Showing posts with label taiwanese_politics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label taiwanese_politics. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Everything is Calm in the Meatspace

Untitled

From an exhibit at the Japanese Naval Guest House (日本海軍招待所) near Shi-da


I want to start in an optimistic place. 

Through everything American citizens have endured in this absolute slog of a presidential election, I’ve taken heart that people who are a part of my daily life in Taipei have expressed clear-headed, thoughtful views on events in the USA. At work, in my social life and running errands — say, chatting with the medical technician while getting electro-therapy on a problematic knee — people seem to agree. Some good things have happened for Taiwan under Trump, though mostly not through him, and in general he brings instability and mendacity to the table, and not much more. Big picture, some good things have happened in US-Taiwan relations in the last four years, but both countries are better off with someone who can competently lead. Taiwan certainly benefits more from a stable US. Trump’s highly inconsistent bloviating (one second calling Xi a “good friend” and the next banning a few apps) doesn’t make up for this, as an unstable US can’t really advocate for Taiwan effectively. 


Those are my words, but they’re echoed in different ways from people I know in the real world, most of whom are just average people. This gives me heart that plenty of people in Taiwan are thoughtful enough not to be taken in by the exact sort of fake news maelstrom that they so forcefully rejected when the Han Kuo-yu campaign attempted something similar, just because it’s coming from the US. 


I need that heart, because I have to say that online, the situation looks a lot more dire. 


Many people I’ve friended on social media, only a few of whom I know in real life, have gone from liberals and left-leaning people who support Taiwan and otherwise seem to have a high degree of digital literacy to spreaders of the exact sort of rhetoric they rejected less than a year ago. More than one has bought into the unsubstantiated belief that there was significant fraud in the US election (it’s unlikely; voter fraud is rare and there is no credible evidence for it in this case). 


Facebook groups once full of people I agreed with on Taiwan issues have become clearinghouses for right-wing pro-Trump posts. These come with not just fake news dumps, including the idea that Joe Biden is more in bed with China than Trump, when Trump’s China ties are provable and there isn’t any verifiable evidence for similar Biden ties. At least one of the Hunter Biden stories was entirely fabricated but achieved wide circulation in Asia. The most obvious example is Freddy Lim’s Chang Group 昶社團, though there are others. Apple Daily is the clearest example of the media amplifying and legitimizing highly questionable pro-Trump narratives in Taiwan, and they seem to have found a home in deep green or non-affiliated pro-Taiwan Taiwanese. These include the self-identified progressive and politically engaged online commentariat. 


Right now, the way pro-Trump drumbeats are repeated in these groups honestly reminds me of that part of Snow Crash where people had their brainstems hacked and seemingly randomly started repeating Ancient Sumerian or something. Of course, it turned out not to be random, and this isn’t either. 


Every time I come across this, I have to remind myself that in the meatspace, I interact every day with people who haven’t bought into this. It reminds me that social media tends to amplify more extreme voices, and that while some of them have come to these beliefs sincerely (if uncritically), there are a fair number of intentional bad actors, paid trolls and bots pushing this narrative. If there are bots attacking AIT, they surely exist elsewhere, too. 


Some of the arguments even sound familiar. “But the Democrats started the KKK!” shouts one Taiwanese commentator, just as unaware of the Great Realignment as the Americans who say the same thing. “But the Democrats cut ties with Taiwan!” says another, when that shift was started by Republicans, and when it happened, the cut ties were with the “Republic of China”, then still a military dictatorship that looked further from democratization than the People’s Republic of China. Honestly if I’d bet on which country would liberalize first in 1976, I would have lost a lot of money. “But who signed the Taiwan Travel Act and TAIPEI Act?” another asks, giving Trump credit for bipartisan legislation with bipartisan sponsorship that representatives from both parties voted for unanimously. A president can’t realistically veto that kind of thing. “But...China Joe the Pedophile!” many say, sounding exactly like Republicans in the US and basing it on just as little evidence, a party whose platforms they — the online so-called progressives — would never support in Taiwan. 


Of course, they ignore the provable Trump ties to China and dozens of rape allegations against Trump, one of which is set to go to court. It's not even clear to me why people think Biden was China's candidate. My money is on the CCP supporting Trump while pretending not to, because instability in the US is good for China, and they know it. So far, current headlines seem to be proving me right.


Let’s be clear: few people saying these things actually believe that Trump genuinely cares about Taiwan. Even people I disagree with profoundly on Trump don’t go so far as to say that his administration’s support of Taiwan comes from a place of real concern. One thing we can all agree on is that it’s all a game to them. 


Back to the meatspace, because talking about this too much stings on a deeply personal level. Since the election and presumptive Biden victory, in real life people have expressed relief, either that Trump lost or at least that it’s over. My medical tech offered congratulations as she stuck electrodes to my knee. Students expressed relief that they wouldn’t have to listen to a guy who sounds so “stupid” any longer. 


I had hoped it might stem the tide online. It’s over, so I'd hoped we could turn our collective efforts to pushing him to keep his word on the “stronger ties” with Taiwan that he talked about. Regardless of who our preferred candidate was, we can all agree this is the best way forward now, right?


Apparently not. I’ve had to cut loose several people who are now buying into the whole “election fraud” narrative, insisting on dragging out a dead presidency based on zero evidence. Even now, so many many Taiwanese I thought I respected or at least broadly agreed with have gotten on the Trump Express that it would be enough to make me question my own sense of logic, if not for the Taiwanese people I talk to in the real world, who also see it for the crazy train it is. 

 

On one hand, I understand that many politically engaged Taiwanese who want the best for their country remember how they’ve been shafted by Democrats. One official visit to Taiwan and a few anti-China remarks must surely seem like a breath of fresh air, and all those other scandals are far away. I get it. There is a deep desire and need for more international recognition, better treatment, more allies both official and unofficial. 


I want those things too, but also for the country of my citizenship to be competently run by someone who is not a rapist. The best way to achieve that, in my view, is to hold Biden accountable. It’s over anyway. 


But it still stings to spend years of my life advocating for the best possible leadership for Taiwan — pro-independence, as liberal as possible — and then see so many people in Taiwan who share those views want my country to be run by a rapist and a fascist. If they didn’t actually care about social issues I could kind of understand, but many of them are avowed progressives, and do care about these things in Taiwan. 


To me, if you believe in progressive values, you believe in them for everyone, not just yourself. I would not advocate that Taiwan be abandoned if it would be better for the US, because Taiwanese citizens deserves the same rights and freedoms I do, and we all deserve open, tolerant societies. If you’re fine with supporting reactionary politicians elsewhere, then how does that jive with those progressive values?


The lack of leadership from progressive Taiwanese thought leaders also bothers me. A few well-placed words from respected voices might have helped stem this tide, but they’ve been mostly silent as far as I can tell. I understand the government not taking an official position; Taiwan needs to work with the winner, period. I understand, say, Freddy Lim not taking a position (though if his views expressed in Metal Politics Taiwan are still true, he’s no Trump supporter). I understand that it is difficult to tell your own supporters to cut it out; it could undermine your base. 


What I don’t understand is how he and the moderators allowed that group — again, one among many — to become a constant stream of fake news. Could they have let people express opinions and frustrations freely, but drawn the line at blatant misinformation?


At the end, I may need to cut individuals loose. I don’t have the emotional capacity to deal calmly with anyone who thinks that Rapist Hitler is a good leader for the country where my family lives, or who is unconcerned about a leader that has callously allowed nearly a quarter of a million Americans to die when they didn't have to. I have no quarter for those who still believe had the election ‘stolen’ from him rather than being rejected because he is, you know, Rapist Hitler who is responsible for up to 240,000 unnecessary deaths in less than a year.

Despite this, we must remember that the cause is still just. Drew Pavlou said this about Hong Kong, and he’s absolutely right



The attitude of the left on Hong Kong makes me furious. They see desperate people holding Trump flags and immediately dismiss them all as racist reactionaries. Stop and reflect for a second why HKers felt desperate enough to turn toward a man who called Xi a “great friend.” 


HKers suffer under a brutal police state, and for the most part, the left have ignored them. Tankies attack HKers out of support for Chinese authoritarianism and liberals ignore HKers out of a mistaken belief that criticizing the Chinese state serves racist anti-China narratives.


I consider myself a leftist. My Christian faith underpins my concern for social justice and human dignity. But I take the world as it is rather than how I would like it to be. That means patiently building solidarity with HKers, even when we disagree on matters like Trump.


It means putting to one side considerations of left and right, putting to one side utopian ideals about ideological purity, and simply being there for HKers and raising my voice for them at this time of suffering.



And others have taken an anti-CCP, anti-Trump view as well, like artist Badiucao. The same holds true for the Taiwan cause. 


People I interact with online as well as in real life are generally on this side, as well. 


I’ve also seen a lot of US liberals and leftists (sigh) take aim at, say, the Hong Kong movement, insisting they must be right-wingers because they are turning to Trump or hoping the US will help solve their problems (something I don’t think is actually true; I don’t think many Hong Kongers think the US will solve this issue; they mostly just want international support.)


The thing is, the Western left was doing this long before Trump came along — screaming quite rightly about issues that affected them, but being quite fine with ignoring the fight for the same things in Hong Kong and Taiwan, because it all sounded so “anti-China”. It was easy to paint them as horrible “capitalists” because they oppose a regime that claims to be “communist”. And it was easy for Democrats to ignore them because while they may be slightly better on social issues in the US, they care just as little about similar social movements abroad. 


How profoundly have liberals ignored Taiwan that Taiwanese are supporting a man who compared their country to the insignificant tip of a pen?


So, I can see on some level why people sick of being treated this way would turn to the first person who said something critical about China, even though he didn’t appear to genuinely care so much as he wanted to start a strongman fight.


However, Taiwanese de jure independence is absolutely worth continuing to fight for, even if many of its strongest supporters have veered very weirdly into pro-Trump territory. Yes to Taiwan, resist the CCP, reject Trump. Biden’s not great but he’s gotten better on Taiwan, and now our job is to hold him accountable.

I doubt I can change their minds and I have limited capacity to try — I wouldn’t expect them to take a foreign resident of Taiwan particularly seriously. However, I will not abandon a cause I believe in just because some voices within it are pushing deeply problematic narratives about the US election. 
I might have to cull social media and unfollow or leave online groups, but I’ll still be there, in the meatspace, on the street if I have to, hobbling along on my bum knee for the cause of Taiwan.


Saturday, July 18, 2020

Guest Post: The aftermath of colonial education in Taiwan

IMG_1786

The hiatus continues, but so does my experiment in guest posting. While I wrap up my dissertation, I've been trying to open up this platform to other voices - especially Taiwanese voices. This is re-posted with permission from Annie Lim, lightly edited from her Twitter thread. You can read the ThreadReader version here and on Twitter (where you can also follow Annie) here. I think this is an important story to share because while it's a personal family story on one level, on another it tells the story of the psychological scars of a generation, and how it affects their relationships with their descendants.

- Jenna

The aftermath of colonial education and decolonizing is really tough, especially for families. My parents grew up having the entirety of Japanese era ripped out from text book and only learnt about ROC and China. 228 is a huge taboo to them, talking about it means causing conflict. 


We took a family trip to Tainan and me being a history geek made everyone visit a bunch of museums. The thing about Tainan is that unlike Taipei, people really put their heart and money into saving history (in Taipei many evidence of the past were intentionally whipped out by KMT).

Bits and pieces of colonial past (including the White Terror) are EVERYWHERE in Tainan. And my parents can usually appreciate the beauty of the structures. However, I can see them visibly flinch when anything about the KMT's wrongdoing is mentioned. Even when we are in an art museum admiring Tan Ting-pho's painting...the exhibition has a timeline matching artworks with his life. And in the end it's just, "killed in front of Chiayi station in 228". My parents immediately turned and left the room with me standing there feeling heartbroken.

My parents love us deeply, and they feel a strong sense of regret on how they "failed" to protect their children from the influence of the evil DPP. They are not KMT supporters, but will always choose KMT over any other parties bc anything KMT does looked justified.

Yes, they know KMT massacred people. But they will also argue that its all in the past and DPP is obviously worse than KMT (when we aren't even talking about DPP at all). They don't wish to argue with me, so they choose to leave the scene even when we are just looking at art. 

And here's the thing - everything is politics. Art, history, language, food, music, buildings...everything. Just because Tainan isn't hiding it's past, doesn't mean they are "too political". But, even stating the truth (such as this person was wrongfully killed) is too much. When we are reading about something built in 1930, my mom commented: "Oh! It's from 民國29年" [Republic of China Year 29] and was visibly upset when my sister corrected her saying that 1930 was before "retrocession" so it shouldn't be read in ROC years.

Our family has been in TW for centuries, but here we are, restraining ourselves from latching into fights, because someone taught our parents that this is a land with no history, and killed off anyone who could have taught them otherwise. 


They do not understand why I am so fixated on figuring out WHAT it is that I have been missing.

This kind of behavior can be seen in many people growing up under heavy censorship. Knowledge like this could have brought them physical harm so they will actively stay away from anything that could've make them feel "rebellious". Staying silent and obeying is how they stayed safe. This is the scary part about censorship: the danger isn't always exterior. In order to stay alive, people will actively build the "safe narrative" into their system and stay away from anything that tells otherwise.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Officially on hiatus - enjoy some links!

IMG_2235


I've been clear on Lao Ren Cha's Facebook page that I'm unable to update regularly as I clear the home stretch of dissertation writing, but never really made it official here.

So, it's official. Expect very little (if anything) from me until the dissertation is behind me. At the latest that will be September, but I might find time for a few posts while I'm waiting for draft feedback or as I finish up final edits.

Until then, here are some links to work by others that I have enjoyed. I've already linked much of it on the Facebook page, but not here as I don't do weekly links. Some of it is recent, some less recent but of lasting value. If you're plugged in to news and commentary about Taiwan, you've probably come across much of it before, but consider this a shout-out to some of my favorite work on Taiwan. 



Taipei's homeless are few but desperate - Cindy Chang

Can Tsai Ing-wen avoid the second-term curse? - Kharis Templeman


Recent changes in national identity - Nathan Batto

Why Taiwan continues to fear an invasion (the title isn't great but the article is good) -  Fang-Yu Chen, Austin Wang, Charles K.S. Wu and Yao-Yuan Yeh

It's time for Taiwan to confront its ethnic discrimination issues - Hilton Yip

Metalhead Politics - a new podcast by Emily Y. Wu and Freddy Lim (new episode out July 1)

Island Utopia - Catherine Chou

Knit Together  (this is an older post but one I think about frequently as I consider what it's like to live far away from my own family, and the ongoing process of working through losing my mom in late 2014) - Katherine Alexander 

Taiwan's status is a geopolitical absurdity - Chris Horton

The Island the Left Neglected - Jeffrey Ngo (now outside the paywall on Dissent Magazine)

The Status Quo is Independence - Michael Turton (not new, but makes some key points)


The WHO Ignores Taiwan. The World Pays the Price. - Wilfred Chan

Taiwan's human rights miracle does not extend to its Southeast Asian foreign workers - Nick Aspinwall (also not new, but I keep it on hand)


Oh yes, and if you're still wondering about the KMT soap opera that helped Han Kuo-yu rise and fall (I mean other than his having been bought by the PRC at some point), of all the Taiwan Report podcasts, this is the one to listen to. - Donovan Smith


This is an old piece about local radio stations in southern Taiwan being co-opted by pro-China entities, but something about the story being told here sticks in my head. It's a small, personal story that has some truly ominous portent. - Voicettank

This is very old, but I like to keep a copy on hand every time someone insists that the flurry of treaties and declaration during and after WWII settled the status of Taiwan as a 'part of China'. They did not, and Chai Bhoon Kheng explains why.

* * *

Alright, that's it from me. I have a few drafts that I may or may not publish (one needs a clearer focus and the other is quite personal, so I'm holding off on both). Hopefully, however, by the time you hear from me again in any meaningful way, I'll have successfully completed graduate school.

Catch you on the other side! 


Sunday, June 7, 2020

What Kaohsiung Rejected

Untitled
You know how these buckets look full of candy, but the candy is all in the plastic bins at the top and they're actually mostly empty? Yeah. 

Everyone's going to be banging out thinkpieces and analysis and all that on the Han recall - here's a particularly good one. That's cool, and I'm going to throw in my two cents. But I'm also still writing a dissertation so I'll keep it short(er than my usual posts).

I'm still a bit tepid on the amended recall rules, I'd be a bit iffy on recalling someone with, say, 26% of the vote, even if I disliked them. It feels undemocratic to require so little to kick someone out of office, and I haven't changed my feelings on that tonight. However, the fact that so many Kaohsiungers came out to recall Han - more than elected him in the first place - and smashed that number to pieces legitimizes this particular recall. If that many people want you gone, then you need to go.

People will say that Taiwanese voters, including Kaohsiungers, expect their elected officials to work full time for them, and will punish anyone who prioritizes climbing the political ladder over actually doing their jobs. Those people are correct. But Kaohsiung didn't just reject a guy who wasn't doing his job, and abandoned Kaohsiung at the first slightly shinier toy offered to him. 


They also rejected a system in which that sort of ambition is taken for granted under the assumption that power always begets power - that if the right people want you in power, you'll win. They rejected a model of "democracy" in which buying up local media to spew your message non-stop and dressing up warmed-over reactionary politics and tired takes in sweat-stained, folksy working-class appearances while your wife clutches her pearls and claims to speak for "mothers" could be a substitute for competence. They completely trampled the "there are elections and whoever gets the most votes is the winner, so the real power is in how you 'get the most votes'" style of democracy, and insisted on something better.

This is not to say that Kaohsiungers were brainwashed the first time around - they really did vote for Han, and surely many did believe he represented some sort of 'change', especially in rural areas. I don't even necessarily think he became a fully bought-and-paid-for CCP asset until after he won the mayorship (though I could be wrong). But we cannot ignore the ways in which local media has been the target of CCP co-opting efforts. Some of Han's initial victory was due to freak-accident luck and timing - I suppose you could call it 'magic' of a sort - but some of it was entirely manufactured.

In short, Kaohsiung rejected every strategy that the forces behind Han's election thought they could turn to their advantage, in Taiwan and China alike. Neither the factional politics nor the power they represent are quite dead, but they've been dealt a blow.

Since China has invested so heavily in promoting this style of "democracy" in Taiwan, it's also closely tied to the notion, long shoved down voters' throats, that getting closer to China is inevitable, the economy can only thrive through dependency on China, and therefore that voting for China's preferred (KMT) candidates is the only "responsible", "mature", "correct" choice.

Of course, it didn't matter if those candidates were responsible, mature or correct (they seem to hold less enthusiasm for actually doing their jobs as campaigning for them, so often acting as if those positions are birthrights). All that mattered was convincing voters of this.

All of that has now been soundly rejected.

I honestly don't think there is a future for Han. Before 2018, he was a washed-up drunk most famous for beating up Chen Shui-bian and killing a guy. Frankly, if I were him, I'd yearn for the days when that was all I was. The CCP will probably not be throwing any more support to him now that it's clear he can do nothing for them, and if you're curious who might be in his corner from within Taiwan, the answer is probably no-one. 


I highly suggest you listen to Taiwan Report's rundown of the soapy drama currently roiling the KMT, which casts Han as a sort of pawn in Wu Dun-yih and Wang Jin-pyng's power games. Wu's now a has-been who knows Han isn't his ticket to the top. Wang just used Han to deliver a gut-punch to rival Wu. The rest of the KMT probably wants nothing to do with him - Johnny Chiang isn't the quietly brilliant leader some want him to be and probably doesn't know what to do, and Hou You-yi isn't going to stop keeping his distance and will probably try to co-opt at least some of Han's fan base.

While Han could try his luck in somewhere like Miaoli or Hualien where apparently they'll elect any damn idiot, I just don't think he's smart enough without his handlers to actually succeed. People have talked about his running for KMT chair, but Frozen Garlic is right - the KMT invested in him because he seemed like a winner. Now he's just a loser - who would want him to be chair?


With the KMT acting like cheap daytime TV, it's interesting to compare it to the DPP where Tsai has managed to bring old rivals into the fold and keep factional infighting to a minimum (though I am assured it still very much exists, the DPP seems to actually be functional). She's playing 3D chess while they're playing Days of Our Lives, but with ugly people. While they engage in political infighting, she actually does her job, and does it well. When they get into office, they act like the hard part is over; she gets to work.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Even if the rumors are true, the DPP is not the bad guy here

Screen Shot 2020-06-01 at 6.28.46 PM
Screenshot: credit to one of the links below - you get to figure out which one! 


With the recall vote of bleach sniffer and guy who is mayor of Kaohsiung for some reason, Han Kuo-yu, allegations have surfaced on both sides of partisan attempts to sway the outcome.

On one hand, the DPP is rumored to be scheduling more trains to Kaohsiung so residents who work in other cities can return to vote:


Han says the government is conspiring to kick him out, alleging that more trains have been scheduled for Saturday so people can go vote. The DPP-led government says that is untrue.

On the other hand, the KMT is alleged to be colluding with gangsters who plan to intimidate people into not voting:

Separately yesterday, Chen told Kaohsiung police officials that he had received reports that gangsters, allegedly in collaboration with Han supporters, plan to intimidate voters at polling stations. 
“I have ordered Kaohsiung police to work with public prosecutors and investigate,” Chen said after the meeting.


Han has asked his supporters not to vote, in an attempt to keep numbers of overall voters below the percentage needed to recall him.

Hooooooookay. So.

Let's assume both rumors are true. They probably aren't - though gangsters are more likely to be involved than trains - but let's pretend they are. 


Even if that's true, how in the everloving sh*----- excuse me. Ahem. How on this gorgeous green Earth would that make the DPP the bad guy? Or even equivalent to the KMT in tactics?

More trains means more voters. More voters is good for democracy. It's never bad - ever - to have more of the electorate voting. Even if you don't like who wins. You should always want more people to vote.

If a politician doesn't, and surviving a recall vote (or getting elected) depends entirely on a low turnout, then the problem isn't the voters, it's the politician. 


On that alone, Han's allegation is stupid, because if it were true, that wouldn't be bad.

The only thing I can say to make the opposite case is that perhaps people who don't reside in Kaohsiung aren't the best people to vote on Kaohsiung's future. But that problem needs to be solved by changing the way Taiwan records residency and who is eligible to vote where.


So we've got the DPP allegedly trying to help people vote, and the KMT apparently trying to stop people from voting.

To be honest, I'm tepid at best on recall votes. Han was elected. I hate his guts but he was elected. I don't want him in office, but letting him continue to say dumb things in public might actually be a good thing. Perhaps this once rising-star has cratered so hard that it doesn't matter, but it still makes the KMT look like a gaggle of idiots and that's great.

It would also be expensive and tedious to have a new election with 2022 not that far away. That said, if I were a Kaohsiung voter, I'd vote to recall him. I'm just not super invested in the outcome of this is all.

Regardless, here's what matters: you may not like the side that wants people to vote freely, but the side that is trying to encourage you not to exercise your democratic rights is always wrong. Always.

Funny how that side always seems to be - allegedly - the KMT.

Hmmmmm.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Should Taiwan formalize a political asylum process? (Yes.)

IMG_9854
I've used this as a cover photo before, and probably will again.
I hope someday it might actually be true. 

With the resurgence of protests in Hong Kong after China's announcement of a Beijing-imposed national security law which will certainly curtail the relative (but dwindling) freedoms that Hong Kongers currently have, there has been a lot of discussion in Taiwan on the degree of assistance the country can provide to Hong Kong. In particular, the discussion has focused on whether and how Taiwan might go about allowing political refugees to settle in Taiwan.

President Tsai's remarks on the matter, while hitting all the right notes in terms of promising that Taiwan will do what it can, have not offered much in the way of specific plans for this assistance. At the moment, Taiwan has no laws regarding refugees, nor a process for applying for political asylum. Regarding Hong Kong specifically, Article 18 of the Act Governing Relations with Hong Kong and Macau says that Taiwan may "help" residents of these two cities if their political freedom is in danger, but doesn't specify what that "help" would be (nor what would constitute a threat). The act provides special status to Hong Kong and Macau, allowing for greater investment and a popular immigration scheme. I know someone whose family immigrated this way when he was a child, and he holds both ROC nationality and a Hong Kong ID card.

While the TPP (Taiwan People's Party) has proposed amending Article 18 to specifically allow for political asylum (see link above), Tsai is moving cautiously. Previously, the Tsai administration had said that current laws were sufficient to determine whether to allow dissidents to settle in Taiwan on a case-by-case basis, though whether this still holds true is highly questionable. Furthermore, Tsai has announced that Hong Kong's (and presumably Macau's) special status may be revoked, which wouldn't even allow for the vague promise of "help" in the relevant act - Hong Kongers and Macanese would be treated like any other citizens of China.

So, as it stands now, there are surely plenty of Hong Kongers looking at Taiwan as a place they might run to if things get really bad, which they probably will, and Taiwan has no mechanism by which to aid them, despite promising some unclear form of "assistance".

Of course, it's more legally complicated than that, but I really don't want to get into the legal complexities of separating the notion of "Hong Kong" from the notion of "China" (or the PRC) under ROC law. I'm not qualified and honestly, I'm sure if Taiwan really wanted to create a mechanism for Hong Kong refugees, it could do so.

Public opinion in Taiwan remains somewhat divided. I have no data to back this up, but I would guess that most Taiwanese support Hong Kong's struggle in an abstract way. Surely they are aware that China's actions in Hong Kong are a look into the future that the authoritarian hell-state has planned for Taiwan. Surely, when it comes to individuals who need to get out, most Taiwanese would believe that their country should be a safe harbor for them. Surely, many Taiwanese recognize that while Hong Kong may not want 'independence' as much as Taiwan does - it was never part of the protesters' famous 'five demands' - they share a common enemy and their struggles are therefore linked in some way.


However, there are questions regarding the safety of allowing large numbers of refugees in - surely, Beijing would attempt to plant as many agents in that influx as possible. Furthermore, allowing a stream of Hong Kongers, who can naturalize more easily than foreigners like me, to potentially gain the right to vote has some people questioning the wisdom of large-scale resettlement. In theory, enough of them may maintain a 'Chinese' identity (rather than a Taiwanese one) that they'd support unification with China, were it to democratize. For many Taiwanese, however, their identity exists independently of China, meaning they would not support unification under any circumstances and wouldn't appreciate a population of newcomers who might feel differently.

Some Taiwanese might even feel that, until fairly recently, Hong Kongers looked down on Taiwan - while I can't personally comment on this, I can imagine it happening, and do believe it's happened - as sort of 'country cousins' who were relatively less prosperous. Now that Taiwan as emerged as a freer and more equal society, Taiwanese who have experienced this attitude from Hong Kong might be thinking - "oh, you mocked us for decades and now you want our help?"

And, of course, some feel that Taiwan is always expected to give to others, but is castigated when it looks out for its own self-interest and makes decisions that are best for itself as a nation, rather than feeling obligated to always absorb the suffering of others.

Should Taiwan feel obligated to assist Hong Kong, potentially allowing refugees to settle here? No.

Is it the right thing to do anyway? Yes.

Hong Kong is, unfortunately, legally a part of China. Taiwan is not. Taiwanese, by and large, don't identify as Chinese. Hong Kong is beginning to catch up in this regard, but you'll still meet plenty of Hong Kongers who identify as Chinese, especially among the older generations (not so much the younger ones). In that way, Taiwan doesn't 'owe' Hong Kong anything, any more than any other nation - they are two different countries with two different identities, after all. To her credit, Tsai did not use Hong Kong protesters as props during her re-election campaign - the connections between her vision for Taiwan and the struggle for freedom in Hong Kong were made entirely by supporters (and rightly so - but that does not change the fact that this was not Tsai's strategy).

However, Taiwan under Tsai has made it clear that it wants to be a beacon of freedom and democracy in Asia. Tsai has said clearly that Taiwan is independent, and outlined what kind of country it ought to be - one where liberal values can merge with local culture and be the stronger for it. This isn't a question of what Taiwan 'owes' Hong Kong, which is nothing. It's a question of what kind of country Taiwan wants to be.

I do think that liberal democracies should strive to be safe harbors for those persecuted under authoritarian regimes. That means that, while Taiwan isn't specifically obligated to Hong Kong, the liberal democratic world as a whole is. As a part of that world, I hope that Taiwan will see that it would simply be the ethical thing to do. That said, this means that other nations - the UK especially, as they helped create this mess, but not only them - should also step up and support Hong Kong in the same way. After all, while Taiwan and Hong Kong bear the brunt of China's aggressive expansionism, the CCP is a common enemy to us all.

The fear of Chinese 'plants' among fleeing Hong Kongers is real, and reasonable. The CCP will almost certainly try this. However, I have never met a proponent of helping refugees, in any country, who believes that every last one should be allowed in with no vetting process. Vetting processes are rarely discussed, but they do exist in the United States - well, they did back when the United States cared about refugees - as elsewhere. Of course, Taiwan's vetting process needs to be ironclad. Nobody can reasonably argue otherwise. Of course, any political asylum process would have to take into account what's best for Taiwan, first and foremost. Nobody can reasonably argue against that, either.

I'm in favor of rules and procedures surrounding the process, to make it safe and tenable. But to support that, one must support their being a process at all, which there currently isn't.

I'm less worried about a 'loss' of Taiwanese identity. While cultural and identity barriers are often unclear, there is a 'thing' we might label as 'Taiwanese identity'. I couldn't tell you where it begins and ends, but I can say that I'm not included in it, which means the border must exist. But, one thing I have come to love about this country is that identifying as Taiwanese has the potential to be more fluid, as it is a more multicultural society than people realize (just because most of the cultural groups within it look generally 'Asian' does not mean they are the same). It's the sort of country where, perhaps, someday, the words on the welcoming sign at the National Museum of Taiwan History might actually be true:



All those who identify with and are concerned about Taiwan, who love and accept Taiwan, and who wish to live together in this land can declare with a loud voice "I am a Taiwanese". 

This posits a civic rather than ethnic identity (in fact, the entire passage argues against an ethnic identity for Taiwan, both practically and ethically), where perhaps shared cultural norms and perceptions play a part, but shared values do too, and who your parents were doesn't have to matter as much.

I'd like to think that someday, with luck, that this could include me, though I wouldn't be so arrogant as to claim it does now. It has come to include the descendants of the KMT diaspora who wish to claim it, many of whom - especially the younger ones - have come to identify as Taiwanese and support Taiwanese nationhood. So why not Hong Kong refugees and their descendants, too?


That is to say, Hong Kong refugees might not arrive thinking of themselves as Taiwanese, but that does not mean they won't come to identify that way someday. The person I know who emigrated here as a child considers himself Taiwanese, after all.

As for any Hong Kongers' previous superiority complexes, my personal feeling (though I have absolutely no right to insist on this) is that it shouldn't cloud the question. I understand the hard feelings, but Taiwan has proven itself, period. It's shown that it is simply a great nation and open society, and can do great things, it is the inferior of no one, and there is no basis to treat it as such. It's the envy of Asia with its democratic values and the envy of the world in its coronavirus response. The point is clear and it doesn't need to be made through excluding refugees.


That said, the TPP is also wrong: Article 18 isn't the issue. If Taiwan wants to be a model of liberal democracy, and liberal democracies around the world have a moral imperative to accept refugees - which I believe they do - then there should be an asylum process that is theoretically accessible to people from anywhere, not just Hong Kong and Macau.

There is no obligation. Nobody 'owes' anyone anything. Taiwan doesn't 'have to' do this, just as nobody 'has to' help others in need. I understand the source of disquiet or unease surrounding the issue, and I am sympathetic to the concerns of people who don't necessarily support this.

But, considering the kind of country Taiwan clearly wants to be, and the country I truly believe it can be (and in many ways already is), I think it would simply be the right thing to do.

Just do it properly, with proper vetting and other procedures. Taiwan is a capable, successful country. It can surely pull this off. 

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Academia Sinica, Foreigners and KMT Lies

Untitled
From the Academia Sinica's history museum, I present:
A visualization of the KMT's beef with Fan Yun


Something really interesting popped up yesterday - well, interesting to me.

Back in March, some DPP lawmakers called for Academia Sinica's name to be changed, as "Sinica" means "Chinese" and, well, Taiwan is not a part of China - think "Academia Taiwanica". DPP party list legislator Fan Yun (范雲), formerly of the Social Democratic Party, has been one of the strongest voices calling for this change.

Considering Academia Sinica's very "Republic of China" roots (it was founded in Nanjing in the 1920s and moved to Taiwan after the Chinese Civil War), this would be quite a statement indeed.

Notably, the institution's name in Mandarin (中央研究院) doesn't refer to China at all - it's just the "Central Research Institute", and Fan pointed out that 'Academia Sinica' would most accurately be translated as '中國科學院' in Mandarin. 


Fan Yun made the news again yesterday when she and two other legislators, Wu Lihua (伍麗華) and Lai Pinyu (賴品妤) introduced a motion that all elected academicians "must be ROC citizens", and that if foreigners are elected, they should be "honorary" or in some sort of other category. 

That sounds insane, if you don't know what an academician is in this context, or if you think by "foreigners" they mean "non-Chinese".

An "academician" isn't someone who works for Academia Sinica. It's not a job, it's an honorary lifetime title. There's no payment, and no research requirement. They can be asked by the government to carry out research (but never have), and they can make recommendations to the government on academic policy. That's it, really. As far as I am aware, no-one with no Chinese ethnic heritage has been elected to one of these positions (please correct me if I'm wrong). However, it is quite possible for foreigners of Chinese or Taiwanese heritage to be elected, meaning that Chinese nationals can also be elected.

Old academicians nominate new ones, and I am assured by a reliable source that these senior academicians often tend to be Chinese nationalists (that is, dark blue, pro-China), and nominate quite a few PRC nationals for the role. Because the nomination process doesn't ask about nationality, this has, until now, been an un-examined process.

Fan, Wu and Lai's proposal also stated that:



中研院組織法第四條明訂院士資格為「全國學術界成績卓著人士」,因此院士應該具中華民國國籍。 
Article 4 of the Basic Law of Academia Sinica clearly states that the qualifications of academicians should be "outstanding academicians from around the country", so academicians should have the nationality of the Republic of China.

It makes perfect sense that DPP lawmakers would want to do something about this. What does "from around the country" mean if PRC nationals are being elected to these positions? What country are we talking about?

Allowing non-Taiwanese nationals to be elected but "honorary" (meaning they can't advise the government on academic policy) isn't such a crazy or nationalistic proposition.

Well, here's how the KMT spun it. From their website which was clearly designed by someone's teenage nephew (don't forget to enter your e-mail address for a SUPSCRIPTION):

In addition, the Academia Sinica is slated to elect new academicians in July. As no regulations exist on the nationality of Academia Sinica academicians, many of them don’t possess ROC citizenship. In a meeting of the Legislative Education Committee yesterday, three legislators, including Fan Yun, introduced a motion demanding that in order to ensure that all academicians elected “must be ROC nationals” in the future, the Academia Sinica re-examine its election system for academicians to fully implement nationality checks, and that those without ROC nationality could only be elected as “honorary academicians.”
This motion elicited disputes, with several academicians describing the move as “national isolationism” yesterday. [Emphasis mine].

This makes it sound like Fan wants to bar foreigners from working at Academia Sinica, as it never explains what an academician (a specialized term requiring clarification) is, or does.

UDN's somewhat more informative report echoed this line of "isolationism":

中研院院士陳培哲表示,此一提案顯示台灣「鎖國心態愈來愈嚴重」。他指出,中研院身為台灣最高學術機構,應該「廣招天下英才」,連美國科學院院士也聘國外院士,「台灣人才有多少?」他質疑立委「想讓中研院當一個封閉的單位,還是開放的單位?」 
Chen Peizhe, an Academia Sinica academician, said that this proposal shows Taiwan's "isolationist mentality is getting more and more serious". He pointed out that as the highest academic institution in Taiwan, Academia Sinica should "recruit talent from all over the world." Even the American Academy of Sciences also elect foreign academicians. "How many talented people are there in Taiwan? Is it an open list?" [Emphasis mine].

That's not the only such quote.

The UDN article never once mentions that most of these "foreign" academicians are PRC citizens and "all around the world" means "ethnic Chinese who may hold other citizenships but are mostly from the PRC".

The position, as I understand it, was never meant to "recruit foreign talent". It was conceived of as an internal, national thing. It doesn't pay and it isn't a job, and isn't generally open to people without Chinese ancestry of some kind, so how would changing the process end a flow of foreign talent into Taiwan?

What's more, isn't the KMT bottom line that Taiwan is Chinese, that the ROC is the rightful government of China and that Taiwan is a part of the ROC? So, by that logic, wouldn't they think of PRC nationals as...not really foreigners? It seems that to the KMT, Chinese and Taiwanese are the same, but these PRC nationals suddenly become "foreign talent" from "all over the world" when it's convenient for the KMT to target the DPP.

Hmmm.

UDN also gets the crux of the problem wrong, stating there are no "confidential research" or "academic secrets" that these foreign academicians can "steal" - but of course, that was never the point. The point is, how much influence do academics from China have on Taiwan's top research institution and the recommendations it makes to the government?

Even more importantly, if this title is meant to honor members of this society, the question is, how do we define "this society"? As Greater China? As the ROC? As Taiwan? If the Academia Sinica was originally meant to be a "Chinese" institution, well, that is no longer possible in a Taiwanese context where "this society" no longer considers itself "Chinese" (or rather, is no longer forced to do so, and is no longer ruled by an elite class from China). It would make sense, then, that those named "academician" would be from Taiwan, or at least have a strong connection to it. The pan-blues clearly know they've already lost the battle to define "this society" as "all Chinese", so they're trying to ensure that PRC nationals remain eligible while calling them "foreigners", when they clearly don't really believe that. Again, the KMT is trying to have it both ways: Taiwan and China as one cohesive "Chinese society", and Chinese as "foreigners" for the sake of a convenient attack narrative against the DPP.


In short, it should strike you as odd that the KMT is accusing Fan Yun - and others, but they are clearly targeting Fan here - of "isolationism" under the false pretext that it is keeping out academics "from all over the world" and not "recruiting foreign talent" when the roles being discussed were never intended or even particularly suitable for "foreign talent", almost all of the foreigners in question are Chinese nationals (so, people whom the KMT doesn't generally think of as "foreign" at all) being nominated by their ideologically biased predecessors, and the honor is specifically meant to recognize achievement among the country's own citizens.

Although the UDN article explains this - whereas the KMT brief does not - the reporter never questions the academicians interviewed, nor put quotes like "national isolation" into any sort of context or clarification.


Nothing - truly nothing- about the way the pan-blue media and the KMT are portraying this issue is accurate. It's just another attempt to set up the DPP, and Fan Yun, to look like rabid, xenophobic ethno-nationalists.

I'm not even particularly interested in how Academia Sinica nominates academicians, a position I didn't even know existed until the KMT started ranting about Evil Fan Yun. I am interested in how the media portray these incidents to stir up divisions in Taiwanese society. UDN did a terrible job analyzing a news item, but a fantastic job sourcing a bunch of un-examined quotes with which to attack the DPP.

I'll leave you with this: try Google Translating that UDN article. Every time Academia Sinica comes up in the Mandarin, Google translates it as "the Chinese Academy of Sciences", and every time "national" (國人) comes up, it translates it as "Chinese".

So if you were wondering if these name games matter, they do. 

Sunday, February 16, 2020

住在台灣的外國人為什麼有在乎「台商的孩子」?

I don't often blog in Chinese, and I am sure there are many mistakes. What can I say, I'm a second language learner.

But, I want to address a primarily Taiwanese audience so I'm going to go for it. Enjoy my terrible Mandarin!

* * *

大家可能想問我,「妳為什麼那麼在乎那個小明/台商孩子的問題?」

就是因為我是個住在台灣的外國人。我沒有台灣國籍,所以我聽台灣人說,「台灣人第一」或者「所以我們不需要在乎和幫忙那些孩子就是因為他們不是台灣人」 我問自己~~~

如果台灣有一個疫情/流行病的狀況,他們怎麼對待我?有人會說我不能去醫院,因為台灣沒有足夠的醫療服務,台灣人比較需要,台灣人第一!?雖然台灣就是我的家,我沒有美國的家,我沒有可以去的地方,此外我在台灣納稅,有人會說我可以「回去」美國為了找醫療服務,但是無法用台灣的制度?

我了解我跟台商真的不一樣。我選了台灣,他們選中國(但是,他們的孩子沒有機會選)。我住這裡,他們住在國外。我在這裡納稅,他們避免。我支持台灣主權和台灣獨立(從中華民國殖民地制度獨立!),他們大部分支持統一。真的不一樣!

可是,我聽「台灣人第一」的時候,這讓我想起川普跟他的支持者。那些人也覺得「移民歧視」就是還OK的啦。在美國,這個民粹主義態度讓我不舒服,在台灣,我絕對有一樣不舒服的感覺。「台灣人第一」的意思不但是「小明第二」而且也是,外國人在台灣是第二階級,是不是?如果在未來台灣有個危機,台灣還是我們的家,但是,台灣對我們怎麼樣?我在台灣平常很舒服,我看台灣人很歡迎我們,但是,這個「台灣人第一」讓我不舒服。我需要問自己,「我真的是完全歡迎的嗎?」

我了解大家對這件事有很重的感覺。這個問題非常複雜,沒有一個完美解決的方案。我們住在台灣的外國人對不穩定的情況非常熟悉,因為我們的家不配合我們的國籍。我們大部分支持台灣,也支持台灣獨立。如果中國恐嚇台灣,我們也願意為台灣而戰。我們大部分不是有錢人,我們的生活很像當地人的。讓小明近來也影響我們,因為我們也住在這裡。但是,我求你想一想,我們為什麼在乎這件事情?

就是因為我們很容易會想像我們自己在類似的狀況。我們緊張,「台灣人第一」也排除了我們嗎?

Friday, January 10, 2020

Some words of calm and comfort on election eve

IMG_5546


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

Untitled
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. 

Untitled
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. 


Untitled
A cute sign for Tsai
Untitled
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. 

Untitled
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. 

Untitled
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. 

Untitled
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. 

Untitled
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). 

Untitled
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.