Showing posts with label western_liberals. Show all posts
Showing posts with label western_liberals. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Neither and Both: proposing an end to the "Taiwan: liberal or conservative?" debates

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Piggybacking on my last post about abortion, I began to think about the old dichotomy that seems to keep popping up. Given Taiwan’s democratic success and free press, recent legalization of same-sex marriage (note: not marriage equality), the more-or-less progressive-ish track record of the Tsai administration can we call this country a “liberal” one? 

Or is the ongoing human rights crisis regarding foreign blue-collar labor, often conservative attitudes of the general public, the ridiculous treatment of female public figures, the continued existence of the death penalty and the criminalization of adultery (now decriminalized!) and the continued lack of options for unilateral no-fault divorce enough to swing it the other way — is Taiwan still a “conservative” country?


Of course, as with most of these “is it A or B?” debates, it mostly seems to be people looking for something to debate. In the end, Taiwan is neither liberal nor conservative, or both liberal and conservative. Honestly, it depends on how you define it. 


I do take the liberal viewpoint as the sometimes imperfect but overall superior one; a core tenet of liberalism is to let other people live their lives non-judgmentally and not discriminate against them in any sort of transactional or legal sense. 


Early on, I realized the different ways of looking at this needed to be investigated separately.  So let's investigate! Why is it reductive to declare Taiwan "liberal" or "conservative" like it's a true-or-false question with one clear answer?



It depends on what you’re comparing it to


If your frame of reference is, say, Europe, it’s fairly easy to proclaim Taiwan “still very conservative”, dust off your hands and be done with it. In Europe, adultery isn’t criminalized, marriage equality is broadly (though not universally) recognized, there is no death penalty, in most places abortion can be obtained on request or very easily, gender equality is generally quite good, and —speaking anecdotally — I often find that moderate to center-liberal Europeans tend to equate to so-called “left-wing” Americans (who are not actually left-wing at all: most are pretty moderate.) Most of Europe also allows unilateral no-fault divorce, although the UK and a few Catholic-majority countries don’t.

I don't know as much about the internal social workings of various European nations, so I'll leave it at that.


If, however, you compare Taiwan to its neighbor states in Asia, you will likely come to a very different conclusion. 


In most of Asia, divorce is similarly restricted. No-fault mutual divorce is generally obtainable in other industrialized Asian nations, but mostly banned in the Philippines and very difficult to obtain in some other developing parts of Asia. However, rather like Taiwan, unilateral divorce generally requires proving some sort of fault. Most Asian nations retain the death penalty, even if they don’t exercise it. I can’t find information on some countries, but in Japan and South Korea, spousal consent is still required to obtain an abortion. Along with this, gender equality metrics in most other Asian countries show Taiwan in a favorable light, comparable to Hong Kong and Singapore and ahead of just about everywhere else in Asia


With changes to adultery laws, the legalization of same-sex marriage and hoped-for changes to abortion access, who can reasonably look at Taiwan compared to the rest of Asia and say it’s “not that liberal”? 


Why, if one is inclined to insist that Taiwan remains a conservative nation, does one have to look to the West to validate that view? 



But - does it even depend on what you compare it to? 


Hold up, though. Let’s look at a few examples from the West. Is it really that much more liberal? 


Divorce laws in the UK are broadly similar to Taiwan’s. They don’t have unilateral no-fault divorce either. Spousal consent for abortion is not required, but giving a ‘reason’ is — acceptable reasons are very broadly defined, as in Taiwan. Ending the criminalization of adultery and (probably) making abortion more accessible to married women will still render Taiwanese laws a bit more conservative than their British counterparts, but not by much. The UK will still be ahead due to abolishing the death penalty, which remains popular for some reason in Taiwan. But in what other ways can the UK be said to be “more liberal”? 


In some ways, one could say the tie-breaker here are social mores. Public opinion, you might say, is more liberal in the UK. Certainly you would not find a public opinion poll that showed popular support for the criminalization of adultery, legalizing capital punishment and disallowing same-sex marriage. You might point to British society and say that it’s so much more diverse, and that diversity begets a sort of liberal strength. 


Sure. I’ll buy that. (Taiwan is also multicultural and multilingual but that diversity is less immediately apparent.) 


But I’ll also point out that while it’s nearly impossible to get dual nationality in Taiwan if you don't have the right ancestry, it’s fairly easy to immigrate here, at least for foreign professionals. Even the salary and qualification requirements to do something other than teach English (2 years’ relevant experience or a Master’s degree in anything) are fairly permissive. If you come to Taiwan to study and can get a job offer upon graduation, it’s fairly easy to stay. 


Once in the UK, there is a path for most to citizenship. However, it’s extremely hard to actually immigrate to the UK to get that process started. Once there, you might still be kicked out, possibly for deeply unfair reasons. For all that diversity, it seems as though the United Kingdom doesn’t actually want non-British people to settle there. 


I would call that a distinctly illiberal view. (In fact, in general, I find my fellow liberals tend to have oddly regressive, even reactionary views on immigration. In non-pandemic times, I consider being pro-immigration to be a fundamentally liberal value.)


Of course, it’s not fair as an American to sit here wagging my finger at the UK. 


The US seems to be unable to reconcile the fact that most Americans support abortion rights with the legions of conservative clownwaffles who keep trying to take those rights away. Abolishing the death penalty in the US feels like a faraway dream. Supposedly one of those “more liberal” countries, we (sort of) elected Donald Trump in the same year that Taiwan chose the comparatively liberal and pragmatic Tsai Ing-wen. We only legalized marriage equality a few years ago — look how fast Taiwan moved in comparison. As with the UK, it’s very hard to immigrate to the US. In fact, it’s difficult to immigrate to most Western countries.


You might look at the US and again point to the nation’s visible diversity. Well, I grew up in the US and in most of the country, diversity doesn’t mean mixing. I don’t want to speak for people of color when I haven’t experienced the same things, so all I can say is that many White people I know in the US live in almost exclusively White areas, and for many, there doesn’t appear to be a single non-White person in their circles. I have heard the same sort of conservative or right-wing rhetoric — the same old racist, sexist, anti-LGBT rhetorical trash — in the US as I have in Taiwan. In fact, as I’ve noted before, it seems to be one of the US’s major cultural exports here


So although adultery is not an offense and unilateral no-fault divorce is possible. But in what other ways can I say the country of my citizenship is more liberal than Taiwan? It’s hard to think of much. 


Placing a high importance on making sure all of its citizens have what they need is a core tenet of liberalism for me. In that way the US again fails, with not just high rates of inequality but a total breakdown in the accessibility of quality health care to all but the upper classes. Few in Taiwan would disagree that everyone deserves access to affordable basic health care. In wealth equality generally, Taiwan is comparable to many Western nations. 



And of course, the people


Now that I’ve made the country of my birth sound like a terrifying hellscape — which these days, from a distance, it seems to be — remember that there are plenty of liberals, lefties, progressives, radicals, socialists, whatever you want to call them and all of them are slightly different. On both sides, I've met people who challenge assumptions. They could be anyone, from carceral feminists to liberal/leftist activists with misogynist views to people who are pro-healthcare but anti-immigration, to conservatives in every other sense who are finally embracing marriage equality or no longer trying to dictate whether mothers should stay home or return to paid work.

The youth tend liberal, but Young Republicans are a thing. For every BLM activist, there’s surely a Brocktaniel Craigstopher Broseph Dorpington III who is certain he’ll be a senator someday and can't wait to turn his opinions on women's bodies into legislation. My grandparents, when they were alive, always seemed surprised to hear that liberals were a real thing and it wasn’t just me.


My liberal friends always knew that the other side existed — they didn’t live in quite as much of a bubble — but often underestimated exactly how many people really felt that way. That is, after all, part of how we got Trump.


Taiwan is similar. How can you say a whole country is conservative when the youth tend to overwhelmingly support liberal causes (except, for some reason the death penalty, which seems odd...though perhaps not that odd) and then are surprised when those causes meet strong resistance. But how can you say it is liberal when their aunties and grandpas are more likely to vote, though perhaps less overwhelmingly than in the past?


Of course, the aunties and grandpas assume the youth to be a minority of loud kids, perhaps not even realizing that their younger relatives agree with those “other kids”, but have decided it’s easier not to bring it up. Many are traditionally conservative, but some of their views -- such as understanding the fundamental need for universal health care -- would look liberal to your average American. 


In other words, for every young urbanite who was shocked to see marriage equality referenda slapped down in 2018, there is someone like the Bread of Life lady in my building who keeps putting up anti-gay brochures and seems surprised when they are taken down. 


Both groups are loud, and both can mobilize. One is older and on their way out, but will be engaged voters for several years more. The other has shown they can defeat an attempted pro-China “populist” wave. 


It’s very hard for me to say the US is ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ when different Americans are, well, so different


So it is with Taiwan. 



What does it mean to be ‘liberal’? 


The notion that Western-style liberal/conservative dichotomies have dominated these conversations is not new. When looking at non-Western societies, it’s quite common for someone to point out that notions of ‘freedom’, ‘choice’ and ‘equality’ can look very different through different cultural lenses. 


I don’t mean this in the old ‘individualist vs. collectivist’ debate, another binary that I find a bit overstated. People who proclaim some societies ‘individualist’ and others ‘collectivist’ forget that nothing is that polar, gloss over the interplay of personal and collective choices at the individual, small-group and larger social levels. They further tend to blur the very different definitions of ‘individualism’ with ‘individuality’. Just as an ‘individualistic’ European or Brit (sorry, Brits, you’re separate now) can insist that national health care and affordable education are common goods, so can a ‘collectivist’ Taiwanese find their own path and express their individual spirit while caring about society and family.


Instead, let me illustrate this through a series of anecdotes. Although this is now considered a somewhat traditional or even out-dated practice, some men still hand their salary over to their wives, who run the entire household budget and give their husbands ‘allowances’. (This also happens in Japan and the practice might originate there; I’m not sure.) This has led to society as a whole believing that women are good with money. As a result, accounting tends to be a more female-dominated profession, and ask any family business who keeps the books. I bet you a beer it’s likely a woman. 


And to think, I grew up in the “more liberal” United States hearing dumb jokes about how women just spend money shopping and a husband might have to cut up his wife’s credit cards because she bought too many purses! 


And yet, a 老闆 (laoban) is assumed to be a man, whereas 老闆娘 (laobanniang) can be translated as "female boss" (as though it needs to be a gendered term) or...the boss's wife, even if she's really the boss.


Here’s another one: the Taiwanese government, despite all of its recent progressive leaps, still seems to think that more babies and bigger families are always a good thing, despite the country being already fairly densely populated. And yet, they now seem willing to look at the country’s current abortion laws and realize that they need to be liberalized, without compromising their view that families should have more babies. 


I believe (and hope) they see that abortion isn’t what’s stopping people from procreating; that a person who wants to have a child will try to have one, and abortion being more accessible won’t make them change their mind. That encouraging people to have more kids means ensuring a better standard of living, that families have enough time, money and housing to raise children. Do that, and most people will choose to have children. Abortion is a separate issue entirely. 


Oh, how I wish I could get anti-abortion politicians and reactionary voters in the US to realize the same thing! 


In fact, here's a quick aside: let's jump back to my assertion in the last post that making abortion accessible to unmarried women had nothing to do with giving women choice while valuing the partnership of marriage. We know it's more about which babies are "desirable" to society than about rights, because single people and same-sex married couples who do want children aren't allowed to access fertility treatments

The government is finally starting to act on improving abortion access, but nobody seems interested in fixing this problem despite it being a protested issue since at least 2016, and probably earlier. So is it acting in a liberal manner, or not? It's hard to say.


I could add more cultural anecdotes from other parts of the world — for example, the fairly liberal stance of Islam on family planning compared to much of the West through history — but they would be cultures I haven’t spent as much time with, and thus would be less informed. However, such examples exist. 


The short of it? I don’t think it’s fair to measure Taiwan by a liberal/conservative spectrum informed by Western assumptions, when the way people make sense of the world through a Taiwanese cultural lens is just...different. Sometimes, I think better. In some ways, perhaps not. 

This was apparent watching so many otherwise liberal Taiwanese go pro-Trump, who is about as right-wing as it gets (though it's hard to tell how much of this was straight-up malicious trolling, as people seemed more reasonable in real life). I don't agree at all with their reasons -- nobody who thinks Trump's pandemic response is an acceptable price to pay for anything is welcome in my life -- but the reasons did exist. They mostly don't care about our political binaries, so it's not fair to measure Taiwan based on those same binaries.

I’m also not a total cultural relativist; I too have my lines and I too make personal and individual judgement calls. But I am open to conceiving of liberalism in different lights and will criticize or praise individual ideas, not entire belief systems, including my own.


There are people who insist that any and all conservative ideas they don’t like which exist in non-Western societies were put there by colonialism, and decolonization will therefore liberate those societies from such beliefs. I don’t fully believe that; although I occasionally come across examples of this (say, certain aspects of Taiwanese society that seem to have been shaped more by the outside influence of Christianity on ROC politics than on any local cultural norm), it’s far too ‘noble savage’ or Orientalist. In other words, I’m not impressed by ‘every Western idea is bad, every non-Western one is good’. The West has had some pretty good ideas and some atrocious ones. Every society is capable of both, and a whole lot in between. Every society is going to have some ideas we might see as ‘conservative’, and others that could be called ‘liberal’. Taiwan is no different.


What matters is that we recognize that there is no objective yardstick by which to measure any of this, and perhaps it’s wise not to make any sort of proclamations about it. 


Saturday, July 25, 2020

Ted Yoho, AOC and Taiwan’s Bipartisan Dilemma

This week, Republican congressional representative and rotted meat carcass Ted Yoho did two things.

First, he announced the introduction of a package that would explicitly allow the US to use military force if China invades Taiwan. We should all support this: while obviously starting a war in Taiwan’s name is a terrible idea, a stronger commitment to defensive assistance if China were to invade is crucial. Taiwan wants it, defense is not the same as offense, and Taiwan can already govern and defend itself - it needs backup, not a savior. 

Second, he accosted Democrat and peer Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, calling her “out of [her] freaking mind”, “disgusting” and “a fucking bitch”. Why? Because he’s a flaming garbage heap, but also because AOC attributed the spike in crime in New York to corresponding spikes in unemployment and homelessness due to the CCP virus, which the US has responded to so badly that not focusing on the fact that the CCP is to blame for the pandemic is actually a reasonable argument now. 


This disconnect provides yet another reminder that many of our “allies” on Taiwan and Hong Kong issues are not necessarily good people, and that we should not excuse their being terrible people just because we agree with them on a few issues. 

This is a deceptively difficult minefield to navigate. Taiwan and Hong Kong should be bipartisan issues, one of the few things we can actually work with conservatives on. Taiwan has historically been supported more by Republicans than Democrats, and although that is finally changing, the fact remains that we still need to work with Republicans to get important legislation passed.

But the flipside of bipartisanship on Taiwan is that we have to plaster on a smile and work with utter jackbuckets like Ted Yoho. Frankly, they’re all pretty terrible, it’s just Teddy’s week to shine. I know there are those who would rather ignore the fact that pretty much every Republican supporter of Taiwan and Hong Kong who holds elected office is a horrible person — they’d choose Taiwan every time. That doesn’t exactly work; it excuses their otherwise awful behavior and puts voters like me in a bind when we want to vote for the most pro-Taiwan and Hong Kong candidates, but can’t because they’re unacceptable in every other way. It puts advocates in tough positions because it means pretending to be nice to these human dumpsters. It tarnishes the images of activists — how much flak have Joshua Wong and Nathan Law caught for posing for smiley photos, invariably filled with men, rarely a woman in sight, with walking trash kraken?

It’s easy to say “we have different values but we can come together on this”. It’s easy to ignore the time Yoho said “annyounghaseyo” to President Tsai because...reasons. It’s harder to justify “coming together” on Taiwan with a man who just called AOC a “fucking bitch”. I’m sorry, but at that point, are you not simply justifying ignoring blatant misogyny?

There are also those who think we shouldn’t work with them at all and find another way. That’d be lovely, but it’s also not currently possible if you actually take Taiwan’s defense seriously. Democrats look like they are set to potentially draft a China platform that keeps support of a cross-strait policy “consistent with the needs and best interests of the people of Taiwan”. It’s likely this will pass, as it was language used in 2008, 2012 and up through 2016. While it’s unclear how useful this is, seeing as the Obama administration wasn’t exactly Taiwan’s most helpful friend, this is still good news — it means they aren’t taking a “total opposition” stance to officials under Trump who have supported Taiwan more than their Obama-era forerunners. Their voting record of late — in solidarity with Republicans on Taiwan and Hong Kong — and some statements by Joe Biden, have reflected a trend in this direction. But honestly, we’re not there yet, and we can’t afford to end bipartisanship on Taiwan and Hong Kong.

To add to that, it’s not like the right has the market cornered on misogyny and racism (yes, Yoho’s comments, given the context of the spike in crime, are both sexist and racist). I’ve met plenty of centrists and even self-proclaimed lefties who honestly aren’t much better. From ‘our side’ I’ve heard everything from “BLM should take responsibility for the crime wave in Chicago” (what?) to wanting to protest in front of AIT for Taiwan while making deeply sexist comments about Hillary Clinton. The number of Democrats and self-proclaimed liberals in Taiwan and the US who are accused of being inappropriate with women honestly rivals the behavior of Republicans. Saying we shouldn’t work with the right for these reasons may be principled, to an extent, but it ignores how much of it comes from our own side. 

I’ve thought for awhile that there is no such thing as ‘natural allies’, because people on ‘our side’ are just as capable of being toxic jerks. The only way to continue bipartisan efforts on Taiwan is to think of allies on any given issue as people who agree with you on that particular issue and are not otherwise human dumpsters. 

Unfortunately, Ted Yoho, as with others, has shown that he is in fact a human dumpster. People have been burned by this before, thinking Trump could be good for Taiwan and Hong Kong only to find that his ‘challenge’ to China is more of an inconsistent mess.

Can we really consider a party that supports a president that called concentration camps a “good idea” an ally? Can we really smile and shake hands with Ted Yoho while he calls AOC a “fucking bitch” out the other side of his mouth?

If we don’t, how are we going to realistically make sure Taiwan has the backup it needs in the face of a potential invasion that is a very real threat? Raising fists and taking to the streets didn’t work for Hong Kong and it won’t stop an amphibious invasion of Taiwan — and letting China win is arguably worse than defending Taiwan for real. Of course, we should reach out to liberals and the left, though I’ve found that the far left is so thickly populated with tankies (“Taiwan is evil because they are run by the Nationalists, who are evil bad capitalists grr” - don’t even know where to start with this) that they’re hard to talk to about Taiwan. And honestly, even if and when we succeed, Taiwan is still better off with bipartisan support rather than having its assurance of defensive assistance tied to the whims of whomever is in office. 

I don’t have an answer to that, but I am personally not inclined to think of people like Ted Yoho as allies. As a woman, a congressional representative calling a female colleague a “fucking bitch” and then trying to justify it by saying he’s a family man affects me, because it affects the discourse of what’s acceptable to say about people of my gender. If you do think of him as an ally, please consider exactly what behavior you are excusing and whether or not that behavior affects you. 



Thursday, July 16, 2020

Guest Post: The Left has been wrong on China since the Trump-Tsai phone call

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I'm still on hiatus -- my advisor's forthcoming feedback on my draft will determine how much longer that will last. But, in my absence, I thought it would be interesting to open up Lao Ren Cha to other voices, especially Taiwanese voices, with a possible series of guest posts.

This is my first experiment in guest posting, from Eric, a Taiwanese Canadian, written as a reaction to this article on the left's silence on genocide in China. It generally fits with the editorial line here at Lao Ren Cha ("editorial line" being fancy talk for "my opinions") while introducing a new style and perspective into the mix. Enjoy! 


- Jenna


With the recent change in mainstream media narrative on the Chinese regime, accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic, one would not expect too much of a political cost for raising objections to its actions. Threats and attacks on neighbors, technology theft, fentanyl exports, loan shark diplomacy, concentration camps, genocide, live organ harvesting, systematic societal control — anyone who has been paying attention should have long recognized the threat to liberal values posed by this regime, yet the headlining leaders of the Liberal Left have been derelict for some time on this file. Sadly, this is not a surprise to those of us who have been watching this space for a while and have long lamented this problem.


For anyone who has generally progressive views and supports Taiwan and its continuing existence as a free and democratic country this contradiction is particularly painful, as many writers in Taiwan have noted. I have always been and continue to be a supporter of most of the values espoused by the moderate Liberal Left: social justice, environmental protection, universal human rights, yet I have little faith in international institutions and believe in healthy defense, training and advanced weaponry--peace through strength. Realizing that you have loved ones, friends, places and things that you value under constant threat of annihilation enforces pragmatism.

Personally, becoming deeply skeptical of the capital-L Liberal Left (as an ideological brand or label defined by its leading voices rather than a fuzzy set of held values) was a long time in the making, as I watched liberal papers such as the Guardian give voice to awful regime apologists, saw socially progressive celebrities and politicians look down in meek silence or even take pro-Beijing stances, or journalists unthinkingly regurgitating official narratives, making it easier for Beijing to calculate in its own favor as it continued to trample over every value they purported to hold dear. 

For me, the last straw was the response when President Donald Trump accepted a phone-call from Tsai Ing-Wen shortly after winning her 2016 election as President of Taiwan, and the cacaphony of supposedly progressive voices from that corner screaming bloody murder, warning of apocalypse and doom should anyone cross Beijing, heaven forbid the leader of the United States, for all of his faults, should take a symbolic phone call from the democratically elected, female President of one of the most free, liberal and progressive democracies in the world and risk angering a brutal regime that enslaves its own citizens and threatens others. 

That so many failed to even see this hypocrisy or consider that even a broken clock might be right twice a day made me lose much of my faith in peoples' ability to think critically, on both sides of the political spectrum. The biggest heartbreak came from the disappointment of seeing well-known people who I liked and admired unthinkingly retweeting such Chicken-Littlism and the false narratives that go with it or adding to the chorus.

Before anyone can accuse me of naiveté for thinking Trump did this out of the goodness of his heart, of course political and national interests are always considered, and I am OK with that. The minor symbolism of taking the call was enough.

So here we are, more than 4 years later and yet it seems for many, none the wiser. Just a few months ago, those same commentators were defending the WHO despite clear evidence that they had actively and knowingly caused the COVID19 epidemic to get worse, all in deference to China. While Trump was wrong to pull out of the WHO (how can the USA advocate for Taiwan’s inclusion if it’s not even there?), holding a benefit concert that made the WHO look like the victim in all this was laughable. 

Liberals often pride themselves on their critical thinking skills, and yet swallow CCP narratives that a phone call to a democratic leader friendly to the US is a diplomatic crisis. They pride themselves on logic and facts, yet threw a concert to support an organization that was proven to spread lies that harmed global health. They pride themselves on standing for access to human rights…unless the people fighting for those rights are far away. The right thinks masks are mind control devices, poverty will go away if you ignore it, and that it’s acceptable to put children in cages. How are they right about China while we writhe in indecisiveness? How are we losing the moral high ground on this?

The world did not end in war over a phone call. Universities still compromised their values for unsustainable profits, financiers continued to try to reap profits from the Chinese market, cadre money still got laundered in real-estate and commodities still got sold. On the other hand, the pandering obsequiousness with which the UN, governments, corporates and media treated the CCP regime, abetted by the silence of the Liberal Left, resulted in a pandemic that killed thousands, wrecked countless lives and made the world more dangerous and unstable.

And still, the biggest call to action on the left seems not to be the ongoing genocide in Xinjiang, standing with Hong Kong, or supporting Taiwan, but fear that standing up to the CCP is simply too scary to contemplate. A lot of this stems from thinking everything the right says must be wrong, so they must be wrong about China. 


Honestly, they are indeed wrong about almost everything, and Trump is not a reliable ally. Nobody who calls Xi Jinping a “good friend” and doesn’t seem fazed by concentration camps could ever be. But, when it comes to the CCP, the Liberal Left is the one the wrong. Trump is terrible, but when he criticizes China, he’s not wrong just because he’s Trump. 

At this time, I wonder if it would be too small-minded of me to contact those who unknowingly supported the stance of the CCP regime in admonishing the US President for taking Tsai's call four years ago, and see if their view had changed in hindsight. I fear, however, that I would be disappointed.  

Fortunately, critical voices are starting to come out on the Left, surprisingly from parts of Europe, of all places, with the German Green Party or Czech Pirate Party, for example. In the US Congress, important legislation regarding Hong Kong, Taiwan and Xinjiang passed unanimously — meaning Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives alike, supported it. There is still time to push Joe Biden away from Obama-era China doves and towards policy advisors who are more realistic about the CCP, and to embrace bipartisan efforts in congress.

We still don't know if even this pandemic is enough to overcome inertia and make people realize that they are affected by what happens in Asia (the last Federal election in Canada was a hold-your-nose-and-vote affair), but hopefully change will come. Regardless, the left-right dichotomy, with its simplifications and polarizing power, has shown that it is no longer useful for the messy, chaotic world we live in.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Photos from the Black Lives Matter Solidarity and Hong Kong Outlander rallies


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I just wanted to share some photos from two important rallies that took place in Taipei yesterday - the Black Lives Matter Solidarity Rally outside the National Taiwan Museum, and the rally organized by Hong Kong Outlander (a Taiwan-based group of Hong Kong civic activists) at Freedom Square later that evening. Both were well-attended - not as big as some protests I've seen, but a great turnout for these sorts of solidarity gatherings.



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There was some local presence at the BLM rally. I hope in the future, there will be more

In between the two, there was at least one rally to express support for Taiwan (well, the ROC)'s continued "sovereignty" over the Senkaku Islands (ugh). I think it might have melded with a pro-Han Kuo-yu rally, or a "Recall President Tsai" rally? It's not clear and I don't care enough to sort it out, but anyway all 9 or so attendees did a great job of enthusiastically calling for more attention to be paid to their cause, before the nursing home curfew kicked in.

If you actually care about these guys, Taiwan Report has a bit more information. 


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Black Lives Matter in the US have expressed that they've been heartened to see global support from gatherings like these, and racism certainly is an issue that needs to be tackled in Taiwan, not only against non-white foreign residents (most notably Southeast Asian members of the community as they form the largest demographic, but other non-Taiwanese BIPOC as well), but also against Taiwanese Indigenous who face discrimination in their own country. Both Indigenous activists and foreign resident activists spoke at the event. 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence were observed - the same amount of time that Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into George Floyd's neck.


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At the end of the Black Lives Matter rally, which drew a large crowd of foreign residents, the organizers expressed support for the Hong Kong rally later that evening (there was some disagreement over this, but it was quickly defused).






The Hong Kong rally was also inspirational. Though part of it felt more like a pop-up market than a rally, I kind of like that about these sorts of events and purchased a Tsai Ing-wen plushy and rainbow Taiwan pin. Notable speakers included my new favorite person, a professor who went on a profane tirade (he said something along the lines of "fuck the Communist Party of China's mother!" in English, Cantonese, Mandarin and Taiwanese all in a row). I could find out his name, but I'd prefer his brilliance live on, ensconced in mythology.

I do notice a harder edge to the Hong Kong rallies these days - "free Hong Kong, revolution of our times!" is still a popular chant, but "Hong Kong is Hong Kongers' Hong Kong" (it's just as unwieldy in Chinese) and "Fuck China!" are starting to catch on. Black and white bauhinia and "Free Hong Kong" flags are starting to share space with "Hong Kong Independence" flags. I've thought all along that there's no real middle ground here where Hong Kong can maintain its unique character and be a part of China, and independence is the only reasonable (yet sadly, seemingly impossible) solution, so I personally am happy to see this.

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Unfortunately, there were not very many Taiwanese at the Black Lives Matter rally, and few foreign residents (other than Hong Kongers themselves) at the Hong Kong rally. The Black Lives Matter rally didn't get a lot of local press in Mandarin, although the English-language media all covered it in advance. A few public figures on the Taiwanese left - including Sunflower leaders Lin Fei-fan and Chen Wei-ting - were present at the Hong Kong rally, but not the BLM rally (though both are supportive of the cause).

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All I can really say is, both of these issues are important, and they are interrelated. That said. I see some BLM criticism of Hong Kong protests online, with some disappointment by Hong Kongers that the Western left doesn't have a lot of support to offer them. This is coupled with criticism of some Hong Kongers' leaning into the support they've received from the American right, which one would be correct to describe as 'hypocritical' on the part of the right. 

 For Hong Kongers, as with Taiwan, I won't judge anyone for taking the support they are offered - even from a deeply unsavory and hypocritical source - when there are few other helping hands extended. Though when I see, say, Tsai Ing-wen publish a cartoon that makes her look buddy-buddy with Trump or Joshua Wong retweeting Marco Rubio, it does make me want to barf more than a little.

In any case, both deserved their own rallies, and it's important that both happened.



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The crowd did get larger as the night wore on


However, I would have liked to have seen more cross-pollination - it seemed to be all the same people (myself included) who go to these sorts of things going to both, not a larger trend.


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Lin Fei-fan surrounded by reporters (I'm not a reporter so I just snapped an amusing photo)


In the future, with rising energy for BLM solidarity in Taiwan and ongoing support for Hong Kong, as well as a growing awareness of the need to fight discrimination in a Taiwanese context, whether it's against other Taiwanese or foreigners of color, I hope there is energy for a larger gathering that brings these groups together to fight for what are, at the end, common goals.


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I would not take a photo of myself at a BLM rally, but I figure Bear Guy - a common sight at Taiwanese protests - was fair game at the Hong Kong rally.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

The CCP uses social justice language to advance an authoritarian agenda: Part 1 of Zillions



First, I apologize for not blogging much. It's dissertation time. I said blogs would be more rare, and I meant it. It'll be like this through June, if not longer. But, every once in awhile I can catch a breather, and today is one of those days.

Now, with that aside...

There’s something I want to talk about, which has a lot of associated bits and pieces, which begins and ends with the CCP adopting the language of the social justice left to advance an authoritarian, right-wing agenda. This is the first part of that, let’s see how far I get into a series of posts exploring it further before my dissertation takes.

As everyone in Taiwan knows by now, the Director-General of the WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, accused Taiwan of online attacks that included racism and death threats. I won't summarize: there are plenty of sources for that (New Bloom includes a video link with relevant comments). Some say the director - whom I'll call Tedros as that's how he's referred to on Wikipedia despite (I think) being his given name - accused the Taiwanese government of being behind the attacks. Or, in his exact words: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) knew about the attacks and "didn't disassociate itself" from them.

Which of course it didn't, because why would it need to "disassociate" from the comments of thousands of angry Taiwanese? You only need to do that when the attack is organized. You can tell the difference between this and organized 'cyber armies' because the language used in various posts was novel, not copy-pasted or the same arguments, almost verbatim, again and again. The memes, too, were new and creative in ways that organized troll armies simply cannot (or at least, do not) replicate.

It's almost as though he can't fathom why tens of thousands of Taiwanese people would be furious with him, after he repeatedly denied the existence of their country, ignored early-warning data Taiwan provided, excluded Taiwan from most proceedings, and then peddled (false) Chinese data far too late.

Tedros is not a stupid man. Incompetent, yes, but not stupid. He is capable of understanding the very reasonable explanation behind why he is so reviled in Taiwan. His insistence that this is something else is a choice. It is intentional. It looks quite similar to the tactics the CCP employs when it decides to ignore plain truth and push the narrative it has decided is most convenient.

Were some comments from Taiwanese racist? Almost certainly. I haven't seen them, but racism exists everywhere. However, I've witnessed racism against Southeast Asians in Taiwan and heard stories of racist treatment in Taiwan from friends who are people of color, and I can tell you that the majority of comments were not that: they were attacking Tedros and the WHO for their treatment of Taiwan and poor handling of the coronavirus outbreak - two issues that are now deeply linked.

A lot of the racist comments, it's worth noting, were in Simplified Chinese (or from accounts that only interact with accounts that write in Simplified). A wave of "apologies" from "Taiwanese" (all using identical wording, and all in Simplified) has also since appeared. So, while there was certainly some organic racism in the comments against Tedros, I wonder how much of it was, in fact, organized and planted...by the CCP.

Of course, the CCP has figured out that accusations of racism can, in fact, be weaponized. A person accused of racism defending themselves who is actually guilty of racism sounds exactly like someone who was falsely accused speaking up about it.

Let’s admit it: when you have to defend yourself as definitely not racist!  - very often that just convinces people that you are racist. Only a racist would have to insist they weren't racist, after all. If you're not, it should be obvious. You might be tempted to reach for trite right-wing cliches like "you're playing the race card!" which, honestly, just makes a person sound more racist. Even pointing out that an innocent and a guilty person defending themselves against accusations of racism sound exactly the same, and that such accusations can therefore be weaponized, sounds like a right-wing talking point! There is literally no way out of this discursive cesspit: the only way to go is down.

There are also very reasonable calls for Taiwan to do some self-reflection on the racism that does exist here (both by Han Taiwanese against non-Han Taiwanese, and against foreigners, especially directed at Black and Southeast Asian residents in Taiwan). However, that shifts attention away from the fact that Tedros is intentionally lying about the attacks being 'organized' with the blessing of the Taiwanese government.

Of course, these baseless accusations only take away from the very necessary discussion on real issues of race in Taiwan, but that's also the point.

It will be very difficult indeed to make this point to Western audiences, because generally speaking, racism isn’t weaponized in quite this way. If someone in the West says they are the victim of racist attacks, generally they should be believed. (Exceptions exist: Clarence Thomas comes to mind). You get the occasional White person who insists they’re the victim of racism, but the left usually doesn’t take the bait. They know that racism is prejudice plus power, and that White people have the most power.

I’m not at all sure that this same Western left knows what to do with accusations of racism that don’t involve White people, however. And accusations by a Black person, against a population of Asians, who themselves are marginalized in Asian discourses, supported (and quite possibly created, or at least helped along) by a repressive Asian government that claims to represent a dominant group but in fact doesn’t, in order to attack the democratically-elected government of the marginalized group? When racism exists in that marginalized group, but was not the issue in this particular case? Yikes.

This brings me to the point I really want to make: if you haven't noticed that the CCP has been adopting the language of the social-justice, post-colonial left in order to push what is essentially a right-wing, neo-colonial agenda, you aren't listening. This is just one bomb lobbed from that particular trebuchet.

The point is to deflect the media attention from all the good work Taiwan is doing, pushing their success out of the spotlight by creating a new firestorm for people to pay attention to. This was highlighted by former Sunflower Movement and current DPP member Lin Fei-fan:

我認為理由無他,正是因為台灣正積極協助更多國家的防疫工作,而台灣的防疫成果也正被國際社會肯定。我們不僅輸出手術口罩協助其他國家第一線防疫人員,陳建仁副總統也在昨天接受了國際媒體BBC的專訪分享台灣的防疫經驗。 
台灣正在被國際看見,也被許多國家肯定和感謝,這是中國想要摧毀的一切,也是中國的傳聲筒之所以要攻訐台灣的原因!

My translation:

I think there is no other reason, it is precisely because Taiwan is actively assisting more countries in their epidemic prevention work, and Taiwan ’s epidemic prevention achievements are being recognized by the international community. Not only have we exported surgical masks to assist frontline epidemic prevention staff in other countries, Vice President Chen Chien-jen also accepted an exclusive interview with the BBC yesterday to share Taiwan's experience with epidemic prevention. 
Taiwan is being seen by the world, and it is also being acknowledged and appreciated by many countries. This is everything China wants to destroy, and therefore the reason why China's mouthpiece is attacking Taiwan!" 

Since then, MoFA released the letter it sent to the WHO, and that too has been attacked (either for MoFA “overstepping”, or for them overstating the case that they “tried to warn the WHO” when mostly they were asking for more information, or...whatever.) I’m not particularly interested in this saga (and I’m not the only one). As far as I see it MoFA generally does an amazing job, the letter did raise alarms about what was going on in China, and it shows that Taiwan attempted to use the channels available to it and made no headway. That people are making a big deal over it honestly just feels like more of an attempt to cut down the amount of positive coverage and praise Taiwan is receiving.

The honest truth is that the WHO has done an awful job dealing with thecoronavirus and its refusal to acknowledge Taiwan hinders efforts at protecting global health, while trying to convince the world that it’s done an amazing job. This follows the exact same narrative trajectory of China, and that’s not an accident. While China is still recovering from the outbreak, it continues to try and confuse and destabilize the narrative on Taiwan so the world doesn’t notice that Taiwan has done the best job in the world of handling the pandemic. While the WHO should be focusing on the ongoing global crisis, it’s spending its time challenging Taiwan to fisticuffs because it can’t handle sincere criticism. Again, these matching narratives are not a coincidence.

I want to explore this a lot more, but I’ll save that for the next post.

A lot of people have since pointed out that there’s growing anti-foreigner (and specifically anti-Black, anti-African) racism in China. In fact, it’s always been there but it’s been getting worse thanks to the coronavirus. In Guangzhou, there are reports of exchange students from Africa and other African residents (the city has a fairly large African community) being evicted from hotels, not allowed to buy food, and reduced to sleeping under bridges.

The CCP doesn’t seem to have offered a coherent response, and I tend to agree with those who say it is likely incapable of doing so. Considering that these actions are directly related to the aftermath of coronavirus (plus suddenly forcing people to sleep on the street doesn’t seem like a great move public health-wise even when there’s no global pandemic), you’d think the WHO and Tedros, who are ever so sensitive to issues of racism, and seem to care very deeply about how African people are treated by Asians, would also offer some sort of response or acknowledgement.

You would be wrong.

Compare that to Taiwan, the country accused of  “racism” against Tedros. I spoke out recently regarding businesses in Taiwan discriminating against foreigners. Then, as now, I want to point out that the majority of these businesses changed their policies when approached. Some resisted and had to be complained at rather strongly - calling the discrimination what it was, being told their policies would be publicly blogged about - others were receptive after an initial polite request. Though not all listened to reason, most did.

I didn’t say anything at the time, but while this was happening I reached out to a few friends I have who work in government after one business insisted that “a visiting police unit” suggested such a discriminatory policy, to confirm that this was not a government policy. It certainly was not. (A friend in the Taipei City government actually said, “first, these businesses should be happy to get customers, business is down everywhere. Second, that’s stupid.”)

In fact, I missed it at the time, but it seems Mayor Ko specifically tweeted, asking businesses not to discriminate. Whoever wrote the tweets did not thread them, so I’m just going to post an image:



Although I’d love to have a statement from the national government specifically calling on businesses not to discriminate, this is fantastic, and the issue (mostly) seems to have died down. A few people were denied Airbnb or hotel rooms, but nobody had to sleep under a bridge. Nobody was unable to buy food.

Over in China, reports are that the treatment of Black residents described above is not only not being stopped by the government, but in some cases actively carried out by the police. The Chinese government has offered a few stock phrases - “we treat all foreigners equally” - but not much more than that.

That’s the difference. Those are the facts.

Speaking of “facts”, there’s more I want to say about the CCP using the left’s tendency toward subjectivity and (total) cultural relativism as further excuses for its authoritarian agenda, but I think that’s the subject of a future post.

In the meantime, facts are facts. Don’t be distracted.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Battle for the Story of Taiwan: De-centering Oppressive Narratives

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Spend any time around nerdy academic/historian types (or just socially aware people) and you'll eventually end up in a discussion about dominant narratives. A dominant narrative is basically the I-sound-like-smart-people way of describing the old "history is written by the winners" trope; the stories of those whose experiences don't align with the dominant narrative are "counter-narratives", as they're marginalized from the dominant narrative. (If you're already familiar with what this means, you can skip/skim the next few paragraphs).

These people may, in fact, be a majority of people spread across a variety of groups who aren't "the winners" in history. Considering, for example, that women's experiences are often not accounted for by the dominant narrative of most cultures, nor are those of people of color (or not in the ethnic majority), LGBT+ people and more, it's hard to argue that the "dominant narrative" is the one experienced by the most people; rather, it's the one experienced by the most privileged people.

Or, to give a real life example, in school in the US I learned the dominant narrative of American history. That history was dotted with august men who did brave things and propelled mind-blowing scientific and social advancements. Then, we evolved as a society and began talking about all the women whose contributions had been left out of this story: for instance, if you listen to the dominant narrative on the history of computer science, you'd think the whole field was developed by men, with the first technological advancements in the field by men, and the first coding done by men. That is far from true, however.

Then women's history became a thing, but it was mostly white women's history, so there was a lot of discussion about women not having access to work opportunities or even being "allowed" to work for pay. Of course, that left out women of color and working-class women, who had consistently earned money through labor...and it goes on.

And of course, it's not that the dominant narrative is totally wrong; it's just told as the whole story, when in fact it's simply one facet of the story. It's a cut in the diamond; not the whole damn stone.

I'm probably already losing a few readers here, and that's fine. If you're all "ugh but LOBSTERS" or some nonsense at this point, then do yourselves a favor and go. I won't notice. I'm not aiming this at you.

So, what does this have to do with China and Taiwan? Quick-thinking readers surely see where I'm going with this.

Liberal thinkers in many countries have done a fantastic job of pointing out and attempting to rectify the grip on historical interpretation that the old dominant narratives had. They'll readily point out that this or that telling of our collective cultural tale isn't including enough marginalized narratives.

But then they look across to the ocean at Asia and it's like all of that complex critical thinking just goes out the window; where we were discussing a beautifully-cut diamond with near-countless facets in our own culture, we're back to "it's a rock!" when discussing the other side of the world.

It's the result of a good-faith effort not to look at the world through a white/Western lens, and elevate narratives that are not white or Western, but it does exactly the thing that these same people warn against doing in their own cultures: it centers only the dominant narrative in this part of Asia, and marginalizes every other one. In other words, when de-centering Whiteness and choosing a different narrative, they again reach for the most dominant non-white narrative and there's a battle fought anew to argue for the inclusion of everything that is marginalized as a result of that choice.

And because it's big and populous and powerful (by powerful I mean "it has a lot of money"), that dominant narrative is China's.

Or rather, not even China's - it's the Communist Party of China (CCP) narrative. It's the wealthy straight cis male Chinese narrative. It's the Han narrative (oh, you thought only white people could be ethno-cultural chauvinists who try to erase the counter-narratives of others or pound them into submission as 'colorful' but ultimately obedient 'minority' 'ethnic' groups? You're wrong.)

Don't believe me? Okay, why is it that China relaxing its One Child Policy made the international news but nobody's talking about how the CCP still treats women's bodies as property of the state? Why does Taiwan's path to marriage equality make the international news, but no major Western media outlets seem to link it explicitly to Taiwan's cultural distinctness from China (which is nowhere near any sort of same-sex partnership)? Why do so many Westerners seem to think Chinese culture is so "traditionally" anti-gay when that's just not the whole story? I could go on.

So, when the question turns to Taiwan, that same prioritizing of the CCP/Han dominant narrative gets repeated by well-meaning Western liberals.

The results are devastating.  That same quicksilver liberal who could tear apart the way you looked at the world by pointing out every marginalized narrative in her own culture devolves into insisting - often loudly, even stupidly - on pre-fab garbage like "but Taiwan is China because their official name is the Republic of China!" or "but the Taiwanese are Chinese because historically they come from the same culture and heritage and they have the same history!" or "I don't think Taiwanese independence is a good idea because we need more unity in the world and less nationalism!" or "how can Taiwan be a country when it's not in the UN?"

Or - and this is the most insidious one of all in my opinion, a real rabbit hole - "but China has such a different culture and they conceive of these things so differently, we can't push our Western conception of what it means to be culturally Chinese on them!"

Except that's the CCP's line - we're not Western, your Western morals and ethics and concepts don't work here. It only works for everyone in Asia if the general consensus in Asia is that it's true - but that's not the case. Most Taiwanese don't; having as a population forced their own government to democratize and adopt (albeit imperfectly enforce) the basic tenets of universal human rights, they'd argue for the same freedoms and similar political values to the ones your typical Western liberal espouses (family and social values may differ, however).

So if you adopt that dominant narrative as the only narrative that counts in (ugh) "Greater China", you're just telling people in this part of Asia how to think based on your White conception of how people here should think, which is informed by what the dominant (and authoritarian) narrative in these parts is telling you. That dominant narrative will further imply that in order to "respect Asian values", you need to agree. Or, as a friend put it, the CCP picks apart the Western dominant narrative  - which, to be fair, deserves to be picked apart - but their goal is to supplant it with their own.

It is helpful to that dominant narrative if you - the well-meaning Westerner who wants to "respect different cultures" - don't notice that there is more than one narrative in Asia, and that there are all sorts of marginalized Asian narratives you could also be listening to.


In short, by adopting the CCP/China narrative when talking about Taiwan, you are doing to Taiwan exactly what you'd argue against in your own culture. You are telling people who are trying to express a marginalized narrative - of Taiwanese identity, Taiwanese shared history and its many cultural facets - that their stories don't matter and should not be included, that only what China thinks counts. And you're doing it while believing yourself enlightened; believing that by swallowing the CCP's Story of China and Taiwan, that you are "respecting Asian values and other cultures", when you are doing the opposite.

The KMT/Republic of China narrative functions similarly. If you buy into the "Taiwan's official name is the Republic of China, so they too claim to be 'China'", you're centering the dominant narrative of what a former military dictatorship forced on Taiwan, and ignoring the marginalized narrative of the vast majority of Taiwanese who simply don't believe that to be the case, but feel powerless to change what the government must continue to claim under threat of war. 


I've thought a lot about why this is. Part of it boils down to Asia just being far away and unfamiliar. When you don't have much direct experience of a place or its cultures - maybe one or two trips, maybe reading the news - when you hear a narrative from that unfamiliar part of the world, it's natural to seize on it as the narrative, something you didn't know before, yippee! It's human nature to think of something you've learned to be the last thing you need to learn, or to be as deep as you need to go.

People also have limited time; a Westerner without ties to this part of Asia simply doesn't have room in their daily life to learn more about how things work here, just as I simply don't have the time to delve into the intricacies of North African politics, let alone the narratives within any single North African country, and what marginalized narratives may lie beneath that.

And, of course, learning is a scaffolded process: when the average Westerner may not even be aware that Taiwan and China have two different, sovereign systems of government, it's quite difficult to then make the leap to specialized historical discussions about what was and was not historically considered "China" and why it matters, for instance.

Much easier for the average person to hear a new perspective and decide that it simply and succinctly covers what they need to know. The human tendency to seize on a dominant narrative and accept it because it simply and understandably helps them file away a difficult topic is both natural and global. If you recognize that bias for what it is, it's not even anything to be ashamed of.

The CCP has figured this out: they know people in other countries have limited time and brain space to devote to the full story here. So they expend massive resources to ensure that their narrative is the one everyone hears.

How to overcome it? After years of thinking about this, I'm still not sure, but I have a few pallid suggestions. Like tarps in a cyclone, they are certainly insufficient, and I make no promises as to their efficacy.

Once made aware of the tendency to abandon criticality when faced with a new narrative, most well-meaning people are able to work that muscle in their brain until it's instinctive: meet new narrative, absorb information, ask oneself: is this all there is to the story? There must be more. There's always more.

It's not always necessary to dive in and learn it all; simply being aware that there's a lot more going on underneath any narrative you hear, and that everything you hear may carry with it bias or intent, is often enough to maintain adequate criticality. When discussing Taiwan with people abroad who may be willing to listen, we need to get that muscle working first, but approach our request that one think critically about the narrative they've heard in a way that will be heeded. Keep it brief, and don't be afraid to break out the metalanguage. "De-centering" and "marginalized narratives" are terms that are used so often that they're practically cliché, but they make sense and accurately describe the situation. They're powerful tools when discussing Taiwan with those who are sympathetic to looking at the world through these lenses.


There are so many thoughtful experts, scholars and activists who are knowledgeable about Taiwan, who will pointedly argue for the inclusion of marginalized narratives here. Any contemporary telling of Taiwanese history to such an audience is likely to be met with a barrage of discussions about whether it adequately includes indigenous history, or women's history, or the history of lower-income or rural people. This is fantastic; the battle for the Story of Taiwan as more than the Story of Hoklo Han Taiwan is one we must fight.

And yet, there's also a larger battle we must attend to concurrently; the battle for the Story of Taiwan to be included in the narrative of East Asia, and we've got to keep our eyes on that fight, too.