Showing posts with label international_discourse. Show all posts
Showing posts with label international_discourse. Show all posts

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Comedy wins over nationalist cringe on Youtube, showing humor is more powerful than bad music

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Hah

I'm working through the busiest part of my dissertation right now (which means, again, don't expect much from me through the summer).

But, with what little free time I have, I wanted to showcase just one small example of political discourse that shows, at least unofficially, that Taiwan is winning the public opinion war and getting better at overall political messaging - both intra- and interculturally.

Fanny Liu (劉樂妍), an entertainer from Taiwan who lives and works in China, put out a - um, how to word this gently - not great music video where she sings through the Chinese provinces and how much she loves them all, while extolling the virtues of being in China. These include all sorts of lifestyle perks such as "home delivery", "mobile payment", "bike share", "high speed rail" and "convenience".

Leaving aside the fact that all of these are also available in Taiwan and generally at far higher quality, they don't include things like, say, freedom of speech, human rights, freedom of religion or marriage equality.


Fanny Liu herself is something of a controversial figure. Born in Taiwan to a family from China, she often publishes her views about Taiwan and China on social media - those views generally being pro-China, she's been labeled the "female Huang An" (Huang An is another Taiwanese entertainer who lives in China and espouses pro-unification views. For this reason, he's reasonably well-known in China but much reviled in Taiwan). These views seem to have undergone a rapid radicalization from "why should I have to choose [between being Taiwanese and Chinese]?" (okay), to "the CCP is too democratic, I would shoot Lee Ming-che" (what?) to this video, where she beats up a guy in a green superhero outfit, supposedly because China is so much better than Taiwan, what with all that home delivery and mobile payment, punches him repeatedly in the crotch, takes his little Taiwan sticker and adds it to the rest of China.

So, you know, really classy high-minded art.



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barf

Very soon after, comedian Brian Tseng premiered a parody video in which he, in drag, along with fellow comedians, extol the virtues of all the great places you can live in Taiwan (except Miaoli). Here's the link again.

These virtues include TSMC (which has just announced that it will build its next fab in the US, despite Chinese attempts to dangle economic incentives in front of Taiwanese companies), having doors on our toilets (most bathrooms in Chinese cities do now, but it's not a given), tea eggs (which I am pretty sure is a pun on balls but I'm not sure) and - my personal favorite - better taste in music (than Fanny Liu's nationalist schlock).

There are other shots at the CCP, including references to the Tiananmen Square Massacre (六月四號), lack of freedom of religion (with a reference to Falun Gong) and Taiwan being great for "having very few Communist bootlicker artists" (少數舔共藝人).

My least favorite parts are his reference to the Senkaku islands and a lyric that translates more or less to "everything in your borders is actually legally ours". But, considering that the intent is maximum trolling of China and of Liu, it's best to let this go.

He also re-names some cities in China, such as "Chinese Beijing 中華北京" and "Chinese Shanghai 中華上海", ("we'll help you rectify the names", he sings) in the same way that China forces Taiwan to compete in sporting events as "Chinese Taipei".

The best part? Now if you search for Fanny Liu in Chinese, the top results are heavily inclusive of...Brian.

There's a Rick Santorum joke in there that I will not make. But just know that I thought it.


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Brian's video is genuinely funny, something you can't say for Fanny's ultranationalist cringe-fest. I showed it to a teenage student who didn't know the context of Brian's video, which has far more views than Fanny's, whose only comment was "...but who did she make this for? Did she think this would make Taiwanese like China?"

Exactly right. The producers had to know it wouldn't be popular in Taiwan, YouTube is banned in China, and frankly I can't see this being popular in China either because it's just not very good. I simply don't know what she was trying to accomplish - show her CCP bosses that she's a loyal lapdog?

So how did people react? Well, the numbers don't lie. When I began writing this morning, Brian's video had half a million views, 46,000 likes and just 814 dislikes. Fanny's had about 100,000 views, with less than 200 likes and 9,100 dislikes. After a nice long nap I've come back to my work, and Brian is at 840,000 or so views, with 74,000 or so likes and 1,300 or so dislikes. Fanny's hasn't even cracked 200,000, with 381 likes and 15,000 dislikes. 


 What does this show us?

Not just that satire is a popular political tool, we know that already. But that, in a battle of highly asymmetric resources, comedy and genuinely amusing sarcasm are some of the greatest weapons Taiwan has - something it's good to be reminded of occasionally.

But also that Taiwanese artists and activists have become quite adept at shifting frames in political discourse. For awhile now, they have been taking the nationalist bromides (even the ones dressed up in cotton-candy pop) of China and turning them around into sardonic comedy. I noticed this back when Freddy Lim was not issued an artist visa for Hong Kong due to a lack of "special skill" and he commented that he should "start practicing his backflips". Taiwanese online are expert memelords - which I mean in the best possible way - from their "First Annual Apologize To China Contest" to blanketing China's "Wan Wan, Come Home" message with all sorts of hilarious retorts. When Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus insisted that "racist" attacks against him had come from Taiwan, they created the hashtag #ThisAttackComeFromTaiwan to showcase what they think is great about their country. They contributed to the Milk Tea Alliance, a site of discourse where comedy has given way to a path to a pan-Asian identity that explicitly excludes CCP influence.

In fact, if you still think Taiwan in general "lacks a sense of humor", perhaps you're the one who isn't getting the joke.

Indeed, the best way to re-frame nationalist discourse isn't to lob more nationalist trash - it seems to me that that was how the previous generation of Taiwanese activists handled Chinese saber-rattling, and it didn't work very well. It didn't appeal to the youth (nationalism of that sort rarely does, it's usually your uncles and aunties shouting it), it wasn't particularly interesting discursively, any moreso than any shouty populism is. It handed the CCP a counter-strike that they should have never been given: the ability to label the emergence of Taiwanese identity as "dangerous ethnonationalism" or "Hoklo chauvinism", both within Taiwan and abroad. These labels stuck because there was a kernel of truth in them.

But who can say that Brian Tseng's video is either of these things? You can call it unserious - but that's the point. You can say it spends too much time trolling everything that sucks about China rather than extolling the virtues of Taiwan (it does, but that's why it's not nationalist - it even shit-talks Miaoli!). But you can't say it's not fun. 


What's key here is that this re-framing of the discourse is working. Brian's video premiered last night, and by this morning my teenage student had seen it, and thought it was great. Intra-culturally, it's a uniting force without the baggage of the previous generation's stodgy old populism, which has proven unpopular with the youth.

It also works interculturally. Yes, Taiwan's discourse with China is intercultural, and no, I shouldn't have to explain why. Every time someone like Brian makes a joke video which becomes far more popular than its source material, it shows China (and any Chinese who happen to be watching online) that their schlock doesn't work here. As China attempts to gain influence in Taiwanese mainstream media, the youth turn to people like Brian Tseng, or EyeCTV, and are not engaged by those boring nationalist oldsters. 


Before I end this, I want to point out two other things in that video: first, that the piss-taking of Miaoli is probably more related to Brian's "thing", as a friend pointed out, of criticizing Miaoli's politics. And to be fair, there's a lot to criticize. But, it serves another purpose too. In a red-ruffled nationalist cringe party like Fanny's video, it's imperative to love every single part of your country and talk about how all of it is great, even including entire provinces full of people who actually hate you. You can never admit that in a lot of places, your toilets don't even have doors, let alone care about your country despite this. Everything must be great. The fact that Brian can piss-take Miaoli in a video about Taiwan shows that defending one's distinct identity doesn't require that fakey-fake love for everything. You can love Taiwan, and still think that Miaoli sucks. Anyway, it's still Taiwan.

(I don't think Miaoli as a place sucks, by the way, though he's right about the politics.)

Secondly, the drag was probably for simple comedic effect, to make fun of the "sexy" (though honestly a bit outdated) outfits in Fanny's video. But it serves another, possibly unintended, implicit purpose: to show Taiwan as a country which is more inclusive and open to different expressions of gender. Drag is fairly normal in Taiwan, to the point that it can go beyond being a necessarily political act, and can be, well, for fun. Fanny Liu's brand, in general, is very female-gendered, heteronormative, somewhat sexualized and...frankly, kind of establishment and boring. Brian skewers this beautifully, and in doing so, skewers establishment beliefs as a whole.

Finally, let's remember that authoritarians have terrible taste in music, something that Brian more or less explicitly called out in his video. So their attempts to win over hearts and minds with pop culture has been a failure and will continue to be so - it is simply never going to work. Good art - be it music, comedy or in any other form - comes from either fighting oppression, or having the freedom to be creative. 


That's why Bauhinia Rhapsody is a fantastic song which is still in my regular playlist, and CCP-backed attempts at pro-police "rap" were roundly mocked. It's why I generally like Taiwanese artists that don't sell out to China - and not only because they did not do so, but because their music is actually better - whereas I find the Taiwanese pop which is popular in China, from artists who are welcome in China, to be...about as memorable and akin to "art" as comparing the candy-colored exuberance of Yayoi Kusama to actual cotton candy. One will endure; the other is cheaply available and withers in a light rain. 


But you know what? We knew that too. It seems like the CCP is incapable of figuring that out, because they're incapable of conceiving of, let alone allowing, the freedom for that sort of discourse to flourish.

Well, them, and maybe also Miaoli. 


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Sunday, May 3, 2020

Appreciating Tsai Ing-wen's linguistic tightrope walk on independence

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The Ties

You are living on your own, financially independent and managing all of your personal affairs. You were estranged from one of your family members for a while - a step-parent, but they act like they're actually related to you. You didn't talk for years despite living fairly close to one another. You're pretty happy with how successful you've been.

But this step-parent, well, you've had quite a bit more contact over the past few years, and you're starting to remember why you were estranged in the first place: honestly, they're kind of a dick. 

For example, they keep insisting that you live with them, because you were forced to crash there for awhile a long time ago. They even keep your old room, and tell people you still live there (even when you did, it didn't really feel like your home). They try to tell you who you are allowed to talk to, and even make plans to renovate your home for you. Although they have a lot of money, parts of their own home are an absolute nightmare and you have no intention of allowing them to touch yours. But they just won't shut up about it, and even threaten to bring in a demolition crew if you don't do what they want. At best, they're deeply emotionally abusive.

But they also have a lot of power in the community - big donations to various projects, tons of connections, friends in high places. To fully disavow them would mean to cut yourself off from everyone else. You've tried talking about it to your friends, and they agree with you, but "don't want any trouble". Among acquaintances, if you say so much as a word against them, you’re shut out of community events. Sometimes people who are really friendly with this relative insist that their version of events is accurate. You're completely flummoxed that nobody else seems to see how crazy this whole situation is.

How does nobody find it weird that they insist I still live in my old room when I clearly don't?

So the best you can do under the circumstances is smile wanly and pretend you don’t hate this person, to keep things friendly with everyone else. When someone insists you and your step-parent must be blood relatives because you share the same surname, you don't respond. You considered changing it once and would still like to, but the last time you brought it up they threatened to set your house on fire. 

Publicly, you don’t argue, and you seem happy to keep things the way they are. 

In your heart, you are seething. 

The best you can do, whenever you get the chance, is to refer to your house and your life and encourage people to call you by your chosen name. 

Occasionally, someone will come along and remark that you clearly do want to keep things the way they are, because you aren't aggressively trying to change the situation (at great cost to yourself). You hate this, especially when your well-meaning friends do it, but you keep on smiling and don't contradict them. Technically, it's true. 

Some may ask if you plan to "make a decision" about whether to continue on your own or live in that abusive step-parent's house, and you gently point out that you don't need to make a decision because you are already on your own. They say "huh, but how will you ever be independent if you don't choose?"

How am I not already independent? you reply, because you are. Why would I need to declare otherwise? 


Defining "independence"

This is why no administration or dominant party in Taiwan has been able to consistently advocate for formal (de jure) independence for Taiwan: China has rendered that impossible. Similarly, the KMT can't advocate for the eventual unification with China that they so clearly desire, because the Taiwanese public will never accept it. On both sides, smaller parties take up harder lines on these issues, but they are unlikely to become major players for a variety of reasons. 

What's left is a tussle over the ideas that are still possible to negotiate: what the "status quo" and "independence" really mean. In other words, whether or not the Tsai administration is pro-independence or pro-status quo depends on how you define those terms.

If you define "pro-independence" as "must advocate for formal independence" and the status quo is "not officially pushing for formal independence", then I suppose you can say that Tsai and the DPP are "pro-status quo". 

However, there are a lot of other ways to define "pro-independence" - such as deciding that it means you believe the country is already independent. 

If you define "independence" as a future state you haven't reached yet, there's not much of a way forward. You are constrained by all of those angry voices who call you a troublemaker and shut you out if you try. But if you define it as the state you are already in - which is technically true - then it not only becomes attainable, but in fact is already attained. Any future changes - such as wider recognition - then bear on the status of your already-existing independence. 

This is exactly what Tsai has done.

"We don't have a need to declare ourselves an independent state," the 63-year-old president told the BBC in an exclusive interview, her first since the election. "We are an independent country already and we call ourselves the Republic of China (Taiwan)."

How can anyone say that is not a pro-independence stance? She uses the word “independence” obliquely to describe it. 

What she's doing isn't pro-status quo, as it is commonly understood. It's re-defining independence as de facto attained. In this creation of meaning, the status quo is independence.

It also neatly addresses another concern of pro-Taiwan allies: that when we talk about "independence", a lot of people who are not familiar with Taiwan's status take that to mean "independence from the PRC". Then they hear "I'm pro-independence" and think oh, if you want independence it must mean you don't have it yet, which must mean Taiwan is a part of China. Oooh, that sounds like separatism. The media makes separatists sound like bad guys so I don't think I support that.

Explaining how "pro-independence" is supposed to mean "formal independence" - de jure recognition of a status Taiwan already enjoys - often leads to confused looks. Why would you have to fight for a status you already have? 

Tsai's defining of "independence" to mean "the status Taiwan already has" is, therefore, a masterstroke. It allows the conversation to move forward to supporting not just independence (which we have) but towards recognition (what we want). That argument isn't possible officially, which is why Tsai isn't making it. But unofficially, she is intentionally laying the groundwork for current activists and future leaders to do so. 

In doing this, she leaves  just enough room to claim that the Republic of China still exists and that you may call her stance "pro-status quo" if you wish. It’s a game of social constructionism that is, frankly, genius. She is using language to define and construct a shared reality that is palatable to Taiwan, which can be interpreted in different ways to avoid conflict, but is understood by those who need to understand it.


Pushing Ahead

This fascinating language game has allowed Tsai to push further, rhetorically, than any of her predecessors - including Chen Shui-bian, often seen as far more of a pro-independence hardliner. If we compare what Chen said in his inaugural speeches in 2000 and 2004 vis-a-vis the Republic of China, and what Tsai said in her 2020 acceptance speech (she hasn't given a 2020 inaugural address yet), Chen once, and only once, added "Taiwan" to "The Republic of China", whereas Tsai did this with every mention of the Republic of China, a name she invoked less often than Chen in both 2016 and 2020.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't believe that Chen Shui-bian then immediately got on the international news and remarked that Taiwan was "independent" and China must "respect that". Tsai did. Chen didn't acknowledge the 1992 Consensus but I don't think he ever referred to a "Taiwan Consensus". Tsai did - and in fact I believe she invented the term.

She was able to do that. He - as far as I know - was not. She created space to push for Taiwan and call it independent under any name. He could not. Through finding new ways to define reality through careful language choices, she has been able to walk along a precipice that none of her predecessors could even approach.

Under her administration, we may yet succeed in changing the name of China Airlines, and it's possible that Academia Sinica will change its name as well. This will be a bigger success for Taiwan's visibility internationally than any of the name changes Chen initiated (only one of which remains - Freedom Square). If they succeed, the KMT and CCP will certainly take these moves as a challenge to what they see as the status quo. They are helping Tsai set up a situation in which her administration's actions - seen by some as “pro-status quo" - are actually "pro-independence", without her ever having to say so. 

In the meantime, officials in her administration have free reign to call Taiwan a “country” or “nation” as often as they please. Here's one example. Here's another:
Ou reiterated Taiwan is a sovereign and independent country. 
"China has never ruled Taiwan for one day, and only the popularly elected Taiwan government can represent the country's 23 million people internationally," she said.

Tsai herself does so as well, surely knowing that the international media won’t allow their journalists to throw around those words when referring to Taiwan (opting instead for flaccid terms like “island”, “territory” and - most deflated of all - “place”). But if she says it, they can quote her, and the word “country” makes it into the final copy:

“They don’t like the idea of being threatened all the time. We are a successful democracy … We deserve respect from China,” she said. “We have a separate identity and we’re a country of our own.”



It is absolute genius, and it makes me want to be her best friend and have sleepovers with her where we drink wine and play with cats. 


Defining "the status quo"

Let’s consider how all the other sides in this fight define "status quo". 

If you go by international treaties, the "status quo" means that Taiwan's status is undetermined. No binding treaty ever addresses it. Even if you believe that the declarations of Cairo and Potsdam are binding (they're not), through a post-colonial lens, they're still not valid: the Republic of China had never governed Taiwan at that point, so Chiang Kai-shek's desire to control it is just another form of imperialism.

Tsai clearly doesn't adhere to that definition, as she has assigned a status to Taiwan: as already independent. There's nothing undetermined about it.

If you go by another rubric of how a country is defined - that it has a government, contiguous territory, a currency, a military etc. - what you get is a de facto nation, like Taiwan. This is closest to what Tsai is trying to express: that de facto independence is still a form of independence, and is sufficient grounds to push the meaning of "status quo" in a Taiwanese context from 'undetermined' to 'determined, awaiting recognition'. 

Then, there is how pro-China forces define "the status quo". To the KMT, "the status quo" means "Taiwan's status is undetermined, but we respect the 1992 Consensus...with different interpretations". Considering that realistically, the Republic of China will never govern all of "China", this is a fancy way of being a unificationist. The KMT insists that this is open to interpretation, an assertion that the CCP has never agreed to. 

Ma Ying-jeou spent 8 long years insisting that such a position could be credibly called the "status quo". Notably, nobody from his own side attacked him for that, because they all understood that "the status quo" meant "Taiwan's current status is unclear but its fate is ultimately Chinese". Handed Tsai's re-jiggering of "status quo", a definition co-constructed with her supporters (that is, the closest thing we have to a consensus of Taiwanese citizens), neither Ma, nor the KMT, nor the CCP would call it anything close to the "status quo" as they see it. To them, that's a push for independence, and they will angrily say so at any opportunity.

What they don't realize is that this helps Tsai in her creation of meaning through language that Taiwan's current status can be described as "independent". The perlocutionary effect of her words lands in part because it has been validated by the opposition. By insisting their definition of “the status quo” is the only valid one, and Tsai's is in fact a pro-independence stance, they are helping to co-create the idea that the status quo, if defined in another way, can be called independence. 

Clearly, there is no objective definition of "status quo" (or "independence") that a neutral observer can point to and say that this or that Taiwanese leader does or does not advocate for it. If the meanings of these terms are not necessarily fixed, then the interrelationship between them can't be so easily defined or interpreted, either. You can't insist that there is only a reality in which Taiwan is not already independent (because it is not formally so), when the daily experience of people in Taiwan clearly show that there is a reality in which it is (because it acts that way, regardless of how it is treated by others). 


The Use and Utility of "The Republic of China"

As for keeping the name "Republic of China", every president (even Chen) has been pushed by circumstance to give it a little lip service. 

Let's talk about Tsai's strategic deployment of the words "Republic of China": it offers smooth rhetoric on which the KMT can find little or no purchase from where they might attack her. It ensures that the CCP can't use "abrogating the claim to being part of 'China'" as a pretext for a declaration of war (of course, they're going to do what they want to do anyway, but it's best not to give them excuses). 

If you understand her use of "Republic of China" to mean that she actually believes that it not only is but should be Taiwan's name, you could call her "pro-status quo". But here's how I've come to see it: a statement of fact, that "Republic of China" is the official name of this country, without making any statement about whether or not it should be. 

Some might take this as being huadu (華獨) or "pro-independence as the Republic of China". I don't. This is partly because it's pretty clear that Tsai doesn't actually think that "independent Republic of China" is the best future for Taiwan, which her supporters clearly understand as well. And it’s partly because I see her intention in her slightly contradictory choice of words. 

(There is a whole discussion we can have here about “independence” being “independence from the ROC colonial system”, but that’s a topic on its own - when creating narratives and defining Taiwan for an international audience who might not be deeply knowledgeable about or interested in Taiwan’s situation, that’s an issue best kept to domestic debate.) 

I read a lot of advice columnists, and this is one piece of advice I keep coming across: when you have to say something, and you can't give any genuine praise but don't want to lie, say something which is factually true. If your aunt is showing you her new house, say "oh wow, wall-to-wall carpets!" She doesn't need to know that you hate wall-to-wall carpets.

"...we call ourselves the Republic of China" is the "oh wow, wall-to-wall carpets!" of political talk.  It is not only intended to acknowledge the current existence of a government called "The Republic of China", but also as a necessary conjunction: creating space so that the words "independent country" may also be spoken. 


Tsai's 3D Chess

With all that in mind, which do you think is more likely: that Tsai actually believes that the status quo is what's best for Taiwan, and the name of this country should be "The Republic of China", or that she's choosing the most realistic, pragmatic path to advocating for independence available to her? Given the constraints of Taiwan's situation both domestically (KMT attacks) and internationally (PRC threats), given her careful choice of words and given what we know pro-independence Taiwanese believe, it's risible to credibly claim the former. 

She sees that the hard-line "independence" fight simply cannot be waged right now. So rather than gaze helplessly at a dense thicket she cannot enter, she's making a new path into the woods by re-defining the terms available to her: the status quo not as "Taiwan's status is undetermined" (which much of the world quietly believes) nor as "Taiwan is a part of China but unification will take time" (which is what both the PRC and the KMT believe), but "the status quo is independence, because the people see their country as independent, and in fact we are de facto independent." 

That is a valid pro-independence stance.

It's also a type of doublespeak: she's hewing close enough to the "status quo" shibboleths that China insists on (and then rattles their sabers anyway just because they don't like her), while making it clear to everyone else that Taiwan is a country. 

This is also in line with how she approaches issues more generally. While I don't fully sign off on her strategy to get marriage equality passed in Taiwan, the tactics were quite clear: play it safe, lay low, and then BAM! Same sex marriage. Say nothing at all about the 1992 Consensus, merely acknowledging that "meetings took place" in that year, and then when Xi starts rattling his saber about it, BAM! Taiwan Consensus. She takes some heat for several rounds of confusing changes to labor laws and appears to mostly be listening to business rather than workers, but BAM! has quietly raised the minimum wage more than her predecessors in just four years. She didn't say a thing about the issues inherent to tourism from China. She didn't want those tourists nor the economic weapon they represented - most of us didn't. Then BAM! China changes the policy on their own, as she knew they would. She presents herself as a slow-acting, overcautious, ho-hum centrist, and then BAM! The DPP has been quietly filled with young progressives and the socially conservative old guard has broken off to form their own irrelevant party

Taken through that lens, Taiwan's careful word choice and officially leaving the independence question alone while unofficially acting as though the question has already been answered - which it has - is a way of advocating for independence that can't exist if "pro-independence" must mean "actively advocating for formal recognition". 

If you still want to believe that her stance is a "pro-status quo" one, you can. There is room in how these terms can be defined for that viewpoint. But I would suggest that your chosen definitions are so narrow that they create further constraints on what Taiwanese leaders can do. Taiwan already has enough constraints to navigate, which Tsai has worked hard to loosen. Why add more?

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Of #nnevvy, Subaltern Linguistics and Global Divides (social justice language and authoritarian agendas: Part 2 of Zillions)

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Strap in, folks, because this post goes to a few different places.

Anyone who cares about regional politics in Asia and hangs out on Twitter was treated to an absolute delight recently, when the hashtag #nnevvy went stratospheric. The details don't exactly matter - some movie star's girlfriend, named Nevvy, said she was dressing like a "Taiwanese girl", some Chinese Twitter users (and by "users" I mean a combination of real users, paid trolls, and bots) got mad and...honestly, who cares. The trolls look for reasons to get angry, so the actual reasons generally don't matter.

This caused huge numbers of young, progressive, socially-networked Thais to start roasting the Chinese trolls, whose insults about their king, government, level of economic development etc. didn't work. The big joke among Thais, of course, was that they actually love dunking on their government and new king, and basically pulled the century's greatest "Yes, And" on the trolls, trolling them back with Tiananmen Square and insisting Taiwan and Hong Kong were independent. Young people across Asia started getting in on the fun, including scores of Taiwanese. Among them you could find people from India, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and the Philippines and more all coming together to roast Chinese Internet users (yes, there were several "Avengers, Assemble!" memes, because of course there were).


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I noticed two things about this, before I get into what I really want to say. First, I adore the sarcastic nihilism, the absolute existential absurdity, of the expert use of "Yes, And". It's an interesting contrast to the deadpan ironic humor of Taiwan, which often veers either into mildly dirty jokes (e.g. intentionally labeling a hair dryer "Blowing With Love") or wordplay.

So if you're ever tempted to go off on some Chad rant about how this or that group of Asians "has no sense of humor", I kindly suggest that you follow the advice of the hair dryer. 






Second, I am loving on the subaltern linguistics of it all. One will still meet English teachers and students who think of "learning English" language as a foreign system to be acquired (Pennycook and others call this langue).

What we saw with #nnevvy, however, was not langue - it was people from across Asia either translanguaging (using their own language and translation tools as necessary to be understood in a second language), or using often-imperfect English in order to negotiate and express meaning - not to 'inner circle' White native speakers, but other non-native speakers, for their own purposes. White-People-English had nothing to do with it. This is parole - language in performance.

The choice of English for these international exchanges occurred naturally in the moment, in the minds of users, but the fact that English was there to be used - enough of them had studied it and younger generations across Asia grow increasingly more adept at it - was neither a natural occurrence nor a neutral one. It was, of course, the role of imperialism both overtly (colonial) and implicitly
 (economic).

But the spread of English on the back of colonialism (both neo- and the regular kind) doesn't mean that it cannot be appropriated, or that its use cannot be empowering. If anything, these days in Asia the linguistic imperialism mantle has switched to Mandarin - again, a change that is neither natural nor neutral, and of dubious benefit. Of course, this is in line with China's attempts to step up to the plate as both regional and global hegemon. With this comes a healthy dose of Han supremacy, and tied to that, linguistic imperialism.

So when a bunch of people from various nations across Asia - some of whom speak Mandarin but many of whom don't - needed to take a collective dump on the regional supremacist jerk and their drone army of bots and trolls, they chose not the language of those bots and trolls (Mandarin), but the choice that has, by circumstance, become more neutral and therefore ripe for appropriation.

Honestly, I'm kind of waiting for the West to figure this out, because so many people seem to think the only flavor available at Ye Olde Supremacy Shoppe is vanilla White. 



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The main reason I found #nnevvy interesting, however, is how neatly it tears down a construct that the CCP is absolutely desperate to promote: the East-West divide. So many of their arguments - this is how we do things here, you can never understand our 5,000 years of culture, Asian-style democracy (thankfully no longer a buzzword), you're using Western thinking to try to understand Eastern ways but you can't push that imperialism on us! - are predicated on this.

Why? Because Westerners often buy it and then all their Orientalist fantasy "worldliness". Because if a person from "the East" insists it's true, it's difficult for a person from "the West" to contradict them without sounding like an ethnocentrist (this is actually a massive issue in intercultural communication, with no clear answers). Or worst, a "colonizer". Because it gives them a handy platform from which to say "you can't tell us what to do", which they then promptly use to tell the rest of Asia what to do. Because it gives them a region - a bloc of people supposedly "like them" - which they can then dominate without "the West" complaining too much, because to them, it looks like Asians working with Asians which sure seems a lot more PC than Westerners doing the same thing.

This is all cloaked in the language of pan-Asian cooperation - after all, why shouldn't the dominant voices from Asia be Asian? I'd certainly agree with that, when it's meant sincerely.

But, of course, the CCP's actual goal is to become the dominant voice from Asia, not to participate in (or even benignly lead) a cooperative effort. They squash rather than uplift the marginalized voices that are inconvenient to this narrative.

Cultural differences between regions do exist, on a broad scale. But there is no "East" and "West", but rather a variety of communities within each, with their own power and privilege differentials. There are people who believe in freedom, and those who believe in authoritarianism with many shades in between. There are people on an entire spectrum of liberal to conservative, and young people across Asia increasingly differ in values from their elders. They may express it differently, so you might not have noticed, but it's there. 


These ideas straddle "East" and "West", to the point that a little cultural adaptation goes a long way when befriending locals my age or slightly younger, whereas I suspect my Grandma L., were she still alive, would get along quite well with a typical KMT Taiwanese Christian Auntie.

To the extent the idea is useful, it's to demarcate an extremely fuzzy boundary for the purpose of examination, with the hope of deepening knowledge, exploring intersectionality and building inclusivity, not creating new fiefdoms for new pantsless bear-kings.


Basically, you can tell they're full of shit not because they voiced the idea of an "East"-"West" cleavage, but by what they want to accomplish by advancing it.

It also serves the CCP's purpose to convince you this divide means that "democracy" and "human rights" are inherently "Western" and therefore not suitable for "Eastern" people. And boom, you've just been talked out of believing that democracy may not be perfect but it's sure better than dictatorship, that human rights are universal for a reason, or even believing that these are false constructs of "Western" imperialists - imperialism is only "Western" in this worldview, see - there's no Han or Chinese imperialism possible. That's pretty convenient, eh? You've conveniently forgotten how many Asian nations are successful democracies and want to stay that way, including Taiwan! You definitely don't remember that human rights have been defined by an organization - the UN - which has Asian members.

In fact, you may even become convinced that Asian countries, like Taiwan, who ascribe to certain so-called "Western" values and try to build sincere, friendly relations with Western nations are filthy dens of evil capitalist brainwashed colonizer sympathizers. You might start thinking of them as one of the "bad" guys, because they've teamed up with the Evil West and don't want to cooperate with their friendly local hegemon.

If you go down this path, you've talked yourself into believing that you support people across Asia by opposing "Western imperialism", when all you've really done is become a useful idiot for the power that seeks to rule them.


Take one look at #nnevvy, however, and you'll see it's all a ruse. So many people across Asia can't stand the CCP, and can't stand their cyber-armies of rabid nationalists (both the real ones and the bots). I mean, it felt like almost all of Asia just teamed up to take them down, so the idea that they're all on some sort of "same side" and China is simply the munificent and benevolent leader of that "side" is a joke.

Honestly, if you're a long-time reader, you know all this. Even a casual visitor has probably got a clue.

But you'd be shocked how many tankie so-called leftist Westerners there are who still haven't figured this stuff out. They tend to substitute viciousness for evidence, and as such I find them hard to talk to, so I'm not really sure how to help them see the toxicity, authoritarianism, anti-Asian racism and straight-up Orientalism of their views, all cloaked in the 'social justice' language of supporting people of color. All while making excuses to deny those people of color the same rights and freedoms they themselves enjoy.

I have more to say about global divides and suddenly believing ideas like human rights are "relative", but will save those for future posts.

In the meantime: 

Sunday, April 12, 2020

The CCP uses social justice language to advance an authoritarian agenda: Part 1 of Zillions



First, I apologize for not blogging much. It's dissertation time. I said blogs would be more rare, and I meant it. It'll be like this through June, if not longer. But, every once in awhile I can catch a breather, and today is one of those days.

Now, with that aside...

There’s something I want to talk about, which has a lot of associated bits and pieces, which begins and ends with the CCP adopting the language of the social justice left to advance an authoritarian, right-wing agenda. This is the first part of that, let’s see how far I get into a series of posts exploring it further before my dissertation takes.

As everyone in Taiwan knows by now, the Director-General of the WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, accused Taiwan of online attacks that included racism and death threats. I won't summarize: there are plenty of sources for that (New Bloom includes a video link with relevant comments). Some say the director - whom I'll call Tedros as that's how he's referred to on Wikipedia despite (I think) being his given name - accused the Taiwanese government of being behind the attacks. Or, in his exact words: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) knew about the attacks and "didn't disassociate itself" from them.

Which of course it didn't, because why would it need to "disassociate" from the comments of thousands of angry Taiwanese? You only need to do that when the attack is organized. You can tell the difference between this and organized 'cyber armies' because the language used in various posts was novel, not copy-pasted or the same arguments, almost verbatim, again and again. The memes, too, were new and creative in ways that organized troll armies simply cannot (or at least, do not) replicate.

It's almost as though he can't fathom why tens of thousands of Taiwanese people would be furious with him, after he repeatedly denied the existence of their country, ignored early-warning data Taiwan provided, excluded Taiwan from most proceedings, and then peddled (false) Chinese data far too late.

Tedros is not a stupid man. Incompetent, yes, but not stupid. He is capable of understanding the very reasonable explanation behind why he is so reviled in Taiwan. His insistence that this is something else is a choice. It is intentional. It looks quite similar to the tactics the CCP employs when it decides to ignore plain truth and push the narrative it has decided is most convenient.

Were some comments from Taiwanese racist? Almost certainly. I haven't seen them, but racism exists everywhere. However, I've witnessed racism against Southeast Asians in Taiwan and heard stories of racist treatment in Taiwan from friends who are people of color, and I can tell you that the majority of comments were not that: they were attacking Tedros and the WHO for their treatment of Taiwan and poor handling of the coronavirus outbreak - two issues that are now deeply linked.

A lot of the racist comments, it's worth noting, were in Simplified Chinese (or from accounts that only interact with accounts that write in Simplified). A wave of "apologies" from "Taiwanese" (all using identical wording, and all in Simplified) has also since appeared. So, while there was certainly some organic racism in the comments against Tedros, I wonder how much of it was, in fact, organized and planted...by the CCP.

Of course, the CCP has figured out that accusations of racism can, in fact, be weaponized. A person accused of racism defending themselves who is actually guilty of racism sounds exactly like someone who was falsely accused speaking up about it.

Let’s admit it: when you have to defend yourself as definitely not racist!  - very often that just convinces people that you are racist. Only a racist would have to insist they weren't racist, after all. If you're not, it should be obvious. You might be tempted to reach for trite right-wing cliches like "you're playing the race card!" which, honestly, just makes a person sound more racist. Even pointing out that an innocent and a guilty person defending themselves against accusations of racism sound exactly the same, and that such accusations can therefore be weaponized, sounds like a right-wing talking point! There is literally no way out of this discursive cesspit: the only way to go is down.

There are also very reasonable calls for Taiwan to do some self-reflection on the racism that does exist here (both by Han Taiwanese against non-Han Taiwanese, and against foreigners, especially directed at Black and Southeast Asian residents in Taiwan). However, that shifts attention away from the fact that Tedros is intentionally lying about the attacks being 'organized' with the blessing of the Taiwanese government.

Of course, these baseless accusations only take away from the very necessary discussion on real issues of race in Taiwan, but that's also the point.

It will be very difficult indeed to make this point to Western audiences, because generally speaking, racism isn’t weaponized in quite this way. If someone in the West says they are the victim of racist attacks, generally they should be believed. (Exceptions exist: Clarence Thomas comes to mind). You get the occasional White person who insists they’re the victim of racism, but the left usually doesn’t take the bait. They know that racism is prejudice plus power, and that White people have the most power.

I’m not at all sure that this same Western left knows what to do with accusations of racism that don’t involve White people, however. And accusations by a Black person, against a population of Asians, who themselves are marginalized in Asian discourses, supported (and quite possibly created, or at least helped along) by a repressive Asian government that claims to represent a dominant group but in fact doesn’t, in order to attack the democratically-elected government of the marginalized group? When racism exists in that marginalized group, but was not the issue in this particular case? Yikes.

This brings me to the point I really want to make: if you haven't noticed that the CCP has been adopting the language of the social-justice, post-colonial left in order to push what is essentially a right-wing, neo-colonial agenda, you aren't listening. This is just one bomb lobbed from that particular trebuchet.

The point is to deflect the media attention from all the good work Taiwan is doing, pushing their success out of the spotlight by creating a new firestorm for people to pay attention to. This was highlighted by former Sunflower Movement and current DPP member Lin Fei-fan:

我認為理由無他,正是因為台灣正積極協助更多國家的防疫工作,而台灣的防疫成果也正被國際社會肯定。我們不僅輸出手術口罩協助其他國家第一線防疫人員,陳建仁副總統也在昨天接受了國際媒體BBC的專訪分享台灣的防疫經驗。 
台灣正在被國際看見,也被許多國家肯定和感謝,這是中國想要摧毀的一切,也是中國的傳聲筒之所以要攻訐台灣的原因!

My translation:

I think there is no other reason, it is precisely because Taiwan is actively assisting more countries in their epidemic prevention work, and Taiwan ’s epidemic prevention achievements are being recognized by the international community. Not only have we exported surgical masks to assist frontline epidemic prevention staff in other countries, Vice President Chen Chien-jen also accepted an exclusive interview with the BBC yesterday to share Taiwan's experience with epidemic prevention. 
Taiwan is being seen by the world, and it is also being acknowledged and appreciated by many countries. This is everything China wants to destroy, and therefore the reason why China's mouthpiece is attacking Taiwan!" 

Since then, MoFA released the letter it sent to the WHO, and that too has been attacked (either for MoFA “overstepping”, or for them overstating the case that they “tried to warn the WHO” when mostly they were asking for more information, or...whatever.) I’m not particularly interested in this saga (and I’m not the only one). As far as I see it MoFA generally does an amazing job, the letter did raise alarms about what was going on in China, and it shows that Taiwan attempted to use the channels available to it and made no headway. That people are making a big deal over it honestly just feels like more of an attempt to cut down the amount of positive coverage and praise Taiwan is receiving.

The honest truth is that the WHO has done an awful job dealing with thecoronavirus and its refusal to acknowledge Taiwan hinders efforts at protecting global health, while trying to convince the world that it’s done an amazing job. This follows the exact same narrative trajectory of China, and that’s not an accident. While China is still recovering from the outbreak, it continues to try and confuse and destabilize the narrative on Taiwan so the world doesn’t notice that Taiwan has done the best job in the world of handling the pandemic. While the WHO should be focusing on the ongoing global crisis, it’s spending its time challenging Taiwan to fisticuffs because it can’t handle sincere criticism. Again, these matching narratives are not a coincidence.

I want to explore this a lot more, but I’ll save that for the next post.

A lot of people have since pointed out that there’s growing anti-foreigner (and specifically anti-Black, anti-African) racism in China. In fact, it’s always been there but it’s been getting worse thanks to the coronavirus. In Guangzhou, there are reports of exchange students from Africa and other African residents (the city has a fairly large African community) being evicted from hotels, not allowed to buy food, and reduced to sleeping under bridges.

The CCP doesn’t seem to have offered a coherent response, and I tend to agree with those who say it is likely incapable of doing so. Considering that these actions are directly related to the aftermath of coronavirus (plus suddenly forcing people to sleep on the street doesn’t seem like a great move public health-wise even when there’s no global pandemic), you’d think the WHO and Tedros, who are ever so sensitive to issues of racism, and seem to care very deeply about how African people are treated by Asians, would also offer some sort of response or acknowledgement.

You would be wrong.

Compare that to Taiwan, the country accused of  “racism” against Tedros. I spoke out recently regarding businesses in Taiwan discriminating against foreigners. Then, as now, I want to point out that the majority of these businesses changed their policies when approached. Some resisted and had to be complained at rather strongly - calling the discrimination what it was, being told their policies would be publicly blogged about - others were receptive after an initial polite request. Though not all listened to reason, most did.

I didn’t say anything at the time, but while this was happening I reached out to a few friends I have who work in government after one business insisted that “a visiting police unit” suggested such a discriminatory policy, to confirm that this was not a government policy. It certainly was not. (A friend in the Taipei City government actually said, “first, these businesses should be happy to get customers, business is down everywhere. Second, that’s stupid.”)

In fact, I missed it at the time, but it seems Mayor Ko specifically tweeted, asking businesses not to discriminate. Whoever wrote the tweets did not thread them, so I’m just going to post an image:



Although I’d love to have a statement from the national government specifically calling on businesses not to discriminate, this is fantastic, and the issue (mostly) seems to have died down. A few people were denied Airbnb or hotel rooms, but nobody had to sleep under a bridge. Nobody was unable to buy food.

Over in China, reports are that the treatment of Black residents described above is not only not being stopped by the government, but in some cases actively carried out by the police. The Chinese government has offered a few stock phrases - “we treat all foreigners equally” - but not much more than that.

That’s the difference. Those are the facts.

Speaking of “facts”, there’s more I want to say about the CCP using the left’s tendency toward subjectivity and (total) cultural relativism as further excuses for its authoritarian agenda, but I think that’s the subject of a future post.

In the meantime, facts are facts. Don’t be distracted.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

On immigration, Taiwan does the right thing - and Tsai Ing-wen is the leader of the free world

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Bad idea, guys. 



Super hot breaking news!

The Bureau of Consular Affairs has just announced that visa waiver, landing visa and visitor visas will automatically be extended by 30 days, with no need for further application, as long as the total stay does not exceed 180 days.

The Mandarin announcement is here, and here is the English.

The government may re-evaluate the policy as circumstances require. That's good news - it means that if the pandemic continues, the period can be potentially extended. 


Note that if you are one of the few people who has been able to extend a 90-day visitor visa, this probably doesn't apply to you, as the visa plus extension would be 180 days exactly. 

This is phenomenal news, you guys. Unlike the 'voluntary departure' program which was trying to get people to go home on their own, this gives people an explicit option to stay. That's safer for them and safer for the world, and doesn't hurt Taiwan. They are already here, they are not known carriers, and because their stay in Taiwan is contingent on the government's beneficence, they are probably not going to go around violating quarantine and being jerks.

It's also truly amazing that the government took this step, given the animus some have shown towards COVID19 carriers who have arrived in Taiwan, with some taking a "name and shame" approach, saying they 'deserve' it for traveling abroad. It can be expected that some of this anger may be directed at foreign visitors, and indeed some have asked whether Taiwan 'owes' these visitors anything, even though almost all of these cases have been from Taiwanese citizens, not foreigners. 


That shows a truly progressive and compassionate side to the current administration's policies which should be praised. 

I have to admit, I teared up a little at the news. This helps at least three of the people in visa limbo who I wrote about, including the Honduran man who cannot marry his Taiwanese partner (I asked). In a world that feels like it's off its hinges, with some people being cruel when it wouldn't hurt them to be empathetic, this is the right thing to do. Taiwan doesn't officially or ethically 'owe' visitors a thing, but it shows striking kindness to do it anyway.



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There's a surgical mask under that flowery cover

Not a lot of countries would do this - most seem to want foreigners gone as the pandemic rages - but Taiwan did. It deserves credit for that.

Is Taiwan doing a perfect job? No. It probably should be testing more people, and it absolutely should not deny testing to anyone with symptoms - whether or not there is community transmission yet, we're not going to know if there is if we don't test the community more generally. The fear and confusion over immigration issues also caused a lot of anxiety.

However, I would still say it has the best possible response. It has been more pro-active, more empathetic, more sane, and more calm than any other country - to both citizens and foreign residents - than just about any other country.

On that note, President Tsai - at this point, the true leader of the free world - calmed the nation while warning us all that the next two weeks were critical, especially in terms of preventing the onset of community transmission.

What I glean from this is that this 'second wave' of imported cases was expected, that the government does feel there is hope to stay the course, but also that they expect a spike in cases in the next two weeks, with possible community transmission. This was a calming, unifying speech but also a somber warning.

That doesn't mean we should panic. It does mean that instead of panic-buying, we have a week or so to slowly start building our lockdown pantries. My advice: don't go for the items people are panic-buying, like instant noodles. Most of us don't have yards we can exercise and get sunlight in. Do you want to emerge from quarantine or lockdown as a pale, sickly and heavily-salted blob? No? Then fill your freezer (or buy a portable freezer) with fresh vegetables (some of which need to be blanched before freezing, stock up on freezable or canned proteins (beans, tempeh, tofu - the latter two freeze well), a variety of healthy grains and whatever you need to make it all taste good. Stuff for soup, items high in nutrients (especially Vitamin C). Stay healthy.


Finally, a quick note about "blaming".

If we are talking about actual COVID19 cases, I agree with Tsai that we shouldn't be blaming those who contract the illness. It's a pandemic - getting sick should be stigma-free.

It should be obvious as well that blaming "China" isn't helpful. Chinese people have suffered under the CCP's mismanagement of the pandemic as much as the world has, and the CCP is still lying about it. I will never condone calling this thing the "Chinese virus" (yikes) - it perpetuates racism against Chinese people rather than accurately blaming the CCP, and frankly is exactly what the CCP wants. It makes them look like victims when they are in fact perpetrators and makes it easier for them to put a favorable spin on their horrible, world-endangering pandemic response.

However, I've noticed an uptick in the number of people who might be critical of the CCP at other times (or not), who seem to specifically not want to blame anybody. That, I disagree with - fighting racism doesn't mean refusing to lay blame on a government whose actions merit it - being too soft on the CCP is harmful in its own way as it allows their behavior to continue (including a disinformation campaign that is, in fact, working). We can, should and must blame the CCP. Do not let them off the hook. Do not be kind. Blame and shame, and shame and blame some more. Play the blame and shame game.

I'll quote a lot here as the article is paywalled:


We must all be specific in blaming the Chinese Communist Party for its actions. It was the CCP that hid the virus outbreak for weeks, silencing doctors, jailing journalists and thwarting science — most notably by shutting down the Shanghai lab that publicly released the first coronavirus genome sequence.
The Chinese people are heroes in this story. Chinese doctors, researchers and journalists risked their lives and even died fighting the virus and warning the world. The Chinese public’s community solidarity holds lessons for us as our own situation worsens. The Chinese are also victims of their own government’s draconian measures, which caused massive extra suffering.
“It is critical to remember that the Chinese people have no meaningful say in the measures taken by their government,” said Christopher Walker, vice president for studies and analysis at the National Endowment for Democracy. “In the haze of authoritarian information curation and disinformation now coming from Beijing, we can’t lose sight of the massive authoritarian governance failure at the global pandemic’s point of origin.”
This is not just about the coronavirus; it’s a crucial point relative to our whole approach toward China. Our beef is not with the Chinese people; our problem is with the CCP — its internal repression, its external aggression, and its malign influence in free and open societies.

We should blame the CCP not only for their own pandemic response, but for actively keeping that information away from the world, by putting the WHO so far into their pocket that the organization ignored early warnings from Taiwan, a country they routinely exclude (again paywalled - here's the money quote):


Health officials in Taipei said they alerted the WHO at the end of December about the risk of human-to-human transmission of the new virus but said its concerns were not passed on to other countries. 
Taiwan is excluded from the WHO because China, which claims it as part of its territory, demands that third countries and international bodies do not treat it in any way that resembles how independent states are treated.

Fight the virus, yes. But don't pretend there's no reason to blame anyone. The WHO has been actively harming human health, and the CCP is a global threat in more ways than one.

Blame them. Do not shy away. Do not pretend it makes you a better or more high-minded person to soften the blow. It just means you're not helping to hold the perpetrators accountable.

They should burn for this, so make them burn.

I want to end this on a positive note, so - stay safe everyone. I suspect Taiwan is in for a bit of a ride in the next two weeks, so be prepared but do not panic.

This country has been a global leader through the COVID19 fight, and is used to dealing with CCP lies. You are safer here than anywhere else, and most of you who were afraid you'd have to leave now thirty extra days.

You are in the country that is now the de facto leader of the free world, governed by the woman who might just be the most competent president on Earth right now.

As one of the only leaders in the world handling the crisis well, while maintaining freedom, human rights, compassion and empathy while holding strong and calming the nation, she has shown an ability that is unmatched. I wouldn't want to be under anyone else's leadership in this time.

What does that make her if not the leader of the free world?

Her government tried to warn the entire human race, and were ignored. They were the leaders the world needed before anyone realized it.

Maybe the world should realize that, and recognize Taiwan.

Be safe and stay strong.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Data and Lore (a COVID-19 story)

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Does this mean...I'm Wesley?


I had always imagined that, living on an island, I'd feel trapped if disaster struck. There are no borders to cross, only open sea. I know it's not a reasonable worry: land borders can also be treacherous, but knowing your only options are a plane or a boat (and probably not even a boat) rather than a truck, car or your own two feet can honestly induce claustrophobia.

So, while the world around us seems like it's collapsing, I'm surprised by how wrong I was in predicting my own feelings about island life in a global catastrophe. Thanks to Taiwan's pre-emptive, centrally-planned and intelligent response to the COVID-19 pandemic, I feel like I'm living in an island of safety, calm and normalcy in a world gone mad.

I am not terribly concerned that Taiwan will be felled by COVID itself. Even if there is a spike in cases, the time the country bought itself through a strong, early and professional response will be priceless: it is time Taiwan has had to prepare for that potentiality, and considering how they've treated the issue so far, we can be fairly sure they've been using it wisely. 

People are doing their part too - for every anecdote I hear about someone not practicing good pandemic hygiene, I see 20 people who do.

Of course, my confidence extends only to health. I worry quite a bit about the economic backlash. We have enough savings to weather a brief storm, or even a somewhat-prolonged quarantine, but what about an interminable economic crisis? A lot of my clients are businesses, and when the economic crash really hits, the first thing they're going to cut is English training. My teacher training work might see an uptick, but it's honestly hard to say.

Let's not think too much about that, though. There is literally nothing I can do about it except spend less on non-essentials. Once it was clear that climate change was real, I never expected the second half of my life to be easy anyway.

So, what has Taiwan been doing right? I won't write out a whole list because there are lots of places where you can read about that: see here, here, here and here. Suffice it to say, a large component of Taiwan's response has been data collection and public regulation. Most notably, for certain people quarantines are mandatory, and everyone that person had been in contact with might also be asked (or required) to quarantine. Quarantined individuals have their phones tracked and are notified if the government can see there is a violation. The CDC calls them every day (though this is a lot friendlier than it sounds). Isolated people report their temperature online once a day. All face mask production lines were bought up (in essence, expropriated) by the government, and masks are now rationed. Huge amounts of personal health data - including masks purchased - is tracked on National Health Insurance cards. Some public transportation, including all Kuo-kuang buses and all airport MRT trains - require face masks.

This gives the government a massive amount of data to work with, which has some fantastic benefits. There is an app (which is a bit difficult for foreigners to use) that can track which pharmacies will have masks, how many, and when. Apparently one can now pre-order masks. Potential disease vectors are swiftly located and locked down to prevent transmission.

Watching the news from the US right now, where the response seems to be to run out in the street screaming and flailing one's arms, it sure feels like they could learn a lot from the way Taiwan has handled this, starting with universal health coverage.

On the other hand, I have to wonder how much of this Americans would realistically put up with. The scale of data collection really is astounding. If you are identified as a risk, you lose a lot of personal freedom - both in terms of data privacy and freedom of movement. It is, to be honest, a lot to ask.

This is the point at which a different writer might start waxing rhapsodic about Confucian societies and collectivism and the people are more willing to submit to authority because 5,000 years or...something like that.

I won't.

This is a country where people set their sights on overthrowing a dictatorship and succeeded. Where protests are practically a hobby and producing protest gear a side hustle for many. Where your average person would be pretty upset if they couldn't day drink under their favorite temple awning (or in front of their favorite convenience store). Where an entire generation of people under 40 defied their elders by voting for same-sex marriage. There's no Confucian about it and I'm sick of the trope.

Instead, I'll say this: as an American, I'm fine with the level of intrusion into my personal life and willing to give up the data. I suspect - though don't know - that most Taiwanese are too. Not because of some 'different, exotic Asian values' fake East-West divide (a divide that online trolls really seem to push, which is how you know it's fake).

Rather, most Taiwanese are okay with Big Government  right now because this particular circumstance is a true emergency, because they know that this particular data is useful and important for a centrally-coordinated response to work, and because they trust this particular government. 

While we can heave a sigh of relief that this government was re-elected (for a peek into how a Han administration would have handled it, you need only look at Trump's non-response), unfortunately, this perspective doesn't offer many solutions for what to do when you don't trust the government. I don't often agree with libertarians but they're right about this: you only want the government to have as much power as you'd be comfortable with them having if you didn't trust the people in charge, because eventually, someone you don't trust will get elected.

In other words, I'll give this information (and power) to Tsai Ing-wen. I would never be happy to give it to Donald Trump. Or Han Kuo-yu. Would you want either of them at the helm of a government that has just taken sole control of key medical supplies? Would you want either of their administrations insisting they had the right to track your location?

All that data, though, has kept Taiwan feeling more like a cozy ark on a rising flood, rather than a prison from which there is no escape. And perhaps, considering that dictatorship existed in Taiwan in living memory so they know the difference between authoritarianism and a centrally-planned response, maybe we should take their word for it that government data collection for this purpose is acceptable?

So what's happening beyond the rough seas? Between many Western countries' totally botched responses - including a massive failure to test leading to rapid, undetected community transmission - and China's repeated cover-ups and lack of reliable data, there is fertile soil for misinformation and fake narratives to take root.

I had opined, when this all began, that such an obvious and self-evidential failure and clear, documentable cover-up on the part of the CCP might just offer up a silver lining: that the CCP itself would fall. That the systemic failure would be so inescapable that they would not be able to control the narrative. I figured it would be so undeniably true to anyone with working brain that China did not "buy time" for the world, but rather that the CCP's initial cover-up is what caused the disease to go pandemic in the first place, that something would possibly - maybe - give to loosen the grip of that brutal dictatorship on a country that absolutely deserves better.

For a brief period, it seemed that the world might just hold the Chinese government to account for this, or at least report clearly on who was to blame  - not China or the Chinese people, but the CCP.

But even before the US botched its response by completely failing to prepare, one could watch the narrative change almost in real time.

First, the media started saying that China "bought time" for the rest of the world, how its "decisive" and "bold"  response - note the adjectives used instead of the more appropriate draconian and inhumane - saved lives, how it "acted quickly"  (see here, here, here, here and here).

I thought when I hate-read these pieces that, yes, dragging screaming people into their homes and boarding the doors is, I supposebold in a sense. But are we really all pretending that the initial cover-up which is directly responsible for the pandemic going global in the first place just...never happened? Are we truly allowing COVID-19's origin story to be re-written so easily?

I'm not the only one who's noticed, fortunately.





Of course, it's difficult to argue now that the US or Europe could have done better, as they have now both failed so spectacularly. The difference, of course, is that in a liberal democracy you can say so without getting shot, and theoretically can put better people in office next time.

I can empathize, however, with people whose governments did too little thinking that maybe the government that did too much - and now claims that cases are in decline - had the right of it. Even if that sentiment ignores the facts. Even if you are in essence saying "it would be acceptable to drag my screaming neighbor into their house, padlock the door and walk away with the key. It would be acceptable to do that to me, too."

These are the same people who think it's un-American to even ask them not to gather in crowds. Do they think China couldn't possibly be as bad as it actually is, or that it's OK to do that to others but "it would never happen to me" or...do they just use the cognitive dissonance like a white noise machine to help them sleep at night? I truly don't know.



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Neither of these are good! 

It doesn't help that the facts are hard to come by. It's honestly surprising to me how many people understand that the US has no idea how many COVID-19 cases currently exist within its borders, but actually believe the numbers from China, despite China's clear history of lying about them. Now people are saying cases in China are on the decline, but can we really trust that, when nothing the CCP has said since the initial cover-up can be trusted? I don't, and you shouldn't either.

The CCP understands this better than anything: in the absence of trustworthy data, you can make up your own lore.

While all of this has been going on, there's been an ongoing discussion of whether calling COVID-19 "Wuhan Pneumonia" or anything relating to its place of origin is racist, as these viruses can originate anywhere. I don't know that changing a disease's name can really combat racism, but it almost doesn't matter. I'm not qualified to say whether referring to Wuhan in the disease's name is, indeed, racist - totally not my lane. I don't use it - it's too long and seems unnecessary. Holding the CCP to account and not treating people in racist ways both seem like more important things to worry about than exercising my 'right' to call a disease by a common name.

 But I will note that in Taiwan it's called 武漢肺炎 (that is, Wuhan Pneumonia) in Mandarin. It's slightly amusing to me that the CCP insists that Taiwan is a part of China, but also that calling COVID-19 "Wuhan Pneumonia" is racist...against Chinese. By that logic, Chinese people are racist against themselves.

Anyway, I've noticed a particularly bit of nasty ret-conning on the English front too.

I support a general push not to stigmatize people by using place names in disease names going forward, but there seem to be a lot of gullible people who now think we've never called diseases that in the past, so "Wuhan Pneumonia" is a unique example of racism on this front. Of course, those same people will still use disease names like Ebola, Nipah, Zika, Marburg and MERS.

Don't laugh - I saw someone arguing that "we've never named diseases after places!" under a chart that included all of the above. So I suppose I consider users of the term "Wuhan Pneumonia" exactly as racist as I would consider users of the terms "Ebola" and "MERS".

It's been disconcerting to watch how the CCP propaganda machine has taken advantage of this confusion.

First, insisting that its response was appropriate and effective. Then, trying to tell the world (and their own people) that we should be grateful. Then, getting behind a call to label everyone saying "Wuhan Pneumonia" racist moving to a general call not to "blame China" (which, of course, runs in tandem with labeling all blaming of the CCP "blaming China" and therefore "racist"). And now, we've got CCP officials spreading rumors that the virus did not originate in China at all.

I still don't intend to call COVID-19 "Wuhan Pneumonia", but I do note that it's a lot easier to convince idiots outside the Chinese-speaking world that COVID-19 did not come from China if everyone's afraid of being called racist for discussing how it absolutely did.

And so from an undifferentiated mess of information - most of which is unreliable as China's numbers can't be trusted - we have a myth of CCP "decisiveness" saving the world. Lore spun from literally nothing into a narrative that credible people actually believe.

I had hoped that cold, hard data would carry the day. That it would be clear what works (a response like Taiwan's) and what doesn't (running around screaming like a hemorrhaging goat like the US). How draconian, inhumane methods like China's are not necessary if there is initial transparency and swift action. I had hoped that this clarity would lead to much-needed changes in how governments operate around the world, from an end to CCP tyranny to drastic changes in the US's broken system.

Instead, it seems that between data and lore, the latter can pose as the former because most people can't tell the difference.

We will all pay the price for it.