Taiwan’s system breeds contempt

By Cao Changqing 曹長青 Taipei Times 2009.3.27.

Over the past week or so, the news about Kuo Kuan-ying (郭冠英), the Toronto-based diplomat who was exposed as having posted derogatory remarks about Taiwan on the Internet, has been a major topic. The reason the Kuo affair has caused such an uproar is that it is not an isolated incident. It is a reflection of things gone wrong in Taiwan — its people, its culture and its system.

First, the people problem. Based on what I have observed during several visits to Taiwan, there are plenty more people like Kuo. They only differ in how publicly or privately, blatantly or tactfully, they express themselves. You don’t have to look hard to find the same kind of “superior Mainlander” attitude of looking down on ethnic Taiwanese. It is commonplace.

A Taipei City councilor of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) once told me that Kaohsiung is full of gangsters and betel nut chewers. I still remember as if it were yesterday the arrogant disdain he showed for southerners.

In a speech she gave in New York, former president of the China Television System and famed actress Chiang Hsia (江霞) described how, in decades past, children were forbidden to speak Hoklo at school and were punished by having to wear a label around their necks if they did. The young Chiang practiced hard-to-pronounce and unfamiliar northern consonants until she mastered a genuine-sounding Beijing accent. Thanks to that, and her good looks, she finally got a foothold in acting circles that were dominated by Mainlanders. Mainlanders thought they were paying her a compliment when they told her “You don’t sound Taiwanese.”

Just take a look at the editorials that appear in the pro-China United Daily News and China Times. They are laden with “superior Mainlander” attitudes. In pro-KMT newspapers you will see plenty of references to Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) as “the revered President Chiang” (蔣公) while his son and successor Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) gets the respectful title of “Mr Ching-kuo.” Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄), a Taiwanese Hakka who aligned himself with the KMT and is now its chairman, is rewarded for his loyalty with the title “the revered Chairman Wu” (伯公). Have you ever seen those papers honor pro-independence leaders with such titles?

As for the sons and daughters of KMT higher-ups, the papers treat them like princes and princesses. It is a different story, though, when it comes to the son and daughter of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).

The media only stop short of calling the KMT elite kings, queens and royal ministers. As far as they are concerned, they are the masters of Taiwan and they don’t feel any need to conceal their colonialist attitudes.

Wasn’t it President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) himself who said during his election campaign that it would be Taiwan’s “good fortune” if its people elected a non-Taiwanese president, and who patronized an Aboriginal woman by saying “I see you as a human being?” From Kuo to Ma, it is the same “superior ¬Mainlander” attitude. Can it be just a coincidence?

Why are there so many people like Kuo in Taiwan? Because there is something wrong with Taiwan’s culture. When the KMT fled to Taiwan, it took on a prejudiced colonial attitude and discriminated against ethnic Taiwanese. For example, when I talk to Taiwanese people about Chinese history, they often know all the important facts and dates by heart. They can even recite precisely what provinces a train will pass through on the way from Harbin to Guangzhou. It is another matter, however, when the conversation turns to Taiwan’s history and geography. If the question is how high Yushan is, how big Sun Moon Lake is or who built a pagoda beside the lake to honor his mother, my Taiwanese friends often know less than I do. Why? Because the main purpose of a school education under the KMT was to make the students Chinese at heart.

It is this kind of colonial culture that has poisoned the minds of Kuo and his ilk. That is why they call Taiwanese people “rednecks” and “Japanese pirates.” The poison runs in their veins and they pass it on to the next generation. No surprise, then, to read on the Internet that Kuo’s daughter, who works in Shanghai, spoke of Taiwanese people in the same terms as her father, calling them “Japanese pirates.” It is Taiwan’s poisoned culture and education that have turned out generations of people like Kuo.

Why is there a market for this kind of poison? Because of the dictatorial power structure propping it up. The ruling elite set up the colonial education system and that system in turn serves to uphold colonial rule. Apart from KMT members, only those Taiwanese who are loyal to the party and state ideology can enter the ruling stratum. Until 1996, the Senior Examination for the Civil Service had quotas for candidates from the 35 provinces of the Republic of China (in proportion to the population of each province), so that ethnic Taiwanese, who are 80 percent of Taiwan’s population, could only take up a small fraction of senior civil service posts.

This ridiculously unjust system ensured that “superior Mainlanders” would stay in control of the top levels of government. The splendid results of this system are still true today, as “superior Mainlanders” retain a monopoly on power in Taiwan’s judiciary, media and civil service.

Therefore, while Taiwan’s problems are spread across its people, culture and system, it is the system that needs to be changed first. Taiwan’s power structure is still by no means a normal, democratic one. Only when all the Kuo-like “superior Mainlanders” have been voted out of the legislature will we see new laws enacted that eliminate communal prejudice and enmity from the system.

As long as Taiwan keeps the system that protects the KMT’s hold on power, the colonial mentality will prevail — and until that is overcome, people’s behavior will not change. Until Taiwan’s system, culture and people are transformed, we will see many more incidents like the Kuo case.

Cao Changqing is a writer based in the US.

Published on Taipei Times
March 27, 2009


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