Showing posts with label indigenous_people. Show all posts
Showing posts with label indigenous_people. Show all posts

Friday, November 22, 2019

When Indigenous groups ask for their land back, what does that mean?

IMG_1159


After reading about the occupation near the presidential office by Indigenous activists asking for the return of their ancestral land reaching its 1000th day with little movement from the Tsai administration (other than law enforcement officers repeatedly clearing them out), I thought this would be a good time to write a little bit about what these activists want.

Plenty of reports on the issue state that the Indigenous groups are asking for about 1.8 million hectares of land, which is about half of the island of Taiwan, which has an area of approximately 3.6 million hectares.


You can also read about how the Tsai administration is willing to return all public land, but not privately-owned land. This comes out to offering about 800,000 hectares, or a little less than half of what was asked for. (I'm not sure why Kolas Yotaka told Reuters that they would be able to claim 90% of their land - that's clearly not the case.)

The casual reader, at this point, might turn against the Indigenous cause - they want half of Taiwan? That's insane! They want people who already privately own that land to just give it up? And they want this for half the country's territory, when they are only 2% of the population? They can't be serious! 

Yet few have reported on what exactly these Indigenous rights groups are asking for when they say "we want our land back" to head off such reactions.

To figure this out, I sat down with Kerim Friedman, an associate professor in the Department of Ethnic Relations and Cultures (within the College of Indigenous Studies), at National Dong Hwa University. Or, more accurately, I asked him over lunch one day to explain what exactly the goal of "returning land" meant. Do they really want all that privately-owned land to be taken from the current owners and handed to Indigenous tribes?

Apparently, the answer is: not exactly. 

The intention isn't to kick landowners off their land, or for 2% of the people to control 50% of the land.

Instead, it's to gain sovereignty over traditional Indigenous land, without taking away private property rights, which gives Indigenous people a say in how their traditional lands are used, much as the national government currently has the right to do over private property. 



Put another way by Mata Taiwan (in Ketagalan Media): 

According to the convener of Indigenous Youth Front Savungaz Valincinan, all private property are at the same time part of the sovereign territory of the Republic of China. Within the sovereignty of the Republic of China, people are entitled to private ownership and are allowed to freely use and trade the land in accordance with the law.
Therefore, returning sovereignty to the Indigenous peoples still allows private property holders their ownership rights. When the land is considered within traditional Indigenous territories, private rights are governed by Indigenous or tribal laws. If sovereignty conflicts with private ownership, then privately held lands would be outside of national jurisdiction, which is just absurd.

Questions over what to do with private land come up all the time - certain changes that owners want to make might need to be approved by the government. Certain sales and development projects may require that too. Just because you own the land doesn't mean you can do anything you want to it, and certain land or sites of cultural importance may garner greater protection. They would be better able to negotiate favorable terms with developers, as well.  It would probably also afford them hunting rights on those lands (though I'm not sure).


You might also call this a "seat at the table": 


Article 21 of the Indigenous Peoples Basic Act (原住民族基本法) states that: “When governments or private parties engage in land development, resource utilization, ecology conservation and academic research in indigenous land, tribe and their adjoin-land which owned by governments, they shall consult and obtain consent by Indigenous peoples or tribes, even their participation, and share benefits with Indigenous people.” [Emphasis mine]

What the Indigenous activists want is to be a part of those discussions, so that if someone who privately owns land that was once Indigenous wants to, say, build a bunch of luxury hotels or a factory on it without regard for the local environment or other Indigenous settlements that might be nearby, they have the ability to challenge or request an injunction on such plans, as the historic inhabitants of that land. In other words, exactly what the government already has the right to do.

Seems quite reasonable when it's explained clearly, doesn't it? 
So, why is the government refusing to consider this request? According to the government

According to the government’s wording, the exercise of the right to consent would violate private property rights guaranteed under the Constitution, and that is why privately owned land was excluded from the definition of traditional Aboriginal [sic] territory.

That doesn't make a lot of sense, though, when you consider that the ROC retains sovereignty over all of this privately-owned land already, with the ability to make laws governing its use as well as expropriation rights. Indigenous land rights probably wouldn't even go that far - I can't find anything that says that Indigenous groups are looking for any right to eminent domain/expropriation.

Mostly, it would mean that private landowners would have to consult with both the ROC government and a local Indigenous council before doing anything with their land. So - a seat at the table.

In fact, the Mata Taiwan/Ketagalan Media article above clarifies Indigenous groups have affirmed that "private development within traditional indigenous areas are still subject to environnmental, water, or construction regulations", meaning that the ROC would not lose all control of those lands.

It seems clear that living on such land would not be much different from living anywhere else in Taiwan now. The only change would be that the Indigenous group claiming the land would have a say in how it is developed. I fail to see how this is unreasonable in any way.

Why can't the ROC use legal tools that already exist to protect Indigenous interests when approving private property development projects? Well, because they haven't done a particularly good job of it before:


Controversial development cases in recent years such as the Shanyuan Bay resorts included at least 70% private lands. Before the regulations, Indigenous groups could at least claim to be a stakeholder, but current regulations clearly fenced out the voice of the Indigenous groups.... 
During [a] press conference on February 14, Commissioner Icyang [Parod] said all the various opinions within the indigenous peoples will be taken into consideration, almost as a response to the protesters outside. But over the last year, whether on Pingpuzu recognition or the current land dispute, the authorities had not fully consulted the Indigenous communities.

If you think that's bad, consider the Asia Cement debacle, on Truku land

Complainants say that the ACC [Asia Cement] plant, its operations, and the legislative processes that make this possible have been executed in violation of the Taiwan's Indigenous Peoples Basic Law. The local peoples have never been properly consulted regarding the use of their Indigenous lands. Certainly, they did not grant permission for the resulting land and social degradation. 
ACC claims that over half of its employees are locals. In addition to acquiring community approval signatures four decades ago — which the locals claim were forged and some included deceased people — this serves as what they claim is sufficient basis for free and prior informed consent.

Of course, no issue is simple. The Indigenous who are counted in that 2% number cited above are typically the descendants of 'Mountain Indigenous', an old designation of unassimilated Indigenous groups who had mostly moved to the mountains and not mixed as much with Chinese immigrants to Taiwan. 'Plains Indigenous', or Pingpu, have fought harder for recognition as they did tend to assimilate and intermarry with the Chinese settlers and are now often (though not always) culturally indistinguishable from them.


It's important to point out that the land that 'Mountain Indigenous' claim is more likely to be government land (being in sparsely-inhabited mountainous areas), which has led to some success. Plains Indigenous who want the same land-claim rights face a harder battle, as not only are they less likely to be recognized as Indigenous, but most of the land they would claim is private property on the densely-populated plains. As such, they've been less successful. (It's also worth noting that not all of the members of the former group necessarily want the latter group to gain recognition, for a variety of complex reasons that I don't feel qualified to tackle right now.)

In addition, according to Mata Taiwan/Ketagalan Media, some lands are subject to overlapping claims by different Indigenous groups.


That still doesn't really give Tsai a strong reasoning for not considering what the Indigenous people are asking for, however:

One additional controversy is over the resolution that traditional Indigenous nations’ overlapping claims and other disputes, should be mediated by the central government (assumably the Council). This regulation has stirred up concerns as well, because the track record of the government in meddling or “assisting” in tribal matters often led to greater conflict and weakened the Indigenous peoples’ methods of mutual dispute resolution.

These issues are solvable, if those in power are willing to talk to marginalized groups and take reasonable requests seriously.

After all, this land was stolen from Indigenous groups. In many cases, it was simply taken from them by various colonial powers, and once wrested from Indigenous inhabitants, it was passed through a series of state-owned enterprises or sold to private buyers - that's why a fair amount of this land is tied up in big corporate interests like Asia Cement. In other cases, settlers from China used the language barrier to their advantage to 'trick' Indigenous inhabitants into unknowingly giving up their land - a practice which hardly constitutes informed consent.

And yet, a proper solution doesn't seem to be happening here and I have to wonder why.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

A visit to Academia Sinica's history museum: the good, the bad and the weirdly supremacist

Untitled



A few weeks ago, we decided to escape the scathing summer heat and check out the history museum at Academia Sinica. It's a little hard to find once on campus and far from the MRT, but also air conditioned to the point of being refrigerated (seriously, bring a jacket) and best of all, it's free!

We expected a fairly small collection and were surprised to find that the two hours we'd set aside to explore the museum was not enough to see everything - it's far larger than it looks, with lots of interconnected rooms and corridors you don't know are there until you're upon them. We never even made it to the lower level but no matter, it's a good excuse to return.


Untitled
One of the coolest things on display: a letter from the Manchu emperor in China requesting one of Zheng Chenggong's descendants (either Zheng Jing or Zheng Keshuang) to leave Taiwan and return to China, written in both Manchu and Chinese

The best parts of the museum were the ones showcasing artifacts relevant to Taiwanese history, like the scroll above. Below, although a scroll announcing the capture of the Yongli Emperor (last of the Southern Ming, after a fashion) in Burma doesn't seem particularly related to Taiwan, it is. If I remember correctly, that was the emperor who gave Zheng Chenggong/Koxinga his title (Lord of the Imperial Surname), and so the Yongli Emperor's rise and fall is directly related to the events that spurred Koxinga to come to Taiwan, and for his descendants to stay on as Ming loyalists for a few generations.


Untitled


Here's another one regarding sea traffic between Qing Dynasty China and Taiwan:


Untitled


And then we have this, the explanatory plaque for the cover photo of this post:
Untitled

This is a request from the "eldest son of the king of Liuqiu" for a new patent and seal, sent in 1654 to the Ming imperial court in China.

Okay, so what? You might ask.

Well, this is exactly the sort of "historical proof" that China routinely uses when making territorial claims on various islands off its coast, most notably the Senkaku islands (not the same as the Ryukyu islands, but nearby). Of course, they also claim the Ryukyu islands, including Okinawa.

This is relevant to Taiwan not only due to these islands' geographical proximity to Taiwan - some of them are actually off the coast of Taiwan, not China, including Ishigaki and Yonaguni, which are closer to Yilan in eastern Taiwan than either Japan or China. It also matters because the Republic of China (you know, that old colonialist windbag of a government currently on life support as the official government on Taiwan - yeah, that) tends to claim everything China claims. The ROC officially claims the Senkakus - Diaoyutai in Chinese - just as China does, as well as those islands in the South China Sea. I think all of that is completely ridiculous, but, anyway, it's a thing.

(As far as I know, the ROC does not claim the Ryukyu Islands, but I could be wrong.)

The museum also has a large collection of rubbings of stelae and other large engravings. Many of the original stone and metal artifacts have been lost; some I presume are still in existence somewhere in China. To be honest, although these are valuable pieces, they come from various parts of China and are not directly relevant to Taiwan. So, while I enjoyed looking at them for their aesthetic beauty, they weren't of particular historical interest to me. Which, of course, does not mean they're not worthwhile. Not everyone has a laser focus on Taiwan the way I do.





Untitled
Yes, I made a joke about "full-surface rubbing". Because I'm 12. 

One of the great things about this museum is that everything is rendered in competent English. Although the National Museum of History, for example, has more artifacts from Taiwan's Austronesian past (which makes up the bulk of its history, but is often ignored due to a lack of recorded history), but no English. It's also clearly designed for adults, whereas the National Museum of History is more of a place to take your kids for the day.

On the other hand, there is a tendency in the information on items in the collection to expend way too much verbiage on the archaeological processes or techniques used to unearth the artifacts, or how the artifacts were made (see the tutorial on "full surface rubbing" above) and not nearly enough - if any - telling the stories behind the artifacts or what we can learn about history from them. 


Untitled


Here's a prime example. We learn what kind of shells these were (the shells themselves are not very photogenic), and why they matter, but we don't learn anything about the bits that are actually interesting: what kinds of ornaments and tools were they and what were they used for? What were the consumption habits of ancient Austronesians living in Taiwan? What was the ancient environment like, and what were the harvesting seasons? All we learn are that archaeologists have ways of finding these things out, but we never get to read about what they learned.

The most egregious example of this - and I wish I'd taken a photo - was an ancient scroll described as having something to do with some 'lama drama' in Tibet. I don't remember exactly, but it briefly mentioned that one lama could no longer be lama and was stepping down, and another lama would take his place, all written to the imperial court.

Cool, but it seems like there's a real story there! What happened? Why'd the first lama step down? That would be an interesting thing to know, and also an engaging narrative to really get visitors interested in the colorful history behind these items, but we never find out.

Here's another:

Untitled


Interesting! What was the discrepancy? Do we know why? Any hypotheses? Also, who are Kao Lishi, Pan Yan and Zhang Shaoti, and why do they matter?

We never find out.


Untitled


I'd also be interested in knowing more about the cultural underpinnings behind the use of human teeth as ornaments.

But, we don't learn that either. We do learn quite a bit about how archaeologists unearth all of this stuff, though.

This is a minor complaint, however. If even that - more a kind suggestion that perhaps there are more engaging ways to put together a museum collection, which it would be fully within Academia Sinica's ability to implement. Think about it, guys?

If you thought that was critical, wait 'til you hear what I've got to say below.


Untitled


I already knew that in minority communities in China, the men tend to dress in ways that imitate the dominant group (that is, Han Chinese) whereas women are more likely to wear their traditional clothing, because men were more likely to leave their villages and mingle with society at large, and would want or need to 'fit in'. These days, that means men from these communities in China are more likely to dress in Western clothing, but women might not. In fact, here are some of my old photos from my life in Guizhou, China, when I went traveling in the countryside:

Untitled

Untitled

I'm sorry they're not that clear - I only have hard copies. A friendly local in Kaili offered to accompany me on my travels and helped with translation, so all of these photos were taken with the permission of the subjects.

What bothers me is this:

"'National tradition' reinforces the unification of nationality yet at the same time represents a backward past."

Excuse me, but what?

I get the notion that the dominant group - Han Chinese - often view minority communities as "backward" but what's up with saying that in a way that takes it at face value, rather than interrogating it? Why would you drop that word in there as though it's a legitimate way of describing the cultures and histories of these groups?

The same goes for "the unification of nationality". "National tradition" in China only exists as it does because the authoritarian government there decided it would be that way. They decided to promote the notion of all citizens of China as Chinese, sharing the same blood, language, traditions etc. They - not some amorphous, societally-agreed-on force - decided to treat 'ethnic minorities' like adorable living museum exhibits with cool costumes, existing mostly as people the government can point to and say "see! China is tolerant and diverse!" while treating them in very intolerant and marginalizing ways. Or, if not that, as entertainment for domestic tourists who show up as visitors to their festivals and surround them with audio-visual equipment without their consent.

That's not "national tradition", it's a form of cultural assault. Come on Academia Sinica, how are you not even questioning it or highlighting how problematic it is?

And that's not getting into how none of the clothing of minority groups on display looked particularly similar to what I saw in China - I'm willing to let that be, as a lot of those groups are actually quite differentiated, and dress styles may vary even between nearby valleys, let alone longer distances. 


If you think that was a one-off, poorly-translated information panel, get a load of this: 


Untitled

It says:
Under the impact of modern nationalism, 'nation' has been defined as a group of people with common physical traits, language and culture persisting through generations. Since the early twentieth century, scholars have investigated native cultures or traced the migration and diffusion of various peoples for the purposes of identifying and classifying nationalities in China, providing a basis for carrying out national policy, and illustrating the unity of the Chinese nation. 
Based on ethnographic and historical materials, non-Han natives in southwestern China have been classified into twenty-five minority nationalities. The identification of nationalities and the concomitant principles of national policy and education have changed traditional relations among the natives and also the relations between the Han peoples and the natives.

I just...excuse me? The Chinese doesn't seem much better to me, but a native-speaking friend looked it over and said the Chinese is, in fact, more acceptable, but still. Excuse me? 

First, I'm not sure calling them 'natives' is a great idea. Don't we have words with fewer negative connotations? "Indigenous", perhaps?


Second, "common physical traits"? If by "modern nationalism" you mean the kind of ethnocentric nationalism that got us into world wars a century ago, sure. But these days we can talk about nationalism as a shared cultural and historical identification - which can include immigrants who come to identify as part of that society - or perhaps as a group of people with shared values and principles of how they'd like to exercise self-determination. So I really don't know what to say there. I have a friend who doesn't share "common physical traits" with Taiwanese who nevertheless is a citizen of Taiwan now. There is a pathway - albeit a narrow one - for me to become a citizen someday as well, and it is not possible to look less Taiwanese than me. Taiwanese themselves don't have that many "common physical traits" - having backgrounds from Indigenous to Han Chinese to non-Han Chinese to modern Southeast Asian and beyond - unless you think all Asians are the same (they're not, and indigenous Taiwanese are Pacific Islander anyway.)

In any case, that sounds like making an argument for biology determining political destiny and I'm sorry, that's just not on.

And no, saying so is not a "Western" idea. Taiwan is diverse and multicultural too. Always has been. The same is true for China. Plenty of Taiwanese, including indigenous Austronesian Taiwanese, Southeast Asian immigrants who have married and settled here, Hakka who have also been historically discriminated against and a good number of 'dominant' Han Chinese have been pushing for more acknowledgement of Taiwan as a nation bound by shared identity and cultural and political values. That's coming from them, not 'the West'.

Third, and most importantly, is Academia Sinica really justifying the study of minority cultures in order to enact national policy that seeks to assimilate those cultures? To either turn them into groups who willingly subject themselves to being seen as costumed, dancing entertainment for Han Chinese, or to eviscerate their cultural heritage altogether in the name of "national unity"?

Because seriously, that sounds like something the Communist Party of China would write, and it's really not cool. Taiwan doesn't need to have museums with exhibits that follow the same ethnocentric, jingoistic, nationalistic, supremacist garbage logic that the Chinese government puts out.

I don't think Academia Sinica is intentionally writing supremacist placards for their museum collection. Either it's a failure of English translation, or they are in dire need of updating but nobody's really taken that on. In any case, it's time to do some updating. Imagine if a foreign visitor who can't read the Chinese or doesn't have a well-connected local friend to discuss these things with goes to this museum and reads the English here - what will they think? That the English doesn't clearly express the sentiments of Academia Sinica, or that Academia Sinica has supremacist views on indigenous peoples?

We can, and must, do better. 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Taiwan: A History of Agonies - a review


IMG_7709
A History of Agonies alongside symbols of some Taiwanese social movements I have been here to witness
and participate in. It all ties together. 


Anyone who truly loves reading has become so emotionally engaged with a book that it makes them cry, often at the most inconvenient times. It stays with them and affects how they feel, think and interact with the world for some time after the reader has finished with it. Occasionally, this effect is permanent.

This happened with Green Island, a book I highly recommend to everyone and which made me Ugly Cry in my favorite coffee shop, and would say is essential reading for anyone wanting to understand 20th century Taiwan. I expected it would happen with Taiwan: A History of Agonies as well - I mean, the agony is right there in the title. Taiwanese history certainly contains enough tragedy to make anyone with a heart sob for hours.

So, I was surprised when that ended up not being the case.

Please don't misunderstand - it's not that it left me cold, or I found it uninteresting. I certainly had an emotional reaction to reading the words of a Taiwanese person describing what to him was not always "history": Ong Iok-tek lived through much of the events of the later chapters of the book. I was also intellectually engaged in reading history from a decidedly Taiwanese Hoklo nationalist perspective, especially in a book written in the mid-to-late 20th century. A lot has changed vis-a-vis Taiwanese identity since then, and comparing the two was an illuminating exercise. 

I will say that I learned quite a bit. Ong was especially interested in providing as much detail as possible about the various rebellions during the Qing and Japanese eras, because they proved his point that the Taiwanese never took being colonized lying down. I learned a few interesting details about the Zheng era, and quite a few famous names from history whose contributions I hadn't been clear on were discussed. Ong also spends a fair amount of time on every home-rule movement of note, which makes this a good source of knowledge for anyone hoping to refute the ridiculous yet oddly common notion that "Taiwanese identity" did not exist before the 1970s.

It was also interesting to read from that mid-century nationalist perspective. I'm aware of its existence and the general worldview of that generation of pro-Taiwan activists, as well as the generation after them which pushed through to democratization. I am aware of some of the problematic beliefs they often held, from thinking indigenous people were inferior to believing that nobody who came over from China in the 1940s could ever really be Taiwanese (and extending to views on women and homosexuality as well, although these aren't issues that come to the fore in this book - the only thing I remember being striking in that regard was Ong's reference to the "men" who fought and died for Taiwan.) It was quite another thing, however, to read from that perspective in the words of someone who was one of them.

It's not that Ong said much in this vein that I found new or surprising - for example, along with his focus on rebellions and home-rule movements above, he was dismissive of indigenous (mentioned above and to be mentioned again), focused almost exclusively on male luminaries (with a few exceptions), was critical of the Qing but not so much of the Japanese, and wrote from a clearly - but I think entirely deserved - anti-KMT perspective.  I don't recall Taiwanese Hakka being mentioned at all - if they were, it was too brief a reference for me to catch.

I was surprised, however, at his criticism of the 1895 republic, a blip in history that is interesting to me for no particular reason - I think it may be because I just like the flag. It's not that I think the Republic of Formosa deserves effusive praise, but I would have expected a Hoklo nationalist to give it just that. I recall reading that there was a concerted effort to bring back the symbols of that time - particularly the tiger flag - as symbols of the Taiwanese independence movement later. But, instead, he said that the republic's foundation day declaration "lacks style and refinement for a declaration of independence", was pointedly critical of their kowtowing to the Qing emperor, and of the scrambling of many of its leaders to evacuate to China when the whole thing fell apart later that year.

I did enjoy comparing Ong's views to the views of the young "naturally independent" pro-Taiwan generation of today. They have people like him to thank for giving them shoulders to stand on, and they are aware that they are connected to the luminaries of the pro-Taiwan social movements of history, but it is clear they'd find a lot to criticize in his words, especially in his love for Japan and derision of indigenous people.


IMG_7707
I really love this tiger flag, it's the best flag



And, finally, I have to admit that this is the first comprehensive history of Taiwan book I've ever read. I've devoured others such as Taiwan's Imagined Geography and Accidental State, but they focus on certain periods. Reading one author bringing it all together was a positive experience.

I didn't cry, however. There is no single reason why. In some places, the writing was a little wooden, which I blame on the translation (I got the distinct feeling that it flowed better in Chinese). How does one start sobbing at lines like this?

Thus, China's relationship with the Kuomintang transfigured itself from a hostile contradiction to a non-hostile contradiction.


Areas where Ong editorialized, even when I agreed, didn't make me stand up and cheer as I thought they might - perhaps because I like my history as un-editorialized as possible. "We Taiwanese are seeking the helping hands from the free camp to rid ourselves of the oppressive rule of the Kuomintang" and similar wording, while I agree with it as an accurate sentiment stemming from the state of affairs when this book was written in the 1970s and to some extent of more modern eras as well, doesn't do anything for the nerdy historian in me. It would have been more powerful to simply present history as it was and let it make the oppression of the KMT very clear.

It could be that the translation was clearly not copyedited by a native-like user of English, as small grammatical mistakes, as well as issues with register and collocation, abounded. A personal favorite:

"The Tai-kang fallen, the fortress was totally isolated. Cheng Ch'eng-kung summoned the Dutch to surrender: 
'
My Dad opened up this island, Taiwan. Now that I need it, kindly get out!'

That was rather an odd message."

Gee, ya think? 

And, the all-time most amazing phrasing in the world:

"Everything began when the Cairo Declaration made Taiwan a booty for the Kuomintang to claim."

That sort of thing tends to jolt one's mind out of the narrative and back into the real world. 

My lack of emotional outburst might also have been because, although I have sympathy for any person who lived through that period of history in Taiwan, I lost some sympathy for Ong after his derogatory marks about indigenous people (which the editors acknowledged in a preface, but ultimately left in the work so as to preserve it as authentically as possible). To wit:

"When the Taiwanese say that Taiwan belongs to the Taiwanese, some Chinese quibble that Taiwan belongs to the indigenous people and they alone have the right to their land. Behind this line of argument by the Chinese are seen glimpses of their scheming design to label the Taiwanese "aggressors" and shamelessly enjoy their share of the spoils..."

Yo, Ong, I know you're dead and Imma let you finish, but...I think this, or at least I think the country belongs to the "Taiwanese" who are of all different backgrounds including indigenous, and indigenous people have earned certain rights and reparations due to the historical wrongs done to them. And I absolutely detest the Chinese government and see Taiwan as fully independent.

Also, insisting that Taiwan's history is a Hoklo history rather than an indigenous one into which others later entered is actually closer to China's current rhetoric that you are "all Chinese". 

"The indigenes in Taiwan made their living mainly by fishing and hunting and occasionally engaged in farming, though of a rather primitive style." (Ong goes on to quote Georgius Candidius' super racist take on indigenous people, calling the women "complete drudges" and the men "idle by nature"). 

So, no mention of the complex trade networks that the indigenous took part in?  No mention that women often enjoyed higher status in indigenous societies? None of that? Just drudges and idlers?

And worst of all - it makes me want to puke in my mouth a little bit even typing this out:

Those of us who are used to the scenes of American Indians shot and killed in Western movies are liable to wrongly assume that primitive (ed: UGH) aborigines are doomed to fall in number at gunpoint. In reality, however, massacre is not necessarily the main cause of population decline (ed: yes, it was, along with other forms of overt oppression) A decadent sex life may be one of the causes; unsanitary lifestyle another (ed: **** you). Unpreparedness against hunger and contagious diseases also triggered population decline (ed: hunger and contagious diseases wrought by the way in which indigenous were treated by every colonial wave to enter Taiwan, perhaps?

In short, I have nothing good to say about Ong's view of indigenous people, and it was certainly a big part of what hardened me to the rest of the book a bit.

It is telling that he begins the book not with a brief recap of what we know of indigenous life before colonization, but with the Chinese knowledge of the island and then, the Dutch. 

The editors included an explanatory note to essentially apologize for this, and I understand keeping it for reasons of portraying Ong's voice historically accurately, but...this is not the sort of book that is going to deliver an emotional gut-punch, with nonsense like that.

Finally, I found A History of Agonies hard to follow, because names popped up and disappeared regularly, sometimes with scant biographical info, other times just dropped into the narrative. I did not necessarily know who every person was (although to my credit, I had heard of quite a few). It was also difficult to figure out what Ong was talking about sometimes: he spent quite a bit of time talking about the "Ch'ao-chou", "Chu'an-chou" and "Chang-chou" "gangs", and it took me some time to realize that he was talking about people who themselves or whose ancestors had immigrated to Taiwan from Quanzhou or Chaozhou in Fujian (he also mentions "Chang-chou" (Zhangzhou). Perhaps he needn't have used Pinyin, I know that system has its detractors, but the Wade-Giles - as it usually does - makes it difficult for me to figure out how to pronounce certain things and makes a lot of words, to be honest, all look kind of the same. I know my opinion is not universally accepted, but we can all agree that including characters after any words rendered in Chinese or Taiwanese would have been a good, and helpful, idea.

Of course, I knew this because I know a fair bit about Taiwan. Can you imagine how someone reading this as a beginning text on Taiwanese history would even begin to decipher what Ong meant by the "Ch'ao-chou and Chu'an-chou gangs"? Such a reader might think these are gang names rather than the cities of origin of rival groups of Taiwanese immigrants.

This really cemented my overall impression of the book: this is not something to read as a primer or basic history of Taiwan. There must be better options - it will be confusing for neophytes, and overly simplistic for those with background knowledge.

Instead, I would say, by all means read this book, but do so knowing what you're getting into. Read it as a personal perspective, as a specific take on the events of Taiwanese history from the point of view of a certain kind of Taiwanese nationalist of a certain era. In that sense, it is illuminating, but a clear and readable history, I am sorry to say, it is not. 


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

We need more detailed and timely Taiwan news in English

I just have a few thoughts to share about some news from Taiwan this week that I wanted to share, despite my generally avoiding link lists or news summaries. Let's start with the key point - there are a few other unrelated links below because I don't know where else to shoehorn them in.

A quick note before we begin: on Wednesday March 8th (International Women's Day), Indivisible Taiwan will hold a march from Freedom Square (CKS Memorial Hall) to Da'an Park Station at 4:30pm. I have to work, but I wanted to spread the word.

Anyway. Let's start with this essay by Sunflower leader Lin Fei-fan on the reasons for his support of the indigenous Taiwanese who are fighting for full land rights (an explanation of the issue can be found in the essay). I can't make the argument any better - I recommend you all go read his essay instead. In fact I wouldn't even try to make it, when I have said in the past that we need to open up the international narrative and discussion on Taiwan to more strong Taiwanese voices, he is exactly one of the voices I mean. So listen to his words, not mine.

There has been discussion on my public Facebook page about how, as a non-indigenous person, Lin is not the best voice to speak for them, and we ought to be elevating indigenous voices specifically (and that this has been a discussion in those communities for some time). In fact, I agree completely. However, I do feel that while we absolutely ought to seek out these voices, there is room for well-written and thoughtful pieces such as Lin's, which exhort fellow Taiwanese to care about these causes. Both can be true, just as there is room in international discourse for non-Taiwanese scholars and academics to weigh in (or even bloggers like me), even as Taiwanese voices are sought out and included.

What I want to say, however, is that those of us who can read Chinese have known about this issue for well over a week. I don't mean to show off (okay, I kind of do a little, but please forgive me). My point is, plenty of strong supporters of both Taiwan and indigenous rights globally simply don't read Chinese, or not at the level they would need to to keep up in this way. Even I read sections I can't follow via Google Translate or just go very slowly, but I'm at the point now where that's only for sections - I don't have to put an entire essay like this into Translate.

I don't even mean that I want more original reporting on Taiwan in English, although that would be nice, and useful (original reporting in Chinese and Hoklo-language media is not always up to snuff). There is quite a lot of interesting discourse out there in Chinese that it would be beneficial in terms of engaging the international community in Taiwan affairs and promoting a greater understanding of Taiwan.

Discussions of English language imperialism aside, I just want to point something out. Lin makes an excellent case for Taiwan understanding itself before it can ever hope to be understood by the international community:

What kind of county will Taiwan become? This is a question every person who hopes Taiwan will become a country worthy of respect, where Taiwanese can hold their heads high among the community of nations, should always consider.
 
But if we are unable to understand the situation and oppression each group has experienced, then how can we expect the international community to understand Taiwan?

I want to make a corollary case: if Taiwan wants the international community to understand it as a country, public discourse on issues affecting it, even domestic issues, needs to be more available in other languages. Yes, English: like it or not, it's the international language we currently use and the current language of international-level public discourse. We currently have several great sources: Ketagalan Media, New Bloom, Taiwan Sentinel, Taipei Times (not perfect but let me put it this way: they get a mention whereas China Post doesn't), several blogs, The News Lens International and Focus Taiwan.

It's not enough, however. There is no good reason why I should have been aware of the issues behind, or very existence of, the indigenous people's protest on Ketagalan Boulevard, a full week before that information became available in English, and in less detail at that. Otherwise, it is very difficult indeed for those who care about Taiwan to follow discussions on Taiwanese issues, or join them, if the information is only available in Mandarin. Certainly one might expect any specialist to be fully fluent, but plenty of supporters and other interested people are not specialists. I am not a specialist but I don't think anyone would say I'm not a supporter or friend to Taiwan, and I only know Mandarin because I decided I was going to learn it and did, because I happen to be particularly good at that sort of thing.

If Taiwan wants more attention, support and understanding internationally, we are simply going to have to have more bilingual (or trilingual, or multilingual) sources available for the discussion of contemporary and historical Taiwanese issues.

Of course, that doesn't mean the readers will come. There is not a lot of interest in Taiwan internationally, although I wonder if part of that is because this sort of discourse about it is not available in English, or not in a timely manner. If the information were there, perhaps more people would take an interest? Or perhaps not - but we can't know until we make it a reality. We can't even begin to engage the international community until we take this step.

Along those lines, please check out Queerious, a new site focusing on LGBT+ issues (including marriage equality) with English content. There's not a lot there now, as it is quite new, but it is absolutely worth keeping an eye on. My rant about making discussions and news about Taiwanese issues more available in English isn't just reserved for the current indigenous people's protests and struggle, but for every issue affecting Taiwan.

Finally, just a quick note on this article. I can't say I'm a fan (sorry Taiwan Sentinel). It's okay, but it seems to follow the formula of asking a question in the headline only for the answer in the article to be "no", and I am typically not big on such rhetorical sleight-of-hand. Furthermore, while I appreciate that the article is clear in calling the "1992 Consensus" "so-called" and "highly symbolic", it is not clear enough in calling out the simple truth that the so-called "1992 Consensus" does not exist. 

And why on earth should President Tsai wait at all - for any reason - to acknowledge the truth of something that does not exist?

If you were curious about my reasons for insisting that the whole thing is a laughable fiction, here they are:

1.) Su Chi - a former KMT politician - admits he made up the term...in 2000 (not even 1993 - 2000!)
2.) The two sides don't even agree on what the consensus was (Taiwan says "One China, different interpretations". China has never agreed to that). Words mean things, and a "consensus" means you have, well, a consensus. If you don't agree, you don't have a consensus, therefore there can't have been a consensus because WORDS. MEAN. THINGS.
3.) Even if the two sides agreed to something in 1992 (nobody disputes that meetings did take place), nobody sent by either side to those meetings was a democratically-elected or otherwise publicly-agreed-upon representative of the people of either country. China doesn't care about such things, but Taiwan does. Let's say in 1992 some unelected officials from Taiwan did agree to some sort of "consensus" with their Chinese counterparts. So what? The people of Taiwan never entrusted them with the power to speak for Taiwan - Taiwan's first full elections didn't take place until 1996 (there had been some more local election activity prior to that). Whatever they might have agreed to in that alternate universe is irrelevant to Taiwan as the democracy it is today.

So no, Tsai should not "wait" before changing her stance to be more "flexible" on the 1992 Consensus (or anything else), because it is stupid to acknowledge a fiction as true - a lesson the US is currently learning the hard way.

For the record, here is a list of things that do not exist:

1.) Leprechuans
2.) Fairies
3.) THE 1992 "CONSENSUS"
4.) Unicorns
5.) Any version of "One China" that includes Taiwan
6.) God
7.) Bitter melon that tastes good
8.) Santa Claus
9.) Genies in bottles

I bid you good day!