Showing posts with label long_term_expat_life. Show all posts
Showing posts with label long_term_expat_life. Show all posts

Monday, June 15, 2020

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

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

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

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


(Original post)

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

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

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


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

This quite literally amounts to:

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

A: "Because they're not."



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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Should Taiwan formalize a political asylum process? (Yes.)

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I've used this as a cover photo before, and probably will again.
I hope someday it might actually be true. 

With the resurgence of protests in Hong Kong after China's announcement of a Beijing-imposed national security law which will certainly curtail the relative (but dwindling) freedoms that Hong Kongers currently have, there has been a lot of discussion in Taiwan on the degree of assistance the country can provide to Hong Kong. In particular, the discussion has focused on whether and how Taiwan might go about allowing political refugees to settle in Taiwan.

President Tsai's remarks on the matter, while hitting all the right notes in terms of promising that Taiwan will do what it can, have not offered much in the way of specific plans for this assistance. At the moment, Taiwan has no laws regarding refugees, nor a process for applying for political asylum. Regarding Hong Kong specifically, Article 18 of the Act Governing Relations with Hong Kong and Macau says that Taiwan may "help" residents of these two cities if their political freedom is in danger, but doesn't specify what that "help" would be (nor what would constitute a threat). The act provides special status to Hong Kong and Macau, allowing for greater investment and a popular immigration scheme. I know someone whose family immigrated this way when he was a child, and he holds both ROC nationality and a Hong Kong ID card.

While the TPP (Taiwan People's Party) has proposed amending Article 18 to specifically allow for political asylum (see link above), Tsai is moving cautiously. Previously, the Tsai administration had said that current laws were sufficient to determine whether to allow dissidents to settle in Taiwan on a case-by-case basis, though whether this still holds true is highly questionable. Furthermore, Tsai has announced that Hong Kong's (and presumably Macau's) special status may be revoked, which wouldn't even allow for the vague promise of "help" in the relevant act - Hong Kongers and Macanese would be treated like any other citizens of China.

So, as it stands now, there are surely plenty of Hong Kongers looking at Taiwan as a place they might run to if things get really bad, which they probably will, and Taiwan has no mechanism by which to aid them, despite promising some unclear form of "assistance".

Of course, it's more legally complicated than that, but I really don't want to get into the legal complexities of separating the notion of "Hong Kong" from the notion of "China" (or the PRC) under ROC law. I'm not qualified and honestly, I'm sure if Taiwan really wanted to create a mechanism for Hong Kong refugees, it could do so.

Public opinion in Taiwan remains somewhat divided. I have no data to back this up, but I would guess that most Taiwanese support Hong Kong's struggle in an abstract way. Surely they are aware that China's actions in Hong Kong are a look into the future that the authoritarian hell-state has planned for Taiwan. Surely, when it comes to individuals who need to get out, most Taiwanese would believe that their country should be a safe harbor for them. Surely, many Taiwanese recognize that while Hong Kong may not want 'independence' as much as Taiwan does - it was never part of the protesters' famous 'five demands' - they share a common enemy and their struggles are therefore linked in some way.


However, there are questions regarding the safety of allowing large numbers of refugees in - surely, Beijing would attempt to plant as many agents in that influx as possible. Furthermore, allowing a stream of Hong Kongers, who can naturalize more easily than foreigners like me, to potentially gain the right to vote has some people questioning the wisdom of large-scale resettlement. In theory, enough of them may maintain a 'Chinese' identity (rather than a Taiwanese one) that they'd support unification with China, were it to democratize. For many Taiwanese, however, their identity exists independently of China, meaning they would not support unification under any circumstances and wouldn't appreciate a population of newcomers who might feel differently.

Some Taiwanese might even feel that, until fairly recently, Hong Kongers looked down on Taiwan - while I can't personally comment on this, I can imagine it happening, and do believe it's happened - as sort of 'country cousins' who were relatively less prosperous. Now that Taiwan as emerged as a freer and more equal society, Taiwanese who have experienced this attitude from Hong Kong might be thinking - "oh, you mocked us for decades and now you want our help?"

And, of course, some feel that Taiwan is always expected to give to others, but is castigated when it looks out for its own self-interest and makes decisions that are best for itself as a nation, rather than feeling obligated to always absorb the suffering of others.

Should Taiwan feel obligated to assist Hong Kong, potentially allowing refugees to settle here? No.

Is it the right thing to do anyway? Yes.

Hong Kong is, unfortunately, legally a part of China. Taiwan is not. Taiwanese, by and large, don't identify as Chinese. Hong Kong is beginning to catch up in this regard, but you'll still meet plenty of Hong Kongers who identify as Chinese, especially among the older generations (not so much the younger ones). In that way, Taiwan doesn't 'owe' Hong Kong anything, any more than any other nation - they are two different countries with two different identities, after all. To her credit, Tsai did not use Hong Kong protesters as props during her re-election campaign - the connections between her vision for Taiwan and the struggle for freedom in Hong Kong were made entirely by supporters (and rightly so - but that does not change the fact that this was not Tsai's strategy).

However, Taiwan under Tsai has made it clear that it wants to be a beacon of freedom and democracy in Asia. Tsai has said clearly that Taiwan is independent, and outlined what kind of country it ought to be - one where liberal values can merge with local culture and be the stronger for it. This isn't a question of what Taiwan 'owes' Hong Kong, which is nothing. It's a question of what kind of country Taiwan wants to be.

I do think that liberal democracies should strive to be safe harbors for those persecuted under authoritarian regimes. That means that, while Taiwan isn't specifically obligated to Hong Kong, the liberal democratic world as a whole is. As a part of that world, I hope that Taiwan will see that it would simply be the ethical thing to do. That said, this means that other nations - the UK especially, as they helped create this mess, but not only them - should also step up and support Hong Kong in the same way. After all, while Taiwan and Hong Kong bear the brunt of China's aggressive expansionism, the CCP is a common enemy to us all.

The fear of Chinese 'plants' among fleeing Hong Kongers is real, and reasonable. The CCP will almost certainly try this. However, I have never met a proponent of helping refugees, in any country, who believes that every last one should be allowed in with no vetting process. Vetting processes are rarely discussed, but they do exist in the United States - well, they did back when the United States cared about refugees - as elsewhere. Of course, Taiwan's vetting process needs to be ironclad. Nobody can reasonably argue otherwise. Of course, any political asylum process would have to take into account what's best for Taiwan, first and foremost. Nobody can reasonably argue against that, either.

I'm in favor of rules and procedures surrounding the process, to make it safe and tenable. But to support that, one must support their being a process at all, which there currently isn't.

I'm less worried about a 'loss' of Taiwanese identity. While cultural and identity barriers are often unclear, there is a 'thing' we might label as 'Taiwanese identity'. I couldn't tell you where it begins and ends, but I can say that I'm not included in it, which means the border must exist. But, one thing I have come to love about this country is that identifying as Taiwanese has the potential to be more fluid, as it is a more multicultural society than people realize (just because most of the cultural groups within it look generally 'Asian' does not mean they are the same). It's the sort of country where, perhaps, someday, the words on the welcoming sign at the National Museum of Taiwan History might actually be true:



All those who identify with and are concerned about Taiwan, who love and accept Taiwan, and who wish to live together in this land can declare with a loud voice "I am a Taiwanese". 

This posits a civic rather than ethnic identity (in fact, the entire passage argues against an ethnic identity for Taiwan, both practically and ethically), where perhaps shared cultural norms and perceptions play a part, but shared values do too, and who your parents were doesn't have to matter as much.

I'd like to think that someday, with luck, that this could include me, though I wouldn't be so arrogant as to claim it does now. It has come to include the descendants of the KMT diaspora who wish to claim it, many of whom - especially the younger ones - have come to identify as Taiwanese and support Taiwanese nationhood. So why not Hong Kong refugees and their descendants, too?


That is to say, Hong Kong refugees might not arrive thinking of themselves as Taiwanese, but that does not mean they won't come to identify that way someday. The person I know who emigrated here as a child considers himself Taiwanese, after all.

As for any Hong Kongers' previous superiority complexes, my personal feeling (though I have absolutely no right to insist on this) is that it shouldn't cloud the question. I understand the hard feelings, but Taiwan has proven itself, period. It's shown that it is simply a great nation and open society, and can do great things, it is the inferior of no one, and there is no basis to treat it as such. It's the envy of Asia with its democratic values and the envy of the world in its coronavirus response. The point is clear and it doesn't need to be made through excluding refugees.


That said, the TPP is also wrong: Article 18 isn't the issue. If Taiwan wants to be a model of liberal democracy, and liberal democracies around the world have a moral imperative to accept refugees - which I believe they do - then there should be an asylum process that is theoretically accessible to people from anywhere, not just Hong Kong and Macau.

There is no obligation. Nobody 'owes' anyone anything. Taiwan doesn't 'have to' do this, just as nobody 'has to' help others in need. I understand the source of disquiet or unease surrounding the issue, and I am sympathetic to the concerns of people who don't necessarily support this.

But, considering the kind of country Taiwan clearly wants to be, and the country I truly believe it can be (and in many ways already is), I think it would simply be the right thing to do.

Just do it properly, with proper vetting and other procedures. Taiwan is a capable, successful country. It can surely pull this off. 

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Ten Great Books About Taiwan: or, how to start your Taiwan library

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Yes, I know I can write about Tsai's inauguration. I can write about how Johnny Chiang's promises of KMT reform are disingenuous. I could write about Hong Kong - and re-iterate that this was inevitable, as what Hong Kong wants for itself will never align with China's plans - but I've already cried once over it.

In fact, with my dissertation looming, please don't expect much from me this summer. I do have to get it done, and can't give Lao Ren Cha as much attention as I'd like until it is. On the upside, I have a lot to say about education in Taiwan as a result of my research.

So instead, let's do this.

Brendan has made the very astute point that people who espouse pro-China views (or anti-Taiwan views) tend to want you to unquestioningly accept their bottom lines - whether that's "Taiwan must be the ROC", "Taiwan is a part of China" or "the ROC is the real China and Taiwan is a part of it". The only book recommendation I've actually seen from one of these types is The Generalissimo, a ridiculous hagiography of Chiang Kai-shek.

Whereas if you spend any time with your average pro-Taiwan politics junkie, they'll throw so many book recommendations at you that you won't know where to begin. They'll tear each other's arguments apart, and then rebuild them to be better. They'll swipe at, say, the Hoklo chauvinism or the bad history of a purely Marxist perspective, of previous generations of activists and create something better. All the while, they'll want you to read, read, read. Read things that contradict other things! Talk about the contradictions! Discuss! Read! Learn more! 

Even if I weren't already strongly pro-Taiwan, it seems clear to me that the side that is excited for you to learn more is probably the right one.

With that in mind, it's occurred to me that people who want to learn more may not know where to start. I also have this list in a public Facebook album, and you are cordially invited to join Books About Taiwan: Discussion and Nerdiness.

I aimed for a wide variety of reading material: three memoirs, three works of fiction, three era- or social-issue specific histories and one general history - the one I recommend out of all of the "histories of Taiwan" out there.

If you want to know more about Taiwan but don't know where to start...well, here is where you start:


1.) Green Island 
Shawna Yang Ryan

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Why I love this book: it’s a highly engaging novel that takes the reader through Taiwanese history, starting on 228 (if you don’t know what “228” is, all the more reason to read it) and ending at the SARS outbreak of 2003. The family is fictional but they could easily be an everyday Taiwanese family - and it’s unpretentiously written. It’s highly realistic and was written from a place of deep knowledge, quoting Chinese poetry and taking a cue from Midnight's Children when it comes to the birth of the unnamed protagonist. And, because Taiwanese history can be so heartbreaking, it made me cry a few times.

Why you should read this book: Taiwanese history is complex and often sad, and non-fiction books usually fail to capture the ‘feel’ of it. This is a novel, so there’s a plot that keeps it moving. If you ever wondered what ‘Taiwan’ is really like, as a mood, a palette, an atmosphere - this is the book for you. While the characters are fictional, the historical events they experienced are not, and the experiences they have are quite typical. 21st century Taiwan differs somewhat from the mid-century depictions in this novel - in part because Taiwan is more developed now than it was then - but honestly, the ‘atmosphere’ is still here.
Doris T. Chang 

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Why I love this book: despite weird references to the ‘mainland’ (Taiwan has no mainland) and other quirks of language, this book really clarified for me how Western-style feminism is related to, but not the same as, feminist movements as manifested in different parts of Asia. Unlike many authors, Chang keeps her narrative in Taiwan for the entire 20th century, and discusses women’s movements in Japanese colonial Taiwan (some would start such a narrative in China, and talk only about the Republic of China, which is problematic in light of established Taiwanese identity).

Why you should read this book: this book clarifies that feminism isn’t some new imported idea in Asia or Taiwan. It’s been around  for awhile and been developed by local activists. Taiwanese culture has undergone several phases of women's movements and survived - patriarchy and sexism aren't facets of a culture, they are an external framework of injustice imposed upon cultures. Women’s equality is a human issue, not a Western one.

Also, while academic, it's a slim volume and highly readable. 


3.) Notes of a Crocodile 
Qiu Miaojin

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Why I love this book: the atmosphere of student life in 1990s Taipei, the crocodile allegories (which I liked more than the main story) illustrating what life was like for gay people being both objects of fear and obsessive curiosity if not imitation, the refusing to stereotype any LGBT characters, the description of love as the act of ultimate vulnerability. College kids of different orientations figuring out who they are and what that means against the backdrop of a country figuring out who it is and what it wants. This book explores identity, otherness and finding your way in your early adulthood, as well as the excruciating vulnerability of love, and how some people simply cannot open themselves up for that long.

I didn’t always understand the main character’s motivations, so I never properly reviewed this book as I felt unqualified to do so.

Why you should read this book: for all those reasons. Also, it’s short but impactful. As a straight white foreign resident in Taiwan, it was an appreciated window into the voice (and presumably fictionalized inner life) of a gay Taiwanese woman. I might not know how to review this book properly, but I am grateful for the opportunity to have read it. 


4.) Taiwan's Imagined Geography: Chinese Colonial Travel Writing and Pictures, 1683 to 1895 
Emma Jinhua Teng

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Why I love this book: it’s an engaging non-fiction read from a unique angle: not a straight history of Taiwan but looking at it as seen though the eyes of Chinese colonial writing about it. That word ‘colonial’ is key: the way Taiwan was depicted by these writers - “a ball of mud beyond civilization”, an “island of women”, a frontier barrier wilderness kept more for defense of ‘China’ than any real interest in Taiwan as a place - show how not Chinese Taiwan really was, even when it ‘belonged’ to China.

It brings to mind Chinese attitudes to Taiwan now - and I believe Teng wants us to make that connection.

Why you should read this book: non-fiction this engaging is rare. Also, it offers, through the eyes of Taiwan's Chinese colonizers, a conceptual basis for why a Taiwan is the way it is today. Chinese colonial attitudes have not gone away.




5.) My Fight for a New Taiwan: One Woman's Journey from Prison to Power
Lu Hsiu-lien (Annette) and Ashley Esarey

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This choice narrowly beat out the classic Formosa Betrayed. So why this autobiography of a polarizing political figure rather than a recounting of the 228 Incident so well-known it was made into a movie? Not only because, like her or not, Lu is a Taiwanese voice, but also because 228 is pretty well-covered in other books on this list, and women's experiences tend to get the short shrift overall. Also, George Kerr described what he saw, but Annette Lu changed Taiwan.

Annette Hsiu-lien Lu is a controversial figure in Taiwan politics, and I can't say she is someone who is suited to a leadership role in 21st century Taiwan (among other things, she has outdated views on LGBT issues and marriage, and...well...it would take a long time to explain why she's seen as such a headache. That view of her is not entirely undeserved.)

However, she deserves credit for being a leader of Taiwan's nascent non-party-affiliated feminist movement in the 1970s. Gender equality in Taiwan would not be where it is today without her work then, and she deserves credit for that. She also paved the way for women in political leadership by serving as Chen Shui-bian's vice president. She is one of the few feminist activists in Taiwan to 'take sides' politically and stand against the KMT.

Her autobiography is engagingly written and compulsively readable. Just keep in mind that as an autobiography, it is also something of a hagiography, and does not depict the 21st century complexity of Lu as a person or politician. It is fascinating, however, when she talks about her formative years and her awakening interest in feminism and activism.

You may not like her (I don’t, really) but Taiwan would not be what it is without her.




6.) A New Illustrated History of Taiwan
Wan-yao Chou

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To be honest, in order to choose the best general history of Taiwan, I skimmed all the ones we own. The most concise may be Forbidden Nation, but it focuses too much pn foreign notables in Taiwan and not enough on local efforts. Taiwan: A New History is a bit dry.

Other books - by Taiwanese and more focused on Taiwanese people (such as Taiwan: A History of Agonies and Taiwan's 400 Year History) were written as much as political manifestos as actual histories. They either neglect Indigenous history, are openly offensive towards it, or portray Indigenous-Hoklo relations through a distorted ideological lens that simply isn’t accurate.

Chou is the only writer who centers the Taiwanese in their own history and is most inclusive of Indigenous history.

If you are going to read a general history of Taiwan, I think this is the best choice.
Janet B. Montgomery McGovern

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I can't do this book justice in a short blurb - instead, go read my original review, linked above. Progressive for her time, McGovern was one of the few Westerners invited to live in Taiwan during the early/mid-Japanese colonial era, as a teacher. A trained anthropologist, she spent her free time becoming familiar with - and forming connections with - Indigenous groups that Hoklo and Japanese alike thought were ‘dangerous’ or ‘savage’ (though when one treats Indigenous people as badly as those two groups did, what could one expect?). Despite the name of the book, she describes the people she met with more respect and equanimity than almost anyone of her era.

Plus, she was funny, and a good writer, and an intrepid feminist.


Ed Lin

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I wanted to include at least one fiction novel set in more or less contemporary times (the other two fiction choices were either written in the 1990s, or are mostly about the 20th century) which is a light, easy, fun read that still captures the vibe of Taiwan. 

Ghost Month is that book - there are other great novels out there in English (like Bu San Bu Si, which was also a strong contender as it's quite possibly the best fiction novel about Taiwan written by a non-Taiwanese, but calling that book "a downer" is a massive understatement), but sometimes it’s fun to read an action/mystery in a Taiwanese setting and call it a day. Highly engaging and not as dark or overly metaphorical as a lot of Taiwanese fiction, I think it’s highly accessible to Western audiences, too.

Do you want to know what life in the city I call home is basically like, in the 21st century? It's...kind of like this, with less murder.


Hsiao-ting Lin

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Another historical look at a specific time period, Accidental State looks at the dynamics of the US, China and Taiwan to unravel the threads of why Taiwan has the status it does vis-a-vis nationhood, pointing out that nobody wanted or intended for things to turn out this way, and that Taiwan-as-ROC (or any form of ‘China’) was not a foregone conclusion at the time. It is a lie to say that Taiwanese identity and the independence movement was born in the 1970s - it wasn't. There were home rule movements far, far earlier than that. It is also a lie to say that there was no chance, historically speaking, of a post-war independent Taiwan. It was one of the options on the table, at least briefly.

This is the one to read if you know deep down the KMT is full of trash but aren’t sure of the historical specifics of why, or if you’re confused about the tumultuous decades around WWII. Or if you’re a good-hearted person who is wrong in thinking Taiwan’s destiny must be Chinese, but are willing to read and revisit those beliefs. Or, if you're curious where this whole "Taiwan is eternally Chinese" idea came from (mostly Chiang himself, who managed to convince the Allies that accepting this was in their strategic interest). 

Most of the arguments I’ve had with numpties online could have been avoided if they’d read this book.

It’s not the only source on the era but it is the clearest.



10.) Stories of the Sahara
Sanmao 

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I’ve just started reading this, so don't expect a long review (yet). That said, I feel comfortable recommending it - Sanmao (三毛) is one of the great writers of the 20th century, inspiring a generation of adventurous women in Taiwan and China. But until recently was ignored by English-language publishers. This new translation of her most famous masterwork is compulsively readable. 

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Now I want to hear from you - what would you add to this list if you could? Was I unfair in choosing Annette Lu over George Kerr? What niche era of history or social change have I overlooked? Which novel did I snub? You tell me!
 

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

CECC speaks out on discrimination against foreigners by businesses in Taiwan due to COVID19

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I don't have a good cover photo so enjoy this picture of an interesting gate. 


Since it became apparent that some businesses in Taiwan were discriminating against foreigners due to COVID19, many have discussed what could be done about it. Foreigners and Taiwanese incensed by unfair and irrational policies by these businesses - stepped up and called these businesses out on their behavior.

Publicly laying into such businesses was less effective than messaging them privately and asking them to change their policies, pointing out both the discrimination issue and the irrationality of the policies. I'd guesstimate that roughly 8 out of 10 businesses I messaged were willing to change their policies. I don't know the success rate of others - certainly I wasn't the only person doing this. That speaks well of Taiwan: it's not a perfect country, but there are a lot of countries where the majority of businesses would simply ignore such requests and continue discriminating.

This was also great as it meant local businesses rarely had to be called out publicly. When it did happen, I was pleased to see plenty of local support.

There was talk of getting local media reporting on it, or having a local reporter ask the CECC at their press conference about the issue. People respect Chen Shih-chung (陳時中). If they say it's not okay to discriminate, businesses will listen. I can say that this idea came from a local, not a foreigner.

Taiwan News eventually reported on the issue. That report focused on a single nightclub, but drew attention to a wider problem.

From there, the issue made its way to the CECC. I won't give details, but there are many Taiwanese committed to fighting discrimination who deserve credit. This isn't just angry foreigners with torches and pitchforks - it was a group effort with local support.

And today, this happened, reported in ETToday:



中央流行疫情指揮中心指揮官陳時中今(6日)特別強調,病毒攻擊不分什麼樣的人,不要因疫情造成人與人間的對抗,大家多有點同理心,抗疫一定做得更好。 
Chen Shih-chung, leader of the Central Epidemic Epidemic Command Center [and current Minister of Health and Welfare], emphasized today (the 6th of May) that the virus does not distinguish between different kinds of people. The epidemic should not cause person-to-person confrontation. It would be better for everyone to have a little empathy. [Translation mine].

People do respect Chen, and generally have been happy with the CECC's handling of COVID19. So, I do think this will have an effect. Addressing this issue publicly, at a national level, will hopefully cause businesses to abandon discriminatory policies or, if they were considering them, scrap their plans.

Chen is respected in great part because he's got class, saying a little to accomplish a lot without mocking or scolding. Some foreign residents might have been hoping for more of a ‘rebuke’ or ‘reprimand’ in his statement. However, while Chen's language might sound mild to foreigners, but the meaning of those words - the illocutionary force of a reprimand: don’t do this! - will be understood in Taiwanese society. And he will be respected because he didn’t act like a scolding father, but a leader. Trust me, his meaning is clear in this cultural context.

For those that don't, we can point to Chen's statement as a potent antidote to the poison of discrimination - what can a business say when the CECC itself is asking them not to discriminate?

That this was able to happen - the right wheels turned, the right gears ground, people came together - speaks well of Taiwan.


Now, if we can that kind of effort together to fight discrimination against non-white foreigners (predominantly Southeast Asians), that will really be cause to celebrate. Let's keep fighting. 

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Spikey

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It feels like there's too much blood - or mucus, or something - rushing to one side of my head, so I turn over to see if my inner liquids right themselves. They don't. I lie there, trying to latch onto a daydream peaceful enough that it can become a night dream, and feel them drip right down to the other side. I'm thirsty - there won't be sleep without water. Not enough liquids? Then I have to pee - too many? Everything's off.

I know the night view of this apartment by heart, and in a story that romanticized artistic poverty, it would be a dump. It's not. Spacious for two people, with attractive floors and natural light, decorated with all of the beautiful things - no, items - we've collected on our travels around the world.

In that other “artistic poverty” life, I'm single or in a dramatic enactment of a relationship; in this one, I've been peacefully married so long I'm verging on matronly. We live in an upscale neighborhood, though in Taipei those divisions are not always evident. In Taipei I make a decent living as a teacher trainer of mostly local English teachers, and we like the life we can afford. I'm good at it, I enjoy it, and it's meaningful, useful work. 


I consider how, in the country of my birth, I'd be barely eking out a living, either as a teacher trainer or in some office job I'd never care about enough to excel at.

Padding across the living room, I slide open a screen on my living room window. The shunt it makes is the only sound in the courtyard, aside from some light rain. When I can't sleep, I like to look to the buildings across the treetops and see what lights are on. There are no signs of movement in the lit apartments; I recall that mine is dark.

Then I check on Spikey. I have no idea what kind of plant she is - it's a she, don't argue with me about this. Spikey has grown trunk-like woody stems with formidable thorns that resist all pruning. You can’t even really touch them. These twist around the bars of the iron grates so common to Taipei windows, even though ours are entirely unnecessary on the 7th floor. Each end of her prickly tentacles is capped with a crown of green leaves and a sprinkle of yellow flowers. They’re not much, but they’re hers.

I don't know how she got there. I'd tried growing rosemary, thyme, basil, mint, orchids, some kind of ivy, even succulents - and they all withered (well, one of the succulents was blown away in a typhoon). Only the plants the former tenant left behind survived my black thumb. I suppose one of these graveyard pots was left fallow with dirt and a little Spikey seed decided it would be a nice place to live. Unlike everything I tried to intentionally cultivate, she blossomed. So I let her stay. She seems to prefer neglect, so I throw her a bit of water now and then but otherwise leave her be.

Spikey isn’t a plant you’d want, and sitting up there wrapped around a 7th-story window grate, I doubt anyone in the silent courtyard below has ever noticed her. In a well-tended garden - say, in an immaculately-kept suburban lawn in the US - she’d have been dug out and left to rot on a pile of weeds. Rough, difficult and a bit uncompromising, she'd never be mistaken for a prize cultivar. It's not in her DNA. Certainly, she’d have never been given the time to put out those little yellow flowers.

Here, she may not belong exactly but I like to think she’s grateful that somewhere in the quirky, busy, and at times seemingly disorganized or charmingly dilapidated city of crumbling brick, corrugated iron and stained concrete, there’s a corner where she can grow, and nobody minds.

There are plenty of carefully cultivated green spaces in the city, with weeded grass and shaped hedges. But there are also cracks and crevices and mismatched sidewalks, old pots and patches of soil where plants like Spikey can grow.


I can't see them with the light off, but on one wall hangs a hand-painted vegetable-dye batik of Hindu gods, all facing the tree of life which grows lusciously between them, which I bought on a trip to India years ago. On the other, among other vintage treasures, a slice of rough natural wood with a bit of calligraphy: 閑庭百花發 - in a quiet courtyard, a hundred flowers bloom.

The lit apartments are still devoid of life, but I wonder who else is shuffling around in the dark ones. A bit of city night-light draws a weird rhombus on my ceiling, intercut with shadows from the window grate and leaves from my surviving plants.

Inside, my brain throbs with itchy red squiggles, or confused thrashes, or spikes. I have so much to be grateful for, have worked hard to achieve it, but can't shake the feeling that I deserve none of it, regardless of where I am.

I set my water down on the coffee table. This causes one of my cats - the black one, invisible in this low light - to wake up and blink at me with glow-in-the-dark eyes. He trills a little “prrt” and settles back down. He doesn't care about my mismatched t-shirt and pajama bottoms, my greasy face or my fuzzy hair. A light breeze rustles Spikey’s leaves. I get up, down a sleeping pill, and attempt to go back to sleep.

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.