Fri, Sep 21, 2012 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: When public figures should shut up

Two prominent individuals are head-to-head this week in the contest for “bad person of the week” thanks to the tactlessness of their public remarks. Our first candidate, Wang Shaw-lan (王效蘭), publisher of the Chinese-language United Daily News, showed her true colors in comments on the sidelines of a book fair in Taipei last Friday when she called Taiwanese “detestable,” adding that she did not want to live in Taiwan anymore because its people “angered” her.

While the 71-year-old is entitled to her opinions and can express those in democratic Taiwan, her remarks are nevertheless insulting in the extreme, given that her fortune — her father founded the UDN in 1951 — would never have been possible had it not been for Taiwanese buying the newspaper. Without that fortune, Wang could not have acquired such symbols of prestige as the Lanvin fashion house in Paris or enjoyed the high-class clubs she normally frequents in Taipei.

Equally, if not more, offensive is the fact that Wang and her kin would likely be dead today had Taiwan not become their refuge as the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), in which her father served as an army colonel, faced defeat to the communists in 1947. She was seven at the time. Had it not been for Taiwanese, Wang, assuming her life had been spared during the nightmare that followed the communist victory in 1949, could not have aspired to more than a life of want and misery in some reform camp overseen by the Chinese she so clearly admires. Nor, in the atmosphere that exists in China today, could she have gotten away with calling Chinese “detestable,” should she ever want to.

It is perfectly fine for Wang to regard herself as Chinese, but to insult the very people who made it possible for her to reach the social position she occupies today is unacceptable. Such comments are symptomatic of the “Han” chauvinism that appears to have become more fashionable of late, which expresses itself through strident nationalism and racism: Wang despises the Japanese, to the extent that she will not shake hands with them, because of Japan’s atrocities during World War II. Left unsaid are the horrors, on a far grander scale, that China visited upon her own people and Koreans in centuries past. And yet, none of that is “detestable.”

Meanwhile, our second candidate, Master Hsing Yun (星雲法師), founder of the Fo Guang Shan Monastery, felt it incumbent upon himself to unilaterally declare that Taiwan is part of China, even though the majority of Taiwanese, and ostensibly his followers, disagree with that view. Here again, Master Hsing Yun is entitled to his opinions on such matters, but to say such things publicly, during a meeting with Chinese representative Chen Yunlin (陳雲林), was inappropriate, if only for the fact that it mixes religion with politics.

Here again we have a China-born individual who uses his position of privilege in Taiwan to make comments that show disdain for the very people who made their perch possible in the first place (just look at the magnitude of the monastery he has had built in Greater Kaohsiung to see how well he has done for himself). Master Hsing Yun should stick to religious matters and stay out of politics. People have the unfortunate tendency to give the opinions of persons of the cloth more respect because of the aura of wisdom that surrounds religious figures, a permissiveness that has caused great harm throughout human history. Whether a monk or a preacher, knowledge of religion does not make them experts on politics, nor does it entitle Master Hsing Yun to decide the fate of 23 million people.

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