Showing posts with label taiwanese_beliefs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label taiwanese_beliefs. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The KMT's Massive Cracks (and the DPP Firming Up)

One of the two parties has been putting their ears to the ground.
The other needs a hearing aid (perhaps literally). 


Nine months ago, if you'd asked me about Taiwanese electoral politics, I would have told you these things:

1.) The DPP is cracking up at exactly the moment that it needs to come together and show unity. As a result, the DPP are going to continue to be tainted by accusations that they're not good at administering once in power and are, at their core, just populist rabble-rousers (as friend and political analyst Donovan Smith put it) who are prone to infighting. 


2.) The KMT is going to unite behind Big Uncle Dirk, not because they all like each other, but because they see him as their only chance to win in 2020. Terry Gou will be pissed, but that's it. 

3.) Because of this, both parties are going to have trouble shoring up their youth credentials and future leaders, because both are 'older' parties. 

So I guess it's a good thing that nobody asks me about politics, because damn was I wrong. 

Now that the major parties have finalized (finally!) their revised party lists for proportional representation seats and their presidential candidates have chosen running mates, it sure looks to me that the DPP, against all odds, has managed to actually unite. On top of that, tapping her primary challenger, Lai Ching-te, as her running mate was a great way to really bring home that 'unity' message. I'm not a fan of Lai (I think he's a corrupt, self-serving opportunist) but I understand why he was chosen. 

The KMT, on the other hand, are the ones falling apart and come across as terrible, out-of-touch administrators. With Han saying things like "Tsai is fat and white [that is, corrupt and soft] and I'm dark and think [i.e. one of the everyday working people]", the KMT is sounding more and more like "populist rabble-rousers" compared to the DPP's well-considered governance. On top of that, the KMT party list exposes how much they - rather than the DPP as once seemed to be the case - are plagued by factional infighting. It's so bad that Han's own running mate, Simon "Who?" Chang, suggested that people vote for pan-blue third party candidates.

I don't actually want to talk much about the party lists though - plenty of people have already done that. All you really need to know is that the KMT's list, even revised, is such a massive joke, full of ancient 'Mainlanders' (people born in China or who identify as Chinese because they were born in Taiwan to Chinese parents not long after the 1949 diaspora). Revising it didn't really fix that, despite removing the guy who said independence supporters - so, most Taiwanese - should be beheaded, and Wu Dun-yih putting himself lower down on the list (putting himself on the list at all was craven and opportunistic). 


The DPP's list is problematic too, with not that many young candidates who could benefit from the exposure, and an indigenous TV host put at #1 and then revised off the list altogether. But nobody seems to be talking that much about it, because the KMT's absolute insult to the Taiwanese people is sucking up all the attention.

It's also worth noting that other than these blunders, the DPP party list seems designed to send a few clear messages: first, we are unified. Or, less generously, we are making sure all our key 'people' are happy for now. Second, we're tapping (experienced, older) experts. Or, also less generously, we actually aren't trying hard to shore up our youth support (though at least one nominee, Hung Shen-han 洪申翰, is under 40)
. Finally, we are willing to work with the Left (considering the inclusion of someone like Fan Yun). Or, again, less charitably: we are trying to absorb pan-green third parties so they cease to be a threat. 

Regarding that last one, though, I don't think there's a big practical difference between the two interpretations. To absorb those third parties, they pretty much have to accept lefties into their ranks. By recruiting lefties, they undermine those third parties. The difference is...what exactly?


But here's the thing - although the DPP party list doesn't skew particularly young or indigenous, I would argue that the DPP overall has done a solid job of shoring up its overall youth credentials. Hiring Sunflower luminary Lin Fei-fan, when it's well-known that the NPP also wanted him, was a baller move. Importantly, he was the one who chose the DPP over the NPP, for his own reasons - but his choice does send a message. Gaining the support of ex-NPP and now independent legislator Freddy Lim was also a win. In addition to Lin, the DPP has been attracting a fair number of people from the Sunflower generation

It's worth noting that this has been the DPP's plan since the 2014 Sunflower movement - they've always hoped to recruit these younger activists, though they did not immediately run them for office - and what we're seeing now, despite their party list skewing older, is the beginning of the fruition of that policy.

I wouldn't personally know, but I would be shocked if they aren't trying to grab the recent exodus from the NPP, too. I don't know if they'll be successful, but I can't imagine they won't try. With Fan Yun recruited, I'd be shocked if they weren't trying to bring the only Social Democratic Party politician ever elected (as far as I'm aware?), Miao Poya, into the fold. I'm not confident she'll bite, though.

It's also worth noting that, again, there is little practical difference between recruiting the more liberal members of this generation (including poaching or vacuuming up unhappy defectors from other parties) because the DPP is willing to move to the left a bit, and doing so simply to eradicate their pan-green challengers. 


The KMT, on the other hand, seems to have dug in its heels on being the Party of Your Grandparents (and Maybe Your Parents If They're Kind of Awful People.)

I suspect that this is because the DPP's core philosophy was never actually populist rabble-rousing: that sort of political rhetoric may be adopted by any party and is more of a quick-win strategy than a guiding ethos. They've always been the party borne of the Taiwanese democratization movement, which means they're the party more willing to consider a progressive way forward. Although they have their elders and social conservatives and have not always been on the more progressive or liberal side of every issue - and have just as much interest in keeping Taiwan locked into a system dominated by two major parties as the KMT - they've shown the capacity to evolve with the times. Passing immigration reform (unlikely in the Chen era, but one of the first things Tsai did) and same-sex marriage are clear indicators of that.

As a result, they have a core guiding ethos that has the capacity to attract the support of younger generations, even if the party doesn't always live up to its own ideals. Despite setbacks - the delay with passing same-sex marriage being just one - they can shore up their ranks with Millenial and Gen-Z recruits and hang on to youth support. Or at least, the potential is there.

It's not that the KMT doesn't want to attract the youth - I'm sure they'd love to get the votes of some imaginary "sons and daughters of China" (中華兒女). But, despite the occasional socially liberal move (for example, they were once the technocrat party which was actually more open to immigration than the then-Hoklo ethnonationalist DPP), their guiding ethos is one of political conservatism and authoritarianism. That's no surprise given their origin in Taiwan as an occupying force and then a military dictatorship.

What the DPP envisions for the future needs some tweaking, for sure. They really should back off on the useless drug war, and the death penalty has got to go. Same-sex marriage needs to evolve into full marriage equality. But their fundamental principles - a free, sovereign and democratic Taiwan in which everyone enjoys equal rights - is one that can carry to the future. 


The KMT - they want what exactly? From their nominee, you'd think it was allowing Chinese annexation. From their party list, some old-fashioned notion that Taiwanese are primarily Chinese or that the ROC could ever "retake the Mainland". Certainly, according to things Han and his wife have said, they're turning more socially conservative and especially hammering the "family values" and anti-immigrant rhetoric. A shame, as they were not always the more socially conservative party on every issue.

How do those beliefs carry to the future? They don't. The youth won't vote for any of that.

As a result, I can count the 'young' KMT future leaders who are publicly high-profile now on perhaps one hand, one of whom was left off the KMT party list. All of them are older than me (I'm in my late 30s - not exactly young). The DPP, on the other hand, has grown a much bigger stable. They might screw it up - one reason why the NPP fell apart, after all, were the Generation Xers running the show and not giving the Millenials and Gen-Z members enough opportunities or a big enough say. But for now, things are looking fine.

In short, I never thought I'd say that the DPP might actually maintain youth support rather than growing as gray, wrinkled and irrelevant as the KMT, but they're actually doing a pretty okay job of it.

This doesn't necessarily mean the KMT will lose, of course. Young people are not as reliable voters as older ones, and despite it being noxious, populist rhetoric is often effective. They probably will lose, but in this election cycle, their inability to attract the youth probably won't be the reason why. All of the work the DPP is doing to keep itself relevant is going to pay off one generation down the road more than it will now.

What scares me is that if the KMT does pull off an unlikely win, Taiwan is in a precarious enough position vis-a-vis China and the KMT has grown so much more 'red' and unificationist that the vision of Taiwan that the Taiwanese youth (mostly) want will never have time to blossom. Their parents and grandparents will put Taiwan on a road that their children never wanted. Rather than having the ability to build the country they do want once they become the most powerful voting bloc, they'll be forced to fight for their very survival instead. You know, like in Hong Kong.

In other words, I don't think Han will win, but if he does, I'm not sure Taiwan as a sovereign nation will survive it. And it's the youth who don't even like Han or the KMT who will pay the price for that. 

Friday, August 9, 2019

UN Women, Yifang Tea and the OG: I love how Taiwan just snapped

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So, everyone's writing about all the 'big' political news over the past week or so - internal divisions in the NPP, NPP legislator Kawlo Iyun Pacidal being in trouble for corruption, Ko Wen-je forming his own party and likely running for president, Ko Wen-je saying Terry Gou is the best potential presidental candidate and talk of a potential collaboration, China banning individual travel to Taiwan, Terry Gou collecting but "not really" collecting (but actually collecting) signatures toward an independent run and creating what he calls a "youth platform" (lol). Oh yeah and Huang Kuo-chang wants to be Taipei mayor (I'm almost certain that's true, though I doubt he'd actually be working with Ko to that end as the link reports.) 

All of this stuff is fascinating, but I'm not going to write about it (I already touched on NPP internal turmoil and don't intend to return to the topic). Why? Because everybody else is, their work is solid, and you can get the information you want from those sources; I don't have any opinions so sparkling that I need to make my own post expressing them.

Instead, I'm going to shine a little light on a corner of the Internet I've found to have grown very interesting of late.

Every time some company has said something stupid about Taiwan and China, there's been a backlash from Taiwanese bashing them on social media, downrating their businesses and generally registering their displeasure. It happened with airlines, Cafe 85 and others (though to be fair, Cafe 85 isn't very good and who cares about them).

The posts die down as the news grows more distant, and they usually cap out at a few hundred, by everyday people rather than public figures. There might have been some spillover into later social media posts by those companies, but it was relatively minor.


Then, Hong Kong happened and it put Taiwanese on edge for good reason. There's a strong sense that China so often gets what it wants because it forces companies and organizations to adhere to its strictures on how Taiwan may be referred to. On top of that, it's only been a few months since Taiwan became the first country to legalize same-sex marriage, which garnered it a huge amount of international media attention (much of it good, with the occasional journalistic fraud bringing China into the mix when China had nothing to do with it.) The time was ripe for the way Taiwanese react to companies and organizations insulting their country to change.

Then, UN Women - one of the worst offenders when it comes to respecting Taiwan - put up an infographic of countries that recognize same-sex marriage, including Taiwan as a "province of China".

Friends, the backlash was astounding. Not a mere few hundred comments - as of this post, the total stands at over 18,000. People getting involved include NPP spokesperson Wu Cheng, former Taichung mayor Lin Chia-lung, DPP legislator Karen Yu and SDP city councilor Miao Po-ya.


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President Tsai commented as well:




And the spillover has been astounding (and is still going on). While the initial flood has dwindled, as is to be expected, every post UN Women has made since then, no matter how unrelated, has garnered dozens or more replies from angry Taiwanese demanding that their country be treated with respect. 



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This feels different from all those times when a rivulet of angry Taiwanese complained bitterly but eventually went away. It's ongoing and it's angry. It's refusing to take silence for an answer. It won't even take a bad answer for an answer (note UN Women's weak authoritarian-apologist punt of a reply). 


On top of that, the Hong Kong franchise of beloved Taiwanese brand Yifang Fruit Tea came out in favor of the Chinese "One Country Two Systems" policy, infuriating Taiwanese and causing backlash not just against the Hong Kong franchise, but all Yifang franchises, and the anger hasn't died down. I was talking with a furious friend about it as recently as last night.

What's more, rather than keep the anger online, people have gone to express their anger in the real world: 



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Photo from DJ 金寶 on Facebook

For those who don't read Chinese, the graffiti is basically calling them Communist sympathizers and implying that, as a result, they are not really Taiwanese.

It could be that Yifang tea is popular and just plain good - far better than Cafe 85 - or it could be that, as Yifang's branding is explicitly Taiwanese - its whole 'look' is Taiwanese and follows the Japanese-vintage-hipster aesthetic that goes along with this. It could be a bigger slap in the face for this kind of company, in a way that isn't true for an airline or a cafe chain that doesn't make "Taiwan" a part of its brand.

Or it could be that Taiwanese have just freakin' had it and they're going to start making themselves heard.

All I can say is, keep it up. This feels like something different, something angrier and more passionate and ready to fight, and I love it.

Also, did you know that you can suggest edits to pages like UN Women?

Because you can. Have fun!

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Before I sign off, I want to tip my hat to the OG - foreign minister Joseph Wu. Before any of this, he was dropping mikes and taking names. Here he is back in May calling People's Daily a 'commie brainwasher' that 'sucks' for writing that "Taiwan, China" had passed same-sex marriage.

Some might not like his tone, but he wouldn't have gotten in the news if he'd taken a softer tone or not explicitly say that a media outlet that objectively sucks...well, sucks.


Rock on, JW. Rock on. 

Monday, February 25, 2019

"If it's Taiwan today, people should ask 'who's next'?": full video of Tsai Ing-wen's CNN interview and comments

So, if you're like and don't have a TV, so can't necessarily watch something when it's on TV, you may be disappointed in the 4 minutes or so of footage across two videos of President Tsai's CNN interview on CNN's official feed.

The good news is that an awesome guy I don't know is here to help! You can watch the full video here.


Apparently two well-known analysts in Taiwan went in on ICRT about the interview (one thinking positively of it, the other negatively), though I haven't listened to the whole thing yet. 

I have a few thoughts myself. Tsai herself, in my opinion, performed admirably. To a Western audience - the people this is actually aimed at - she came across as reasonable, pragmatic, even-keeled and intelligent (all things she truly is). She made a very strong case for Taiwan as a beacon of democracy and freedom, and was very clear on the threat from China and why it should matter to the world, without any 'troublemaking' rhetoric. More time could have been spent on marriage equality  - as far as I can tell, it wasn't mentioned  - though I may have just missed it - to really hammer home the idea of Taiwan as 'liberal beacon in Asia' (it's not that liberal by Western standards but by Asian standards, it kind of is). She also makes a strong case for closer communication and stronger relations with Taiwan, without seeming desperate or begging.

She makes it clear that Taiwan does have its own military capability and can withstand a first wave of attacks. This is essential - we need to show the world that Taiwan does take its defense seriously and would not simply beg the world to defend it as it stood by, helpless and unwilling to stand up for itself.

"If it's Taiwan today, people should ask, 'who's next'?" - I truly don't think one can make a stronger case, and it was delivered succinctly and clearly.

Her point that Taiwan is the only democracy in the Chinese-speaking world, and it produced a female leader, so we need to quit it with thinking women are limited in what they can do is a strong one. By going meta with the 'questions about being a female leader of a country' trope and acknowledging it, with her basically saying 'what I think about such questions don't matter, I have an obligation to answer them until female leaders are totally normalized' (paraphrased), she shows that she always considers her role carefully as a leader rather than giving in to her personal feelings. To Americans who may be sick of seeing the puerile, vengeful, personal spewings of their own president, this is likely to play well.

She showed that she does speak fluent English, but wisely moved back to Mandarin for the more complex questions. This will also play well to a Western audience.

Tsai is quite good at this kind of interview, where she almost certainly prepares careful responses to known topics in advance, and where a questioner prompts her on various topics so she doesn't get too bogged down in technocratic wonkery.

I'll admit that by giving careful answers that kind of evade the meat of the questions asked - on whether Taiwan counts on US support in the face of a Chinese invasion, on whether Trump is an unreliable ally - she does come across as just another 'politician' to some extent. She doesn't really answer these questions, and I would have liked a stronger stance on Taiwanese not favoring unification, now or ever. That said, I think any half-intelligent viewer will understand that her country is in a precarious position. In a situation where a single misplaced word can infuriate China, her 'careful' approach is simply necessary.

All that said, the average Westerner interested enough to watch this interview would, in my estimation, be persuaded that Taiwan is worth taking seriously and its leader is not an 'extremist', an 'ethnic nationalist/separatist' or a hotheaded despot, but the pragmatic, serious, hard-headed and slightly nerdy (okay, very nerdy - that karaoke comment about reading while her friends sang...wow) democratically elected leader of a proud, free society.

That doesn't mean I feel so positive about the whole interview. While I am very pleased with how Tsai presents herself, I'm less of a fan of the historical interludes about the Taiwan-China situation, and some of the language that the interviewer used (namely the terms "reunification" and "mainland").

No one thing the presenter said was wrong, regarding what happened in 1949, the change in diplomatic ties, that Taiwan's official name is the Republic of China, or who the US recognizes as 'the sole China' now and why. No one fact was off-base.

But taken together, it presents an image of Taiwanese history that I can't endorse as accurate: there are several lies of omission that seem like minor details but are in fact pivotal to an accurate telling of Taiwan's story. If included, such details would change the overall narrative of Taiwanese history to such a great degree that leaving them out feels false.

Imagine if, instead of the usual "1949", "two Chinas", "the Republic of China still claims" narrative without any key details, the presenter had said something like this:

"Taiwan had been a Japanese colony until the end of World War II, when the Allied Powers allowed the Republic of China to accept Japan's surrender on their behalf and govern Taiwan, amid some controversy. The Nationalists and their leader, Chiang Kai-shek, who controlled Republic of China, were then defeated by the Communists under Mao Zedong, who founded the People's Republic of China. The Nationalists fled to Taiwan, claiming to be the 'sole' government of the 'true' China. Both leaders of these "two Chinas" were military dictatorships marked by oppression and mass murder. The United States recognized the Republic of China on Taiwan, under Chiang Kai-shek, until the late 1970s, when it switched recognition to the PRC in Beijing. Since then, China has continued on a trajectory of dictatorship while Taiwan has democratized and liberalized, with many Taiwanese no longer identifying as 'Chinese'. Polls in Taiwan show consistent support for a separate Taiwanese national and cultural identity. Some in Washington say that in light of this, it's time to re-assess US policy in the region, which..."

Same basic facts, but with pertinent details centered in the narrative, it tells quite a different story, doesn't it?

But, hey.

We can't get everything we want, so I can only hope that during the 'historical' interludes, American viewers went to the kitchen to get more chips. 


In the end, it doesn't matter as much as Tsai comporting herself well, which she clearly did. Taiwan needs to present a clear case to the world that it is worth taking seriously and aiding if necessary. I never thought I'd say Tsai Ing-wen was the public speaker who could accomplish much of anything (she's not a great speaker), but...I could be wrong. She's exactly the face Taiwan needs to show to the West. 

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Where Richard Bush is right, and where he is wrong

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Let me start out by saying that I don't think China expert (which somehow includes Taiwan? I mean, being the former AIT chair makes that okay, but they are not the same thing) Richard Bush is a Confucius McDoorknob. We can all agree that he is deeply credible.

So, let me be kind, and start with the ways that his two most recent articles (here and here) are right, before talking about the ways that they aren't.

In the first article, he's quite right that Tsai has been doing an excellent job of managing cross-strait relations, using caution most of the time, but snapping back like a bad-ass she-wolf at the appropriate times. This is just right, and Bush and the US are right to support her:


In my view, one of the reasons that the United States has expressed support for President Tsai and her administration is precisely because she is cautious and careful. She does not take the U.S. commitment for granted and understands the value of close communication.


He's also right that a referendum on de jure Taiwanese independence is a terrible idea.

Frozen Garlic covered why referendums are not the direct-democracy saviors their supporters make them out to be in the context of energy policy; it really covers referendums as a problematic tool more generally, though, and I highly suggest reading it.

Echoing Froze, Bush points out:


When it comes to democratic mechanisms, none is perfect in my view. Whether it is indirect democracy in a legislature or direct democracy through a referendum, distortion and manipulation of the popular will occurs. So a referendum is not necessarily better than other mechanisms.

If referendums are to be employed on routine policy issues, in my view, they should be crafted in a way so the result truly reflects the view of the majority of all citizens. I’m not sure one can say that about the referendums that were held on November 24 last year.


All the more so when the referendum is on questions regarding the fundamental identity of a state and a nation. For these, it is a good thing to set a high bar for authorizing a referendum and passing a referendum. The stakes are so high and the consequences of being wrong are so great, that it is appropriate—even mandatory—to require a broad public consensus through a super-majority for passage. Witness the trouble that Great Britain is now in because only a simple majority of those voting for Brexit was required for passage.



There are other reasons why it's a bad move, as well: first, that it would take a willfully blind person or someone invested in an outcome they are not openly articulating to say that Tsai is not working toward setting the fundamentals in motion for eventual de jure independence. It's not even reasonable to say she's moving too slowly; this is the pace you have to move at when you are threatened by a nasty bully just a few hundred miles away with missiles pointed at you.

It doesn't take a genius to understand that Taiwan has to make choices based in its real situation, not in how it would like the world to be right now.

The only reasonable criticism, then, is that she's not doing a particularly good job of 'selling' her way of doing things to the public. I do understand this is difficult: the deep blues already think this is the GREEN TERROR (it's not, and that phrase doesn't mean anything) and the deep greens are in fantasyland - they'd rather do what feels good than work in concrete ways toward a future for Taiwan. But it does feel as though she hasn't really tried.

So to say that what's needed is a bing-bam-boom REFERENDUM! goes beyond wishful thinking - in some ways it's straight-up childish.

And, of course, it's a bad move because it will probably fail. I mean, look at how easily the tide turned on the referendum to end the use of "Chinese Taipei" (which realistically would have meant applying to stop using that name - there's no way it would have been accepted). All it took was the IOC being a bunch of whiny buttclowns and the Taiwanese Olympic athletes coming out against the change to get the Taiwanese not to vote for a referendum that would have symbolically told the world that they think "Chinese Taipei" is a preposterous name, which it objectively is.

If we can't even pass "what the hell is Chinese Taipei?", how are we going to pass this? We're not. That doesn't mean the Taiwanese electorate doesn't generally support independence; most people do.

And, as much as I hate to admit it, he's right about Taiwan having to take into account the political situation in the US and what they will and will not realistically offer Taiwan.

Yeah I know I just puked in my mouth saying that too, but it doesn't make it untrue.

From the "open letter":


I do not know how firm the Trump administration’s commitment to Taiwan’s defense would be if military conflict were likely. There are certainly those who see Taiwan as a useful asset in its campaign to resist what they regard as China’s revisionist objectives. But valuing Taiwan’s partnership in this way is not the same thing as giving Taiwan, or political forces in Taiwan, a green light to act unilaterally to change the status quo, a principle that remains a central element of U.S. policy.

I do know that President Trump himself is skeptical about any U.S. security commitment to Taiwan. At a meeting of the National Security Council on January 19, 2018, Mr. Trump asked his senior national security team, “even more than [Korea], what do we get from protecting Taiwan?” The implication of that question is the U.S. commitment to Taiwan is not justified, as far as he is concerned. I have seen no evidence that this skepticism has changed. It is consistent with his long-standing opposition to U.S. defense commitments to U.S. friends and allies. 



and from the "let's not invite Tsai to speak" article, which I think was easily the worse of the two:


Make no mistake: The United States should continuously find ways to improve relations with Taiwan. We need to improve our economic relationship and help Taiwan effectively enhance its deterrence against China. That requires engaging Taiwan leaders on how they realistically believe American can help them, not how we think we should help. Forty years of American experience in conducting U.S.-China relations has demonstrated the need to be skillful and sometimes stealthy in our Taiwan diplomacy. Public symbols, deftly deployed, are important in relations with Taiwan, but substance is far more important.


In short, when talking about how to improve the chances of a truly independent future for Taiwan, it is simply smart to consider the US position as Taiwan's most powerful potential ally. I don't like it any more than you do, but whether or not the US will ultimately stand up for Taiwan does matter. At the very least it forces Taiwan to consider what it has at its own disposal when making decisions rather than assuming that its underdog status is so sympathetic and its cause so just (though it is) that of course anyone who truly cares about a free and democratic world will, in the end, stand by us. But that is not at all assured. It's not right and it's not fair, but it is sadly true. 

And, of course, he was smart to point out that the call to invite Tsai to address Congress originated with a group of US Senators, and it's not clear that Tsai herself thinks its a good idea:


The third flaw in this initiative is its disregard for Taiwan’s view. I’m guessing here, but I suspect that the authors did not ask President Tsai if she thought this was a good idea—and, if they did ask, they didn’t listen very carefully to her answer. President Tsai is responsible for the prosperity and safety of 23 million people. She understands that she must maintain some degree of balance between relations with the United States on the one hand and relations with China on the other. Clearly, relations with China are not as good as she might like them to be, but I believe she would not wish to risk a further, serious deterioration in relations with Beijing unless it brought it an extraordinary benefit.


But I have to say, there are a lot of ways in which Bush is straight-up dead-ass what-the-hell wrong.

Starting with the quote above, what's up with the fallacy that Tsai can do much, if anything, about deteriorating relations with Beijing. They're going to treat Taiwan like garbage no matter what she does because they simply don't like her, the DPP, or the Taiwan consensus. Relations are deteriorating because Beijing is deteriorating them, and that's not going to change.

Along these lines, and alongside some pretty solid wisdom, Bush is also selling some Grade A snake oil. Reading these articles is like going to your Harvard-educated doctor who effectively treats an infection with modern medicine, and then recommends you get your humors balanced.

Let's start with the top shelf dippery:


The first aspect is that the proposal touches on the national interests of the United States, specifically its abiding interest in peace and security in the Taiwan area and its longstanding view that neither side of the Taiwan Strait should try unilaterally to change the status quo.


and:



You will recall that President Bush publicly criticized Mr. Chen in December 2003 for trying to unilaterally change the status quo. In September 2007, then-Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Christensen warned that Mr. Chen was putting Taiwan’s security at stake for the sake of the DPP’s electoral advantage.


These points pre-suppose that the status quo can potentially be changed bilaterally, or in some way other than unilaterally (and that the DPP fights the status quo "for its electoral advantage" rather than because they, and most Taiwanese, actually believe in working toward an independent Taiwan).


This is false.

It's not only false, it's dangerous to buy into. It will never happen. There's no game to play here, no potential winning strategy in which, if Taiwan negotiates with China in just the right way, or plays nice to just the right CCP officials, that there will be a breakthrough and a permanent situation of peace and Taiwan's assured autonomy would tumble from the heavens, rejoice! 

China. Will. NEVER. Agree. To. A. Bilateral. Solution. That. Taiwan. Can. Accept.

Ever. 

Well, unless the CCP falls in an inglorious revolution, but that would create so much instability and uncertainty (a dying CCP who invades Taiwan as a last-ditch effort to distract its own people from the situation about to boil over at home?) that it's not exactly desirable either. Slow reforms and so-called "bloodless" democratization/liberalization are even less likely, at least not on any timeline that will be viable.

That leaves three possible solutions that Bush is assiduously trying to avoid admitting to:

a.) war
b.) perpetual status quo
c.) some non-war-starting way of unilaterally changing the status quo

(The idea of peaceful unification is as much a non-starter as China agreeing bilaterally to Taiwanese independence: Taiwan would never accept it).

War is possible, but quite wisely, nobody (except perhaps China) wants to pursue it, so let's leave it aside. The perpetual status quo is a chimaera. It seems real enough but can't last. There's just no way that Taiwan's current situation is permanently tenable. This is because while the CCP as a whole may not be in any great rush to try to annex Taiwan, Xi Jinping harps on it in a way reminiscent of Chiang Kai-shek before anyone took him seriously. It seems unlikely to me that he'll run China for the rest of his life without at least making an attempt to accomplish it. And yet, the Taiwanese overwhelmingly support independence (whether de facto or de jure). They may vote for politicians who say otherwise, for other reasons, but when those politicians make concrete moves towards integrating with China, watch how their fortunes change.

So what does that leave us? Option C. I have no idea how we cause that to come about, but seeing as I don't see any "bilateral" way of changing anything between Taiwan and China, we can't take any potential future unilateral action off the table.

That Bush wants to imply that this is not Taiwan's reality, and that a bilateral solution may be possible, is dangerous wishful thinking at best, and straight-up snake oil served by gaslight at worst.

And, while I appreciate that Taiwan must take the US's position into consideration, I balk at the implication that we should prioritize the US-China relationship as though it is somehow more important to Taiwan than the question of its own continued sovereignty:


If the president of Taiwan were to speak to a joint meeting of Congress, any U.S. claim that its relations with Taiwan were unofficial would ring completely hollow. China would interpret the move as Washington’s reneging on the fundamental bargain at the heart of U.S.-PRC relations. Although I cannot predict exactly what Beijing would do in response, a radical downgrading of the relationship would be likely. Any hope that President Trump would have of cutting a trade deal with his New Best Friend Xi Jinping would vanish. U.S. requests for Chinese assistance concerning North Korea would fall on very deaf ears. Many sectors of American society that still value the U.S.-China relationship would be hurt. American multinationals that rely on China as a market or production platform would be vulnerable to retaliation, with attendant effects on jobs and profits.


Yeah okay but now you're starting to make it sound as though US corporate profits are Taiwan's chief concern, or that we should be worried about the US-China relationship for its own sake, beyond what it portends for the US-Taiwan relationship (or the Taiwan-China relationship).


We don't. I don't care about a trade deal between the US and China beyond its potential impact on Taiwan, and I don't care about the "fundamental bargain at the heart of US-China relations" because it's a crap bargain. I want US to normalize and make official relations with Taiwan, so why would any Taiwan-prioritizing readers take this paragraph seriously?

I mean, I get it, this is aimed as much at a US political audience as a Taiwan one, but as someone who prioritizes Taiwan, it is deeply unconvincing. Poor babies. It might hurt your profits. Oh noes. Oh wait, I don't care.

Finally, I'll also say that this simply can't be argued with, but is still deeply problematic for reasons explained below:


Also, neither you nor I can control how the Beijing government interprets developments on Taiwan and whether they trigger Article 8 of the Anti-Secession Law.


What bothers me about it is that he comes so close to understanding a deeper truth about China: that they are going to treat Taiwan like crap no matter what, and Taiwan can't control that (the US, in theory, could influence it in some way - if it wanted to. It doesn't.)

But no, he stops there, and then promptly trots out the same old blather implying that Taiwan not only can, but should, play this game with China:


The second flaw in this proposal [for Tsai to address Congress] is Taiwan would suffer. This initiative began in the United States, and Beijing would take the opportunity to pressure and squeeze Taiwan even more than it is already doing. It would likely find ways to get the small number of countries that still maintain diplomatic relations with Taipei to switch to the PRC. Taiwan-directed exercises by China’s People’s Liberation Army would intensify. China’s efforts to interfere in Taiwan’s domestic politics would increase. So, a gesture that senators intended to help Taiwan would only hurt it.


Taiwan is going to "suffer" no matter what. China will "squeeze" Taiwan no matter what. They will try to poach our (well, the ROC's) diplomatic allies no matter what (and I'm not sure how much I care - it's not like those countries recognize Taiwan. They recognize the ROC as China, which is not the same thing really). Taiwan-directed exercises by the PLA will probably intensify no matter what, and Xi's anti-Taiwan rhetoric will escalate no matter what. So while I admire Bush's genuine concern for Taiwan, he's coming at it in not only a wrong, but condescending way - as though we don't see for ourselves that China is already doing the things he is threatening China will do.

Let me repeat:

China is going to increasingly treat Taiwan like garbage no matter what Taiwan does, and there is nothing acceptable to the Taiwanese electorate that Taiwan can do to stop it. 

So if the CCP is going to continue to be a bunch of glass-hearted pissbabies, and they are going to increase their bullying of Taiwan regardless, then dude.

Let them.

And don't buy into the illusory nonsense that if Taiwan just plays footsie in the right way, it can negotiate a better outcome for itself or somehow convince China to stop being such a jag-off. This will never happen.

The only way to win this game is not to play. I support Tsai because, while it looks like she's playing China's game, she in fact has her own deck of cards and is playing her own long hand. China's not even invited to the poker table.

So let's keep not playing. Let's not make any rash moves, and let's stop tearing ourselves apart because some people need to prove that they are more ideologically "pure" rather than seeking realistic, practical solutions that lay the groundwork for a future that includes an independent Taiwan.

But holy mother of god, let's not buy any "but China will be mad and you can't make any unilateral changes!" garbage.

We know better and we will not be fooled.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Every single woman has feared for their life around a man - in Taiwan, or anywhere.

Hold up while I relate two personal stories in service of a larger point.

Years ago, before I married, I went out on a date. I didn't know the guy very well, but felt relatively safe meeting him in public. As I often did, I planned a later meet-up with friends so there'd be a clear end-time to the date, no matter how well we got along.

Conversation flowed, there was maybe a small spark - but I hadn't liked the somewhat insistent way he'd asked for the date (yet was too young to know that really ought to mean an immediate rejection). Despite myself, I kind of liked him and thought I'd see him again, even though I knew straightaway our life goals were not compatible (I was going to be returning to Asia at some point in the middle future; he was Asian, but had no interest in this.)

I was young and stupid enough to think it would be safe to take him up on the offer to drive me to my meet-up with friends rather than taking the Metro and being a little late.

He drove a little too fast through DC. I was about to say something when he started asking me which streets we were passing and where he should stop, and I couldn't answer him because he was going so fast I couldn't read the street signs. I said as much and he snapped at me: I don't remember what he said, because I was so taken aback with how suddenly his personality had turned, and how inappropriate it was to snap at someone for that reason. He asked me again which street we'd passed, I said again that I didn't know because he was driving too fast for me to read. He sped up and snapped at me again for 'telling him how to drive', at which point I finally found my voice again, and said "stop here", even though we weren't there yet.

He didn't. He went even faster. I said, 'if you don't stop now I'm getting out at the next red light'. I almost added '...and calling the cops', though I knew it wouldn't have done any good. He came to an abrupt halt and waved me out of the car without a word.

I was still several blocks from my destination, but I felt like my life depended on my not being in that car anymore. Later he sent me a text message calling me a 'psycho bitch', and of course I never contacted or saw him again.

It wouldn't be the last time I was attacked for criticizing, disagreeing or rejecting a man, however. Not long after that I met a guy at a bar. He was visiting from a city a few hours away, but after a few effervescent chat sessions, he said he'd be back in town one weekend. Two days before, I was about to buy us tickets to something and told him so, when he said in fact he'd decided he wasn't coming, because he should attend a job fair in his own city. When I decided I just didn't want to deal with that kind of distance dating - the kind where you don't even know the person well and never know if travel plans will be scuppered at the last minute - I said as much, that it wasn't about him, and maybe the next time one of us happened to be in the other's city we could meet as friends but we would not be dating.

Cue a long tirade about how I was a stupid fat slut psycho bitch (oh, there's those words again! I know this song!) who obviously has serious mental issues and will always be alone because I'm such a slutty fat bitch psycho (I guess his vocabulary wasn't as impressive as I was looking for in a partner anyway). Blah blah blah, bitch slut psycho fat, yadda yadda, mental problems slutty bitch fat psycho, fat mental psycho problems bitch...you know, like magnetic poetry for assholes.

I wonder if men have figured out that these words literally do not mean anything to women anymore, because their illocutionary force is merely men wanting us to know that we should never disagree, criticize or reject them for any reason. "Fat" doesn't mean "a doctor would say you are overweight". "Psycho" doesn't mean "I am genuinely concerned about your mental health". "Bitch" doesn't mean anything at all. They all mean "you criticized me and I don't like that waah."

That second guy was nothing: just words on a screen. I didn't even read most of them. The first one, though? He could have refused to stop the car. He could have grabbed my phone if I'd tried to call 911. He could have killed me. He'd probably be infuriated to hear me say that, but from my perspective, he could have. 

What's the difference between him and a guy who actually kills a woman for rejecting him?

Not as much as you'd like to think.

And what turns the man who is just words on a screen into the man who won't let a woman out of his speeding car? Not a lot.

What turns other exes (not just dates) of mine, who probably wouldn't even admit their sexism was a part of what broke us up, from casually sexist remarks into the kind of guy who does either of those things? Again, not much. 

So, when I read about a wave of murders in Taiwan by men against women (more now than when this story came out) - many of which are over women rejecting men - I do agree wholeheartedly that the issue is the normalization of violence in Taiwanese (and frankly, every) society. However, I don't immediately jump to "it's the media" or even that there are dissectable, removable, examinable 'causes' or 'roots' in society that can be excised while keeping society otherwise intact.

It's a whole system of beliefs that starts with very mild behavior - men talking over women, interrupting them, attacking them for speaking out, trying to tear them down when they stand publicly for a privilege and sense of entitlement many men don't realize they have. This escalates to acting as though they have primary decision-making powers in a relationship and can "allow" a woman to do or not do something, to that same sentiment in a family (that a male family member can "allow" a female one to do something or not), to controlling/manipulative behavior, to violence right up to murder.

Violence, then, isn't normalized in Taiwanese - and every - society. The whole spectrum of this type of men's behavior is. In this way, I agree with New Bloom: it's intrinsic to toxic masculinity. Not all masculinity is toxic - my husband and male friends are plenty masculine without ever acting like this, and it is possible to raise boys into men who don't act this way - but it is normalized as male behavior for a vast swath, if not the majority, of men. The vast majority of men are not murderers, but this behavior is on one end of a spectrum with a very deadly other end. And it's so normal that women who want something better spend ages dating man after man who displays some of the milder behavior, often to simply compromise and stick with a guy who is only kind of mansplainy or kind of talks over her, or is nice to her but kind of an asshole to other women.

And every man who lets other men get away with it, or holds women to far higher standards than he does other men, is a part of the problem. 

(I am sure some dipclown is going to distort this argument into "mansplaining = murder!", but that is of course not what I mean. Let me make that clear now, although it won't matter to the trolls.)

What I'm trying to say is, the media in Taiwan is sexist, but their so-called 'reporting' and other commentary isn't what drives this. Sexism in society drives sexist media. It's the other way around. People watch because it's that combination of unacceptable yet already normalized - they don't normalize it because of what they watch.

And the 'wave' of murders...I'm not even sure it's really a wave. Men murdering women seems to have been a pretty regular thing in Taiwan in the past: the only difference I really see now is that people are talking about it more, and the stories get a little more airtime. (In this way it reminds me of India: everyone seems to think India is dangerous "now". But frankly, the crimes which make international news now don't seem to point to an actual uptick in violence against women, though I wouldn't be surprised, with the sweep of male entitlement that seems to always ride along with voting in a religious fundamentalist/nationalist government like the BJP - or Republicans in the US - if there actually was one. It just seems like problems that have always been there in India are finally getting more media time, and more discussion.)

Although Taiwanese media has many, many (many) problems and faults, and media coverage in Taiwan is without a doubt sexist, that society is discussing these types of murders more - and they are getting more media time - in Taiwan isn't one of them.

And we can't just 'find the root causes' of male-on-female violence in Taiwanese society and reflect on them, as though they can be destroyed as something separate from the whole. They are the whole, and trying to cut a surgical incision that takes out only the violence won't work.

That will still leave all the men who shut women out, who talk over them, who are so sensitive that they can neither bear to be criticized by a woman nor criticized in any way that implies, despite being otherwise good men, that they, too, carry some of these traits. It leaves all the ones who write mental fat psycho problems bitch slut slutty bitch problems fat slut bitch psycho mental (or whatever) to women who reject them, who won't let them out of cars, who follow them home and wait outside their apartments for them (as happened to a friend of mine in Taiwan).

In short, it requires upheaval of an entire social order.

I could go in here about patriarchal blah-blah Confucian society blah-blah Asian Beliefs blah-blah-whatever, but I won't. It wasn't that long ago that Western nations had just as much patriarchy, if not more so, and in many cases they haven't actually improved far beyond Taiwan. In my mother's own lifetime birth control was difficult to get in the US, let alone an abortion. Hell, a bank account in a woman's own name was hard to get, let alone a credit line! Marital rape was legal in the US until frighteningly recently. It wasn't that long ago that domestic violence was not necessarily grounds for divorce. Let's not pretend we are somehow perfect or untainted.

So I don't mean to dump only on Taiwan - this is a global problem, and the night I feared for my life was in the US (I have feared for my life on other occasions - notably, once, in India - but they weren't the result of a date gone wrong or my 'rejecting' a man). And I don't mean to say that all of Taiwanese culture must change to fit my Feminazi SJW Penis-Mutilating Manhater Agenda. A pretty awesome Taiwanese society - or any society - can be re-imagined and move forward on more egalitarian foundations.

But first, we have to admit to ourselves that the current foundations are rotten, and always have been.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Another kind of missionary

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A very "Chinese" Last Supper at the Catholic church in Yanshui, Tainan


Something that's been kind of in the back of my head for awhile, brought to the fore by my friend Donovan's interview with a missionary, and then the editorial some guy wrote about it. Now I'm writing about the editorial. Perhaps someone will write a piece about my blog post, and someone will tweet about that, and someone will write an editorial about that incendiary tweet, and then someone will Snapchat it or Tinder it or Grindr it or Blendr it or whatever the kids are doing these days, right up until Donovan covers the whole thing on ICRT again. The circle of life.

Anyway, friends and regular readers will know that I don't care for missionary work. I understand that many missionaries do other good things for communities, but I can't condone the 'I claim to respect your culture but I actually think this part of my culture is better and you should trash what you did before' attitude, or the idea that one does good works toward the ultimate goal of converting people. I say this even as I acknowledge that I can like and even respect individual people of good character who are missionaries.

In any case, what struck me about Mr. Angrypants here wasn't his views on missionary work which I largely agree with, but this:


Academic institutions must focus on the enhancement of logical, critical and independent thinking. Unfortunately, core values of the local culture here are not amenable, often even inimical to such essential educational goals.

The prevailing culture here is authoritarian and honors blind obedience, its education awards rote learning without understanding, it discourages young people from thinking for themselves and it punishes inquisitive minds.


The disingenuous educational paradigms are implemented in so many classrooms here on a daily basis. Therefore, there is no need in Taiwan of an additional input of uncritical thinking by religious groups that aim to hijack the minds of young people through the indoctrination of dubious contents.



I don't entirely disagree with this, though I don't necessarily think my education was that much better. But, it can't be denied that this is a large component of the educational system in Taiwan. Every time I start thinking "oh it's not that bad", I recall a story an adult student (and legit genius and overall cool person) once told me. As a student, he'd had to write three essays, each on one of Sun Yat-sen's Three Buzzwords Principles of the People. For the first two, he just restated what was in the textbook, and got perfect scores. For the third, he decided to offer his own insights as well (I've forgotten what they were, but I remember being impressed with his incisiveness), and got a C.

I don't even blame Taiwan for it too much: it's a holdover from authoritarian rule (dictators want populations that can read, write and do math, but not think too much) that sticks because it claims on the surface to have cultural legitimacy (I'll come back to this). Changing it would take a complex organized effort that considered parents, professional curriculum development, exams, administration and long-term teacher development. I understand why it's so slow to happen.

In short, he's got his tenses wrong. The prevailing culture in Taiwan was authoritarian, but is now democratic with a strong penchant for social movements and activism. The education system just hasn't gotten with the program.

I also suspect quite a few Westerners fundamentally misunderstand the historic role of education in many Asian cultures. Yes, it involves a great deal of memorization, especially of the "classics" (or math equations, or grammar patterns, or whatever). If you do this, you will pass. But historically there has also been a belief that to be truly 'educated' - to be a scholar - it's not enough to simply memorize. You have to take what you've learned and glean insights from it that you can apply to real-world situations. You have to be able to use it, extrapolate on it, consider it, do something with it. Otherwise, you might pass, but you're not a scholar.

Or as we call it in the West, critical thinking.

I'm not an advocate of this particular method of leading learners to criticality and inquisitiveness - it's outdated and just doesn't seem to work that well - but it's simply not true to say that educational traditions in Asia sought to suppress such traits.

But that's not where the real problem lies. This is:


There is another reason for concern. It is obvious that so many young people in Taiwan are literally clueless about major issues that move the world. Their life experience is minimal, their minds are soft and malleable, underdeveloped, easy to bend....

Often, young people are emotionally and intellectually insecure; they have never developed their own ideas about topics of general concern. They are lost when having to move within competitive networks of opinions, assertions and claims — the stuff the modern world is made of.


Therefore, they can be easily manipulated and “guided” by those who do have opinions, no matter whether they are good or bad.
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Asian Mary, Jesus and Joseph
(Frankly I'll take this over white supremacist blue-eyed blonde-haired Jesus)


I'm guessing he doesn't spend a lot of time around Taiwanese student activists. If you think they are easily manipulated or their opinions can be changed or bent, just ask Ma Ying-jiu how that worked out for him.

Seriously, this is one of the most offensive things I've ever read about Taiwan.

Mr. Dude turns a somewhat-valid criticism of the educational system in Taiwan into a narrative of ‘these poor dumb mindless Taiwanese are at the mercy of these missionaries’ as though they are hapless victims too stupid and thoughtless to run their own society.

You know, that society that I just noted above has a strong tradition of activism (nevermind that it used to be called 'rebellion')? The one with arguably the most successful democracy in Asia, some of the freest press in Asia if not the world, with a developed economy that they (not the dictatorship) built?

That society, apparently. According to him, it's full of morons who don't even know how to have opinions.

This literally makes me want to spit. While I don't pretend Taiwan is perfect - there are many issues here that deserve strong, if not vicious, criticism - in this particular way, I have to wonder if we're living in the same country. I mean, sure, I meet idiots here. Every country in the world has its thinkers, its average people and its, um, dimmer bulbs. Every country has its leaders, its normal people and its blind followers. But to just not see all the creativity and insight around him? What's up with that?

For every thicker-skulled person I meet, I also meet people like my student above, who risked a failing grade just to write what he really thought. I see students occupying...all sorts of things, or trying to. I see the student I had who envisioned his presentation as a series of interconnected three-dimensional cubes, in a really insightful way that I hadn't even considered as a potential mind map. I see all the great Taiwanese fiction I've read recently, the beautiful films, the students I tutored who came up with a way to safely and more easily carry water over long distances while using the movement of that water to charge a battery that could be used for electricity, the creatively-decorated cafes, the young people with ideas that they'll launch once they get the money.

I see that while the authoritarian-holdover educational system in Taiwan is accepted, it is not particularly well-liked. Most Taiwanese are well aware of the flaws, and it's entirely understandable that fixing them seems like an impossible effort (if you want to criticize this, fine, but go look at American public schools in underprivileged areas and come back and tell me you still think Western countries are 'better').

I see a country where the education system doesn't teach critical thinking, but plenty of people learned to think critically anyway.

So this guy thinks he has all the answers for how to make Taiwan better and if we’d just do what he says those poor, poor, POOR widdle Taiwanese wouldn’t be taken in by those evil big bad missionaries. Just listen to him, he’ll fix what’s wrong with Taiwan.

He knows how to make this foreign culture better, more thoughtful in ways he can relate to, more like his vision of what it should be like. Of course, without his brilliant insight Taiwan will be lost. Barbaric. Stuck in the past. Or something.

In other words, he's just another kind of missionary.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

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

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


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

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

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


and

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


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


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

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


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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Nothing is ever that simple.


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