Cultural differences, cultural ignorance and poor choice of words have sparked a number of misunderstandings and conflicts in Taiwan in recent days.
Last week, the foreign community in Taipei was alerted that a newly opened restaurant had hung pictures of a Nazi concentration camp on its walls to create a "jailhouse" atmosphere. Foreign wires picked up the story after seeing the initial report on this newspaper's Internet site, quickly raising an international furor. The restaurant's owner, aware of the gravity of the situation, hastily took the photos down. But the news was just another black mark on Taiwan's international record, already full of unflattering news of Taiwan as exporter of mercury tainted waste and the like. But the owner had no ill intentions. It was merely cultural ignorance that led him to commit a faux pax on an international scale.
But at least Taiwanese should understand the sensitivities of their own society. Not so.
Last Friday, the Taiwan Peace Foundation (
The Taiwan Peace Foundation slammed the Taipei City Cultural Affairs Bureau (文化局) for arbitrarily interpreting an administrative ruling and delivering an ultimatum, according to which the bureau will only sign a ten month contract with the foundation for management of the museum, on the grounds that the bureau must, "act in accordance with the Government Purchasing Law." This is not only a step backwards, but an insult to the foundation's hard work over the past three years.
On the surface the problem seems to be a lack of trust between the foundation and Cultural Affairs Bureau, but it is hard not to believe that differences of ethnic sentiment and ideology are also at work, particularly in the deplorable attitude of cultural superiority exhibited by the bureau's head.
Since taking up her post as director of the bureau last year, Lung Ying-tai (龍應台) has come into conflict with the Taipei City Council several times because of poor communication skills and a lack of trust. Lung's independent working style, weak personal skills and self-centered attitude have made her hard to work with. Worse still, her pride as an intellectual and, dare we say, her perception that as a mainlander she is culturally superior, show through her words and actions.
Lung, a long-time resident of Germany, understands the sensitivity surrounding the Holocaust. She once penned a criticism of President Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) for lacking a "Chinese consciousness" and not admonishing Japan for the Nanjing Massacre as forcefully as China. Clearly Lung is aware of the importance of that massacre to Chinese. So was Lung ignorant or just faking it when she asked the director of the Taipei 228 Memorial Museum, "How do you plan to celebrate the 228 Incident this year?"
In dealing with such issues as the Holocaust or the Nanjing Massacre, we can only remember, we cannot "celebrate." So it is with the 228 Incident which traumatizes Taiwan to this day. If Lung's wording did not stem from her ignorance of Taiwan's history, then it must be an "intentional misunderstanding" based on her willful belittling of Taiwanese sensibilities.
Lung paints herself as a cosmopolitan figure, constantly announcing her intention to "bring international culture to Taiwan." Yet at the same time she is flagrantly ignorant of or insulting to Taiwan's culture and history. Can such a person be fit to hold the post of cultural affairs director? Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) must seriously consider if Lung is qualified to hold a position that oversees the Taipei 228 Memorial Museum. We think that leaving her in this position is an affront to the victims of the 228 Incident and their families. Remove her at once.
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