Taiwanese people's 'pa-biang' spirit
The people of Taiwan are facing an important choice: whether or not to hold a referendum expressing to the entire world their will for self-determination.
\nToday, regardless of whether one likes the ruling party, and regardless of whether one agrees with the current leaders, the referendum issue is no longer a dispute over whether Taiwan has a legal right to hold a referendum, or whether doing so is good or bad. Rather, it is simply a choice that the people of Taiwan must face.
\nAt first, they could delay this choice and take a low profile. But in fact there is no longer any room to wiggle or take a low profile, as both the ruling and opposition parties have tightened the political screws. Even the US, the pillar of international support that Taiwan relies on, has taken a stance by issuing a warning. The people of Taiwan must make a choice.
\nLike other political reforms in Taiwan, the passage of the Referendum Law (公投法) was a "miraculous" breakthrough, with much commotion and many twists and turns. From the establishment of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to the power reshuffle in the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), the abolishment of Article 100 of the Criminal Code, the reform of the National Assembly and the transition of political power to the DPP, which one of Taiwan's democratization and localization processes did not face a dead end at some point before succeeding?
\nSometimes there are no terms for this sort of phenomenon. It must be attributable to the abundant vitality of the Taiwanese people.
\nRecently, I was invited to participate in a discussion with fellow journalists with the title A Study of Taiwan's Vitality. In my speech, I used a phrase from Hoklo, commonly known as Taiwanese, to describe the Taiwanese people's abundant vitality: pa-biang (打拼, strive).
\nIf we look at Taiwan's history, didn't we get where we are today by means of this pa-biang spirit? This has been the case in politics and in economics and culture.
\nWe can even make a loose analogy between the ubiquitous pa-biang spirit and Taiwan's natural history. The island of Taiwan was created more than 100 million years ago by compression between the Eurasian Plate and the Pacific Plate.
\nOf course, we do not necessarily have to force such a personification onto nature, but how can we not marvel at the similarities between Taiwan's natural and civilizational evolutions, faced as we are with the formational process of the island of Taiwan, full as it is of change and vitality?
\nEmbracing this pa-biang spirit, Taiwan has finally passed a referendum law this year, despite everything. One step has finally been taken, even though the law is full of holes.
\nJust a few months ago, people concerned about this referendum legislation found it difficult to imagine that such a law would be passed in the short term.
\nThe problem is that the evil curse on referendums has not been lifted even though a referendum law has been passed.
\nA referendum in the name of defense and with self-determination as its essence has presented itself along the historical path of the Taiwanese people -- no matter if it was driven by the election or pushed forward by democracy, and no matter if it is a sudden change of concepts or an impromptu decision.
\nFor the first time, the people of Taiwan will have to take a stand on their own future. What is even more remarkable is that they will have to do it under the Chinese regime's inevitable threats and without support from the US government.
\nWhat must come to pass will eventually come to pass. Any point in time will present choices that the people of Taiwan must face at that particular point regarding how they will determine their future. In that respect, referendums are in fact an unavoidable issue.
\nSome say that a referendum can be held sooner or later, not necessarily now. That is true. But under the present circumstances, not holding a referendum will be far more deleterious to Taiwan than holding one.
\nSome others believe there is no need to hold a referendum on a question whose answer we already know from public opinion polls.
\nThis is a grossly mistaken view. Referendums are an expression of the people's collective will and of course they have more of a declaratory, symbolic nature than opinion polls.
\nChanges in history are often created when there is no other choice.
\nWhat is so morally objectionable at this particular point about directly expressing the Taiwanese people's pent-up dissatisfaction with the Chinese regime -- and indirectly declaring the Taiwanese people's will for "self-determination" regarding their own future -- by means of a referendum along the "anti-missile, pro-peace" line?
\nOn the other hand, if we can't even hold such a referendum, then what is the point of passing a referendum law?
\nPoliticians who merely shout to make themselves look brave or feel good are not mature politicians. They are not what Taiwan needs now.
\nIf politicians cannot do what they should and move forward bravely on the basis of their beliefs, then how can they create new prospects for Taiwan?
\nThe US has made a clear statement and is now awaiting Taiwan's response. The people of Taiwan, what is your choice in this situation? As a member of Taiwanese society, as a citizen who must shoulder the consequences for his decisions, I would like to say clearly to the US authorities after much pondering: "I want a referendum, and I am willing to take all the possible consequences it may bring." I hope and believe that a large number of Taiwanese people will make the same decision, and that they will eventually become the mainstream.
\n"The Taiwanese people were not raised to fear!" We used to say this catchy line often. We have no intention of saying it to our friends from the US, who have always had democracy, freedom and human rights on their lips. But the Taiwanese people were not raised with kid gloves either!
\nPa biang is a common phrase of our past, present and future.
\nOn April 21, 1935, an earthquake measuring 7.1 occurred around Chuolan in Hsinchu County, killing more than 3,200 people and injuring more than 12,000.
\nBut in November of that year Taiwan held its first ever semi-autonomous local elections all the same.
\nOn Sept. 21, 1999, Taiwan suffered the Chichi Earthquake, which measured 7.3 on the Richter scale and killed almost 2,400 people and injured more than 8,000. Six months later, however, Taiwan held its presidential election and saw its first democratic transition of political power.
\nIn addition to natural disasters, there has been no lack of verbal and military threats from China during Taiwan's recent elections, but the Taiwanese people have never retreated. This time, they are once again walking toward an historic turning point.
\nI believe most Taiwanese people will be willing to shout: "I want a referendum, and I accept the consequences!" -- no matter which political party they support, and no matter which candidate they prefer.
\nHu Yuan-hui is president of the Central News Agency.
\n Translated by Francis Huang
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