Thu, Oct 12, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Letter: A civil society includes all

By Richard Hartzell

While Ben Adams penned a very good article ("Taiwan on the road to civil society," Oct. 8, page 8), I would like to touch on some very important related issues in regard to how the concept of "civil society" is understood by Chinese-speaking people.

The Chinese translation of "civil society" in Taiwan is often rendered as gongmin shehui (公民社會), which actually appears to indicate "citizens' society," thus suggesting that aliens are excluded.

This is incorrect, and it is suggested that a translation of minjian shehui (民間社會) or minshi shehui (民事社會) would be much closer to the concept of "civil society."

The jian here is the character in zhongjian (中間), meaning middle. The minshi here is the Chinese term for "civil," as in "civil court."

In light of the above, here in Taiwan the term "members of the public" should be interpreted most correctly to include all persons physically present, and cannot be held to only include those with local citizenship.

Hence, I strongly suggest that in the drafting of Taiwanese laws and regulations, clear distinctions should be made between different categories of people, such as Taiwanese citizens, foreigners and stateless persons. Vague terms such as "people" (renmin, 人民) should be avoided wherever possible.

I also suggest that separating or categorizing people according to their ethnic origin is also inappropriate.

Richard Hartzell


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