Friday, June 8, 2007

Ma Ying-jeou's English and "Taiwanese"

Ma Ying-jeou's English and "Taiwanese"
China Times editorial
translated by Bevin Chu
June 7, 2007


Comment: The following China Times editorial would have us believe that:

When Ma Ying-jeou shows off his "Taiwanese," when he rides his bicycle through rural villages, when he denounces the Chinese Communist Party, when he opens his heart to "native Taiwanese" in order to prevent the loss of voter support, the opposing camp immediately counter-attacks, mocking his "Taiwanese" to remind the public that he is a wai sheng ren who is "not one of us." This confirms that Ma Ying-jeou's strategy change is correct. Because only when one poses a threat, will one invite attacks. Ma Ying-jeou need be in no hurry to counter-attack, because counter-attacks will merely create opposition, and play into his accusers' hands.

Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

Assuming of course it was not an attempt to subvert the Pan Blue camp from within, this China Times editorial is obtuse beyond belief, and represents everything wrong with "Pale Blue" ideology on Taiwan today. Ma Ying-jeou's ill-considered surrender to "ben tu" nativist orthodoxy is a strategic blunder of the first magnitude.

Anyone who appreciates the difference between strategy and tactics knows that one must never make long term strategic sacrifices for the sake of short term tactical advantage.

In case anyone is confused about the difference between strategy and tactics, strategy is about "doing the right things," while tactics is merely about "doing things right." Obviously strategy is far more fundamental than tactics.

The only possible outcome of strategic concessions to "ben tu" nativism will be to validate Pan Green core values, and conversely, invalidate Pan Blue core values.

Unless Ma Ying-jeou is prepared to renounce Pan Blue core values altogether, validating the Pan Green core values of self-hating "Taiwanese, not Chinese" identity politics and nation building will only make his political struggle against the DPP harder, not easier.

In fact, even assuming Ma Ying-jeou is prepared to totally forsake Pan Blue core values, validating Pan Green core values will not make his presidential campaign struggle one bit easier.

That's because Pan Green core values were never about championing "freedom, democracy, and human rights." Pan Green core values have always been about enthroning a self-hating "Taiwanese, not Chinese" ethnic and national identity.

Since Ma Ying-jeou is a "mainlander," a Hunanese born in Hong Kong, no concession he can ever make will transf0rm him into a "zheng gang de tai wan ren," i.e., an "authentic Taiwanese." If anything, it will do the exact opposite.

The more piously Ma Ying-jeou genuflects before the altar of "ben tu" nativist orthodoxy, the more he will validate "ben tu" ethnic prejudice towards himself, an "Ethnically Incorrect" interloper, someone whom even KMT colleague Wang Jin-pyng insists is disqualified from being the leader of "native Taiwanese" by virtue of his birth.

Unless Ma Ying-jeou can summon up the courage to condemn "ben tu" nativist orthodoxy for what it is, primitive bigotry, and champion rational meritocracy without regard for biological origin, his attempt to jump on the "ben tu" bandwagon will merely supply Pan Green fascists with the rope with which they will eventually hang him.

If Ma Ying-jeou persists in his monumental error, he will not be elected president of the Republic of China. His short-sighted "pragmatism" will lead to a humiliating defeat at the polls in 2008, and he will lose out on the very goal for which he so readily renounced his Pan Blue core values.

Ma Ying-jeou's English and "Taiwanese"
China Times editorial
translated by Bevin Chu
June 7, 2007

Is speaking English too well a crime? English teachers throughout the island will probably disagree. So will tens of thousands of parents who hope that their sons and daughters will grow up to be movers and shakers in the world. But Taiwan politics has its own peculiar logic about what is right and what is wrong.

In central and southern Taiwan, people have been whispering: "Ma Ying-jeou's English is better than his Taiwanese." [Hoklo Chauvinists refer to the Hoklo dialect of the Chinese language as "Taiwanese."] Over the past several days this has become a hot topic. Ma Ying-jeou has a Juris Doctor from Harvard University. His English is top-notch. He needs no translator while being interviewed on CNN. He can comport himself with confidence and shine in an international setting. But English after all, is a language spoken by foreigners, while "Taiwanese" is the language spoken by "native Taiwanese" [i.e., Han Chinese from Fujian born on Taiwan] Consequently some people have alleged that since Ma Ying-jeou's English is better than his Hoklo, he obviously has no respect for Taiwan.

The superficial logic of this argument is that if one's English is too good, to the extent that is better than one's "Taiwanese," that constitutes a kind of betrayal of Taiwan. In an era of globalization, such logic reveals that the person really doesn't know what time it is. In an era of international competition, multilingualism and a cosmopolitan world view are essential tools of survival. A foreign language is a window onto the world. Learn a foreign language, and you open a new window, allowing yourself to experience a completely different view, and to take advantage of a wider range of opportunities. Parents all over the world are struggling to teach their children English, in the hope that they will not become obsolete. When the president's own daughter Chen Hsing-yu purchased an assortment of exorbitantly priced English teaching materials, presumably that was on her mind as well.

Therefore, the point is not whether one's English is too good, but whether one's "Taiwanese" is not good enough. Criticizing Ma's English proficiency was merely for the sake of contrast and irony, to emphasize the fact that Ma Ying-jeou's "Taiwanese" is not terribly good. Actually, even if Ma Ying-jeou's English wasn't as fluent as it is, he would still be under attack, because his "Taiwanese" isn't terribly good. Although he has lived on Taiwan for several decades, Ma Ying-jeou was born in another province, and "Taiwanese" is not his mother tongue. Furthermore, his academic studies, his work experience, and his political life, all took place within a Mandarin speaking environment. He had little opportunity to learn or use the Hoklo dialect. The contrast between his hesitant, heavily accented Hoklo, and his facile, fluent English, does indeed leave a lasting impression.

To some extent, skepticism about Ma Ying-jeou's sudden enthusiasm for speaking "Taiwanese" reflects historical grievances felt by ben sheng ren (persons from another province) toward wai sheng ren (persons from this province) over suppression of the "native language." A bunch of people from outside Taiwan seizes control of the machinery of government, makes another language the official language, demotes "Taiwanese" to the level of a second-class language. They not only restrict its use, but ridicule it, causing profound long term harm to ben sheng ren self-esteem. This bunch of outsiders lives on Taiwan and is nourished by Taiwan. Yet some of them have no interest whatsoever in learning the native language. They can't even understand it and don't care to understand it, causing native Taiwanese to feel slighted.

Therefore, to denounce Ma Ying-jeou because his English is better than his "Taiwanese," is to trot out once more the stereotype of a group of outsiders' cultural arrogance and contempt for "native Taiwanese" culture, revealing pent-up grievances and hatred. Some people engage in such activities because certain historical grievances remain unresolved, and require the artificial fabrication of a new enemy, allowing one to wallow in self pity, and providing a target for one's resentment. Even though Ma himself was never a henchman for the White Terror, he cannot evade collective guilt as the heir apparent of a "foreign political authority." It makes no difference whether he wants this label. Others will stick it on his forehead regardless.

Actually, even if Ma Ying-jeou's "Taiwanese" was fluent, he still would not be immune from such accusations. The real issue is not whether his Hoklo is fluent, but that it is not his mother tongue. To state it even more plainly, the real point behind criticisms of Ma Ying-jeou's lack of fluency in "Taiwanese," is that he is a wai sheng ren rather than a ben sheng ren. If a "native Taiwanese" were to grow up in the US, his English would be far more fluent than his Hoklo dialect. Yet he would not be subjected to the same attacks because he would be Ethnically Correct by virtue of his birth. This is the same demagogic "rural mutt" vs. "urban poodle" populism that Chen Shui-bian trotted during his re-election campaign for Taipei Mayor.

According to long experience, whenever a whisper campaign gathers momentum, it is inevitably for the sake of a specific political objective. Ma Ying-jeou's place of origin has once again become a target of attacks. One reason is that the presidential election is heating up. Another reason may be because his cross-Straits strategy has changed. Not only has the party constitution emphasized "Taiwan First," it has also demanded that the Chinese Communist Party remove its missiles before cross-Straits negotiations can begin, and has it on the anniversary of the June 4 Tiananmen Incident. These gestures are attempts to appeal to nativist sentiment, obviously in the hope of winning nativist political support. To allow everyone to believe that he will champion "Taiwan's interests," and not make concessions to mainland China.

When Ma Ying-jeou shows off his "Taiwanese," when he rides his bicycle through rural villages, when he denounces the Chinese Communist Party, when he opens his heart to "native Taiwanese" in order to prevent the loss of voter support, the opposing camp immediately counter-attacks, mocking his "Taiwanese" to remind the public that he is a wai sheng ren who is "not one of us." This confirms that Ma Ying-jeou's strategy change is correct. Because only when one poses a threat, will one invite attacks. Ma Ying-jeou need be in no hurry to counter-attack, because counter-attacks will merely create opposition, and play into his accusers' hands.

Original Chinese below:

中時電子報
中國時報  2007.06.07
談談馬英九的英語與台語
中時社論

英文講太好也有錯?全國的英文老師大概都不會同意,萬千望子成龍的父母也必然反對。不過,台灣的政治,自有它獨特的邏輯與是非。

最近中南部盛傳一則耳語:「馬英九的英語比台語好」,連日來成了政壇熱門話題之一。當然,馬英九是美國哈佛大學的法學博士,英語的確呱呱叫,接受美國有線新聞網(CNN)專訪時,可以不需翻譯侃侃而談,確實挺能在國際露臉的。不過,畢竟英語是外國人講的話,而台語是台灣本土的語言,有些人於是指責馬英九英語說得比台語好,顯然眼裡沒有台灣。

從論述的表面邏輯看,似乎如果英語太好,甚至好到超越了台語,就足以構成一種對台灣的背叛。在全球化的時代,這種邏輯實在有點不知今夕何夕。要面對當前的國際競爭,語文能力及國際視野,已經是每個人必要的生存條件。何況外語彷彿一扇窗,學會一種語言,這扇窗就開了,可以看到完全不同的天地,掌握更多的發展機會。全世界有多少父母努力栽培小孩學習英語,就是希望他們不被時代淘汰,總統女兒陳幸妤購買價值不菲的兒童英語教材時,想必也是基於同樣的心情。

所以,重點不在英語太好,而在於台語不夠好,英語好只是用來作個對比,強化諷刺挖苦的效果,分外凸顯出馬英九台語講得不流利罷了。即使馬英九英語講得不怎麼樣,也不見得就不會被修理,因為坦白說,他的台語的確不甚流利。雖說在台灣住了幾十年,但一來,外省籍的馬英九不是以台語為母語;二來,從求學、就業到從政,他長期處於國語的環境,比較缺乏學習和使用的機會。講台語時的結巴與生硬腔調,和講英語時的標準流利,落差真的讓人印象深刻。

對馬英九講台語的質疑,某種程度上,反映了本省籍民眾對以往本土語文遭到打壓的積怨。畢竟從台灣外面來了一批人,占據統治機器,以另外一種語言作為官方語言,台語淪為次等語言,不但被限制使用,還常遭訕笑醜化,這對本省族群的自尊心造成了深刻久遠的傷害。而外來的這群人,在台灣居住,接受台灣的餵養,有些卻毫無興趣學習本土語言,甚至完全聽不懂也無所謂,也讓若干本省籍民眾覺得遭到輕視。

因此,指控馬英九英語講得比台語好,是再次描繪出一個對本土文化傲慢的外來族群刻板形象,也宣洩了一些鬱積的委屈與憎恨。這樣的事會有人做,是因為台灣社會有些積怨還沒有化解,需要加工製造出一個新的敵人,讓自己可以繼續自憐,也讓憤怒有個發洩的對象。即使他本人並不是白色恐怖的劊子手,也不能避免要繼承若干外來政權的宿業;他不要都不行,因為人家會硬扣到他頭上。

其實,就算馬英九台語講得流利,也不見得就能免於類似的指責。重點不在於台語好不好,而在於台語不是他的母語。講得更白一點,對馬英九台語能力的批評,真正的核心訊息,就是他是外省人,不是本省人。今天如果是一個本省籍、從小在美國生長的人,也許一樣英語說得比台語好,但恐怕就不會遭到類似的質疑了,因為血統正確嘛。這和以前「土狗」與「貴賓狗」之爭,如出一轍。

但還有一個面向值得注意。根據長久的經驗,台灣突然出現大量耳語時,通常是為了達到某種政治目的而刻意散播。馬英九的省籍色彩再度成為箭靶,一方面是因為選戰愈近殺伐愈凶,二方面也可能因為最近他的兩岸策略出現了調整,不僅修改黨章強化「台灣為主」,也表示中共撤飛彈兩岸才能談,六四周年時更對中共提出批判。這些動作都在對本土族群的心情作呼應,顯然是希望爭取本省族群,讓大家相信他也會捍衛台灣利益,不會胳膊往對岸彎。

當馬英九大秀台語,鐵馬穿梭鄉間,嚴詞指責中共,向本土族群表態交心時,為免票源被挖,相對陣營便隨即發出反擊,拿他的台語大作文章,用意在提醒民眾他還是個外省人,大家可不能忘了敵我之辨。由此看來,馬英九的策略調整似乎是正確的,唯其具有威脅性,才會招來攻擊。不過,馬英九似乎也不必急於反擊,因為反擊只會讓自己剛好落入指控者的對立面而已。

1 comment:

Beijing2008 said...

So what are you suggesting? Ma Ying Jeou is doing this to win votes, quite obviously. Listening to you one would think that Ma would actually win votes by trumpeting himself as a "wai shen ren."