Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Uganda model for Taiwan’s homosexual ‘problem’

A Christian leader in Kaohsiung praises the recent signing of laws in Uganda that impose life imprisonment for homosexuals. And he wishes the Taiwanese government could be as ‘courageous’

Really, the fundamental Christians in Taiwan never cease to impress. Every week now, one of them somewhere does or says something that, had he not purportedly ascended to heaven, would have made their Lord Jesus turn in his grave — or his grotto, or whatever. Their favorite target, of course, is other people’s sexuality, especially when it concerns two people of the same sex.

In the lead-up to the reprehensible events of 1130, those groups already gave us a flavor of their thoughts by conjuring a variety of lies to make their case that allowing gay unions would destroy family values and society in general. In the weeks after the protest, my investigations uncovered worrying links between the Christian organizations here and extremist Evangelical groups in the U.S., chief among them International House of Prayer (IHOP). The deeper I looked into the matter, the more evidence I found that IHOP and likeminded organizations, many of them advocating Dominionism, were slowly recruiting and infiltrating Taiwanese preachers and churches, while helping orchestrate mass “Asia For Jesus” events this year (which according to some of them should be the year of the “rise of the Christian family”).

IHOP, of course, made the news in recent months for its advocacy of laws in Uganda that, in the extreme, would impose the death penalty for homosexuals, or long prison sentences if such measures could not be passed.

I’d already uncovered the existence of a IHOP center in Taoyuan, and exposed some preachers who had gone through the process of indoctrination, sometimes with the financial assistance of a wealthy Taiwanese female entrepreneur (herself a devout Christian) whose brand of cell phones I shall never buy again.   

As it turns out, there is also a Kaohsiung House of Prayer (KHOP), and Pastor Van Weng, described as “young” and “charismatic,” has made it clear to us all that his views on homosexuality in Taiwan are as Precambrian as are those of IHOP elsewhere. In a post this week, Van Weng, or PVW, as I choose to call him, praised Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni for his “bravery” in signing the anti-gay bill on Feb. 24 that imposes life sentences for gay sex and same-sex marriages. It also criminalizes the “promotion” of homosexuality, which means that gay activists, or even their heterosexual defenders, will be subject to imprisonment. (Since then, the Ugandan tabloid Red Pepper has released a list, with some pictures, of the top 200 suspected homosexuals in the country, sparking a renewed with hunt that so far has caused one death.)

Using (or as I’d argue, abusing) his freedom of speech, Pastor Van Weng went on to argue that he hoped Taiwanese society and its government would be as brave as Ugandans in their efforts to “protect the family.” The actual quote, which appears on the KHOP Facebook page and on a fan page for PVW:


No surprise here: PVW went through his own rounds of indoctrination with IHOP Atlanta, and brought his family along with him.

Encountering criticism, PVW lamely claimed, as they always do, that his comments were taken “out of context” and that of course there were differences between Taiwan and Uganda. After all, he said, the African country had just recently emerged from an AIDS crisis. So PVW digs his hole even deeper (ironically one of KHOP’s slogans is “go deep”) and unscientifically links AIDS epidemics to homosexuality, one of many rhetorical tools used by extremist groups who oppose legalizing same-sex unions. The implicit threat, I suppose, is that if Taiwan does not combat homosexuality, it risks going the way of Uganda and face its own AIDS crisis.

The pastor is right to claim that sovereignty grants the people the right to express their views about “internal matters.” But freedom of expression runs into a wall when it seeks to impose the views of a minority upon the majority by blocking legal amendments in defiance of the majority opinion, particularly so when their arguments are based on lies, pseudoscience, and bigotry — and forgive me for saying so, but praising dictator Museveni for enacting laws that blatantly violate human rights, and wising similar “wisdom” in Taiwan, isn’t speech of the type that deserves protection. It’s hate speech, pure and simple, and some Western democracies, such as my home country, have laws against that.   

The alliance against same-sex marriage will come out again in March. As you encounter them in the streets, when they force their silly little pamphlets on you, and as you listen to their purported message of love, remember that in their midst there are people like PVW and others in positions of authority in their world of frantic isolation who went to the IHOP school of hatred. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The return of gangster politics in Taiwan

Less than a year after his return to Taiwan, a top Bamboo Union leader-turned-politician is using scare tactics in a way that undermines Taiwan's democracy and social stability

For those who are getting bored with the traditional “green” versus “blue” divide in Taiwan’s politics, things are becoming a lot more interesting with the return to Taiwan, after 17 years in exile, of the most-wanted fugitive-turned-politician Chang An-le in June 2013. Since his return, Chang, a former leader of the Bamboo Union triad and founder of a pro-unification party, appears to have embraced Taiwan’s democratic system by appearing on TV shows and opening campaign offices around the country. But old habits die hard, and the 65-year-old has resorted to threats and intimidation to leave his mark on local and national politics.

The White Wolf, as Chang is also known, returned to Taiwan in late June 2013, and was promptly arrested at Taipei International Airport (Songshan) by police officers. Hours later, he was released on NT$1 million (about US$30,000) bail, and immediately embarked on a campaign to spread his “peaceful reunification” propaganda, which he had condensed into a small blue booklet. Since then, Chang has opened a number of political offices around the country, with no known date for court appearances.

My article, published today in The Diplomat, continues here. (Photo by the author)

Monday, February 24, 2014

The dangers of economic proximity with China

In a U.S.-China trade war, Taiwan faces the risk of getting caught up in the crossfire

As Taiwan’s legislature prepares to review the controversial Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement with China next month, apprehensions over the island’s growing economic reliance on China continue to rise. A recent anti-dumping case initiated by a U.S. trade commission, and subsequent decisions on legal representation, highlight the dangers — economic and political — that can arise from a further integration of the two economies.

The United States International Trade Commission (USITC) on February 14 said it had reason to believe that Chinese solar panel companies have used solar cell components built by a third party — Taiwanese firms — to circumvent heavy anti-dumping duties imposed on China in late 2012. U.S.-based SolarWorld Industries America, a subsidiary of the German firm SolarWorld AG, filed the initial complaint in 2012, which resulted in countervailing tariffs averaging 31 percent against Chinese solar makers. However, efforts back then to expand the tariffs so as to include Chinese solar panels made with non-Chinese solar cells were turned down, creating a loophole that China quickly exploited. (Some industry watchers, however, have suggested that SolarWorld is “manipulating U.S. trade procedure in order to prop up its own failing business.” Others argue that the “dumb” trade war could end up hurting the future of solar power.)

My article, published today in The Diplomat, continues here.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Beware of the arrows

If the DPP wants a real shot at regaining high office and fixing this country, it’ll have to clean up its act and rid itself of the dinosaurs and backstabbers

With the year-end seven-in-one and the 2016 presidential election approaching fast, I am reminded of what a wise man once observed about politics in Taiwan: “Beware of the arrows, especially those from within your own camp.” By arrows, the wise man meant the people in one’s political camp who will get very nasty as they endeavor to protect their narrow interests or those of their masters.

Recent efforts from within the green camp to discredit Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), the head of the Traumatology Unit at National Taiwan University and a potential candidate for the Taipei mayoral race, are a perfect example of this type of cannibalism. I’ve already addressed the issue in the context of “political dinosaurs,” and I now wish to expand on the theme of infighting, which is not unrelated to the prior notion.

While I’m sure there is a good share of dinosaurs and backstabbing within the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), my previous and current jobs have yielded more intimate insights into the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)-led pan-green camp, and this is the one that I intend to turn to in this entry, if only because it is the corner of the political spectrum that stands to lose the most from internecine battles. By doing so, I also intend to debunk the notion that the DPP cannot win elections because of the “unfair” and “imbalanced” political environment in Taiwan, which admittedly is skewed in the KMT’s favor, but not so much as to make victories impossible. After all, Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) did get elected in 2000 and was re-elected in 2004, at a time when the KMT’s fortunes were just as impressive.

What I have repeatedly witnessed from my vantage point as a journalist operating within a “green” environment is the self-defeating tendency of cliques to take a short-term, selfish, and extraordinarily myopic view of electoral politics, a one-against-all mindset that makes unity impossible and divisiveness a permanent state. Politicians do is, as do the sycophantic writers, academics, and journalists who gravitate round them. Rather than fight for the good of the country, they limit themselves to parochial and very narrow interests — getting elected. In the process, anything goes and all measures are brought into the ring, however ugly: smear campaigns, outright lies, defamation, and fabrication. Once those are repeated often enough in a media environment that, frankly, couldn’t care less about ethics, the lies eventually take on the garb of “truth” and can turn into powerful weapons by which to destroy one’s political opponent within the same camp. A receptive audience — both here in Taiwan and abroad among expatriates — that has a special taste for conspiracy theories and cannot bothered to check the facts (e.g., evidence that would support the claim that Ko, the most viable candidate within the green camp* at the moment, is a pawn of Beijing; or the political connections of an author making allegations against a candidate), only exacerbates the problem. Some members of the DPP, including a would-be contender for Taipei City, have a long history of turning on their own in such fashion, attacking potential (and younger) rivals with a web of lies. Others have done so using other easy targets, including gender (“skirts have no place in politics”) and family background (“politician X is from a KMT family and therefore cannot be trusted”).

In the end, the real losers from all this are the DPP itself, which often ends up fielding candidates that are not necessarily the most qualified, but are the savviest at playing nasty against their own people. And Taiwanese themselves, who end up with options that are disappointing and therefore leave them few options to choose from during elections. Facing this, the KMT need not even field extraordinary candidates to win elections. And the party wonders why young Taiwanese are turned off by politics…

The problem is that the green camp has allowed this to become standard practice. Those who engage in such behavior rarely, if ever, suffer the consequences of their acts, while the hopefuls who could make a difference or who refuse to stoop down to the level of the gutters, are quickly sidelined, dragged down by the muck of lies and hearsay thrown at them from all sides.

If the DPP wants a real shot at regaining high office and fixing this country, it’ll have to clean up its act and rid itself of the dinosaurs and backstabbers. (Photo by the author)

*Ko will likely run as an independent, but anyone who bothers to look into the people who are close to and support him should have no doubts as to where his heart lies.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Official intimidation of Taiwanese journalists

Freedom of the press rankings often do not include instances of subtle intimidation by officials, but the impact on journalists’ ability to do their job can be serious

Taiwan watchers always pay great attention to the annual freedom of the press rankings by organizations like Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders. Any drop in rankings, as Taiwan did this year in RSF’s report, slipping from 45th in 2012 to 47th in 2013, inevitably prompts accusations of Chinese interference and malicious controls by the government.

While the above reasons are certainly valid (e.g., the impact of the Want Want China Times Group), other variables — equally important variables — that affect journalists’ ability to conduct their work rarely get mentioned and are almost never used to weigh the quality of the media environment. With regards to Taiwan, two of those readily come to mind.

The first, which I witnessed firsthand on a number of occasions last year as I minored protest movements, were instances in which journalists were blocked access to certain venues by law-enforcement officials at the site, or government workers participating at public hearings. On several occasions, reporters were physically prevented from gaining access to a venue or dragged away by police officers (e.g., the “Edd Jhong incident” at the Executive Yuan); on others, public servants refused to hold public hearings until all reporters had left the room. While such incidents are hard to quantify and to put into numbers for rankings such as those prepared by RSF and FH, they nevertheless have a deleterious impact on the ability of journalists to conduct their work.

In other instances — and this constitutes our second variable — journalists were threatened by government officials after publishing their article. One such incident was made public today, in which Rosa Wang (王立柔), a young female reporter with the Storm Media Group, received an angry call on her personal cell phone on Jan. 29, the day the article that prompted the call was published. The person at the other end of the line, who according to Wang’s account of the matter, berated her for a full six minutes and threatened to contact the chairman of the media organization that employs her, was Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lai Shyh-bao (賴世葆).

In her article, Wang, whom I have met on several occasions, exposed Lai as having played a central role, using his connections with Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺), in securing the rather controversial appointment of two anti-gay activists from the Safeguard the Family Alliance on a Ministry of Education committee for gender equality, appointments that drew heavy criticism from various organizations supporting the rights of homosexuals. Among other things, the two members have openly opposed equal treatment for gays and child adoption by same-sex couples in a campaign spearheaded by various Christian organizations. (Interestingly, Lai was present at the large rally against same-sex marriage on Nov. 30, where he spoke out against amendments to Article 972 of the Civil Code.)

Following his angry call, Lai renewed his attack on the young journalist during a press conference on Feb. 19, which prompted the reporter to comment on the matter on her Facebook page.

Needless to say, behavior such as Lai has no place in a democracy that prides itself in having the “freest” media in East Asia. There are proper channels for officials to express their displeasure with news coverage, including press releases, corrections, and if necessary and when warranted, lawsuits. But calling a journalist on her personal cell phone and blasting her for uncovering certain uncomfortable facts isn’t the way to go about it. This is intimidation, pure and simple.

Let’s hope that other Taiwanese journalists will follow Wang’s courageous example and expose any such infractions on the part of the authorities, as their chilling effect on Taiwan’s media environment can be just as nefarious as the behavior of China-friendly media moguls like Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明). (Photo by the author)

Saturday, February 15, 2014

A propaganda coup for Beijing

The most significant result of the February visit by MAC Minister Wang was the propaganda impact for Beijing 

As Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council Minister Wang Yu-chi was wrapping up his four-day official visit to China on February 14, it was clear that the event, groundbreaking though it may have been, delivered very little in terms of concrete results — except one thing: a propaganda coup for Beijing.

Wang, a Cabinet minister in the Kuomintang (KMT) administration of President Ma Ying-jeou, was the first Taiwanese official to visit China in an official capacity since 1949, when Chinese Communist Party (CCP) successes in the Civil War forced the KMT to flee to Taiwan. Prior to Wang’s visit, relations between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait had been limited to exchanges between Taiwan’s Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) and China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS), two semi-official bodies created to handle dialogue.

No sooner had Wang landed in Nanjing for a series of meetings than international media and China’s propaganda arm hailed the breakthrough as something of great significance.

My article, published today in The Diplomat, continues here. (Photo by the author)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Sacred totalitarianism

The Bible talks about love and tolerance, but its followers often lose sight of how those values apply in real life

Amid chants and ululations (“she-de-ba-ba-ba, she-de-ba-ba-ba…”), the pastor approaches what Taiwanese refer to as the gongma — the Buddhist ancestral shrine often found in households in this part of the world — grabs a few relics and drops them into a cardboard box. He then unsheathes a machete, retrieves a wooden statue of Guanyin, the Goddess of Life and Mercy, also puts her in the box, and proceeds to saw off her head and deface her with his blade.

It was all caught on film, and even as a nonreligious person, it sends shivers up my spine, knowing as I do how important Buddhism is in Taiwan.

According to the video, the ceremony was held by the Bread of Life Church, one of the largest Christian congregations in Taiwan. I’ve written about that Church before, mostly in the context of its role in the movement against the legalization of same-sex unions in Taiwan and its associations with extremist Christian organizations for the U.S., such as the cultish International House of Prayer.

After I posted the video online yesterday, a friend, who is a member of the Bread of Life Church, kindly provided clarifications about what he says is known as “idol removal,” a ceremony that is held after a person — in this case a Buddhist — has converted to Christianity. My friend quickly pointed out that while the ritual is commonplace, the destruction of idols, such as the one that occurs in the video, is a departure from the “norm,” which misrepresents the spirit of the act and risks giving the Church a bad reputation.

Fair enough, and I’m glad to hear that. Still, I have issues with the Christian notion that other religions are nothing more than idolatry, or the worship of “false gods” that misleads people away from the “real” God. The Bible is full of references to sanctions against worshipping other gods, among them “Do not worship any other god, for the lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14).

Granted, most such references are to be found in the Old Testament, a book that has much in common with excesses that are usually associated with the Taliban or the Saudi Wahhabism that inspired upstanding human beings like Osama bin Laden. But Christian intolerance for other religions is alive and well today, especially among Dominionist movements that seek to spread the word of God, and belief in a direct relationship with Jesus, to every corner of the world — including here in Taiwan.

The incident seen in the video is not isolated; other pastors have made similar remarks during sermons in Taiwan.

The problem with this form of Christianity is that it is zero-sum and does not regard other religions as coequal. Instead, anyone who does not believe in God lives in sin and can only be redeemed through conversion. To support its actions, the Church echoes the sayings of the “jealous God” by depicting other religions as a lesser form of religious activity — hence the reference to Guanyin and other Buddhist deities as mere idols. Put that in the context of Christianity emerging at a time when it was competing with other religions, and we can quickly surmise why the authors of the texts would encourage institutional and systematic intolerance towards other forms of veneration. (Would an employee at Burger King encourage a customer to go to McDonald’s, where the burgers are better? Of course not; business is a zero-sum affair, a race for the maximization of profit at the expense of the competition.)

Religious intolerance for other views, and the conviction that their religious beliefs are the only Truth and their god the only god, has all the hallmarks of totalitarianism. And we know from history what such a worldview usually does to those who stand in its way.

I agree that most Christians do not actively seek to convert others, but the conviction — which is taught them over years of man-made indoctrination — that only they know the Truth nevertheless contains the dangerous seeds of intolerance, and helps creates the conditions that are necessary for abuse, should religious leaders decide to go down that path, as we saw in the events surrounding the Nov. 30 protest in Taipei against legislative amendments allowing same-sex marriage.

Not too long ago (on a planetary timescale, that is), people in the West firmly believed in Greek and Roman and Norse gods, truly, utterly convinced that those entities were the only “real gods” in whose name it was perfectly permissible to inflict atrocities upon non-believers, or believers in other gods. Today, nobody believes in those gods, and their appeal is to be found only in the mythical literature, history books, and anthropological studies that make them their subject. Thousands of years later, we regard those believers with something close to derision, and wonder how people could ever have thought that gods expressed their anger by raising thunderstorms or visiting devastating earthquakes upon sinners down on earth (extremist Christians in the U.S. still believe in such punishments, though, with preachers blaming natural catastrophes, or the 9/11 attacks, on such “sins” as homosexuality). How can today’s Christians (and their analogues in other equally intolerant religions) be certain that their beliefs will not go down the same route, to be regarded as delusion a thousand years from now?

I’m not making the case against religion per se, though I would argue that the world would be a much better — and safer — place without it. What I take issue with is the intolerance, the totalitarianism, at the root of world religions and the belief that its adherents have the primacy on Truth and Morality, which often translates into condescension and, worse, intrusive abuse of others. Defenders can claim that excesses are not taught in the Bible, the Koran, and other sacred texts, but all do teach their followers that other religions are wrongs that need remediation and, if ultimately, excision.

Sacred texts purport to teach love and tolerance. Somehow the institutions often forget to apply those principles in their interactions with the real world. (Photo by the author)

Five futuristic weapons that could change warfare

Revolutions in waiting? Yes and no, depending on the type of conflict involved

Predicting which five weapons will have the greatest impact on the future of combat is a problematic endeavor, as the nature of warfare itself is fluid and constantly changing. A system that could be a game-changer in a major confrontation between two conventional forces—say, China and the United States—could be of little utility in an asymmetrical scenario pitting forces in an urban theater (e.g., Israeli forces confronting Palestinian guerrillas in Gaza or Lebanese Hezbollah in the suburbs of Beirut).

The world’s best fifth-generation stealth combat aircraft might be a game-changer in some contexts, but its tremendous speed and inability to linger makes it unsuitable to detect and target small units of freedom fighters operating in a city, not to mention that using such platforms to kill a few irregular soldiers carrying AK-47s is hardly cost effective. Special forces equipped with hyperstealth armor and light assault rifles firing “intelligent” small-caliber ammunition would be much more effective, and presumably much cheaper.

My commentary article, published today in The National Interest, continues here.

Attack of the Dinosaurs

Some elders within Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party simply won’t let go. And this is hurting their cause

Given the way Taiwan’s main opposition, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), is handling the lead-up to the all-important seven-in-one municipal elections in November, one could be forgiven for thinking that it is doing its very best not to win. Shortsighted goals, selfish attitudes, and aging politicians who refuse to make way for future generations of leaders help explain why.

At this point, the ruling Kuomintang (KMT), whose poor governing performance since 2008 should make it vulnerable to a landslide, won’t even need to field formidable candidates to keep its grip on the nation’s key municipalities.

Time and again in recent years, supporters of the pro-DPP green camp have blamed their electoral defeats on “vote buying,” the KMT’s wealth advantage, or “brainwashed” citizens who don’t know what’s best for them. While the first two variables often play a role in elections here, another factor has also made it difficult for the DPP to change the political landscape: its inability — and sometimes unwillingness — to field candidates who can appeal to both sides of the political spectrum and to various segment of society.

My article, published today on the CPI Blog at University of Nottingham, continues here. (Photo by the author)

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Turbulence ahead for Taiwan’s F-16 upgrade program?

Initial reports said the US Air Force’s budget decisions have thrown a wrench in Taiwan’s air force modernization program, but sources now say the program remains on track

Already denied F-16C/D combat aircraft it has sought to acquire for years, Taiwan could now be the unintended victim of “very tough” budgetary decisions by the U.S. Air Force that run the risk of derailing a $5.3 billion retrofit program for the island’s 146 F-16A/B aircraft, according to recent reports that are now being disputed.

Articles published earlier this week citing unnamed U.S. Air Force sources have claimed that the Pentagon’s FY 2015 budget proposal, to be submitted to Congress on March 4, could cut funding for a planned combat avionics programmed extension suite (CAPES) for 300 USAF F-16C/D aircraft and instead allocate funds for a less ambitious service-life extension program (SLEP).

Sources say that the move, which reportedly has received support from some members of the USAF who favor larger allocations of money for fifth-generation aircraft, could delay or perhaps even derail the planned upgrade of Taiwan’s 146 F-16s (and possibly 60 F-16s in the Singaporean Air Force), which stood to benefit from the economy of scale generated by the CAPES program.

My article, published today in The Diplomat, continues here. (Photo by the author)

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Beyond the ‘little fortunate life’ (中文 link at bottom)

On the surface, ‘Twa-Tiu-Tiann’ is light entertainment for the Lunar New Year. But its director has other purposes for his film

Last week I had the chance to attend the premiere of Nelson Yeh’s (葉天倫) latest movie, Twa-Tiu-Tiann (大稻埕) in Taipei. I’d run into Nelson before, during a protest against media monopolization, and later at a rally organized by entertainers in support of residents of Dapu, Miaoli County, whose homes were being demolished by the government. I knew, therefore, that despite featuring variety show host Chu Ko Liang (豬哥亮) and other popular actors, Yeh’s latest film would offer something more than simple entertainment. And it did, though I suspect some critics fail to understand what he was trying to do achieve.

I won’t give the plot away, and I urge people to go watch it. Suffice it to say that the movie has a time travel component, in which Jack, a typical, self-absorbed, apolitical young contemporary Taiwanese man, is dragged back in time to the Japanese colonial period in the 1920s, where he becomes embroiled in the birth pangs of a Taiwan nationalist movement. From his experiences and by befriending Chiang Wei-shui (蔣渭水), a key figure in the resistance movement, Jack learns several lessons, from the importance of knowing one’s history (often a problem with younger generations in Taiwan) to avoiding the pitfalls of living in the past (often a problem with older generations of Taiwanese). Jack returns to the present, ready to create his own “golden era” of fighting for his country against odds that are only hinted at but that should be clear to anyone who knows anything about the existential threat that Taiwan faces today.

This is simple enough stuff, which is told with humor, the necessary romantic components, and a solid recreation of Dihua Street (迪化街).

While the movie has been doing extremely well at the box office, it has encountered some criticism, especially among people who are acquainted with the history and Chiang’s role. Some have pointed to historical inaccuracies, while others have complained that the film isn’t “serious enough.”

Director Yeh at the premiere
Fair enough, and the movie does have its inaccuracies and shortcomings. But Yeh, who knows his history, is intelligent enough to also know that a historically accurate documentary was not the best format to accomplish his goals — and by goals I don’t mean making money. Twa-Tiu-Tiann is an entertainment and uses well-known actors because to attract people who otherwise would have no interest in knowing about Chiang and other people from a century ago who defied their colonial masters. (Some critics, such as student leader Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷), understand this, which is why they still encourage people to go see the movie.) If only 5 percent of those who watch the movie subsequently want to know more about Chiang, and if another 5 percent decides to join the ranks of the young Taiwanese today who are creating their own “golden era,” then Yeh will have succeeded. And as I said, Yeh, along with some of the actors in the film, has been out there on the streets with the young activists. His goal is to inspire, to draw a line of continuity between the past, the present, and the future, and to demonstrate how much more meaningful life can be if young people become political, if they care beyond their “little fortunate lives.”

Which brings me back to Dapu, or more specifically on Ketagalan Boulevard on August 18 last year, when thousands of people rallied against forced evictions and the demolition of people’s homes by state and corporate interests. At one point during the protest, my friend Fish Lin of the hip hop band Kou Chou Ching, addressed the crowd and bemoaned the tendency among Taiwanese to be content with what can be loosely translated as their “little fortunate lives” (小確辛, a term first used by Japanese author Haruki Murakami). By that, Lin, a regular presence at protests, meant people’s selfish tendency to not involve themselves in civil society or politics as long as events do not directly affect their lives. (“The X family home was demolished, but as long as it’s not my home that is being targeted, there is no reason why I should involve myself, as doing so will cause me unnecessary trouble.”)

If we extend that way of thinking to the national stage, we can more easily explain why Taiwanese often exhibit little alarm when an authoritarian giant threatens the future of their country and their way of life, and when the policies of their government seem to invite the realization of that threat. This national trait could very well be the consequence of a society which under Martial Law and the White Terror was conditioned into believing that one had better mind his own business and not get involved in the affairs of others. Now the White Terror is no more, but it has been replaced by a new terror, that of authoritarian China, which has succeeded, through a campaign of propaganda, in convincing many that unification is inevitable. If such an outcome is inevitable, then the victims might as well not worry about politics and focus instead on maximizing their own selfish interests in preparation for annexation (“KMT or CCP, as long as I have a smartphone, a decent job, my daily latté from Starbucks and a roof over my head, why bother?”). Of course there is nothing inevitable about unification, but many people in Taiwan believe that this is the case — which reminds me of a key scene in Yeh’s movie when Rose, Jack’s love interest, scoffs at the mention that Japan, which seemed like an invincible force at the time, would “surrender” one day.

I’ve touched on this subject before, by arguing that the “status quo” that defines Taiwan’s existence and its relations with China has also created the conditions for a society in which everybody fends for himself: Make a little bit of money, get a good education, build a home, and lie low as history passes you by. By doing so, people become apolitical and rarely, if ever, confront the authorities. This, in turn, encourages passivity and mediocrity — even among Taiwan’s purported defenders — which the nation, given its situation, simply cannot afford.

The ranks of politicized Taiwanese are growing slowly. But the majority of them remain little Jacks, satisfied with a world that rarely extends beyond their smartphones, girlfriends, and the job that allows them to keep both. If Taiwan is to survive as a distinct society, many more people will have to realize that having limited material aspirations just isn’t good enough. 

(Small anecdote: Minister of Culture Lung Ying-tai (龍應台) was at the press conference prior to the premiere on Jan. 28. As she walked on stage, a female fan who was standing next to us excitedly told her boyfriend that the minister was there. Whereupon the boyfriend said with irony, “I don't know why she's here [the ministry provided some funding], since she knows so little about Taiwanese cinema anyway.”)  (Photos by the author)

New! A Chinese-language translation of this article is available here.