Thu, Jul 20, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Always tell the truth to the powerful

By Jackson Yeh 葉國豪

Led by Wu Nai-teh (吳乃德), an Academia Sinica research fellow, Chang Fu-chung (張富忠), a former editor-in-chief of Formosa magazine, and several other academics and social activists issued a statement on Saturday urging President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to resign.

The statement, entitled "The ethical crisis of democratic politics and Taiwan consciousness -- our call to the president, the ruling party and the Taiwanese people," has attracted much attention from all sectors of society. The statement is seen as deep reflection by the green camp, especially by pro-green academics and activists. It will inevitably bring pressure and have an impact on Chen and his family, who are allegedly involved in various scandals.

We should view such criticism against Chen and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) from two angles.

First, it reaches beyond the division between blue and green. If we continue to label the writers and countersigners of the statement as either blue or green, we will weaken the power of the statement and will gloss over and simplify the political spectrum.

Second, it is a call from intellectuals to those in power. Their call to Chen, the DPP and the people should be seen as an honest message to those in power. They have given their thoughts for the sake of Taiwan's democratization, hoping to strengthen the quality of democracy and the public's Taiwan consciousness. They value the establishment of systems above personal political gain. Especially, they emphasize the responsibilities we have to ourselves and coming generations. The hopes and bravery shown in the statement are touching.

Earlier this month, Presidential Office Deputy Secretary-General Cho Jung-tai (卓榮泰), who is in his 40s, caused controversy by sitting at the front while older Academia Sinica members stood at the back during a photo shoot. Doctors at NTU Hospital have also started to review their interaction with those in power, and today, academics with strong Taiwan consciousness who have long been concerned about the country's democratic development and consolidation are urging Chen to resign.

This series of events offers a moment of reflection in the current political chaos. We must seize the chance to reconsider the relationship between intellectuals and those in power, or, more specifically, how we should tell the truth to those in power.

In modern society, interaction between knowledge and power is more complex. On the one hand, the establishment of the knowledge system, as well as teaching and research, depend on financial support from government agencies.

On the other hand, intellectuals must act according to their conscience and seek the truth using logic. But when knowledge encounters power, when the intellectual becomes the powerful and when we become arrogant after our knowledge becomes our profession, what kind of truths should we voice, and how should we speak them? Obviously, this is a thorny issue.

In his book, The Intellectual and Taiwan's Development (知識分子與台灣發展) published in 1989, late senior adviser to the president Tao Pai-chuan (陶百川) wrote, "The intellectual must always improve administrative performance and eliminate corrupt atmosphere using both criticism and admonishment."

He stressed, "Politics must always be criticized; power must always be restrained. Otherwise, politics will become decadent and rigid; power will be abused and corrupted. Criticism and admonishment are the intellectual's responsibility and right."

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