For a while, postcolonial Taiwan was the economic leader among the four "Asian Tigers." Politically, it implemented direct presidential elections and a transfer of power within a few years. Western products and technology can now be found everywhere. Reform in the political, economic and educational spheres, however, has stagnated and even gone backwards.
Consider the nouveau riche. Despite living in mansions, driving expensive cars, carrying Louis Vuitton bags and using cellphones, computers, the Internet and other modern technology, they are involved in traffic accidents, bully employees and deceive customers.
We know upstarts will repeat these mistakes until they stop relying on extravagance and review their flaws. Similarly, if Taiwan -- at the crossroads of reform -- does not review its past and condemn its colonial history, it will not complete its transformation into a modern nation.
If we ask who should take the most responsibility for reform, the answer is not any single political party. Rather, it is academia, especially the intellectuals who direct social thinking. Corruption in society is a reflection of their failure. Intellectuals in power who clutch their halo of Western science and direct policy formulation while ignoring our postcolonial mindset are the main cause of our "self-colonization."
Take education: Although we have adopted Western educational ideologies, test results remain the only standard for measuring academic performance.
In medicine, divination often outweighs professional medical prescriptions.
In economics, blind development of the high-tech industry has turned Taiwan into a satellite factory for US multinational firms, giving the US greater power than even colonial rulers.
Worse, under the expensive World-Class University Plan, intellectuals make every effort to publish articles in journals recognized by the Social Science Citation Index (SSCI) and the Science Citation Index (SCI), rendering themselves dependent on US academia.
While Taiwan may appear to have adopted many aspects of Western civilization, we continue to follow a traditional value system. In other words, Taiwan is like a freed slave who wants to prove his superiority by his old master's standards. Thus, despite the transfer of power in 2000, the new government is repeating the policies of the old government.
We must initiate a "constructive destruction" -- a comprehensive review of the damage remaining from the colonial past, then the construction of a new value system. During the colonial era, existing simply meant staying alive, while in the 21st century's knowledge-based society, existing means improving life values. Earlier, people were slaves due to greed and fear; now, people strive to self-realize out of interest and passion.
Morality plays an important role in both eras. Morality was used to punish and subdue colonial subjects; now it is a spontaneous force for regulating oneself. These are opposing standards.
Only through a complete assessment of our colonial history can we set new standards and build a new social order. That is also the only way to build a political and educational system supporting a knowledge-based economy.
We believe the impotence and laziness of intellectuals created Taiwan's difficulties. If this elite can muster enough moral courage, sense of historical mission and conscience, we sincerely ask them to apply "pan-historic" moral values as part of a comprehensive review of their activities.
Tseng Kuei-hi is a doctor and former chairman of the Southern Taiwan Society. Bob Kuo is a professor of information systems at National Sun Yat-sen University and former vice chairman of the Southern Taiwan Society.
Translated by Eddy Chang and Perry Svensson
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