Thu, Feb 08, 2001 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan must not end up just like India

By Kuo Sheng-che 郭盛哲

Taiwanese and Indian society are alike in that their people only unite when faced with major disaster. After memories of the disaster fade, their peoples soon resume their old habits of acting selfishly and only looking after their own interests.

A profound question about the two societies is: What has led them, despite their very different cultures, to the same mode of social interaction today?

One significant historical fact about India is that it is one of the few nations that enjoyed democracy before industrialization. India practices democratic politics, influenced as it has been by British colonialism. Most of the early Hindu elite, including Mahatma Gandhi, received their higher education in Great Britain and were very familiar with the way democratic politics operate. When India became an independent democratic republic, all its modes of political operation were copied from the British.

The establishment of democratic politics, however, has only helped the Indian government to partially achieve industrialization. The success of its heavy industries and aerospace technology has been of little benefit to the people's livelihood. Meanwhile, under democratic politics, government has been weak and incapable, bringing the nation greater inefficiency, corruption and a privileged class. It also failed to eradicate domestic violence caused by religious fanaticism. Most citizens still live in extreme poverty, as the disparity between the rich and the poor persists.

Taiwan chose another road, that of promoting industrialization first while gradually carrying out democratic politics. The over-emphasis on industrialization, however, cost us dearly -- both politically and socially. Taiwan experienced suppression of human rights and restrictions on the freedom of speech, as well as insufficient channels for participation in politics. The worst problem is that the "civil power" (公民力量) of social connections beyond family or ethnic connections -- which commonly exist in Western society -- is lacking in Taiwan, as the whole of society is based on limited social interaction between families and between ethnic groups. Consequently, when the democratization process began, the charade of a stable society collapsed, leading to chaos. Thus, despite the surface impression that democracy has been upheld, in practice the foundation proved to be very weak.

Meanwhile, the power of "black gold" politics (黑金) is getting stronger and the law can do nothing about it. The legislative bodies have become the ultimate shields behind which legislators pursue their private interests and privileges. Fairness and justice have died while society itself is reverting to the law of the jungle. All we do is pursue wealth and worship consumption. Power and fortune have become the only yardsticks for achievement in our society and the ultimate goals.

All these problems are the result of the vertically-connected social structures of family and ethnicity, as well as the lack of a horizontally connected civil power. Taiwan has become an empty body without a soul. Although we sport the fancy clothes of freedom and democracy, underneath we are stark naked.

Although Taiwan and India have followed different development processes, the prices both have to pay today are huge due to the lack of an effective civil power within their social systems. Fortunately, historical development is not always linear and Taiwan still has a chance to right its wrongs. The only question is whether time is on our side. Do we still have time to hesitate about what moves to make?

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