Even for a sexist old fart like me, there are some things about my beloved country’s political discourses that just go too far. Things that make your thinning hair stand on end. That make you want to find a blunt object and bang your pockmarked head on it.
One of these things is a phenomenon plaguing this nation’s commentariat that I have barely been able to face up to, even in my most introspective and quiescent moments. For more than a year now I have been agonizing over whether I should be party to an expose of this place’s lack of creative thinking, penetrating insight and original metaphors that could lead educated people to commit such an appalling rhetorical crime.
I refer to — oh, how this hurts — political pundits likening cross-strait relations and domestic identity issues to dysfunctional relationships between men and women.
I can hear you rushing for the bathroom already. Please be patient; I’ll be out in two shakes.
All this comes to mind as I see images of a Taiwanese delegation bearing tribute in Beijing and eliminating the last barrier between Taiwan and the Red Tourist Peril of China. There’s handshakes and stiff smiles and obsequiousness and dissembling and faux comraderie and all the rest of it. No one trusts anyone, across the Strait or even on the same team.
It’s Detente for Dummies. It’s Rapprochement for the Risible. It’s Glad-handing for the Gullible. It’s Compromise for the Credulous.
So when everyone comes home and brags about how the Taiwan Strait is so much safer than before, I’ll be finding a Japanese-era bomb shelter to hide in to avoid the slew of husband-wife-mistress-lover-cuckold-abuse references that are bound to follow.
But before I head underground, let me share some examples of this pestilence with you. To be fair to this newspaper’s competitors (yes, I try to be fair, despite all the provocations), I’ve sourced all examples from our own pages over the years.
One of the Taipei Times’ editorialists way back in 2000 exhausted the opportunities the metaphor had to offer in criticizing the take of that old reptile, Minister Mentor Lee Kwan Yew (李光耀) of Singapore, on the China-Taiwan relationship:
“Lets use a marital breakup as a comparison metaphor: A couple splits up. The woman builds a new life for herself. Her husband sits and broods, turning into an aggressive psychopathic stalker with a fixation on getting back his ‘lost’ wife. Come home on my terms, he shouts waving a gun around and frightening the neighbors as he does so, or suffer the consequences” (“Holes in Lee’s cross-strait theory,” Sept. 23, 2000, page 8).
Unfortunately, the appeal of China as metaphor for sicko hubbie has prevailed. Seven years later, we have this by Jerome Keating:
“For example, take the analogy of a woman who lives in an abusive marriage or relationship. The woman knows she is not happy. She wants out. What she really wants is a divorce and to be her own boss. Yet her culture may not allow divorce or have a term for it.
“Perhaps divorced women are chauvinistically discriminated against in her culture; perhaps that option has no precedent. Perhaps her relatives or others pressure her to stay.
“The woman rebels against her marriage and eventually, after years of resistance, comes to the realization that what she had been seeking all along was to control her own destiny and be independent. Eventually she finds a way and the language to express it” (“The process of Taiwanese identity,” June 26, 2007, page 8).
Other writers have turned the metaphor inward, discussing the China-Taiwan divide in terms of nationalist difference within Taiwan:
“This line of questioning [on the national identity of Taiwanese] resembles the type of questions quarreling lovers tend to ask each other: ‘Do you love me?’ ‘Do you care about me at all?’ ‘Do I mean anything to you?’ ... Both sides know too well that no answer in the world can ease the skepticism felt by the side asking the question, but they persist. Unless the sense of skepticism is removed first, no answer — be it in the affirmative or negative — can please the person. In any event, the question will be raised again periodically, leading to more fights and anger.
“Just like between husband and wife, perhaps we should learn to directly skip over the page with the question ‘do you love me?’ written on it, and refuse to answer the question when asked” (“Question of nationality irrelevant,” Oct. 30, 2000, page 8).
Even senior politicians have got in on the act. Take this example from former Democratic Progressive Party chairman Yu Shyi-kun:
“The Pinglin referendum was like a marriage — we had to respect the wishes of the township residents and trust their choices just like spouses do with their husbands and wives” (“Yu Shyi-kun enters presidential end game,” Sept. 21, 2003, page 3).
Well, at least this one wasn’t sexist. But I still groaned.
My favorite examples — in the sense that I have favorite diseases — are those that depict a scene that might include traditional costume, footbinding and the like:
“They [pan-blue-camp officials] behaved as if they were concubines who were grateful for their husbands’ attention after falling out of favor for a long time” (The Neihu News Network editorial: “Don’t let the opposition sell us out,” April 24, 2005, page 8).
Whatever next? A Zhang Yimou (張藝謀) film called Raise the Red 1992 Consensus?
Two things stand out in this parade of sexualized nationalism.
The first is that Taiwan and China are assumed to have a relationship akin to romantic peers rather than dominating parent and browbeaten child.
The second is that, in all instances, Taiwan is female and China is male.
When my gal Cathy Pacific eventually finds her way back from postmodern exile on Green Island, I might see if we two sorry folk can turn this degenerative feature of political commentary on its head.
We could do this by likening the relationship woes of our friends to the cross-strait impasse (and make no bones about it, my long-suffering reader: We are still at an impasse).
Imagine it: Do you fight with your spouse all the time but can’t bear to see him/her go on the market for someone much more attractive and suitable than you? That’s just like when China won’t grant Taiwan independence because it’s scared that Japan might come along and cut a security deal.
Are you scared of getting married because you’re just not quite ready for commitment? Well, that’s sort of like Taiwanese nationalists who want to play the field for as long as possible before giving in to geopolitical reality and embracing a democratic state without ethnic markers.
Are you having sexual problems such as frigidity, anorgasmia and the fear that you’re too dirty to be touched where it counts? Hey, look at it this way: It’s like how China tries to impress Taiwan with 5,000 years of history but puts on a cold, brittle demeanor and won’t bare its tormented, post-Tiananmen soul.
Dammit, I think I’m onto something. Maybe some young hotshot political anthropologist can write a book about it. Call it Chinese are from Mars, Taiwanese are from Venus.
Got something to tell Johnny? Go on, get it off your chest. Write to email@example.com, but be sure to put “Dear Johnny” in the subject line or he’ll mark your bouquets and brickbats as spam.
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