Showing posts with label republic_of_china. Show all posts
Showing posts with label republic_of_china. Show all posts

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Academia Sinica, Foreigners and KMT Lies

Untitled
From the Academia Sinica's history museum, I present:
A visualization of the KMT's beef with Fan Yun


Something really interesting popped up yesterday - well, interesting to me.

Back in March, some DPP lawmakers called for Academia Sinica's name to be changed, as "Sinica" means "Chinese" and, well, Taiwan is not a part of China - think "Academia Taiwanica". DPP party list legislator Fan Yun (范雲), formerly of the Social Democratic Party, has been one of the strongest voices calling for this change.

Considering Academia Sinica's very "Republic of China" roots (it was founded in Nanjing in the 1920s and moved to Taiwan after the Chinese Civil War), this would be quite a statement indeed.

Notably, the institution's name in Mandarin (中央研究院) doesn't refer to China at all - it's just the "Central Research Institute", and Fan pointed out that 'Academia Sinica' would most accurately be translated as '中國科學院' in Mandarin. 


Fan Yun made the news again yesterday when she and two other legislators, Wu Lihua (伍麗華) and Lai Pinyu (賴品妤) introduced a motion that all elected academicians "must be ROC citizens", and that if foreigners are elected, they should be "honorary" or in some sort of other category. 

That sounds insane, if you don't know what an academician is in this context, or if you think by "foreigners" they mean "non-Chinese".

An "academician" isn't someone who works for Academia Sinica. It's not a job, it's an honorary lifetime title. There's no payment, and no research requirement. They can be asked by the government to carry out research (but never have), and they can make recommendations to the government on academic policy. That's it, really. As far as I am aware, no-one with no Chinese ethnic heritage has been elected to one of these positions (please correct me if I'm wrong). However, it is quite possible for foreigners of Chinese or Taiwanese heritage to be elected, meaning that Chinese nationals can also be elected.

Old academicians nominate new ones, and I am assured by a reliable source that these senior academicians often tend to be Chinese nationalists (that is, dark blue, pro-China), and nominate quite a few PRC nationals for the role. Because the nomination process doesn't ask about nationality, this has, until now, been an un-examined process.

Fan, Wu and Lai's proposal also stated that:



中研院組織法第四條明訂院士資格為「全國學術界成績卓著人士」,因此院士應該具中華民國國籍。 
Article 4 of the Basic Law of Academia Sinica clearly states that the qualifications of academicians should be "outstanding academicians from around the country", so academicians should have the nationality of the Republic of China.

It makes perfect sense that DPP lawmakers would want to do something about this. What does "from around the country" mean if PRC nationals are being elected to these positions? What country are we talking about?

Allowing non-Taiwanese nationals to be elected but "honorary" (meaning they can't advise the government on academic policy) isn't such a crazy or nationalistic proposition.

Well, here's how the KMT spun it. From their website which was clearly designed by someone's teenage nephew (don't forget to enter your e-mail address for a SUPSCRIPTION):

In addition, the Academia Sinica is slated to elect new academicians in July. As no regulations exist on the nationality of Academia Sinica academicians, many of them don’t possess ROC citizenship. In a meeting of the Legislative Education Committee yesterday, three legislators, including Fan Yun, introduced a motion demanding that in order to ensure that all academicians elected “must be ROC nationals” in the future, the Academia Sinica re-examine its election system for academicians to fully implement nationality checks, and that those without ROC nationality could only be elected as “honorary academicians.”
This motion elicited disputes, with several academicians describing the move as “national isolationism” yesterday. [Emphasis mine].

This makes it sound like Fan wants to bar foreigners from working at Academia Sinica, as it never explains what an academician (a specialized term requiring clarification) is, or does.

UDN's somewhat more informative report echoed this line of "isolationism":

中研院院士陳培哲表示,此一提案顯示台灣「鎖國心態愈來愈嚴重」。他指出,中研院身為台灣最高學術機構,應該「廣招天下英才」,連美國科學院院士也聘國外院士,「台灣人才有多少?」他質疑立委「想讓中研院當一個封閉的單位,還是開放的單位?」 
Chen Peizhe, an Academia Sinica academician, said that this proposal shows Taiwan's "isolationist mentality is getting more and more serious". He pointed out that as the highest academic institution in Taiwan, Academia Sinica should "recruit talent from all over the world." Even the American Academy of Sciences also elect foreign academicians. "How many talented people are there in Taiwan? Is it an open list?" [Emphasis mine].

That's not the only such quote.

The UDN article never once mentions that most of these "foreign" academicians are PRC citizens and "all around the world" means "ethnic Chinese who may hold other citizenships but are mostly from the PRC".

The position, as I understand it, was never meant to "recruit foreign talent". It was conceived of as an internal, national thing. It doesn't pay and it isn't a job, and isn't generally open to people without Chinese ancestry of some kind, so how would changing the process end a flow of foreign talent into Taiwan?

What's more, isn't the KMT bottom line that Taiwan is Chinese, that the ROC is the rightful government of China and that Taiwan is a part of the ROC? So, by that logic, wouldn't they think of PRC nationals as...not really foreigners? It seems that to the KMT, Chinese and Taiwanese are the same, but these PRC nationals suddenly become "foreign talent" from "all over the world" when it's convenient for the KMT to target the DPP.

Hmmm.

UDN also gets the crux of the problem wrong, stating there are no "confidential research" or "academic secrets" that these foreign academicians can "steal" - but of course, that was never the point. The point is, how much influence do academics from China have on Taiwan's top research institution and the recommendations it makes to the government?

Even more importantly, if this title is meant to honor members of this society, the question is, how do we define "this society"? As Greater China? As the ROC? As Taiwan? If the Academia Sinica was originally meant to be a "Chinese" institution, well, that is no longer possible in a Taiwanese context where "this society" no longer considers itself "Chinese" (or rather, is no longer forced to do so, and is no longer ruled by an elite class from China). It would make sense, then, that those named "academician" would be from Taiwan, or at least have a strong connection to it. The pan-blues clearly know they've already lost the battle to define "this society" as "all Chinese", so they're trying to ensure that PRC nationals remain eligible while calling them "foreigners", when they clearly don't really believe that. Again, the KMT is trying to have it both ways: Taiwan and China as one cohesive "Chinese society", and Chinese as "foreigners" for the sake of a convenient attack narrative against the DPP.


In short, it should strike you as odd that the KMT is accusing Fan Yun - and others, but they are clearly targeting Fan here - of "isolationism" under the false pretext that it is keeping out academics "from all over the world" and not "recruiting foreign talent" when the roles being discussed were never intended or even particularly suitable for "foreign talent", almost all of the foreigners in question are Chinese nationals (so, people whom the KMT doesn't generally think of as "foreign" at all) being nominated by their ideologically biased predecessors, and the honor is specifically meant to recognize achievement among the country's own citizens.

Although the UDN article explains this - whereas the KMT brief does not - the reporter never questions the academicians interviewed, nor put quotes like "national isolation" into any sort of context or clarification.


Nothing - truly nothing- about the way the pan-blue media and the KMT are portraying this issue is accurate. It's just another attempt to set up the DPP, and Fan Yun, to look like rabid, xenophobic ethno-nationalists.

I'm not even particularly interested in how Academia Sinica nominates academicians, a position I didn't even know existed until the KMT started ranting about Evil Fan Yun. I am interested in how the media portray these incidents to stir up divisions in Taiwanese society. UDN did a terrible job analyzing a news item, but a fantastic job sourcing a bunch of un-examined quotes with which to attack the DPP.

I'll leave you with this: try Google Translating that UDN article. Every time Academia Sinica comes up in the Mandarin, Google translates it as "the Chinese Academy of Sciences", and every time "national" (國人) comes up, it translates it as "Chinese".

So if you were wondering if these name games matter, they do. 

Monday, February 24, 2020

Please, sir, I want some more.

Screen Shot 2020-02-24 at 11.59.58 AM
Photo: screen grab from the 60 Minutes interview



If you’re watching Taiwan-centric social media, you’ll know that Bernie Sanders was finally asked about Taiwan, in an interview with Anderson Cooper.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Ring the bells in celebration!

Truly, every candidate should be asked this. I would very much like to hear Warren and Buttigieg’s answers. 

Sanders' reply was encouraging:


Cooper: If China took military action against Taiwan, is something you would...? 
Sanders: It's something...yeah. I mean I think we have got to make it clear to countries around the world that we will not sit by and allow invasions to take place, absolutely.

This is good - or at least, good enough. It’s enough that I could vote for him with confidence if he gets the nomination, a future which looks increasingly likely. 

However, it seems like Taiwan advocates and allies are perhaps reading a bit too much into what Sanders actually said. Headlines like "US will take military action" aren't helpful - he didn't say that. He said the US would "make it clear" and "not sit by", which is not necessarily the same as a military response. I understand that there's not a lot to go on when divining answers to US presidential candidates' views on Taiwan, but this reads to me as thirsty people in a desert thinking everything is water. Interpreting it too much is about as useful as reading an oracle bone.

Though my overall take on the US election vis-a-vis Taiwan leans pessimistic, I have been thinking that regardless of the candidates’ histories, all of the senators in the race - Sanders, Warren, Klobuchar - have voted for legislation that either chastises China (the Uighur and Hong Kong human rights acts) or actively supports Taiwan (the Taiwan Travel Act and TAIPEI Act) in the past few years. That’s good news, and it shows that it’s possible to envision a Trump-free US that still supports Taiwan. 

I also love hearing the cries of millions of Bernie supporters, the ones who’ve gone half-tankie and extremely against US engagement abroad (because to them the US is always evil in every situation and in fact is the only font of evil in the world, the CCP cannot be evil because it’s not the US, QED) hearing clearly that their candidate has a realistic foreign policy vision. 

They are music to my ears. 

However, I have questions. 

First, what changed since 2011 when Sanders voted against selling F-16s to Taiwan, and 1997 when he voted against missile defense? Those were measures that could have helped Taiwan defend itself. I understand that viewers might not be that interested in the answers to such detailed questions on Taiwan, but I do wish Cooper had challenged him on this. I’d very much like to know his answer. 

A friend pointed out that in those years he hadn’t had to articulate a clear foreign policy vision. Now that he must do so, he’s had to really think about what that might look like, and his ultimate conclusions might break with his past views. I can appreciate that, but I really would like to know Sanders’ actual response. 

Second, Sanders mentions US engagement abroad as part of an alliance or coalition of allies: 


I believe the United States, everything being equal, should be working with other countries in alliance, not doing it alone.

Great. Theoretically, I absolutely support this. It’s good for Taiwan as well. A single, powerful, ideological enemy of China with an extremely poor reputation regarding military engagements abroad standing up for Taiwan alone could give China something to twist into a pretext for invasion. An alliance of liberal democratic nations standing up for Taiwan would be more likely to help Taiwan achieve its goal of recognized, de jure sovereignty (as the Republic of Taiwan) with less risk.

But what happens if other liberal democracies and natural allies of Taiwan and its cause don’t stand up with the US in the face of Chinese invasion? Does that mean we let Taiwan be annexed? 

The UN is in China’s pocket - any coalition would have to take place outside that framework. Europe (with perhaps a few exceptions) is weaker on China than the US, almost certainly to their detriment. Australia feels practically like a Chinese vassal state, and New Zealand’s prime minister might be great in other ways, but she’s not strong on China. I honestly think Canada is a coin flip - one day chummy with China, the next calling for Taiwan’s inclusion in the WHO. Japan, possibly - they’ve been expanding their fighting capability in recent years, but overall don’t they lack an offensive military force? Anyone else in Asia? Probably not. 

What does the US do if it can’t get a coalition together? Wash its hands of its best friend in Asia? 

What happens when American liberals and lefties - his support base - wring their hands because the world has not stepped up as we’d hoped, and say the US should not get involved because nobody stands with them? Does Sanders listen, or does he do what’s right anyway? Does he understand that standing with Taiwan is fundamentally different from other conflicts the US has been criticized for in the past?

In short, "we need a coalition of liberal democracies" is only a great solution if it is likely to actually happen. And I'm not at all sure it is likely. So what then?

Again, I wish Cooper had asked this. 

Lastly, I have to wonder what this means for “us” - the Taiwan allies and supporters. Yes, it’s great news. 

But, Sanders is clearly not going to support Taiwan unilaterally standing up for itself, or a change in the ROC colonial framework. He probably understands that Taiwan’s fight for sovereignty has already been won, the question is recognition. But I doubt he has too much interest in changing that, and if he did, it certainly wouldn’t help him in the election to say so. 

While I agree in theory that diplomacy is always a better answer, it does feel like “diplomacy” has been something conducted by high-level officials alongside foreign interests, which seeks to avoid conflict by creating and extending the existence of quagmires - swamps of intractable situations that suck to live in, but “at least it’s not war”. These negotiators, especially the foreign interests, don’t actually have to live in the morasses they create. They don’t have to live in Palestine, Taiwan, Kashmir. So it doesn’t matter that much to them if the quagmires persist, and they might even begin to call them “beneficial for both sides” (as Andrew Yang did). They might even believe it. 

It’s one thing to be resigned to a slow resolution to avoid a war. It’s another to forget that the resolution process isn’t actually the goal, and start viewing it as a permanent feature of the geopolitical landscape - a swamp we’ve convinced ourselves cannot, or should not, be drained. To convince ourselves that those who live in the swamp actually like it that way.

I do wonder, then, whether Sanders’ Asia policy vision — which I admit is realistic, and generally palatable — is another form of “let’s let the Taiwan quagmire sit awhile”. 

On top of that, China is not a trustworthy negotiating partner. They make agreements, yes, and then immediately ignore them. They bully and pretend to be offended. The only way to win against their tactics is not to play. I think Sanders may understand that, but I’m not sure.

On a related note, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how my own uncompromising vision of the future - a globally-recognized Republic of Taiwan - squares with what is diplomatically possible. 

Along with that, I’ve been thinking about language: whether Taiwan allies are beginning to show a worrying trend towards self-censorship - asking for less than Taiwan deserves, because articulating our actual goals could “anger China”. Begging for crumbs when we all know Taiwan deserves a whole meal. 

“Sanders is unlikely to support an end to the ROC framework” is simply realistic; I don’t necessarily agree with him, but I can’t argue with it as an accurate description of his probable Taiwan policy. 

“Don’t ask for diplomatic recognition of Taiwan, it could provoke China”, however, perhaps edges up against the line of adopting China-approved language. “Don’t say that, it could sound sinophobic” does too. Some language is sinophobic, but there are instances when it isn’t — rather realistically describing CCP actions or simply stating a strong pro-Taiwan position — yet could be seen as anti-China by someone looking to take offense.

I understand that my big-picture vision of Taiwan is not immediately diplomatically possible, and that what strong Taiwan allies articulate for the country’s future sounds scary to some. But, the Chinese government absolutely wants us to be terrified of sounding “China-hating” (when we’re not - we’re pro-Taiwan). They want to paint Taiwanese who are justifiably angry at China’s treatment of them as extremist, xenophobic, nativist splittists. They want us to clip our own wings and curtail our own wishes so that we might not ask for everything Taiwan actually deserves. It helps them if we genuflect and kowtow for crumbs rather than the whole meal, so they can scream and cry that we’re getting even some crumbs. 

I’ll vote for Sanders and his “status quo” take on Taiwan - and yes, it is a status-quo take, just dressed up in prettier language — because it is nudging the Overton window in the right direction. I’ll take it. Warren is still preferable, but this is acceptable.

But, please, I want some more

There are many paths to a recognized and decolonized Taiwan, and diplomacy will always move more slowly than we’d like it to. We should all very much appreciate the slow process of moving the line, so that more and more space for Taiwan becomes available. I personally don’t care to hear, however, that we should not clearly articulate the final goal, because it could provoke China or scare the architects of the swamp. Let’s all recognize that Sanders’ views on Taiwan are acceptable for now, but no more than that.

Basically, we can't forget that there is a difference between pushing for a realistic policy accomplishment or incremental push forward in the discourse, and the actual end goal, and there is a line between advocating for what is realistic (crumbs), and insisting on what Taiwan deserves (the whole meal). 

In the end, when figuring out what we actually want, it’s better not to limit our wish lists to procedural goals or interim solutions. The big-picture wish list should include a full vision of Taiwan existing confidently as Taiwan, and nothing less. Those of us with actual power (so...not me) can work on incremental change, but the general supporters? People like me? Let’s perhaps not convince ourselves that it’s dangerous to ask for too much. 

Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Republic of Tayovan

unnamed-2
From Jerome Keating's book, The Mapping of Taiwan. p. 76-77.
I have seen (reprints of) maps that spell it as "Tayovan" but I don't have access to them right now. 

Let's say you have a beautiful island. It's so beautiful that some random Europeans sailing by one day named it "The Beautiful Island".

Let's say that since that time, your island has never quite been free of colonialism.

First, the Dutch came. They called your island Formosa, just as the Portuguese named it. They imported immigrants from China to work for them, who called it "Tai'ouan", a Hokkien rejiggering of the indigenous - Siraya - name for bit of land near present-day Tainan, which was established as the capital. This can also be written as 臺員, and I've seen it written as 代員. This is the foundation for the modern name "Taiwan". That name was "Tayovan", and it can be seen on maps from that era.

Taiwan has been known by a number of names. There's Tungning (東寧), Tungtu (東都), Taiwan, The Republic of Taiwan (also sometimes called the Republic of Formosa), Ryukyu, Takasago (高砂), Taiwan Prefecture, Taiwan Province, The Republic of China - not in that order. In all cases, Taiwan was treated as a colony: Koxinga, the Qing, the Japanese, the ROC. Every last one is a colonizing power, in that they came from a foreign land and claimed ownership of Taiwan, without the consent of the locals. It's not common to call the Qing or the ROC colonizers, at least not in English - some sort of deference to ethnic chauvinism there maybe - but they most certainly are.

Now, there is an ongoing social discussion of what to call Taiwan. Die-hard blues with roots in China cling to "the Republic of China", but nobody who is even nominally forward-thinking takes this idea seriously. One of the main points of this discussion is that Taiwan is not a part of China, and deserves its own name.

Taiwan? I know someone who refuses to use the word, and insists on being referred to as "Formosan", because "Taiwan" is a "Chinese" name and he is not Chinese. (Of course, the name is an indigenous borrowing, it's not originally Chinese...but, that's cool.) In any case, he's not wrong that China would love for everyone to call this island "Taiwan", as in "Taiwan, Province of China".

He is not young, but a lot of young politically-minded Taiwanese have also landed on "Formosa" as the ideal name for Taiwan. It seems like a nice choice - it was a name given by Portuguese explorers, and Portugal never colonized Taiwan. It's a compliment, a reminder that while Taiwanese cities are not particularly attractive, the island as a whole is very beautiful indeed.

But I'd like to make the case for "Tayovan" (or "Taivan", but "Tayovan" makes it clearer that this is a departure from "Taiwan"). The Republic of Tayovan. Has a nice ring to it, no?

First, although it was originally a name for only a small bit of land around Tainan, it was the basis for which "Taiwan" came to be.

Second, this idea is not unheard-of in Mandarin and Taiwanese language discourse. I searched and can't find any links, but I know I've heard it discussed. I don't hear anyone talking about it in English, though.

Next, it has indigenous roots. No colonization involved. No other name has that pedigree - the Portuguese never colonized Taiwan, but they did brutally colonize other parts of the world. They were not Taiwanese - it's still a name bestowed on this island by Europeans (just as 'Taiwan' was bestowed on this island by Chinese).

There are a number of indigenous tribes in Taiwan (don't let the 'officially recognized' number fool you), all with their unique history, language and culture. All might wish to be the group honored in the hypothetical choosing of a new name for the country in recognition of its first inhabitants. However, because this is the specific name that came to be used for the whole island, it makes the most sense. It also comes from a language that is no longer spoken natively, so it's harder to accuse the government of giving preferential treatment to a currently-used language.

Finally, wouldn't be a big change - just switch your pronunciation, a little adjustment to spelling, maybe change the characters - and honors a deeper history that is uniquely Taiwanese. The waves of colonizers - the Dutch, the Zhengs, the Qing, the Japanese, the ROC - cannot lay claim to this. It doesn't speak to their history, it speaks to the history of this island. It recalls an Austronesian history that is so often overlooked.

And, y'know, it just sounds super cool.

Somehow I doubt I'm going to convince the entire nation to get on board. But, if I'm ever allowed to cast a vote on this, count me in for Republic of Tayovan.

Come on guys - Tayovan!

Monday, March 19, 2018

Carry On, My Wayward Sun

IMG_1002
Took me awhile to realize this: the choice of a light sea green for many pieces of pro-Taiwan merchandise wasn't made for merely aesthetic reasons. It was chosen because the color is associated with the old window and door frames as well as Datong electric fans that were once common in Taiwan and can still be seen occasionally today. The color has a deeper association with Taiwan than many people realize. 


The other day, I walked to the nearby general store to replace my dying external battery. I didn't know external batteries could just stop working like that - turns out, much like American democracy, they can. Many of the choices were already decorated, but I noticed the only ones with Taiwan-themed covers were slathered in the Republic of China flag. This of course means they all prominently featured the KMT 'white sun on a blue field'. Many also had "I love Taiwan!" or "Taiwan" printed on them.

There was no option to buy a Taiwan-themed battery that had any other design on it. It was the ROC flag or nothing. I bought a plain battery.

As I thought more about this, it didn't bug me that as a consumer, I couldn't get a pro-Taiwan design that I liked, or made sense to me, or was even pro-Taiwan to begin with (there is nothing pro-Taiwan about the KMT's history, and nothing pro-Taiwan about allowing one party's symbol to dominate the national flag of a country whose official name doesn't even contain the word 'Taiwan'.) It bugged me that the ROC flag, in many instances, is still the default symbol of Taiwanese identity.

When we complain that Taiwan can't even show its national flag at certain events, we are not complaining about the "Taiwanese" flag. That doesn't officially exist, although concepts abound. We are complaining about not being able to wave the Republic of China flag, which I have already written about. When a pop star is abused by Chinese trolls for waving her country's flag, they're not mad about a Taiwanese flag, they're mad about a Chinese flag that they don't like.

The problem here is that when waving the ROC flag is the default show of support, it pushes the idea of waving any other, more pro-Taiwan flag (really any one of the designs will do) into the realm of what some would call "extremism". When it's "sensitive", causes a kerfuffle or is an open act of protest to wave that sun - although still within the bounds of moderate discourse - you suddenly become a crazy extremist nutbag for saying "hey that flag actually sucks", and are left to choose from an array of not-quite-national-symbol designs, which further cement your status as a nutbag. In this worldview, nutbags reject officially approved symbols of "protest" - the ROC flag - and design their own (more extreme) symbols instead.

When the international media writes about people like Chou Tzuyu getting in trouble for waving the ROC flag, imagine what they'd write if she'd been abused for waving a flag that was actually Taiwanese.

This annoys me to the point that I can't even make a good meme about it without feeling all sorts of angst over my choices. Do I go with what's clear to international audiences, or do I get rid of that damn glaring sun the way I want to?


IMG_1001
HOW TO EVEN MEME??

Further to that, when international discourse mainly recognizes two narratives - the CCP one and the KMT one, as evidenced by the dueling flags - to say both of them are riddled with problems becomes an 'extreme' position. Perhaps not in Taiwan so much anymore, but certainly on an international scale. At Exeter last year, I felt that arguing a pro-Taiwan position as 'not a part of China' was taking something of a controversial stance, without even getting into the ROC compared to Taiwan. Going further and arguing that not only was Taiwan not a part of China, it was not in fact Chinese (that is, that not even the ROC was legitimate) felt like arguing an extreme view.

Like, oh, you support the ROC? Hold up there bucko, that's a sensitive issue! Okay, but just remember, it's a sensitive and complex situation...

...wait, what? You support the Republic of Taiwan? You don't even think Taiwan is fundamentally Chinese? You don't even want to wave the ROC flag - that's not enough for you? That doesn't fit in with the framework I've adopted, which was written for me by the CCP, the KMT and media reporting on the issue! Therefore it must be extreme! 


This is especially troubling, as being pro-ROC at least in the US is (usually) a conservative stance. Being sympathetic to China is generally a liberal one. Moving beyond the ROC to support Taiwan, then, must be an extreme conservative view - even though in Taiwan it is very much a view espoused by most (though not all) of the left. Not even the extreme left. These days, just the normal, albeit young, left.

Nevermind of course that these days being pro-ROC is at least being nominally pro-democracy if you don't really understand the history of the ROC, and being sympathetic to China is being pro-dictatorship, when in the West the right-wingers are the ones who have a more authoritarian bent. The left assuages its guilt for being sympathetic to a brutal dictatorship by reassuring itself that "well they do things differently in other countries and we have to respect that, so we can't hold it against them or criticize them for not giving their people the basic human rights we demand for ourselves. Democracy is great for us but they don't need or want it because they're...Asian or something."

This bothers me because arguing a pro-Taiwan stance is not an extreme position. It's actually quite moderate. It's reasonable.

It's the position that reflects a desire to recognize what is already true.

It is a stance that recognizes the full breadth of Taiwanese history, simply from having read it. It is the stance that respects the will of 23.5 million people who are already self-governing in a liberal democratic system. It is the stance that understands the nature of the ROC's coming to Taiwan, their past crimes here, and how the label of being "Chinese" has been externally imposed rather than organically grown. It is the stance that understands how little support the last, wheezing scions of the old ROC order have as they face the short march to their inevitable sunset. It is the stance that is pro-democracy and understands that the ROC is a formerly authoritarian government which is only now democratic because the people of Taiwan insisted on it. It is the stance of someone who actually believes in liberal democratic values and is willing to apply that to global situations. It is the stance of understanding that doing so is not cultural imperialism when the people you are applying it to agree with you.

In a post-Sunflower world, it is the stance that reflects reality.

I don't even think it's terribly extreme to say that Dead Dictator Memorial Hall should go. Certainly the grounds are pretty and we can preserve them (without the dead dictator), but it's not insane to want to burn the whole thing to the ground. After all, it rhapsodizes the murderous rule of a horrible foreign dictator, turning him into a personality cult icon. Why shouldn't it go? How does this not make sense?

29342453_10156257130006202_799312513505165312_n
"Masquerading as a man with a reason
My charade is the event of the season
And if I claim to be a wise man,
it surely means that I don't know"


In fact, I'd say being sympathetic to China is the extreme position, being pro-ROC is only slightly less extreme, and being pro-Taiwan is the normal choice. I can't even begin to assign 'right' or 'left' labels to this, though, because the original framework has been so skewed that it doesn't make sense in this dimension. It doesn't fit in with our laws of nature.

And yet the rest of the world only knows Taiwan's story through the media they consume. The vast majority have never been here and never will. The media reports the CCP and KMT narratives, and when they bother to include pro-Taiwan narratives, marginalize them so much that they're easily dismissed as the ramblings of a group of crazy ethno-nationalists who won't face the reality that Taiwan is fundamentally Chinese, or that it "shouldn't matter". Why "shouldn't it matter"? Because the left especially has grown so anti-nationalist/separatist that any attempt to assert sovereignty, even sovereignty a group already has, is seen as "extreme". The media isn't reflecting reality, it is helping to create reality. What scares me is I'm not even sure they realize it.

I'll leave you with this: when I was at Exeter, if the topic came up, I would argue a pro-Taiwan stance. I do not suffer the foolishness of the ROC. People listened, certainly they were too thoughtful to dismiss it out of hand. And yet more than once, a comment slipped out among my professors and cohort that made it clear that they still saw Taiwan as fundamentally Chinese (e.g. "Taiwan and the rest of China", or "we have a few Chinese students" when in fact we had only one, from Macau. The other identifies as Taiwanese.)

If that was their default, what did they make of my pro-Taiwan views?

Do they take for 'extreme' what I see as - what I know to be - merely normal?

In other words, get out of here, wayward sun.
There will be peace when you are done

Sunday, February 25, 2018

A review of Wandering in a Garden, Waking from a Dream: Tales of Taipei Characters

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Every Saturday I tutor the younger daughter in a family I've known for many years. We get along well and I mostly facilitate extensive reading and writing, so not a lot of traditional grammar exercises (though in her own time she works through a huge grammar book and I'll check her work - her idea, not mine.) But, I noticed one day that she was struggling with use of various passive and past perfect forms, so I said I was going to check her knowledge of Taiwanese history using passive-heavy questions.

I wrote down a few questions along these lines, for her to render correctly before answering. Things like this:

Who __________ (live) in Taiwan when it ____________ (colonize) by the Dutch?
Who had been living in Taiwan when it was colonized by the Dutch?

She looked at them and back and me and said, "Can we change the topic to the history of China?"

"Why?" I asked. "Is that what you're learning in school?"

"Yes! So I know that! I don't know Taiwan's history so well!"

"Well...no. No we can't. That's another country - "

"Mm!" she agreed.

" - and while it's useful to know about the history of other countries, especially ones with some relationship to your country, it's also important to know your own history. So we're doing Taiwan."

Despite her protests, she basically got the questions right. Even the one about how 鄭成功 managed to sneak past the Dutch patrols and fortifications.

* * *

I took the bus home - it takes longer but it's direct. I realized I'd never listened to Timeless Sentence, Chthonic's acoustic album in its entirety, and it has occurred to me after meeting Chthonic frontman and super-cute legislator Freddy Lim recently that I should, so I thought that'd be a good way to pass the time riding through the streets of Xinbei and Taipei.

 
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Super Cute Legislator Freddy Lim and *me*

Every song on that album - culled from their black metal work and arranged acoustically - explores some aspect of Taiwanese history. Freddy, and the band as a whole, are unapologetic Taiwan independence advocates. Some of the historical issues they sing (well, scream) about are obvious ("Republic born of PAIN!") and some are less so ("Who now stands before me like a ghost within a dream? When did come the day when things became not what they seem?")

As these songs played, the bus crossed Fuhe bridge into Taipei. The sun was out; I leaned against the window and watched as the green median spokes were overtaken - some half-eclipsed, some fully - by the shadow of the bus. I was sitting at the back, so just as the darkened green pillars reached me, sunlight broke out again and drove out the dark.

As I watched this, I thought to myself that when I got home, before I started work on a paper that was coming due, I should read one more story in Wandering in a Garden, Waking from a Dream. I'd been reading one a day as a break from academic work, and figured I could finish the whole collection fairly quickly.

I wasn't sure how I felt about it, though.

My main issue with Timeless Sentence is that Freddy is at heart a black metal singer. He is clearly going to some effort to re-modulate his 'voice' and 'style', and the layouts of the songs themselves, to fit an acoustic format. Sometimes it translates beautifully, sometimes less so.

I too felt I was having to reconfigure my mentality to read Wandering in a Garden, Waking from a Dream. I am used to reading about Taiwanese history from a Taiwanese perspective. I had to reformulate and remodulate in order to read without judgement stories of fictional members of the Nationalist diaspora in the 1940s.

* * *

The foreword makes it clear: although the original title of this anthology of character studies was Taipei People (台北人), the people in it are not from Taipei. They live there, but every last one was a refugee from China in the Nationalist diaspora of the 1940s. Most of them didn't seem to really consider Taipei home and every last one identified with China, not Taiwan. The newer translation, then, is perhaps more accurate: Taipei Characters. 

Each of them confronts - or refuses to confront - memories of their life in China and squares them with their new lives in Taiwan. Some do better (Verdancy Chu in "A Touch of Green"), some worse (Yu Chin-lei in "Winter Night"). Some describe the pleasant, idyllic, even luxurious lives these characters led in China (Yin Hsue-yen in "The Eternal Snow Beauty"), others discuss the horrors they encountered in the Chinese Civil War (Lai Ming-sheng in New Year's Eve ). Each one is searching for their own version of peace. Although it is not directly stated, few find it.

The foreword also makes clear that these character studies are meant to do just that: study characters. Think of it as the ROC version of Dubliners (which I haven't read - I struggle a bit with Joyce). Not draw conclusions about the good or evil of the Republic of China or its effect on Taiwan. It makes these refugees human and shows them trying to rebuild some semblance of a normal life in their new home.

The arrangement of the stories is important: it starts with young (or young-seeming) beauties, one of whom seems hardly to age, who is associated with the color white (a white sun on a blue field perhaps?). As the tales continue, the characters grow older, grayer. They get weaker. They grasp at what they've lost, making the same noodles except "not as good", coloring their hair or losing everything trying to bring back loved ones (the proprietress and Mr. Lu in "Glory's by Blossom Bridge"). They start dying, some sooner than others. The first three and last three stories drive it home: starting with imagery of fresh bright snow and then spring green, followed by tales of great battles fought by people who are now older and weaker, and ending with autumnal scenes of faded glory propped up by wealth, the onset of a cold, cruel winter and finally, a funeral, they echo both the rise and fall of the Republic of China and the creeping realization that the Nationalists' current, dilapidated state is permanent and will only further decay. This also echoes Dubliners, or so I am told.

I have a deep well of empathy for such situations: my own family was driven out of Turkey and then Greece - refugees twice over. For most of my life, these experiences were recounted by ancestors who held them living memory. Everyone has the right to leave dangerous, even life-threatening conditions and seek a safe existence elsewhere, to prosper and, if they wish, come to identify with their new home, as my grandfather came to identify as American. Similarly, although these characters are not real, their pain very much is.

And yet, I note that almost every time these characters interact with someone Taiwanese, they are snobbish and dismissive. Everything about Taiwan is inferior - the silks are coarser, the people more provincial, the weather worse, the food never quite as good. They treat Taiwan like a pigsty that they, high and low-class both, are forced to live in. They don't seem to realize that the people who are already here are people too, no less worthy of respect, and this island (this country) is their home, and it is beautiful if you'll just look. They don't see it, and they don't seem to be aware of exactly how their beloved Nationalist government treats the locals (as well as some of their own, although this is not mentioned in the book).

For every shadow cast on their lives, some of these "Taipei characters" cast shadows on the lives of others, and they don't even realize it. They keep to their own communities, denigrating Taiwan and yet acting as if they own the place - I can't help but wonder, if you hate this beautiful island so much, why do you insist it's a part of your country? - and as someone who loves Taiwan, it is hard to read.

This snotty condescension, this dismissiveness of Taiwan - I have trouble with this. My empathy shrivels a little, although not entirely. If the Nationalist diaspora wonders why it is not always fully welcomed in Taiwan, perhaps this attitude - which I have no doubt was very much real - is a part of why.

There are exceptions: the narrator in "Love's Lone Flower", who spends much of her time with two Taiwanese characters, Peach Blossom (with whom it is implied she has a relationship) and Third-son Lin, and does not appear to judge them in this way. In fact, the most empathetic of the Taipei characters are the lower-class ones: the taxi dancers (although Taipan Chin in "The Last Night of Taipan Chin" is dismissive of Taiwanese taxi dancer Phoenix, in the end she helps her as best she can), the winehouse girls. They seem to make local connections that the former high-and-mighty do not. I can't expect they would have necessarily known about the white terror their white sun government was inflicting on Taiwan. They're just doing the best they can, and they too have scars. My empathy grows.

The army veterans, the generals, though, perhaps the wives of those generals - they must have known. Some of them, if they were real people, would have been a part of it. My empathy shrivels. Let them break down and die. They consider themselves Chinese, so why should we let them have governance of Taiwan? Why should the Taiwanese have to live under a foreign government they never consented to? Don't we call that "colonialism"?

That said, every last one came to Taiwan's shores and built a life here, some more successfully than others. Although my circumstances were different - I'm no refugee - I did this as well. How can I - someone who would like to be the newest of the New Taiwanese - make any sort of judgements about who is and is not Taiwanese? This beautiful country has made it possible for me to call it home, and Taiwan is a settler state - who am I to say which settlers get to call themselves local? As far as I'm concerned, if you live here and identify with Taiwan, you are Taiwanese. These Taipei characters did not consider themselves Taiwanese, but many if not most of their descendants would. Maybe their grandparents weren't really "Taipei People", but they are.

That said, how many of the real-life people these characters are inspired by turned away when they knew what was happening? How many reported a neighbor or disavowed a friend? How many to this day remain pro-authoritarian, stalling Taiwan's reckoning with its history?

But then, how many might themselves have been victims of that same regime's purges of "Communists" in their own ranks? How many would have grandchildren who grew up supporting movements like the Wild Strawberries and the Sunflowers?

The key difference between my ancestors and the "Taipei characters" is that the latter dream about their lives in China lost, and are often disdainful of the island they now call home. My ancestors missed the home they lost, but never used that as an excuse to denigrate their new country.

* * *
I say all this, but I haven't even gotten into the historical and literary allusions strewn liberally throughout these stories. I have avoided writing about this, because I don't understand every reference. I write this review as a layperson.

In order to give this book the best review I could, I read as much about the book as I could find (unfortunately, the best source is incomplete - and the complete book is obscenely expensive). There is a lot to say about the title story, Wandering in a Garden, Waking from a Dream, in which the narrator, after literally wandering in a garden, watches her old acquaintances enjoy a party in a mansion decorated with luxuries old and new, some having aged and faded and some seeming young and growing more vivacious, but still clinging, like a dream, to their lives in China. The narrator, a widowed general's wife whose stage name as an opera singer had been Bluefield Jade, is as faded as her dark jade-green qipao. The host's little sister, who helps trigger a drunken memory to her own younger sister, is more vigorous than ever. There are young lovers torn asunder by beautiful younger sisters, a snow-cave like dining room trimmed with vermilion table decorations (the ice-box where the KMT's dreams lie frozen in time, splashed with blood?) and allusions to three separate operas: The Nymph of the River Luo, The Drunken Concubine and Peony Pavilion (especially Wandering in a Garden, Waking from a Dream from that story).

I don't know if I can even begin to break all of this down, and am not sure I should in what is meant to be a book review, so here are three quick takes:

The Nymph of the River Luo alludes to a young man's tryst not just with a goddess, but, by extension, the wife of the Emperor of China. There is also a strong implication that Madame Qian, the narrator and general's wife, either had an affair with one of her husband's subordinates, or wanted to (personally, I think they did), until her younger sister stole him away. Something similar also happens at the party taking place in the story's present.

The Drunken Concubine is about how favored concubine Yang Guifei prepared a feast for the emperor, only to find he'd visited another concubine instead. In jealousy she drinks herself into a stupor. Madame Qian, jealous, is also drunk - but feels it is her younger sister in the past (and her party friends in the present) who are responsible.

Wandering in a Garden, Waking from a Dream involves a young woman falling asleep in a beautiful garden and dreaming of a sexual romantic encounter with a young imperial examination candidate. Waking up suddenly, she is so overcome with sadness that it was a dream that she dies (but is later resurrected...well, there's a lot going on here regarding old traditions and new thinking and the sadness of realizing the evanescence of life that I won't get into). Madame Qian literally wanders in a garden before being put in a dreamlike drunken state that invokes her own dream lover, and then "waking" to the reality of life wasted and happiness lost. The dream in the original opera takes place in spring - and Madame Qian's affair took place when she was young - but the party where she remembers it is in autumn, when she is much older. Her awakening echoes the awakening of the old Republic of China guard to their new, and rapidly declining, situation.

All of this is quite fascinating, and I read this particular story several times.

But what really struck me was what Andrew Stuckley, in the link above, said about a story earlier in the collection, The Dirge of Liang Fu. 

The two couplets in the study of General Pu seem innocuous enough, but call to mind an ancient story in which a leader needed to dispose of three great warriors who posed a threat to him. To do that, he offered two peaches, to be taken by the two best of them (there is an allusion there to the peaches of immortality). Of course, to take a peace was to show impertinence, but to not take a peach was also a great shame. All three killed themselves and the scheme worked.

In The Dirge of Liang Fu, the "peaches" are - according to Stuckley - communism (in China) and Westernization (from America). Each promises immortality, but each ends up killing you. To not take a peach is to fade into irrelevance, as General Pu has done.

"Hm," I thought as I read this. "I hadn't known that and I hadn't paid that much attention to the story the first time around. I definitely need to deepen my knowledge of Chinese history and literature."
But...

I live in Taiwan, not China. I spend my free time learning about Taiwan - Taiwanese history, Taiwanese literature. China is a different country. And yet, Taipei Characters is a work of Taiwanese literature.

I considered the Taiwanese students who regularly protest the "Sinicization" of history classes in Taiwan, prioritizing Chinese history - and implying that Taiwanese and Chinese history are the same - and demanding that more of Taiwan's own local history be included...

...oh.

In that moment, I realized how difficult everything really is.

How many of these Taipei characters - if they were real and you could ask them - would think Taiwanese history is Chinese history and would insist that the dichotomy my student and I perceive is false? How many would listen to Chthonic's Takao or Broken Jade, songs about the Takasago Volunteers (one small aspect of Taiwan's Japanese history which is not at all Chinese), and insist that it was the same history as that of a Republic that fought Japan as a mortal enemy? A Republic that still insists that it fought with the Allies to defeat Japan while governing an island that, right or wrong, fought on the other side? Who among them would insist that everything Chthonic sings about is both Chinese history and not as important as Chinese history, all in one ignorant breath?

* * *

Then, I thought back to one of the lyrics crooned in English on Timeless Sentence:

Let me stand up like a Taiwanese, only justice will bring you peace.

The Taipei characters were not at peace in part because there was no justice, in the end, for the wrongs done to them. But they seem blind to the injustices, like shadows, that their own government inflicted on the Taiwanese, as well.

I then recalled a minor sub-plot in Green Island, where the protagonist's father, after ten years' of brutal incarceration at the hands of the KMT for something that wasn't a crime in even the pettiest sense, can't help but suspect that his older daughter's husband - an ROC veteran from China - was reporting on him to the government. He wasn't - the spy in his home was his own son, and Dr. Tsai's son-in-law from China has suffered his own injustices and was just trying to do the best he could.

I know this story in my history too: the person who reported on my great grandfather to the Turkish government was another Armenian. The leader of the group sent to apprehend him saw who he was ordered to take into custody, recognized my great grandfather as his old schoolmate and they embraced as friends. He was never arrested - the captain was Turkish. Things are not always so cut-and-dried, the good or evil of a group is not so easily transferred to individuals.

Of course, Pai Hsien-yung understood all of this - and he was not uncritical of the "dreaming backwards" of his Taipei characters, their ignorance of Taiwan and their slow decay under a veneer of wealth. I mean, the collection ends with a winter night passed by two threadbare academics, and then a funeral. He took his own stabs at the white sun on a blue field. He knew that they not only were dreaming, but that it was time to wake up. I can't believe he wasn't also aware of the way their isolated, dream-like state affected the island they had fled to.

I didn't feel entirely comfortable reading Wandering in a Garden, Waking from a Dream, but I will say this: it is excellent, a masterpiece, and I am happy I read it.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

My latest for Ketagalan Media: the KMT is a virus and the ROC is a compromised system

That's not the actual title, of course, and it covers more ground than that.

I'm just happy that the fine folks at Ketagalan let me publish this behemoth, include a swear word and call the KMT a "virus".

Be warned, it really is long. But it's well-organized and I'd like to think thoughtful as well.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Sometimes I change my mind

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You know, I have said that I have trouble voting my conscience in American elections, because the people I support on (almost) every other platform are the people who either don't care or seem to be just plain wrong about Taiwan (although even that is sometimes hard to gauge). It's the same reason why I do not attempt to get into more hardcore pro-Taiwan advocacy in the US - when it comes to the conservative blowhards whom I want to mouth-punch on one hand for trying to take away my bodily autonomy as a woman, I doubt I could just turn around and talk to them civilly about Taiwan. It's my reproductive system they want to get their grimy hands in - it's kinda personal. I can't distance myself from it the way a lot of (male) people who are not threatened because of their gender can. I don't doubt they abhor it as well, but the ability to compartmentalize...well, that seems like a really nice privilege of having a penis.

I have also said that, while I was generally a Sanders supporter back when I could be one, and did vote for him in the primary, that I was concerned about what kind of president he would be vis-a-vis Taiwan. He was not exactly known for his foreign policy acumen, or at least was seen as weak in that area.

I mean, Trump is Trump and he's just hair and fart sounds so whatever, but generally Republican presidents have been better for Taiwan than Democratic ones. Those same Republican presidents have been bad news for women.

When you love Taiwan but have a vagina, this is a problem. It didn't seem possible to fully vote my conscience, because it appeared that those I could never vote for had the best possible Taiwan policy - that's not to say great, but the best thing going under the circumstances - and those I otherwise supported, shall we say, did not.

I had friends assure me that support for Taiwan was bipartisan, but that seemed unlikely in a world where Republicans were in the media doing everything I wanted Democrats to be doing - meeting with Hong Kong dissidents, introducing pro-Taiwan legislation. Then we have (rumors? Leaks? Real? Fake? Who even knows?) that Hillary Clinton wanted to discuss ditching Taiwan.

Then I saw this letter urging President Hair and Fart Sounds to support the Taiwan Relations Act in light of his (then upcoming) visit to China to meet with President Angry Pooh.  And unless it's some elaborate troll job aimed specifically at me (it's not), it induced elation and despair at the same time.


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Robert Menendez. Ron Wyden. Edward Markey. Chuck Schumer. Chris Van Hollen. Catherine Cortez Masto. Heidi Heitkamp (though I don't always agree with her). Joe Manchin. Sherrod Brown (who says a lot about Taiwan and it almost never seems to get media attention). Gary Peters. Elizabeth Warren. Al Franken. Bernard Sanders.

Now, I'm not trying to claim that the Taiwan Relations Act is the gold standard of the way the world should be treating Taiwan. It's not. Nobody in the world is treating Taiwan the way it should be treated, not even its (checkbook) diplomatic allies. Taiwan deserves better than what it's getting, period. It deserves international recognition and support, including support for changing its governmental framework from fundamentally Chinese to fundamentally Taiwanese. I'm not a fan of support for the "ROC on Taiwan" as a way of opposing Communism or even simply opposing China - I'm not a fan of the ROC at all.

I'd prefer a world in which it was a given that Taiwan could decide its future without international threat, and in which support for Taiwan was based on it simply being the right thing to do - supporting Taiwan for Taiwan's sake and everything it has to offer the world - and not in any sort of relation to how the world handled China. That is, however, not the world we live in.

Considering Taiwan's former authoritarian leadership's complicity in creating the state of limbo the country still finds itself, and considering that "rah rah ROC because we hate the PRC" - and "well, here's the Taiwan Relations Act which is a bit milquetoast but it's something and frankly a unique piece of policy given the situation" are not ideal but are, unfortunately, how the 20th century shook out, I'll take it.

So, I've changed my mind on a few things.

Yes, GOP rhetoric on Taiwan, while imperfect, is still closer to the mark than Democratic rhetoric. Conservative rhetoric on Taiwan is more acccurate - though again, flawed - than liberal discourse.

However, it is clear that despite this, support for Taiwan is a bipartisan issue. Call me a Doubting Thomas - I needed to see it in the flesh. You don't get Al Franken, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Freakin' Sanders signing a letter alongside Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz if something is a partisan issue. You just don't.

This helps, but does not make me any happier that more than one "friend of Taiwan" is no friend of mine, as a person in a female body who expects bodily autonomy. For every good thing they do or say regarding Taiwan or Hong Kong, I can name some way in which they have tried to subjugate women. The part of me that loves Taiwan cannot reconcile this with the part of me that has, and would like to retain control over, ovaries.

It is also clear that, as much as I might disagree at times, and as much as I might think the US can and should offer something a bit stronger to Taiwan than the weaksauce currently on the table, that those at the top forming policy do, in fact, understand (at least enough of) the intricacies of the Taiwan issue.

Do I entirely trust them? Nope. But I'll take it for now.

So why do I despair?

Because the one thing that consoled me as Sanders left the 2016 race and I cast my vote for Clinton - besides genuinely wanting a female president and knowing that, while I might not like a lot of what she does, I did trust her to do the job competently - was that "Sanders would have been weak on Taiwan".

Except...oops. Nope.

It's not possible to know what a President Sanders would have done vis-a-vis Taiwan, but we can make some educated guesses, and his name on this letter is telling.

And because I actually voted against Chuck Schumer in 2016. Hey, don't judge me, I knew he'd win anyway, I just wanted to give a big pointless middle finger to the Democrats in some small way. I voted Green Party for Senate, knowing they'd lose. Now I kind of regret that a little, maybe?

Oh yeah, and I despair because despite this being a bipartisan issue, Taiwan is still stuck in the status quo morass with a world that does not appreciate what it has to offer and can't bring itself to just do the right thing, and also because this letter was delivered to President Hair and Fart Sounds, which means...ugh.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

My latest for Ketagalan Media: The conversation about Taiwan's symbols matters

I got a weapon in my lungs
So tell the fuckin' cops to come
Get ready now
We never back down

- Back Down (Traudes)

This is what I was listening to as I worked with Ketagalan Media on the final edits to my latest piece, a rebuttal to J. Michael Cole's editorial on the importance (or lack thereof) of Taiwanese vs. ROC imagery and symbolism.

And it occurred to me: there was a time in Taiwanese history that my writing a piece like this was illegal, and the cops would have come. In many cases, the cops did come, and people died, some by their own hand. Now, thanks to the efforts of the Taiwanese people and not the dictatorship that persecuted them, I can say these things freely. The cops aren't going to come.

And yet, the symbol of the party that once sent the cops a-knockin' is still on the national flag for some unfathomable reason. I cannot agree that this isn't something we should keep talking about, nor that those who want to see party symbols wiped off the flag should settle down and 'play nice' so we can 'transcend' our 'small differences'.

That is to say, while I agree with some of Cole's points, I take exception to others: it is neither narcissistic nor a 'small difference' to have a legitimate point of contention that the symbol on the "national flag" is the symbol of one political party (in a democracy!), and the party that committed mass murder at that.

I'm sure a foreign resident giving her unvarnished opinion on the imagery associated with a country she is not a citizen of is likely to raise some hackles. All I can say first, is that this is my home too, and I do get to have an opinion on the goings-on in my home.  And secondly, that there are a lot of people who agree with me.

Taiwan deserves better. And I may not be the perfect spokesperson for that, but every last one of us has a weapon in our lungs. Let's use them.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

My heart is Taiwanese, not Republic of Chinese

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I am not a patriotic person by nature. Even when I was young, with flags in every classroom and prints of portraits of the founding fathers in our history textbooks, the Pledge of Allegiance every morning and the generally rah-rah pro-America conservatism of the town I grew up in, I just wasn't into it. I mouthed the words to the Pledge; pretending to go along was easier then. I applied the same logic to religion: after my parents' shocked reaction when I proclaimed my atheism at a surprisingly young age, and clear disapproval at choosing any belief system that didn't include faith, I pretended there was a God all the way through my confirmation because it was easier than fighting people who had no business telling me what to believe anyway.

Being ex-hippie liberal academics, my parents' attempts to make me into a wholesome young woman who feared God, prayed to Jesus and loved her country were half-hearted but sincere. Their worldview was a constrained liberalism that, while openminded, ultimately colored within the lines. In particular, Mom lamenting that she "didn't do enough" to make me into a good Christian and happy, honor-defending American was an attractive but ultimately specious reasoning for my turning out the way I did. There's nothing she could have done. I decided God didn't exist around the time I figured out Santa Claus wasn't real - I told you I was young when it happened - and I expressed a desire to live abroad as early as junior high school.

What I'm trying to say is, this is a pretty baked-in character trait. I see patriotism as a more Earth-bound form of religion: different faiths and their interpretations are ultimately fake lines drawn in the heavens that mean little beyond how they affect our real-world interactions, and patriotism is the worship of fake lines drawn across the globe delineating arbitrarily-decided "countries" which only matter, again, insofar as they affect how we think and interact (or are allowed to interact) as people. The borders themselves though? They're only real in our minds.

When I was younger, my desire to live abroad was a bit more Machine-approved. I'd always assumed I'd do it through the foreign service, international business or NGO work, academia, that sort of thing. None of them were working out - I hadn't considered in my plans that someone who is at best institution-apathetic would not fit in well at a large organization.

Forget chips on shoulders: I had bricks. Packing up and doing it on my own with a few thousand dollars in savings - and let's be honest, a hefty chunk of white middle-class privilege because I can not entirely escape the benefits of institutions - mortared those bricks right up into something like a moveable fortress. But at least they were off my shoulders.

That was ten years ago. Listen to me now, and I sound like a Taiwan missionary. Spreading the gospel of Taiwan to everyone I meet, and probably being deeply annoying in the process.

Have you accepted Taiwanese democracy into your life?

Here, read this article about Taiwan. It will change your life! I'd be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Did you know that many Taiwanese died for the freedoms we enjoy now, and someday the Republic of Formosa will rise again?

If you are interested, you are welcome to come with me to a protest this Sunday.

Okay, I'm not that bad (usually), but I am a true believer.

So what happened? I'm not a different person - I didn't suddenly decide that loving one's country was great and we should all love our countries and place deep importance on national borders. I didn't become a flag-waving, anthem-singing, crying-eagle-meme-posting patriot. I'm still the same old Jenna who doesn't function well as a cog in a corporate (or government) machine, who thinks God is an interesting fantasy, and who wants to keep her American citizenship as a matter of convenience and who has done her best work without a boss issuing commands.

Yet I do believe. As I've written before, I can really believe in a country that, despite having thousands of missiles pointed at it, wakes up every morning quietly insisting on its continued existence, perseveres, builds and improves itself and refuses to be ground up like so much pork filler in China's world-building sausage-fest and has, against the odds, turned itself into a pretty damn solid first world democracy. I didn't want to be a cog in an organizational machine, and Taiwan refuses to be a casualty of the global realpolitik machine. I feel that. I feel it like some people feel Jesus.

As Double Ten Day approaches - celebrating start of the Xinhai Revolution (in China, not Taiwan) on October 10, 1911 - and as the usual array of "Happy Birthday Taiwan!" nonsense starts appearing, it's given me a moment to reflect on how this came to be. That is, how I managed to be so enamored of Taiwan and yet not a patriot.

I think it's because Taiwan both is and is not a country. It is a sovereign nation in every respect that matters: it is self-governed, has its own military, currency, constitution and international relations and flag. Sort of.

It is also not a country in that the government currently in place here is a foreign one. All of the things it has, which make it fully independent, come from a government neither conceived nor formed in Taiwan, and certainly not by the Taiwanese. That government decided back when Taiwan was a colony of another country that it ought to be theirs - nobody asked the Taiwanese how they felt about this. That government has localized in some ways but not in others, and arguably not in a lot of the ways that matter. (To give one example, the citizenship laws were written in China in the 1920s and have not been meaningfully amended since.) This makes it a colonial government. The Republic of China is a country. Taiwan is still under colonial rule, playing host to its foreign master. It is also independent, a situation which is just as difficult to explain to non-believers as all the contradictions in the Bible are, except in this case it's true.

Imagine if the British government lost its territory in the 1800s and relocated to India, and India today was fully independent under the name and governmental system of Great Britain. Imagine if few recognized this government, opting instead to recognize the People's Republic of Britannia in the British Isles, and nobody recognized that India had a right to not only de jure independence, but to have that independence as India, not Great Britain. It's like that.

Imagine if the day after tomorrow was Magna Carta Day, and all of India would have a public holiday and be expected to celebrate the signing of the Magna Carta, and told all their lives that this was somehow relevant to their own history and land.

I doubt if I were an immigrant in that other-universe version of India that I would care much about "Magna Carta Day", nor about "Great Britain".

Similarly, I don't care much about the Republic of China.

Thinking along these lines, I realized that my love - and missionary zeal - for Taiwan has nothing to do with patriotism. I love Taiwan - the concept, the land, the history, the civic nationalism borne of shared values. I do believe Taiwan deserves statehood and I would happily reside in that state, but I doubt I'd ever be a typical "patriot". I love Taiwan not in the way one is taught to love the arbitrary boundaries defining one's world but which were not chosen: the religion, country and family one was born into (though I do sincerely love my family). I love it the way one love's one's friends or spouse (no, not like that, you know what I mean). As something one chooses because of shared values and other commonalities and compatibilities. I will love Taiwan no matter what happens to its national boundaries, although I wish for it something better than what it has now. After all, I was not born here. My family is not Taiwanese, but my friends are.

I still don't dare say I am Taiwanese - a lot of people get the wrong idea, sure, and also on some level I don't think I deserve the honor. But my heart is here.

The Republic of China? That could disappear tomorrow and I wouldn't care. If it were replaced by the Republic of Taiwan, I'd celebrate. Double Ten Day will come and go this year, as with every other year, and I just won't care.

In short, my heart is Taiwanese, not Republic of Chinese.