Support student protesters
Earlier this week, National Tsing Hua University issued a statement in the Legislative Yuan saying that it was “deeply saddened” by the inappropriate behavior of one of its own students, Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷), and that it offered its deepest apologies for the harm caused to the Minister of Education Chiang Wei-ling (蔣偉寧).
That such a highly regarded public university deemed it fit to take such a shameless and unsupportive stand against one of their own students speaks volumes about the values and direction of university president Chen Lih-juann’s (陳力俊) “leadership.”
Ironically, it is Chen Lih-juann’s behavior that is “inappropriate” and he should offer his deep apologies for the harm caused to Chen Wei-ting and every other student at his university. Aside from Chen Lih-juann’s abrogation of duty towards his students, it is noteworthy to ask why Tsing Hua thought it necessary to comment at all. Two possibilities spring to mind.
First, did Chiang, having lost so much face by having his integrity rightly called into question by Chen Wei-ting, contact Chen Lih-juann to complain and advise him, perhaps “to show more concern for his students?”
Or, second, did Chen Lih-juann spontaneously decide to apologize to Chiang, fearful of possible repercussions Chiang might take against his university? Was Chen Lih-juann worried that less funding might come to Tsing Hua in the future, or that if he did not act, Chiang might consider him sympathetic to Chen Wei-ting, causing Tsing Hua to become unofficially blacklisted by the government, leading to lower quotas of Chinese students and damaged relations with academics in China?
A famous Confucian saying argues that a person should know and play their role. There were four roles: king and subject, father and son. The way both Chiang and Chen Lih-juann have related to students practicing direct democratic participation and sought to threaten, censor and shame them for their protests illustrates that this paternalistic and patriarchal Confucian division of “roles” still forms the foundations of both government attitudes towards citizens and the mainstream ethos of university and educational administration in Taiwan.
Chen Wei-ting’s crime was to “question the king and embarrass his father,” an act, in the eyes of Chiang and Chen Lih-juann, of unconscionable rebellion running contrary to the automatic reverence, respect and obedience demanded, without question, from him.
As a well known and long resident blogger recently observed, “Students in every society have a kind of moral force that other protesting groups are often perceived as lacking. Leaders fear this moral authority.”
Taiwan’s government, universities and schools today remain as terrified of student political activity and opinion as the government was when it posted military liaison officers to schools during the White Terror period of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chiang family dictatorships. The actions of Chen Lih-juann and Chiang Wei-ling demonstrate that those officers never really left the schools after all — they just exchanged their army uniforms for suits, and positions at the barracks for positions in government and academia.
Chen Wei-ting, and all the students protesting for a free and diverse media, deserve Taiwan’s full support against the authoritarian inclinations of a generation that is stuck in the 1990s, but seeking to return Taiwan to the 1970s.