Showing posts with label hong_kong. Show all posts
Showing posts with label hong_kong. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

How To Choose A Side

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This is about us against them. 



After yesterday’s horrifying events in Hong Kong, I spent a fair amount of time on my couch bawling. The day before, police had terrorized shopping malls, beating people up randomly - some of whom were just shopping. Yesterday, the police ramped up their campaign of brutality by shooting at unarmed protesters (including hitting one in the abdomen with a live round), trying to mow protesters down on a motorbike and thanking protesters for coming out “so they could shoot at them” and laid siege to the CUHK campus for no discernible reason. 



In addition, protesters themselves had set on fire a man who was arguing with them after an extended dispute. From the video, which you absolutely should not watch, they were not defending themselves as it was one man against several of them. The man is in critical condition (as was the teenager who was shot in the chest by police). 



I cried not only for Hong Kong, but because earlier that day I had walked through my neighborhood in the late afternoon. It was balmy and breezy. Young lovers canoodled on an old bench in my courtyard. Retirees and their care workers and dogs loitered at picnic tables under the broad umbrellas. Outside my complex, a woman helped her elderly father walk slowly down the footpath, under the hanging vines from an old tree in a sidewalk planting patch. Two construction workers joked on break. 

A group of pedestrians tapped their smartphones waiting for the light to change, a decorative cement compass showing the four cardinal directions was embedded in the footpath behind them. An MRT train whizzed by on the tracks overhead. 

And all I could think was "these streets could be on fire in just a few months”. 



Listening to BBC World Service that evening, the reporter interviewed both activist leader Joshua Wong as well as an anti-protest legislator. 

Wong, as with everyone I’ve heard comment on this tragic event (with one unfortunate counter-example) emphasized that neither he nor other activists and organizers approved of what was done to the man who argued with demonstrators. They not only refused to condone such actions, they actively condemned them. And they are right to do so - it was a stupid, useless move that will cost them local and international sympathy and make people question how ‘peaceful’ these protesters really are. There is no benefit in it - it was something done out of pure rage. The rage itself is justified, but the actions taken as a result are not. 

Even as Wong decried police actions yesterday and in previous weeks and months, he was very clear about this. That the man was ‘wrong’ doesn’t matter - it shouldn't have to be said that never acceptable to set someone on fire. 



The thing is, I haven’t really heard anyone on the protesters’ side defend what those individuals did. This is one of the very few times that the protesters attacked without needing to, rather than fighting in self-defense or going after the police who are going after them (which at this point I think might be justified given the widespread police brutality). In each case where this has happened - protesters and their allies have engaged in long public discussions of whether such actions were right or wrong, and even apologized publicly in one case. 



Looking at the other side, they don’t extend the same courtesy. Following Joshua Wong, the pro-China legislator - I didn’t catch her name - spent her entire interview time ranting about the violent, radical “rioters” and really hammered home that they’d set a man on fire. Her criticism is justified, but she refused to do the simple, humane thing that Joshua Wong had done and admit that her ‘side’ had committed numerous brutal acts as well - including being implicated in the death of protester Chan Tsz-lok among the crimes named above. To her, all police action was justifiable; none of it consisted of mindless brutalization. 

Wong acknowledged the humanity of the man attacked by protesters and condemned such treatment of the movement’s opponents. The lawmaker would not do the same - they’re all just mindless rioters and they have what’s coming to them so we can “keep the peace”. One imagines she thinks that Beijing’s oppressive peace is not only preferable to today’s Hong Kong, but that it’s desirable in its own right as well. She cannot see that - or why - so many of her fellow Hong Kongers disagree. 



Carrie Lam’s press conference followed a similar rationale: the protesters are violent, their demands have gone beyond a call for democracy (except they haven’t, because democracy has not been promised), they are the “enemy of the people" and will be “stopped”. Stopped for what? I have to ask. Stopped so Hong Kong can lose what really matters - its freedom? They will destroy this city, she said - as though allowing China to swallow it whole isn't another form of destruction. 



And that is the difference between us and them. 

We make mistakes. We have overly-aggressive and radical elements. We’re not even close to perfect. But we step back, we acknowledge our wrongs, we engage in discussion of our motives and actions, we’re willing to criticize and even condemn our own (which, by the way, is why it's also so hard to organize our own. It’s not that we’re wrong; that’s just the nature of the double-edged sword of self-criticism.) We evaluate our means vis-a-vis our ends. The difference isn’t that we’re angels and they’re demons - it’s that we’re all flawed, but at least our flaws are not systematic and planned, and we admit it and try to do better. 



Them? They engage not in one-off mistakes, but systematic brutalization and murder. Their goal is to deny Hong Kong the rights and freedoms they currently have, let alone any hope for democracy. You can’t look at those videos of police actions and see otherwise, so they must be aware of this, but they won’t admit it. They don't discuss it, and they certainly don’t apologize for it. 



And that’s a big part of why they are wrong and we are right. Period. There are not two sides here. There never have been. 



These events hold some important lessons for Taiwan, too. 



This wave is coming for us. Don’t pretend it isn’t - China is hell-bent on annexation, and while they may not succeed, they will attempt it in some form. It may not be full-scale invasion, but then Hong Kong didn't experience that either and look where they are. There is no such thing as peaceful unification, which means there will be protests. Those protests may turn violent, especially if we have elected a government that is more likely to excuse police violence. 

We need to prepare and organize now. 

We need to clarify our means and our ends now, too. It's imperative to make a commitment to peaceful protest, with fighting in self-defense only. Hong Kong balks at the notion of violent protest; non-participatory Taiwanese are likely to react similarly, if not more conservatively because the fight will seem at a greater distance, with China across the water holding no official sovereignty over Taiwan. Culturally, I also suspect Taiwan is in a place in its history that doesn’t look kindly on violent protests, even though it has a history of rebellions, many of which were violent. As the tsunami rolls in, we need to figuratively seek higher ground. 



It's also important to remember that despite our best efforts, such things may occur. We need to be ready to condemn them even as we stand together. We need to be ready for the ‘other side’ to condemn us even as they refuse to admit their own brutality, even if it is more systemic, more widespread, more hateful, and in the service of a totalitarian, anti-liberty goal. 



Finally, as we accept that this is coming for us, we need to make some hard personal calculations. Do we stay or go? If we stay, do we join the fight? A lot of people are going to have to decide to risk their lives to stay and fight if we have any chance of weathering this. A lot of us are going to have to risk our lives only to be maligned by ‘them’ as ‘violent rioters’. 



We're already at us vs. them, though I’m not always sure who will fall on what side. Hong Kong is learning what makes a side the right one, and what the risks really are. It's learning what it means to dig in and fight. 

Taiwan's going to have to learn that too, and soon. 

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Taipei Pride 2019: Huge and Political

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

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


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



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




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

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


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

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




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

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

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





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

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




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


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


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


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

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


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






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


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











Plan your Halloween party attire accordingly. 



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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.

Monday, September 9, 2019

"This movement has a large youth following? Let's use sex to discredit them again!"

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A tale as old as time: a social movement with broad support that is either youth-led or has lots of youth visibility breaks out, challenging the power structures that seek to actively move some part of Asia towards illiberalism or outright authoritarianism.

Then, the conservative underpinning of that power structure - and it is always conservative, whether that's due to age, money, religion or some combination of these - realizes it can't make a convincing case to the broader public that the protesters are wrong and the status quo is better. So it appeals to the base conservative instincts many still hold through a massive straw man: discrediting the youth vanguard of these movements by accusing them of doing lots of very bad very wrong immoral dirty sexy sex.

And a legitimate fight for social and political change, this thinking goes, can't come from young people and their raging hormones because their movement has now been tainted by evil, bad sex and therefore can't actually be about social and political change, because sex! Therefore, they must be wrong. QED.


The rubber mallet is thus applied to the public's knee and the inherently conservative among them jump to attention just as they're expected to. Moral degeneracy!

They did it during the Sunflowers, and they're doing it again in Hong Kong



It's truly an ancient story: people in power are challenged by people with better ideas but less power, the powerful folks know they can't win by attacking the better ideas, so they do a ceremonial dance around those ideas to find some totally random thing to criticize about their challengers that will get the dullards who support the status quo all riled up. It's misogynist and supremacist - it reeks of patriarchy.

I could go look up the old gossip rag news from 2014, but I won't bother. We all know that it was full of stories of activists hooking up, or just joining the Sunflowers "for the sex". I don't know how much of it actually went on, and to be frank, I don't care. The sexual harassment/assault allegations against Chen Wei-ting are the most serious thing I've heard about (though I don't hear everything), and nothing reported on all this sex going on in the Legislative Yuan made it sound as though any of it was non-consensual. So who cares? People are free to do what they want with their bodies as long as everybody involved agrees, and it doesn't make their cause any less legitimate.

Of course, more recently, the same sort of (generally allied) people tried to do the same thing to fight marriage equality in Taiwan: realizing that denying the basic humanity of LGBT people wasn't working, they turned to a combination of "but all the gay sex! Diseases! And won't someone think of the children?" I'm not sure it occurred to them that all the gay sex was going to happen whether or not the people having it could get married.

And now, with Hong Kong, we have 'blue ribbon' uptight Dolores Umbridge Fanny Law decrying the "free sex" being "offered" to protesters as though this - if true - delegitimizes what the protesters are fighting for (it doesn't).

First, she provides no source for her claim (I'm sorry, this is not a 'source'). "I think we have confirmed that this is a true case" is something anyone can say. Where's the proof, Aunt Fanny?

Second, even if it is true, she's taking on the guise of a concerned advocate for these women while actually peddling misogynist sexual norms: the idea that these women can't possibly have decided to have sex in a way you wouldn't approve of on their own, with full mental faculties intact. No, because this is the "wrong" kind of sex, apparently, they must have been "misled" by these big, bad protester men. It's almost the opposite of a healthy attitude towards sexuality: whether both parties consent doesn't seem to matter, if it's the "wrong kind" of sex, she is essentially calling the men involved rapists (and the women involved incapable of making independent decisions)! That is offensive and makes it harder for women to speak up about actual rape or sexual assault they may have experienced.

Third, "young girls"? So, Aunt Fanny, are they underaged girls which is a truly serious issue and must be investigated, or are you calling women of legal age "young girls" in order to infantilize them? If it's the former, then you are implying that statutory rape is happening, which seems tonally inconsistent with your throwaway comment. What are these "confirmed cases"? What proof can we use to investigate this?

Let's say there is a bunch of free (assumed consensual) sex happening while, I dunno, tear gas billows overhead. I think it would be hard to get in the mood with those masks on and people running down the street while police brutalize them indiscriminately, but okay.

So what? Even if that is "moral degeneracy" (it's not), it doesn't take away from the validity of their cause - it didn't for the Sunflowers and it doesn't in Hong Kong now.

Of course, the conservative power structure knows that the cause is ultimately just, and will win over quite a few of their own support base if the message gets spread too widely, so they go after the evil bad immoral sex that Grandma would not approve of and peddle regressive gender politics and morality instead. Those always have some takers.

So of course Aunt Fanny has to paint this as dissolute immoral men and vapid unthinking "girls" because she, like many conservatives, doesn't understand consent. To her, whether sex is "the right kind" or "the wrong kind" has more to do with the social roles in which it takes place (in the confines of a married monogamous relationship = the right kind; everything else = the wrong kind) than whether the people involved actively agree to engage (consensual sex between people with no outstanding commitments = the right kind; non-consensual sex regardless of social role or relationship = the wrong kind).

So of course "free sex" - if this is even a thing, which it probably isn't - would be seen as "the wrong kind" of sex to her, but the power structure she resides within allows police to sexually assault female protesters without punishment (so far), dallied until 2002 before making marital rape illegal (marital rape is still legal in China - you know, that country that intends to fully absorb Taiwan by 2047) and allows a real domestic violence problem to fester. Those are all non-priorities to someone like her, but young men and women gettin' jiggy during protests? Oh no! The sky is falling! 




And so it goes.

If you think there isn't a direct thread between her talk about "young girls being misled into free sex" and illiberal, pro-authoritarian moralmongering, she couches that assertion in a long-winded interview in which she decries "violence" among the youth (ignoring the fact that it's the police who are instigating the violence and the youth who are pushing back against it) and calls for "civility" (as the protesters have not been violent and are fighting for values that are vital to a healthy civilization, this must mean "shut up and do what you're told, fighting back in any way is 'uncivil'"). She basically makes it sound like Hong Kong is going to hell not because a powerful, anti-democracy, anti-human rights behemoth who treats the city like a colonial possession is tightening the screws, but because a few kids weren't spanked enough by their parents so now they're running around throwin' bombs and havin' sex. What those kids stand for doesn't matter to her.

It's just another way for the power structure to try to hold on to that power: by telling us what we can say and how we can say it, where we can go, what we can wear, what we should think, what we should learn, and now, how and were we can fuck. Sex - like food, money and speech - is just another way to control us. In fact, a huge chunk of the history of the world is just people with power trying to control how other people have sex, as a way of controlling the rest of their lives as well.

When the next youth-led movement in Taiwan rises - and there will probably be one, as the threats we face have not receded - you can expect more shrieks and howls about all that terrible, dirty sex those terrible young children are having. Mark my words.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

If the Hong Kong government delegitimizes protests now, what happens in 2047?

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I try to take a break for a day then Carrie "Lizard Woman" Lam makes me work. Damn it, Carrie. 

News broke today that Carrie Lam has announced the full withdrawal of the controversial bill that would have allowed extraditions of suspected criminals in Hong Kong to China, which has a deeply flawed justice system (China has a conviction rate of 99+% and lacks an independent judiciary). As the bill was already essentially dead, it's being called a symbolic gesture of conciliation to the Hong Kong protesters in an attempt to quell rising unrest in the city.

So...great. Right?

The thing is, this solves nothing. The extradition bill was the match set to dry kindling. Saying "the match has been put out" can't stop the fire it's started. 


First, this is likely the easiest move for the government to make vis-a-vis the protesters' demands, and is likely a maneuver to delegitimize further protest in the eyes of the greater Hong Kong public and the world community. Many will see it as a "victory" for the protesters, and wonder, if they've "won", why they're still on the streets (if the demonstrations continue)? They'll start to question the purpose of mass gatherings that have routinely ground crucial city infrastructure to a halt. More conservative locals will consider the protesters an inconvenience - many already do. The huge turnouts we've been seeing will turn to a trickle, without a clear rallying cry, and those who are left will be labeled as "radicals".

This is exactly the intent of the government: give them the thing that is already a fait accompli, so that further demonstrations can be delegitimized.

Much of the international media will probably play along, because they don't know how to narrate the truth of the matter: that Hong Kong may be legally part of China but that 'legality' is a form of barely-disguised colonialism, and China is not and can never be an appropriate steward for Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, the arrests will quietly continue, and those targeted will start to slowly disappear. Sentences will be harsh, because the government won't have retracted the term "rioters" to describe them. Police who have engaged in unconscionable brutality and violence will keep their jobs; there will be no full inquiry if the government can help it.

If the government retracts the term "riot", that entails forcing them to admit that this sort of large scale social movement and civil disobedience is acceptable, not just to the Hong Kong government, but also their masters in Beijing. And if there's one thing Beijing wants to make it clear is unacceptable to them, it's exactly this. Plus, they'd have no grounds to execute (perhaps literally) their plan above to begin arresting and disappearing protesters.

What's more, they'd have less justification for taking those same actions later, as the end of the 50-year "One Country Two Systems" draws closer and creates more unrest. They know perfectly well they're going to have to deal with escalating protests, and they want to ensure that there's precedent to label the protesters 'separatists'
, 'radicals' and 'rioters' so as to more easily punish them.

Remember how they didn't outlaw freedom of speech in Hong Kong but slowly went after journalists and publishers through abduction, stabbing, threats and other, subtler means? In such a way that it could never be definitively linked back to the government?

Yeah, like that. That's also their plan for Taiwan, by the way.

If the government opens a full inquiry into police violence, that amounts to admitting that the police engaged in unreasonable violence: opening such an inquiry and then concluding that inquiry with "well, we didn't find any instances of police violence! They used reasonable force!" will just spark more protests. It also would require scores of police officers to lose their jobs, which would look bad for the government.

When the protesters - dissidents, really - rightly claim that trust between the police and the public has broken down, the government will gaslight them, and portray them to more conservative Hong Kongers and the world as unreasonable and hotheaded.

Think of it this way: why would a government that fully intends to become authoritarian within the next 30 years admit that the police were violent and the protesters were right? They're going to need those police officers to beat up more protesters over the next few decades, and those officers need to know that acts of brutality against pro-democracy demonstrators will go unpunished. There's no other way for a planned authoritarian state to prepare for what's to come.

Much better to try to wrest back the narrative from the protests now, so that they lose local and international support. There's already a far-too-loud contingent of tankies who are shouting that this is all a CIA plot, or that the protesters are Western imperialism-loving neoliberal scum (or whatever), and they should just shut up and learn to love living under an unfree dictatorship because 'if the West is bad, China must be good'. 


Nevermind that all the protesters are asking for are the same rights and freedoms that Westerners enjoy - only the evil West can "do imperialism", and I guess human rights are just for white people or something (barf).

Those voices will gain more traction. This is what China wants. 


The whole time, both the government and the protesters will know that the movement has in fact failed, and the government will have successfully taken away the ability of the protesters to garner international support.

You know how people who know about the Sunflower Movement often consider it a success because the trade bill that sparked the occupation was essentially killed? And how the Sunflowers themselves have been known to refer to it as a failure, because it brought about no lasting change in Taiwanese politics? Yeah, like that.

Because, of course, the ultimate desire of the Sunflowers was to reshape the way we approach political dialogue and Taiwanese identity vis-a-vis China. The ultimate goal of the Hong Kong is even clearer: true democracy. It was never wholly about extradition to China, not even when this began.

Which leads me to the last part - universal suffrage and 2047.

Seriously, if the protests hadn't broken out now, what did you expect was going to happen 28 years from now?

The Hong Kong China government was never going to offer true universal suffrage or true democracy. It wasn't willing to do that in 2014, and it's not willing to do that now. It has never intended for Hong Kong to move towards universal suffrage; the intent was always to veer away from that, and towards authoritarian rule. The plan is still on for China and Hong Kong to fully integrate in 2047, and the essential problem remains that Hong Kongers simply do not want to live under a fully Chinese political system. They don't want it now, and they'll never want it.

Even scarier, if China did offer Hong Kong more democratic reforms, ultimately they'd try to control that democracy through subtler means - the same way they've been interfering in Taiwanese elections despite having no authority in Taiwan. 


That's a problem that has no solution - there is no middle ground. Even if there were, the CCP is not a trustworthy negotiating partner. As I've said before, there's no emulsifying ingredient for compromise between China's oil and Hong Kong's water. What China plans in the long term is wholly unacceptable to Hong Kong, and what Hong Kong demands is wholly unacceptable to China. Period, hard stop, brick wall, what now?

So while Hong Kong China tries to stave off current protests, the larger problem still looms: what exactly are we going to do as we approach 2047? 


I've said it before and I'll say it again - we all know how this ends. Even if the protests die out tomorrow, in the long run it either ends in a broken Hong Kong, or it ends in a bent-and-cowed China that allows true democracy to flourish within its borders.

Which do you honestly think is more likely?