I WAS RECENTLY INVITED to America by the Formosa Foundation, as a participant of the Sunflower Movement, to attend the Ambassador Program 2014. As a result, I spent twelve days in America. The first week was devoted to attending classes, lectures given by academics, members of thinktanks, and members of industry associations, in regards to the history of Taiwan-America relations, Taiwan-America military relations, free trade organizations, the rising of China, etc. The second week, which was the highlight of the program, was devoted to visiting senator’s offices for lobbying. For four days, each group visited about ten offices per day, with a total of one hundred twenty offices visited at the end, including members of the Senate and House of Representatives.
I have participated in social movements for close to two years, thanks to the Ma administration, but this year, Taiwan social movements surged up with a raising of people’s consciousness of social issues. But while these can be called “movements,” these usually address domestic issues such as urban renewal, land development, labor disputes, and conservation. Issues which are not domestic such as cross-strait relations, the military, and discussions of foreign affairs are not usually talked about. That we should discuss these issues in the first week of classes in this program was something I could get used to.
Although what was discussed was Taiwan’s future, and though these issues are issues which affect all of the people living on Taiwan, it was strange that they were so unfamiliar and distant in discussion. Even if Taiwan desires independence, it is up to other regional powers as America and Japan to determine the course of discussion. Ironically, my trip coincided with Japan’s repeal of Article 9 of their constitution and Hillary Clinton’s warning in “Business Weekly” of closer economic relations between China and Taiwan. These incidents are important to Taiwanese independence in context of East Asia, but what remains is to connect social movements’ concerns with social issues to the world at large.
The most worthwhile gain I got from this trip, of course, was helping establish better relationships between the US and Taiwan. Of course, in the future, whether in wartime or in peacetime, apart from the information I gained from this, apart from solidarity from the outside, more concrete, deeper work needs to be done and remains a matter to be addressed. Though there are those who say America will abandon Taiwan when necessary, from public opinion in America and Japan concerning the rise of China, we can still see Taiwan is of international importance. That is, when it comes to requesting aid from America, it necessary that Taiwan first make some form of declaration as a pretext, before American assistance can come. Thus, it is crucial that Taiwan clarifies before the end of this year and in regards to the 2016 elections that Taiwan does not want to be part of China, which is something Taiwanese society needs to work hard to achieve.
In the process of this, I heard many Americans or Taiwanese-Americans introduce Taiwan as “Asia’s first democracy.” While I could see why they would praise Taiwan as such, in the present, I fear that saying “Taiwan is a democracy” will become entrapping, with people concluding that “since Taiwan is already a democracy, we don’t need to do anything.” This kind of talk you also often hear from American government officials, but what America can’t understand is the unfair Taiwanese electoral system, the more than a hundred years of colonial history, and threat of the 21st century poses to Taiwan with the rise of great powers, the 38 years of martial law with the government controlling all aspects of society, and the traces of the martial law period that remain in the educational system, culture, social values, notions of justice, the degree to which the authoritarianism of the KMT is only second to the Communist Party. These are ways in which Taiwan is not so democratic after all. But these are things America can’t understand so well; it is only after the end of martial law and electoral reform that we can imagine Taiwan to be “already democratic.”
Apart from these difficult to resolve problems, the experience of my trip this time to the US allowed me to see the freedom of the daily life of Americans: that is, democracy. It was like passing through cold water. With the statues you would see outside of congressional offices, (for example, the statue of a woman you would see outside of Congress as a symbol of the people), the story of the artworks was described on plaques and these places were even open for people to visit because they belonged to the people. One might compare to how the Ma administration blocked off entrance to the Legislative Yuan because of continuing protests. In comparing the civic style of architecture in Washington DC to Taiwan, the Legislative Yuan was converted from a high school dating from the Japanese colonial era, as a result of which there is nothing representing the spirit of the people or democracy outside it. In the same vein, streets in the American capital are also named after important historical figures or concepts in regards to democracy, i.e., Independence, Constitution. In Taiwan, apart from Zhongzheng Road named after Sun Yat-Sen, roads were all named by the KMT out of nostalgia for Greater China.
For a Taiwanese nationalist, coming to America, the most painful thing was seeing the strength of American patriotism, especially because I was in DC over the 4th of July. On the night of July 4th, a concert was held outside of Congress, with a performance by America Idol winner Jordin Sparks. When she sang “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” on stage, the eyes of all in the audience, male or female young or old, were upon her. This was, of course, a scene which would have never appeared on Double Ten Day. It feels as though the American people are more expressive, and perhaps it has to do with the lack of authoritarian history in America; Double Ten Day originated from the need to maintain authority, in maintaining the relationship between ruler and ruled through a ceremony which excluded the ruled. With Taiwan, you do not need the sense of public participation in the celebration of the national holiday, as demonstrated in the use of the “national language” and exclusion of other tongues such as Taiwanese, Hakka, or Indigenous languages. I felt in the midst of the concert, Americans are proud of being America in celebrating the birthday of their country. Indeed, the author also had the chance to see Baltimore Orioles MLB game, which was another experience in how American patriotism is practiced in daily life. In the beginning of the baseball game, in the stadium, the announcer introduced a man in the Marines to the crowd and the entire crowd gave him a round of applause. Persons are willing to serve outside of self-interest in a spirit of sacrifice. Yet in Taiwan, we have such occurrences like the Hung Chung-chiu incident.
Photo caption: Americans celebrating their nation’s birthday in the spirit of freedom. Photo credit: Wu Hsueh-Chan
In recent history, for a strong country like America, perhaps it is difficult to identify with the plight of small countries, despite all of America’s talk of supporting democratic and free countries. As the small people of our small country, if you expect us to normalize the country and attain a more reasonable international status, we need to discuss the Taiwanese international situation and consider its relation to social movements, but we need to first address Taiwan’s internal domestic issues before before we can talk about international power and legitimacy.