Showing posts with label social_issues. Show all posts
Showing posts with label social_issues. Show all posts

Sunday, April 12, 2020

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



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

Now, with that aside...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My translation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

You would be wrong.

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

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

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



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

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

That’s the difference. Those are the facts.

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

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

Friday, February 7, 2020

The CCP's mind tricks are working better on the West than on China right now

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Found on Twitter from user AlexTheBullet (I don't know the origin of the image)



Chinese people: The Chinese government has been thoroughly incompetent at handling coronavirus!

The Chinese Communist Party: We are doing an excellent job.

The rest of the world, including the WHO: You are doing an excellent job, also these are not the droids we’re looking for


Watching the coronavirus horror unfold in China, I’m acutely aware that I’m close by geographically but worlds away politically and in terms of public health and safety - and those differences are the only thing keeping those of us in Taiwan safe.

It also means that in Taiwan, people generally have access to what’s going on in both China and the West. Information from the latter is freely available and increasingly accessible. At the same time, many Taiwanese have friends or family in China, many of whom are currently waylaid in Taiwan. Speaking a mutually intelligible language (mostly), they have a better idea of what is going on in China than most Westerners, for whom ‘China’ is much further away geographically, historically, relationally and linguistically. 

It should be obvious that Taiwan, alongside Hong Kong, is one of the most informative places from which to observe the nexus of knowledge, belief and awareness in both China and abroad. 

And what I am seeing now is truly astounding. 

Alongside the unfolding of a national tragedy, China is also experiencing a brief window in which freedom of speech is somewhat possible. And if you listen, what you hear is a furious outcry - the howl of a nation. 





And this:



People in China - many of them, anyway - know that the coronavirus epidemic has been mishandled from the top down and is still not being handled well, that their leaders (whom they never chose) are throwing each other under the bus, that that Xi Jinping is missing in action and that the initial outbreak was mishandled and covered up so spectacularly that it (at least partially) exacerbated the spread of the disease. They are fully aware that Li Wenliang - who was not a dissident - was reprimanded for warning a private WeChat group of his fellow medical school alumni about the danger, and that he can be credited as one of the early voices to speak out about the disease.  Li recently died, and the government (so it seems) half-heartedly attempted to cover it up - and it’s causing an absolute meltdown on Chinese social media.



The replies demanded of Dr. Li when he was reprimanded - that he "was clear" and "could" follow the government's orders - have been given life as a form of protest:





They also know that the government data on the disease can’t be trusted

And they know this because so many of them have known all their lives that the CCP is built on repression and lies, but have chosen until now to survive and endure rather than speaking out and going to jail, or worse. 

Compare that to what I’m seeing from the rest of the world, especially the West. It’s like some sort of Jedi - well, I suppose Sith - mind trick. 

Despite the international news reporting on the death of Li Wenliang, the consensus seems to be that the CCP is doing “everything they can” to stop the epidemic and that their response has been “great” and “transparent”. The WHO has praised China's response, as well. In China, people know that when you officially reprimand those who issue early warnings, that’s not transparency. Some are even saying that criticism of the Chinese government response is Sinophobic or anti-China. While there have been racist incidents against Chinese people - and that is obviously wrong - it is not Sinophobic to criticize a government.

This is despite international media (finally) starting to report on how badly they are actually doing:

This wonder at China’s logistical prowess is symptomatic of a recurrent trope among western commentators. We might call it the “if we could just be China for a day” view....
But when it comes to a public health epidemic, there are worrying limits to the Chinese Communist party’s control. To maintain authority, the Chinese Communist party (CCP) must convince the public that everything is going to plan. This hampers its ability to respond to epidemics....


People are praising the “hospital built in 10 days” (which I suspect plenty of Chinese people realize is a cross between a farce and a death camp - you wouldn't need to build a hospital that fast if you had dealt with the outbreak appropriately in the first place). All the old cliches are coming out: they sure know how to get things done (except for initial containment of the outbreak, I suppose), they’re taking such decisive action (which they hadn’t done before). From the link above, this guy is quoted in the BBC:


"China has a record of getting things done fast even for monumental projects like this," says Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations....

"The engineering work is what China is good at. They have records of building skyscrapers at speed. This is very hard for westerners to imagine. It can be done," he added.

I see numerous comments echoing this trash online.


They’re praising China’s health care system (this is just one example), even though it’s failing, and spectacularly, too. It seems a fair number of Westerners have believed for some time that China had universal or accessible public health care” simply because China calls itself “communist”. It does not.

They are talking about that ridiculous Bloomberg article about how “China sacrificed a province to save the world” as though it was some sort of heroic act and not the tragic consequences of endemic incompetence and corruption in a government ill-prepared to deal with this crisis. And if you think public figures aren’t quoting that nonsense, oh, they are: 





To be fair I think he meant this to be somewhat critical? It's unclear.

Of course, while one might be able to try and justify the locking down of the epicenter, this is what Chinese social media is asking - and the West apparently is not: if the government has been doing such an excellent job, how did it get to the point that they needed to lock down several other cities and put a huge chunk of the economy essentially on hold? Was it necessary, or is it a massive overreaction? We have no idea which it is - and isn’t that even scarier?

Worse still, the international media is taking government data as gospel, which people in China know right now not to do. We don’t know what the fatality rate is because nobody knows how many people died before being diagnosed because they couldn’t get care. China keeps reporting “2.1%”, a number I don’t think anyone in China believes. We have no idea how contagious it is, either. We know nothing.



If the CCP is doing such an excellent job, how is it that China-watchers in Asia are openly wondering if this will be the crisis - not just of public health, but of public fury - that brings down the CCP?





It’s like some sort of demented hypnosis. The media is waking up, but I'm shocked that the commentary has been so...so...tankie.

How did the CCP manage to dupe so many people abroad, when their own citizens after years of forced indoctrination seem to (mostly) know better? How is it that people outside China seem more susceptible to authoritarian propaganda than the people educated since birth to support that system? How is it that the rest of the world seems to put faith in Chinese state media - which is known for spouting government lines rather than the truth  - while being completely oblivious to - or simply ignoring - a billion furious people?

It's like they all read and believe this junk rather than actually listening to people in China who have a brief flicker of an opportunity to speak out.

And those same Westerners are probably patting themselves on the back for being aware of the crisis in China and sympathetic to the Chinese people - whose voices they ignore in favor of state-peddled lies. I don’t think they realize the level of vitriolic, potentially incendiary outrage brewing in China against the very government they praise from a distance.

Truly, it amazes me. 

In China and the region, we know that the biggest danger isn’t coronavirus, or isn’t only that. Far scarier is knowing that we can’t trust the government tasked with combating the epidemic. At all.

As Chinese citizens are showing the world that they don't buy the CCP's crap when it comes to coronavirus, the world seems to be saying "more crap, please!" The death of Dr. Li might turn that tide, but with the WHO expressing condolences, after praising the government that silenced him and not seeing the irony of it all, and then backtracking to say they "had no information" (!!!), I'm not sure.

I wish the rest of the world would realize it too. 

Saturday, May 18, 2019

What it meant to be an ally when Taiwan became the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage

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I wrote a longer reflection yesterday in which I wandered through many thoughts and emotions on yesterday's historic legislation. For this post, I want to highlight one thing that I think is important when you support an issue or social movement, but aren't a part of the group that that movement affects most deeply. That is, I want to talk about what it meant to be an ally standing in the crowd yesterday (yes, there is a little repetition between the two posts). Let's start here:

The level of civic engagement continues to impress me so much, and proves that Taiwan cannot be grouped so easily as a stereotypical 'Confucian', 'collectivist' society with wholly conservative values. It may be true that many young Taiwanese won't engage with their more conservative elders on these issues, but it's not true that they won't find other ways to oppose the old order of unfairness and inequality and a million -isms and phobia that those elders represent.


One of the arguments of the anti-gay camp is that ideas like marriage equality are 'Western' or 'foreign' and go against Taiwan's 'traditional culture' (they say 'Chinese' but I won't.) You know, all that Confucianism and collectivism and filial piety and what not. It's not that those aren't real facets of the culture, it's just that the whole culture cannot be reduced to them, nor can the actions or beliefs of any individual be explained wholly through them. People are not slaves to whatever aspect of their culture someone has decided explains their motives, and culture isn't static anyhow. 20 years ago you could have said the same thing about American culture. 

Of course equal rights have been a part of Taiwanese culture for some time now, and there is no incompatibility with Taiwanese culture (any incompatibility which seems to exist has been invented for political purposes).

So it really mattered that the people in the front rows and on stage, the crowds on camera were overwhelmingly Taiwanese. If 'marriage equality' is not compatible with 'Taiwanese culture', what were all those people who are Taiwanese and exist within a Taiwanese cultural milieu doing there?

Or as President of Taiwan and my current crush Tsai Ing-wen put it:




This movement was started by Taiwanese, carried by Taiwanese and the success they brought about yesterday was done by Taiwanese. There was no 'Western infiltration' about it. (In fact, the anti-gay side is the one that had to look to the West to figure out how to spread its hate, bringing in foreigners like Katy Faust to speak against equality and justice.)

It's important to keep repeating this, because that same opposition keeps accusing the pro-equality movement of doing the same, when it emphatically has not. The side that stands for equality has allies who stand with them. The side that stands against equality has foreign actors trying to help manipulate a certain outcome in Taiwan. And they are the ones who invented that 'goes against traditional Taiwanese culture' nonsense.

Marriage has meant many things in Taiwan over the centuries, including plural marriage, family-alliance marriage (that is, not love marriage) and marriage to ghosts. In China, there is a clear cultural tradition of homosexuality (at least among the upper classes).

It's actually a reductive neo-essentialist perspective - which is inherently Western - which turns so-called 'traditional values' into culturally static and immutable obstacles, a view one tends to take of cultural facets viewed from afar without full understanding. That almost every young person in Taiwan is pro-equality and yet still just as Taiwanese as their grandparents, however, shows that this outsider essentialist view of Taiwan is wrong. 


As an American who was in Taiwan for most of the culmination of the marriage equality movement in the US and so unable to participate (again as an ally - I'm straight and cis), it felt important to be a part of the support to make it happen in Taiwan, because it's my home. I have a place here too. What happens in Taiwan affects me.

And that place was being part of the crowd. Not onstage like a reverse Katy Faust, not a key part of the movement or even vital to it, but a participant who adds her physical presence to the movement. Foreigners were there lending their support too, but it's Taiwanese who led this, Taiwanese who made up the majority of that crowd, and Taiwanese who won. We just stood by them, and that was a meaningful place to be.


As an ally, I've reconsidered my own feelings on the Executive Yuan bill which passed yesterday - after being initially upset and disappointed, it became clear that Taiwanese LGBT groups and the local LGBT community were supporting it, and to be a good ally, I should follow their lead.

Let's stop telling Taiwan what its culture is, while we're at it. Let's quit it with the "but Taiwan is like this" or "Taiwan can't do that, because culture and reasons" or "but Taiwan is so Confucian and collectivist". Pish. Instead, let's be allies and let them tell us. 



It's a humbling, meaningful and impactful place to be. I recommend trying it. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Everything you need to know about why One Country Two Systems will never work in two easy trials!

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Just now, we've learned that leading figures in the Umbrella Movement were found guilty of "public nuisance". This comes after Umbrella Movement leaders were jailed for their role in the protest, which was the largest in Hong Kong's history. (A lot has gone on with that trial including an appeal, but while that appeal set them free, it did not stop the Beijing-endorsed trend toward harsh punishments for civil disobedience.)

Of course, "being found guilty" and "doing something wrong" are not the same thing. In this case, one certainly does not reflect the other. 


More than that has been going on in Hong Kong, as well:




Compare that to the outcome of the charges brought against the Sunflower leaders in Taiwan, who were found not guilty as their actions were found to constitute legitimate civil disobedience, which was upheld on appeal. Trials against other Sunflower activists did not result in such progressive verdicts, however. That said, it's notable that charges brought against the government have also recently been accorded a re-trial.

What stuck out to me about those Sunflower trials was this:

Taipei District Court Chief Judge Liao Chien-yu (廖建瑜) said the panel of three judges made investigative inquiries, and reviewed theories and practice surrounding the concept of civil disobedience, through literature and research findings on the topic by both Taiwanese and international academics and experts. 
The judges studied the concept so that they would be better able to weigh defendants’ and their lawyers’ arguments that their reasons for storming the legislature were legitimate and socially justifiable, because it was an attempt to block the cross-strait service trade agreement, which was being rushed through the legislature by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators without consulting the people, Liao told a news conference.

This would never happen in Hong Kong. 

As with Hong Kong's turn toward authoritarianism, there are many other examples of Taiwan's turn toward progressive values, though the bending of the arc toward justice is indeed slow.

But I don't need to list them for you. Everything you need to know is right here.

These two trials show without artifice or obfuscation exactly why One Country Two Systems will never work. Taiwan is free; Hong Kong is not. Taiwan (for the most part) set its activists free and made a decision that looked to a liberal future. Taiwan at least took a step (though an imperfect one) towards understanding the role and necessity of civil disobedience in democracy. Hong Kong did not. 


Taiwan was able to do this because it is not subordinate to the CCP. Hong Kong took its own path - or rather, was forced down that path - because it is.

A free society can never exist under the same framework as an authoritarian regime, much less be subordinate to it, because being found guilty and doing something wrong are not the same thing. Taiwan is (mostly) able to tell the difference. China - and by extension Hong Kong - clearly is not.

How much clearer do we have to be?

Monday, November 5, 2018

We need to out-organize the bigots, now: my latest for Ketagalan Media

Note: I'm super busy this month working on my final pre-dissertation paper for school, and it's a big one. So, Lao Ren Cha is going to be a bit quiet in November. Thanks for understanding!

I know that a huge part of the problem for pro-marriage equality advocates in Taiwan is funding: despite having fairly broad public support, they don't have a lot of money. Anti-equality hardliners, on the other hand, are pretty flush thanks to church donation networks (and international help from anti-equality religious groups, mostly from the US).

But, I have to say, I haven't seen much aggressive fundraising let alone the issue I tackle in my latest for Ketagalan Media: the fact that the bad guys are out-organizing us. They have more people on the streets, more fliers, more Line group invasive posting, more ads, more banners.

Banners and fliers cost money, and so do vests for volunteers if you want them. Ads are expensive. I get it - but I haven't seen much crowdfunding either.

You know what's free, though? Talking to people. Volunteers. Engaging in conversations in Line groups (if only to get the haters to keep quiet). Putting up designs drawn by volunteers for people to download and print out to make their own posters, placards and stickers.

In any case, in this piece I talk about the out-organization and how it makes it look as though pro-equality advocates are not standing up and getting votes for the upcoming referendum. I also cover the constitutionality of the anti-equality referendums and what the strategy might be behind them.

There's more to be said: the outright lies from the anti-equality camp, the attempt to rig the televised debates. I'm sure there will be more to talk about as the month goes on.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Come to Pride this weekend

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So, I was supposed to go to southern Taiwan this weekend in order to attend the opening of the Donggang boat burning festival (not the boat burning itself - I prefer the opening day). I was going to leave early to go hang out in southern Taiwan, which I actually prefer to Taipei.

But, plans have changed, because Pride is this Saturday.

I'll still go to Donggang on Sunday, but it's really important that as many people as possible attend Pride this year. You should come too. And bring your friends!

In May 2017, Taiwan's highest court ruled that marriage is a right afforded all citizens with no reference to gender, and therefore marriage equality must be allowed. The court gave the government two years to work out a legislative solution: either to simply pass a law allowing marriage equality, or to change the civil code to abide by the ruling.

There have been some political ups and downs, some debate over which route is better (changing the law can likely be done quickly; changing the civil code is harder, and the ruling DPP doesn't think they have the support from the large socially-conservative-but-pro-independence segment of their base to make it happen.) There is a growing sense that the DPP hinted at support for marriage equality when campaigning, and promptly abandoned it to appease their more conservative base, and of course the KMT doesn't give a damn about anyone but the KMT. With elections coming up and the initial 2-year deadline now less than a year away, a lot of activists are upset.

This is especially important with two competing referenda coming up in about a month: one affirming Taiwan's commitment to equality, the other full of outdated, religiously-motivated and hateful garbage (yes, I'm biased). Remind people to go out and vote for love in November.


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Meet at 1:30 at MRT National Taiwan University Hospital station, start out at 2:30 - these are the routes. I always go the red route. 


Cue Pride. With no specific marriage equality rallies planned, and the anti-equality gay-haters being very well-organized and resourced (moreso than the pro-equality side, although I would argue the national consensus is broadly with us if you count those who are not opposed to equality), there is a sense that this year's Pride is going to be more politically charged and all about showing the government that we (LGBT people and allies/supporters) haven't forgotten.


While it's not my place to opine on what Pride should be, I can say what I think it's likely to be - and that you should be there. A friend of mine (gay with a Taiwanese partner if it matters) was also saying he was hoping this year would be super politically charged and motivated. There's a sense in the air that this is what's happening, but we need numbers.

All are welcome at Pride, which means you can be a part of it. You can add to those numbers. You can make it clear that equal rights matter, and it's time for the government to stop pandering to prejudice and outdated, discriminatory thinking.

Pride Taipei usually makes international news - at least it has in the years surrounding the 2017 ruling, as the world watches to see whether Taiwan will be the first country in Asia to give equal marriage rights to all. The numbers do matter, and you do make a difference.


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Show the LGBT community your support, and show the world that Taiwan, while imperfect, is the freest and most progressive country in Asia. Show them that we can do this, and that there is no reason why equality can't exist within Taiwanese culture.

Pride is not a rally or a protest - it's a celebration, and all are welcome. It's a great way for foreign residents, even if you are a bit reticent to attend actual protests, to show their support for this issue. 


Grab your rainbow gear and come with us.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Improve English education in Taiwan with this ONE WEIRD TRICK!

My work in Taiwan is dominated by adult students who ask for help with accent training. They need to do business with Koreans, Japanese, various speakers of Southeast Asian languages, Australians, Latinx people, Indians or various Europeans.

You see, all their teachers have been from an "Inner Circle" country (UK, Ireland, US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand). They are therefore most used to those accents, North American ones in particular. They might meet people with those accents, but for business, there is a real need to better understand other Englishes.

My life in Taiwan is unfortunately punctuated by people bloviating about how racism in the English learning industry is somehow acceptable because of "choice" or "the market" or something (their arguments don't make much sense, because they are constructed mostly to avoid confronting uncomfortable issues rather than as stand-alone opinions).

They might try to say that this is acceptable because of some sort of subjective "clarity" of certain accents, although of course how clear an accent is depends in great part on how exposed you are to it compared to other accents (these people are not exactly experts in second language acquisition).

Some pontificate on how it is preferable to be taught by a "native speaker", usually with a very poor understanding of second language acquisition or what being a "native" or "non-native" speaker might actually mean. There is even less recognition that many people in India, Singapore, Nigeria, the Philippines (and more) are, in fact, native speakers, let alone questioning why they aren't recognized as such.

(The answer is racism, by the way. But that's hard for Johnny McBackpacker to admit when it casts doubt on his strongly-held opinion that "the market" is the Fairest Arbiter Of Them All.)

My life in England is characterized by mostly non-native speaking classmates, all of whom are fluent in English, and all of whom know more about the pedagogy of how to teach English than the average Johnny McBackpacker.

Sure, they have accents. But many of them have the accents that my adult students say they need to better understand for their work. Every last one of them is qualified to teach in Taiwan, but many if not most would struggle to get hired here.

We talk about all sorts of things, not least of which is the idea of English as a lingua franca (ELF) or English as an international language (EIL). Most English learners speak regularly with other non-native speakers, some perhaps almost entirely so, especially if they are using English in business or academia.

Back in Taiwan, the consequences are not surprising - all that learning of English from Canadians, Brits and Americans (the so-called 'preferable' native speakers) has actually put those students who tell me they need help with accents at a disadvantage. They get to work and realize, oh, all that time I spent with Teacher Becky listening to dialogues between Tim and Karen, but I actually have to communicate with people who don't speak like Becky, Tim or Karen. I have to do business with Sandeep and Cheng and Fumiko and Nnedi and Abdurrahman and Lupa. 

Of course, most people making hiring decisions are not educators. Even if they realize that they are actually disadvantaging their learners by not providing the English education many instrumentally-motivated Taiwanese learners are likely to need, they don't care. "It's the market." And the market wants white - even Inner Circle "native speaker" teachers who aren't white struggle to get hired.

And I just can't help but think, if y'all hired fluent English-speaking teachers from around the world, ensuring that most learners through their time studying English were exposed to a variety of Englishes, maybe not so many adult learners would come to me asking for help, which I have trouble giving with my Standard American accent. Maybe if we hired more English teachers whose usage represented the speakers and Englishes our learners would actually be communicating with, we wouldn't have this problem.

I mean, I don't want to say "duh", but...duh?

Friday, April 20, 2018

Fading Rainbows: my latest for Ketagalan Media

I am super tired with two crazy weeks of teacher training and no weekend break. So, here's a link without fanfare (because I don't have time to create it) to my latest for Ketagalan Media, all about the current state of marriage equality in Taiwan and where we need to go from here.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Re-learning Taiwan

IMG_0283When you think of tourism in Taiwan - domestic and, to some degree perhaps, international - you probably think of at least a few of these:

- Night markets
- Old streets
- Local crafts (e.g. woodcarving or porcelain)
- Regional foods (e.g. 肉圓 in Zhanghua and mochi in Hualien)
- "Taiwanese" culinary cultural icons (think the toilet restaurant and bubble tea)
- Shopping and eating in Taipei, including the massive ATT4Fun and eslite
- Hiking, cycling etc.
- "Cultural creative parks" like Songshan Tobacco Factory and Huashan
- The National Palace Museum
- Tourist destinations like Jiufen, Alishan, Sun Moon Lake, Tainan, Kenting and Taroko Gorge
- (Maybe) Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
- Indigenous festivals and dances
- Temple festivals

Some of these are great - Tainan is unimpeachably fantastic, though perhaps growing a bit gentrified or at least on the cusp of it happening - and the outdoor sports are bar-none amazing.

For the rest, though, slowly and steadily most of the pleasure I might have once been able to derive from them has been chipped away over the years as I seek to learn more about Taiwan.

Night markets are still kinda great, but a lot of the "famous" foods are made famous by savvy promotion rather than actual deliciousness, and with the piling on of food scandals over the years, I can never be quite sure that the snacks I'm getting are safe to ingest.

I appreciate the attempt to preserve the architecture of Taiwan's old streets - and some still do a reasonably good job of this (Hukou, Xiluo and Xinpu are still quite nice, and Dihua Street is still on the right side of fun, although I worry the scales will tip). Yet, a number of them have been turned into shopping drags selling touted "local delicacies" and shop after shop of "traditional items" (think old-fashioned kids' toys and wooden massage implements). They're basically all the same, nothing local or special about them.

Those local crafts? Well...I can't say I'll be buying any Taiwanese wood products or returning to Sanyi anytime soon. And Yingge sells some lovely ceramics, but historically was more known for making bricks, not fine vases.


Regional foods? Michael Turton has already covered that minefield:

All over Taiwan, if you say a city name, like Changhua or Hsinchu, people associate a food with it automatically (ba wan and mi fen). Even foreigners know many of these associations. This attitude is common in Taiwan, but it is rare in the rest of the world....

Why? It’s political, of course. In most countries tourism consists of local history and nature. I grew up in Michigan, where we visited the Upper Peninsula and state parks for nature, and local battlefields and forts for history. No one ever suggested that the state’s prodigious cherry production should be its key association. But in Taiwan, the food association functions to keep locals from associating places with their history, and thus, developing associations with local history that in turn would support and build local identities… Hence, in Taiwan, local domestic tourism is not historical tourism, but food tourism.

I'll add to that some ethical issues: I love bluefin tuna, but...well...hmm. Okay maybe not.
All I gotta say about the toilet restaurant is UGH not the toilet restaurant again, and I do like bubble tea but the aforementioned food safety scandals make me a bit wary of it. Also, it's way too easy to weirdly exoticize it as some Mystical Eastern Thing that Asian People do that Civilized Countries Have Just Discovered.

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Hehuan Mountain is gorgeous - and not on the list of "famous tourist sites" in Taiwan
(sorry for the low-res photo, I took it years ago and had to gank a low-quality copy from a previous post)

Let's machine-gun through the rest of that list quickly.

Shopping in Taipei? Eslite is a huge international company, not a plucky local chain (and frankly their selection of English-language books tends towards the pedestrian, and they have a weirdly tiny selection of English-language books about Taiwan). Those Xinyi malls? I've been complaining for years that good local street-side restaurants that give Taipei its atmosphere are being gobbled up into one massive East District food court, and I do not like it one bit. For example, Opa Greek Taverna was great. Then it moved to ATT4Fun, and it's kind of terrible. We never go anymore. The Diner was a lovely place in a lane of Dunhua Road with some outdoor seating (there is still one on Rui'an Street but little-to-no outdoor seats). Now it's a big restaurant in a mall. Blech.

Those "cultural and creative parks" are pretty corporatized and rarely house the most innovative artists in Taiwan. Songshan, for example, has a Liuligongfang (or at least it used to - I haven't been in awhile and it may have closed) and is bordered by yet another eslite.

ALL THE STUFF IN THE NATIONAL PALACE MUSEUM COMES FROM CHINA IT'S NOT EVEN TAIWANESE UGH. 

(I mean it's fine to visit if you are interested in Chinese history but don't go there thinking you are going to learn about Taiwan. I generally don't recommend it to visitors who are interested in Taiwan, only those who are primarily interested in China.)

And I don't even think I need to tell you what the problem is with Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.

Temple festivals? Watch out, it's not always what you think.

And are you really sure you want to go to an indigenous festival where you might not be welcome, to see performances by tribes who have been unfairly historically stereotyped as good at three things: singing, dancing and drinking?

And almost all of the famous tourist destinations listed above have been disfigured by tourist infrastructure, with Sun Moon ****ing Lake being among the most degraded. From one side you can't even see the lake from most parts of the town unless you stay in one of the expensive - and often not very good - hotels ringing it (the good ones are very expensive). Taroko is still beautiful, but marred by controversy and a very ugly cement factory with its management that has very ugly morals. Jiufen has lovely views but is so blighted with tourists that it can be difficult to enjoy these days. 

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* * *

So where did that leave me, once I came to these realizations? That everything I liked about Taiwan was a sham? That Taiwan has nothing of interest for tourists? That everything good about Taiwan was invented to keep the country from discovering its real roots?

No.

I was depressed for a time, once it really hit home that so little of what is commonly touted about Taiwan actually embodies Taiwan's strengths, and much of it has been co-opted by forces I'd rather not encourage (like the encroaching uniformity of the old streets and the ghastly tourist infrastructure in scenic spots. I figure themed restaurants aren't hurting anyone). It can be hard to take, learning that things you thought you liked had all of these layers of complexity and undercurrents of problems that make them difficult to keep loving.

I had to tear it all down to build something better - because this country has so much more to offer than sun cakes and Sun Moon Lake. I had to quite literally re-learn Taiwan so I could talk about it for what really makes it great, not just the tourist hype that is so often riddled with problems.

I won't tell people not to go to Taroko or even Alishan (I will generally advise against Sun Moon Lake but if a tourist chooses to go, they might not have an awful time), but I will recommend they go not just to Tainan - god I love that city - but to direct their attention to the national parks, the East Rift Valley, relatively quiet areas of natural beauty like Hehuanshan, Lishan, the Taoyuan grassland/Wangkengtou/Caoling Old Trail part of Yilan, and of course Taiwan's stunning outlying islands. I haven't been to Green Island yet but Matsu, Kinmen, Lanyu Island, Penghu - I love them all. I'll send them to the eastern coast of Pingdong and down to Cape Eluanbi, but have them avoid Kenting itself (there are better beaches anyhow). I'll send them to Lukang, which still has something of a small-town feel, or to explore the smaller towns of Hsinchu county by car. I'll only bring them to Jiufen on a weekday, and if we go I'll insist we hike up to the Japanese shrine above Jinguashi ("yeah you thought Taiwan was Chinese but this ain't Chinese at all"), or approach the town from the Xiaotzukeng Old Trail.

There is so much to see and do in Taiwan - take it from me, someone who's done a lot here, and yet has never actually been to Alishan - that you can have a fantastic time even if you don't go to Sun Moon Lake or buy mochi in Hualien. (Feel free to buy taro cakes in Dajia, just make sure you go to the smaller shops and get them fresh from the oven, stay away from the prepackaged ones which are...fine.)

And it's enjoy the food - just enjoy it for its own sake, eat good stuff where you find it, without buying too much into the "local food as local identity" hype. Some foods really are local - you aren't going to get better milkfish congee than in Kaohsiung, and you can't beat eel noodles or shrimp roll rice in Tainan. You just can't.

I'm still not sure how to promote this Taiwan - the Taiwan I re-learned - to the world. International tourists are more into things like the National Palace Museum than, say, an architectural history of Taipei or learning about Taiwan's vibrant civic engagement, not to mention what Taiwanese history and current political issues have to teach (and warn) the rest of the world. It took years of ripping away beliefs instilled by tourism promotion to see what makes Taiwan worthwhile, a dedication visitors generally don't have (though the number of visitors who come for awhile and end up staying is surprising. We all know that person who'd planned to come for a month and backpack and now lives here full-time, or the one who came to "teach English" [heh] for a year or two and move on who is still here a dozen years later...ahem.)

But now that I know what I've re-learned, I can certainly try.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Don't trick people into civil disobedience

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I want to keep this short, because I have a grad school paper to write and, while I'm doing OK with that, I am in real danger of getting behind.

But, ever since the labor protest on 12/23, something's been bugging me and I feel like I have to say something, because it's just not been reported to my satisfaction.

I touched before on a particular moment in that protest in which the demonstrators marched up to a row of police blocking the Zhongshan/Zhongxiao intersection, forcing them to turn towards Taipei Main Station.

The march stopped - it did not continue towards Taipei Main as directed, and announcements were made that the police had blocked the route they'd been approved to march, changing the route without notice and declaring the intended march from DPP headquarters to the Legislative Yuan as an "illegal" protest. It was made quite clear at the time - well, as clear as it can be in such a mob - that we had been approved to march through that intersection and now the police were stopping us in order to cause problems or to choke the march - and therefore that the police were in the wrong.

I didn't buy that - why would the police want to create conflicts with protesters? I've covered the reasons why in my other post on this demonstration.

It also makes sense not to approve marching in that intersection, rather than to approve it and later refuse entry. The Executive Yuan is on that intersection, and it was heavily protected with barricades and barbed wire. It makes a lot more sense that the government knew perfectly well that demonstrators would try to occupy it if they were allowed into the square, and try to head that off before it ever became a potential outcome (though I would hope Taiwanese protesters have learned by now that, right or wrong, that won't be allowed again).

So we get to that line of police, who are standing in tight formation but not instigating anything (though I'm no fan of the riot shields), and people start to push back, shouting "police give way!" and starting scuffles and short fights.

It is important to remember that the demonstrators confronting the police almost certainly believed that the police were denying the protesters the right to enter a space they were supposed to be officially allowed to enter, not that they were trying to push past police to occupy a space they had been told they could not enter.
I don't believe that protests and marches must or should always stick to "approved" routes, or that they must "apply" to be allowed to protest. Protesting with government approval undermines the whole point of demonstrating in many cases. Civil disobedience has a role to play in a healthy democracy, and I am not opposed to breaking unjust rules, regulations or laws.

I do not believe it was wrong to try and enter that intersection in principle.


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Remember that as I continue the story.

The police stand their ground, with some physical clashes taking place (nothing too serious - there were injuries later but not at this point). Eventually, they give way, and the demonstrators occupy the intersection. As expected, some try to enter the grounds of the Executive Yuan.

Later, I find out via the friend I was with that the demonstrators had never been approved to enter that intersection, and the police were trying to ensure we took the route we'd been approved to take.

In fact, as I found out much later - because I am a terrible journalist I suppose - the people perpetuating the false impression that the police were blocking our path were the labor union organizers, not the youth. The two groups don't overlap much, with the former being older and skewed somewhat politically differently (lots of pro-unification leftists, not necessarily green but also not Third Force)  and the latter being younger, pro-independence and classic Third Force. After getting us to break through police lines, the union contingent left, leaving the younger social activists encamped in the intersection and later playing a cat-and-mouse game with police as they engaged in civil disobedience (perhaps this time the more honest kind) from Taipei Main to Ximen to 228 Park and back again. After engineering a certain outcome, the labor union demonstrators went home.

To be honest, I feel tricked and abandoned.

Again, I don't think it's a problem to deviate from what has been "approved". I don't think we have to obey every command we're given. I don't believe in allowing the government to render protests toothless. I absolutely believe in civil disobedience.

But here's the thing - the organizers lied about the reason for the police line.  They led us to believe we were being denied a space we'd previously been promised. They led us to believe the government was trying to provoke us, that the police had no right to be there (even if you believe in civil disobedience, you have to admit - the police did have the right to be there. We also had the right to try and push past them).

To me, civil disobedience must be genuine. It must come from a social movement deciding it must follow certain ethical principles that clash with unjust laws, and working together to insist that legal frameworks accommodate just actions. It must happen honestly - it must come from the crowd based on real situations and perceptions that are as accurate as possible.

If we were going to push past that police line - and I do believe we had the right to do so - we ought to have done it as an act of civil disobedience, not because we believed that the police were barring us from a space we were "approved" to be in.

We might have done the right thing, but we did it for the wrong reasons. We did it because we were lied to. We did not do it based on accurate perceptions of the situation - what we believed was dishonestly manipulated to engineer a specific desired outcome on the part of the organizers. We were their pawns.

I do not like this. I do not like it one bit. I do not like being lied to. If I'm going to confront the police (which I generally won't do - I'm not a citizen after all and I can theoretically be deported), I want to do it knowing what the real situation is. I do not appreciate being lied to in order to steer me toward a particular action, and I bet a lot of people there that day felt the same way.

If that action was going to happen, it needed to occur honestly, sincerely, with demonstrators knowing what they were doing and why. We are not cannon fodder.

It discredits a social movement for the organizers to knowingly lie to participants to engineer their desired outcome. The government is opaque and often dishonest - the last thing we need is for those who organize to demand more transparency and accountability to the people to be opaque and dishonest as well. It discredits social movements as a whole if this becomes a regular tactic. We can't say we're the "good guys" if leaders can only get what we want by lying to us, if we allow them to keep doing it.

I'll be honest in a way the organizers were not - I'm deeply disappointed and disillusioned. I'll still turn up at protests and other civil actions to observe and report, but I'm not sure when I'll participate again.

All you do when you lie is lose our trust. We're not afraid of civil disobedience, but only if it's done honestly. Only if we really are the good guys, and we live up to higher ideals than the unjust systems and dishonest people we're fighting against.

Don't do it again, or you'll lose more than one unimportant white lady: you'll lose your supporters, the trust of the Taiwanese people, and any chance you might have had of getting the powers-that-be to take you seriously.

I am also worried that if the two main groups fighting the new labor laws can't get along and have divisions that run so deep that one would basically pull the rug out from under the other, and neither can seem to capture the public zeitgeist, Taiwanese labor is, well, screwed.

Don't be children. Grow up and do it right. Come on guys.