NOT ONCE, NOT twice, but on three occasions calendars meant for distribution by government offices across the country included Chinese holidays such as Reunification Day and Mao Zedong’s (毛澤東) birthday, or substituted the Republic of China (ROC) flag with that of the blood-drenched People’s Republic of China (PRC).
Every time, government officials blamed printing companies or, in an insult to our intelligence, black-and-white samples that had ostensibly prevented proofreaders from seeing clearly, for the mishaps.
Now, anyone who has worked in publishing or ever pored over black-and-white proofs could be excused for recoiling in shock at such asinine explanations. Black-and-white or in color, the ROC and PRC flags certainly do not look the same — unless, of course, the printing company used so much black ink that it should be sued for environmental damage. And let’s be honest — black-and-white or color, the anniversary date of a mass murderer who starved millions of his own people is exactly the same.
These are not isolated incidents. Someone, somewhere, made the willful act of affixing the PRC flag on the calendars and added Chinese holidays. At modicum, local governments were either too incompetent or simply didn’t care enough to halt distribution before the errors were found, which calls for reprimand. Those blunders were insulting to Taiwanese, akin to handing a calendar with the Star of David to a Palestinian — or, conversely, giving Jews a calendar highlighting the birth of Adolf Hitler.
More likely, however, is that these incidents were part of a pattern whereby the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government whittles away at Taiwan’s sovereignty by dint of repeats and retreats until reality gets distorted and facts are created on the ground. Repeat the lies often enough and eventually the falsehoods become reality. President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has done this time and again, with references to “areas” across the Taiwan Strait while avoiding to call Taiwan by its proper name. Repeat these things often enough and they will eventually be picked up by some people, some media outlets, who in turn will perpetuate the lie until it becomes customary. It is subtle, but it works. Ask anyone in the US, where for years the population has been bombarded with color-guided terror “threat levels,” whether repetition works or not. It does. People live in fear. It’s known as conditioning.
The same applies to the removal of the ROC flag at certain venues, the government’s supposedly sagacious “compromising” on how Taiwan is referred to on the international stage, and on the KMT’s increasing reliance on nongovernmental bodies and unelected officials to conduct what passes off as diplomacy. The KMT government tests the waters, retreats when people react and blames someone else, only to try again later. Increments, one degree at a time. Not to beat a dead horse — or a frog, in this instance — but a frog will “forget” its natural instinct for survival and allow itself to boil to death if the water temperature in which she finds herself is raised gradually.
For a man who has vowed not to compromise national sovereignty or undermine the nation’s dignity, his government has done an exceptional job blurring the flag — so much so that the white sun has turned into five drifting yellow stars and the sea of red has entirely swallowed the solitary blue quarter.
Part of the problem, part of the reason conduct of this sort continues, is that Taiwanese have been largely dispassionate, with a few opposition lawmakers denouncing the KMT’s latest offense against the nation’s dignity until the story disappeared from newspapers and TV news. In every instance, the government has been allowed to walk away free, without so much as a slap on the wrist or a reminder that people will not brook such behavior. The authorities have been able to make a travesty of the judiciary and still Taiwanese stand aside, as if they didn’t realize that something was dangerously amiss.
At some point, if Taiwanese are to avoid joining the overcooked frog in its basin, they will have to stand up and say: “Enough is enough. This is my country and under no circumstances will we allow our government to add national holidays that have nothing to do with or and that celebrate mass murderers and repressive regimes (we’ve had our own). Enough is enough, only fools would believe all those lies.”
Until Taiwanese wake up and take Ma and his henchmen to account, the KMT will continue to chip at the edges until one morning people will wake up to a country they no longer recognize.
J. Michael Cole is a writer based in Taipei.
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