Tue, Sep 25, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Xenophobia and the arts

It is a shame that the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government has to wait until a small number of racist residents complain about dark-skinned foreigners before officials see the light and “decide to support the arts.”

The two would not seem to have anything to do with one another, but in a country where the absurd is witnessed on a daily basis — this is an independent nation with a president and a military, but many people consider it a province of China — it looks like xenophobia will lead to a cultural flowering at the Taipei Railway Station.

The Ministry of Transportation and Communications and the Ministry of Culture have decided to transform the cavernous lobby of Taipei Railway Station into a temporary stage for young dancers, saying they are doing so to give young people a cultural space to express themselves.

This would be great if it did not come shortly after the Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) started roping off certain areas of the lobby on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays after the Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr brought too many dark-skinned Southeast Asians, as well as people from countries like India and Pakistan, who came to celebrate their holiday in a peaceful way.

Apparently, some Taiwanese commuters unaccustomed to multiculturalism — the kind of people with whom Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik would see eye to eye — complained that the crowds of foreigners made them feel unsafe.

In a typical overreaction, the TRA cordoned off what had been one of the few public gathering spaces for Southeast Asians in Taipei, and its announcement later of the dance venue, although on the surface a good thing, simply highlighted that foreign workers are not welcome.

The timing of these two ministries’ plan to promote the arts is suspicious. When has the Ministry of Culture ever been in a hurry to promote culture? More often than not, art venues in the country, such as the Huashan Creative Park and Treasure Hill Artist Community in Taipei, are utterly stripped of all free artistic expression as soon as the government gets involved. There never seems to be budgets available anywhere for painters, musicians, performers, actors, movie producers, or anything artistic, unless their art can become commercially viable in the short term. The Ministry of Culture has proven time and again that it does not support the arts.

So why the sudden change of heart and at a time when so many other cases of racial discrimination are surfacing around the country?

In Taoyuan County, a group of 30 Filipino workers are being forced to move out by next week because residents deem them to be a danger to the community.

In Taipei’s Shida area, police harass Westerners in the park at night even if they are quiet, while ignoring groups of Taiwanese, simply because of what one police officer said was a negative report in a local newspaper about Westerners “picking up drunk women” in the park.

Where will this end? Will Southeast Asians be welcome anywhere? Will foreigners someday be told to stay indoors after an 8pm curfew, while they are herded into foreigners-only dormitories and given no public space at all?

Taiwan, the open, welcome nation that it is, should not allow the forces of xenophobia to take control, because if it does, it will close itself off voluntarily from the rest of the region and the world.

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