Showing posts with label taiwanese_elections. Show all posts
Showing posts with label taiwanese_elections. Show all posts

Saturday, February 29, 2020

The KMT's hard red turn *really* isn't as weird as you think: Part II

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This is one of those photos that doesn't have a direct relationship to the post...except I think evocatively, that it does. 

In my last post on KMT-CCP synchronicity, I dove into the KMT's Leninist roots to show that their 'origin story' does not differ that much from the CCP. The short of it is that their early party structure (Leninist), philosophy (Sun Yat-sen's Three Principles), overarching ideals (that they are a "Chinese" government and that includes Taiwan) and general approach to governance (authoritarianism disguised as "political tutelage" by a caretaking "vanguard party") are all so similar to the CCP's approach to governance that one should not be surprised that the two parties are now working together to push the annexation of Taiwan to China. 


But, I approached a few key issues which were left unanswered. Namely: 


What about the stark ideological contrast regarding Marxism? 


How do you account for the different approaches to 'Chinese culture' between the two parties?

The KMT is - in theory at least - a competing party in a democratic system. Do all the old authoritarian beliefs still apply?



Let's address those now. 


Marxism

This one is easy - the CCP still claims to hold Communist ideology, but even a cursory, non-expert observation of how China works shows that the party's guiding ethos are not Marxist at all. It's not just that China has barely any social welfare system - just try accessing good medical care if you're not rich - but that the CCP has figured out that it's just as good to control the 'owners' of private enterprise, rather than actually run various enterprises themselves. If anything, it's better! Other people do the hard work of actually running companies, but the Party can decide who succeeds in establishing large firms based on their connections and Party loyalty. And because they can be arrested at any time for 'corruption' or controlled through national subsidies and contracts or just quiet threats delivered through a tightly-woven network, you don't lose any power.

I don't think this paper is particularly special, but it is an example of how the general academic consensus is that China is closer to 'state capitalist' than any kind of Marxist or Communist ideology. And here's another one. They're not very exciting.


The workers, you say? Those people that the CCP has sworn to protect? What of them? Without offering any of the benefits of Marxism - say, job security, access to basic necessities such as food, clothing, shelter and health care - the CCP is quite able to exercise all of the downsides of Marxism (state control of everything you are permitted to do) as it pleases.

What, did you think the CCP would actually give 'the workers' any sort of power? But that would force them to give up power themselves!

State capitalism, as they love to say in China, is a win-win situation! For dictators and their friends, that is.

With actual Marxism gone, there's really not much left to distinguish the strongman KMT from the strongman CCP. And you're a fool if you think the KMT isn't aware that their one ideological rift with their former adversaries no longer exists in anything but name. 



Chinese Culture

The last few times I went to China, I was treated to lovely feasts of traditional Chinese fare in restaurants decked out in traditional Chinese decor. The first one used traditional woodcarving as a design point, inserting traditionally-carved pieces into more modern wooden walls and dividers. The other one was in a shopping mall, but featured an entire miniature stream teeming with goldfish, with a little Chinese-style bridge over it, which one crossed to go from the reception area to the dining area. The dining room was set with traditional-style tables and chairs, with white plaster dividers inset with Qing-style windows shaped like peaches, medicine gourds, butterflies, ingots and more. 

There was something performative about the whole thing, not unlike going to a restaurant in America with "America" in the name. These restaurants were gorgeous and the food was delicious, but the unspoken point seemed to be "welcome to China, don't you love our 5,000 years of culture and therefore everything about our country!" [exclamation point - it's not a question.] 


Those were just two meals in China, but they illustrate a larger point: the Cultural Revolution is dead. Long live Chinese Culture as a method of state control! 

This topic ties in nicely with the Marxist angle above. To clarify the relationship, let me quote Alton Thompson's comment in the Taiwan History Facebook group (which is great - you should join!):


A big ideological split existed when the Communists really bought into the Karl Marx shtick about international class struggle. The Red Guards torched Chinese art, destroyed Beijing opera, and laid waste to Tibetan Buddhism in the name of the new order. With this sort of erasure going on, CKS could display Chinese cultural treasures in the National Palace Museum here to make the case that his party preserved, and therefore must be heir to, Chinese culture. 
Mao's successors added 'Chinese characteristics' to their concerns—and that changed everything. As in so many Communist régimes, party leaders now needed international investment to rescue their failed economy and underwrite their party's continued hold on power (see also 'Cuba'). It helped this project to move the Marx talk into the realm of nostalgia as they established stock exchanges and rebooted Chinese art, Beijing opera, and Tibetan Buddhism in some form to show visitors.
The CCP suddenly found itself in ideological kinship with the Nationalists. The main product on offer by both parties now was simply a police state with Chinese characteristics. This conjunction emerged just as both parties were viewing with increasing alarm Taiwan's advancing democracy and growing sense of native identity.

The rebirth of 'Chinese culture' in China was not a natural post-Cultural Revolution occurrence - it was an intentional CCP-backed initiative. Xi Jinping himself has said so numerous times and even cursory searches will bring up state-supported initiatives to promote 'Chinese culture' and tie it to 'Chinese government control'. Here, it's stated explicitly, but also uncritically (you may choose not to read that as your self-care for the day. It's more than a little barfy.)

Does this sound different from the KMT's attempt to harness "preserving Chinese culture" as a tool of party control through the Cultural Renaissance Movement (中華文化復興運動)? No:
While the KMT had little hope of retaking China, it used propaganda to maintain the illusion that war could break out at anytime to justify its military rule and keep its population united and patriotic. The Cultural Revolution broke out in China in 1966, giving the KMT a perfect opportunity to launch the Chinese Cultural Renaissance Movement as a countermovement. 
It was not the first of its kind. The KMT had launched the Cultural Reform Movement (文化改造運動) and the Cultural Cleansing Movement (文化清潔運動) in the 1950s. These movements share the common goals of shaping the world view of its constituents by repeatedly promoting KMT founder Sun Yat-sen’s (孫逸仙) Three Principles of the People (三民主義), fostering unwavering allegiance to Chiang and carrying out the ultimate goal of defeating the Chinese communists.
The council was made up of scholars, cultural experts and a large number of high-level KMT officials. In addition to promoting traditional Chinese arts, it sought to instill the ancient “Four Principles and Eight Virtues” (四維八德) among the populace.

You may have noticed in the last election that the KMT is holding strong to their "Chinese cultural" touchstones. The hyper-prominence of the ROC flag and its KMT telltale heart sun. The claims that this election was "a battle to save the ROC". Knowing it can never compete with the DPP on Taiwaneseness, a tacit but omnipresent push toward Chineseness. KMT-allied groups, such as the Anti-Gay Aunties (not their real name, they're actually the 中華婦女黨 or "Chinese Women's Party") explicitly talk about their bigotry beliefs in terms of "Chinese culture".

So, now we have the KMT in Taiwan and the CCP in China both promoting "traditional Chinese culture", and both tying it explicitly to their political goals.

Same same. Not different.
Democratization

A Facebook comment on my first post pointed out that the KMT's history of authoritarianism didn't fully explain how the party as a whole could go so red. After all, they did capitulate to democratization, and the KMT's stated goal was always 'constitutional democracy' (of course, a 'stated goal' can never be taken as true belief - look at their actions, not their words). There must be some among them who really do believe in the democratic system, and don't wish to go back to authoritarianism. Some probably still believe that this all-important 'Chinese destiny' for themselves and for Taiwan remains an ROC construct, rather than capitulation to the PRC. 

And yet even they seem willing to be pulled along by the party's rush to cooperate with the CCP. Why?

There's no simple answer to this, and I do believe that (some of) these people (mostly) believe their own words.

However, true discomfort with authoritarianism must also mean discomfort with an authoritarian past. If one is able to excuse or explain away the KMT's history of political repression and mass murder, and join the party that did those things despite the party never fully making amends for their past, they are clearly not as uncomfortable with authoritarianism as they say, or believe. 

There are surely others who believe that "One Country Two Systems" is still viable, though they'll never call it that. The term is now - rightly - political poison. Still thinking of Taiwan's destiny as ultimately Chinese, they likely consider some sort of co-existence with the CCP inside a united 'China' as the next best thing to the KMT's original goal.

The KMT has recently insisted that "One Country Two Systems" will happen - in the words of failed presidential contender and now Some Guy in Kaohsiung - "over their dead body". But again, look at actions, not words. Every action the KMT has taken is toward a One Country Two Systems model, not away from it. Closer economic ties? Check. Not changing all of the references to "China" on national enterprises? Check. "Preserving Chinese culture"? Check. "Not rejecting unification"? You betcha. Floating a possible peace treaty? Uh huh. Links for all of those can be found in my previous post focusing on Leninism.

I don't know what to say about those KMTers, except that they are either stupid, delusional or intentionally ignorant. 

After witnessing events in Hong Kong, it is impossible to truly believe that there can be peaceful unification under any sort of two-system model. Leaving aside those who may simply be delusional or dumb, there must be a rationale in the minds of KMTers who intentionally ignore this fundamental truth
 “Under the premise of ensuring national sovereignty, security, and development interests, after peaceful reunification, the social system and way of life of Taiwan compatriots will be fully respected,” it said. 
“Private property, religious beliefs, and legitimate rights and interests of Taiwan compatriots will be fully protected.”
China has not explained how Taiwan’s democracy may be allowed to continue if it takes control of the island. [Emphasis mine].

As I've said: 
Note that among the things to be "respected", democracy is not listed.... The CCP apparently would get to decide what aspects of Taiwan's way of life are "legitimate" - just as they get to decide both who is Chinese and what it means to be Chinese - and you can surely expect that any sort of non-approved belief or attempt at continued democracy or even basic freedom of speech would be construed a threat to "national security" and therefore "not legitimate". "Rights and interests" is too general a phrase both in Chinese and English to mean anything, other than what the CCP wants it to mean...

Therein lies the answer to how KMTers who "support democracy" square that with friendliness to China and openness to unification.

They "support democracy" in that they believe there should be elections, and that the people who get the most votes should win those elections. That's about it. Even in the mid-20th century, the KMT held elections. Some of the local ones were actually competitive, in a sense. History shows that it's not necessarily an incongruous thing to believe as one supports an overarching authoritarian framework.

Under what structure those elections are "allowed" to take place is the question. For these KMTers, fake democracy will suffice. After all, they've joined the party that did fake democracy for decades, and then (wrongly) took credit for actual democracy! They are currently members of a party that has attempted to use lies, rather than platform-based campaigning, to win elections, and did not quit because of it. Even before the Hong Kong protests, they looked at Hong Kong's fake democracy and seemed to think "yeah, that'll do".

Fortunately, most Taiwanese can tell the difference between real democracy and the Diet version. They look identical but when you actually imbibe them, the core ingredients simply don't taste the same.

I bet some of the people pushing Taiwan in this direction can tell the difference too, but either their desire to be a "Chinese" party with a Chinese destiny overrides it (ie., democracy is of secondary importance), or they're sure that they personally stand to gain from unification under any system (they won't, but have probably been promised otherwise.)

Finally, it's worth bringing Leninism back into the discussion. Some of the old Leninist structures may no longer exist or hold any power, though the old patronage networks they engendered still exist. But one aspect of Leninist organization still seems to hold say in the KMT: democratic centralism. 

There may be KMTers who don't actually agree with the turn the party has taken, and who do understand that it goes against ideals they personally believe in. However, there's strong pressure within the party to 'fall in line' once an issue has been decided, and those who don't are punished (just look at what happened to Jason Hsu). There are ways to skirt that line, with tacit party blessing - see Wayne Chiang showing up to vote for one key provision in a same-sex marriage bill that the KMT had decided it would oppose, knowing that by the time he runs for Taipei mayor in 2022, treating LGBT people like people will be normalized. But openly opposing the "party consensus" after it has been reached? You're out.

This is true of most political parties, but the KMT seems to adhere to it more vigorously.

So, there may be KMT members who actually don't agree with their party's hard red turn, but they've decided that staying in the party and going along with it is more beneficial to them. Since they're comfortable building careers within a formerly authoritarian organization to begin with - one in which family connections matter more than talent, doing away with the notion that leaders are chosen based on merit - going along surely isn't as painful as it may seem from the outside.

Don't hold your breath, then, that anyone within the KMT will sound the alarm.

As a commenter on my earlier post pointed out, the KMT and CCP are like the Yankees and the Red Sox. They have different team colors and appeal to different demographics, but there's no actual difference between them - they're both playing the same game. Each one's fans claim to hate the other, but they all love the game, and they'll both gang up on people who don't want to play at all.

Ideologically, there is no longer much difference between the KMT and CCP - only rivalry over who should 'win'. Even in baseball, players are traded every season. It's all just a game. If the stronger team sees the benefit of helping out the weaker one to keep the World Series from being cancelled, it makes sense that the weaker team would be likely to accept.

It's really not that weird. 

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Taiwan not only rejected China tonight, it rejected populism and demagoguery - and the world should take note

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Yes, historic. It's historic because Tsai not only increased her tally (something previous incumbents have not done), but also netted a record number of total votes for any candidate in the history of Taiwanese elections. And historic because this is the first time the DPP has re-elected a majority in the legislature along with an incumbent presidential candidate.

But there is something else I hope the world will start saying: 



Also, can we please stop calling it "Chinese democracy" or "Confucian/Chinese/whatever values and democracy can mix" (both tweets I've seen tonight) and realize that the results clearly show a desire for the world to see that Taiwan doesn't see itself as Chinese, Taiwanese voters feel an affinity for their unique, Taiwanese culture, and maybe it's time the world listened.

In fact, while China did play a role, can this result please put the world on notice that Taiwan wants to be taken seriously on its own terms, as Taiwan, and media reporting about Taiwan should respect that and stop framing it always, always, always in terms of China? Taiwan is its own thing - its own place with its own culture and history - and that merits respect.

Finally, this election shows that the various causes and pushes for progressive values in Asia - Taiwan independence, marriage equality, Hong Kong self-determination - are all intertwined. You can see that simply by observing the people present outside DPP headquarters tonight. This is why liberals around the world should take note of Taiwan, and support it as they do Hong Kong. It's a different angle of the same fight.

That's really all I wanted to say. I hope the international media picks up on this idea and frames it as "Taiwan shows a better way, Taiwan shows we can defeat populism, divisiveness and disinformation. Taiwan shows that Trump-like figures do not always win."

Who wants to write that story?

Anyway, here are some photos. I'm off to the Maldives tomorrow so that's all you get from me. 







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Friday, January 10, 2020

Some words of calm and comfort on election eve

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On the eve of the election I have no new analysis, no specific insights - really I’m just a massive ball of anxiety. 

As my husband pointed out on Facebook, that’s because we all watched what happened with Trump and Brexit - especially Trump - and although Han is not Trump, he hits some of the same notes and it triggers something in our brain that terrifies us. Terrifying xenophobic populists have shown us around the world that they can get elected, but only Trump was not favored to win before he actually did. It doesn’t matter that this fear is probably unfounded - we’re not allowed to discuss polls at this point but we all know who is likely to be elected tomorrow. It’s something deep inside our lizard brains producing this anxiety...that things could go south, because they have before. 

My Taiwanese friends are also nervous. It’s hard not to be, even when the odds are in our favor.

It probably will be closer than we think. Sure, we all know what the numbers say, but older folks vote in greater numbers and that could skew results in Han’s favor. 

So I want to offer a few words of comfort, or at least try. As much to sooth my self as for you guys, my readers. 

First, let’s remember that if the election that produced Trump had happened under Taiwan’s system, Clinton would have won. The system, in that sense, works in our favor. 

Second, let’s remember that Clinton’s lead over Trump was more tenuous than...well, we’re not allowed to discuss the polls. Trump had a greater chance of winning even under the US’s jacked system than I think Han has in Taiwan. 

Third, it’s astounding to me how Tsai has in fact managed to unite a large swath of the electorate against Han (oh yeah, Han helped to do that to himself as well, and various international events haven’t helped him). I have friends and acquaintances who skew blue or blue-ish, who happily voted for Ma. Some of them even grudgingly voted for Chu, knowing he’d lose. Every last one of them (with one exception) can’t stand Han, and many are switching to Tsai. Some are simply not voting. They may not stay green forever, and this is anecdotal evidence, but it’s a promising thing to observe. She hasn’t united everyone, but I’m amazed at how she’s turned her public relations machine into a mechanism that actually works. What’s more, I’ve met hardly any young people who’ve been turned on by Han, but plenty of older folk who still support Tsai. Han may win the Auntie vote, but he’s not going to get all of them, and he’s going to get far fewer of the youth than he needs. 

I also have to remember that a lot of younger people are talking about how their conservative older relatives will vote. Again this is anecdotal, but the discussion seems to have more urgency and underlying it is a more direct, personal call to action. Watching Thursday’s Han rally solidified it: we’ll probably win but this won’t be an easy victory regardless of the numbers, and if we want to win, we’d better turn out in greater numbers. Han’s people may have thought that inflating the number of attendees for his rally (come on, there is no way 800,000 people showed up - we’re not stupid) would make him look good, but it probably had another effect too. That is, to remind his opponents that, as much as he seems like a joke, he isn’t one. Seeing all those ROC-flag-laden aunties on the MRT surely prodded some people on the fence about voting at all to hustle tomorrow.

In fact, reports indicate that Han has lost, not gained, momentum. It's hard to say given the polling blackout, but I don't think he's showing signs of pulling off an upset. 


It doesn't hurt that Tsai has actual experience and qualifications, and achievements to her name, and Han has none. She has platforms, he has rabble-rousing. That may not necessarily matter to the average Chen, but it doesn't hurt. Plus, while older folks may buy the ROC rah-rah, most Taiwanese simply don't. I hope they realize now and not later that they do not want the Taiwan that Han is promising them; they want the one that Tsai is actively building.

I figure, if the older folks will turn out no matter what, higher turnout overall benefits Tsai, as it means younger voters are casting ballots. And it looks - just from public transport and what people are saying, plus a fine weather forecast - that the turnout will be solid. 

Yes, it worries me that, despite all sorts of scandals doing Han real damage, from his luxury housing to his mistress to the Chinese spy case to the fact that Kaohsiungers just aren’t happy with him, he’s still not a joke. In response, there’s not a lot to throw at Tsai that actually sticks. They can say “the economy is bad” but it’s not. They can say she’s just another DPP chauvinist, but under her tenure the DPP has grown more diverse and inclusive, and shed a lot of the Hoklo chauvinism that characterized their earlier leadership. They can throw sexist attacks at her but I don’t think those will win over people who were already prepared to vote for her (although surely there are sexists who just can’t stand that she has the wrong genitals). 

It also worries me that the KMT seems to be taking a social conservative polarization approach in the countryside, which a lot of liberal-but-blue Taiwan urbanites are unaware of (if they fully understood what was going on, some of them might turn away from the KMT). It’s a clear attempt to win over traditionally DPP voters who do value Taiwan’s sovereignty but can be angered by “scary gay people” and promises of a “better” economy (even though the economy, again, is not bad) into voting against their natural allegiance. 

This is why it’s going to be closer than we think, and Han is no joke. 

On the other end, though, the DPP has managed to put forward some popular candidates, a few of whom are giving headaches to KMT candidates who thought they were safe. The KMT’s own actions recently - not just the party list debacle but the Alex Tsai scandal - have blunted its efforts to pull off an upset. And Taiwan tends to give its presidents - even ones with low approval - 8 years, though the country hasn’t been democratic long enough for that to be assured. (And yes, I am aware that politicians with high approval ratings, such as Chen Shui-bian as Taipei mayor, have gone on to lose). 

Speaking of Alex Tsai, nothing could make me happier than to watch the KMT’s absolutely hilarious amateur hour, as it attempted to tease the release of some last-minute surprise (probably what they believed would be a successful recanting by alleged Chinese spy and Australian asylum seeker Wang Li-qiang) only to have it blow up in their face spectacularly thanks to good reporting in the Australian media. Even KMT diehards I know quite literally spit when they hear Alex Tsai’s name. The diehard Han fans will still turn out for their cabbage man, but this may turn a few people away. 

And speaking of China not helping its own cause, I have to remember that the Beijing establishment tried its damnedest to quash the Hong Kong protest spirit, but pro-China lawmakers were crushed. There is video evidence of them paying elderly protesters to vote. Just because China is trying to interfere doesn’t mean they’ll succeed. 

But at the end of the day, while I am girding my loins in case I get kicked in the teeth again as I did with Trump, I do in fact believe that Tsai will win. 

At least, I need to remind myself of this. I need to keep recanting these points, over and over, to stay calm. 

You see, it’s not just another election where if the guy I don’t like wins, nothing too bad will happen. Considering the turn towards authoritarianism and populism that the world is taking, and China’s increasing threats and attempts to sabotage Taiwan’s democracy, I am not at all sure Taiwan, as the country I consider my home, will survive a Han administration intact. If it makes it through at all, it will be broken and tired, as the US is now. 

I do believe this is sort of a “last chance” for the world. After Trump, Johnson, Bolsonaro, Duterte, Modi and more (there are a few in Europe...in fact, the whole world is reeling), Taiwan has a chance to stand up to a Trump-like populist and say “this needs to end”. We can show the world that these people can be defeated. We must. It’ll get the world’s attention at least, and it’s vital for the country. 

So stay calm. If you can vote, do so. Am I confident? No - the 2016 US election taught me never to be confident of these things again. But I'm at the best place I can be. 

Chillin’ at the Freddy Lim rally

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Tsai, Freddy Lim and Lin Fei-fan - and I think that's Lai Pin-yu


Update: now with photos! 

I really admire people who have the stomach to attend rallies for the bad guys - I just can’t do it. As in, it directly affects my mental health and I stay away for my own well-being. Considering this, while everyone was reporting on the big Han rally last night, I went over to Freddy Lim’s rally outside Longshan Temple. 

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Lin Fei-fan takes the stage


First, I urge people not to compare these two rallies. Han’s big rally - which absolutely didn’t reach 700,000 people as they claim - was for a presidential candidate who organized attendees from all over the country (that’s not necessarily wrong, it’s just that it’s a national audience - though it’s worth noting that it seems to be the same people bussed everywhere). Lim is a legislative candidate, not a presidential one, and this was a local rally with local flavor. 


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A cute sign for Tsai
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The turnout was solid


In fact, if you compare Freddy’s rally a few weeks ago on the same Ketagalan Boulevard site as Han’s, you’ll note that a (mere) legislative candidate was able to fill the entire boulevard. A presidential candidate did that, and filled most (but not all) of the Jingfu Gate circle - if you look at pictures, there was still space to move around. That’s actually impressive...for Freddy. For Han, this turnout is good - at least it’s not embarrassing - but it actually compares poorly against Lim and Han’s own previous rallies.

How do I know it wasn’t 700,000? The Sunflowers claimed 500,000 - I’m not sure about that number, but whatever - and you couldn’t even approach Jingfu Gate. We were stuck way back by the National Concert Hall. 

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And people seemed genuinely excited for Tsai and Lim


In any case, I headed to Freddy’s rally. As I got off the MRT, I grabbed my Freddy flag - you’re not supposed to wave those on the MRT as political campaigning is banned there, but it was in the way of my keys and metro card - and asked a bunch of Han supporters in front of the door to please let me off the train. Two women carrying ROC/Han flags quite deliberately not only did not move (although there was space, or they could have stepped off the train briefly), but actively blocked me. One sort of arm-nudged her friend to be more in my way! 

I found this behavior extremely rude, especially as I made a particular effort to sound especially polite to them in the beginning. In the end I was unable to get around them, and had to push through. I gave them a sharp “RUDE!” in Chinese as I did. If this is what Han supporters are like, I’m happy to be on the other side. 

The rally itself had a lot more local flavor than the Chthonic concert on Ketagalan. This was surely deliberate strategy. That concert was for general support, and for the youth vote. This was for the uncles and aunties in his actual neighborhood. The music was very old-school Taiwanese, the speeches were full of piss and vinegar (though some were more exciting than others) and were conducted almost entirely in Taiwanese, with a little Mandarin peeking through. Smoke machines, disco lights, background music - this rally had it all. It was less polished than the previous one, and that was entirely intentional. 

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It was extremely crowded, a good turnout for a legislative candidate


The turnout was good - all seats were taken, plus a large standing crowd along the entire perimeter. Freddy goods - stickers, towels, keychains, t-shirts - sold at a good clip. Crucially, the turnout wasn’t just young people. In fact, I was in a sea of middle-aged and older folks who were all enthusiastic. That’s good news for Freddy, who needs this ‘older’ vote to keep Wanhua. These are the folks Lin Yu-fang could depend on, so it’s good to see that Freddy is netting at least some of them. Hopefully enough to win. The rally took up the entire length of Guangzhou Road outside the temple and towards the market at the far end, spilling onto the esplanade leading to the underground market entrance. I was hungry and thirsty, but there was absolutely no way to get to the Family Mart opposite. 


Speakers included legislative candidate Lai Ping-yu (known for her cosplay-inspired campaign), Premier Su Cheng-chang and his his signature raspy voice, DPP Deputy Secretary General and “guy in charge of mobilizing the youth” Lin Fei-fan, former Kaohsiung governor (now Vice Premier, yes? His roles seem to keep changing) Chen Chi-mai, Freddy Lim himself, and of course President Tsai. One of the musicians, who was very young, also spoke but I missed most of this as I was chatting with another young attendee. All of the folks who’ve been making the rounds speaking - Tsai, Lim, Lin - sounded a little hoarse. It’s been a long season. 

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Really, I couldn't even get to the Family Mart


The speeches themselves were better than one might expect. Lin Fei-fan is known for being a good speaker, and he broke out his Taiwanese more than he has in the past (it is one of his native languages but you don’t hear it from him that often, he’s more likely to do public speaking in Mandarin). The gist of his speech - the Mandarin parts I could follow - were that Taiwan and Hong Kong are concurrently locked in a battle against China, and we are not going to let Taiwan become the next Hong Kong. “We don’t yield, we don’t kneel, we don’t walk on our knees,” he said, and I thought that was just great. 

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Outside Longshan Temple



Towards the end he addressed some of the criticisms he’s received taking a position in the DPP, seeing as he’s so well-known for criticizing them. He said, “we know we haven’t done enough, we know we haven’t gone far enough, but we will, please give us a chance to do so” (not an exact translation). 

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Freddy's speech


Typically, “we’re not good enough, we know that and we’ll do better” is not a great campaign tactic, but there’s something very old-school Taiwanese politics (that whole humility game, though it’s often performative) about it, and he’s the right person to deliver that message considering the criticism he’s endured. 



To be honest, I couldn’t follow a lot of the other mostly-Taiwanese speeches, though I think Freddy’s focused a bit more on local issues than he typically has. Tsai’s (in Mandarin) was pretty clear: One Country Two Systems will never work, Taiwan can never give up its sovereignty, the China threat is real, etc. etc.  She did better than usual, speaking with more clarity and emotion and less detachedness, wonkishness and repetitive call-and-response. This was a somewhat enjoyable speech, far more so than the one she gave on Ketagalan at the previous Freddy rally.

In fact, people seemed genuinely excited to see her, and genuinely energized by her speech. That's a win. 

I think the size of the Han rally gave the speakers renewed passion, and pushed them to speak with energy and emotion (well, except Chen Chi-mai, who always sounds a little removed and dorky, but honestly, I like him.) I wouldn’t call it nervousness, but everyone’s on edge as voting begins in a matter of hours. It felt like a final push, because it was one. 

Notably, after the rally ended, a group of Hong Kong protesters raised flags and shouted “Freedom for Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times” in Cantonese, attracting a sizeable crowd. Someone from the Statebuilding Party also waited for the rally to end to take out a microphone as volunteers lifted large posters and gave out tissues and stickers. He delivered an impassioned speech, and while Statebuilding is a little too close to nationalist for my taste, I appreciated their very grassroots, take-to-the-street strategy. In fact, that Hong Kongers and the Statebuilding Party felt this was a good rally to make an appearance made the whole thing feel very democratic. 





After all, all of these issues are connected - Hong Kong, Taiwan, what kind of country we want Taiwan to be - and the official speeches mirrored that. 

Sunday, December 29, 2019

What do we mean when we say “third force”?

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I don't know, this just seems appropriate. 


In the current election season, I’ve noticed a new cluster of third party political figures attempting to refer to themselves as “third force” as a signal to voters that they represent some sort of new political wave. Most of the people actively using this term, or appearing onstage next to people who do, seem to be old guard - say, James Soong and the People First Party (PFP), Terry Gou and his general crappiness, Ko Wen-je and his general crappiness.

Considering that in recent years, the term “third force” has more closely been associated with progressive, pro-independence political parties such as the NPP, I think it’s worth a closer look at what it actually means both historically and in contemporary discourse. Is there room in the meaning of “third force” for non-progressive, generally pro-China parties or is it pure appropriation for political gain? Perhaps the answer is somewhere in between?

The general meaning of the term “third force” in a global sense - that is, beyond Taiwan - simply refers to smaller third parties who are unaffiliated with big-party power blocs, though in practice they often support larger parties or coalitions. What those third parties actually stand for is irrelevant if we take this definition. 

In Taiwan, the term “third force” has been around a lot longer than you’d guess from a quick n’ dirty Google. Results almost exclusively bring up the NPP, and sometimes mention smaller parties at the same end of the political spectrum which either formed or gained social currency - if not actual power - after the 2014 Sunflower movement. 

Dig a little, however, and you’ll find that the idea has been around a lot longer. Around the turn of the millennium, it meant pretty much any third party, with a spike in electoral victories around 2002. The biggest of these was the PFP, which claims to move beyond “green and blue” but is actually just a a satellite pan-blue party. There was also the pro-independence Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU), which currently holds no seats, the pro-unification and generally horrible New Party which holds a few local seats but none on the legislature, and the Green Party which has held a handful of city council seats in the past but never made it to the legislature. 

All of these could be called “third force”, and all of them were founded in the 1990s or early 2000s. All of them have won at least a few seats in the past, at least locally. And yet they have wildly divergent political views.

But, let’s be perfectly honest, that definition of “third force” - any unaffiliated set of third parties which defy a major-party binary - just isn’t what people mean when they use is to refer to Taiwanese politics. 

New Bloom defines “third force” as a veritable Pleiades of post-Sunflower parties and political luminaries - bright young things, newcomers to politics, and as such generally progressive and pro-Taiwan. These would be the New Power Party (NPP), Trees Party and Social Democratic Party (SDP) folks: these parties formed around 2014-2015. 

In one sense, I think this definition has real currency. As someone who impersonates a linguist, I am very much a descriptivist. Words mean what the general societal consensus believes they mean, and it can be very hard to research and clearly define all of their associated connotations and subtler meanings, especially as such meanings are prone to sometimes-rapid evolution. 

Although the explicit meaning of “third force” does not technically require a party to be post-Sunflower, pro-independence or progressive, the current connotation of this term does include these meanings. Such implicit connotation in use - that is, the full extent of the term’s current pragmatic meaning - can’t just be ignored because it’s hard to categorize, or because it has evolved from earlier meanings.

That said, it’s still problematic to use “third force” in this way without examining it further. Other parties that can be said to be in this constellation include Taiwan Radical Wings (now Taiwan Statebuilding Party), which was formed in 2012, before the Sunflower Movement, though it surely drew some of its energy from the pre-Sunflower rumblings of the Wild Strawberries, anti-media monopoly and anti-land expropriation protests - many of those activists went on to become Sunflowers. The Green Party could even be included, and they were founded in 1996!

On the other hand, conservative/pan-blue or straight-up creepy parties like the Minkuotang (now merged with the Congress Party Alliance) formed in the same post-Sunflower wake. The Minkuotang was founded in 2015). There's even creepier Faith and Hope League, a conservative Christian anti-gay party formed 2015 in the wake of the marriage equality wars. Ko Wen-je’s Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) and Chen Shui-bian’s Taiwan Action Party Alliance (TAPA) have formed more recently.

If the term means “political parties formed after 2014”, we have to include them. 

If it means “parties of generally young progressives”, we don’t, but we do have to include the Statebuilding Party and Green Party, which throws the post-2014 connotation into question. 

It’s also worth considering what we call “progressive” - do we include the Labor Party (formed 1989) in that? They are political leftists, but also unificationists. They are not pro-Taiwan.

If we define “third force” as being pro-Taiwan/pro-independence, we don’t have to include them, but we do have to include TAPA, who are not progressive, and the TSU, whom I have anecdotally found to harbor a streak of Hoklo nationalism that I find unpalatable and anti-progressive. Neither party skews young - quite the opposite. 

We also have to consider whether the term includes the independents - most notably Freddy Lim and Hung Tzu-Yung, both of whom left the NPP earlier this year. And, of course, there’s the question of whether one can be truly considered “third force” if they choose a side in the great green-blue divide. Do Lim and Hung, actively campaigning for Tsai Ing-wen, count? How about the SDP now that Fan Yun has gone over to the DPP (they’re not dead though - they still have Miao Poya, their only elected representative). If we can include them, why can’t we include pan-blue parties?

Does it only include political groups that have power or who might influence the current election cycle? If so, I don’t think we can include Trees Party or Green Party, or the TSU at this point. 

You’re probably asking by now - “who cares?” Well, as a linguist impostor, I care. 

But also, how we define the term has political implications. As a friend pointed out, we can’t just use it to mean what we want it to mean, and we can’t just define it to mean “the people we like”, finding excuses to exclude people we don’t like. 

With that said, allow me to define the term to include only the people I like: pro-Taiwan and progressive, skewing young, but not necessarily formed after 2014 and not necessarily directly opposing the major parties. That gives us Green Party, SDP, NPP, Statebuilding Party, Lim and Hung (and their Frontline alliance - more on that later), and the Trees Party. 

Please don’t take my definition too seriously. I don’t have a better one though - all I can say is, don’t apply the term lazily. Don’t just throw it out to describe people you like without examining further what you mean by it. By all means, leave lots of comments with your own ideas of what the term should mean in 2019. 

So what political implications does this have?

From a discourse perspective, if the societally-understood connotation of a term not only has power but is also in a state of flux, that means it will be seen as ‘up for grabs’ by anyone hoping to appropriate it.

If the term is evolving, it makes sense that people vying for power would want to direct its evolution in a direction that benefits them. That’s what we can see with Gou’s use of the term.

If that’s the case - and I believe it is - there’s a concerted and intentional attempt to move “third force” away from its current association with Sunflower ethos, and back toward its earlier meaning of “any third parties who claim to be unaffiliated with the DPP or KMT (but in fact usually are)”. 

I don’t care for this sort of intentional strategizing, but honestly, he’s free to try. If I get to define it in a way that includes only people, parties and beliefs I like, he is free to do the same. I’m not sure it can be called ‘appropriation’ given the term’s history - it sure feels that way, but I have no well-founded basis on which to challenge it. 

I suppose that’s a good thing insofar as the global meaning of “third force” never required newness or progressive ideology, but problematic in that it confuses the pan-blue/pro-China and pan-green/pro-Taiwan sides. I think it would be better to think of these two groups as separate.

It also makes it harder to identify and discuss the liberal-conservative axis. While the pro-China/pro-Taiwan cleavage is still the most enduring and influential split in Taiwanese politics, I still believe there is a purposeful attempt underway to change that.

Finally, looking at who is attempting to gain traction as “third force” can shed some insight on their electoral strategy. 

For example, Donovan Smith recently made fun of James Soong for leaning heavily on the Orchid Island nuclear waste issue. I agree that this seems like an odd strategy given how few people live on Orchid Island. But the Green Party - a “third force” party that actually has access to the term’s new social progressive connotation - does really well on Orchid Island (and nowhere else). I don’t think, therefore, that Soong’s tactic here is just to get Orchid Island voters. I think it’s to encroach on the Green Party vote on Orchid Island (and maybe grab some votes from the KMT too), and through stealing the Green Party’s votes there, get some of their “third force activist” cred to rub off on the PFP. 

To be fair, I don’t think this will work and in any case it’s a waste of time that wouldn’t help the PFP gain much even if it did.

I do think it's significant that Ko (who paints himself and his party as "apolitical"), Soong (who does the same, while going after other third party bases) and Gou (who directly invokes the term "third force") tend to appear together - a uniting of pan-blue, conservative voices trying to bring cohesion to that end of the third party spectrum, and (re)take the moniker "third force"?

On the other end, we have Frontline (前線), a loose alliance of pan-green/progressive candidates from different backgrounds who seem to be trying to bring more unity and cohesion to their own end of the spectrum, especially after the upsets and factionalization that has characterized the past year. Or maybe they're just trying to build a progressive, unified third force without the destructive Huang Kuo-chang element. It's entirely likely that they too are actively trying to hold onto the mantle of "third force" as they face attacks from the TPP and PFP on the pan-blue side as well as TAPA representing the old guard, conservative greens.

Side note: 前線 isn't a great name. It's easily confused with Christian group as well as with Hong Kong Indigenous (本土民主前線) - though I wonder if the similarity to the Hong Kong group's name is intentional.


It also helps us better understand what’s going on with Ko Wen-je and his party. It may seem odd that he started his political career passing himself off as a friend to pro-Taiwan progressives, won the Taipei mayoral election riding the post-Sunflower wave, and then took a turn towards China before his first term was up. We can argue whether he “changed” or whether we just didn’t see it before, and we can ask what supporters the TPP aims to attract. But within that loose Sunflower/Third Force alliance, there were always people who saw the movement not as opposing getting too close to China, but rather the way it was being done. They could be more broadly considered anti-big party corruption. There was also always a contingent (often church-affiliated) who didn’t actually share what we think of as Sunflower social progressivism. 

Someone like Ko wouldn’t necessarily look as gross to them as he does to ‘us’. It makes sense that he’d then get friendly with Soong, who already claims to represent this type of voter. 

In any case, how we define “third force” impacts how we look at third-party politics, liberalism/progressivism, the Sunflower effect and the China cleavage in Taiwan. Use it if you want, but think first about what exactly you mean by it, and whether that's justified.