Showing posts with label taiwanese__independence. Show all posts
Showing posts with label taiwanese__independence. Show all posts

Monday, October 7, 2019

Lee Chia-fen's comments on Megaport Festival are pure patriarchy and no substance

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I don't even know where to begin when dissecting the deeply problematic comments of Lee Chia-fen, the perpetually frowning wife of presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu, when she attempted to justify the cancellation of the wildly popular Megaport music festival. But there's clearly more to talk about than the obvious take - that it's complete nonsense and fearmongering - and I suppose because I subconsciously enjoy a bit of mild masochism, I'd like to talk about that.

According to the Taipei Times:


The Megaport Festival “has made many mothers weep,” Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu’s (韓國瑜) wife, Lee Chia-fen (李佳芬), said yesterday. It was not clear what she was insinuating. 
Lee made the remarks while campaigning for Han, the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) presidential candidate, and KMT Legislator Ko Chih-en (柯志恩) in New Taipei City, adding that as a mother she knows what many parents are worried about....
As a mother, she would like to see a society that is built on harmony and reciprocity, Lee said. 

Lee went on to say that there should be a focus on the economy and education - "cultivating the next generation" to be more "qualified" - and caring for the disadvantaged (link in Mandarin), and that her husband would concentrate on these areas.

I noticed immediately that Lee's comments sounded exactly like the sort of thing the wife of a conservative politician in the US would say. If you hadn't thought before that the KMT had been studying the tactics of successful Republican campaigns in the US - even though the two parties don't overlap entirely in ideology - it should be clear now. 

It's also not at all clear what on earth these "mothers" would be crying about. Lee didn't actually give any examples of aspects of Megaport over which "mothers" would rend their garments. It seems she just expected us to assume it was the usual sex, drugs and rock & roll (I don't know how much sex and drugs there really are at Megaport, but as far as I'm aware it's never been a big issue before.)

As for "education, the economy, and helping the disadvantaged", let's leave aside the fact that Lee's husband has no concrete platforms or policy proposals through which to accomplish these goals. Instead, I'd like to first point out that "education, the economy and helping the disadvantaged" are completely irrelevant to the Megaport Festival. Even if we could trust Han Kuo-yu to dedicate himself to these goals (and we can't without concrete policy proposals from him), they can be accomplished with Megaport still going strong. These issues are so unrelated that I wonder what sort of dogwhistle she's blowing here.

Oh wait, I know which one.

There's a big helping of anti-Taiwan fearmongering here - Megaport was co-founded by Chthonic singer and pro-independence activist and legislator Freddy Lim. Openly pro-independence band Fire Ex, whose songs are exclusively in Taiwanese rather than Mandarin, often headline. This is a "these people believe in Taiwanese independence and hate the ROC!" dogwhistle, implying that being pro-independence means you don't care about the "important" issues because all you want to do is fight China. Up next in the playlist: the only way to improve Taiwan's economy is to get closer to China, which these awful splittists are afraid of doing because they're ethno-nationalists, not like we superior Han leaders, they'd rather let the Taiwanese economy burnNevermind that the economy is not burning - you need to be convinced that it is in order to advance a pro-China agenda.

Oh yes, and let's not forget the racism. Here is the Mandarin version of part of Lee's remarks (translation mine):

李佳芬說,她跟著學校的師生走遍亞洲各國,發現台灣孩子資質很好,只要給機會和養分,就能成龍成鳳,更說,如果不能為下一代創造好環境,那就是這一代的罪過。
Lee Chia-fen said that she visited teachers and students across various Asian countries, and found that the qualifications of Taiwanese children are quite strong. As long as opportunities and 'nutrients' are given, they can become phoenixes, but if we cannot create a good environment for the next generation, it is the sin of this generation.


This is a clear call-back to her husband's remarks on Taiwanese brain drain, saying that "when the phoenix flies away, the chicken comes to roost" (likening Taiwanese to phoenixes and foreign workers to chickens - in other words, being racist.) Han later "clarified" his remarks in various ways, but there's really no "clarification" for a statement like that. Lee's remark makes it clear that he meant what he said and all of its supremacist implications.

But what bothered me most was the insidious patriarchal internalized misogyny of such comments. I know it might sound odd to say that highlighting the feelings of mothers in society is inherently patriarchal and misogynist, but it is. Hear me out.


I doubt that Lee was drawing on established research into the opinions of Taiwanese mothers on the cultural implications of the Megaport Festival (I'm pretty sure none exists). So she was fabricating an opinion of "mothers" out of thin air, based on her opinion. She not only assumed that enough Taiwanese mothers would agree with it that it must be true, but expected that we would buy into her grand delusion as well, and take for granted that Lee's notions of what "Taiwanese mothers" think must be accurate.

In fact, if there's any truth to it at all, it would only be true for Taiwanese mothers of Lee's generation and older. Data routinely show that Taiwanese, especially younger Taiwanese, are more socially liberal. Sex, drugs and rock & roll don't bother them. Most Taiwanese, and especially younger Taiwanese, identify as Taiwanese rather than Chinese, and with Taiwan as their country, not China (I don't think I've ever even heard a person under age 50 refer to their country as anything other than "Taiwan", ever.) Presumably, many of these younger Taiwanese are women, and plenty of them are mothers. So Lee's comments frame the discussion of "what mothers think" as one in which only mothers of a certain age get to be an authority or decide that consensus.

When you fabricate an opinion for "mothers" and then tout it as fact, even if you yourself are a woman, you are deciding other women's opinions for them to advance your own cause. Not letting women, including mothers, speak for themselves is patriarchy.

Second, her comments hold up "mothers" as some sort of social ideal - angels whose opinions can never be wrong and in fact, the only status in which a woman's opinion matters. That's an old-school conservative tactic - ignoring "whores" (everyone who isn't a mother) by holding up "Madonnas".

But of course, mothers can be wrong. I loved my mother dearly but she had a lot of ideas about how my life should be that were simply not right for me. And sometimes, if your mother is truly wrong, you do just have to let her cry (As far as I know, I never made my mother cry, but I know people who, say, came out to their mothers as gay, lesbian or trans and did cause maternal tears - and that was the mothers' problem, and her issue to come to terms with, not their fault).

It also sets the stage for a "family values"-centric platform in which, well, "the family" is held up as the best possible social ideal, with "the family" being a traditional unit with a mother and a father (so, no same-sex couples, because your mother can't weep if you have two dads) and children (your weeping doesn't count if you're a woman who has decided not to procreate). The implicit ageism of her comments also makes it clear that such a family is one in which children obey their elders no matter how wrong those elders might be.

And there is nothing more patriarchal than holding up the ideal of a weeping mother as a particular cog in a family unit, a complementary 'emotional' component (note all the "weeping") to the idealized quiet, hardworking father. This sets up women as primarily emotional beings, whose emotions only count if they are mothers. And of course, they have to play a certain role as mothers because they are 'emotional' - this 'traditional family' isn't one with a sensitive dad or a breadwinning mom or anything newfangled or liberal like that. Nobody else's emotions count at all, least of all the children who might be perfectly upstanding young adults who might want to attend Megaport just because it's fun.

In short, everything the younger generation doesn't want Taiwan to be, but their parents and grandparents still insist on.

What is more patriarchal than that?

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Calling Taiwan independence supporters 'women' doesn't bother me - why should it?

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When New Party "candidate" Yang Shi-kuang went on about how Taiwan independence supporters were "women" and unificationists were "men" (and then continued, because of reasons, to bloviate on the supposed genders of other Taiwanese political figures vis-a-vis their stance on independence), I vacillated between feeling nothing at all, and like he was unknowingly serving up a compliment.

I won't bother with the notion that how you feel about Taiwan says anything at all about what's in your pants; that doesn't merit a response. In any case, he was referring to gender as a construct and semiotic representation or classification (not that he's smart enough to have realized this himself - he probably did think he was making a crude joke about genitals.) China as 'the masculine' and Taiwan (and its sovereignty) as 'the feminine'.

Anyway, this should offend me, but it doesn't. In its crass 'heheheh if u dont like china u r a dum wummin' form, it just doesn't mean anything. In its more symbolic sense, however, I've actually made an argument that seems similar on the surface but is actually completely different (because unlike this guy I'm not stupid), and I'm here to say this: what's so wrong with Taiwanese independence and Taiwan in general being symbolically 'feminine', and identifying with that regardless of your gender identity and biological sex? Why is it inherently a bad thing to be 'feminine', or desirable to be 'masculine'?

(It's not.)


Instead of retreading already-covered ground, here are a few points I made in Island of Women and its follow-up, From the Island of Women to #metoo

This idea of China as masculine (and dominant) and Taiwan as feminine (and ignored or unimportant) isn't a new concept. In
Taiwan's Imagined Geography, Emma Jinhua Teng devotes a whole chapter to conceptualizing Chinese thought (in the time period she covers, although it's just as true today) as "masculine" - Confucian, patriarchal, and often consciously so - and perceptions of Taiwan as "feminine". That is, an "Island of Women" where many indigenous tribes had matriarchal, matrilineal, uxorilocal practices and often had female chiefs. This was also a common conceptual device to link Chinese culture to being morally upright, powerful, and civilized, and Taiwan to being barbaric and - although Teng doesn't say this directly - weak.... 
Consider how China talks about itself: 5000 years, Confucian values, strong country desiring global hegemony. Now consider how Taiwan talks about itself - the beautiful island. In one of my favorite comics, China is male, the ROC is androgynous, and Formosa is a voluptuous woman. I will also point out something that struck me recently as I thought about the subtler themes in Shawna Yang Ryan's Green Island. While the protagonist's father (representing Taiwanese political ideology, including notions of freedom and sovereignty) was absent for a portion of the novel and never really recovered from his incarceration, her mother (representing the land of Taiwan, including home and family) was always there. It's not offhandedly that, as a young woman, that same mother quotes Du Fu, saying "國破山河在" - the country is broken, but the mountains and rivers remain. 
It is not a great leap to see that, despite China's talk of two sides of one family "reuniting", in fact, it wants to be the domineering patriarch, forcing Taiwan into the role of feminine supplicant. It wants to be the controlling husband to Taiwan's obedient wife.
It doesn't take much to further leap to the realization that, if China is masculine and Taiwan is feminine, the West is treating them exactly as we treat the genders. We listen to China. We give them space... 
And Taiwan? We treat her as we do women: we ask her to take up less space (by literally giving her less diplomatic space). We ask her to keep China calm, to bend and contort herself - whatever it takes to keep that man happy. 


And:



Until just few centuries ago, the vast majority of Taiwanese did not have ancestral ties to China: the permanent population was entirely Austronesian. However, it was known to Chinese explorers. They would often refer to it not as the Beautiful Isle as the Portuguese did, but instead as the “Island of Women”, a name which served two purposes. First, it provided a shorthand description of their impression of Austronesian indigenous societies, where women typically enjoyed higher status – including leadership positions in both the religious and political spheres, matrilineal and matripotestal customs – a social structure that was entirely different from the Confucian, patriarchal Chinese cultural values of the explorers. It was also an insult, as it was common in China to associate femininity and matriarchy with backwardness and barbarism, and masculinity and patriarchy with advancement and civilization.

So I don't see why it's such a great leap to symbolically classify Taiwanese independence as 'feminine' and unificationism as 'masculine'. If anything, that's an insult to unificationism, not pro-independence sentiments. Think of it this way (and a small content warning here for rape and sexual violence): I can't find it online, but I have seen political art in Taiwan that depicted a female Formosan mountain dog, colored green, being raped by an angry male dog of a different breed, colored red. It wasn't self-deprecation - it was a howl of anger, fear and desperation. It was putting into images a symbolic truth that is difficult to put into words.

If pro-China forces want to claim that masculine mantle, I say they those are the connotations we should associate with it. They'v already got the gaslighting down pat, so they can have the patriarchy, the old order, the role of the oppressor. That's what they want anyway, isn't it? And that means we get to be the good guys (which is not to say that 'masculine' is always bad and 'feminine' is always good - but they sure seem to be leaning into all of the negative aspects of that symbolism). Not to get too Joseph Campbell on you because I'm not a huge fan, but if they want to be Darth Vader, fine. Vader seems powerful but he dies, and nobody likes him. We get to be Princess Leia General Organa.

And what better Darth Vader than Xi Jinping, and what better Princess Leia than Tsai Ing-wen?

It might seem like I'm acquiescing to giving lots of power - I mean, the patriarchy is power - to the bad guys here, but I'm not. I'm giving them the role of the oppressor, a role they are willingly taking on. And the role of the oppressor, symbolically, is to be eventually defeated. That's how it works in all the best stories.

Of course, stories are stories and reality doesn't always deliver those pumped-up happy endings. We could lose. But we're living in a time when that's not a foregone conclusion. The world is turned upside down, and it remains upside down. These ideas of power, dominance and the patriarchy and the harm they have done to everyone else are taken more seriously. Being the scrappy 'rebels' can work in our favor (though we're not actually rebels - those of us who sympathize with Taiwan just want to maintain and formalize the sovereignty this country already has). The unificationists may be linking back to Confucian ideals of masculine power - cultivating land and civilization from terrifying 'female' jungle and 'savages' - but that story's out of fashion, and should remain so. It's patriarchal and stale. 


So, you know, I don't care if you're male or female. I don't care what's in your pants. It's okay to sympathize with something that is conceptually and symbolically 'feminine' - it's not a bad thing to be 'female' or 'feminine', whether you are a person or a concept. Yang Whats-His-Name thought he was insulting Taiwan independence supporters by calling them 'women', which just reveals that he is a sexist person with a sexist, patriarchal mindset. It's not insulting to be called female, because being female isn't a bad thing.

And that means he is the oppressor, and his role in this story is to be defeated. 

Monday, April 8, 2019

When a "Taiwan separatist" goes to China...

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The temples here remind me of the ones in South Korea, and one of them (not this one) is a Matsu temple, of all things!  


I'm going to say something that should seem sort-of obvious but might shock a few people anyway.


I like China.

I still hate the CCP, though.

Some of you are probably thinking "why wouldn't you? The people are friendly, the food is great, the history, literature, architecture and culture are fascinating, the scenery is often stunning. There's a lot to like in China!"

And some of you are surely thinking "but they're our mortal enemies! And all the pollution! And the government! It's so oppressive!"

Both of these groups are right.

I've spent a week here running a training course, and was also in Shanghai recently. And I have to say that although I felt a little nervous beforehand for reasons I'll explain below, I would overall say that I had good experiences here. The people - the managers I've worked with, the trainees - have been so friendly and hospitable. Of course, I knew already that people in China are usually very welcoming to foreign visitors. The managers worked hard to ensure that I was comfortable, happy and well-fed while here; I ate like a king. The trainees worked their butts off, were an exceptional class and just all around great to work with, as well as being friendly and willing to learn. It was an honor to work with them, and more importantly, I genuinely like them.

Of course, the food is as spectacular as I remember it. I haven't had much time to go out and actually do anything, however, as these are purely work trips.

And I've found that if two conditions are met, this proud Taiwan "separatist" does like visiting China: the first is that it's only enjoyable on days when pollution isn't bad. The day a pollution and dust storm blew through was awful. The days the air has been breathable have been fine.

The second is that I have fast, consistent access to the open Internet. Without that, I can't even talk to my husband as neither of us uses any social media or chat apps that are allowed in China. I can't do much of anything: the majority of things I enjoy doing online consistently are banned in China, and in 2019 it's just not acceptable to me that my access be restricted.

VPNs don't work well - if you can get them to connect (which they won't always do), they can be slow and the connection can be lost. The only way to travel, I've found, is through one of those Wifi hotspots you can get at the airport in Taiwan. They bounce you right over the Great Firewall quickly and consistently, and cost a little under NT$200/day (my company paid for it).

This might seem like a dumb thing to say to some of you - white girl realizes China's not so bad after all! would be an uncharitable but possible way to characterize it - but remember I've spent the better part of the last decade devoting my time to writing about politics in Taiwan and Asia from a pro-independence standpoint. After awhile you start to think of China as 'the enemy' rather than a beautiful country full of lovely people.

The CCP is the enemy. China's just a country. How can one hate a country?

I'll only say one thing on the other side of that perspective: being here with unrestricted Internet access takes away the most obvious way that China's police state makes itself known. Everything else is normal: great bars with great music (though nothing with particularly thoughtful lyrics), great cafes, great shopping, great food. People living their lives. Fear doesn't lurk around every corner. Xinjiang and Tibet are far away. A great deal of literature is still banned, but they don't always check carefully.

Without the daily annoyance of wondering whether or not you'll be able to get online, you'd be forgiven for forgetting that you're living in a place run by authoritarians who want to annex a neighboring democracy and are perpetrating both cultural and literal genocides in their western provinces. The CCP seems to have figured out - after, uh, some trial and error - that if you force people to give up all cultural touchstones and push them into a gray Communist hellscape, they aren't going to like you very much. But if they can eat, drink, wear, listen to and buy whatever they like and you give them a home-grown social network, that's enough for huge swaths of the population. They might just leave you be.

If you're from China and are used to the Internet issue, you're used to getting state-approved news, you've never seen a banned book, you've been raised to think Taiwan is yours by right and Xinjiang and Tibet seem far away indeed, it must be easy to otherwise forget exactly who is running things. You might even support them: China's gotten a lot nicer in the past 20 years, after all.

I'm not the first to say it, but so much for the idea that economic growth inevitably brings political liberalization.


I prefer living in Taiwan for sure; it's my home. One of my requirements in a place to live is that it be free, and Taiwan is: I feel safe expressing myself openly there, and my friends enjoy democratic norms I feel are crucial. I do not, and will never, consider Taiwan to be a part of China, and I don't intend to live in China. I will still criticize the Chinese Communist Party until I draw my last breath. I'll stay in the fight against their aggressively expansionist policies. In that sense, I'm still in the trenches. You will never see me become one of those Westerners who apologizes for Beijing's brutal authoritarianism and aggressive expansionism. I stand for universal human rights, self-determination, and freedom and that will never change. The CCP will always be an enemy.

In other words, all the shiny things brought about by economic growth shouldn't be enough to tempt Taiwan toward China; Taiwan's sovereignty is about more than that. It's not enough to tempt me, either. My true freedom is worth more. 


But on a clear day, if you have a good portable hotspot, it's pretty good to visit - and I wouldn't mind coming back.

So what made me nervous? Well, being here for work, I couldn't just say what I thought about Taiwan because agreeing to come at all basically means I've agreed that I'm a representative of the company and not here in a personal capacity. That (Taiwanese) company treats me well; I want them to do well and this is good business for them. In any case, nobody asked.

To be honest, I don't know what I would have done if someone had.
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On a street of Hui (Chinese Muslim) restaurants in Shenyang


It's usually not that hard to keep my political views to myself at work, but when you know you can't say anything because it's your job to make your employer's Chinese client happy, being hyper-aware of it makes it more likely to slip out because what you can't say is always on your mind. Like how telling a kid she can't do something just makes her want to do that thing more, know what I mean? Though some managers here figured out, of course I never told any trainees, nor would I.


Because of this, I did feel a bit 'closed': advocating for Taiwan isn't the only thing in my life, but it's a big part of it. Ensuring that none of my trainees was aware of that part of my life, and that they knew me in a professional capacity rather than a personal and political one did entail pretending that part of myself didn't exist for a week, and not just during work hours. We all stayed in the same hotel; I saw them at every meal. In that sense, being only about 3/4 of who I actually am was like cutting off my left arm. I could function, but it wasn't the whole me.

That said, I never compromised. I stood for the national anthem because it's required, but I did not put my hand on my heart (I couldn't have sung it even if asked). I always referred to "Taiwan" and China": no "Mainland", "province" or anything like that passed my lips. Because it was relevant to a class discussion, I mentioned that NTU was founded "when Taiwan was Japanese". I didn't pretend or lie. I walked a thin line between holding to my principles in my language use, but also not offering that information about myself.

But I'll tell you, while the trainees never found out about my political views, the two managers who helped run the course did. One is Taiwanese so I just told him. The other is Chinese but figured it out through my language use and hearing me talk with the Taiwanese manager. She was surprisingly cool with it. If you are open, you will find people who can accept the whole you - the problem is, you won't find out who those people are until you say something, by which time it might be too late.

When she did find out and we could finally just talk openly about these things, the whole feeling just changed. We went from friendly work acquaintances who shared our meals with small talk punctuated with quiet periods to people who could actually have discussions.

And to be frank, that's what made me decide that I did, in fact, enjoy this trip to China. The air's been okay (which I'm told is unusual), the hotspot works, fine. But really, it's the ability to be not just myself, but my whole self, around at least a few other people.

So I'll end with this: pro-Beijing types love to talk about how Chinese and Taiwanese have some sort of special relationship or understanding due to cultural, ethnic and historical ties. A relationship they often claim no-one else can understand, a special affinity. I've heard it both hinted and said obliquely that this creates a special affinity between individuals as well in which they understand each other as ultimately culturally Chinese.

I'm here to tell you that it's not true.

Until that breakthrough toward the end of my trip, I found that when I was out with a mixed group of Taiwanese and Chinese, they were amicable. You might think there was some special cultural affinity or set of tacit understandings that we clunky interlopers could never comprehend which transcended politics.

And yet, I could see the ways in which my Taiwanese colleagues and acquaintances held back whenever it was a mixed group. It was very subtle, like buttoning a bit closer to the collar than one ordinarily buttons. Zipping up a jacket just a little higher than usual. You'd have to be watching for it to see it, but it was there.

The second the company changed and it was all Taiwanese, it was like a collective unconscious breath was let out. The belt loosened. The words loosened.

I know this because, although I am not Taiwanese, I was treated as one in these situations. I felt it too. I even mentioned it explicitly, and the others readily agreed. It wasn't dislike, they pointed out. They liked their Chinese counterparts - you just had to be careful what you said. Among other Taiwanese and the Honorary (that's me), you could speak more freely.

And that same feeling came back the second the Chinese manager indicated that she was fine with my beliefs. Jackets unzipped, collars loosened, guts unsucked.

It has nothing to do with ethnicity, history cultural 'affinity', or even being Taiwanese. If you understand Taiwan's situation and what it stands for, you're in.

If not, you could be as genetically similar as anything, but you're out.

While many of my trainees are likely openminded about Taiwan, it breaks my heart a little to realize that some of them might think less of me if they knew what my real views on Taiwan were - that I stand for everything they were taught to stand against. 


That's one of the great tragedies of Beijing's warmongering over Taiwan: if they'd just accept that Taiwan is already independent and wants to stay that way - if they'd just respect that Taiwan has the right to determine its own future - a lot more Taiwanese and Chinese would likely be truly open with each other on a personal level, and there would be a lot more closeness between them. More friendships would form, and the world would be a better place.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Nobody should need a personal "refugee fund" to feel safe in a developed democracy

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Hey Taiwan residents - both foreign and local - do you have a refugee fund?

That is, personal savings or some other safety net that you are preparing in the event that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan forces you to leave?


I do. I don't want to leave, and would not do so unless I absolutely had to - we're not talking "the invasion is coming soon", we're talking "my house just got bombed, people are dying and I have nowhere to go." And I only mean that in the event that I am not a citizen: I don't owe my life to a country that won't even give me a passport. If I had obtained Taiwanese citizenship by that point, however, that's a different obligation and I would stay and fight.
The money I have set aside could be used as a down payment on property. If I don't need it, it will be part of my retirement fund. I could use it to pay off my student loans. There are a million other things I could do with it, but I may need it for this purpose and don't feel safe not having it available, so here we are. 

Of course I'm very privileged that I'd even be able to leave (a lot of locals would not be) and that the money is there, but here's the thing.

I should not need to set aside money specifically for my escape from a free and developed democracy due to a highly possible invasion by a hostile foreign power. Nobody should have to.

Not in a country that actively wants to exist in peace, and has no desire to start any wars with any other nation. 


I should not need to wonder, quite pragmatically, whether the rest of the world will tolerate a brutal dictatorship violently annexing the world's 22nd largest economy, one of the US's top trading partners, with a population comparable to that of Australia which is free, basically well-run and friendly to other nations. I should not need to consider whether my decision to stay or go - and the money I need to do that - may well hinge on whether that help comes. 


I'm reasonably sure all of my friends in Taiwan - local and foreign - can understand this.

I am not sure at all that my friends abroad do, though. I'm not sure especially if people I know in the US, Europe, Japan (all developed countries/regions, a group in which Taiwan also qualifies) and beyond are aware of what it's like to have a practical, non-insane notion that they might have 30 days' notice that their life and livelihood as they know it is about to be over. Where "getting out" and losing everything would be the better outcome, and how many more people (again, the population of Australia) might not even have that option.


So I still hear things like "oh but you don't want US help, it'd be just like Iraq or Syria, they'd wreck the place!" or "I don't want your city to become another Fallujah."

Do they understand that it is China who would turn Taipei into an East Asian Fallujah? 


And that their and their governments' wishy-washy response to Chinese threats against Taiwan are a part of why I need to have this fund at all? 

That they think they support peace, but in fact they'd leave us (foreign residents and Taiwanese both) to run or die in war? Do they understand what it would be like for Taiwan to be forcibly annexed by China? Do they understand that giving in and just surrendering to authoritarian rule - and the loss of very real and important freedom and human rights - is not an option? That there is no One Country, Two Systems?

Over the past few years I've come to realize that while at heart I want to be a dove, I can't. Sure, I agree that the US is a neo-imperialist murder machine. Fine. We suck. I won't even argue that we don't. We've done so much harm in the world.

But Taiwan is not Iraq. It's not Syria, it's not Iran or Afghanistan or Central America. It's just not. It's not even comparable. It has its own military and simply needs assistance (or the promise of it, to keep China from attempting an invasion). It has its own successful democratic government and rule of law (I mean...basically. Taiwan does okay.) There'd be no democracy-building or post-war occupation needed. It just needs friends. Big friends, who can tell the bully to back off.

So, y'know, I don't give a crap anymore about anyone's "but the US is evil!" I just don't. Y'all are not wrong, but it simply does not matter. China wants to wreck this country, not the US. China's the invader and (authoritarian) government-builder, not the US. China will turn their guns and bombs on Taiwanese, not the US.

And if you're not the one who has all those missiles pointed at them, you're not the one with lots of friends who could lose everything (including their lives), or lose everything yourself, and you're not the one actively building a refugee fund to escape an otherwise peaceful, developed and friendly country, then you can take all that "but the US is evil!" and shove it. This is a real world situation where we don't exactly have the luxury of choice in who stands by us. There isn't a "better option". There just...isn't.

Unless you think a friendly, open and vibrant democracy being swallowed by a massive dictatorship and losing all access to human rights is totally fine, or that having a refugee fund when living in said open democratic nation is normal.

It's not normal. My refugee fund should not have to exist. Please understand this. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The left finally notices Taiwan - super late to the game

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Come on, give Taiwan a chance.


A truly excellent piece of writing and overall backgrounder on Taiwan and why the Western left should care about it appeared in Dissent Magazine recently.

I'm elated. I have nothing bad to say about the piece. My only disappointment is that not enough mainstream Western lefties read Dissent, and its online access is blocked by a paywall (frankly, the reason for the former is certainly, in part, the latter). So a lot of people who should read this piece, won't.

Because you probably don't have access to read the full article, and I do (don't ask how, but I have my sorceress ways), I'm basically going to quote relevant bits here without going full-on copyright infringement, and hope that this will make the ideas therein a bit more accessible to those who so desperately need to hear them.

Here's how it starts: 



Imagine a small, peaceful, progressive island in Asia about the size of Mary- land. Ruled until the Cold War’s very end by a military dictatorship, it is now a robust democracy, although it endures incessant hostility from its giant neighbor. Its people treasure their hard-fought equality, free press, and vibrant civil society.


The rest of the introduction is free to read, so I'll be taking the rest from the parts that are not accessible to non-subscribers. In any case, this is the country I call home. And, with some exceptions, it basically lives up to this promise as well as any democratic nation can.


Boasting the world’s largest standing army and an expansionist outlook, the People’s Republic of China deems Taiwan a “renegade province” that must be “reunified” in due course. And because the Chinese claim the island as part of their territory, they go out of their way to block its international participation. Essentially, they have made befriending Taiwan a zero-sum game for anyone who dares to do so, and the rules are simple: Engage with us and we will reward you; engage with them and we will punish you. It is fierce dollar diplomacy Beijing insists on waging, and Taipei can’t win.


Exactly, and thank you to this writer for putting "renegade province" and "reunified" in the scare quotes they always needed. Why can't mainstream media outlets do that? It's simple, easy and more accurate than what they do print (which is similar copy without the quotation marks, implying the claims have merit.) That the West doesn't see the game China is playing here, or doesn't care and is willing to sacrifice 23.5 million people who currently live free is terrifying to me. If you say you have values, live up to them, damn it.


In a recent poll that asked whether unification is an option if China democratizes (itself a long shot), just 24 percent of respondents aged thirty-nine or below said yes, while 73 percent said no. Since 2009, according to another survey, a majority of the island’s population has consistently self-identified as taiwanese— not as Chinese, nor as both—a sign that they have long assumed their de facto independence.


Yup. This idea that "both sides of the Strait" think of themselves or identify as "Chinese" is basically complete trash-in-the-dumpster bollocks. It's not true and hasn't been true for some time. Why the rest of the world is willing to force an identity on Taiwan - "but they're officially the Republic of China so they think they are Chinese too!", which is an oversimplification that leads to a dead-wrong conclusion - is beyond me. Everyone else gets to identify as they wish with liberal support - why not Taiwanese?

Keep in mind that Taiwan cannot change its official name from the Republic of China because doing so would precipitate a war that nobody wants, especially not the Taiwanese who, above all else, want peace. It wasn't a country name chosen by the Taiwanese - it was decided by the Nationalist government in China, without ever asking any Taiwanese what they thought about it. In essence, it is colonial. So it's a bit of a jerk's game of Catch-22 to then say this attempt to maintain peace means they "are Chinese".


As a diverse, tolerant country with a leader who has shattered the ultimate glass ceiling for Asian women, there is every reason to expect that tai- wan’s most faithful allies in the U.S. are on the left. Except that is not the case at all: American progressives tend to view it as either a reactionary state or one of no importance.


I think I need to change my pants. 

This is so true it hurts, and what is worse, it's so painfully wrong. It calls to mind, forcefully, a "conversation" (more like an ignorant rant-fest on his part that I very much wanted to end) between a friend-of-a-friend on social media, in which he went on and on (and on and on), basically Dunning-Krugering himself into a tizzy about how it would be "better" and we should "hope" that Taiwan takes over China, because apparently this worked in Hong Kong (I don't think he's ever asked any Hong Kongers what they think about that, or read about how that's actually gone down, because that's not the answer I think many would give) and anyway, they're the same people with the same culture and history, so why not?

That 23.5 million people don't think they are the same people with the same culture and history, and who have already built the sort of democracy with a healthy respect for civil society that Western liberals can only wet dream about (just try occupying Congress in the United States - you'd be dead), didn't seem to factor in.


John Bolton, who would later become Trump’s national security advisor, electrified conservatives when he declared on Fox & Friends: “Nobody in Beijing gets to dictate who we talk to.”

But then came the partisan backlash. It just so perfectly fit the anti- trump narrative: a buffoon elected president who was already, before taking office, eroding well-established “norms” because he was either too reckless or too ignorant. “that’s how wars start,” tweeted Senator Chris Murphy. trump’s “flippant calls” were “threatening to create diplomatic crises,” Vanity Fair asserted in the same article that compared tsai with other controversial world leaders with whom trump had also spoken, like Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines and Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, as if she, too, was a notorious human rights abuser.




Somebody please get me a towel, because it's getting hot in here. 

Anyway, yeah, all this. Tsai is a moderate - if anything, too careful and too conservative - democratically-elected leader. Like all elected leaders, she is imperfect, but damn, she ain't Duterte. Likewise, Taiwan's democracy is imperfect. Some people who ought to be protected, aren't. But it ain't Turkey. 

This echoes what the rest of the world writes about Taiwan and China - as though Tsai were somehow the one "causing tensions", or her fairly mild "we won't take any crap from China but we won't make waves either" stance (exactly the right attitude to take when facing a bully) was some sort of "hardliner" rant.

But since Horrible Death Walrus John Bolton said it - despite the fact that this one (and only) time, he was right - the left flipped the hell out.

And I thought our side was better at evaluating the merit of the idea rather than dismissing it based on its source. Hmm. Maybe we're not as smart as I thought.




Absent from the mainstream media discourse were the views of ordinary taiwanese, most of whom do not remotely share trump’s politics but were delighted to learn of their country’s long overdue acceptance and validation on the international stage. One commentator called it “the happiest thing” for Taiwan since the Jimmy Carter years.


HOO BOY HOSE ME DOWN.

Seriously, we have been trying to tell the West this for years. Why is it that the views of China and the CCP are always given center stage in the media and general pundit commentariat, and nobody ever seems to ask what the Taiwanese think about all this?

The article goes on to reflect on some of the ideas of this piece, which you should also read. 



So, as late as the waning days of 1986, this was the scenario Washington faced: neither side could accept coexistence as they each claimed to be the sole, rightful owner of China and Taiwan combined. to keep gambling on Beijing—which first began with Richard Nixon’s famous visit in 1972 and formalized when Carter severed diplomatic ties in 1979 with Taipei—seemed sensible enough.

It was not at all imaginable that Taiwan would be the one to emerge as Asia’s beacon of freedom so soon while China would backslide.


Exactly. In 1979 the Western reaction to Taiwan made more sense - Taiwan was still a dictatorship, ruled by people not from Taiwan, who never asked the Taiwan if they wanted to be ruled. You know, like a colony.

And yeah, that dictatorship (which, again, was not Taiwanese) claimed to be the sole legitimate government of China. That sucks, but it's not Taiwan's fault and certainly doesn't reflect the views of the Taiwanese today. These guys did not even come from Taiwan and their dictatorship is over (though the party still, unfortunately, exists).

The idea that the legitimate government of China is currently in Taiwan is ludicrous, and almost all Taiwanese would agree with this. Those that don't tend to be in their 90s and were not born in Taiwan. And sure, maybe it's too bad that Grandpa lost the war, but things have changed.

So why doesn't the West get this too?  Because, like, hey libs. It's not 1979 anymore. The king is dead! Long live the democratically elected leader of one of the freest countries in Asia!

There's a bit more history there, but I'm getting a little quote-happy. Just be aware that it was the 90s, and the first George Bush's actions after Tiananmen Square, that led to neo-conservatives taking up the cause of Taiwan (called the "Blue Team" - though Taiwan isn't exactly 'blue' anymore, it was then). Of course, what neo-cons champion, those liberals - well, the ones who don't think or don't know better - reflexively hate. Cue Clinton's tepid views on Taiwan, which set the stage for a general liberal ignoring of a quickly democratizing and liberalizing nation.

Some more recent history for you:



Simultaneously in Washington, the Blue team became ever more influential with Congress, think tanks, and even the incoming president’s inner circle. But while George W. Bush and his neoconservative allies were keen to confront Beijing early in his first term, they soon found themselves need- ing crucial Chinese cooperation in North Korea and especially the Middle East after 9/11; this compelled Bush to speak out against taiwanese independence in December 2003. the “One China” policy hence survived as a cornerstone of American foreign policy. Obama’s “pivot to Asia” did not alter that either, as he kept Taiwan out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, although the free-trade pact was itself designed to counterbalance China’s regional clout.


You may hate the TPP, but if its more noble goals were ever achievable, it was just stupid to leave Taiwan out. A sign of liberal shortsightedness.


Today in Ttrump’s America, the staunchest supporters of Taiwan have been the same band of Republican hawks, from heavyweights such as Bob Dole and the late John McCain to Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, who are descendants of the Blue team. Because of this interconnection, the issue continues to be perceived as a right-wing cause with which progressives are reluctant to be associated.


Weeeeeelllll...here's where I begin to disagree. Pro-Taiwan lobbying groups and associations talk to Republicans and Lizard People like Ted Cruz because they have power now, and they'll take whatever help they can get (you may not like that, but it is a pragmatic approach. Yeah, it makes my skin crawl too. I know.)

But pro-Taiwan bills have recently had unanimous support, and Taiwan generally does have bipartisan support. As for why the left doesn't speak out for Taiwan as much as the right, I have no idea. I suspect it's because they're not as smart as they think they are, and as smart as I always wanted them to be that they don't see a natural ally in Asia staring them right in the face. A shame. Taiwan is super hawt and needn't be the nerdy virgin in this story, hoping to get the guy. 




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The Guy

(from here - I've talked to them about permission to post their work generally - they are great and you should check them out)


The rejection of Chiang’s memory reflects an undeniable reality: the old assumption that both Taiwan and China long to unite as one nation-state but disagree on which regime has legitimacy is simply not accurate any- more. Beijing’s failure to uphold the promise of autonomy in Hong Kong and Macau only makes unification with Taiwan even more far-fetched. For Americans in this day and age to still defend Kissinger’s “One China” policy—a shameful, self-serving lie to please the Chinese—is to pretend otherwise; the passive strategy aims to do the bare minimum to maintain the status quo, a status quo that is inherently unjust.



If you take one thing away from my quote-fest here, liberals, let it be that. And this:


It is high time for the political left to rethink taiwan. Progressives’ silence—whether because they are oblivious to the island’s changing politi- cal landscape or disinclined to anger Beijing—does a grave disservice to the taiwanese people who have come such a long way.



I SCREAM THIS AT PEOPLE IN MY DREAMS.


But where the island struggles most has always been on the world stage. When the SARS epidemic was killing hundreds of victims in neigh- boring Hong Kong and China back in 2003, Taiwanese epidemiologists had to combat the disease alone after the WHO denied them access to samples and information. Few things have changed over the years. the International Olympic Committee returned a verdict this May that forced Team Taiwan to keep playing under the awkward “Chinese Taipei” designation in the forth- coming Tokyo 2020 Games. Even with the deck stacked against it, however, Taiwan has not stopped fighting for respect and recognition.


The island merits them; it has never exploited its diplomatic alienation 
to act out. Rather, it has proven time and again to be a responsible, if minor, power. At a time when many Western countries are turning inward, Tsai has called immigrants “an infusion of new strength and a force for cultural diversity.”

 

Well, I'd like to see all those nice words on immigration translate into a shot at dual nationality without having to fit into some Special Magic Foreigner box, but cool. Some laws have been relaxed, and I appreciate that. I think she means what she says, and I think the generally pan-green or anti-KMT/pro-Taiwan side finally believes this while fighting conservatives in their ranks.

In any case, when it comes to Taiwan, this is dead on. Taiwan has done nothing to make waves - if anything, it accepts more humiliation than it ought to (it shouldn't have to accept any) to keep the peace. It has been nothing but stable and calm in the face of an increasingly screamy, angry, irrational China.

And yet, Taiwan is painted as the bad guy - raising "tensions", full of "hardliners", who need to make "concessions" because what China thinks about Taiwan is apparently more important than what Taiwan thinks about itself.

Let's bring it home with a hit right to the liberal sweet spot: 


If the American left is serious about opposing a reactionary foreign pol- icy that preserves unequal power relations, it should speak up for Taiwan. Its enlightened views on gender, ethnicity, and class have translated into a social structure that’s reminiscent, in certain ways, of Northern Europe’s. Its capability and readiness to tackle the greatest challenges of our time, from terrorism to climate change, make it a well-deserved member of the international community. Its unlikely historical trajectory shows that bringing genuine progress to a part of the world where individual liberties are more often threatened than cherished is possible.


OH YEAH. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

It is really hard to support Taiwan (Part 1)

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Greetings from England!

You probably won't be hearing as much from me as I start the 2nd semester of my Master's program, but I'll pop in from time to time. Don't expect me to be on top of the news cycle - but then, I had always intended for Lao Ren Cha to be about commentary, not original reporting, so I'm not sure it matters.

Anyway, despite having a few postcard reminders of Taiwan on the bulletin board in my less-than-stellar dorm room, I have to say, domestic news over the past few months has not been making it easy to love the country.

I could cite many stories to make my case, but I'll stick with two. The first is reminder we seem to periodically need that the Taiwanese fishing industry goes beyond deeply unethical and straight into 'human rights abuses' and 'slavery'. Yes, slavery. To the point that I don't each much seafood in Taiwan anymore. I am sure there are other ways I consume that uphold exploitative systems which I'd be horrified to know more about, but I am now so hyper-aware of how fishing companies operate in Taiwan that I've lost my taste for seafood in particular.

The other one is the more recent news that Taiwan is essentially complicit in Australian human rights abuses, by agreeing to give medical care to refugees in detention on Nauru so as to ensure they never set foot on the Australian mainland. Of course those refugees need care, and they will be well cared-for in Taiwan, but the purpose is to make it impossible for them to access the Australian court system as refugees who do have the right to apply for asylum. This is unacceptable on the part of Australia, and Taiwan is facilitating this flagrant flouting of human rights.

And, of course, Taiwan itself talks big about caring about refugees, but in fact doesn't really accept them (there is no provision for the granting of asylum or refugee status according to that Taiwan Sentinel link, corroborated here). There are people who have refugee-like status in Taiwan, but...well, it's complicated. Although Taiwan provides some assistance to refugees abroad, this still means that President Tsai's claim that Taiwanese are 'empathetic to refugees' reads like an Asian version of "thoughts and prayers".

So not only are we not taking in refugees ourselves, we're also helping other countries avoid their obligations to consider applications for asylum by ensuring those refugees never have a chance to apply. Taiwan's actual treatment of refugees is like turd sauce on a turd burger, with the aid we do offer being a pretty okay pickle that nevertheless does not improve the giant turd entree we plop down at the international table.

The thing about advocating for Taiwanese de jure, recognized independence as Taiwan (not the Republic of China) is that a huge part of my most convincing arguments rest on what an exemplary country Taiwan is. I talk of people I know who were sent to Taiwan for work, and later found the country so much to their liking that they chose to return as retirees. I speak of a vibrant history of social movements. I speak of how Taiwan insisted on democracy for itself, and won. I speak of friendly - no, not just friendly, but kind - people I know who have become local friends, in a world where many foreign residents struggle to forge truly local connections. I speak of how, although there is room to improve, Taiwan has had, and continues to have, some of the most robust LGBT and women's rights movements in Asia. How in many ways, in the way its government is modeled, it looks to the liberal democratic West and is on the forefront of the fight against totalitarianism. I speak of how, in contrast to China, Taiwan does recognize human rights and there are mechanisms in place to ensure people can access them.

All of that is true, but I have trouble maintaining with a straight face that Taiwan is such an exemplary place, a society of kind people with profound respect for human rights within the framework of a successful democracy when, to be frank, they pull shit like this.

It is really, really, really hard to fight for Taiwan when I know what the seedy underbelly of Taiwan looks like, and when it comes to fishing boat slaves and human rights abuses (and let's not forget abuse of domestic workers, sexual and otherwise).

Fighting for Taiwan isn't just about fighting for independence. What does independence even mean if the country we are trying to build is so deeply troubled? It starts to feel like empty, jingoistic nationalism. Taiwan for what exactly? Taiwan for slavers and rapists? Independence for the sake of independence, nevermind anything else? I can't accept that. We must discuss as well how to create a better Taiwan, so that an independent Taiwan will be one to continue to support.

And yet, here I am, still advocating for Taiwan in whatever way I can. I still talk to my classmates, who have no reason to care, about why Taiwan matters. And it does matter, although it can be hard to see that sometimes.

While we have to talk about building a better country at home, I am reminded that every country has flaws. I do what I can to fight for American democracy in the face of powers that would like to see it disappear (including China), despite knowing full well that the US is a deeply problematic place - from the streets not being safe for women and people of color all the way to the selfishness of our foreign policy and all the nutters and religious freaks and sexists and racists and exploitative rich business jerks in between. I'll still stand up for making the US a better place, and I won't say it's not worthwhile. I'll help friends in trouble and refrain from judgement, even if I know their own flaws helped create the situation in which they needed a hand, because we're all imperfect.

I suppose I hope they judge Taiwan fairly, as they would their own country. Americans don't generally read about, say, how communities of color are afraid of the police because their men and women are disproportionately killed and then say "oh well we should just let China and Russia turn us into a dictatorship captained by a stupid orange puppet because nothing is worth anything", so I would ask them to apply the same level of complexity to thoughts on Taiwan, because it's easy to make sweeping generalizations and form poor judgments from them when you don't really know a place.

Taiwan is imperfect too - that doesn't mean it's not worth fighting for. But we might sometimes have to incorporate this plea for complex judgments into the arguments we put forward.

But, damn, it's sure hard to make the case sometimes, when you're discussing the country you call home with people, and not knowing if you should be frank that it is indeed rife with problems just like everywhere else, or hope they never come across the relevant reading material and in light of that information, dismiss everything you've said (I've seen it happen). Or, if they do, that they weigh it against the case you made and understand that every country is flawed.

Friday, May 18, 2018

My formal application for China's "Taiwan Separatist Blacklist"

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I am quite serious. I want to be on China's blacklist. 

Update: we have a Facebook group! Join us, and apply for China's competitive "Taiwan Separatist Blacklist" position today!
Dear China:

Please consider my application for the position of "blacklisted person" on the "Taiwan separatist blacklist". I learned of this exciting opportunity in The Diplomat and feel that I am a perfect fit for the role. I have the qualities you are looking for in a suitable candidate: I am hardworking, driven and committed to the cause of Taiwanese independence. I mainly contribute through writing, but have been involved in other pro-independence activities which I would be delighted to discuss in further detail.

In terms of personal attributes, I not only support full de jure Taiwanese independence, but also hold many other positions that make me an excellent candidate for the blacklist. I support ending the government of the "Republic of China", which I view to be a colonialist state, and replacing it with a more appropriately-structured "Republic of Taiwan" (or any other suitable name that does not include "China"). I hold progressive values and believe that this vision of the Republic of Taiwan include democracy, human rights (including marriage equality) a fair and independent judiciary and suitable aspects of a social democratic state. Furthermore, I view the Republic of Taiwan as a multicultural entity, based on shared values rather than ethnicity, which has fully come to terms with its unique history as a colonial and settler state. While this history intertwines with China's at several key points, I do feel it to be separate and unique to Taiwan.

As a result, I bring to the table not only a strong support of Taiwanese independence, but progressive values which many candidates may lack and which (despite the requirements being somewhat vague) I understand your organization holds in particularly high regard when considering successful applicants to the blacklist.

On a personal note, it has always been my dream to be blacklisted and banned from China, and selecting me for this coveted position on your blacklist will be a culmination of my work as a writer to this date.

As the writer behind Lao Ren Cha (老人茶), a blog which is in English, not Chinese, and my status as commentator rather than activist, I understand that my professional credentials for this highly sought-after position on your blacklist might not be as illustrious as others. However, I can assure you, what I lack in qualifications I more than make up for in passion and vigor. If selected for your prestigious blacklist, I can assure you I will more than live up to expectations as a supporter and perhaps agitator for Taiwanese independence.

Sincerely,

Jenna Cody
Lao Ren Cha

Monday, April 30, 2018

One Nation Under Smog: or, how I became disillusioned with the Taiwanese left

Today was disgusting. So was yesterday. I don't mean I had a bad day. I mean the air was literally disgusting - it made my throat scratchy, my nose inflamed, my eyes sting and my stomach a little upset.

I felt annoyed, ill - literally sick, disgusted and nauseated - but something else too. I felt a deep-seated, wide-ranging anger. 

Years ago, I was hanging out with my (adult) students and nuclear power came up. I said that while I agreed nuclear power was a bad idea in Taiwan for a number of reasons, I didn't actually support phasing it out immediately, while Taiwan's energy policies in other areas were so short-sighted. Of course I was aware of the problems with nuclear power: nowhere to store spent fuel rods, "dirty plants" where safety standards were alleged to not be met, especially around cooling/recirculation tanks (despite assurances that they conformed to a high standard of safety), and of course the fears that Taiwan's vulnerability to natural disasters. These include earthquakes, typhoons and tsunamis - could result in a Fukushima-style disaster in Taiwan, where such an event would be even more disastrous given the country's size.


But, what was the alternative? Fossil fuels? That would not only be bad for the environment as a whole, but for Taiwan's air quality in particular. Alternative energy would be best, and we probably have the technology to make that a reality for most of our energy needs, but nobody seemed interested in actually developing it. There has been some investment into wind power, but not enough. Besides, even though I don't think wind is the answer, the same activists who campaigned to shut down the nuclear plants also campaigned against wind farms (sometimes for good reasons, I should add.)

Solar comes with its own set of government cock-ups that are only now being rectified: the government is only now tackling harmful and outdated regulations regarding energy generated through home solar panels (in the past, you had to sell the power you generated to Taipower first at a crummy rate, and have it sold back to you. Hence, nobody bothered to explore solar power for their homes.)

The push to explore solar and geothermal generally was limited and insufficient (given how geothermically active Taiwan is, geothermal is probably our best bet - but not a lot of money being poured into it). Taiwan's buildings would need to be restructured in a huge way, or at least, any new buildings would have to take the country's climate into account, building in cross-breezes, overhangs and using the right materials to reduce how much air conditioning was necessary in the summer. No more stifling concrete boxes.

And I just could not support gunking up Taiwan's air by going back to fossil fuels.

Even when trying to clean up fossil fuel-powered plants, it's a hash. As my friend and Central Taiwan news guru Donovan Smith noted:


In fact, Taipower recently announced they are adding two new gas-fired units to the Taichung Power Plant, bringing the total units up to 12. Many or most people had thought they were going to use those two to replace two of the coal-fired units, but nope. A general rule of thumb is gas-fired units are about half as polluting as coal. That means cumulatively that is effectively adding one more coal-fired unit.


Fast-forward to today. And yesterday. And so many days before.

The left won: the nuclear plants are shutting down. The chances that the fourth plant at Gongliao will be finished and activated are essentially zero - and frankly, bringing it online is a bad idea anyway.

And now the air is filthy. In much of Taiwan it has been for awhile - Taipei folks just didn't notice it because it rarely impacted us. All of those power plants and other industrial waste-producing hellscapes were far enough from us that our air was still relatively clean. Now we're getting a taste of what the rest of the country has been saying for awhile.

The Taiwanese left was unforgivably myopic: they yelled and screamed to shut down nuclear power, but didn't present any sort of push for consistent renewable energy policy. "I guess pushing for renewables isn't as sexy as pushing against nuclear," people who understood my point said. "They're just not going to win the zeitgeist talking about that."

Okay, but if you don't, and you only shout about what is "sexy" enough to get attention, then your push to change society can have unintended consequences. You're nothing but gadflies, not serious policymakers searching for real solutions.

If all you do is push to shut one thing down without thinking ahead to how things will be handled in the future, frankly, that's no more visionary than the KMT building a bunch of crap-ass buildings in the 20th century that are all now falling apart and are so energy-inefficient it's a joke because they couldn't be bothered to spend real money creating sustainable architecture for a subtropical climate, and building most cities in Taiwan without viable public transit which creates vehicular pollution. All you're doing is creating another problem.

Real change means tackling the unsexy things. It means actually writing and pushing policy proposals that solve issues and take future consequences into account. It means thinking through your own freakin' beliefs to see what the outcomes might be, and addressing them. I don't see that that has been done by anti-nuclear activists or the people they've put in power.

Yet, even now, I see few from the anti-nuclear activist camp going to bat over renewable energy. Some of them are protesting air pollution: great - but ultimately ineffective. I'm sick of protests that don't offer solutions.

So what we will have is a ghost island: not just in terms of talent leaving, but also the ghostly pallor of the grey air. The ghosts of good intentions, the ghost of what Taiwan could have been if the right people just thought through what really needs to change and pushed for it in the right ways.

So we have the activists/Third Force/Taiwanese left putting on a great show of wanting to change Taiwan - and I do believe they are sincere. But they're just not thinking their ideas through and it's infuriating.

Then there is the KMT. In the words of New Bloom:


In truth, if there is any one to blame for issues regarding nuclear energy or air pollution in Taiwan, it is the KMT, which ruled over Taiwan’s developmentalist state unchallenged for decades during the authoritarian period and built up both the coal-fired power plants that contribute to Taiwanese air pollution and the nuclear power plants which many see as dangerous to Taiwan in the event of environmental catastrophes. There is no political party in Taiwan more beholden to the nuclear lobby than the KMT. Yet the KMT leverages on these issues anyway against the DPP, illustrating not only hypocrisy, but how the KMT truly stands for little else besides rote opposition to the DPP at this point.

However, I disagree with the overly-tidy (and easy) conclusion that we can brush our hands, blame the KMT and move on. As the party who has historically held power, they do deserve most of the blame. However, the left's lack of initiative in finding real energy solutions to make their anti-nuclear rhetoric sustainable also deserves criticism.

Then there's the DPP, who are mostly concerned with staying in power and don't seem to be interested in addressing any of the real issues. Caving to the anti-nuclear activists, leaning more heavily on fossil fuels, and just not doing what needs to be done to make renewable energy a reality.


Amidst this circus, the electorate acknowledges it's a problem but only ever blame the party in charge, or the party they don't like. I'm sure many do look more deeply at the bigger problem of nobody in charge having the faintest idea what they are doing or when they do,  using it for their own gain, but I don't see it. I have to hope their are better people working behind the scenes, but I don't see that, either.

I don't know what else to say. I'm mad and disappointed, and I can't breathe. Those in power don't seem interested or able to really fix the problem. The opposition is, if anything, worse. The Third Force activists don't think through what they fight for nearly as often as they should. Taiwan has smarter people than this. We can do better.

Don't get me wrong, I'm still a leftie liberal bleeding heart bastard. But, I support doing the difficult, unsexy work that I feel the Taiwanese left is not doing - the stuff that's not always so wonderfully idealistic. I'm still pro-independence and pro-Taiwan. I still think this country is worth fighting for. I just can't support half-baked activism anymore. We can't trust the KMT or DPP to get us out of this mess, which means we have to look to the left, but the left needs to be smarter. It needs to start tackling unsexy issues.