Fri, Nov 17, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Only a madman can save Taiwan

There are plenty of things to find depressing about Taiwanese politics.

It is pointless to try to analyze this country's political situation through the lens of right and wrong, good against evil, right versus left, clean or dirty, or even just competent and incompetent.

The politician who today thunders against corruption is one who has been investigated for stealing millions of dollars from his own party -- like People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜).

Conversely, a man who rises to power on a platform of clean government and humanitarian values -- like President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) -- surrounds himself with corrupt and/or self-aggrandizing aides and sanctions the death penalty, even though he has the constitutional authority to stop it.

So when, as now, accusations fly back and forth, implicating virtually every major political figure in some form of malfeasance or incompetence, one can be forgiven for thinking that all of it is probably true.

A familiarity with Taiwanese politics, much like Taiwanese history, will show that there are remarkably few good guys -- just a lot of compromised, flawed human beings.

Plenty of local commentators like to draw on their Confucian learning and spill gallons of ink decrying the flawed nature of mankind. They call for politicians and the media to exercise self-restraint, to prevent "social chaos," to be virtuous leaders.

This is part of the problem. No amount of hand-wringing is going to bring about changes in human character. Taiwan's governmental problems are the result of systemic flaws, not personality issues.

Perhaps this endless repetition of useless Confucian mumbo-jumbo, with its focus on stability and attempts to ossify society, would be useful if this country were a utopia with a flawless political system. But Taiwan has serious problems with its government, which if left unaddressed could undermine its democratic nature.

It is too bad that the writings of Lu Xun (魯迅) -- one of the key figures of the May Fourth Movement -- were banned in Taiwan until the 1980s. If all the commentators and political figures who now unthinkingly and reflexively turn back to Confucius (孔子) for their insights had read A Madman's Diary (狂人日記) when they were young, they might have developed a different view.

Written in 1918, A Madman's Diary is a devastating and wry condemnation of Confucianism and traditional Chinese culture. The book describes a young student studying the Chinese "classics" as he prepares for an exam to become a bureaucrat during the Qing Dynasty.

But as he reads his texts, all he can see are the words "eat people." He becomes convinced that he is surrounded by cannibals, and is driven mad in the process.

The point, of course, is that the oppressive traditionalism of Chinese feudal society, with its emphasis on conformity, hierarchy and continuity -- epitomized by the works of Confucius -- was a bar to progress and reform. Individualism is crushed and independent thought is yoked with the chains of orthodoxy.

It should be clear from the sheer pervasiveness of corruption, incompetence and plain idiocy exhibited by the nation's politicians that the status quo isn't working. What is needed is not an illusory "stability," but real reform.

It isn't difficult to think of radical changes that Taiwan needs. Here is an example, which is quite pertinent at the moment: Revoke the legal immunity enjoyed by legislators and the president.

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