Monday, January 30, 2006

Chinese censorship: "The Taiwan That You May Not Know About"

China is at it again, censoring whatever it feels may threaten the communist regime's totalitarian rule. A few days ago it completely banned the showing of Brokeback Mountain, out of fear that the explicit homosexual contents may "controversial" for society. And it also banned the showing of Geisha too, since it touches on deep-seated Chinese resentment towards anything remotely Japanese.

Today, it Beijing appears to be extending its long arms, in shutting down a progressive supplement of the usually pro-government China Youth Daily.

One of the articles which caused Beijing to clamp down on press freedom (again) was an article written sometime ago by a renowned social-political commentator Lung Ying-Tai. The article, published in the supplement 'Freezing Point' after Taiwanese opposition leaders Lien Chan and James Soong visited China, draws important distinction in the way that society, politics and culture are made up of and function in Taiwan and China. It insightfully illustrates that the development and culture of democratic values and freedoms in Taiwan underpin the very reasons why Taiwan and her people have no wish to be united with China (despite Chinese threats and claims).

I include a translation of excepts from the article by EastSouthWestNorth

The Taiwan That You May Not Know About
Every person has his/her own version of a mini-narrative which is different from those of others. But everybody knows that one rule of the game: he must tolerate the narratives of others if he hopes to have his own narrative being tolerated.

When Lien Chan went to visit China, there was a big brawl at Taoyuan airport. Why was there a bloody clash? On one hand, certain popular representatives will seize any opportunity to get exposure -- and the politicians have learned that conflicts are the quickest way to get exposure. On the other hand, the division among the mini-narratives of the people of Taiwan is showing up at this critical moment: the democratic era is still young, with many unhealed wounds and pains; there are still many unresolved issues.

For some people, their personal experience was that the rule of Taiwan by the Japanese was more civilized than that by the Kuomintang. No matter how uncouth the Japanese governor was, it was still the rule of the Japanese legal system, and Japan at the time was a modernized country that had went through the Meiji reformation. The Kuomintang which fled to Taiwan was at a historical nadir -- from the 1898 reform, the 1911 revolution, the warlord era, the May 4 student movement, the war of resistance against Japan, the civil war between the Kuomintang and the Communists -- the Chinese people did not even have time to sit down and tighten up their grass-made shoes.

After being ruled by the Japanese for fifty years, the people of Taiwan had a poor first impression of their "compatriots" from the motherland. The historical separation also meant that they had no historical context for understanding, and there can be no sympathy or tolerance in the absence of understanding.

This was followed by a high-pressured rule that destroyed all hopes for the "motherland". The bloody 2/28 incident of 1947 is explained by some people as a case of the people being forced into rebellion due to official misdeeds everywhere. But some Taiwanese people prefer to infer from their painful experiences and disillusionment that this was oppression of the "Taiwanese people" by the "Chinese people." To equate the Kuomintang problem as a Chinese problem, and then to equate the Chinese people with the Communists leads to an obvious conclusion: the Chinese people are uncivilized, pre-modern and barbaric.

For other people, the Japanese invasion caused the deaths and ruins of millions of Chinese families, and this was a collective national memory that can never be forgotten and forgiven. No matter how backwards China is and no matter how the Kuomintang and Communists fight against each other, nothing compares to the unresolved enemity between China and Japan.

There are some people who loved Chinese tradition and culture. They learn calligraphy, they read poetry, they study the philosophers but they refuse to identify with the governments of China.

There are some people who do not like the Chinese government, so they want to eliminate Chinese culture altogether. They refuse to speak putonghua and they refuse to travel to China.

There are some people who have a strong sense of national identity and they want China to be strong. They don't care how China can get strong, nor about the price to be paid. In their vision of Great China, Taiwan is a mere historical footnote.

There are others who do not regard either the people or the nation as a meaningful concept. All the talk about nation or people are mere myths used by the rulers to fool the people. The only thing that they care about is that the government -- no matter if it is a colonial administration, or a trusteeship, or an occupation and no matter if the rulers are black, white or Japanese -- will be accepted as long as they receive the maximum personal freedom and civil rights; and vice versa.

This is a very long spectrum that covers from "deep green" to "light green" to "light blue" to "deep blue." The "deep green" are those people who insist on the grand Taiwan independence narrative and the "deep blue" are those who embrace the Great China narrative, but both are minorities in today's Taiwan. Most people are in between, especially the middle point which cannot be characterized by color, and they do not trust anyone who insist on "absolutist" values.

These people of Taiwan, like any other group of people in the world, yearn for social peace, economic stability, personal happiness and protection of individual rights under the law. But because they have lived through colonial and totalitarian regimes, they are untrusting and contemptuous of those impressive-sounding grand narratives. Instead, they care about freedom of speech and thought, they are concerned about social justice and care for the socially vulnerable, and they demand that the government should not invade their privacy and individual rights.

For these kinds of people in Taiwan, why is the content of their daily lives?
First, no matter where on the spectrum someone is, the people of Taiwan have never ever felt that they are part of the People's Republic of China. Those people of Taiwan who had been ruled by the Japanese obviously think that they were classified as Japanese citizens. Those who crossed the Taiwan strait in 1949 are thoroughly members of the Republic of China with the ingrained self-identification: the Republic of China represents the true China whereas the nation set up by the Communists is an "illegitimate" historical "accident." It would be until 1991 when Lee Teng-hui announced the end of the emergency mobilization era that Taiwan officially accepted that the mainland China was a "political entity" that controlled the mainland, and this was the time that the People's Republic of China had an "equal" existence. Since they considered themselves to be the true descendants of the original Republic, the people of Taiwan never thought they had to "separate" from the government on mainland China, because they have never belonged to or obeyed that government.
From the viewpoint of a military "superpower", the attitudes of the people on the island of Taiwan may be scorned. But if you want to understand the people of Taiwan, then these ingrained historical feelings and psychological mindset ought to the first basic lesson for any understanding.

People in Taiwan are accustomed to living in a democratic system. This means that the democratic system holds the same place in their daily lives as as daily necessities such as tea, rice, cooking oil and salt.

Here is one such person. His government building is open to the public. There are no guards at the door to check his documents. He comes out of the government building just as he would come out of a shopping mall. If he has to go through a procedure, apply for a document or get a few stamps on some documents, there is no barrier. He gets a queueing number and he waits, and no one will jump in the line ahead of him. When his turn comes, the workers will not give him a hard time or cause him trouble. When he is done, he can wander around the government building, browse in the bookstore and have a cup of coffee. The coffee and the snack are brought over by a mentally handicapped youth, because the government requires that every government office must employ mentally or physically handicapped people in certain ratios. He sits in center court to sip his coffee and if he sees the mayor walk past, he can run over to get an autograph.

If he waits too long at the government office, or if the attitude of the government worker was bad, he can cast his vote for another mayoral candidate in four years' time.

If he wants to go overseas for study or vacation travel, it is an extremely simple matter. He does not need layers of approval from the government or organizational units. If he wants to publish a book, it does not have to be screened beforehand. When he finishes it, it can go directly to the print shop and it will be on the market in a month. If he needs to locate any information, he can get it from the Internet, bookstores, libraries and other information sources. The books and information at the libraries can be borrowed without any special connections. The budget for any government unit is published on the Internet, and he can look them up. In the budget, he can find everything from projects worth tens of billions down to the number of calculators. If he insists, he can ask his representative to trace the flow of every cent of a certain amount in any government unit. If the use of that money was inconsistent with the budget, the government official will be punished.

He is used to seeing that government officials must vacate their official residences or dormitories within three months of leaving their jobs, minus their secretaries, vehicles, benefits and expense accounts. He is used to see government officials being criticized or even losing their jobs for policy mistakes. In the newspapers, he is used to reading critical comments about the government, questions posed to the leaders and exposure of illegal acts. He is used to seeing politicians being ridiculed and despised.

If he is a university instructor, he is used to seeing that university presidents and department heads are elected as opposed to having some special relationship with "senior officials"; in fact, having such special relationships are liabilities in these elections. He is used to attending staff meetings in which all decisions are made after discussion and debate. Sometimes, he is even tired of these democratic practices, because these public activities take up so much time.

He is not afraid of the police because the law protects his rights. He can buy a house, because private property is regulated by law. If he needs a sick bed, he does not have to resort to bribery. He can speak up to criticize and not be afraid of retaliation. If his children take part in an examination and fail, he has no one to blame because he knows that the examination is neither corrupt nor unfair. It is up to him to decide whether to donate money or blood, because nobody assigns him a quota.

He pays his taxes on time, and he does not object to the tax money being used to help the poor or the elderly. He is used to living in a society in which wealth is equitably distributed; there are no beggars in the street and there are very few luxury sedans. He is used to seeing many charitable organizations; when disaster strikes, volunteers emerge to gather materials and go to work at the scene before the government arrives.

Of course, at the same time, I can provide a full basket of examples to show that the "progress" of the people of Taiwan is still incomplete: his politicians manipulate populism, his political leaders deceive the voters, his government officials are ineffective and arrogant, his elected representative is uncouth, wealth inequality is increasing, ... the people of Taiwan is still stumbling about half way along the road to modernization. But the structure of the foundation of this road is very clear: the Taiwan citizen is used to the fact that no matter how bad things are, there will be another election; the eyes of the people are bright and clear, and he holds his voting ballot in his hand.

On both sides of the Taiwan strait, how can this be an opposition between independence and unification? How can this be a clash between socialism and capitalism? How can this be a conflict between nationalism and separatism? As far as most of the people of Taiwan are concerned, this is really a lifestyle choice; it is very concrete and not abstract at all.

Thus, the lifestyle choice is the critical core question for the problem. If you talk to him about "Blood is thicker than water," "The overriding principle of nationhood," "The nation-building project" and other grand narratives, aren't you straying away off topic?

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