Showing posts with label roc. Show all posts
Showing posts with label roc. Show all posts

Saturday, November 30, 2019

The anti-infiltration bill doesn't go far enough (plus, the KMT trying to be tricky and failing!)

Please enjoy this sculpture of a pig cavorting with a rat.
You know why.

So, there's a lot to talk about in politics this week. Everyone's talking about the anti-infiltration bill that was unveiled on Friday, so I guess we'll start there.

A few things pop out at me about this bill. First, the punishments for 'infiltration', which include using foreign sources or following foreign directives to donate to a political party, "influencing elections" (surely the bill is more detailed than that vague category) and other actions, are quite low. A fine which isn't that high considering the sums of money probably involved in actually attempting to interfere in Taiwanese democracy, or (not and) a prison sentence of "up to seven years".

As a few people have pointed out, it's a lot lower than the sentences for much more minor fraud and crimes that don't do nearly as much to undermine Taiwan's democratic system. For example, if you have a meth lab in your apartment or sell weed on the side, in theory you could be sent to jail for a minimum of seven years, and (not or!) a fine of up to twenty million NT dollars. Possession carries prison sentences that vary, but may go up to ten years and include a fine - more than you'd get for trying to implode democracy! Apparently smoking a little weed is worse than trying to up-end an entire political system.

This is a good time to refresh everyone's memory that the punishments for espionage - a somewhat-related but fundamentally different, and more serious, crime - are also quite low, though they were strengthened in 2019 in response to a string of espionage cases. In the past, civil servants (including career military) convicted of espionage would be removed from their post, but did not necessarily lose their government pensions or have to pay back any pension money they'd already received (that has since changed). Even now, a minimum sentence of 7 years seems light, seeing as it's about the same as the sentence for transporting or selling drugs. Security, training and background checking don't seem to have improved much, though.

As for why Taiwan hasn't upped its game, and is even now falling short, it's all politics. Back when it had power, the KMT didn't want to do much about it because the people doing the infiltrating (or the spying) were doing so within KMT-loyal organizations, such as the military or, in the case of infiltration, KMT-friendly media outlets and political organizations. Of course even now they don't want to admit there's a problem with some media outlets in Taiwan, with proof of foreign influence that goes well beyond the recent allegations of self-proclaimed spy 'Wang Liqiang' - those outlets are working hard to get them back into power, why would they want to hinder their ability to do so?

So why is the DPP's bill so weak on punishments? It was inevitable that the KMT would paint the push to pass an anti-infiltration bill as mere spectacle, a political move to "manipulate the 2020 elections", and it seems to me that the DPP wants to get something done, while trying to signal that they're not using the bill as a political tool.

I'm not sure it was a good decision, though. To me, the bill just looks weak. 

At the same time, the KMT proposed their own tricky-sticky "anti-annexation" bill. To quote the Taipei Times:

At a news conference at the Legislative Yuan, the KMT caucus — which had unanimously boycotted the legislative meeting — unveiled a bill against annexing the Republic of China (ROC), which it said was meant to replace the anti-infiltration bill.... 
The anti-annexation bill says that no civil servant of the ROC may advocate actions that would sabotage the nation’s political system, or change its official title or territory.
They must not make remarks that advocate decimating, absorbing or replacing the ROC, the bill states. 
Civil servants — including the president — found to have contravened the bill would face a prison term of up to seven years, it states. 
The anti-annexation bill is a more comprehensive bill than the DPP’s, as it would not only bar attempts to unify Taiwan with China, but would also prohibit attempts to make Taiwan a US state or part of Japan, as these are all actions that would eliminate the ROC, KMT Legislator Lin Wei-chou (林為洲) said. 

I don't know much about this bill because it's probably not going anywhere, but from what it says here, it's an attempt to shoehorn in legislation that would make it much harder for a pro-independence government to actually do anything about the ROC colonial government construct, or even say anything to that effect. In theory, even statements President Tsai and other DPP members have made in the past, for example, "the Taiwan Consensus", or "Taiwan is a country where..." could, in theory, be violations of this proposed law. It would limit freedom of expression by putting a muzzle on anyone in power to even discuss Taiwanese independence or a unique Taiwanese identity outside of a Chinese (that is, ROC) framework.

Of course, their own rhetoric about the 1992 Consensus, which positions Taiwan's fate as ultimately Chinese, would be entirely permissible under such a law. Since active KMT civil servants never come out and actually say they support unification (even though they often do), it wouldn't be hard for them to avoid violations. All they have to do is insist that by "China" and "One China" that they mean "the ROC" or "the 1992 Consensus", not "unification" while undermining any attempt to take a road that doesn't lead to unification, right up until they've sold Taiwan piece-by-piece to China and annexation becomes inevitable.

And they're doing it to look as though they are trying to pass a more 'neutral' and 'comprehensive' legislation, while attempting to dodge accusations that they as a party are implicated in Chinese infiltration (the same reason why they won't vote against the DPP bill - they know whose faces that egg is on). They are failing on both counts, but will surely have supporters who insist otherwise. Expect all those Chinese-influenced media outlets to parrot the idea that the DPP's bill is "Green Terror" and tout the reasonability of the KMT one. 

This has made me go back to the apparently bipartisan strengthening of anti-espionage legislation earlier in 2019 (Asia Times being the only outlet that called it bipartisan, and I'm not sure how much to trust them), after years of the KMT doing very little about it. If your party is in bed with China both in terms of spies and other forms of infiltration - just different ways of playing for the other team - why would you help pass, or at least allow to pass without comment, an anti-espionage amendment that you were once so loath to do much about, earlier in the same year? Especially when this more recent bill carries fairly weak punishments?

Is it election politics? Or is it that the KMT knows it's far more directly implicated in the latter issue than the former? Is it because they're aware that every single media outlet that is caught up in this scandal is one that supports their candidate?

If the KMT themselves were innocent, and the media outlets involved not necessarily geared towards helping a particular party get elected, wouldn't they just support this fairly mild bill as they did the anti-espionage bill?

Makes ya think.

Actually, no it doesn't. The answer is pretty obvious. 

Friday, March 22, 2019

You can't force patriotism, so stop blaming Taiwanese for not caring enough about the ROC


The National Interest has some of the best journalism on Taiwan out there (among media sources not dedicated to Taiwan, that is). So as expected, this piece on the questionable capabilities of the Taiwanese military to fend off a Chinese invasion was quite strong - mostly.

I absolutely believe Minnick's concerns are founded, even though for my own sanity I must also believe President Tsai when she says that Taiwan can fend off the first wave of attack, a belief which is widely held. I also have to believe that aid would come after this point (though of course I can't say this with confidence) - again for my own sanity. Not just for the country that is my home, but because my own life as I know it would be over. 

But this point struck me, and I can't let it go without saying something: 

Public lethargy and a lack of confidence in the military has drained the armed forces of manpower and morale. And it is this lethargy, along with the unwillingness of Taiwan’s political elites to communicate this imminent threat to the public, that must be addressed.

Taiwan’s military wants to procure big-ticket items from the United States, but at the same time it has been forced to reduce conscription and training due to funding issues and an apathetic civilian population....

Part of the problem is conscription and a decline in patriotism.

This isn't the first time I've heard that Taiwan is facing a military recruitment problem because of a lack of "patriotism." Concerns that neither training nor pay are particularly good, pensions have been cut, that it's widely seen as a difficult working environment and that military service obligations are to be borne with annoyance if they can't be outright avoided are all valid.

But kvetching about a lack of patriotism?

Dudes, you did this to yourselves. 

I don't mean the Taiwanese in general. I don't even necessarily mean the military specifically. I mean all you people who whine about how Taiwan shouldn't change its name unilaterally, and be very cautious about altering or scrapping juridicial documents like the constitution and symbols like its flag and national anthem (both of which are very China/ROC/KMT-oriented). And all of you who say these symbols are "small differences" and to harp on them is "narcissism". You may be Western or Taiwanese, based in Taiwan or abroad, but all of you and the government you have convinced to retain the name and general governmental structure of the "Republic of China" can look squarely at your own damn selves if you want to know why Taiwanese don't feel particularly patriotic.

Those names and symbols do actually matter, and it shows in how little they inspire the Taiwanese populace.

Why should the average Taiwanese person feel great love for the Republic of China? Especially if that person lived through the worst years of the horrors that uninvited colonial government inflicted on Taiwan, how could there be any great welling of pride when seeing that white sun on a blue sky, that party symbol of the KMT on the national flag? How could the eyes of most Taiwanese well up when they hear their national anthem which references their "party" (the KMT) and is therefore an explicit callback to the era of dictatorship and mass murder? And what kind of dummy do you have to be to expect otherwise?

At best, you'll get deep ambivalence - after all, if the ROC flag is the one people know abroad and it differentiates them from the PRC, that's something - and you should be grateful for even that.  It's hardly deserved. F
eeling some form of conflicted happiness to see that flag or the name "Republic of China" used by international organizations is a kindness - a generous offering. Calling it paltry or insufficient is an insult.

Telling Taiwanese that they ought to feel patriotic fervor for the government that once oppressed them, and its symbols, because they can't realistically get rid of them right now? The same symbols that were (and are) used to try to erase their own Taiwanese identity? When members of the party that introduced those symbols (and that oppression) call disagreement "separatism", threaten people who disagree with death, and seem to care more about China than Taiwan? That's messed up.

Even for those who don't hate the ROC and its symbols, it's a confusing message. We have to fight for Taiwan - or, err, the ROC - um, which claims to be China, but we have to fight against China as the ROC for the future of Taiwan...uh, here, look at this flag that has one political party's symbol on it, which is from China and seeks to supplant your sense of Taiwaneseness, which we're preparing for war China...for your country, Taiwan. 

Yeah, okay. That'll win those youth over!

The ROC is a system on life support. It's around because of the threat of war if Taiwan were to dismantle it, and perhaps a small (but rich and influential) class of people who still think it is a government worth keeping around. It's around because the allies Taiwan hopes for in the event of war tell Taiwan it has to be this way so as not to "anger China".

That's a recipe for declining patriotism; who, beyond that core of diehard ROC fans, could summon up much more feeling for it than one feels for their annual gynecological exam? (Or for the guys, whatever it is you get examined every year that is important to do but uncomfortable.) Necessary for continued health, but not exactly inspirational. 

Like an ice-cold speculum, the white sun on a blue field and everything it stands for just does not engender the sort of emotional connection to a place, system governance and set of social values that underlie an urge to join the military.

So for the military to be pushing that same old "ROC! ROC! Let's fight for the ROC!" patriotic blargle...yeah, it's not going to work. They could try harder, they could make it swisher, they could give their recruitment drives higher production values. They could just plain offer better pay, benefits and working conditions. But if the population is not too keen on the ROC, all but the latter is just not going to work.

Or, worse than an ice-cold speculum, it is about as inspirational as this, um, "song" trying appeal to supporters of Wu Dun-yih.

Please don't come in at this point blaming the Taiwan independence activists for this state of affairs. Yes, it's true that in social conditions where most people think of themselves as "Taiwanese" and the country they live in as "Taiwan", to say that "Taiwan can never be 'free' with the ROC around" makes it more difficult for people who love Taiwan to feel great patriotism when Taiwan is called the ROC. 


a.) They're right, even if that truth is neither convenient nor realistic (and deeply confusing to people who don't know Taiwan well, so please stop saying it to them - just stick to the digestible "Taiwan is already independent and they just want to stay that way" and let's not air our dirty laundry in front of the white people, 'kay?)

b.) The average Taiwanese person thinks the hardcore independence activists are a bit nutty, even if they fundamentally agree with the message. From my experience, your average person who doesn't follow politics too deeply does want Taiwan to maintain its autonomy but they think the folks to take to the streets all the time are...going overboard. So their message probably isn't the reason for the greater societal apathy.

c.) This outcome was inevitable. Anyone with eyes and ears can see that the ROC is waning, it's propped-up, it's nothing to feel great emotion for (and was frankly never that great, even when it was the government of China). It's just natural not to feel particularly moved by symbols that are pushed on you and disconnected with how you actually feel about your country and society. 

If the Taiwanese military wants to build a sense of patriotism that will lead to wider recruitment, Minnick is right that it first needs to communicate the true depth and nature of the threat to the public. Folks calling for better careers in the military are likewise correct.

But they also have to quit pretending that the old ROC rah-rah can work. It can't. It's dead.

I know most of the military leans blue and that the ROC's name can't be safely officially changed right now, but the youth are Taiwanese, not Republic of Chinese. Naturally independent. They'd probably fight for that, but you have to couch the message in terms of the country and society they know, not what the government is forced to say at the higher levels.

That is, appeal to the desire to fight for Taiwan, and stop leaning on symbols that, if they don't inspire bitterness and emnity over the ROC's dictatorial and murderous past, are simply dead. 

Monday, May 28, 2018

Book review: Women's Movements in Twentieth-Century Taiwan


When talking about Taiwanese history, it's quite common to come across a belief that modern Taiwanese beliefs have their roots in the 1970s, and did not really exist before that. From "there was no real sense of Taiwanese identity or a Taiwanese identity movement before the 1970s/the Kaohsiung Incident" to "there is no history of feminism in Taiwan before the 1970s/before the end of the Chiang Kai-shek era" and more, it surprises me how many people truly think this is the case.

Of course, when it comes to Taiwanese identity, this is manifestly false. There are records of autonomous rule movements as early as the late 1800s, and several sources reference similar autonomous movements in the Japanese colonial era. When it comes to women's movements, the same applies. While several feminist pioneers did bring ideas of gender equality to the mainstream in the 1970s, the first stirrings of modern autonomous (that is, not connected to, supported or funded by the government) women's movements in Taiwan have their roots in the Japanese era, although there's no evidence to suggest that the 1970s feminists were directly influenced by them.

It seems to me that misrepresenting both of these movements as originating in the 1970s rather than several decades earlier is an intellectual sleight-of-hand meant to create the idea that both are new, "Western" notions that have no natural roots in Taiwanese culture or history (therefore creating a platform from which to criticize modern Taiwanese identity and feminism). In both cases, such notions are disingenuous.

This is just one of the many things I learned from Women's Movements in Twentieth-Century Taiwan, a slim volume (for an academic book) by Doris Chang. And, for an academic title, it reads surprisingly smoothly.

As an individualist feminist, I appreciated being challenged on the different notions of what feminism could be. I am not a relational feminist - I don't believe my equal place in society comes from the fulfilling of my different but complementary duties vis-a-vis a family or collective society - but as Chang makes clear, this is indeed a form of feminism, and one of two strands that continues to exist in Taiwan (and, arguably, the one that can strike the best compromise with traditional notions of role, duty and family in Taiwan). Chang further clarifies, however, that this is not the only strand of feminist thought present in Taiwan, as many would believe: radical feminism, woman-identified, X-centric and individual feminism also exist.

If I took one thing from this book, it's a reminder that Taiwanese society is not so simply categorized as traditional/collective/Confucian/whatever adjective you want to describe your idea about ~*~The Mystic East~*~. It's far more complex than that, and there is a place in public discourse for ideas that don't fit neatly into this narrative.

Chang makes other important points as well: for example, until fairly recently, the story of women's movements in Taiwan was once controlled by a China-centered narrative which began not in Taiwan, but with the founding of the Republic of China in, well, China. Taiwan only enters this narrative after 1945 (you can guess why), with women's history under Japanese rule being erased: non-existent, foreign or irrelevant to the story that the Sinicizers want to push.

Hmm, that sounds similar to Taiwanese national history as a whole, doesn't it? Not so different from teaching schoolchildren that their country was founded in 1911 (nevermind that that happened in China, and nothing important happened in Taiwan on that day) and then erasing Japanese era history in Taiwan to cover the Republic of China's Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 instead, no?

Chang also provides short histories of notable women in the early and mid-twentieth century, and devotes entire chapters to scions of the movement such as Annette Lu and Lee Yuan-chen, showing that the only reason we believe history to be full of notable male characters but few notable women is because we've constructed it that way, not because it always happened that way.

She also discusses the ways in which autonomous women's movements differed from government-affiliated ones. You won't be surprised to learn that the Japanese and ROC-affiliated women's movements promoted not feminism, but the fulfillment of traditional gender roles (shocking, I know.) She covers Soong Mei-ling's use of women's organizations mid-century to work toward national goals with very little concern for the actual issues facing middle-class and poor Taiwanese women.

I was interested to learn about the origin of those "Model Mother Awards" as well (you won't be shocked to learn they began in the worst years of the ROC dictatorship, because doling them out supported national goals), and her touching on the ways in which women's labor helped catalyze the Taiwan Miracle, although I think she could have made that point more forcefully than she did.

And, of course, she covers the ins and outs of elitism in women's movements, the relationship of women's movements to democracy/pro-Taiwan movements, Awakening and the Taipei Women's Rescue Foundation, the cooperation and rift between liberal feminists and lesbians, domestic abuse hotlines and more, finishing up with the ways in which the pioneers of the 1970s were able to really flourish (as well as separate into different groups) with the lifting of Martial Law, and the bevy of women's rights laws that were passed between the mid-1980s and the end of the 20th century.

I have one abiding criticism of Women's Movements in Twentieth-Century Taiwan, which is that it follows a bluer narrative than you would expect. That is not to say it doesn't criticize the KMT, the Republic of China or its leaders (it absolutely does, often viciously and entirely rightly), but that it includes certain problematic historical constructions that if anything are surprising. Here is just a taste (underlined emphasis points are mine):

In 1987, the Kuomintang lifted martial law and ushered in Taiwan's democratization. 

(No, the Kuomintang was forced by the Taiwanese to do that.)

The Dutch colonized the island....the government of the Qing dynasty incorporated Taiwan into the Chinese Empire.

You already know how I feel about this.)

With the defeat of Japan in World War II, the Allies transferred the governance of Taiwan to the Kuomintang government.

(Nope. And the KMT knew this - scroll down).

The Taiwanese duality of both sameness and with difference from mainland China has contributed to the Taiwanese people's unresolved national identity since the 1940s. 

(While identity has absolutely been a core question in Taiwan, the origin of ambiguity in Taiwan's national identity comes from colonial regimes from China - first the Qing, now the ROC - who insist on promoting a Chinese-centered national identity. If they had not pushed that point from their foreign perspectives so forcefully, Taiwanese national identity would not be in question. In fact, these days the question is mostly resolved, but the book was published in 2009 so I can forgive this.)

There are a few more examples, including many jarring uses of that horrible word "mainland", implying a territorial connection that simply isn't there - the current PRC government of China has never ruled Taiwan - but you get the point.

In any case, it was a worthwhile book if you can look beyond the odd blueness of the language used - as engaging as an academic text can be (though a bit heavy on the 'thesis statements' as though someone is grading it), full of lots of knowledge drops. Despite one or two confusing narrations of timeline (I'm still not sure when and why the New Life movement moved away from May Fourth Movement ideals and toward more traditional precepts, and the section on that did not clarify), I learned a lot and am happy I read it.

If you are not already knowledgeable about women's history in Taiwan, I recommend you do, too.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Rectification of Colonial Names

This is talked about in Chinese, but not so much in English. 

Everyone agrees that the Japanese era was a colonial one and nobody disputes that the Dutch era was colonial, as well. This is true in all languages: English, Mandarin, Taiwanese, Hakka, any given indigenous language.

It's not new in political discussions in Chinese and Taiwanese to label the Qing era and the ROC era as "colonial", as well. It happens occasionally in English too: see here and here. Yet I've noticed that in English, such references still seem quite rare. The more nonfiction I read about Taiwan in English the more I notice this: the Dutch and the Japanese are "colonial", but the Qing and the ROC are rarely referred to as such. The way we talk about them lends these regimes legitimacy, a sense of being less "foreign", or a sense that if the colonizers come from China, they are somehow not just as colonial as any other invading force. They are simply "the Qing" or "the Qing era" or "the ROC on Taiwan" - as though they belong here, or it is their destiny, or Taiwan is somehow conceptually a part of China and that somehow makes it acceptable.

Calling the two Chinese regimes in Taiwan "colonial", however, is an idea I agree with. The Qing and the ROC came and extracted what they wanted from Taiwan rather than attempting to rule it as an integral part of their territory. The Qing used it as a place from which to take resources rather than a place to develop by pouring resources in - exactly what a colonial power does. At their best, they treated it as a mere defensive perimeter, a "ball of mud beyond the pale of civilization" (海外泥丸,不足為中國加廣) that they controlled simply to keep other invaders who might cause trouble for China out, not a part of China itself (only in the last decade or so of their rule over Taiwan was Taiwan upgraded to individual province).

The Qing had to be convinced it was worth taking, and the whole notion that China could rule lands beyond its natural borders (mountains, desert and sea) is actually quite modern. The Ming and everyone before them believed China's borders ended at the sea, and therefore that 'Island of Women' populated by 'savages' was simply not Chinese.

The argument put forward to the Qing by Shi Lang was not "hey this should be a part of China" but "you can use this island to cultivate sugar, rice and wood and hunt deer and it's a good defensive barrier." You know, a colonial argument. They didn't even bother taking over the whole island or to map the eastern half until some other colonial power (Japan) showed a stronger interest in it. Or, in other words, they treated it like a colony.

So why don't we call it that? Why not the Qing Colonial Era in English? Hell, why isn't it more common in Chinese?

This treatment of Taiwan hurts us even today. When it comes to the ROC, the main argument against the idea that they too are a colonial power is a historical one: Taiwan used to be a part of China under the Qing, and therefore it can't be considered 'colonial' in the same way as the two were 'historically' united.

Otherwise, the only difference between Japan or the Dutch and the ROC is that the ROC comes from the same country as the ancestors of many Taiwanese. Even if this were definitively true (with many Taiwanese children born to a foreign parent these days - looking for a clear source on that - and Taiwan's genetic makeup being more similar to Southeast Asia than China, I doubt it is), it doesn't matter. If your only argument for being a legitimate government is "we're the same ethnicity" (whatever that means - ethnicity is a cultural construct, not a scientific grouping based on genetics), you simply do not have an argument. Ethnicity doesn't determine political destiny. We figured that out in the 20th century and it's time to apply a more modern understanding of what it means to be a nation to Taiwan.

I mean, what do we call a foreign government that takes over a piece of land and declares itself the sole legitimate government of that land without the consent of the local population? We call it colonialism.

That same power extracted resources from the land it rules - as the ROC did by gobbling up resources, putting its own in charge of large state monopolies under a command economy, expropriating land (much of which was taken for their own benefit), and using revenue from Taiwan - at one point over 90% of it - to fund the building of a military that could accomplish its real goal: "retaking the Mainland". At no point was it concerned with ruling Taiwan for its own sake. You can see that legacy in the haphazard and "who cares this is just a backwater" infrastructure development - if you could call the crumbling craphouses they built even that - that still plagues Taiwanese skylines. As Taiwan took a generation to recover from the economic double-blow of World War II and the KMT invasion, the KMT itself grew rich. As they hunted down and murdered a generation of local Taiwanese leaders and intellectuals, they themselves grew in stature and power.

What do we call such a system? Colonialism.

This is doubly true when the people are at no point allowed to vote or exercise self-determination as to whether they'd like to keep that government (even if elections are held within its framework - that's not the same as voting on the fate of the system as a whole). That it came from China makes no difference. It's still colonialism.

So why aren't we, English-speaking supporters of Taiwan, calling the ROC era, the era in which we live, the "ROC Colonial Era"? Why are we not calling it what it is?

These two ideas are intertwined: if we call the Qing era by what it really was we strike a blow against the 'historical' argument for the ROC not being 'colonial' as well. If the only other time China held Taiwan was also colonial, there is no basis for a non-colonial Chinese government in Taiwan.

In short, why aren't we more commonly telling the truth about Taiwan: that since the 1600s it has, with almost total continuity, been a colonial territory of three countries: the Netherlands, Japan and China (twice)?

I know I've got a tough hill to climb on this one: I'm still riding people's butts about not calling China "Mainland China" or the "Mainland", even among people who are pro-Taiwan. We are ceding semantic ground we really ought not to be ceding to the CCP and to annexationism in general (related: can we please stop calling it 'reunification' or even 'unification'? It's annexation. Make your names for things reflect reality). The fewer linguistic footholds we give for justification of annexation by China, the better.

But if we can't even kick that ridiculous 'Mainland' habit, I wonder how long it will be before we start using English to make reality plain.

China's designs on Taiwan are just as colonial as anyone else's. The only non-colonial government of Taiwan can come from Taiwanese self-determination, which entails voting not just within an "ROC" system Taiwan didn't choose, but voting on the fate of that system.

Until then, we live in a colonial state. 

Monday, March 19, 2018

Carry On, My Wayward Sun

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?


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?

"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


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!"

" 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.

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."

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...


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.

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.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

I just creamed my pants over this article in The Diplomat

No, really, this is excellent:

The Chinese Cult of Cairo

This is what people who have actually studied Taiwanese history have been saying for years. This is a truth that, while fairly well-known by those who know Taiwan, is rarely put in print for easy reference. It is a thing of beauty - clear, precise, accurate.

I quite literally gasped when I read it. I haven't seen something this clearly lay out the 1943-1952 history of the region...well, ever. Maybe I wasn't looking hard enough, but honestly, such work is hard to come by.

Even "Accidental State", which covers this period of history ending with Dulles' final agreement with Chiang Kai-shek, gives only one paragraph to this complex string of treaties which seem opaque to many (but actually aren't), and doesn't fully explain them.

It fully explains certain myths, like the idea that Cairo and Potsdam are legally binding (wrong), that the Treaties of San Francisco and Taipei unequivocally give Taiwan to China (wrong), that the ROC has been the sole legitimate government of Taiwan since 1945 (wrong), and that international law/ the UN / the United States / the goddamn Cookie Monster considers Taiwan to be Chinese, or even settled as "the ROC" with no other interpretation needed, that the ROC believed Taiwan to be "returned" to them (false) or that these powers intended for Taiwan to be a part of China (nope), that Taiwan was "returned" to China at all (wrong) or any other manner of stupid claims.

We need more work like this to drown out China's sound and fury which signifies nothing.

For once, I have nothing to add. That should tell you all you need to know.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Accidental State: A Review

I read this awhile ago, but feel committed to writing up even brief commentary on every book on Taiwan that I pick up, so figure I should write about this before my reactions to it flutter away and I have to rush around trying to recapture them.

That sounds like a milquetoast beginning, but in fact I actually thoroughly enjoyed this book. I appreciated that it was trying to make a case for a line of thinking on the first years of the ROC on Taiwan rather than read as a straight history, and I appreciate that it built up evidence for that case well. The tight focus is also appreciated, narrowing in on the short span of years between the ROC "taking over" Taiwan from Japan, with a few flashbacks to the Chinese Civil War era, up through the KMT's flight to Taiwan and the early 1950s - ending more or less with the 1954 Mutual Defense Treaty.

Lin's argument is simple: nobody - not the ROC, nor the US, nor the Allies, nor Japan, nor the KMT or Communists, nor the United Nations, nor Chiang himself and certainly not Taiwan or the Taiwanese - had ever intended for the ROC or Taiwan to be what it is today. Everything about the making of modern Taiwan as the last holdout of the ROC (which I happen to view as a colonial regime in Taiwan on life support, but that view is not explored in this book) was an accident - Taiwan as it exists today is, then, an accidental state. What, exactly, it was supposed to be or what it might have been better off being remains an unanswered question. Lin explores how, once it was clear Taiwan would no longer be Japanese, the West more or less wanted to see Taiwan in the secure hands of an ally but where not as committed as one might think to that ally necessarily being the ROC (or Chiang Kai-shek, especially), as well as how the ROC itself never intended for Taiwan to be anything other than a part of China. It also makes it quite clear that a self-rule movement did exist that early on in Taiwan itself.

I did learn quite a bit reading Accidental State - much I already knew, such as the background factors that caused the 228 Massacre to play out as it did, but appreciated the further cementing of that knowledge by the narrative, and many details I had not known were filled in. While Lin does not go so far as to imply that Chiang either wanted or intended for something like 228 to happen, he certainly points out that Chiang did not necessarily think that Chen Yi had done anything wrong. The level of detail was mostly about right, and the writing is engaging and offers some depth without being overly academic. I'd say this alone makes it an important read for Taiwan and International Affairs buffs, if not an essential one for someone who is already familiar with the details of Taiwan's status and history in that era and is able to reverse-engineer Lin's central argument from same.

Of course, I have a few quibbles. Lin spends a lot of time discussing the shrinking of the ROC's territory in China, which was legitimately interesting and quite pertinent (and provided a few details my historical readings had missed, such as the final push to maintain ROC control in Yunnan), but mentions only in passing that Chiang, upon fleeing to Taiwan, decided to yet again assume the presidency (he was not in office for a few years - long story, read the book). He goes into loving detail over military shipments as well. From this book, I learned exactly how many carbines the US sent Nationalist guerillas in 1951, among other weapons and munitions (680 if you were curious, which I wasn't really). And yet the Treaty of San Francisco and Treaty of Taipei are given, together, about half a page - about the same as the space given to the entirety of that 1951 shipment. I had gone in hoping for a deeper understanding of these treaties - as I'm not a specialist and do not currently have an understanding I'm satisfied with - and came out, if anything, more confused than before.

There is quite a bit of detail on other military matters - including more lists of arms provided to the fledgling accidental state - but very little on the ideological differences between Chiang Kai-shek and KC Wu, the political slide and eventual execution of Chen Yi, or the reasons why the US spent so much time prevaricating on Chiang himself (I had known the US had not been as wholeheartedly supportive of him or his role in the ROC as many later believed, but I had not realized the extent of their ambivalence). These would have all been of great interest to me had they been explored in more detail, whereas exact munitions counts for military operations that happened in the immediate post-war era? Not so much. I would also argue these issues are more relevant to the ideological evolution of the ROC on Taiwan than, say, how many guns were sent more than half a century ago.

So, all in all, I enjoyed the book and do recommend it, especially for those with moderate, non-specialist historical knowledge but who are not neophytes to Taiwanese history. Go ahead and skim through the lists of war materiel, you aren't going to miss anything, and for a deeper understanding of some of the issues Lin unfortunately glosses over - which would have made for a stronger book if he had gone into more detail - perhaps read up from other sources.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

For love of a forbidden nation: why, exactly, I want dual citizenship

Sign at the National Museum of History in Tainan. So I can't be a citizen because...?

Since writing my last post on the not-great new regulations on dual nationality for foreigners in Taiwan, I've engaged in quite a few discussions of the matter. I've been asked quite a few questions on why I want to be a citizen, why permanent residency is not enough, how I can still support the "Hoklo nationalists" who don't want foreigners in their country (which - huh? In 2017 you think that, really?), and why I can't give up my US citizenship.

So, I thought I'd offer some answers.

I've also noticed that much of the narrative on those seeking to naturalize in Taiwan comes from those married to locals, giving them family ties here, or who have children here (whether the children have a Taiwanese parent or not), or grown children who were born here. I have sympathy for all such people and support their fight, but some may be wondering why a foreigner, married to another foreigner with no children born here, would want to naturalize. Seems odd, doesn't it? But here I am.

Below are a few of the things I've heard on this matter (some condensed or re-written for clarity) followed by an explanation of why I, and many foreigners, feel the way we do about dual nationality in Taiwan. This is in part deeply personal but also, I think, speaks to the experiences and issues of many who call Taiwan home, and I hope lays bare some central issues that might not be otherwise considered.

But you can be a Taiwanese citizen! Why aren't you willing to give up your original citizenship? This shows you aren't really loyal to Taiwan!

First, and quickly, Taiwanese do not have to give up their citizenship to obtain nationality elsewhere if the second country doesn't require it, and most nations that Taiwanese seek dual citizenship from don't. It's an unfair and ridiculous double standard pure and simple - some countries only allow you to have their own citizenship and no other, others allow multiple, but none that I know of has a similar double standard for born vs. naturalized citizens.

Consider as well people with foreign citizenship who are of Taiwanese heritage, who seek, and obtain, Taiwanese citizenship without giving up their original passport.

Are they not "loyal" to Taiwan? Do they have good reasons for not giving up their Taiwanese citizenship? What do you think those reasons are? For Taiwanese who live abroad permanently or were born abroad, it probably has to do with family ties and potentially needing to return to one's country of birth for related reasons.

Well, those are my reasons too, and other foreigners here share similar stories. As I wrote in this op-ed, I have family in the US and they are aging. Most notably, my father, especially after my mother's passing, may well need my care or help at some point in the future. When my mother passed, I spent nearly half a year in the US setting everything in order and taking care of my dad when he needed me most. I needed to do that; I do not know exactly how my family might have imploded if I hadn't, but it might well have done. I am not rich and wasn't sure how long I'd be away - although my husband could send me some money, I needed to work while I was there, he was in charge of maintaining our life materially and financially while I was away and while we do well enough, we aren't rolling in money.  In fact, I left before my mother's death and, had she not passed soon after my arrival, I might have been in the US for a year or more. Just a few months later, I needed to return for several weeks to take care of my father after quintuple bypass surgery. The next time I'm needed, who knows how long I'll need to go and whether I'll need to work to make ends meet.

If I gave up my American citizenship, I would not be able to care for my family in the US in ways that might be necessary, perhaps on very short notice. I would not be able to stay for indefinite periods nor be able to work. In Trump's America, I'm not sure a former citizen who renounced their US nationality would be so easily allowed in, even though Taiwanese have visa-free entry, though I hope this is will cease to be a valid concern in short order. In any case, it is simply not a viable option while I have family members who may eventually need me, either for long-term issues or emergency care, to give up my American citizenship. If I were wealthy, perhaps, but I'm not. I actually need those work and residency rights, as was evidenced just a few short years ago.

A second reason, though one I like to dwell on less and place less importance on, is that even if I naturalize, I will never be considered fully Taiwanese, which I explore considering more local issues below. From an international perspective, however, there is a double standard most people don't think about: the possibility of Chinese invasion and what will happen to naturalized Taiwanese citizens if it happens. I don't necessarily think it will, but the possibility cannot be dismissed.

When China took over Hong Kong, it did not give citizenship to Hong Kongers not of Chinese descent (some later applied, but it is not clear how often such applications are accepted. In any case, considering how many non-Chinese native people there are in territories ruled by China - namely Inner Mongolia, Tibet and Xinjiang though others exist - I find it hilarious and ironic that China would insist on being of "Chinese descent" to be a Chinese citizen, because what the hell does that even mean?) In any case, non-"Chinese" Hong Kongers who had other citizenships kept them, and were given permanent residence in Hong Kong. Not all non-"Chinese" in Hong Kong, however, had a foreign citizenship. They became British National Overseas citizens (this sounds weird, but it is a class of nationality). Those who did not apply would have been rendered stateless.

If China invades Taiwan and wins, Taiwanese citizens will end up being Chinese citizens. The vast majority do not want this, of course, but it would at the very least mean not being stateless. That's a low bar to pass, but I would not even pass that. Which nation would give me nationality if I became solely a Taiwanese citizen, but Taiwan's current government ceased to exist, subsumed by a government that would never transfer my citizenship? (To be clear, they would never give it to me - one look at my political views and you can forget it. Nor do I think I should have to be secretive about my political views for some possible future occurrence.) The US would certainly not give it back - unlike some countries, they do not look kindly on former citizens who renounce but then want back in.

That's not to say I want to be Chinese - I want to be a Taiwanese citizen, not a Chinese one, but being Chinese is better than being stateless. Barely.

Regardless, as horrible as it would be to be under the oppressive rule of the Chinese government, being stateless is not a worry shared by the Taiwanese. This hard, uncomfortable truth means, as much as there shouldn't be, there is a difference. I don't think any person could reasonably expect a foreigner to take that risk - not even "ethnically Chinese" foreigners who get dual nationality here have that worry.

Rest assured, however, that my reluctance to give up my American passport has nothing to do with this. I love Taiwan, and want (well, need to) keep my American citizenship for practical purposes. I care about the US insofar as I don't want to see the country of my birth locked in the death spiral that seems to have been exacerbated by Donald Trump. But Taiwan is my home - it's where I've chosen to live.

Renouncing is simply not possible. The Taiwanese government is surely aware that the pound of flesh they are asking for is too much, and yet they ask it anyway.

Allowing some foreigners to have dual nationality is a small step but it's a step in the right direction.

Yeah, maaaaaaybe. These "small steps" do seem to be how the government here often works. A friend pointed out that they revised the permanent residency system in a similar way.

If this were a question of breaking down societal resistance one baby step at a time, with a fairly quick succession of changes, I'd agree. However, I'm not sure at all that this is the case and it has not been put to me convincingly.

Mainly, I don't know what societal resistance there is, or rather, how strong it is. Surely there are some folks who do not want Taiwan to be a multicultural society - they like Taiwan as a place of "Taiwanese culture" (though I would argue Taiwanese culture has always been diverse and, in fact, 'multicultural') and don't really want lots of foreigners also claiming it. Multicultural harmony within a nation is, in fact, a difficult undertaking.

However, I have not met many people who feel this way. I just assume they exist because it's a very common attitude around the world. Literally every single person I have talked to about this issue either fully supports amending the citizenship law, or was unaware that a double standard exists. Some believe that foreign spouses can have dual nationality, but this is not the case. Some believe children born here can have it - also not the case. When their awareness on this issue is raised, they always - always, no exceptions - are sincerely supportive.

Other than some stodgy old legislators, perhaps, where is the societal resistance?

The other issue is one of time. I'm not in my twenties. My reasons for wanting dual nationality are practical: I can't even get a mortgage, for example, in the country I call home. I'm not even a second-class citizen: I'm not a citizen at all. I have no political representation in my home, and diminished rights. I can wait on the rights as generally we enjoy a good, even privileged, existence here. But having no access to certain financial tools as well as being unable to do certain things citizens can do with ease means that foreigner life in Taiwan is one of, in some ways, extended adolescence. I would like to function as a full adult here, and we can actually afford a mortgage if someone would just give us one.

If it's going to take five years, that's fine. It will be three before I finish my Master's, and I may well do a PhD (oh hell, if the only way I can get citizenship here is to get my PhD and become an "assistant professor", damn it I will, just watch me.) I don't see us buying an apartment before then.

However, I fear it won't be "a few years", I fear it'll be decades. Now that the government has done something, they're likely to sit back and congratulate themselves, and pretend nothing more needs to be done for awhile. I could be nearing retirement before this gets fully fixed in a way that includes people like me! That's truly not acceptable, but entirely possible. It is not convincing to say it might not take that long - it very well may.

In fact, I think it's likely. The KMT has shown no interest in changing the nationality law which they themselves wrote - well, the ROC did, same difference really - in the 1920s. The NPP has introduced a bill allowing dual nationality, but with only 5 representatives, one must be realistic. The DPP is going to be the one to do this - and I explore why in more detail below. They've done something, but it's not enough, and I don't think they are likely to act again this term or even during Tsai's tenure as president. Given that Taiwan seems to switch fairly regularly between parties every 8 years, it could be 7 years of Tsai, 8 years of President Whoever, and then the next DPP president might do something about it.

Frankly, that is too long to wait.

Finally, it's not a step in the right direction because rather than creating a policy based on greater equality, it legitimizes creating further divisions in the expat community where none need to exist. Ethically speaking I am, in principle, against creating more divisions. Therefore it is a step, but in the wrong direction. Even if I qualified under the new regulations, I would still find it unfair and wrong.

Isn't permanent residency enough?


It's fine for long-term life here, but it actually doesn't work for permanent life here, which is something I've begun to consider now that any immediate question of leaving is off the table.

Practically speaking, permanent residents still can't do anything that requires entering a national ID number, which includes a surprising number of online services (including some car rentals), and even some mortgage applications. Non-citizens here are still routinely denied credit cards, although that is slowly changing - I hear that E Sun Bank will offer them, and you can get them through Costco. Mortgages are just not a thing that happens unless you have a powerful backer (international schools and other institutions, if you are employed through them, may be of assistance) or are married to a local who can sign the mortgage papers. I had to fight with a bank teller to allow me a debit card option that works online for a debit card I already had, simply because I was not a citizen!

If I do go into the formal education system and work at a university, there are also issues with the pension system to contend with, but that is not my main concern right now - though it may be eventually. 

Idealistically speaking, I live in Taiwan in part because I do not think I could live happily, long-term, in anything other than a vibrant democracy. Many places expats enjoy in Asia, including Vietnam, Singapore, Hong Kong, China for some reason and more, are not (or not truly) democracies, and therefore I don't want to live in those places long-term. Yet if I believe so strongly in democratic ideals, doesn't it make sense that it would be important to me to be allowed to participate democratically in the affairs of the country that is my home? I have the freedom of assembly and speech - though as a foreigner, if someone wanted me out they could find a way to accomplish that regardless - but not the right to vote. It may seem a small thing, but this is important.

It seems straight-up odd to me that I can vote in a country I haven't lived in for a decade, have no real loyalty to, don't intend to live in again and whose election outcomes affect me only indirectly - but I cannot participate in the civil society of the country I do live in, call home and intend to stay in, whose policies and governance do affect me.

I live here, yet I have no political representation. My ability to participate politically is limited. Immigrants from around the world seek citizenship to gain political representation. I am no different.

And, of course, I just want to be a full and recognized member of the society I actually live in. That's not a crazy wish. 

There are other ways to achieve your goals in Taiwan

Not really, no. Let's take credit tools for example. International mortgages are a thing, yes, but since realizing that I had no credit history in the US (that doesn't mean I had bad history, it means I've been in Taiwan so long that my previous history no longer exists, so I had none other than my student loans) and working to fix that, I've come to realize I'm not a good bet for anyone offering such a tool. In Taiwan, I would be, because I have a history here.

I do want a mortgage - I don't want to always wonder if we're going to be asked to move from our current perfect space, and I would like to be able to remodel and renovate as I like. Some have suggested that I buy a cheaper space for cash out in Xinbei somewhere and rent it out so I can at least say I own property, but the point is to live in the space we own, so that's not really a solution.

There is no solution to the pension issue other than to be a citizen, as well, nor to the problem of participation and political representation.

And, yet again, it doesn't solve any of the concerns of feeling like I'm living a half-life in a country that is home, without full rights or representation. There is no solution to that other than naturalization.

Ugh, privileged foreigners thinking everyone should kowtow to you. You're not special!

Oh trust me, I know I'm not special. If I didn't know, there are maybe a billion people on the Internet waiting to tell me so. I'm quite aware, thank you.

It's just that being allowed to naturalize in the place you call home shouldn't be based on how special you are - the point, again, is to make the process more egalitarian, not less.

I don't want to be kowtowed to. I just don't want to be told that my contributions are not worthy, and I'm about as useful to Taiwan as a plastic bag that washed up on the beach in Yilan, simply because my contributions and background are not just like some other guy who is apparently a better person for some reason. I just want the laws that apply to Taiwanese who gain a second nationality to cover me similarly. I want to end the double standard. That's not asking to be kowtowed to - what I want is entirely reasonable. 

Taking me out of the equation, the new regulations are also unfair to children born here to non-citizens. This doesn't seem to fix their major issues at all. If anything, they deserve priority - not missionaries or tech workers. 

Why do you care so much about being a citizen? 

There are the practical reasons above, but here I'd like to speak from the heart. Simply put, I love this country. I'm not even sure I can fully explain why, and I am not a naturally patriotic person. I would not call this feeling 'patriotism', really, or 'nationalism'. Patriotism is jingoistic in a way that has never appealed to me - I love places, not governments. Nationalism? Well, I wouldn't say I am nationalistic about the Republic of China. I'd be happy to see it cease to exist in favor of the Republic of Taiwan. I keep saying 'Taiwanese citizen' because Taiwan is what I love, not the ROC. It's not unintentional.

As for why...oh, where to begin. Perhaps I'd feel differently if I were born here, but I was born into a country that uses its hegemonic position in the world to assert continued dominance and prop up its own prosperity. I don't know what to say about how to change that, only that I don't find it appealing in terms of national character. But Taiwan is different - yes, its history has had its own agonies and internal power struggles, but from an international perspective, especially in the modern era, what I see is a nation that quietly insists on its continued existence, even as few recognize its right to same. A nation of people who wake up every morning and go about their day, trying to build a better country and land for themselves, knowing in the back of their minds that 1300 or so missiles are pointed right at them at all times. A land prone to rebellion and protest, which is anything but submissive or supplicant, that has had a unique, non-monolithic culture that persists despite what the various colonial regimes that have controlled the land have forced upon it - from the Dutch to the Chinese to the Japanese to the Chinese again. It's a nation of people who don't give up and whose predilection for civic engagement has deep historical roots. Even when they can't fight back directly, and even as they try to preserve peace, they are always fighting. Through every agony, they persist.

That's the character of the place I call home. I suppose it is also the best, or most direct, explanation, of why I care so much. Of course I want to be a fully-fledged member of a society such as this. 

There's no point. You will never be Taiwanese and you will never be fully accepted. 

Yeah, I know, and I've accepted this.

It's not even necessarily a bad thing - Taiwanese history is not my history, and I would not seek to appropriate it. It belongs to the people whose ancestors lived it and I respect that.

But pushing for social and 'everyday' acceptance is a different battle from pushing for legal/governmental acceptance. I don't see how we can truly ask for the former if the latter is denied us. So there is a point, and it doesn't require every person in the country suddenly welcoming people who don't look like them as exactly the same as them (to be honest, culturally we are not exactly the same and it is okay to acknowledge that).

This is true, and this is the point, even before we get into questions of what it means to be Taiwanese (which I will not get into here). 

Why should Taiwan give you citizenship? They're doing this based on what they have decided is beneficial to them, and clearly what you provide isn't valuable enough. 

Gee, thanks, if you think this, it's nice to know you think I'm garbage too.

Anyway, think what you want. I am neither Super Foreigner bringing succor to everyone around me nor Leech Foreigner, sucking the teat of the Taiwanese economy for my own benefit. I work hard, I do good work, I pay my taxes, I donate to some local charities, I engage where I can in civic activism, I slowly build credentials and professionalism. I contribute to the local economy just like any citizen. I am trying to raise the standard of my profession across the nation, or at least be a part of that change. 
You can't even order a cake on the Internet in Taiwan if you're not a citizen
I'm not quite a typical English teacher in that I'm going for a Master's in the subject, and have already published in a notable journal. I have a Delta - you may sneeze at it, but I can only name maybe 10 other people in the country who have one, and there may not be more than 20 total (I have no way of verifying this, but this-is-my-career professional English teachers in Taiwan are a small community so I'd put money on my guess being more or less accurate). I'm not as replaceable as an average twentysomething. Point is, I do contribute. I'm not a leech.

Who's to say that this makes me more or less valuable than a tech worker (there are lots of those)? Or a missionary who might do some good work but often enjoys an institutional advantage in doing so, seeks to make a return on that good work in terms of converts, and may (note the hedging here - not all missionaries are the same) well spread ideologies I, and many if not most Taiwanese, find outdated and repulsive? Why should the argument even be about who is a 'better' foreigner? How is this a better argument than making it about blood and ancestry?

So, that's not the argument I want to make, because it creates divisions rather than promoting egalitarianism. An uncertified nobody English teacher working for Hess, if they are otherwise an economic contributor, deserves citizenship as much as I do, and as much as any PhD, tech worker or missionary. Someone born here to non-Taiwanese parents deserves it even more.

Truth be told, it is simply hurtful. To basically be told by the government - and some horrid Internet commenters - that your contributions are meaningless and you deserve to be ignored - is a slap in the face after trying for a decade to be a good, engaged, law-abiding and contributing citizen even though I am not a citizen at all. To literally be told I'm second-rate and don't "make the cut". I do not think the government set out to be hurtful, nor that they realized that by telling some foreigners that they are 'high-level' foreigners, that they were essentially telling others they are low-level, but that is the effect. 

It's those xenophobic Hoklo chauvinist DPP troublemakers again !!!!exclamationpoint!!!

No, it isn't. Note how the biggest breakthrough in amending citizenship laws came under the new DPP administration. The DPP of the 90s may have been somewhat Hoklo nationalist, but the DPP of today has figured out that this wasn't a good path for them to continue on (and I say that as someone who isn't a DPP supporter, though admittedly I despise the KMT far more). 

The old laws, the one that prevent people of non-Chinese ancestry (again, whatever that means) from gaining citizenship - but allow at least some foreign-born Chinese to have it - were written in the 1920s by the ROC and upheld by the KMT through a tumultuous century. Although they were at times amended, the ROC/KMT showed no interest in allowing foreign naturalization with dual nationality at any of those times. It took President Tsai taking office for even a small step to be made in that direction.

In short, this isn't a "Hoklo nationalist" issue at all. It's a Republic of China issue. I love Taiwan, not the Republic of China, but for legal purposes that doesn't matter. In any case, don't blame one group for it just because you are searching for things to criticize. 

You don't deserve citizenship because you would never fight for Taiwan. If, say, China actually invaded, you'd just run back to where you came from. That's probably why you don't want to give up your original nationality.

Ah, you've got that backwards. I wouldn't stay and fight for Taiwan now because I am not a citizen. Why would I fight for a country that won't fight for me? I've already invested in a country that won't invest in me, that's already saying a lot. If I were granted citizenship, I would not turn and flee so quickly. I love Taiwan, and I would, in fact, fight for her. I won't even say that about the country I was born in!

This is not at all why I don't want to give up my original nationality. I would view returning to the US as a step backward, not forward.

You just want Taiwan to give, give, give. You have a privileged existence in Taiwan already, be happy with that! 

In fact, I don't just want Taiwan to "give". I've spent ten years of my life doing what I can to be a net benefit or contributor to Taiwan (although I cannot work for free because, unlike a missionary, I don't have an institution funding me, I do try to contribute). Only recently, after all that, have I come to want equal opportunity to naturalize and hold dual nationality under the law rather than be subject to an unfair double standard. I would not, however, be asking for this if I didn't feel I had in fact given more than I'd taken.

It is true that white Western foreigners enjoy a lot of privileges in Taiwan. I don't like this, and don't want the privilege, but the nature of privilege is of course that you don't get to choose it and it doesn't matter if you identify with it: you have it or you don't all the same.

However, by making things equal for all foreigners and equal under the law for naturalized and born citizens regarding dual nationality, I'm arguing in fact to be treated more like a Taiwanese, not less. I want political representation, just as any immigrant would.

I don't think this is a crazy, privileged, selfish or irrational request.