For the past couple of weeks, reports about a government plan to lift the ban on US beef imports containing residues of ractopamine, as well as about suspicions of a cover-up of the outbreak of avian influenza, have dominated the news. These have been fed not only by the actions of government officials, but of certain experts, whose words and deeds many have considered extremely suspicious. This has once again brought up the debate over whether politicians and academics are in bed with each other.
Farming has always been quite a conservative and closed area. It is quite difficult to get much information about what is going on in the industry, as many people intent on promoting agricultural reform have discovered. Investigating and reporting on issues concerning the rights of farmers is not easy: Just ask documentary filmmaker Kevin Lee (李惠仁), who had to delve deep into his own pockets to finish his film A Secret That Can’t Be Exposed (不能戳的秘密).
The main reason behind this is farmers, as a group, do not wield much power, and find it difficult to exert any real political influence. Farmers’ groups are rather strapped for cash and to a large extent have to rely on government subsidies. In some cases, the representatives of these groups rely on official support if they want to be elected, and as such, they are even less likely to bite the hand that feeds them. It is therefore almost impossible to find anyone willing to come forward and help fight for farmers’ rights.
Some of the senior figures in the farmers’ groups are also local vote captains working to motivate voters at the grassroots level on behalf of political parties, which sets many farmers at cross-purposes with their own peers and has a destabilizing effect on the group as a whole.
The upshot of this is that some of these groups fail in their role of serving as a bridge for communication between their members and the government, making farmers feel that they have no voice and that the government performs less efficiently than it otherwise would. The fact that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) could say to farmers in the south just prior to the election that they should have voiced their concerns over the falling prices of fruit earlier speaks volumes about how serious this problem is.
In the past, academics were able to remain impartial in all this, giving them an important role in the formation of the nation’s agricultural policy. With the proliferation in the number of universities over the past few years and the limited funds available from the Ministry of Education, many academic institutions have seen a drop in subsidies. Teachers have been obliged to look elsewhere to make up the shortfall — and this also applies to academics specializing in fields related to agriculture.
This actually gives government agencies something they can work with, a bit of room to maneuver. There is the good old carrot-and-stick approach: the ability to withhold research projects or to award large research grants, and various combinations thereof.
Many academics, then, prefer to keep their heads down: Examples of those willing to say what they think are few and far between, and some are, indeed, quite happy to speak up for government policy. In short, they have lost their ability to remonstrate against the government and ill-advised agricultural policies continue unchecked, not only impeding the progress of agricultural reform, but also keeping farmers in a vulnerable position.
One academic did speak to the press, saying that academia was being taken over by thugs and that intellectuals were a dying breed; unfortunately, the public paid little attention to this. This is all too clear in the way the ractopamine and avian flu issues are being dealt with: It’s happening right before our eyes. Not only is this detrimental to the image of individual experts, it is also destroying the public’s trust and respect for academics in general.
Academia is in bed with politics, a problem that has been particularly evident in Taiwan over the past few years. Many academics have been enthusiastic participants in political events and on political talk shows, which some prefer over teaching and research. It has reached the point where one’s political stance is regarded as an adequate and accurate measure of the strength of one’s argument.
The academic of yesterday who would plod away in solitude researching a specific notion over a matter of years has become a rarity. Nowadays, many academics with backgrounds in technology are more likely looking to patent their ideas, which does not necessarily cater to the needs of society. They choose relatively simple technology fields that are likely to produce results in the short — rather than long — term, and then apply for the patent so they can flog it off to the highest bidder and become a “famous” professor, get themselves a senior government position or even a place in the Cabinet.
There are many cases of academics who initially showed promise, then opted for the political route and pretty soon started spouting absolute rubbish, to the consternation of anyone who cares to watch.
What, when it comes down to it, is the value of intellectuals studying? It certainly isn’t about promotions to official positions, amassing a fortune or gaining glory. It is about being the backbone of the country, of speaking up for the weak and the vulnerable; it’s about giving society hope.
Being the backbone of the country means not bowing down to politics, not deferring in the presence of power and not being afraid to speak the truth. In Taiwan today, with its preoccupations with success, fame and fortune, these expectations may well appear old-fashioned and behind the times, but they are nevertheless essential if Taiwan is to progress.
The public should stop and reflect on this behavior, given the current stock of officials in this country, who allowed things to get to this point.
Lee Wu-chung is a professor of agricultural economics.
Translated by Paul Cooper
An outrageous dismissal of the exemplary Taiwanese fight against COVID-19 has been perpetrated by the EU. There is no excuse. I presume that everyone who reads the Taipei Times knows that the EU has excluded Taiwan from its so-called “safe list,” which permits citizens unhindered travel to and from the countries of the EU. As the EU does not feel that it needs to explain the character of this exclusive list, perhaps we should examine it ourselves in some detail. There are 14 nations on the list that have been chosen as safe countries of origin and safe countries of destination for
Filmmakers in Taiwan used to struggle when it came to telling a story that could resonate internationally. Things started to change when the 2017 drama series The Teenage Psychic (通靈少女), a collaboration between HBO Asia and Taiwanese Public Television Service (PTS), became a huge hit not just locally, but also internationally. The coming-of-age story was adapted from the 2013 PTS-produced short film The Busy Young Psychic (神算). Entirely filmed in Taiwan, the Mandarin-language series even made it on HBO’s streaming platforms in the US. It is proof that a well-told Taiwanese story can absolutely win the hearts and minds of hard-to-please
Drugged with sedatives, handcuffed and wearing a bright orange prison tunic, British fraud investigator and former journalist Peter Humphrey was escorted by warders into an interrogation room filled with reporters, locked inside a steel cage and fastened to a metal “tiger chair.” Humphrey recalls: “I was completely surrounded by officers, dazed, manacled and with cameras pointing at me through the bars. I was fighting for my life like a caged animal. It was horrifying.” Footage from the interrogation was later artfully edited to give the appearance of a confession and broadcast on Chinese state media. While this might sound like an
The US House of Representatives on July 1 passed by unanimous consent a bipartisan bill that would penalize Chinese officials who implement Beijing’s new national security legislation in Hong Kong, as well as banks that do business with them. The following day, the US Senate unanimously passed the bill, which was later sent to the White House, where it awaits US President Donald Trump’s signature. The bill does not spell out what the sanctions would look like and Trump has yet to sign it into law, but Reuters on Thursday last week reported that five major Chinese state lenders are considering