Fri, Aug 25, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: When `Cha bu duo' doesn't cut it

When people negatively stereotype Taiwan, they tend to focus on one of two things: a reputation for making inexpensive, non-durable goods, or the brawls that often pass for legislative sessions.

Anyone familiar with Taiwan knows that this country offers its inhabitants and the world much more than just a place to buy cheap widgets or the punchline to a comic variety show.

"Made in Taiwan" was once synonymous with cheap plastic goods that would quickly fall apart. This perception is so entrenched that several years ago, even a major British company ran an advertising campaign around it, something to the effect of "You can either be a winner and buy our quality goods, or you can be a loser and buy Made in Taiwan crap."

Obviously, this was offensive and simplistic, and as many noted at the time, the advertisers had probably designed their ads on computers built in Taiwan. Irony will always have a place in the world.

But it has to be said that these two negative stereotypes are a reflection of two trends in this society that do exist, and are increasingly converging: nonchalance about quality, and bitter political partisanship.

Some people consider the cha bu duo (差不多) -- "close enough is good enough" -- attitude espoused by many Taiwanese to be not just an endearing quirk, but also a vital psychological defense mechanism in a hierarchical society that was once a playground for murderous authoritarianism.

The way to avoid the wrath of zealots and despots is to be low-key and not take absolute stands on anything: "If the military policemen want to stop me for no reason and question me, it will only make things worse if I get upset; so cha bu duo. Just take it on the chin and move along."

This works in certain scenarios, but is hopeless in others: No one would want their doctor to begin surgery like this: "Is this where the incision should go? Ah, well, cha bu duo, close enough."

So why are Taiwanese willing to accept this kind of haphazard jury-rigging when it comes to their system of government? There is nothing wrong with thinking, for instance, that the current president is an incompetent and corrupt fool. But it is another to attempt to oust him for these reasons by using non-legal means, as his opponents are doing now.

But in Taiwan's politicized society, there is neither black nor white, but only blue and green. Few people are worried about the deleterious long-term effects that creating an extra-legal precedent for ousting a democratically elected official will have on their system of government. And Taiwan's political leaders couldn't care less: they are all politicians, not leaders.

Whether our readers support the blues or the greens, they should be asking themselves a very serious question: Is a political victory worth dismantling the mechanisms of Taiwan's fragile democracy?

If the answer from most is anything but "no," then there is very little hope for the survival of the liberty that people in Taiwan now enjoy, nor for the kind of accountability that has made President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) as unpopular as he now is.

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