From Chaos to Hope: Public Expectations
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
December 17, 2009
The United Daily News and the Far Eastern Group recently sponsored a Word of the Year Contest. We asked the public which words best symbolized the year 2009. The word "pan," (hope) took first place. Last year the word was "luan," (chaos). This year's word, "hope," reflects a shift in public sentiment. It also represents the public's expectations for the new political regime.
Given the current political climate, the emergence of the word "hope" was rather unexpected. Public morale is low. The list of candidates included 30 words. Over two-thirds of them carried negative connotations. They included words such as "ma" (verbal abuse), "hun" (muddling through), "jing" (panic), "ku" (bitterness), "men" (suffocation), and "can" (tragedy). That the word "hope" would come to the fore shows that after years of unrest and suffering, people are finally calming down. They are finally able to look to the new year with relative equanimity. They may be dissatisfied, but they are full of expectations.
The Word of the Year Contest has three functions. First, it encapsulates the collective mood of society. Second, it enables the public to both review the past and anticipate the future. Third, it reflects public sentiment and encourages the government to engage in self-examination. The contest was co-sponsored by the United Daily News and the Far Eastern Group. This is merely the second year it has been held, but it has already become the focus of public attention. It also reflects to a considerable degree the collective mood on Taiwan. This year's word "hope," was suggested by Mr. Kuo Yao-hua. That a retiree's feelings would resonant so intensely with the public, makes it even more meaningful.
Recall last year. The beginning of the new year saw a second change in ruling parties, and a restructuring of the legislature. And yet the word of the year was not "new," but "chaos." This suggests that the new administration failed to find its way. It was unable to put Taiwan back on track. The public felt as if it had been cast adrift, and surrounded by chaos. Add to this the twists and turns of the Chen corruption case, the impact of the global financial crisis, and the sudden rise in the unemployment rate. No wonder the public felt trapped, both politically and economically. No wonder the word "chaos" came to peoples' minds.
This year the situation on Taiwan is slightly different. A first instance verdict has been delivered in the Chen corruption case. Most of the dark clouds have dissipated. Chen Shui-bian is not being released. Any statements he hopes to make, will have to be made from his jail cell. His ability to incite political unrest and meddle with the political process has been significantly diminished. The wounds inflicted by the financial tsunami have yet to heal, but the economy is showing signs of heating up. Signs of prosperity are returning. Although one cannot say that all our worries have been swept away, the public feels some relief. It looks forward with "hope" for political stability and economic rejuvenation. It no longer feels it is at the bottom of an abyss.
Now compare the top ten words for this year with last year's. Except for the winning candidate, the changes in the words suggested reveal an interesting trend. For example, this years' finalists include fewer negative words such as "can" (tragic) and "men" (suffocating). They include more positive words such as "bian" (change), and "ai" (love). These show that public sentiment has reversed itself and has taken on a sunnier outlook. Especially worth pondering are the words associated with Chen Shui-bian, such as "pian" (deception), "tan" (greed), and "bian" (flattened out). These words have all disappeared from the top 10 list. This does not mean the public is satisfied with the government's handling of the Chen corruption case. But it does show that the public has emerged from under the shadow of the Chen Shui-bian kleptocracy.
What is noteworthy is that although the number one word for the year was "hope," the second, third, and fourth words were negative words such as "false, bitter, tragic, stifling." This reminds us that as the society as a whole adapts and recovers, many individuals remain incapable of surmounting the bitterness in their lives. They are unable to share the majority's calm optimism. Naturally their feelings must not be overlooked. This year, for example, what people remember the most clearly is the landslides that buried entire villages alive during the 8/8 Floods. Because it was a regional disaster, it lacked universal impact. Therefore symbolic words do not always reflect the pathos experienced. The sponsors of the Word of the Year Contest invited aboriginal children from disaster stricken regions to write the word "hope." They wanted to give them a chance to express their hopes that their homes might be rebuilt. They wanted to remind people not to forget the suffering of the disaster victims.
For two consecutive years, over two-thirds of the words on the annual word for the year list have been negative. The public on Taiwan has been inculcated with the notion that tragedies, disasters, scandals, and other negative developments are the norm. This makes it more suceptible to negative suggestions. Year after year of voting for their favored candidates may allow us to better understand our society's psychological bottom line, and adopt a more proactive, less victim-oriented posture.
The word "hope" emerged in late 2009. It summarized the past year. It also expressed our collective hopes for the coming year. Some people hope for a rejuvenated economy. Some people hope for a brighter future. Some people hope for national unity. Some people hope for cross-Strait peace. Some people hope for social progress. Some people hope for relief from suffering and disaster. We too hope that the new year will go our way, and that our compatriots can enjoy peace and prosperity.
2009.12.17 03:12 am