Showing posts with label roc_colonial_era. Show all posts
Showing posts with label roc_colonial_era. Show all posts

Friday, March 22, 2019

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

Untitled


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 against...as 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. 


But...

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. 

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Speaking in Brutal Tongues

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A short post for a gray Sunday morning.

Yesterday, I visited the Jingmei Human Rights Museum (景美人權文化園區), which is a short taxi ride from MRT Dapinglin (大坪林) station (not Jingmei station, which is across the river near the Taipei/New Taipei border). The museum is a former detention center used to house political prisoners in the later part of the Martial Law era, along with the correctional facilities on Green Island. The original center was located in Taipei, but it was torn down and the Sheraton stands on that site today.

Alongside stories that make your skin crawl and your blood boil - that prisoners might well be executed with no trial whatsoever, that many still don't know why they were accused, how some were kept in prison long after it was known they had not committed the crimes they had been accused of (to "save face" for the officers), how they were housed thirty people to a 9 square meter cell and drink toilet water if there was no tap (and there often wasn't), and how only in recent years are some family members receiving goodbye letters, was a story that made me sit down and stare blankly into space for a time.

When inmates were allowed visitors - family only, no friends - they could meet for ten minutes at a time, and were only allowed to speak Mandarin.

Mandarin was not - and for many still is not - a native language of Taiwan. The KMT dictated that it was the official language of the ROC government they forced on Taiwan, and would become the lingua franca. This impacted education, government affairs (if you addressed the government - not that that ever did much good - it had to be in Mandarin), jobs (certain jobs were only open to Mandarin speakers, that is, members of the new regime and the diaspora that came with them) and more. At the Taiwanese who were already here when the KMT invaded - yes, invaded - generally spoke Hoklo and perhaps Japanese, Hakka, or indigenous languages. The native population of Taiwan was essentially forced to learn the language of the foreign power that came to rule them, and those who did not were punished either socially or overtly (anything from your neighbors suspecting you, to losing access to jobs and education, to actual fines and potentially arrest).

The purpose was, of course, not only for the KMT to force their language on locals (many members of the diaspora spoke Chinese languages that were not Mandarin). It was to remake Taiwan as a 'province of China', to erase its history and culture through erasing their languages. To stamp out 'Taiwaneseness', in all its varied linguistic uniqueness.


As you can imagine, some of the inmates themselves might not have spoken Mandarin well (perhaps some not at all), and it would have been fairly common that their family members didn't speak it, either.

What do you do when you are only allowed to speak a language you don't know when visiting a loved one you might not have seen in years?

"You can only look at each other, and speak through tears," said the tour guide.

A former victim imprisoned for a crime he hadn't committed joined us on the tour, and told his story as well: it included just such a scene, and he and his mother were not even allowed to hug. I won't narrate the entire tale here - that's his story to tell, not mine. (If you read Mandarin, you can buy his book here).

Whether such a cruel, inhumane policy was perpetrated out of a sense of 'practicality' - as a friend pointed out, the regime likely lacked the imagination to have Hoklo, Hakka and indigenous eavesdroppers ensuring their surveillance of prisoners was complete, or if they had thought of that, might not have trusted anyone to relay the truth. These are people who murdered without trial, who kept people they knew were innocent in prison to protect themselves - they placed their faith in no-one but their own (and often, not even then - many who came to Taiwan with the KMT ended up in prison as suspected Communists, as well).

Or it could have been simply because they were evil and cruel. Some of the former guards who are known to have tortured White Terror victims are alive today, living normal lives, facing no legal repercussions, seemingly at peace with themselves and their actions (though who knows).

I suspect it was a combination of both.

Fast forward to 2018: foreigners come to Taiwan to study Mandarin (though I haven't been particularly impressed with teaching methods here). I learned it so I could live here as normally as possible. It's seen as a practical language to know, something you might study out of interest, but is also internationally useful.

This history, however, and hearing it put so plainly, has made feel slightly ill about continuing to speak it in Taiwan. I'm not speaking a native language of Taiwan, not really - I'm speaking a colonial language. I don't feel good about that at all. I'd always felt a little unsettled about it, in fact, but that story pulled all of that nebulous uneasiness into sharp focus.

How can I speak Mandarin as though it is normal in a country where it was once used to keep parents from speaking to their children?

I'm aware of how odd that sounds - it is a lingua franca. Most Taiwanese, even those who are fully aware of this history, likely were impacted by the White Terror (or have families who were) and are otherwise horrified at the truth of this history, speak it - often without a second thought. Who am I,

Stripped of its dark history in Taiwan, Mandarin is merely a language. A beautiful language, even. One steeped in history that is otherwise no crueler than any history (though all history is cruel). And yet, it was used to brutalize Taiwanese - even now, those who do not or prefer not to speak it face discrimination and stereotyping, either as 'crazy political types' or as 'uneducated hicks', both deeply unfair labels that perpetuate a colonial system that dictates who gets to be born on top, and who has to fight their way up from the bottom.

Mandarin is only a native language and lingua franca in Taiwan because of this linguistic brutality. Foreign students only come here to learn it for this reason, as well. That most Taiwanese speak it natively speaks to the success of the KMT's cruelty. That not everyone does, and many who do still prefer native Taiwanese languages shows the strength of the Taiwanese spirit, and the KMT's ultimate failure as a cruel, petty, corrupt, dictatorial and foreign regime.

I can respect the idea that Taiwan has begun - and will likely to continue - to use Mandarin appropriatively rather than accepting it merely as the language of those who would continue to be overlords if they had their way. To take Mandarin and use it for their own purposes, to their own ends (this paper is about English being used in this way, but the main ideas are for Mandarin as well).

But - we're not there yet. There is still an imperialist element to Mandarin in Taiwan that makes me deeply uncomfortable. That structure still hasn't quite been broken down.


I know, especially as a resident of Taipei, that I can't just say "screw it!", refuse to use Mandarin unless absolutely necessary, and start learning Hoklo in earnest - preferring only to use that or English. Many former victims and Taiwanese deeply affected by this history do so, and I admire that, but I'm not Taiwanese.

I want to be a part, if only a very small part, of a better Taiwan, to contribute to building a truly free, decolonialized nation. But again, I am not Taiwanese. There are people who would think I was just putting on a show, and while I don't believe that, it would be hard to make the case that they are wrong.


And yet, the main reasons for not giving up Mandarin - that I would be giving up on something so 'practical', and that I'd be labeled another 'crazy political type' (perhaps more so because I'm not even from here, and this history is not my history), feel like giving the colonial ROC regime yet another brutal victory.

For now, I suppose I will keep speaking Mandarin; I kind of have to. In any case, is Hoklo not the language of oppression for Hakka and indigenous people? And yet, I don't see any sort of real world in which I can walk around Taipei speaking only Amis and a.) not look like an idiotic - if not crazy - white lady; and b.) actually communicate with the vast majority of people. As a language learner and foreign resident, where do I draw that line?

I don't feel good about it at all, however, and perhaps the first step is, without giving up Mandarin per se, to start seriously learning Hoklo. 

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Crazy, Rich Nations

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Original photo from Wikimedia Commons
(to be fair this movie has actually made me want to return to Singapore, but mostly for the food)


You probably think I'm writing in to comment on Crazy Rich Asians because it's a cultural moment and it'll be good traffic for Lao Ren Cha. I'm not - I don't expect this will even be one of the more popular posts. I just have some thoughts on the movie and I'd like to share them.


It took me a few hours, because my mind was completely cleaned out by Henry Golding's golden washboard abs, but I'm over it now* so here we are.

Let me get one thing out of the way first: I really liked the movie, so let's talk about that first. If you don't care, scroll through a few paragraphs to get to my concerns. 

Why did I like it? Because despite some Chinese viewers thinking it "presents a stereotypical view of Asians" to Western audiences, I actually think it smashes these stereotypical views.

I can assure you, of my friends and family who have never been to Asia, very few of them think that Asians live like the Crazy Rich Asians. Most of them think "Asian" and they think "poor and full of gongs" or something. You know, like:


1024px-Phra_Ajan_Jerapunyo-Abbot_of_Watkungtaphao.
from Wikimedia Commons


Maybe with a dragon or some "ancient Chinese art of kung fu" thrown in. But definitely poor. To many Westerners, only the West is rich.

I am also reasonably sure a large percentage of people I know back home think that the only reason I don't live in a straw hut in a rice paddy and wear a conical hat to work is because I live in a city, which they might well imagine as some cement buildings scattered among the straw huts.

So, y'know, I'm actually happy to see a representation of Asia that doesn't look like the only people who live there are rice farmers or monks and their only purpose outside Asia is to run Asian restaurants and dispense religious wisdom to white protagonists. I live in a pretty developed country in a continent that, for much (but not all) of its breadth, is developed. It's about time the West woke up and realized that. Asians are not all still-suffering victims of Western imperialism (in Taiwan and elsewhere, there are currently-suffering victims of Chinese imperialism, but I'll get to that.) Much of Asia really is criss-crossed by ultra-wealthy families, many of whom claim Chinese ancestry, and all of whom know each other.


To imply otherwise is to say "what? but don't you like gongs and monks? Why are you wearing Versace? Don't you have some traditional robes? Don't let the white man force you out of the rice paddy!"

Which...barf.  


It's also about time they woke up and realized that Asia can't be described with a single word (like "collectivist" or "Confucian" or "ancient") - there are good, decent, down-to-earth people (like Astrid and Colin) and selfish jerks (like Eddie and Amanda), and people who think they are good and decent and self-sacrificing who are in fact kind of selfish (like Eleanor, in a way). You know, like everywhere else in the world.

I also liked it because, while people are writing about how it pits Western and Asian values (does it, though? I'll get to that too), I find it plays with the fundamental rightness of feminist values, and how they can exist in any cultural setting, adjusted to the needs and goals of women in any given culture. When I think "family values", even in an Asian context, I think "values that lift up everyone in the family, with everyone negotiating, cooperating, giving and receiving for the benefit of all, including women", not "women must always sacrifice for the family". That's a feminist value that can exist in Asia - Rachel even references those words in reference to a game of mahjong!

And I'm fine with it being called Crazy Rich Asians even though it's really only about "ethnic Chinese" - a good book needs a snappy title and Crazy Rich Overseas Chinese in Singapore...isn't. It's not a National Geographic documentary, after all. (Anyway those seem to skew toward the poverty and gongs, too - all the stuff Westerners like to feel both guilty over and enchanted by. Not a real place full of real, mostly normal people.) It's not about "Singapore" or "diverse Asia". It's about a group of crazy, rich and crazy rich people. Can't it just be that? Can't something be set in Asia and feature an Asian cast and be about something other than social justice?

I liked it despite the criticisms I've heard from some media and my social-justice oriented friends: that it only shows one kind of Asian (the only dark-skinned or even non-Chinese Asians we see are working in service positions), that despite it not being scheduled to open in China, that it presents a problematic pro-China orientation and presents a view of Chineseness that is frighteningly close to Communist Party ideology - an idea I'll quote from liberally in a moment - that of course it ignores deeper issues of inequality in Singapore.

Or, as my husband joked on the way home, "I'm happy now that we know what the inside of a typical Singaporean home looks like, since we have always stayed in hotels on our trips there!"

All of these things are true, and I can't wholly ignore them. They are very real:

From Kirsten Han writing for the Hong Kong Free Press (linked above and again here):


The Young family, for example, sit around and make jiaozi, a dumpling from northern China that’s unlikely to be part of the traditions of a long-established Chinese Singaporean family, since most of the Chinese who came to Singapore came from the southeastern coast.

It’s also odd that Nick Young’s grandmother, the elderly matriarch of the family, speaks perfect Mandarin, while the women one generation below her speak Cantonese—in real life, it’s far more likely to be the other way around, especially given the Singapore government’s efforts to restrict the use of dialects and promote Mandarin.


and:


On her trip, Rachel Chu learns the difference between the Asian American and Asian experience. But there isn’t an “Asian experience”, per se. It’s not as simple as East versus West, as the symbolism of the film’s mahjong game suggests. Even within tiny Singapore, we see diverging Chinese experiences every day. If anything, it’s the Chinese Communist Party in the People’s Republic of China that seeks to obscure these differences in their efforts to engender feelings of sympathy or even loyalty to the party through the idea of racial unity.


YUP. Hey Westerners - did you know that was a thing? It totally is.

This is echoed in Catherine Chou's piece in The News Lens (also linked above and here):


Repressive government initiatives to solidify Mandarin as the region’s common tongue have been so successful in Singapore, Taiwan, and China that Hokkien and Cantonese are now routinely mistaken in popular culture as mere dialects of Mandarin.

Mandarin thus functions in the movie just as it does in government policies: as an artificial marker of class and sophistication. Cantonese, and especially Hokkien, are used as signifiers of marginality and lower status.


Holy fishguts, this is spot on.

This isn't only a problem in Singapore - it's also a deep social divide in Taiwan. For a few generations now, the KMT colonizers (yes, colonizers) have promoted Mandarin as the lingua franca of Taiwan, a country they believe is "a part of China" but which a.) isn't, b.) fuck you, KMT and c.) was never a place where Mandarin was a native tongue, before it was forced on the Taiwanese. To do this, they not only made it punishable in some circumstances to speak Taiwanese Hokkien (and caused one to be 'under suspicion' in others), but made it so that Mandarin was the language of the upper classes, with Hokkien being the language of "ignorant farmers" (無知農夫). The language of the gauche. The language of the excluded.

And believe me, the point has always been to explicitly exclude. How do you get people who speak a totally different language, and who might rebel, to accept you as their sovereign masters? Make 'em think their language is merely a coarse dialect of the common tongue you share, and you are the learned scholars who have come to educate them in your common tongue's purer, better form. 


In the film, the good-hearted, nouveau riche Gohs (who, in their kindness, though perhaps not in their campier qualities, remind me of Taiwan a little) speak Hokkien, and are excluded from "society". The posh, old money Youngs should speak Cantonese, but instead speak Mandarin. Peik Lin points out the 'class' differences explicitly, but Western audiences aren't likely to notice the linguistic ones.

This leads to another concern I have: Taiwan is mentioned in Crazy Rich Asians, but it's always a sidebar. China gets a not-quite-appropriate quote at the beginning of the film (a point that Kirsten Han made in HKFP), Singapore gets the "Lives of the Rich and Famous" treatment: Taiwan, on the other hand, is portrayed as just another place where rich Chinese might live and do business with other Chinese - despite it being qualitatively different not just culturally, but economically. Taiwan isn't Singapore or Hong Kong - it's not rich and shiny. It's not a waking dragon like China. It is remarkably unpretentious and down-to-earth. Even its shiniest district - Xinyi - is only a little shiny, and not really at all glitzy.

I like it that way, but it does spell out for me the differences between "countries that cooperate with Chinese cultural imperialism" and "countries that tell China to eat it". And, as a smart friend of mine recently wrote in a paper you will almost certainly never read, a key difference between who can have a close relationship with the PRC and who must be suspicious of them and look for other options is whether or not China respects that country's borders. China and Singapore can be close, because China isn't threatening to invade it. Taiwan must be wary, and so Taiwan is shoved eternally, unfairly to the sidelines.

So, Singapore can sign on to this movie that promotes a certain ideal of "Chineseness" within its borders if it wants to. Singaporeans of Chinese heritage can call themselves Chinese, if they want, and claim common cultural roots with Chinese people in China. The movie clearly portrays those roots inaccurately, but Singapore isn't going to lose its sovereignty over it.

But there is no room for Taiwan as it is in the Chinese world of Crazy Rich Asians: it can try to claim its place as part of the "family", which many in Taiwan would like to do given their ancestral roots in China. But that means being eaten alive by the Communist Party's insistence that being Chinese means you are a part of China, are loyal to China the CCP and follow certain cultural prescriptions decided by China the CCP. Or, it can deny its links to China and Chinese cultural heritage, but always feel a sense of exclusion.

The CCP has, like Eleanor Young, made it so there is no winning hand for Taiwan: it can't turn away from the "Chinese" cultural roots that many would like to claim without being kicked out of the "family", but it can't claim its place at the table without being subsumed by China.


It's also worth noting that the values touted as "Asian" in the film were common in the West just a few generations ago - they're not "Asian", they're..."traditional". Therefore, the values that eventually stand up to "traditional" ones in the film aren't "Western", they're "modern". 

Considering this, even if there were a way for Taiwan to win this game, in the version of "Asia" that Eleanor (though not necessarily the movie as a whole) puts forward where "Asian" is (falsely) conflated with "traditional", there is no room to be both Asian and liberal/progressive. If "Asian values" include self-sacrifice, choosing family and duty over love and a whole pallet of misogyny, where the gay cousin is accepted - but not entirely (the actor who plays Oliver Tsien says of the character, "he knows he’s an outsider in his own family just by being queer") - 
where is the space for an Asian country like Taiwan that has, say, decided to enshrine marriage equality into law, has a strong social movement culture and actually attempts (though not always with success) to enforce gender equality laws in the workplace?

In short, in the version of Asia that Crazy Rich Asians puts forward, where traditional values are accepted unanimously by all, where does a country like Taiwan fit in? It's almost as if certain other, larger, crazier, richer nations don't want that country to exist at all...


So...I liked the movie. It was fun. It was well-made and well-acted. It was more thoughtful than a romantic comedy needs to be. It's a breakthrough moment for portrayals of Asian characters in film.

But I also...didn't. Because the portrayals of what it means to be "Chinese" in it are entirely the brainchild of a crazy, rich nation. And even if it wanted into this 'family' of Chineseness, Taiwan would always be rebellious, gay cousin Oliver. Though far less accepted for who she is.

Western academics and commentators love to point out that overarching cultural narratives are usually promulgated by the most powerful members of a group, and exclude the least powerful. We've become good at spotting this in our own cultural contexts: what it means to be American is projected as a white person's view of Americanness, what it means to be a businessperson is a male view of business culture, the notion of what "romance" means is a straight one, etc.

It's about time they realized that this happens in Asia too, and what it means to be "Chinese" or even "Asian" is a narrative that the Chinese government is actively trying to control - and of course, they are the ones with power. And money. Also, they (the government) are freakin' insane.

*not really over it, but I'm still fundamentally a Freddy Lim girl

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Rectification of Colonial Names

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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. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The same "Mystic Orient/Confucian Values" nonsense that hurts Taiwan also hurts women

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You think they're going this way, but they're going that way.


Something struck me as I read this clickbait-reconfobulated piece on women's expectations of salary, both of themselves (as mothers) and their husbands.

What jumped out at me - assuming the piece got the numbers right - was this:

Taiwan’s female workers will not consider entering marriage if their prospective husbands earn less than NT$51,872 (US$1,730)


and

Asked about the reasonable monthly salary for “mothers,” if to be paid, female respondents expected an amount of NT$53,031 (US$1,769) on average, NT$3,042 (US$101.5) higher than the 2017 figure of monthly income released by the government's Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics, standing at NT$49,989 (US$1,668), reported CNA.


Note the discrepancy: women have higher expectations of their own salaries than they do of a prospective husband's salary.


This is awesome: women setting goals for themselves that exceed what they expect men to provide for them. Not only that, women expect to earn a bit more, as mothers, than they expect the father (traditional role: provider) to earn. That's huge! This wasn't academic research (it was a survey by a jobs website) but it indicates a fertile area for research and discussion.

There is a quote by someone from the website that did the survey talking about how women think mothers deserve higher pay, but it's impossible to really parse it, as it's never clarified if any questions are asked about women's salary expectations for themselves independent of marital/childbearing considerations. In any case, it makes little sense that women would expect a salary boost from employers when having children doesn't make them better workers (though it doesn't make them worse, either.)


Yet not only did the article get it wrong - it's not reported whether the survey included a comparison question on what women expect to earn if they are not mothers - but the headline did too:


Taiwan's female workers expect prospective husbands to earn NT$51,872 at minimum: poll


Why focus on that (except other than to create clickbait) when the aforementioned comparison is far more interesting? Why focus on the same old tropes of what women expect of their husbands when the more fruitful discussion is centered on what women expect of themselves?

These problematic and harmful stereotypes about what 'Asian values' are and what they mean, even when stated in the spirit of trying to be 'respectful' of the spectrum of Asian cultures, not only hurt Taiwan but also hurt women.
 

I've written before about how Taiwan's struggle for recognition in a world that seems determined to ignore it mirrors what women deal with as they struggle for equality and recognition in a world that seems determined to focus on male achievement. I've also talked 
about how so many Western liberals get it so completely wrong when talking about "Asian values" or their version of what it means to be a moral or cultural relativist who "respects cultural differences" and how that impacts Taiwan. This is a country that is best understood not through the lens of what Westerners believe Asians think, but through the lens of universal values: freedom, democracy, equality, human rights and self-determination. 


It's the same regarding women in Taiwan. It's easy to conclude from chaff like this that in Asia, women's expectations and ideas are focused on traditional roles or relational notions of family, role and gender when the discussion is framed specifically to make you think that. In fact, a great deal of wordage is spilled trying to make exactly this point: it's traditional. It's their culture.

This is mirrored in the way discussions on issues like Taiwan's sovereignty are framed in such a way that they often make Westerners, whom you'd think would be supportive of Taiwan's pro-liberal democracy message, see things from a pro-China perspective. China aggressively pushes and benefits from this whole 'we're Asians, we think differently, it's our culture'  worldview. Just ignore those pesky Taiwanese creating all those tensions with their determination to keep their freedom. This is Asia, don't call it dictatorship - call it 'Asian-style governance'.

Let me give you a glimpse of what is lost when we flatten the discussion this way. 


Under Japanese rule, there was a brief period when Japan tolerated some freedom of expression in Taiwan. This was also a period when a small number of elite Taiwanese women studied in Japan or China, and were exposed to feminist discourse there. Granted, many of the ideas originated in the West, but crucially, they were being discussed by Asian women in Asian contexts. They disseminated to Taiwan not from the West directly but via intellectual centers in China and Japan - Asian women talking to other Asian women. While not autochthonous, it was not impossible to conceive of Western ideas of gender equality and individualism in Asian cultural frameworks, though most of this discourse was confined to elite/wealthy social classes. Anyone familiar with the May Fourth movement already knows this.

This was eventually quashed - first by the Japanese and then by the KMT - and didn't return until the 1970s, when Taiwanese pro-democracy and pro-independence activism also experienced a rebirth (emphasis mine) and reanimating burst of activist vigor (if you think Taiwanese identity and independence rhetoric originated in the 1970s, you are wrong on that count, too.) It really took flight - just as Taiwanese activism did - in the 1990s with the democratization of Taiwan, not as a gift from geneous KMT benefactors (don't make me laugh), but at the insistence of the Taiwanese people.

So, please, let's spare each other the embarrassment of a gamut of well-meaning Westerners who flatten Asia and think by doing so, they have understood it. Let's end the implication of such discourse: that Taiwanese (or any Asian culture) are incapable of grasping concepts of equality, individuality and freedom. Of course they are. They're not stupid.

And let's stop pretending that everything in Asia - from Taiwanese identity to women's equality - can be explained, sorted and filed away under outdated assumptions of what "Asians" think. Both in terms of women's roles and beliefs, and in terms of Taiwan.

Nothing is ever that simple.


(Historical source: Chang, D.  - Women's Movements in Twentieth-Century Taiwan)