Sat, May 24, 2008 - Page 8 News List

Charity and prejudice don't make a good pair

By Bruce Liao 廖元豪

The Sichuan earthquake has allowed the Taiwanese public to fully exercise their compassion. Suddenly, animosity and opposition across the Taiwan Strait have melted away.

The earlier cyclone in Myanmar, however, which also caused a serious humanitarian crisis, did not seem to attract the concern of the Taiwanese media and public. From this perspective, the compassion of the Taiwanese seems highly selective, being more easily bestowed upon Chinese people, who are of the same culture and ethnicity.

However, from the perspective of Taiwanese law, the criterion of being more friendly to the Chinese than to other foreigners does not seem to stand. For instance, Taiwanese law treats Chinese spouses much more poorly than other foreign spouses.

For example, Chinese spouses are not permitted to work within the first four years of arriving in Taiwan, the penalty being deportation. Other foreign spouses, however, may start working in as little as 15 days once they obtain residency status.

Chinese spouses are not even permitted to join organizations, whereas other foreign spouses can legally form groups to protect their rights.

An inheritance received by Chinese spouses from their Taiwanese partners or other relatives has an upper limit of NT$2 million (US$65,800). There is no limit for other foreign spouses.

Even if Chinese spouses become Taiwanese citizens, they are still not allowed to be employed by the government within the first 10 years of obtaining citizenship. However, other foreign spouses obtaining citizenship can be employed by most government agencies.

There is a large number of other examples of this prejudice. Some Chinese spouses therefore express support for Taiwan and China being separate states so that they would not be classified as “ROC citizens from the mainland area,” and at least enjoy the same treatment as other foreign spouses.

Why are we so legally unfriendly toward the Chinese, who share our ethnicity and culture?

If they are citizens of an enemy state, then why are we so much more enthusiastic with our compassion toward China than Myanmar, a foreign state?

The key point is that we have the compassion to give to those in need — however, we are not necessarily ready to grant them equivalent sovereign rights. Compassion and charity does not impinge on one’s own elevated position.

However, if those on the receiving end of our charity begin to demand rights, then the Taiwanese public is often unable to accept that “they” are demanding to be equal to “us.”

Thus, with charitable donations, we are more inclined to be generous toward China, based on compassion built upon ethnic and cultural kinship. However, when the Chinese truly enter our lives to share and compete for resources, we will attempt to use the law to maintain our elevated position.

Compassion is a truly valuable human asset. However, it cannot only be bestowed under the precondition of superiority. Do the Taiwanese possess a highly selective, premodern form of compassion? Or is it a respect for equal rights that befits a modern citizenry?

Now that the anti-China Democratic Progressive Party government is stepping down, and as earthquake relief efforts diminish cross-strait animosity, our willingness to transform our prejudice against Chinese immigrants will be an important benchmark.

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