Showing posts with label sunflowers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sunflowers. Show all posts

Monday, September 9, 2019

"This movement has a large youth following? Let's use sex to discredit them again!"

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A tale as old as time: a social movement with broad support that is either youth-led or has lots of youth visibility breaks out, challenging the power structures that seek to actively move some part of Asia towards illiberalism or outright authoritarianism.

Then, the conservative underpinning of that power structure - and it is always conservative, whether that's due to age, money, religion or some combination of these - realizes it can't make a convincing case to the broader public that the protesters are wrong and the status quo is better. So it appeals to the base conservative instincts many still hold through a massive straw man: discrediting the youth vanguard of these movements by accusing them of doing lots of very bad very wrong immoral dirty sexy sex.

And a legitimate fight for social and political change, this thinking goes, can't come from young people and their raging hormones because their movement has now been tainted by evil, bad sex and therefore can't actually be about social and political change, because sex! Therefore, they must be wrong. QED.


The rubber mallet is thus applied to the public's knee and the inherently conservative among them jump to attention just as they're expected to. Moral degeneracy!

They did it during the Sunflowers, and they're doing it again in Hong Kong



It's truly an ancient story: people in power are challenged by people with better ideas but less power, the powerful folks know they can't win by attacking the better ideas, so they do a ceremonial dance around those ideas to find some totally random thing to criticize about their challengers that will get the dullards who support the status quo all riled up. It's misogynist and supremacist - it reeks of patriarchy.

I could go look up the old gossip rag news from 2014, but I won't bother. We all know that it was full of stories of activists hooking up, or just joining the Sunflowers "for the sex". I don't know how much of it actually went on, and to be frank, I don't care. The sexual harassment/assault allegations against Chen Wei-ting are the most serious thing I've heard about (though I don't hear everything), and nothing reported on all this sex going on in the Legislative Yuan made it sound as though any of it was non-consensual. So who cares? People are free to do what they want with their bodies as long as everybody involved agrees, and it doesn't make their cause any less legitimate.

Of course, more recently, the same sort of (generally allied) people tried to do the same thing to fight marriage equality in Taiwan: realizing that denying the basic humanity of LGBT people wasn't working, they turned to a combination of "but all the gay sex! Diseases! And won't someone think of the children?" I'm not sure it occurred to them that all the gay sex was going to happen whether or not the people having it could get married.

And now, with Hong Kong, we have 'blue ribbon' uptight Dolores Umbridge Fanny Law decrying the "free sex" being "offered" to protesters as though this - if true - delegitimizes what the protesters are fighting for (it doesn't).

First, she provides no source for her claim (I'm sorry, this is not a 'source'). "I think we have confirmed that this is a true case" is something anyone can say. Where's the proof, Aunt Fanny?

Second, even if it is true, she's taking on the guise of a concerned advocate for these women while actually peddling misogynist sexual norms: the idea that these women can't possibly have decided to have sex in a way you wouldn't approve of on their own, with full mental faculties intact. No, because this is the "wrong" kind of sex, apparently, they must have been "misled" by these big, bad protester men. It's almost the opposite of a healthy attitude towards sexuality: whether both parties consent doesn't seem to matter, if it's the "wrong kind" of sex, she is essentially calling the men involved rapists (and the women involved incapable of making independent decisions)! That is offensive and makes it harder for women to speak up about actual rape or sexual assault they may have experienced.

Third, "young girls"? So, Aunt Fanny, are they underaged girls which is a truly serious issue and must be investigated, or are you calling women of legal age "young girls" in order to infantilize them? If it's the former, then you are implying that statutory rape is happening, which seems tonally inconsistent with your throwaway comment. What are these "confirmed cases"? What proof can we use to investigate this?

Let's say there is a bunch of free (assumed consensual) sex happening while, I dunno, tear gas billows overhead. I think it would be hard to get in the mood with those masks on and people running down the street while police brutalize them indiscriminately, but okay.

So what? Even if that is "moral degeneracy" (it's not), it doesn't take away from the validity of their cause - it didn't for the Sunflowers and it doesn't in Hong Kong now.

Of course, the conservative power structure knows that the cause is ultimately just, and will win over quite a few of their own support base if the message gets spread too widely, so they go after the evil bad immoral sex that Grandma would not approve of and peddle regressive gender politics and morality instead. Those always have some takers.

So of course Aunt Fanny has to paint this as dissolute immoral men and vapid unthinking "girls" because she, like many conservatives, doesn't understand consent. To her, whether sex is "the right kind" or "the wrong kind" has more to do with the social roles in which it takes place (in the confines of a married monogamous relationship = the right kind; everything else = the wrong kind) than whether the people involved actively agree to engage (consensual sex between people with no outstanding commitments = the right kind; non-consensual sex regardless of social role or relationship = the wrong kind).

So of course "free sex" - if this is even a thing, which it probably isn't - would be seen as "the wrong kind" of sex to her, but the power structure she resides within allows police to sexually assault female protesters without punishment (so far), dallied until 2002 before making marital rape illegal (marital rape is still legal in China - you know, that country that intends to fully absorb Taiwan by 2047) and allows a real domestic violence problem to fester. Those are all non-priorities to someone like her, but young men and women gettin' jiggy during protests? Oh no! The sky is falling! 




And so it goes.

If you think there isn't a direct thread between her talk about "young girls being misled into free sex" and illiberal, pro-authoritarian moralmongering, she couches that assertion in a long-winded interview in which she decries "violence" among the youth (ignoring the fact that it's the police who are instigating the violence and the youth who are pushing back against it) and calls for "civility" (as the protesters have not been violent and are fighting for values that are vital to a healthy civilization, this must mean "shut up and do what you're told, fighting back in any way is 'uncivil'"). She basically makes it sound like Hong Kong is going to hell not because a powerful, anti-democracy, anti-human rights behemoth who treats the city like a colonial possession is tightening the screws, but because a few kids weren't spanked enough by their parents so now they're running around throwin' bombs and havin' sex. What those kids stand for doesn't matter to her.

It's just another way for the power structure to try to hold on to that power: by telling us what we can say and how we can say it, where we can go, what we can wear, what we should think, what we should learn, and now, how and were we can fuck. Sex - like food, money and speech - is just another way to control us. In fact, a huge chunk of the history of the world is just people with power trying to control how other people have sex, as a way of controlling the rest of their lives as well.

When the next youth-led movement in Taiwan rises - and there will probably be one, as the threats we face have not receded - you can expect more shrieks and howls about all that terrible, dirty sex those terrible young children are having. Mark my words.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

If the Hong Kong government delegitimizes protests now, what happens in 2047?

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I try to take a break for a day then Carrie "Lizard Woman" Lam makes me work. Damn it, Carrie. 

News broke today that Carrie Lam has announced the full withdrawal of the controversial bill that would have allowed extraditions of suspected criminals in Hong Kong to China, which has a deeply flawed justice system (China has a conviction rate of 99+% and lacks an independent judiciary). As the bill was already essentially dead, it's being called a symbolic gesture of conciliation to the Hong Kong protesters in an attempt to quell rising unrest in the city.

So...great. Right?

The thing is, this solves nothing. The extradition bill was the match set to dry kindling. Saying "the match has been put out" can't stop the fire it's started. 


First, this is likely the easiest move for the government to make vis-a-vis the protesters' demands, and is likely a maneuver to delegitimize further protest in the eyes of the greater Hong Kong public and the world community. Many will see it as a "victory" for the protesters, and wonder, if they've "won", why they're still on the streets (if the demonstrations continue)? They'll start to question the purpose of mass gatherings that have routinely ground crucial city infrastructure to a halt. More conservative locals will consider the protesters an inconvenience - many already do. The huge turnouts we've been seeing will turn to a trickle, without a clear rallying cry, and those who are left will be labeled as "radicals".

This is exactly the intent of the government: give them the thing that is already a fait accompli, so that further demonstrations can be delegitimized.

Much of the international media will probably play along, because they don't know how to narrate the truth of the matter: that Hong Kong may be legally part of China but that 'legality' is a form of barely-disguised colonialism, and China is not and can never be an appropriate steward for Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, the arrests will quietly continue, and those targeted will start to slowly disappear. Sentences will be harsh, because the government won't have retracted the term "rioters" to describe them. Police who have engaged in unconscionable brutality and violence will keep their jobs; there will be no full inquiry if the government can help it.

If the government retracts the term "riot", that entails forcing them to admit that this sort of large scale social movement and civil disobedience is acceptable, not just to the Hong Kong government, but also their masters in Beijing. And if there's one thing Beijing wants to make it clear is unacceptable to them, it's exactly this. Plus, they'd have no grounds to execute (perhaps literally) their plan above to begin arresting and disappearing protesters.

What's more, they'd have less justification for taking those same actions later, as the end of the 50-year "One Country Two Systems" draws closer and creates more unrest. They know perfectly well they're going to have to deal with escalating protests, and they want to ensure that there's precedent to label the protesters 'separatists'
, 'radicals' and 'rioters' so as to more easily punish them.

Remember how they didn't outlaw freedom of speech in Hong Kong but slowly went after journalists and publishers through abduction, stabbing, threats and other, subtler means? In such a way that it could never be definitively linked back to the government?

Yeah, like that. That's also their plan for Taiwan, by the way.

If the government opens a full inquiry into police violence, that amounts to admitting that the police engaged in unreasonable violence: opening such an inquiry and then concluding that inquiry with "well, we didn't find any instances of police violence! They used reasonable force!" will just spark more protests. It also would require scores of police officers to lose their jobs, which would look bad for the government.

When the protesters - dissidents, really - rightly claim that trust between the police and the public has broken down, the government will gaslight them, and portray them to more conservative Hong Kongers and the world as unreasonable and hotheaded.

Think of it this way: why would a government that fully intends to become authoritarian within the next 30 years admit that the police were violent and the protesters were right? They're going to need those police officers to beat up more protesters over the next few decades, and those officers need to know that acts of brutality against pro-democracy demonstrators will go unpunished. There's no other way for a planned authoritarian state to prepare for what's to come.

Much better to try to wrest back the narrative from the protests now, so that they lose local and international support. There's already a far-too-loud contingent of tankies who are shouting that this is all a CIA plot, or that the protesters are Western imperialism-loving neoliberal scum (or whatever), and they should just shut up and learn to love living under an unfree dictatorship because 'if the West is bad, China must be good'. 


Nevermind that all the protesters are asking for are the same rights and freedoms that Westerners enjoy - only the evil West can "do imperialism", and I guess human rights are just for white people or something (barf).

Those voices will gain more traction. This is what China wants. 


The whole time, both the government and the protesters will know that the movement has in fact failed, and the government will have successfully taken away the ability of the protesters to garner international support.

You know how people who know about the Sunflower Movement often consider it a success because the trade bill that sparked the occupation was essentially killed? And how the Sunflowers themselves have been known to refer to it as a failure, because it brought about no lasting change in Taiwanese politics? Yeah, like that.

Because, of course, the ultimate desire of the Sunflowers was to reshape the way we approach political dialogue and Taiwanese identity vis-a-vis China. The ultimate goal of the Hong Kong is even clearer: true democracy. It was never wholly about extradition to China, not even when this began.

Which leads me to the last part - universal suffrage and 2047.

Seriously, if the protests hadn't broken out now, what did you expect was going to happen 28 years from now?

The Hong Kong China government was never going to offer true universal suffrage or true democracy. It wasn't willing to do that in 2014, and it's not willing to do that now. It has never intended for Hong Kong to move towards universal suffrage; the intent was always to veer away from that, and towards authoritarian rule. The plan is still on for China and Hong Kong to fully integrate in 2047, and the essential problem remains that Hong Kongers simply do not want to live under a fully Chinese political system. They don't want it now, and they'll never want it.

Even scarier, if China did offer Hong Kong more democratic reforms, ultimately they'd try to control that democracy through subtler means - the same way they've been interfering in Taiwanese elections despite having no authority in Taiwan. 


That's a problem that has no solution - there is no middle ground. Even if there were, the CCP is not a trustworthy negotiating partner. As I've said before, there's no emulsifying ingredient for compromise between China's oil and Hong Kong's water. What China plans in the long term is wholly unacceptable to Hong Kong, and what Hong Kong demands is wholly unacceptable to China. Period, hard stop, brick wall, what now?

So while Hong Kong China tries to stave off current protests, the larger problem still looms: what exactly are we going to do as we approach 2047? 


I've said it before and I'll say it again - we all know how this ends. Even if the protests die out tomorrow, in the long run it either ends in a broken Hong Kong, or it ends in a bent-and-cowed China that allows true democracy to flourish within its borders.

Which do you honestly think is more likely? 

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Third Force we needed and the Third Force we got

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I have no cover image so now is a good a time as any to say that I think my cat looks like Huang Kuo-chang


I said I didn't want to return to party politics for awhile, and I meant it. But then in the span of about 24 hours, Handy Chiu resigned as chair of the New Power Party and legislator Hung Tzu-yung left the party in much the same fashion as Freddy Lim two weeks ago.

There is a lot of speculation floating around about the details of why the NPP seems to be in nuclear meltdown mode, and I'm not able to offer any facts that you can't find elsewhere. What I can offer is bare-faced opinion, so here we go.

In the post-Sunflower era, the nascent Third Force needed two things. The first was to have a more collective structure - lots of people who broadly agree working together with no one 'personality' taking over. The second was to balance idealism with pragmatism. While there are people in the Third Force who would agree with this, unfortunately, they haven't been able to steer the movement in that direction.

The leadership needed to be more pluralistic - at the very least, the stars of the Third Force needed to be people who specifically wanted to cultivate and mentor emerging voices in the movement, so it never got to be too much about a few luminaries but instead continually populated with emerging young talent and new ideas.

There are Third Force public figures who take such a goal seriously, including Lin Fei-fan, the new deputy secretary general of the DPP, who had at one point intentionally stepped out of the spotlight, prioritized connecting with democracy activists across Asia, has shown that the DPP is willing to work with Third Force parties, and has said publicly that one of this goals is to foster and promote new voices so it's not all about certain personalities. (I think that last bit is published somewhere, but regardless he said it publicly at a panel at LSE last summer, which I attended.)

I'd venture that Lim is another such figure - he has sought to work with other legislators in the NPP rather than seeking to control the narrative, has fostered talent within the NPP, and has eschewed power he could have easily grabbed (when Huang Kuo-chang stepped down as party chair, the job was his for the taking. He didn't take it.) He has a slick and well-managed PR machine, but he uses it far differently than Huang. Even Handy Chiu, who wasn't chair of the NPP long enough to make an impression, seemed to seek compromise, discussion and a shared spotlight.

That's the attitude the NPP - and the whole Third Force - needed.

Sadly, that's not what they, or we, got.

Next to these more democratically-minded figures, there's Huang Kuo-chang. I won't sit here blasting the guy, because I don't know him personally (we met once, but only very briefly). But just a quick skim of NPP-related news will make clear that Huang is not only a major personality within the party, but also has a tendency to dominate it. In his lengthy Facebook manifesto, Wu Cheng referenced this explicitly.

I can also say that Huang did (and does) tend to dominate the NPP decision-making process and it did (and does) turn people off. It seems to me - barefaced opinion here - that this is not just that they lack a consensus on better alternatives, but because Huang is a dominant, controlling person. He may have tried to temper this tendency by stepping down as party chair, but it doesn't seem to have worked, and has definitely driven good people away.

So, since the NPP's founding, instead of this lovely utopian vision of collective voices, it feels like there's been a tug-of-war over whether to work towards true consensus, or just let it be the Huang Kuo-chang Show. From whether to push for a host of referendums (too many to link here) that not everyone fully supported to the failed (and pointless) hunger strike to whether or not to cooperate with Ko Wen-je or other Third Force parties, to whether or not to support Tsai's re-election bid, it's been years of Huang wanting to run the show. From what people have told me, there's arrogance aplenty as well.

As you might expect, this has caused people to become disenchanted and walk away. (Lin Fei-fan has said that Huang was not the reason why he didn't join the NPP, and relations between them are strong. I can't say if that's true or just something you say on camera, but I'd argue it doesn't matter - the overall trend is there.) 


That leads us to the second thing the NPP needed to be, but ultimately wasn't: a vanguard for the Third Force that wisely mixed idealism with pragmatism.

I've already said that the central issue with the NPP is a divide not between who supports whom outside of the party, whether that's Mayor Ko Wen-je or President Tsai Ing-wen, or whether or not to push for more referendums or hold a hunger strike or whatever the current 'issue' is, but rather all of these disagreements fall along a fault line of often-foolish idealism (led by Huang Kuo-chang and supported by Hsu Yung-ming) vs. guarded idealistic pragmatism (led by Freddy Lim and supported by Hung Tzu-yung). I could give a hundred examples, but let's just talk about one.

Despite strong arguments for supporting Tsai, Ing-wen for re-election, the NPP was unable to reach a consensus, I gather in great part because Huang was just not having it (he did threaten to leave if the NPP became a 'little green' after all.)

But here's the thing - and I've said this before:

The true progressives need to...realize firstly that not that many Taiwanese are as progressive as they are and their ideas are not shared by a majority of the population. That means more needs to be done to win over society. It means teaming up with the center, even if the center is slow to act. Doing so doesn't mean you have to support the center indefinitely. 
Or, as a very smart friend of mine once said, activists have to realize that change won't happen just because they march, protest, strike, write and occupy. Change happens because they do those things, bring their ideas to the rest of society and show the establishment that their causes enjoy some popularity and can be winning issues. Activism needs friends in the establishment to get things done, and the more progressive members of the Establishment need the activists to get society to care about those issues. In Taiwan, the activists need Tsai, and Tsai needs the activists. 


We're at a critical juncture now, where it's not hyperbole to say "this is do or die for Taiwan". I'll write more about this later, but electing a pro-Taiwan president now, as China is ramping up its disinformation, election interference and aggression campaigns as well as activating its latent networks to bully Taiwan into the fold, is of urgent importance. The top priority now is simple: Han Kuo-yu must be stopped. Lim, Lin and others understand this, and are willing to set aside differences with the less liberal DPP, but Huang and Hsu don't seem to get it. They're clinging to this idealist notion that in 2020, it is possible to undermine Tsai but not have Han win. And that's just not the case. It's fine to keep criticizing Tsai and the DPP, but damn it guys, do that after she wins. 


We needed a Third Force, and an NPP especially, that understood this and took the right side when the chips were down. We needed them to see that Tsai may not be perfect and it's necessary to continue to hold her and her party accountable, but that it would hurt Taiwan far worse to enable Han to win, however indirectly. We needed them to understand that their energy is best spent trying to win people to progressive causes while supporting the best possible viable candidate and establishment ally, rather than assuming they can do what they want because their ideals are obviously the correct ones. (They are, but if most voters don't see it that way, it doesn't matter much, does it?)

Sadly, that's not the NPP we got, and it's unclear that such a consensus will arise from elsewhere. The idealists "won", if by "won" we mean "blew up the party so now it's just Huang And Friends". I don't see a party built that much around one not-terribly-likable personality, which keeps taking hard turns into unrealistic idealism, lasting particularly long. Personality-parties rarely outlast their key figurehead, and overly idealistic ones are likely to perish even sooner.

What have we got, then? A hobbled, bleeding NPP, a few scattered parties that occasionally work together, and a couple of popular legislators who are now independent.

I've said before that the question of whether the NPP would lose relevance if it takes an overly-pragmatic route of becoming a 'little green' by supporting Tsai and the DPP is a moot one: moving away from supporting the DPP at key junctures, turning instead towards more radical platforms, would render it a fringe party, and that's just another kind of irrelevance.

It looks, then, like they're gunning for irrelevance. 

Friday, August 9, 2019

Hong Kong's in for a weekend of protests, so go check out Taipei's Lennon Wall


The post-it on the right shows a Hong Kong bauhinia with a drawing of Taiwan and says:
"We stand together forever"
Honestly that brought tears to my eyes. To the right, the big characters simply say "freedom". 


I don't have a big post to write here, this is more of a photo essay. 

As you might know already, a Lennon Wall (a wall of pictures, post-its and other written messages inspired by a Beatles-themed wall in Prague) has popped up in Taipei, mimicking several Lennon Walls that have appeared (and are sometimes taken down by pro-China dissenters) in Hong Kong since protests began.


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I'm posting it because not everyone is able to go see the wall - a lot of my readers are not in Taipei, or are perhaps simply not able to make it to Gongguan. I want those people to be able to look at the messages of support written for Hong Kong by the people of Taiwan.

I want to say here that anyone who is unable to go to the wall but would like to add a message of support can leave a comment on this post or on Lao Ren Cha's Facebook page (which you are cordially invited to 'like', by the way) with what you want to say, and I will personally go to the wall, post your message of support, and take a photo to send to you. Seriously - I don't live that far away and I'm pretty free next week. Just ask. 



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The wall is located near MRT Gongguan Station and National Taiwan University's southwestern edge, in the underpass that lets pedestrians traverse the Roosevelt Road/Xinsheng South Road intersection.

I'm not sure why sticky notes are the vehicle of choice for these sentiments, but my guess is that it's because they're easy - the stickiness is right there - they're cheap, they can go up quickly, they're colorful and they won't cause any damage. I don't know about Hong Kong but in Taipei an added advantage is that people can leave blocks of sticky notes behind for others who'd like to add to the wall but haven't brought materials.



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When Brendan went to check it out several days before I did, as I'd been in China, it seemed a lot smaller than it is now. It's absolutely burgeoning with messages now, and I imagine it will only get bigger.

There are volunteers who watch over the wall - after all, Taiwan also has pro-China thugs who tear things like this down out of sheer petty childish vindictiveness. Plus, there are markers, pens and sticky notes made available so anyone can come by and write a message without preparing in advance. 



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The messages come from around the world - Brendan and I are not the only foreigners to have left them - in a variety of languages (though mostly Mandarin, Cantonese, Taiwanese and English).

They are mostly in support of Hong Kong and the protests there - many of them pointing out that what happens in Hong Kong affects Taiwan and we are all in this together in the fight for freedom. Some, however, explicitly reference Taiwan and call for Taiwanese de jure independence.

There's some conflict as well: 



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That's understandable as many Americans in Taiwan (and many Americans in general!) support Taiwan and Hong Kong, but the governments of some countries have been slow to act or show support. 
And, as you can see, while most of the messages are positive and call for peace and non-violence, others take an (also-justified) angrier tone, lashing out at Carrie Lam, Xi Jin-ping, the KMT and the Hong Kong police. 


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A few of them explicitly reference previous social movements in Taiwan and Hong Kong, with pictures depicting yellow umbrellas for Hong Kong's Umbrella Movement and Sunflowers for Taiwan's Sunflower Movement, both of which occurred in 2014.

Those movements, while not entirely successful in changing the political climate long-term in either Taiwan or Hong Kong, have had a lasting impact on activism in both places.

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In several places, the five demands of Hong Kong protesters are laid out: 


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Some point out that protests have grown less peaceful (mostly in defense as the police have unleashed violence on protesters) because "if peaceful protest worked, we wouldn't have to come out every weekend". 


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Others clarify that this fight isn't just about the China extradition bill - Hong Kong wants democracy and it's at a tipping point. The scope of what protesters are fighting for has widened, which is both wonderful and dangerous (and something they were going to have to eventually fight for, which I suspect most people had known already but not necessarily previously articulated.)


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Of course, issues facing Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tibet, Xinjiang and other places are intertwined, as all of us are locked in a battle against an expansionist, aggressive, human-rights-abusing dictatorship that seeks to control us: 


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Similarities between the KMT in Taiwan and the CCP - and the KMT's closeness with China - are also pointed out. Underneath the Winnie the Pooh (Xi Jin-ping) with a KMT sun on his chest, are the words "don't throw your vote away" (literally "don't vote messily/carelessly"). 


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"Today Hong Kong, Tomorrow Taiwan"


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This one speaks for itself.

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A Cantonese version of "Do You Hear The People Sing" has become a popular protest anthem in Hong Kong. I can't help but draw a connection between the hopelessness of the protest in Les Miserables and the protests in Hong Kong. Though Hong Kongers seem to be doing a better job than Enjolras, Marius & the gang. 


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Taoist hexes (I think) being placed on a picture of Carrie Lam. One is about long life, the other says "retrocession for Hong Kong" (back to the UK? Toward independence? I'm not sure). 


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This slogan (on the black paper) was popular during Taiwan's Sunflower Movement:




A memorial for the poncho-clad protester killed as a result of being hit with several water cannons early in the protests. Yellow ponchos have also become a symbol of protest for Hong Kong as a result. 





Pens and post-its are available for anyone who comes unprepared. 


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Tuesday, July 9, 2019

An Incomplete Taiwanese History of Cyan

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Perimeter wall of the Jingmei Human Rights Museum

Several months ago, I went to the Jingmei Human Rights Museum and noticed that a cyan or light teal color featured prominently on many of the buildings, especially on doors, bars and outdoor perimeter walls. I've seen this color frequently in Taiwan and if it hadn't been so predominant, I might not have even noticed it here. But it was everywhere, in a place meant to be a prison toward the end of the White Terror era.

I asked a few people who worked there, who said it was just a popular (and therefore possibly inexpensive) color at the time, and the builders perhaps wanted to bring a little bit of a 'sky' color to otherwise dank, gray, unforgiving cell blocks. I found the desire to make living quarters nicer suspicious - after all, the guards would engage in soul-crushing cruelties in other ways, so why would they care about the cells looking brighter? But that the paint was perhaps inexpensive and readily available made more sense.



I find it hard to believe that the people who built and ran this hellhole would care one bit about
making the inmates feel more comfortable by painting some things bright colors. 

Another worker there told me that one name for this color, which I would call 藍綠色 lán lǜsè or 青色 qīngsè (though you have to clarify which 青 you mean, as it just denotes 'nature's color' - think new plants, a view across blue mountains, that sort of thing - and is also a way to describe rice liquor) was 防空色 fángkōng sè, or "air defense camouflage". Googling that, however, I found most things labeled 防空色 were brown, khaki or dun-colored, meant to blend into the earth from the sky. I suppose you'd really only use a bright teal or cyan as 'air defense camouflage' if the thing you were trying to obscure stuck out into the sky - but that's just conjecture.









I wanted to know more, but being both busy with graduate school and not exactly a great investigative reporter, I didn't get very far. Tatung (大同) famously made electric fans in that color - fans which have become one of the traditional products that form a sort of iconography or semiotic imagery of Taiwanese history and identity, alongside rice cookers from the same company, small Taiwan Beer glasses, those three-color plastic shopping bags and more. They still make those fans: I would know - I have one. The color is even called "classic green". 

I hate calling people, so I dropped Tatung a Facebook message to ask why these fans were traditionally that green-blue color (it seems like it might be possible to email through their website but the only avenue seemed to require a lot of information about the product purchased, meaning it's probably not the best avenue for finding out what I want to know). I haven't received a response but I'll update here if they ever reply.

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My own Tatung retro fan in "classic green"

At that point I considered that these fans had been around since the mid-20th century, and that turquoisey greeny blue was quite popular in the 1950s in the US, which was the country that Taiwan was most looking toward as it cut off contact with China and was a strong ally to the United States. Maybe it was just, well, popular. Popular things tend to be easy to come by, and cheap, so that might be a simple explanation that goes a long way.

In any case, I Googled "air defense camouflage" in Chinese and came up with this fascinating article on the use of color and tile on Taiwanese buildings during the Japanese era (link in Chinese, by a professor at NTU).

It's a lot to sift through, but essentially there is no specific color called "air defense camouflage",  and the term has been typically used for all of the yellowy browns, cement, dirt and khaki colors you might imagine. In fact, a quick look at this traditional Japanese color chart lists a bland dun-yellow-brown as "national defense color" (國防色 guófáng sè). That said, according to Horigome in the Chinese-language link above, "light green", "bright blue green" and "green-green", are colors described as 'air defense camouflage' by a the Kaohsiung City Museum and Kaohsiung City Culture Bureau. He then goes on to note that it's not at all clear that the purpose of such colors was actually to help camouflage buildings from aerial assault, but that such colors might simply have been considered pleasing or fashionable and might have been chosen for a number of reasons: performatively (to display how patriotic one was by using national defense colors); aesthetically (they just liked it), or because it was thought to fit in with the surrounding area or other colors. 



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A building in Kinmen, Taiwan (Kinmen was never Japanese so I doubt it would have become popular here as a result
of Japanese influence)

Looking more at that color chart again, the colors most similar to the cyans and teals seen in Taiwan seem to be either 'new bridge' or "Shinbashi" color (新橋色), clear blue-green (青綠色), fresh bamboo (青竹色), celadon (青磁色), 'ancient' green-blue (青色). Of all of these, I think 'new bridge' is the closest match, and this helpful website in Japanese explains that it was a popular color in the late Meiji era, especially among the geishas of the Shinbashi neighborhood of Tokyo. 

The late Meiji is right around the time that Japan was consolidating its rule of Taiwan, so if the popularity of teal came from that...cool. Though it seems like quite a stretch to say that a color popular in Japan during the colonial era would influence, say, the color that prison bars were painted during the White Terror, or the color of electric fans in the mid-twentieth century. 



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The history of "Shinbashi" blue


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The color remains popular in Japan


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A Japanese-era wooden building in Chiayi city
(Yeah, I went to Chiayi for a bit and never told y'all)

My guess is that perhaps the color may have become widely used in Taiwan during the Japanese era, possibly for 'air defense' reasons or possibly simply because it was also popular in Japan. It sure does appear on the window frames and casements of a lot of Japanese-era buildings, especially brick or wood ones. Then I'd guess it simply stayed popular because it's a nice color and offers a striking and pleasing contrast with the brick and dun shades of Taiwanese buildings.

Another pet theory that I can't prove at all is that it's a popular color for window casements and bars because it is similar to sky blue - with blue window bars, you might be able to look outside on a clear day and feel like the bars (which are unsightly but considered "necessary" for safety reasons) were perhaps not there at all. 


That brings us to the modern era - the color has seen a bit of a resurgence in political activism. All of those "I support Taiwanese independence" stickers, flags, towels and t-shirts use it. It's been around since at least 2014 and the Sunflower Movement, and (so I was told anyway) a well-known activist who runs a coffeeshop in Taichung designed the current popular crop of designs.



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A screenshot of the designs popular today
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Even I have the t-shirt! 


I asked around - including the person who I was told had created the designs (who wasn't too forthcoming) and didn't get any clear answers. One activist friend said he'd heard the use of the color was meant to symbolize "the mixing of green and blue, because we are all Taiwanese regardless", but expressed doubt that that was the actual intent behind the color choice. I noted the historical roots of the color, but neither of us is sure if that plays any role. Perhaps it was chosen simply because it is an attractive color that happens to be popular right now, but color symbolism in Taiwanese politics is far too complex and just inextricably intertwined with parties, ideas and movements here that I do believe it was chosen for a reason. However, I'm still unsure of what that reason is.

You might also notice that many candidates of another political party have been using that same color - the DPP. Were they using it to try and identify more closely with social movement activists? Were they trying to tap into it as a historically symbolic color of Taiwan? Why was it popping up everywhere in DPP campaigns too, as late as this last spate of elections in 2018?




See? (Lime green is popular too now)


I asked a friend of mine who campaigned in 2018 (and won!) and who had used this color in his campaign and his answer was much more pragmatic: first, he (and perhaps other) DPP candidates felt that the party's traditional deep green was too old-fashioned - "very 1980s". The other was that since everyone was using it, it was cheaper to order campaign materials in that color.

Well, so much for trying to tie current political trends to historic notions of Taiwanese identity through color symbolism - avoiding the usual suspects of red, blue and green. Perhaps someday I'll get to the bottom of teal/cyan/"new bridge color"/"air defense camouflage", and I'll keep you updated if so.

Whether or not the color just happened to be popular in the past, there's no question that its use in political imagery is somehow intentional. It was chosen for a reason; I just don't know what that reason is. For DPP candidates, it may just be that it's inexpensive and popular but also modern, and doesn't scream "old guard DPP" while still retaining a callback to the party's traditional colors. (You'll notice that in an attempt at feminization, some female KMT candidates have been using shades of pink - this seems less popular among the DPP.)



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Another building in Chiayi city, probably built in the 1940s (?), but that paint is pretty new.
It must be a contemporary and purposeful choice. 




If you were wondering, by the way, whether my choice to use a color very similar to this on Lao Ren Cha was intentional...it was. I've associated this color with modern Taiwan and Taiwanese identity for years. It also happens to be one of my favorite colors.