Why Do People on Taiwan Hate Each Other?
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
September 21, 2011
Summary: Tsai Ing-wen recently spoke at Harvard University. When asked about DPP violence, she glibly answered that speaking a little louder is normal in a democratic society. One wants to be sure one is heard. But when asked "Why do people on Taiwan hate each other?" she was suddenly flustered and at a loss for words. It was all she could do mumble the question back to the questioner. Tsai Ing-wen was unable to answer that question. But that is a question everyone on Taiwan should ask themselves. When exactly did people on Taiwan begin to hate each other?
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Tsai Ing-wen recently spoke at Harvard University. When asked about DPP violence, she glibly answered that speaking a little louder is normal in a democratic society. One wants to be sure one is heard. But when asked "Why do people on Taiwan hate each other?" she was suddenly flustered and at a loss for words. It was all she could do mumble the question back to the questioner.
The first question was posed by a student from the Chinese mainland. The student was referring specifically to Chen Yunlin, who was surrounded by a mob during his his visit to Taiwan. Tsai Ing-wen countered by invoking a "democratic society" and "freedom of speech," She adroitly deflected her opponent's question and won the audience's approval. The second question was posed by the host of the lecture, Steven M. Goldstein, head of the Taiwan Studies Workshop at the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies. Professor Goldstein asked the question on behalf of an audience member. Now that she faced American professors, Tsai Ing-wen could no longer thump the tub for democracy, She could no longer indulge in cheap rhetoric. She could no longer parry the thrust. She found herself at a total loss for words.
Tsai Ing-wen's reaction to these two questions was a realistic reflection of Taiwan's democracy, of its internal contradictions and its loss of balance. When confronted with compatriots from the Chinese mainland, we wear our democracy like a halo, We know it is the Chinese mainland's Achilles Heel. But when confronted with scholars from the United States, we realize boasting about our democratic achievements would only make our listeners cringe. We realize we lack the cultivation demanded of citizens in a mature democracy. But the second question, "Why do people on Taiwan hate each other?" is even more telling. It targets Taiwan's own Achilles Heel, its "illiberal democracy." Can a political system rooted in the incitement of hatred establish a genuinely democratic society?
Has Blue vs. Green confrontation on Taiwan descended the level of mutual hatred that Professor Goldstein suggested? That is debatable. But compared to ten years ago, divisions within Taiwan society have deepened. Divisions over reunification vs. independence, over provincial origin, and over northern and southern Taiwan, have all become part of Blue vs. Green polarization. Taiwan is well down the path of no return. After two ruling party changes, the number of swing voters has risen and fallen. But both the Blue camp and the Green camp have solidified their positions. Comlpromise is no longer possible. Political talk shows have become fixed in their format. Restaurants and corporations have all been labeled Blue or Green. Ideological differences prevent experts and scholars from appearing on the same TV shows and talking to each other, The divisions in Taiwan society are no exaggeration.
The reason is not hard to imagine. Partisan politics on Taiwan has long been suffused with the language of hatred and self-righteousness. During the era of single party rule, the opposition DPP resorted to violent protests. Their reaction then was understandable. But the DPP behaved exactly the same way even after it assumed power. If anything, its behavior was worse. Over time, how can people not be influenced by such intense hostility? Political violence on Taiwan can be found everywhere. It can be found in the legislature and on the streets, Political violence had some degree of justification in the beginning. But the Democratic Progressive Party changed. Before, it was calling for democracy. Now it is calling for a nation-building Jihad. Democratic elections have become life or death struggles between the Republic of China and the "Nation of Taiwan." As a result, each successive election has instilled a sense of crisis among voters adhering to different ideologies. Each successive election has increased the emotional intensity of confrontations between these same voters .
Democracy was supposed to promote equality and justice, through diversity and universal participation. But on today's Taiwan, democracy generates more extreme polarization. Should this be trumpeted as an achievement of democracy? Other disturbing signs have appeared on Taiwan. Too many care only about ideology. They are indifferent about right and wrong. Too many care only about partisan gain. They are indifferent to the national interest. Each side preaches to the choir. Neither side talks to the other. One sees little evidence of the civilized behavior commensurate with citizens in a mature democracy. Consider an obvious example. When the student from the Chinese mainland challenged Tsai Ing-wen, the audience immediately attempted to boo him into silence. But whenever Tsai Ing-wen responded, the audience roared with uncritical approval. This manner of treating "others" is hardly evidence of a democratic temperament.
Tsai Ing-wen would have us believe that citizens in democratic societies "merely speak a little louder." What a glibly dishonest response. Tsai Ing-wen clearly came prepared. She also conveyed a false impression of politics on Taiwan. In reality, only a certain party is in the habit of "speaking loudly." Only a certain party never listens to others. Only a certain party habitually physically assaults political opponents with fists. Only a certain party habitually abuses the system. How can mutual respect and tolerance prevail under this sort of democracy?
Why do people hate each other on Taiwan? Because they are too fearful, Both Blue and Green camps feel compelled to resort to methods of their own choosing to defend their beloved homeland. Certain politicians constantly incite such feelings of anxiety. They incite divisions among members of the public, over matters of identity, They intensify peoples' sense of polarization. Tsai Ing-wen flatly refuses to recognize the 1992 consensus, but then pontificates about a "Taiwan consensus." She probably never imagined she would enjoy this luxury. The hardest part of eitehr the 1992 consensus or Tsai's so-called "Taiwan consensus," is "consensus." Twenty years of political polarization has left its mark. What consensus if any still survives? What consensus, if any, can heal the wounds inflicted upon the public?
Tsai Ing-wen was unable to answer that question. But that is a question everyone on Taiwan should ask themselves. When exactly did people on Taiwan begin to hate each other?