Friday, August 18, 2017

On Hong Kong, Asia and Western Hypocrisy

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Three leaders of Hong Kong's Umbrella Revolution - Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow - who have already completed the community service they were originally sentenced to, have been re-sentenced to 6-8 (varied by individual) months in prison for their role in the 2014 Umbrella Revolution. Or, more accurately, they are being thrown in jail for daring to stand up for democracy.

It is, in fact, a slap in the face of democracy, in a city that until 2014 was under the impression that it would, as a special autonomous region (SAR), be granted a democratic system. China failed to keep that promise, and is failing to even uphold the terms of the deeply flawed treaty it did sign with Great Britain at the Hong Kong handover.

Do not think for a second that this is a matter internal to Hong Kong. China has broken every promise it made to the Hong Kong people, which is nothing to be surprised at. It's China, after all. The Chinese government is behind the renewed pressure on the Hong Kong government to suppress democracy within its territory, despite the city being ostensibly "free". The blame here goes straight to the Communist Party, not a local court.
These three activists took a great risk and, if you believe in democracy and basic human rights, are being unjustly punished for it. Yet, even if they had known the outcome, I bet they would have stood up for what was right anyway.

What I'm saying is, yes, this is a slap in the face of democracy. But also, maybe the West needs to get over its stupid stereotypes of Asian people being too nerdy, submissive, obedient or overly respectful of authority. It's bullshit - some of the bravest people I know are nerdy Asian kids. And maybe we Westerners, already comfortable in our democracies, need to stand with them. 

They are quite literally risking their lives, fortunes and honor to stand up for what is right, and they are not backing down - everything Westerners who don't have to risk anything say they should be willing to do. 

Or are we afraid - too submissive, overly respectful of Chinese totalitarianism, obedient to the demands of the CCP - to do the right thing?

Chances are that China will face no real consequences for its actions. It will be allowed to force Hong Kong into submission. Trade will continue to puff along, the international media will continue to write China-friendly puff pieces and carefully monitor its coverage out of fear of being kicked out of China, so that none of us get an accurate reporting of the region. People, some of whom are my friends, will continue to defend China based on a rosy view of how things work there - mostly fueled by the inaccurate reporting and puff pieces they read. They'll defend human rights violations on a massive scale because "we can't force Western ideas onto non-Western countries, that's cultural imperialism" (no - basic human rights are not Western ideas, they are human ideas. If they were purely Western you wouldn't see a country like Taiwan championing them). Maybe they'll do a bit of time travel to the 1990s and defend "Asian-style democracy" (there is nothing inherently Asian about it, and it isn't democracy). 
They will take vacations to China and call it "such a wonderful place" (and it can be - just not politically). 

They might even come out with that old bit o' nonsense that "in Asia there's such a reverence for authority", as an easy way to discount the atrocities that China commits. They might even talk about how "popular" Xi Jinping is or how "happy" the Chinese are with their government (as though it is possible to do any meaningful political research in China on these topics).


They won't spare a thought to the activists now languishing in a jail cell for standing up for what is right, people who don't have a "reverence for authority", people who don't obey - because standing up for what is right is not "Western", it's human.
They'll ignore it, because it puts them in the uncomfortable position of being Westerners criticizing an Asian system, and they don't want to be that kind of person (and I get it - I don't, either).

They will do all of this, and in the next breath defend democracy and human rights and talk about how much they care about these things. They'll talk about how free speech is so important, and we must preserve it at all costs. They'll talk about how American democracy is in danger.

They will think these rights are very important...for them. If they even consider that, by making excuses for China, they are condoning the denial of these same rights to others, they'll explain it away.

The hypocrisy won't even register.

In any case, China will get away with it. The puff pieces will continue, the careful monitoring of China coverage so as not to offend the CCP's delicate sensibilities will continue, people - even well-meaning, educated liberals - will read that garbage and call it news. They won't look any deeper, if they even know who Joshua, Nathan and Alex are.

We'll all buy the newest iPhone and China will make a few bucks on each one while Joshua, Nathan and Alex sit in jail standing up for all those things we claim to care about. We won't think of them (well, I will). Some people will take their vacations to China this year, and come back thinking that there can't possibly be anything deeply wrong or dysfunctional with the way it's run, because they saw some pretty mountains and a few temples.

A few politicians will make statements, but these won't result in any actual consequences.

Some of us will continue to characterize Asians as "nerdy", "submissive" or "respectful of authority". It won't begin to register how wrong we are.

The Chinese government is the problem, but perhaps we are the problem too.

The next time you are tempted to explain it and your own discomfort away with "but it's Asia and in Asian cultures people are more respectful of authority", have a think about that stereotype while these three activists sit in jail, okay?

Human rights are just that, human. Not Western - human. How can you say "it's their culture" not to have human rights, when three people from that culture are paying the price for standing up for these very rights? Clearly it's not endemic to the place or people. Liu Xiaobo died for them, and many others before him that you never heard of because the media is afraid of China. 


There's not much I can do except write. I can't even vote for people who will do better, because there aren't any. The few who want to stand up to China have such odious platforms in other areas that I cannot in good conscience vote for them either. Maybe I'm part of the problem too, for failing to be creative enough to think of more I could do.

But I can refuse to listen to the China apologists and say it straight up - fuck you, China, for what you did to those activists.

Fuck. You. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Mythbusting Dual Nationality

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When I first moved to Taiwan, dual nationality for long-term foreigners was not even on the radar. At the time, I wasn't too concerned: I didn't think I'd come to care this much about the country, did not imagine I'd stay for more than a few years, and if I did, figured that permanent residency would be sufficient.

Now, it's a concerted movement, and we've even had some victories (sort of).

With this sort of movement, there will always be detractors. The best we can do is defeat their arguments and see that they remain a minority without derailing us. I don't really understand them: it feels like opposing for the sake of opposing, often not really understanding what it is exactly that they are against (this also seems true for a lot of arguments made by conservatives). Immigrants against immigrants for no good reason at all.

In any case, there are a few things that I've heard from members of this camp, and I'd like to gather them all here so that I don't have to keep repeating myself when I see these things come up again and again.


We can't just let anyone fresh off the plane get citizenship!

Nobody is suggesting this - it's a massive straw man. Pretty much every advocate of dual nationality agrees that there must be restrictions on it. A general consensus seems to be 5 years for the APRC is fair (though the "no break in your visa" rule is a bit archaic when plenty of vindictive bosses will ensure you do have a break - how about no period of illegal stay in Taiwan or an easier process for changing jobs that doesn't allow a boss to screw over a foreigner this way?), and another 5 years for citizenship. I would even accept a detailed application process. Quite literally nobody thinks that you should be allowed to just walk off a plane and be granted this.

Even with children who were born here to non-citizen parents, as birthright citizenship is not likely to happen, the obvious solution is to give them permanent residency when one parent gains it, and then the same waiting period for citizenship we all have to go through.


If we hand out citizenship like candy, Taiwan will be swamped! 

Not really. Permanent residency (the APRC) is available to all professional workers in Taiwan now, but very few of them apply - there maybe a few thousand in the entire country who have it. This is because most do intend to only be in Taiwan temporarily, and either leave of their own volition or are transferred out by their companies long before the 5 years' residency necessary to obtain an APRC. Or, they stay but are on a JFRV (essentially a marriage visa), which confers similar-but-different rights.

It is likely that, with so few APRC holders, even fewer would seek citizenship.

Secondly, most people who would seek citizenship are already here. I don't anticipate a huge influx of people. Things would stay more or less the same, except one group of people who has made Taiwan their home will have more equal rights and have that relationship to Taiwan made official. That's all.

Thirdly, Taiwan is an aging country which isn't replacing its own population. I don't think the country can grow safely grow much denser, but in terms of simply maintaining a youthful and productive population, immigration is a pretty clear answer. Immigration would actually benefit Taiwan in this way more than people realize.


Sure, maybe not many Westerners will apply, but we'll be swamped...by Southeast Asians!

So? Do you think that's a problem simply based on where they come from - like there is a problem with them simply because of their origin? If so, that's racist (no really, that's like a classic definition of racism).

Secondly, I doubt it. Most SE Asians who stay do so because they married locally, and as such have a visa regardless. Something like one in every five children born in Taiwan today has a foreign parent. The connection is real and already exists. Those who want to stay but don't marry are also a fairly small percentage of those who come here to work - most, rather like Westerners, intend to eventually return to the country of their birth after earning money in Taiwan for a few years. I just don't think this will be the problem people imagine.

Thirdly, Southeast Asian laborers working in Taiwan have few rights and little recourse when they encounter problems (which range from being abused by their captors employers, not being paid for work they do (that is, slavery), rape, extortion and more. I can't imagine a scenario where it's a bad idea to give them more rights and better treatment.

Finally, and yes I do think this is unfair, remember that foreign laborers in Taiwan, as opposed to "foreign professionals", do not have the same path to an APRC. Westerners - most professionals are Western, most laborers SE Asian - already have an advantage. That's not right, and I would like to see a change, but the argument above is false simply because this is the way things currently are.


An APRC is sufficient if you want to stay in Taiwan.

No, it isn't. Not when you get old.

A lot of people think we just want the right to vote. In fact, while that matters to me, it's toward the bottom of the list of reasons why I want dual nationality. At the top of the list are all the things I will need to arrange if I am going to live out my days here.

We cannot get a mortgage here - it's not illegal, it's that banks won't lend to non-citizens - but with the amount of money we are able to save at Taiwanese pay rates, we won't be able to pay rent well into our old age. At some point, probably within the next ten years, we will need to buy a place to live. Even if we could rent forever, Taiwanese landlords don't like to rent to the elderly. It's just not a good plan for the future, even though neither of us is very big on home ownership for its own sake (it doesn't seem to be a particularly good investment if that's all you're buying it for, but it does make sense if you are trying to arrange things so that you have a paid-off place to live someday).

I'm not even sure how we would be able to keep our National Health Insurance after retirement, though I am told it is possible.

At some point I am intending to go after a more academic job. These jobs tend to come with pensions, but APRC holders are not eligible for them (I believe they get a lump sum payment which is less than the pension typically pays out).

And finally, although I hope never to need it, if it ever came down to one of us being incapacitated and needing a home health aid, there are subsidies available through the government for citizens that are not available to non-citizens.

All of these things are important if we are going to live here in our old age, and none are possible on an APRC alone. Without citizenship, I've run the numbers and it is not possible for us to stay in Taiwan forever. We are not spendthrifts, and we are not lazy. This is just how the numbers roll out for two normal, non-wealthy people.

It is, truly, a dealbreaker.


You're just selfish, thinking about what you are entitled to. Me, I'm so wonderful, I just want to contribute to this country without demanding entitlements in return like a selfish person, with your selfish demand for "rights". 

It's not selfish to want equal rights and to build a normal life in the place you call home. That quite literally doesn't make any sense. It's natural and normal to want rights, and to be able to live as an equal where you are, if you have been there long enough to put down roots.

In fact, I don't even understand the relationship drawn here. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Wanting equal and reciprocal rights when we've already made Taiwan our home (we didn't just land here and demand them - nobody did, at least nobody sane) is not incompatible with wanting to contribute to Taiwan. It's not like once you want rights, you suddenly don't care about the country anymore, and saying you don't "need" these rights doesn't suddenly make you a selfless martyr for the country.

Besides, I am sure these self-professed angels will be first in line for a new passport if we successfully gain these rights for all. I doubt, then, that they will look back and realize they let us do all the work while they sat around casting aspersions, and they are now benefiting from our activism.


But it's hard for Taiwanese to immigrate to your country. Why do you think you are more deserving?

I won't deny that it is difficult for a Taiwanese person to immigrate to the US and obtain citizenship, especially in today's political climate. However, a path does exist for them which does not exist for me because of Taiwan's laws, not the laws of my birthplace. Besides, it's simple reciprocity: Taiwanese are allowed to have dual nationality, so there is no reason to withhold it from naturalized citizens. Few, if any, other countries have such a stunning lack of reciprocity, mostly stemming from ethnocentric and racially prejudiced ROC laws written in the 1920s.

And yes, I think I'm just as deserving as any current Taiwanese citizen who lives here, works here, participates in society and contributes to Taiwan in whatever way I can. We shouldn't have to give up everything so the church can pay our bills while we work in a rural village to both do good things and also win converts to that same church in order to qualify.


If you really want to be Taiwanese, then renounce your original nationality. Simple! 

No, it's not simple.

Let's set aside the fact that naturalized citizens face a threat that Taiwanese don't, which is that if at any point Taiwan is annexed by China, we will be immediately stateless. I'm setting that aside because, while Taiwanese won't be "stateless", they would become Chinese citizens and that is only marginally better (and quite unacceptable to most Taiwanese), and also because I think it's unlikely.

Instead, let's look pragmatically at what many of us face: in my case, I have a single dad near retirement age to worry about. Taiwanese quite eloquently point out that they don't give up their Taiwanese nationality because they have aging family members in Taiwan they might have to return to look after. Well, it's exactly the same for me. I might have to return to the US someday, temporarily, to be there for my dad. I can't do so as a tourist, if they let me in at all (the US is not that welcoming to renounced citizens) - the length of time I might need to be there is indeterminate, and I'm not rich; I'd need to work. We can't afford to pay someone else to take care of him, either, should it come to that.

I have no real loyalty to the USA, but giving up my American citizenship means quite literally abandoning my father. Generally speaking, Taiwanese are too "filial" to do something like that. Frankly, so am I.

That's not even getting into the injustice of a double standard for born vs. naturalized citizens - someone born here doesn't have to make that choice, so neither should I.


You're a foreigner - why SHOULD you have the right to vote? I wouldn't want a bunch of foreigners trying to change Taiwan once they get political power. 

I highly doubt that a few thousand - and I doubt there would be many more than that - foreign citizens would have any real impact. I'm not even sure we'd vote in a bloc. But even if we did have more power through political representation, so what? So people who call Taiwan home have a say in how that home is governed? Oh no, call the Atrocity Police, what these foreigners are doing by being responsible civic participants in the place where they live is so heinous and unthinkable! Oooh noooo!

And anyway, what exactly makes us foreigners? Two things - the first is that we usually look different and have a different culture (which doesn't mean we can't assimilate and live within Taiwanese culture). The second is that we are not citizens.

So, if we become citizens, by law we won't be foreigners. Most of us can and do live within Taiwanese cultural norms, although mishaps do happen. The only difference, then, will be that we look different. None of us is trying to play at yellow face or pretend we are Asian when we're not, so I don't really see why that matters. We want to participate in a society whose values we share and whose future we care about, that's all.

Are you really saying we don't deserve citizenship based on our race? Do you really think Taiwan is so homogenous when so many Taiwanese children have a foreign parent, and so many waves of colonists have come to its shores? Do you really think ethnic homogeneity is even a reasonable argument?


But what about China? They'll send tons of people over, and many of them might work to destabilize Taiwan. 

I would like to wave this away, but I have to agree it's a very real threat. Although I am loathe to say that there should be restrictions on who has a path to dual nationality based on national origin, in China's case the threat is very real. It's a core threat, in fact, to the very existence of Taiwan. It is justified, then, to not extend this right to Chinese citizens at this time for very real security concerns.


This is just what YOU want, with your WESTERN attitudes about immigration, but Taiwan isn't ready for this and you can't force them, you cultural imperialist!

Taiwan has been a place of immigration for centuries and still is. The majority of Taiwanese have ancestry that did not originate in Taiwan. This is nothing different, and even Taiwanese are realizing that an argument for Taiwanese nationality based on race is not a strong one.

I have never met a Taiwanese person who thinks I don't ever deserve Taiwanese nationality no matter how long I stay. I've met some who assume I don't want it, or I don't consider this home, or I will leave someday, but none who think I shouldn't want it, shouldn't consider this home, or must leave someday.

In fact, the main issue I encounter among locals is that they don't realize we face this restriction. The majority of people I talk to believe that, after a certain number of years, we can become citizens and the only reason we don't is that we don't want to. They are often shocked to find out that that's not the case. Often, they ask why our country won't allow it, and are again shocked to learn that the problem is their own government. All - every single person I've ever talked to about this, and I talk about it a lot if you hadn't noticed - every single one and I'm not exaggerating - has then come out in support of changing the laws and expressed a desire to welcome 'New Taiwanese' to their country. Every single one has said that they believe the criteria to be Taiwanese should be based on living in Taiwan, caring about Taiwan and identifying with Taiwan. Nobody has ever, ever made it about race or Western ideas or any of that.

This is perhaps because this facet of liberalism isn't inherently "Western". It's human. Nobody from "The West" came over and told Taiwanese to think this way. They just do, because they are human beings who have built the most liberal society in Asia.

It's only other foreigners who do so. I am sure there are Taiwanese who also feel this way, but it says a lot for how common that belief is that I have never met one.

Think about that, next time you try to speak for an entire country and get it wrong.


Whatever. You want dual nationality but you wouldn't fight for Taiwan!

You've got that relationship backward.

Right now, while I want to say I'd stand up for Taiwan if it were ever threatened, I have to ask: why would I stand up for a country that won't stand up for me? Why would I risk my life for a country whose government explicitly wants me to remain an outsider?

I'm not even sure they'd let me fight if I tried.

My notion of what responsibilities I have to Taiwan would change drastically if I felt the government accepted me here as a true immigrant, as a new kind of Taiwanese. That's a country I would stand up for.

Of course, there are a lot of other issues to consider here: I'm not a fighter in the traditional sense, I'd probably create more problems than I'd help solve in an actual war-time situation, being someone who looks foreign and isn't really trained, experienced in or even good at hand-to-hand combat (not that I've ever tried - I've never gotten into a physical altercation in my adult life). So if I did stay and fight, how much would that be a White Savior thing that just creates more problems, and how much would I really be of use? The army certainly wouldn't recruit me considering my poor eyesight, age and general academic doughiness.

All that aside, there are things one can do in the event of war that don't involve front-line fighting. Given citizenship, I would do everything in my power to help in any way that I could effectively do so. I suspect many foreign residents here feel the same way.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

OK, Stephen Yates didn't really say a stupid thing

...but I still don't totally agree with him.

When I wrote my original reaction to this piece in the Taipei Times, I was - and I said this outright - taking the writer, Tom Lee, at his word that these were direct quotes of Yates's, and assuming he would not "make it up out of whole cloth".

It seems I was wrong: he didn't totally make it up, but the mistranslation is pretty damn bad and in many cases, Yates said nearly the opposite of what was quoted:

Watch for yourselves:

Stephen Yates and Tom Lee discuss Taiwan independence (mostly in Chinese - listen from about 13-19 minutes).

He did not say "Taiwanese do not deserve independence" - he said that Taiwanese, at least the leaders, need to be willing to trade "their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor". He didn't say all Taiwanese ought to be willing to trade their lives, he said there needs to be a "consensus" (and specifically mentioned leaders).

Mea culpa: I did actually attempt to fact-check the original article. I'm not so lackadaisical. However, my searching did not turn up this video. Perhaps it's because I didn't know Tom Lee's Chinese name (I know a lot of Taiwan advocates, but not too many in the older generation, to be honest.) I certainly didn't know Stephen Yates's Chinese name, and why would I? So, it seemed clear to me at the time that there was no video, that Tom and Stephen talked but it wasn't recorded. This turned out to be wrong.

But, the fault is mine here in that I know a fair number of people who would know these things, and I could have and should have asked around rather than relying on a few searches. As a matter of fact, I was sent the video recently to watch for myself.

I also will admit to having a strong anti-conservative bias, and nonsense like "you should be willing to die for your freedom and your country!" sounds to me like typical conservative talk. In this case, it was not fair, however, and I'll cop to that. However, I stand by my concerns that Taiwan having mostly conservative/GOP allies in the US is going to be a problem eventually, as most (not all, but most) Taiwan advocates in Taiwan tend toward the liberal/progressive/leftist end of the spectrum, and frankly, that is the future that I think Taiwan is headed towards, as it is not the "conservative" society you may have been led to believe. I am not, and will not be, comfortable with this group being our main bastion of US support and it is a key reason why I am not more involved. I just can't work with people whose party is also working to take away my rights to things like reproductive health care in the US. I do feel this way, and I make no apologies.

Side note: I was also pleased to see that my Chinese seems - just from this video - to be at about a similar level to Stephen Yates's, which is nice considering that I am almost entirely self-taught (I placed into intermediate classes at Shi-da years ago and quit in annoyance at the poor materials and teaching methods I encountered).

So, while my original comments stand vis-a-vis the idea that "Taiwan does not deserve independence/the Taiwanese should be willing to trade their lives for it", that is simply not what he said.

I actually agree with him vis-a-vis the need for a consensus on independence. I actually do think a majority support it (and this is borne out by a plenty of research), and if I were to only ask friends and even acquaintances I'd get a very pro-independence response, because those are the people I hang out with. But I am quite aware that there is a deep division among politicians. The KMT still has some supporters, somewhere, I guess, and the KMT leadership is not even remotely ready to join a consensus on the future of Taiwan. I have met people who, while not pro-unification per se, think it's inevitable and have accepted this fact, and don't seem terribly perturbed by it. I'm not sure if they fully understand what it would mean for them, but there you are. The current upswing of Taiwanese identity and pro-Taiwan sentiment needs to continue, and to win over the great, big, uncaring middle demographic as the old deep blue guard dies off. Then, maybe, we can get somewhere.

There are a few areas where I still don't fully agree with Yates, however. First, it's easy to talk about what one's forefathers did - but unless you yourself are willing to also trade your "life, fortune and sacred honor" for your freedom, you have no place telling others that this is a necessary attitude. Is he? I don't know, but considering some of the people he's worked for, I'm not so sure.

Secondly, I reserve a lot of skepticism for the idea that Taiwan's situation is similar to America's leading up to 1776. Taiwan is already independent. America's leaders at that time were fighting for a real change in how their nation, as they saw it, was governed. Taiwan is fighting simply to be recognized for what it already is. Is it fair to say people should be willing to sacrifice their "lives, fortunes and sacred honor" for what is effectively no change in their day-to-day lives beyond the international community recognizing what is already true? Seems a bit much, no?

The problem here is not with the Taiwanese - a need for consensus not withstanding - it's with the international community. In any case, I believe that all people deserve freedom, even those who are not willing to give up these things for it.

I also remain skeptical that this sort of change would really do much for Taiwan without precipitating a war. As I mentioned - and I stand by this - the international media jumps on Taiwan for every little thing, even when Taiwan has done nothing wrong (or, in fact, has made the right call). When China gets aggressive, "tensions" are spoken of in the passive voice, with no agent, as though they appeared out of thin air.

If Taiwan reaches this consensus on its future, and advertises as much, China will rattle its saber and the media will be quick to, once again, blame Taiwan (or blame some ghostly, apparently naturally-occurring 'tensions' - anyone but China). Governments will follow suit. It will help in that it will present a united front from Taiwan that the world can't ignore, making it harder to plausibly say "but it's a complicated issue, not all Taiwanese agree", but I'm not sure it will change much.

A friend of mine included - though I did not hear Yates say this - that the US, when it declared independence, did so because there was an internal consensus to do so among American leaders, and they did not ask the international community for help. As far as I'm aware that's not the case - they sent Benjamin Franklin to France to drum up support, and the war likely would not have been won without it. It is no different for Taiwan. They can't win this alone.

As for the independence advocates we already have among Taiwan's leaders, I can assure you that the older generation was willing to give up their reputations (many went to jail), their fortunes (many left their lives behind to flee to the US) and their lives (many died) for Taiwan, and the younger generation is just as passionate. There is no need to convince them.

But, while I'm not totally on board with everything he said here, it's certainly a lot more reasonable and nuanced than what Tom Lee wrote, and deserves to be heard on its own merits.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

While comparatively better, Taiwan is not a paradise for women

A casual reader of this blog might come to the conclusion, after a few posts where I defend or even praise Taiwan for being as I've called it "the best country in Asia for women", that I think of Taiwan as some sort of elysian idyll for women where gender equality is the norm and women's rights are universally respected and defended as equal to men's.

However, I'd like to add this as a reminder - perhaps a periodic one, with more to come - that when I say Taiwan is a "good" place for women, I mean that it is comparatively good. For instance, many people talk about foreigners who choose Taiwan over China and Hong Kong due to dissatisfaction with life in a "closed off and racist" (and politically unfree, and polluted) society. I would add something here: I chose to leave China and eventually make my way to Taiwan because I found China unrepentantly and unbearably sexist, and Taiwan less so.

Being better than the rest of Asia is a low bar to clear, however: most if not all of the world still struggles with the basic concept of women's equality, and while Asia is not the total smoking dumpster fire a lot of Westerners think it is vis-a-vis women (remember pretty much every country here has a home-grown feminist movement), it is hardly a shining paragon of gender equity.

To take just one tiny example, despite women having more equality in the workforce than other Asian countries, very few of them are among the nation's top earners. Yet I doubt too many people care about this outside of a core group of activists: rather like in the West. And rather like in the West, many people who think they have good intentions and egalitarian principles will wave these figures away saying it's a "choice" women tend to make to pursue something other than high-earning, high-stress careers (that stupid ex-googler is a good example of this - not even going to link it). Then the issue is left to rot, with no consideration beyond those core activists that no, it is not really a choice if you are pushed into it by societal factors, or if the profession you choose to enter is lower-paid not because it is low-stress or less necessary, but simply because it is dominated by women. Remember that coding and programming were low-paid fields when they were dominated by women, and that teaching was a well-paid, high-status career when it was dominated by men.

This country is not perfect, and still has a long way to go before it can even approach a country like, say, Sweden, despite slow steps toward progress such as hosting a Council for Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD) summit for the first time - something that would not likely have happened in the previous administration which was not so much anti-woman as they simply ignored women's issues, nor, perhaps, the one before that despite former vice president Lu being an active feminist (and person with otherwise crazy views - old link but relevant).

In politics, it's not so much that people disagree on deficiencies in women's rights, it's that they just don't care. Take, for example, the way that the National Congress on Judicial Reform ignored important changes, all urgently needed, to issues affecting women and children. A rape shield law? Ignored. Ending the criminalization of adultery? Ignored.

I doubt that every member of the judicial reform congress thinks rape shield laws are a bad thing, or is still under the impression that criminalizing adultery is meant to help rather than harm women. Some of them probably are deeply sexist enough to believe these things, but most likely they ignored the report in question because they just don't give a damn and don't think any of it is particularly important. Casual sexism rather than virulent sexism.

That's how Taiwan often operates - while the US seems to lean headlong into worsening its problems, Taiwan simply ignores them. While I wouldn't want to live in a place that was trying to actively persecute its women - as many places in the US are doing in their attempt to roll back reproductive rights and equality initiatives - nor can I conscientiously accept the attempts of many American politicians to redefine rape (and those who, on the very far right, even advocate legalizing it), this isn't great either.

A quick primer on why criminal adultery laws hurt women can be found in this excellent article which I strongly recommend you read.

The funny thing is that these laws were originally conceived to protect women. Well, some women. Married women. Presumably with children, as people around the world seem to have difficulty imagining a married child-free couple for some reason. Those women, apparently, are worth protecting. I'm guessing the people who put those laws in place thought of them as real women, unlike those evil adulteresses, who are, I dunno, un-women?

The divorce laws also need to change - the idea that one might not be granted a divorce is simply unacceptable. The idea that a no-fault divorce petitioned by only one spouse might not go through - so that a judge gets to decide if you ought to remain married or not despite how much you might not want to be - is unacceptable. A marriage contract is not the same thing as a contract with a landscaper, a contractor or a boss. You aren't expected to spend your free time with your boss, raise children with a graphic designer you hired or be intimate with your landscaper. It's just not the same. I'm in a happy marriage, with zero intention of divorcing, yet I would not marry under laws that wouldn't give me the right to do so (I also have no intention of having an abortion, but I would not live in a country where my right to do so was impinged upon. I do worry that that may soon be the case in the country of my birth).

As for why rape shield laws are important, that ought to be obvious and I'm sad that I even have to say why they are important, but I probably do. Essentially, when a rape charge actually goes to court (which is rare enough - most cases never do), without a rape shield law, the defense is able to turn the court proceedings away from the alleged crime being tried and instead make the trial all about the sexual history of the plaintiff. All of those garbage defenses like "well she has sex with lots of guys" and "how can you believe her, she's a slut and anyway look at what she was wearing" are suddenly inadmissible, because they aren't dealing with the rape in question and are essentially irrelevant. There are some strong and nuanced counterarguments (this is an interesting read) but ultimately, we do need laws that put rape cases on equal footing with trials for, say, armed robbery: if you wouldn't bring up the history of an alleged victim of robbery as someone who always showed off their flashy possessions and even gave them away in the past, then you shouldn't be doing that to an alleged rape victim either.

My point is, if I sound overly optimistic or cheery about women's issues in Taiwan, it's because I'm comparing Taiwan to the rest of Asia. On that rubric, Taiwan does well. But in terms of overall women's equality, we still have a very long way to go.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Anatomy of a Sunflower Hit Job

I wasn't going to blog about this, because it should be well-known that the South China Morning Post (SCMP) has gone from being a relatively free publication to one that seems to be little more than a Chinese government mouthpiece, and therefore little in it is worth paying attention to anymore.

However, at the encouragement of friends, and also because ignoring fake news as unworthy of our time to refute is one reason why one of the biggest douchelords of his generation ended up as President (barf) of the Unites States of America. Some things shouldn't be given any oxygen to grow, but others need to be held up to the light so everybody can see exactly how the people who create purposefully preposterous content are aiming to run democratic institutions into the ground to give their own agenda more seeming legitimacy.

Also, I did a few Google searches and this article is quite high up in the results, meaning it's time to tear it down and take it apart.

So, let's take this stinking heap of garbage for a spin, shall we?

FYI, as I already wrote out a lot of this where many of you may have already seen it, I'm going to cut and paste quite a bit.

I can think of at least five things wrong with this piece of garbage article.

First of all, the article states that "four" "former student leaders" took jobs in China. Since we don't know who these people are, they could be any one of the 300-or-so people who occupied the legislature:

Chang claims at least four former student leaders are working on the mainland. One works for a computer game developer in Shenzhen, earning the equivalent of HK$12,390 a month. 

I have a few (unverified - this is harder to source than I thought and even the BBC says the numbers are not available for how many young Taiwanese are going to China for work) numbers for you.

Someone I know pointed out that a little under 300 people occupied the legislature in 2014. Here we have stats saying 60% of young Taiwanese intend to leave Taiwan for work (how many would go to China is unclear), 73% of young Taiwanese saying they would be willing to consider jobs in China (how many would take them is again unclear), and nearly 60% of Taiwanese working abroad are in China, so we have enough data to know that it's common. Many go, more than half are planning to go abroad, more than half of them are likely to end up in China, and a large majority would be willing to at least consider it.

Therefore, if only 4 out of 300 occupiers (that's not even counting the supporters who camped out outside) took jobs in China, that would be well below the national average, not above it. So the real question is, why isn't that the story? Why is "four" painted as this big deal, when it's actually a very tiny number when compared to the general population? Why are so few former Sunflowers going to China to work?

That, right there, is fake news for you. Taking a number that actually shows how rarely former Sunflowers go to work in China, and therefore how possible it is to build a life and be pro-Taiwan without moving across the strait, and making it seem instead as though our former student heroes betrayed their cause. The whole thing is marketed so that the truth looks very different from what it actually is.

Secondly. as some of my friends have noted - and I obviously agree - the piece attempts to paint the Sunflowers as an "anti-China" movement:

So what’s the big deal? Plenty of Taiwanese live and work on the mainland [sic]. The Sunflower protesters, who once occupied Taiwan’s Legislative and Executive Yuan, were opposed to closer economic ties with the mainland [sic]. More specifically, they successfully fought in 2014 against the ratification of a key trade pact negotiated between the then ruling Kuomintang and Beijing.


However, that's not what the Sunflowers were about at all. The point of the protest was not the CSSTA (服貿) bill itself, but the way the bill was undemocratically rammed through the legislature with essentially no oversight, with most people not even knowing what the contents of the bill were (because they were purposely kept in the dark), a culmination of a number of undemocratic moves then-President Ma made in the lead-up to his biggest mistake.

Certainly, however, Alex Lo wants you to believe that this was an "anti-China" protest, because it's fundamental to the Chinese government's agenda that readers believe this, especially readers in China whose rage at students in Taiwan "hating" them would serve the CCP well in their quest to ramp up angry, jingoistic nationalism as a buttress for their power. It is also useful to remind Taiwanese citizens who did not agree with the Sunflowers of all the lies their own domestic pro-KMT news was telling them: they were on about "anti-China" this and "they just hate the KMT" that at the time, and some people believed it (hey, copraphiliacs exist in every culture, guys). It helps China to rekindle all of that anger years later. Keep those fires stoked and all.

I think we can safely say most were not in favor of greater integration with China, economically or otherwise, however, and many likely remain so. Once again, though, that wasn't the point of the protest. People who might well have supported the bill had it been deliberated and passed democratically did participate. Plenty of people who might have voted for the KMT did, too. As did plenty of social conservatives.

This is similar to most of the Hong Kong student leaders probably being in favor of HK sovereignty, but it's possible to be a pro-Hong Kong activist without necessarily advocating Hong Kong independence.

So it is quite possible to have been a Sunflower and yet later take a job in China without being a hypocrite. I wouldn't think it terribly common, and I can imagine why supporters of the movement might feel disappointed, but a deeper understanding of the movement would hopefully lead to a rational denouement in that thought arc.

Again, however, it is Alex Lo's and the Chinese government's agenda for you to believe that it would be hypocritical on its face for a former Sunflower to work in China. If you are going to be angry in all the ways that best serve the CCP agenda, a dose of rage at supposed hypocrisy is an even greater spark to light that fire than simply bringing back the old (false) "anti-China/anti-KMT" trope.

What's more, if a Sunflower supporter were to read this and buy its premise - possible, as not every supporter necessarily fully understood what the movement was about - a sense of being betrayed or a loss of faith in leaders formerly admired can also only help China. Their goal is not only to cause Taiwanese to lose faith in their democratic institutions (making them more susceptible, in their plan, to accepting undemocratic Chinese rule) but also in their "heroes" and role models. It serves China if pro-Taiwan voters and activists feel their strongest voices in the new generation have "betrayed" them and are now not worth listening to.

Thirdly,  there's this:

If Chang Yu-hua is right, several leaders of the so-called Sunflower student movement in Taiwan have now graduated from university and found work on the mainland [sic].

(Also, why "so-called"? That was what it was called. That or the 318 movement). 


One of the island’s [sic - it's an island, yes, but more importantly, it's a country] most influential pundits (really?), Chang said on a TV programme that the former student leaders should apologise for their past actions.

That's one excerpt, but throughout the article it uses the term "leaders" but never names a single person.

Alex Lo, by saying "leaders" without saying who those so-called "leaders" were, makes it sound like Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆) and Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷), among others, are working as, I dunno, game developers in Shenzhen or something. It sounds as though the core Sunflowers, those with the greatest visibility, those who went to court over what happened, have turned tail. It never says that outright but casual readers will immediately connect the words "Sunflower leaders" with the most visible people in the movement. There will be people who will come to believe something the article never says, and when discussing it with their friends, say just that. It's not a big leap to go from "Sunflower leaders working in China" to "hey did you read that article about how Lin Fei-fan and Chen Wei-ting are working in China?"

Of course, even cursory research will show that this is not the case. All you have to do is check the public Facebook page of either of these two most visible leaders, to know that neither is working, nor has any intention of working, in China. You don't even need me to tell you what they're up to - check for yourself! It's all right there online! Neither has been particularly secretive about the general outlines of their current activities or near-future plans.

Furthermore, it wouldn't be possible for them to do so, as both are banned from the country (in fact, pretty much every visible "leader" is most likely banned so using that term is incorrect on its face).

Knowing, however, that most people won't look into the facts and it makes a much more powerful fake news story to implant in people's minds that not just any Sunflowers but Sunflower leaders have been brought down to working in China - that gives people something to talk about. The purpose here is not just to make the Sunflowers look bad unjustly, but to make it look like the so-called "change" is happening even among the most ardent participants.

Note that Alex Lo doesn't name the so-called "leaders". Since it's not clear who these people are, it is not at all clear that they were "leaders" at all. The movement had hundreds of active participants, thousands if you count the supporters who camped out outside. Not every one of them is a "leader" but any one of them could have taken a job in China, which again would not be hypocritical. So what?

This is a key facet of fake news - implying heavily, drawing susceptible readers to a certain conclusion, but never actually stating it outright so it can't be fact-checked. We can't check to what extent any of the people Chang was referencing, if they exist at all, "led" the movement because we don't know who they are. Our minds are led to fill in the gaps in all the wrong ways.

My fourth point is related to this:  it's not clear who this Alex Lo person is talking about, stopping at "four" people with scant detail on just one, it is entirely possible the "scoop" is fabricated (even if some former Sunflowers did take jobs in China, that doesn't mean that Chang Yu-hua - the originator of this "news" - knows about it necessarily). In fact, I'd say it's highly likely that it was just made up, with the people involved assuming that someone must have gone to work in China so it probably wasn't "false", even if it was a lie to call it a "scoop" (and it probably was).

That's yet another facet of fake news: making up a news story to further your agenda with plenty of assumed or fabricated facts, figuring that somewhere, somehow, there must be an example of what you are talking about if you are called on it. It's the "but rape culture isn't real because some women lie about being raped" of Taiwan news (yes, it does occasionally happen, on very rare occasions, that a woman has lied about being raped. But the person saying that most likely doesn't know of any cases off the top of their heads, and is just assuming that, if confronted on that factoid, they can find an example quickly enough).

It wouldn't be the first time anti-Taiwan news had made something up out of whole cloth, not said outright that it was true, but implied it in such a way as to cause people to believe it. My favorite example is the person I know who deeply believed that President Tsai had called up a pro-KMT talk show (something-something 酸辣湯, I don't remember the full name because they're a bunch of fucking clowns and I can't be bothered) and told them that once she took office they were no longer allowed to criticize her, and if they did she'd take them off the air. They were even crying and hugging each other saying "this is our last episode!"

This is absolutely ridiculous, and of course it wasn't true, but my acquaintance believed it.

It wasn't even hard to find out it wasn't true - if such a phone call was made, evidence would most likely exist. If it existed, that would have been a huge news story, not only a very damaging one but one that could have cost Tsai her job. Whoever made it up clearly didn't think very deeply about how freedom of speech laws - yes, laws, so a president violating them would be breaking the law - work in Taiwan, or assumed the audience wouldn't. It's not a hard assumption to make: most of that show's viewers are KMT supporters. The KMT is the party that suppressed free speech in Taiwan for nearly half the twentieth century. If you still support it, well, you clearly think doing so was, on some level, acceptable enough that a president could do it without it creating a huge scandal or causing that president to lose legitimacy even among her supporters. After all, the former leaders of their preferred party did it, and they still support that party.

Anyway, I digress. The point is, it's possible to fact-check this stuff but those who publish it assume people won't.

And you know what? I'm sure some former Sunflowers did take jobs in China. In fact, I've had several people say they can confirm that. I'm not sure to what extent these people were "leaders" (because, again, the leaders are mostly or entirely banned from China), but it doesn't matter, as doing what they did was not hypocritical.

In fact, that some Sunflowers did do this says more about problems in Taiwanese corporate culture (low pay, long hours, few perks, overbearing management) than about any virtues of China or any problems in Taiwanese politics.

And finally, by pinning the whole thing on a report by some other guy, SCMP - which is hardly a bastion of press freedom - is basically washing its hands of any culpability or being accused of "fake news". "I'm just reporting on what Chang said!" is the easy excuse. Another key strategy of fake news - write something from an uncredible source that, even if discredited, can be blamed on that source. "I just heard it from _______!" - but of course when _________ and you, and some other guy after you, and some dude who links to that, and another news source that picks up on it, and the Chinese state-run media who likes what you wrote because it serves their agenda, all publish it, it will look like these "facts" are coming from a number of sources when in fact they originated with just one: Chang Yu-hua, who, as one friend of mine put it, "if his words were worth listening to, shit can be eaten".

And then, if anyone bothers to refute it all as I am doing,  you have a bevy of competing sources which makes it look as though the two sides of the so-called "debate" are roughly matched, and therefore both deserve equal consideration, meaning facts don't matter and distortion of those facts is as equally valid as a clear interpretation of them.

That's how it works, and that's China's game - make it seem as though the CCP-approved perspective is, if not the correct one, than one that is on equal footing with other interpretations and deserves the same legitimacy. Because SCMP is owned by Alibaba (a huge company that is a big supporter of the Chinese government), and Alex Lo is a pro-China mouthpiece, they are happily playing along.

Monday, August 7, 2017

(Updated) Stephen Yates said a stupid thing

Update: please read this post. The article this is based on was a gross mistranslation, and did not accurately reflect what Yates said. I hadn't realized a video was available: now that I do know that, the content below is not relevant.

I'll let this post stand as a monument to remind myself and others not to believe things too quickly, and also because - the comments that precipitated the post notwithstanding, I actually would like to make the dual points that 1.) every person who continues to live their life and build their country with Chinese missiles pointed at them is, in fact, risking their life and we'd best not forget that, and 2.) Taiwan is already independent, so discussions on whether it "should be" that way are irrelevant.

These things are true regardless of what Yates or anyone else says, but you deserve to know the truth about the interview. 

I can't say I'm particularly shocked. Not because I think he's a moron, and although I appreciate his support of Taiwan, he is a conservative and he did give a deeply unimpressive speech once that started out as one long nyah-nyah our guy won, when "their guy" is one of the worst people in the world. While it is, or at least once was, possible to vote Republican and still be a reasonable person, I genuinely do think typical American conservative arguments tend to be deficient in both morality and reason. I would say this is a new phenomenon, but it's been going on since Goldwater, so perhaps not.

You may wonder why I care enough about some random thing he said while being quickly interviewed, which is not likely to make it past the Taipei Times. In part it's because this is a sadly common belief, especially in the West (where it is really easy to say because we're done with all the dying and are not the ones risking our lives unless we choose to enter mostly unnecessary wars). I want to puncture it right now. It's also because if this is the garbled muck coming out of the mouth of a friend of Taiwan, we have a problem - a big one. It must be addressed.

Anyway, let's look at the stupid thing he said. (I'm assuming Tom Lee wouldn't just make this up whole-cloth).

"When I asked why the US would not support Taiwanese independence to keep it from being annexed by China, Yates said Taiwan is not ready for independence like the US’ founders, who vowed to defend the US Declaration of Independence with their lives, their assets and their sacred honor.
If Taiwanese were willing to trade their lives, assets and sacred honor for Taiwanese independence, they would win the support of the international community, but the nation is not ready for that."

Yo...no.

First of all, what makes him think the Taiwanese are not willing to trade their lives, should it come to it. This is a country about which it was once said "every three years a rebellion, every five years ar revolt" (or something like that). Do you really think Taiwan has no fighting spirit? They've been fighting a long cold war for over a generation. As a "friend", he should know this.

I would like him to understand as well that the Taiwanese are risking their lives. Simply by existing, building their country, electing a president China doesn't like, and refusing to give up despite being so obviously outgunned, with over a thousand missiles pointed straight at them, every single Taiwanese person who does not flee the shores of their country is showing, on some level, a willingness to risk everything for the freedom of their country.

Please, Mr. Yates, do not underestimate that. It is one of the things I love most about Taiwan.

Secondly, Taiwan is already independent and Stephen Yates of all non-Taiwanese people should know that. What it lacks is recognition of that independence. 

Why would the Taiwanese "trade their lives" for something they already have

It's one thing to fight for freedom and be willing to die when you don't have it, and want it. It's another to do that when you already have freedom, and all you are asking for is recognition of same. Nobody should have to trade their life to get other countries to recognize what is already true about their own.
Frankly, it would be a dumb move to do so. This is where I think his conservatism is showing: everything is a battle, and you have to be willing to die for your cause - or at least, it's OK for people who won't suffer to tell those who will that they should. No thought given to the complexities of why that's a bad idea.

There seems to be an assumption here that, were the Taiwanese to plunge headlong into a war simply to be recognized for what it already is, the rest of the world would rally behind them because they are standing up ~*~For Freedom!!!~*~ This is another attitude I would link to conservatism - lots of rah-rah patriotism and 'standing up for your country and the world will stand with you' talk, and it's simply wrong. "Coalition of the Willing" wrong. The only way Taiwan is going to rack up friends is by doing literally the exact opposite of that.

The US has said time and time again that their "position" is a peaceful resolution. A situation in which the Taiwanese would have to "trade their lives" is by definition not a peaceful one.

If what he means instead is that Taiwan should be willing to show that its people are willing to die for their cause, well, that would cause the international media, who already think that problems with China either appear from thin air (they don't - they appear from China) or that they are caused by Taiwan (they aren't - they are caused by China), to pitch a fit about how Taiwan is causing "tensions". It would cause clucks of disapproval from around the world, and you know that. 

He contradicts himself, and then says as much, later on in the same article:
“In my opinion, whether Taiwan becomes independent will not depend on a referendum or an official declaration announcing the founding of a Republic of Taiwan.
Taiwan is independent because the Taiwanese are their own masters. Taiwanese should not be too pessimistic about their diplomatic situation, because, in addition to diplomatic space, there is also political space, economic space and other kinds of space where it can put its advantages to good use.”
Giving him the benefit of the doubt that he just garbled his words a bit, it's still dumb to say "Taiwan is not ready for independence" when Taiwan is already independent. Of course Taiwan is "ready" for independence, because - repeating myself because it cannot be emphasized enough - it already has it and the country is run, if not perfectly, at least well enough to keep itself going as a first world nation, especially considering its circumstances. 
One can be ready to risk one's life for something without being stupid enough to run into near-certain death. Right now, a war against China is not winnable for Taiwan. If you enter that war, especially as a fighter, you will most likely die or suffer a worse fate. That's not "being ready" because you "are willing to trade your life", that's just stupid.

To put it in television terms, Taiwan is not Robb Stark. It is Sansa Stark, and that's exactly what it needs to be if it has any hope of eventually coming out on top. 
Taiwan, fortunately, is much smarter than that and is playing a longer game in which millions of its citizens don't die in a costly and devastating war, for the best possible chance at a good outcome for an independent Taiwan. Whether or not they will succeed is for the future to answer, but honestly, while I can think of improvements to their strategy, I can't think of a better overall strategy for the country. 

Does he really think that the saber-rattling he seems to be calling for, which would be more likely to lead to a war that Taiwan would lose, is a better idea? Isn't he a diplomat?

Thirdly, he puts the "founders" (the founding fathers - slaveowners and at least one rapist, none of whom thought women deserved a voice in politics) up on a pedestal that most people well-read in history know they don't entirely deserve. A very bright young Armenian woman I met in Alaverdi who asked me what I thought of Thomas Jefferson ("He's a complicated figure. He did some important things but I do not worship him, or anyone") knew that. Yates should too.

Does he also think that, "founding fathers" aside, that all Americans would be willing to risk their lives for their country? Does he think we'd do so even if the war were unwinnable? Are we supposed to go all Les Miserables and die on barricades we have no real hope of defending, were it to come to that? Does he really have such an inflated sense of how "great" America is, or was, compared to the rest of the world? Is he so secure in his own comfortably independent nation that he feels fine telling people halfway around the world whose country faces an overwhelming international threat that he, a person from a country that does not face any such international threat, is OK but they should be willing to die?

Most people wouldn't do that, and I can't blame them. But all people deserve freedom. Yes, all people. Even the ones who play a long game rather than get into unwinnable fights.

So, yes, I am deeply disappointed in this pile of nonsense from a "friend of Taiwan."

Do better, Stephen Yates. I don't like your ideology very much (I mean, I'm a liberal), I could never vote for your party (I guess I'm crazy to like affordable access to health care, including reproductive health care - your party's platforms are a part of why I left the US in the first place and they actively harm my friends). I do not think that your ideology, nor that of any other pro-Taiwan Republican, is compatible with the mostly - but not entirely - liberal and progressive outlook of the new face of pro-Taiwan local activism, and I do think this is going to cause problems. I suspect the lot of you support Taiwan without really understanding what Taiwan is about. Your former boss is quite literally a war criminal and one of the worst people in the world and you seem weirdly okay with that, and your current president is a magnificent douchelord and you seem OK-enough with that too - and I am not OK with your being OK with either of those - but you are, for better or worse, one of the best friends Taiwan has.

I expect better than this from someone Taiwan should be able to call a "friend".

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The god of More-Than: on culture and who has it

IMG_6252

Hello from Budapest, now, where earlier this evening I made my way to St. Stephen's Basilica ("one of the most beautiful Neoclassical buildings in the world": this intrigued me, even though I'm "all churched out" for this trip). I had fully expected that I'd missed my chance to see the inside today, only to find that I could see a concert there if I wanted. It was kind of expensive, the sort of thing you sign up to do on a package day program that includes a tour of Parliament and a dinner cruise so you'll get a discount on all three.

These concerts are clearly run with tourists in mind - you also pass several offices selling tickets "classical music" concerts (really anything from Baroque to Romantic or even Modern - I've never heard anything pre-Baroque - you aren't going to hear much if anything by, say, Palestrina) as you roam the more guidebook-approved streets of Prague. They are often for people who like the genre well enough but aren't aficionados, so the music chosen is always very familiar. A typical program might include one of the Four Seasons (usually but not always Summer), Pachelbel's Canon in D, perhaps something by Handel, maybe a Bach concerto.

I'm not criticizing that really - anything that gets people listening to more than just the Top 40 is fine by me, even if it is the Classical Top 40. I have my own well-worn favorites, too - Brandenburg Concerto #2, for example, is something I always enjoy hearing. Actually I'm just a Bach fan in general.

So, when I saw that the program for tonight's concert included Bach's Badinerie (for solo flute) and Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (also Bach), my first thought was "of course - those are well-known works". My second thought was "hey, I love those!" Badinerie was the recessional music at our wedding, played by a good friend and talented flutist. And Toccata and Fugue, well, it's great for Eastern Europe, I was excited to hear such a well-known piece played in its natural setting (a huge-ass totally ostentatious church with a big fat pipe organ) and it's just great. It's exacting, requires massive concentration and no small amount of physical exertion. It's precise and focused, richly layered and jubilant, but also kind of angry. It has a bite. Not a cute love-bite, I mean like the kind that make you bleed. It's like an incredibly analytical vampire who is generally good-natured but also has a temper. It can hold forth for quite some time - just when you think it's over it has another whole wallop of music catapulting right at yer head. You use every pipe in that damn organ and you use them perfectly, got that?

In short, if asked to pick a song I weirdly identify with, it'd probably be that one. And not even the famous opening lines everyone knows (the toccata); I like the fugue.

So, even though this is the sort of thing you sign up for on a day package, I bought an overpriced ticket anyway. It's also the sort of thing solo travelers do when they have nowhere in particular to be one evening.

When I walked in, I marveled at the interior of St. Stephen's - it's not to my taste, actually - I prefer more Medieval and Gothic architecture - but it sure is great to look at. All that pink and blue marble (I'm not convinced the blue is real), the gilt-backed paintings, the rococo-esque gold curling about. It's heavy and in-your-face, but I appreciate that it's not trying to hide.

As the concert began, I let my mind wander a bit. I tend to do that - to me, the point of instrumental music is to let it guide and color your thoughts, not to sit and listen carefully to it every moment. I used to play classical music - trumpet - and I was better than you'd expect but not good enough to make a career of it. After all those years of banging out Haydn and Telemann on my trusted Benge X-series (stolen senior year of college - I never seriously played again) I felt like I'd earned the right to daydream to whatever I wanted.

First thought: man, they could have fed a lot of starving people with the money it took to build this confabulation. 

Second thought: true, but perhaps it is also important for human civilizations to have nice things, otherwise what's worth living for if we all walk around in Mao suits eating potatoes all day? You're not really a Communist anyway. 

Third thought: most of the audience seems to be non-Hungarian Europeans. Do Europeans spend their free time traveling around listening to expensive concerts in pretty buildings?

...probably yes, yes they do. 

Fourth thought: is this...culture? 

The musicians were good. Professionals - I couldn't detect note out of place and everything felt properly played, not taken at weird tempos or speeds that didn't feel intended by the composer. The setting was rich and gorgeous. Rich and gorgeous and...missing something.

The best concerts are more than the sum of their parts. The musicians, venue, pieces, instruments, the weather that day, whatever - it all comes together to create something effervescent and intangible, but unmistakably there. Some sort of perfect euphoric More-Than; a heavenliness that makes you hold your breath. The sort of thing a non-atheist would attribute to being uplifted by their god.

This concert was all very good, but that uplifting More-Than (I think More-Than could be a god-like figure - it's abstract enough) felt perhaps even weighted down by all the golden curliques and marble. It was better than serviceable, pleasant even, but...

Fifth thought: that one time in Prague...

...in 2006, I was in Prague for two days. It was March, freezing cold, and the city seemed almost tourist-free. I spent very little money - less than ten dollars - on a ticket to a violin recital at the Rudolfinum - . I had no idea what the program would be and didn't care. I was alone and it seemed like a fun idea.

The violinist...I couldn't tell you now what he played, but it was weird and modern and funky, but also melodious and heartbreaking. It was More-Than. I practically levitated from my seat. The Rudolfinum is very nice, but it's no St. Stephens. But for that concert, the fairly drab room was turned into some cross between the Klementinum, some funky old ziggurats on the Sumerian plain, maybe the inside of a Pharaoh's tomb, a motorcycle rally in New Orleans, and heaven if it were run by cool people.

At one point before the first encore - the mostly-Czech audience loudly demanded, and were obliged with, several - the floppy-haired violinist caught my eye. I was sitting fairly close and I think he smiled. There was a zing - not like a romantic connection or anything like that, just me thinking this person is brilliant. why isn't he famous, how did this ticket not cost me A MILLION DOLLARS and hoping that maybe we had a millisecond connection as two musicians who understood that we both worshipped More-Than. 



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That, I thought 11 years later, sitting in the fanciest church in Budapest, that concert was culture. That frothing of musician and music and place and time that says something about that place and its history, even if you're not always sure what. Culture is more than the sum of its parts: it's more than just buildings that look like wedding cakes or this or that book or song or famous person: it's the aggregate outcome of a group of people, however large or small, wittingly or not, building something together out of human necessity, the comings and goings and inclusions of new people and ideas, technological and artistic progress and the plain weight of time. It's a set of beliefs and assumptions - often shared, sometimes not - that inform how a group of people similarly perceive and interact with the world.

When it gives rise to something more than each person within that culture can contribute on their own, you get the beautiful and humble concert I attended in Prague. When it is used to label certain things, especially large, flashy, famous things like the most famous author, building, composer, painting or even food - essentially, getting the chemistry backward by prescribing the outcome - you get something like that concert at St. Stephen's.

In short, if the latter idea what you think culture is, you'll get something serviceable but it won't be anything more than that.

Do you know what else you get? You get a belief system in which "The United States has no culture" because the native culture was all but wiped out, and everything else was just brought in by immigrants and sort of muddled together in parts. Of course that's not true - the US certainly has a culture, and I'm not sure it's a problem that I struggle to define it. You get a belief system in which China no longer has a culture because most of the art and buildings were destroyed and all the intellectuals ran away or died. But of course China has a culture too - it's China right now. It's a bit sparser, a bit drearier from certain angles, and quite different from what it used to be, but what you see of the goings-on of people in China now is their culture - the idea that nearly 2 billion people live in a "cultureless" society is ridiculous. You could even argue that China has many cultures within its borders. In any case, it was always more than all those smashed vases. You may not like that it now includes extreme jingoistic nationalism, ugly concrete monstrosities, wearing facemasks because they are thought to filter pollution and Simplified characters among other, more pleasant things, but just because you don't like it and it's not as pretty as what came before doesn't make it any less a real culture.

This isn't a new thought by any means, and I'm not the first person to have thunk it. 

But again.

My thoughts zigzagged back to Taiwan, where for centuries this or that great power has tried to insist that Taiwan has no culture.

Lien Chan's grandfather - who, rather than sharing Lien's permanently disapproving constipated face, just seems melancholy - once wrote that Taiwan has no history. Different words, same criticism. Today I still hear and read people spouting similar opinions: "Taiwan's culture is just Chinese culture." Or "OK, but it's Chinese culture with some Japanese influence." Or, "But aboriginal culture is almost gone, what does it matter?" Or, "Taiwanese history is so tied up with Chinese history that you can't separate the two."

What these (wrong) people are thinking of when they think of culture are monumental buildings, famous works of art or world-renowned writers and philosophers. Taiwan doesn't have any ancient buildings of that scale, and while there are many talented Taiwanese artists and thinkers none have reached the level of global fame necessary to "count" to such people (Ang Li may be something of an exception, although even he is more famous for Brokeback Mountain these days than for Eat Drink Man Woman). You can look for 'world music' concerts in major cities and generally find offerings of 'traditional Chinese music', 'traditional Japanese music', 'traditional Greek music' and more, but you aren't likely to find any 'traditional Taiwanese music'. 

It's not just these (again, wrong) folks, though. The Dutch disregarded the indigenous culture they found as they built their little colony and began bringing in boatloads of settlers from China. The Qing first considered Taiwan to be "off the map", a place not worth considering, "beyond the pale of civilization" (yet another way of saying "it has no culture"). So, they tried to impose Chinese culture; the Japanese, Japanese culture; the KMT, more Chinese culture but with a decidedly nationalistic twist. 

In an echo of Lien Heng, the (re-)education forced on the Taiwanese by the KMT party state taught Chinese history with Taiwan as a(n insufficiently covered) part of it, as though Taiwan itself had nothing unique at all to offer.

I can see the appeal of it: if you believe culture is all famous things, comparing Taiwan to its big, angry neighbor - which also happens to be the place of origin of everything from Confucius to the 300 Tang Poems to several musical instruments and styles that are recognizable around the world to blue-and-white pottery to four "classic" books - Taiwan would seem to come up short.

But it's wrong. You have to have that It has to be big and famous to be Culture idea in your head in the first place to hold such an opinion. Chiang Kai-shek himself - Grand Master of Treating Taiwan Like China - knew well before his government fell in China that Taiwan was different, something apart. He was well aware that, while populated mostly by what he would consider "Chinese" yet heavily influenced by Japan under colonial rule, it was something altogether different from both. It was prone to rebellion; there was already a movement for autonomy (and he knew that). In his pre-war visit to Taiwan there is no indication that he considered it anything other than a foreign land. All that talk of Taiwan being irrevocably Chinese since antiquity, and the history curriculum forced upon Taiwanese students as a result, was all just bloviating in service of his own selfish ends.

He probably wouldn't have thought about it in terms of a group of people whose beliefs and common history bringing them together to create something more than just people living on an island, but he knew Taiwan was Taiwan - not China, and not Japan. 

You know it too - at least I do. I can't walk down a typical street in Taiwan without knowing, unmistakably, that it is Taiwan. In my everyday life, from watching the workings of the government to enjoying a temple parade to simply how people interact to what people value, it is clear that this is a place altogether unique. The temples may look Chinese, and the people may speak Mandarin (because at one time, they were forced to) and there may not be a unique musical style recognized around the world as distinctly 'Taiwanese' (I know there is Taiwanese opera, but to the layperson it wouldn't sound all that different from the various forms of Chinese opera), nor a soaring work of historical architecture to play it in, nor a particularly distinct clothing style, but it doesn't matter. When you live here, you know that this isn't China and what's more, that it's always been unique, a place apart.

And of course Taiwan has a history. Many volumes have been written about it. They may reference China, but not any more so than any history of any country or region might mention its large, influential neighbors. I've read three books on Taiwanese history this year alone and I still don't feel like I am even a fraction of the way to really knowing Taiwanese history in detail. Can you name another place that has the same history as Taiwan which includes all of the same elements - indigenous, European, Qing, Japanese, KMT, democratization? I can't.

What Taiwan has created on a human level through a unique history, and through the hard work and evolving shared values of the people through that history, is what defines Taiwanese culture. If it didn't have this culture, it wouldn't have the freest press in Asia. It wouldn't, despite its people being told for generations that they are 'Chinese', not 'Taiwanese', have a democratic government wholly different from that of China. It wouldn't have the culture of protest and civil disobedience that feels uniquely non-Western but also not quite the same anywhere else in Asia. It wouldn't have had a succession of groups fighting for autonomy or recognition of autonomy, present since at least the 19th century and still active today, albeit in different forms. Even in design, where China seems to go for ancient+modern=cool and Japan goes for quirky or downright weird, Taiwanese design has an organic, homespun quality that echoes some of the hippie-organic-hipster elements of the West while being different and entirely appropriate to Taiwan.

I see efforts to promote small cultural artifacts as proof of "Taiwanese culture", from bubble tea to the Formosan black bear, and I commend these efforts. However, I'd argue that Taiwan doesn't have anything to prove. It already has culture - the problem is that too many people don't understand what culture is. This may be why Taiwan, when it is thought of at all, is not considered an exciting destination by the tourist set. It takes time to appreciate what Taiwan has to offer. You can't rush it. You can't do a quick circuit of some palaces and cathedrals and maybe a concert and a nice meal and say "that's Taiwan". It doesn't work that way here. You can't microwave it and stick in a tea bag and have that be it, the way you might in Beijing or Bali (though I'd say it's unfair to do that in those places, too). You have to let it brew slowly, letting the leaves open gently. It's more like brewing lao ren cha.

If more people understood that, perhaps more people would understand not only that Taiwan does have its own culture, but how to appreciate it. 


The more I live here, the more I have transcendent little moments that are more than just walking down the street, more than just making tea, more than just living. Maybe I'll be hanging out on Dihua Street and come across a Taiwanese opera performance, or that one time in Jingmei when I was in the night market and someone had paid for a puppet show at the temple. I stood and watched it in a weird reverie for awhile as the night market dinged, shuffled, shouted and rang around me. Or as I sat drinking tea on Maokong watching the sun set somewhere behind Guanyin Mountain, thinking "the Portuguese were right - this really is a beautiful island". Or talking to neighbors or friends and learning something I hadn't known before. Or eating a dish and realizing I'd have trouble finding the same thing outside of Taiwan. So often, things come together and although you can't point to the place, the time, the event or the people as particularly special themselves, together they form something greater.

I can even point to a few Prague-like moments. Certainly the Sunflower Movement (you'll have to read the 2014 sections to get the point of that link), but also the marriage equality rally a few years later, or going to the Nylon Cheng museum on the anniversary of his death. Hell, it even happened while driving over Hehuanshan and once just hanging out at Wistaria House, and not that long ago while watching "God of Carnage" translated to a Taiwanese setting at The Lab Space.

I don't need to seek out some tourist-ready attraction - there's no need for Taiwan to have this or that famous palace, painting or philosopher. The god of More-Than is alive and well in the everyday goings-on that make Taiwan uniquely Taiwan.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

In which I ask Westerners in Taiwan to do better when discussing women

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Could this imperious-looking man surveying the city below him have any connection to my post? Naaaawww...



I've been busy with grad school and also traveling around Europe at the tail end of my trip, so haven't had time to really blog much beyond a few thoughts that popped into my head as a result of my classes in England. I'm in Czechia now, just hangin' out for a bit. 

In fact, before I begin, please enjoy a small selection of photos of what I've been up to:


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Taking a break on the stairs with swollen feet


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Three angry figures 


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At a bar called...uh, something to do with a tiger


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Taken on my final day at Exeter


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I took this one selfie. Just one. 


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Blue and yellow water street


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At a cute cafe 




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A church attached to other buildings


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Having a drink with a friend in Brno


Now.

One of the things I've missed while away from Taipei was this teapot typhoon. I'm linking to a more recent video commenting on it because this is the one worth watching. The original...ugh.

Some Spanish vlogger - I'm not going to name him because he's well-known, and anyway I don't care about him at all and don't really want to bring him more traffic - posted a video advising Taiwanese women on how to painlessly lose their virginity. In it, he calls Taiwanese women "妹妹" (Little Sister, really a diminutive that some people might find insulting), telling them to "relax" and "breathe deeply" and "not force it", and "not to get expectations up".  A friend of mine called this out as mansplaining, which I agree with, because here's a man who can't know, on a physical level, what a woman's experience is because he will never experience it.

If he were a biologist, anatomist, health education professional, doctor or other expert and he gave advice without calling the recipients literally Little Sister and doing an imitation of them that is simpering and insulting, then maybe nothing would need to be said. He's just some guy, treating women like kittens who need to be comforted at the vet and trying to drive up clicks for his YouTube channel.

I don't vlog and I don't speak Spanish. I have never had a penis nor used said non-existent penis. How would he feel if I gave him advice on how to vlog better (actually I would like to give him this advice), speak Spanish more accurately or directed a video at his demographic giving advice to men on how not to lose their erections when they have intercourse for the first time?

But then, a friend of mine who is way cooler but unfortunately less influential than this guy put up a social media post calling the video what it is, and his friend made the video in the link above. And this guy hit back saying he was being "bullied" and threatening to talk to a lawyer (oh please).

Then it all died down and who cares, right?

Well, I care. I care because the more I think about it, the more annoyed I get. Not about the original video - that's just silly. Something needed to be said about it, that happened, and now I think we'd be doing that guy a favor by saving him the embarrassment of acknowledging he made, published and defended it.

What I mean is that a video like this could seriously be made, with very few people saying anything about it - my friend, his friend and now I are some of the only ones, at least in the expat world (though I doubt anything is being said in the local sinophone world either). And, at the same time, so many foreigners in Taiwan expend so much energy criticizing and complaining about "how sexist Taiwan is", and "how sexist Taiwanese men are". Yet when they themselves or one of their own says or does something sexist, mansplainy or misogynist...not a peep.

I've heard it said or implied more than a few times that, because the local culture is "so sexist", that foreign men are surely better, because...oh I don't know, I usually stop listening around this point but it usually has something to do with a reasoning that these foreign men - usually the speaker is including himself in this too - understand women's equality better because they come from Western contexts where women's rights are more established and understood. Or something.

It's a tempting tale to tell oneself - nobody would deny that Taiwan doesn't still have room for improvement when it comes to women's issues. Not even me, and I think this is by far the best place in Asia to live as a woman and am consistently heartened by the willingness of many people, especially in the younger generation, to embrace values just as progressive as the most progressive voices in the West are championing. But, just as there is room for improvement in the US and other Western countries, the same is true of Taiwan.

However, it does not necessarily follow that, because feminist discourse took a different and perhaps more direct path in the West and on the surface things seem to be more egalitarian there, that men from the West are necessarily more attuned to women's equality. And yet, so many Western men here will use this faulty logic to prop up their own fantasy that they, by virtue of the culture they were raised in, are somehow by nature better co-workers, friends, boyfriends and husbands than Taiwanese men.

When one of those Western men does something distasteful, like make a video for no good reason other than to get clicks telling women about their own bodies, imitating the women in question in a simpering voice and calling them diminutives...

...nothing. Forget a larger conversation about whether Western men are really "better" in this way (I happen to think they're not necessarily), or whether misogyny is a problem in the foreign community (sometimes, yes) there wasn't even a direct criticism by these "enlightened" men of the video itself. But they're so much better and more egalitarian and really respect women more, yeah?

Yeah, right.

When Western men say the sorts of things said in that video and other Western men don't say a word about it - my friend can't be the only foreign guy who saw it, come on - do they really have any high ground for continuing to pretend they are so much better than locals? It goes beyond the video, too. How many of you guys have been out with friends or at a party and heard some other foreigner make a shitty comment about women, and said nothing? How many have heard other foreign men talking about all the ways they treat their Taiwanese dates, girlfriends and wives poorly - and I know this happens, because I've heard it myself and been surprised that others were surprised that I spoke up - and stayed silent?

Is it not deeply hypocritical to ignore misogyny in your own community while you attack its existence in the local one?

Because, after listening to a former coworker go on about how he "only cheated on his girlfriend because two women were offering me a threesome and who could say no to that?" and all sorts of angry and dismissive comments about Taiwanese women ("cutesy", "psycho xiaojie", "shrill", "high-maintenance" etc) and men ("girly/not masculine/effeminate"), comments about "fatties" and more, I can't believe y'all don't hear this stuff among your own. You know perfectly well that you probably have male friends who treat their partners like crap and make sexist comments. I don't keep such company, and even I know people like this (we are not friends, however). I've been around to witness a legitimate complaint about being sexually harassed at a gathering - foreigner organized but locals turn up - turn into a bunch of people saying that making an issue of it was the result of the horrors of "militant feminism", being then asked to consider how the assailant feels (apparently guilty? I dunno, and who cares). If I've seen it, and I don't go to many foreigner events, then I know you have.

Why aren't you calling it out more? Why might some foreigners focus on sexism in Taiwanese society while allowing this kind of talk from other Westerners to pass without comment?

I don't think every Taiwanese man is a superhero or that every foreign man is a jerk, of course. I try to take a more balanced view: around the world there are mostly good people, a lot of people who aren't that good but aren't horrible, a few kinda-jerks-with-some-okay-qualities, and a few rotten grapes at the bottom of the carton. That's true of the local Taiwanese population, that's true of the country of my birth and every other Western nation, and that's true of the foreign community in Taiwan. We have some advantages in the West (marginally less ageism and pressure to marry, marginally less overt sexism at home and work) and some disadvantages (seriously, I can't even walk down the street at night in my home country without feeling and being comparatively less safe than a man whereas in Taiwan it's fine), and some things both cultures struggle with (on neither side of the Pacific have women achieved equal pay). Most likely relationships here and in the West are good or bad in comparatively equal measure, including intercultural ones.

Therefore, most foreign guys here are most likely either good or not-horrible people. Perhaps some well-meaning ones don't speak out when they should, or have over-inflated views of just how great the West is for women, or how terribly they think local women are disadvantaged. However, it doesn't make them bad to the core.

I do believe this - although it is more accurate to call behaviors, rather than people, "good" and "bad", at some point an accumulation of behaviors comes to define your character. For most people that can be reversed, if they want to do something about it. Others, while not inherently rotten, are not very likely to want to do the introspection that is necessary for change.

Most likely, the vlogger in question is a not-horrible person who made one mansplainy video and followed it up with a whiny video targeting my friend. He could do better, but he is not necessarily a bad person. But, to repeat, he could do better and I hope this is the clarion call for him to do so. And we could all do better by calling out this sort of thing when we see it and not putting ourselves on a pedestal about how great we are.

Frankly, coming from a country that just elected a blubbering misogynist clown over a competent - if ultimately neoliberal - woman for reasons that would not have stopped any man in her position from being elected, to a country that elected its first female Nerd in Chief and she got there without any sort of family political dynasty, I find the assumption that the West is so much better hard to swallow.

I can't reach the rotten grapes, but I can ask all of the good and not-horrible men in Taiwan to please have this conversation and please speak out more about misogyny in the foreign community rather than simply complaining about it in Taiwanese society. I can reach you, I hope, and I am asking you to do better.