Most visitors to Taiwan leave with good impressions. They say Taiwanese are friendly, helpful, kind and so on. In business, Taiwanese have proven themselves to be hardworking, adaptive and entrepreneurial.
So why, then, do these same congenial people have trouble working together in politics? Why can’t they develop, expand and solidify the freedom and democracy that they and their ancestors took so long to win and sacrificed so much to achieve? Why do Taiwanese, particularly in their nation’s identity and sovereignty, become their own worst enemy?
Their own worst enemy? Yes.
In the more than 20 years that I have been in Taiwan, I have watched a nation come of age and begin to find its identity. In 1987 I watched it finally break free of the decades of Martial Law that had been imposed, sanctioned and perpetuated by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). In 1996, Taiwanese were finally able to freely elect their own president.
Nevertheless, of all the colonial powers that visited Taiwan, if there was one that fits the role of the beggar who takes over the temple, it was the KMT.
I have watched this nation finally break free from a system of privileges that so many of the beggar’s children enjoyed in Taiwan after 1947. I speak of the seats in the Legislative Yuan and the National Assembly, but also include the numerous administrative and support positions that went with them.
They achieved democracy, but the Taiwanese never finished the job. They never got rid of all the beggar’s children — those who still longed for China rather than Taiwan.
The fact that poisonous people like Government Information Office staffer Kuo Kuan-ying (郭冠英) still held prominent positions in the government service is ample proof that the beggar’s children are still around. The fact that people like Diane Lee (李慶安) — a favorite of the beggar’s children — could keep a seat in the legislature yet be ready to escape to the US if trouble ever came is a measure of the loyalty that the beggar’s children have for Taiwan. I am surprised that Lee did not also have a passport for the People’s Republic of China.
In any other country, Kuo and Lee’s actions could be considered treasonous, yet they walk the streets, free as birds, enjoying their profits at the public’s expense. Why? Because the beggar’s children still control the legislature and the presidency.
In addition to having short memories, the kindness of Taiwanese has prevented them from recognizing charlatans.
Now, under President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), the nation is once again on the verge of losing everything that it fought and died for.
Taiwanese are distracted and fight over the wrong things. They remind me of people whose house is on fire. As they enter their home to put out the fire, one of them looks at the clock on the wall and notices it does not have the same time as his watch. He calls to the others: “Wait, we need to change the hands of the clock on the wall, the time is not correct.” Another disagrees: “It’s fast, but that’s OK because it helps us get going earlier.” A third counters: “We should make it exact.” A fourth disagrees: “The clock is correct; it’s your watches that are wrong.” And so they argue while the house burns down.
To be sure, Taiwan faces many immediate practical problems, but its overriding problem and priority should be to establish a national identity: an identity based on Taiwanese consciousness, one that will defend this island nation.