Late last month, Minister of Culture Lung Ying-tai (龍應台), went to Washington and gave a talk at George Washington University on the topic of “soft power.”
Given that she is a noted writer and literary critic there were some expectations that she would present a cogent picture of the dynamic world that constitutes Taiwan’s world of arts and culture.
However, she failed to live up to expectations and chose instead to focus on Confucian values, elaborate on the anachronistic Analects and highlight the “Chinese character” of Taiwanese society.
As several students pointed out during the question-and-answer period, Taiwan’s culture is a rich mixture of many cultures — aboriginal, Japanese and even some European influences dating back to the Dutch and Spanish periods. Yet, Lung chose to neglect this vibrant mix.
Several members of the audience also reminded those at the event that Confucianism had been a Martial Law era tool of repression and asked if President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration’s renewed emphasis on such values was in fact an attempt to move the clock backwards.
A student from Hong Kong also questioned Lung’s assertion that the renewed interest by China in Confucianism was really an expression of “soft power.”
The student felt that China was not really interested in “soft power,” but was re-colonizing Hong Kong and was in fact trying to brainwash the inhabitants of the former British colony.
Several other students questioned Lung on her words and actions in relation to the Taipei 228 Memorial Museum, where she had sought to downplay Chiang Kai-shek’s (蔣介石) role in the brutal 1947 suppression during which 28,000 Taiwanese were killed by Chiang’s troops. One angry student compared it to the denial of the Holocaust.
However, one of the most interesting aspects of the speech was not discussed during the session at George Washington University.
As aforementioned, Lung highlighted Confucian values and specifically mentioned the four principles of morality and the five virtues as outlined in the Analects, which in her view guide life in Taiwan: Being “kind, upright, courteous, temperate and magnanimous.”
How do these five Confucian virtues jibe with reality in Taiwan under the Ma administration?
If anything, Ma and his government have been vindictive and divisive, especially where it concerns former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁). If Ma was magnanimous, he would have granted medical parole to Chen a long time ago.
The way the Ma administration has abused the judicial system to pursue the former president and his family certainly smacks of political retribution — very little of the Confucian kindness, uprightness or magnanimity to be seen there.
Actually Lung, in her speech at George Washington, was very eloquent in describing what Taiwanese really care about: The freedom to write, paint or sing what we want; tolerance of those we do not agree with; protection of those who are unjustly persecuted; rejection of leaders we distrust; creating what comes from our heart.
The main issues now is that Ma and his government need to learn to practice what they preach.
In their present form, the practices are too reminiscent of the “Confucianism” seen in China where advocates of reform and change, such as Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波) and Ai Wei-wei (艾未未), are silenced and unjustly prosecuted.
Mark Kao is president of the Formosan Association for Public Affairs in Washington.
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