one. 

Monday, October 28, 2019

In Taiwan, women are the real labor movement

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In both domestic and foreign labor, it's the women who are pushing the real changes

In the span of a few short years, I've noticed something regarding labor actions in Taiwan: all of the most successful ones (as well as less successful but highly visible actions) have been organized and carried out by women.

The Taoyuan Flight Attendants' strike (which you might know of as the "China Airlines strike") of 2016, called “first successful strike held by an independent labor union in Taiwan’s history" by the union director has overall been upheld as an example of what organized labor can achieve if they persist. Of course, the flight attendants themselves - remember them, occupying the road around the China Airlines headquarters? - were predominantly female, as were the organizers and public faces of the movement (including the union director, Su Ying-jung). 

The EVA Airlines strike, though less successful, garnered a high level of visibility, both domestically and internationally. Though they gained fewer concessions than the earlier flight attendants' strike, I do think it creased a sense that striking is a legitimate way to push for a better work environment rather than pushing "too far" and being taboo. Of course, most of the EVA strikers were also women.

There was also the China Airlines pilots' strike, which skewed more male (in Taiwan and globally, in the airline industry men are more likely to be pilots and women are more likely to be flight attendants. Someone's going to get mad at me for saying this, but the reason is sexism. But, it's not directly related to my point here.) The pilots' strike was also largely successful, but came on the heels of (and was perhaps spurred on or inspired by) the success of the flight attendants' strike. Other labor organizers have pointed to the China Airlines flight attendants' strike for giving their own initiatives more visibility.


2016 China Airlines strike
China Airlines Flight Attendants' Strike, from Wikimedia Commons - you'll see both men and women engaging in the strike, but I can assure you that the organization and core of this action was predominantly female

These strikes were historic in Taiwan, in part because there really hasn't been much in the way of labor movements or strike actions in the country since the 1990s. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was a strong uptick in the number of autonomous labor unions formed, in contrast to the old-style, often conservative, government-backed unions which were mostly formed to prevent organized labor from making significant ground or challenging KMT control of and profit from the island's most lucrative industries (there's a long history of state interference and personal and party benefit from industry in post-war Taiwan and of course the military dictatorship didn't want organized labor threatening their control, and most autonomous organizations of any kind were banned - labor, women's organizations, you name it). As Martial Law was lifted and Taiwan began the process of democratization, unions in general threw off the shackles of state or corporate control and protests, strikes and various labor actions did take place, but then the movement lost steam. 

Around the same time, the Supreme Court upheld the ruling against RCA for exposing workers to toxic waste - especially carcinogenic solvents - causing high incidents of cancer among former employees. Though the RCA workers did not have all of their demands met, RCA was ordered to pay damages to afflicted former employees and their families. And, again, most of the workers involved and the people who organized to fight the lawsuit were women.

I have been looking into it and can't find a similar example of an organized group of male workers bringing a lawsuit against a former employer and winning in the way that the RCA workers did - if you know of one, please clue me in. There's a reason, however, that this case was considered historic.

While all this was going on, there has been exactly one large cross-industry labor protest of note, which took place in late 2017. Though many of the attendees were female, if you look at the photos, you'll see that huge blocs of industrial union participants were male (indeed, check out the photo of the Chunghwa Telecom Workers' Union from that link). The women I saw in attendance tended to be foreign domestic workers fighting to end their exclusion from many of Taiwan's labor protection laws, and young protesters showing up to represent a variety of related but not-quite-the-same causes, such as marriage equality and Taiwanese independence.

For a number of political reasons which are not quite relevant here, the usual activist groups and left-leaning political parties were largely absent in any organized form, though individuals from those movements did show up.

And that protest went exactly nowhere, and a lot of people felt tricked or misled by the organizers, myself included. To be honest, beyond the foreign labor groups and some of the individual young activists who showed up, the whole thing felt like conservative older men and some leftie labor activists who aren't exactly pro-Taiwan (some people call them 'pro-unification left') coming together to hold banners, and create a whole bunch of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

In short, it sure feels to me like the backbone of the labor movement in Taiwan is female. Not only that, but the future of labor movements in Taiwan are, as well. It's the women who fight back, the women who lead historic strikes, and the women who get results while the men hold signs and criticize President Tsai (but where were they when working conditions were degrading under President Ma? I remember no large labor protests from those eight years. Do you? Why, whatever could be the reason?) and nothing happens.

I've also noticed that the fact that women are leading the labor movement is simply ignored in media reporting of their success. New Bloom, which is usually quite good at highlighting issues of misogyny and gender/sex discrimination, called the China Airlines flight attendants' strike predominantly young, which is true (flight attendants in Asia skew young), but not predominantly female, although it was. They did point out that the EVA Airlines flight attendants were all female, in the context of EVA's frankly sexist and probably illegal hiring policy, but not in the context of women being the vanguard of contemporary labor movements. Taipei Times didn't bring up gender at all when discussing the flight attendants' strike or the RCA lawsuit.


EVA Airlines strike photo from CNA via Taiwan News

Of course, it shouldn't matter, because labor is labor regardless of gender. But considering historic discrimination against women in labor around the world, including Taiwan, what is considered to be overall low labor participation by Taiwanese women (more on that later, though), and the overall tendency of small and medium-sized businesses to be represented by men (regardless of who is doing most of the work) and the painting of men, traditionally, as hard-working entrepreneurs but not women (see the male-oriented phrase 黑手變頭家 which lionizes male 'black-hand' laborers for becoming successful business owners)...it does matter. It has to matter. I hope for a world where someday it doesn't, but in 2019, it does. 
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One of the few examples of a group of women at the 2017 labor protest

It truly feels like women are on the front lines and taking the initiative in a society that is still oriented to respect male labor but not female labor, and getting zero credit.

This invisibility of women as the backbone of labor in Taiwan has historical roots - at least, I think it does.

Looking at Taiwan's labor history, those post-war "home industries" and "home factories" where individuals did manufacturing piecework in their homes were often seen as a way for the women of a household - who, by the way, still had to do all the regular household labor - to help the family income. Men and young people engaged in this work as well: I remember a student who'd reached an extremely high perch in an internationally-known Taiwanese company telling me about pressing plastic leaves for fake flowers with one hand while studying with a book in his other hand, because his father's income as a bus driver wasn't sufficient to support the family. But, so often, it was "housewives" who did this work.

When factories - both large and small - drove Taiwan's industrial miracle, they often looked to women as sources of labor. This was in part because they could pay them less, and in part because they expected the women to leave their jobs as soon as they married and (probably) got pregnant, meaning they wouldn't have to worry about things like severance pay or a retirement pension as they would with long-term male workers. For the smaller factories, men were often the sales and public face of the company, but women did a huge proportion of the actual manufacturing. These factories and industries were seen as 'male' - all those 'black hand' laborers working their way up in the world - but they weren't, really.

When 'family businesses' became part of the small-and-medium sized enterprise boom that helped make the Taiwan Miracle possible, who do you think in the family did all the back-end work? The 'man' (usually a husband or father in the family) would be the public face of the company, but the person keeping the books, taking stock, perhaps doing a large proportion of the actual work, and often making important business decisions was that man's wife. Mr. Chen might be the 老闆 (boss) with his own business card, but Chen Tai-tai - the 老闆娘 - is the real boss. If you want something done, don't talk to Mr. Chen - talk to his wife. Of course, she does all that and also all of the housework and child-rearing, but probably doesn't have a business card.

I say all of this anecdotally, but I've brought up my observation to countless Taiwanese friends and students and not one has disagreed, and while none of my reading states this explicitly, it's strongly implied in several of my sources.

And yet, when one reads about society in the Taiwan Miracle (there's even a book called State and Society in the Taiwan Miracle, which mentions 'businessmen' but generally not the women who actually did a great deal of the work), rarely are women's contributions to this miracle acknowledged, and they're certainly not given credit for being the backbone of this miracle, which I absolutely believe they are.

I've seen this play out in my social circle as well. One of my best friend's parents run a small business in Taiwan, and until recent years my friend's father was the 'face' of that company (though her mother also did a huge amount of the work). Recently, my friend has taken over a lot of the operations and she does get credit as the 'public face' of her family's business, but that's a modern development. But, remember a few paragraphs ago when I touched on "low labor participation" of Taiwanese women? This friend of mine doesn't draw an official salary. As far as I'm aware her job isn't official at all. While she is absolutely employed, I'm not at all sure that the government considers her as 'part of the labor force' (I don't know how they arrive at those statistics). I get the feeling that a lot of wives and daughters do in fact participate in labor outside the home, but aren't counted because it's all informal.


Informality is quite possibly a key, in fact, to why Taiwanese women get so little credit when they deserve so much. Taiwanese labor contracts - if there's a contract at all, which there often isn't in the case of family - in these small businesses are often extremely informal, looking more like agreements between relatives, neighbors or friends than formal work contracts (that's backed up by academic research, not just an observation). I count women's labor for a family business to be labor 'outside the home', though often it takes place literally inside the home (the home often doubling as an office for the family business, or being physically connected to it, in the case of family factories). Families themselves might consider this work to not be labor in a workplace but rather just..women's work that women do for the family, at home.

How much of the labor of women is simply not counted because of this?

To drive home my point, I want to leave you with a story that goes further back in Taiwanese history. In her excellent book, Anru Lee narrates how textile production was banned under Japanese colonial rule, when economic policy was essentially mercantilist (foodstuffs such as rice and sugar would go to Japan, finished goods would come from Japan to be sold in Taiwan). But cloth was scarce, especially during the war, and there was profit to be made in weaving and selling it - so families, often women, would do so. Raw cotton had to be imported and wasn't available to these women, so they'd use cotton from old clothing and household products. Then they'd use their recycled-material cloth to swaddle and carry their babies in public, where they could then sell that cloth without being noticed (women were also considered less likely by the Japanese authorities to break the law, so they wouldn't come under as much scrutiny). In this way, women contributed economically to their households, and did so entirely under the radar.

And it seems women in Taiwanese labor are still under the radar, even when they take to the streets.

* * * 
A few sources for this piece which I didn't explicitly mention (and are in print so can't be linked) but deserve credit: 



In The Name of Harmony and Prosperity: Labor and Gender Politics in Taiwan's Economic Restructuring by Anru Lee

Women's Movements in Twentieth-Century Taiwan by Doris T. Chang

The Trade Union Movement in Ma's Taiwan by Yu-bin Chiu and Uneasy Alliance: State feminism and the conservative government in Taiwan by Huang Chang-ling, both in Taiwan's Social Movements Under Ma Ying-jeou, edited by Dafydd Fell. 

Thursday, September 26, 2019

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

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Silhouettes of a visitor and a foreign resident in Taiwan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Bad reporting, Han Kuo-yu, and racism against Filipinos in Taiwanese society

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This meme - not established Taiwanese media -  is the most accurate translation of Han's actual remarks that I've found. 

So, I'm sure you've all heard by now that Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu is a racist crapsack, but you might not be entirely clear on exactly how much of a racist crapsack he actually is, because it's impossible to figure out what his exact words were from print media. 

In looking for Han's direct quote, I found three different versions in United Daily News, Liberty Times and Storm Media, and decided none of them could be fully trusted. So, I found a video. Here's exactly what he said, with video evidence:


我想高雄市民跟台灣人民的心理狀態一定很大衝擊,怎麼瑪麗亞一下變成我們老師了?

My translation:


I think the hearts of Kaohsiung residents and Taiwanese would be greatly shocked, how can a Maria become our teacher?

'Maria' is a pejorative for a Filipina woman, connoting a woman of humble means who performs domestic labor. It's equivalent to calling them maids - referring to every woman in the Philippines as 'the help'. This particular insult is well-known in Taiwan, where many workers from the Philippines perform blue-collar labor in Taiwan. It's not just a racist word, it's a sexist one too as it specifically denigrates the domestic labor done by foreign women.

That word, "shock" (衝擊) can also mean an assault or lashing - it could just as easily be translated as "would assault the hearts of Kaohsiungers and Taiwanese".

The "...because how can a 'Maria' become our English teacher" is also important to understanding Han's meaning, it implies unlikeliness, impossibility, or mockery. How could The Help possibly teach us?

This is what he means and an accurate translation of his remark makes that clear.

Han goes on to say (from the video linked above, translation mine):


往菲律賓取才我覺得這個在一個克服的過程。... 如果我們從菲律賓引進教英文的師資,高雄的家長能不能接受? 所以我才會用瑪麗亞三個字,來做一個表述,所以我用瑪麗亞三個字不是有其他的意思在。...你為什麼不找美國,澳大利亞,英國的,你為什麼找隔壁菲律賓的?我的意思是說,家長心裡會有一個障礙。可是呢?菲律賓外語人才的輸出,已經很成熟,這個兩個這間,怎麼樣說服高雄的家長? 
Filipino talent, I think this is a process of overcoming....if we introduce qualified English teachers from the Philippines, would Kaohsiung patriarchs/heads of household/old-timers be able to accept it [with the implication that they would not]. So, I can only say 'Maria' it's just an expression, so when I say 'Maria', there's no other meaning....Why don't you find American, Australian, English ones, why do you find people from the nearby Philippines? My meaning is, that's a mental obstacle for these 'patriarchs'/old timers. But? The Philippines sending out foreign language speakers is already very common. Between these two [extremes], how can we convince those old-timers?

This sounds like a reasonable position to take, because it's surely true that there are many racist people in Kaohsiung and Taiwan who would be bothered by or opposed to having teachers from the Philippines in positions of authority and respect in Taiwan, because to them, they are just "Marias".

That doesn't absolve Han of his initial comments, though. First, to say "I didn't mean anything other than that by the word 'Maria'" is about as tired an excuse as "I only used the N-word because I heard it in a rap song, not because I meant something racist."

And it doesn't hold up to even the barest scrutiny as an explanation: he's not quoting anyone in particular when he calls Filipinas 'Marias'. The word came out of his own mouth. He used it offhandedly, like a normal word anyone would use. He didn't adequately signpost his remarks as a quote or description of an attitude, because that's not actually what they were despite his "clarifications" later.

If Han had really meant to describe what Taiwanese think, and make it clear that he disagrees, he wouldn't have said 'Maria' so casually in the first place. This marks him not as an ally, but a concern troll: defending his words as describing what the other side thinks, but showing through his unconsidered language choices that, on some level, he is a part of that 'other side'. Someone who truly wants to change racism against Southeast Asians in Taiwanese society would simply not say "...how can a Maria become our teacher?"

It boils down to his meaning being, "I don't hate Marias, I'm just worried about racism in Taiwan, what with everyone used to them being so poor and being maids and all, it's sad to me that nobody wants those Marias to be their English teachers. I'm just concerned!" 


He didn't say "many Taiwanese unfortunately have an obstacle in their thinking to accepting the idea that teachers from the Philippines could teach them, and that is wrong. We need to persuade them and overcome this obstacle, because there are many qualified professionals, including teachers, from the Philippines." He didn't even say "many Taiwanese think of workers from the Philippines as 'Marias' and that is a problem", which, while a bit gasp-worthy, is at least kind of an accurate description of what some Taiwanese people think.

He said, and I repeat, "how can a Maria become an English teacher?" as casually as an American racist might say "How'd a ________ like her get a nice car like that?" 

(And see how I made it quite clear that such horrid language describes views that exist in the world, but does not reflect my own views? It's not hard.)

At the very least it didn't occur to him that unthinkingly tossing off the 'Maria' epithet might be a problem. That only happens when someone already thinks of a group of people that way, not when they are signaling disagreement or condemnation of an opinion others hold.

And if a leader is caught in such a gaffe and tries to insist that they don't personally feel that way about a particular group, but they're just worried that everyone else does, that's simply unacceptable. Leaders should not inflame societal prejudices, even if they are common; they should be examples of a higher, more forward-thinking standard. 


Let's keep in mind as well that he tows the same 'concern troll' line with marriage equality, saying his real concern is "the next generation" (won't someone think of the children?), not that he is anti-gay, while fraternizing with anti-gay groups


And he didn't even bother to defend his remark until later in the meeting when directly asked about it, or show awareness that 'Maria' is more than 'just an expression'.

If you look at reporting of Han's comments, you get distortions of what he said all over the place (all translations are mine). Some make his wording look a lot worse - from UDN:


引進菲律賓人才,這恐怕對高雄人、台灣人心理衝擊大,因為瑪麗亞怎麼變老師了?
Introducing Filipino talent, I'm afraid (as in, scared - not regretful) that this will be a shock to Taiwanese and Kaohsiung residents, because how can a Maria become a teacher? 

From Liberty Times:


這恐怕對台灣人心理衝擊大,因為瑪麗亞怎麼變老師了?
I'm afraid that this would be a shock to the Taiwanese, because how can a Maria become a teacher?

And from Storm Media, inexplicably making him look better:


韓國瑜認為,確實能夠借重,但必須先克服市民及台灣人民的心理障礙,讓「瑪莉亞變老師」,很多人內心會有衝擊。 
...「我覺得我想高雄市民跟台灣人民,心理一定有很大衝擊,瑪莉亞變成我們老師了,這要克服的過程,這可能心理衝擊很大。」 
Han Kuo-yu believes it is indeed possible to take advantage of /get benefits from [talent from the Philippines], but the psychological barriers of the people of Taiwan must first be overcome - to let "'Marias' become teachers", a lot of people will be shocked.  
"I think / I think that Kaohsiung residents and Taiwanese will be very shocked, Marias become our English teachers, we need to overcome this, this can be a huge shock." 

Storm tried to soften the impact of his words by mashing two quotes together - "Marias become our English teachers" and "we need to overcome this", making it seem as though he said these two things at the same time, when he didn't (which the video makes clear by his different positioning). It also erases the "because how can a Maria become our teacher?" by selectively cutting his quote and replacing "because how can..." (怎麼) with "let" (讓) outside the quote marks. 

In English the reporting isn't much higher quality.

From Focus Taiwan, which offers the most accurate translation:


Responding to a proposal that Taiwan could hire bilingual Filipino white-collar workers at a conference on Wednesday, the mayor said employing "Marias" as teachers would be a psychological shock for Taiwanese.

There's also this from Taiwan News, which is far worse but just translates the garbage from Storm Media above but does so in a way that make Han's comments sound erudite in English, when they weren't particularly eloquent in Mandarin:


In response to this, the Kaohsiung Mayor admitted the Philippines’ abundance of skilled labor could benefit the city, but said its residents would first need to overcome some “internal conflicts.”
“I believe witnessing ‘Marias’ become teachers would cause a clash in the hearts of the people of Kaohsiung, and Taiwan’s population at large. This is something that needs to be overcome; likely a huge internal conflict,” Storm quotes Han.

And the Taipei Times, with what I think is the most inaccurate translation:


Han on Wednesday told a meeting of the Chinese National Association of Industry and Commerce in Taipei that he feared that hiring educated employees from the Philippines as English teachers “would cause a psychological shock for Taiwanese, as people might wonder: How has our Maria become a teacher?” 


Focus Taiwan accurately placed the 'Maria' comment within the attitude of Han, which is the context in which he made it, and not as a description of what he thinks other Taiwanese think. The other two make him sound much better than he actually did, and situate the 'Maria' quip not as Han's own word (which it is) but as a description of something he disagrees with (which is not what he said until pushed - which outs him as a concern troll.) Some translations (like Taipei Times' work) add connotations to the translation - e.g. "wondering" - that are simply not there in his actual words. 

All of these seem so odd to me, because the video of his remarks is publicly available. I'm not even a native Mandarin speaker or a perfectly fluent one, and yet I found and translated it with little problem.

So why do some quotes - like Liberty Times and UDN - make Han's remark seem more shocking than it was (and to be clear, it was quite shocking on its own and did not need to be sexed up)? And why do others - like Storm Media - make it sound like not much at all? How is this unclear and inaccurate media reporting of Han's remarks affecting how Taiwanese think about the incident, and is it distorting public discourse?

In English at least, it is having a distorting effect. Several posts on social media have pointed out that Han's remarks should not be considered offensive, because that's what some Taiwanese really think, based on the Taipei Times and Taiwan News translations.

This makes me wonder how can we even have a real conversation about Han's remarks and racism in Taiwanese society if what we read isn't quoting him correctly.

I'm not sure why Storm Media - which I've found to be typically more reliable - made Han look better than he deserved, and why a pan-green and pan-blue rag each made him look worse. But because the inaccuracies are present across the entire media-political spectrum, it doesn't point to an attempt to polarize the Taiwanese political cleavage.

Rather, I think it's just plain old bad reporting.

I'll finish off with something bad, then something good.

Something bad:


Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) on Saturday apologized for a recent remark in which he referred to Filipinos as "Marias," saying the term, considered by many to be a racial slur, was a slip of the tongue.
Han was sorry for the misunderstanding caused by his misuse of the term and said he looks forward to future cooperation with the Philippines, it added. 

No, Focus Taiwan. NO NO NO NO NO.

"Maria" is not "considered by many" to be a racial slur. Jesus F. Christ. It is a racial slur. Period. Han Kuo-yu said it, and only tried to insist it was a description of what other people think after he was called to task for it, without ever explaining why he'd throw it out so casually (because there is no explanation that absolves him).

It was not a "misunderstanding". We all understood him perfectly. People in the Philippines understood him quite accurately. And he didn't misuse the term - he used it exactly as it's meant to be used in racist speech.

Just as when my (dearly departed) grandpa referred to "those people" and then insisted, when I pressed him, that he hadn't meant it as an insult but "they're just a different community", I knew perfectly well that that's not what he'd meant. 


But then there's the good thing: when I moved to Taiwan 12 years ago, I don't know that a comment like this would have caused this kind of uproar in Taiwan. I passed more than one "Foreign Labor Go Home" protest, with old men carrying signs. I don't even know if such language was common then, because my Mandarin was crap, and I never heard of anyone raising a fuss about it.

But in 2019, despite some attempts to justify Han's language, the overwhelming response of Taiwanese public discourse is that it is not acceptable to talk this way, and racist speech and actions should not be tolerated.

If Han is correct about how many Taiwanese might think of English teachers from the Philippines - and he is, for some people - the fact that the backlash has been so swift and damning proves that not all Taiwanese think this way.

That said, it doesn't seem to be hurting his approval ratings, although I have long suspected something is really weird about whatever force underlies those ratings which is propping up Han. 


Taiwan has a long way to go - we need to treat immigrants from Southeast Asia better, end discrimination and give them the same opportunities for permanent residency and citizenship that white collar workers (who are largely Western) have - but this is real progress.