Tue, Feb 14, 2012 - Page 8 News List

No room for herding in a real democracy

By Chi Chun-chieh 紀駿傑

It has been said by certain individuals in China that if every person there spat in unison they would be able to drown the whole of Taiwan in spittle. Not a nice image — not least because it is hygienically questionable and lacking in magnanimity — it also flies somewhat in the face of physics. After all, if every person in China spat in unison it would be more likely to cover their own country in phlegm: Beyond that, of course, the idea is derived from the inherently totalitarian, nationalistic and ever-so-slightly ludicrous thinking that, on some prearranged signal, all 1.3 billion Chinese might be made to spit on command. I just can’t see it happening, but perhaps those who have grown up in a totalitarian society, exposed to extreme nationalistic ideas, would find it more conceivable.

Certainly it does seem that way from recent comments made by Peking University professor Kong Qingdong (孔慶東). According to Kong, Taiwan’s presidential election was fake democracy at work and was of little consequence because, his reasoning goes, the victor didn’t even get 6 million votes, which is “not even equal to half the population of Beijing.”

If you follow that logic, the vast majority of democracies in the world are fake and of little consequence. You could argue, for example, that the number of people voting in a general election in the UK — whose population could hardly be considered small, and which has been a democracy for some time now — could be compared unfavorably to half the population of Sichuan Province.

What about half the population of Beijing or Sichuan? Even if it is unlikely everyone, even in a totalitarian society such as China, would act in unison — although this is not something someone with a totalitarian mindset like Kong would understand — Kong could still conceive of ensuring a landslide victory in Taiwan by manipulating the vote through underhanded tactics.

The spirit and value of democracy lie in not assuming that everyone is the same and in not imagining that they can all be herded in one direction or manipulated en masse. Democracy involves recognizing that society consists of rational beings subscribing to a wide range of different views who can make their own independent decisions and act upon their own initiative.

Regrettably, it seems that media baron Tsai Eng-ming (蔡衍明), forgetting how hard it has been to win democracy in Taiwan, has decided to become an apologist for China’s totalitarian society, championing unification with China and restricting what journalists working for his outlets include in their reports.

Nobody is saying that Taiwan’s democracy is perfect. There is much room for improvement. Perhaps one of the biggest problems with it at present is the lack of fair competition, a product of the dominance of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). However, in the face of attitudes such as those of Kong and Tsai, we need to cherish and protect Taiwan’s democratic system and unequivocally reject the prospect of becoming a totalitarian society.

Chi Chun-chieh is a professor in the department of ethnic relations and cultures at National Dong Hwa University.

TRANSLATED BY PAUL COOPER

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