President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who prides himself on knowledge of the Chinese classics, must be no stranger to Confucius’ (孔子) work, whose teachings on governance, among many other topics, emphasize the virtue and the importance of sincerity and the disapproval of phony acts.
In view of a recent reported incident it appears that Ma, as well as his Presidential Office officials, should revisit Confucius’ teachings and engage in introspection on how they can better serve the people, rather than resorting to “political performance art” as a shortcut to shape a positive public perception of the president.
Local media reported that prior to Ma’s visit to New Taipei City’s (新北市) Nanshan High School last month for a sit-down chat with students, staff from the Presidential Office “rehearsed” beforehand with selected students on what questions they were allowed to ask the president. The move led one school teacher to post an article online titled “Does President Ma like hypocritical politeness?” lamenting how the students –– wanting to ask questions pertaining to current events such as employment opportunities for university graduates, revitalization of the nation’s ailing economy and whether the two sides of the Taiwan Strait would unify –– were instead cued to ask other designated questions such as: “What sports does Ma play during his leisure time?” and “What were Ma’s study habits at school?”
Dumbfounding is an understatement in describing the length to which the Presidential Office went in its attempt to portray Ma, via media dissemination, as a down-to-earth and approachable president.
Granted, it was indeed nice seeing the president taking the initiative to bridge the distance between the nation’s young people and politicians by visiting campuses and conducting chats with them. However, showing consideration for the youngsters should be done genuinely.
If the president is sincere in conducting exchanges with students, he should take the opportunity to lend an ear to what they have to say and be responsive to their genuine questions and concerns. It would have been a valuable first-hand experience for the participating students to gain an insight into the meaning of democracy and governance if the president had shared his knowledge with them in the exchanges.
By formatting the chat as an open forum, yet all the while restricting the audience from asking questions of their own choice, the Presidential Office is the one leaving the public with no choice but to arrive at the conclusion that the president is interested only in staging shows and not genuine dialogues with young people.
Many are reminded of a case shortly after Ma assumed the presidency in 2008 in which the Mandarin Daily Weekender ran an illustrated article depicting Ma as a “sunshine president” who jogs, swims, enjoys reading and had authored a wuxia xiaoshuo (武俠小說), or martial arts fiction. As the Mandarin Daily Weekender, published by the Mandarin Daily News, is aimed at schoolchildren, it was lambasted by critics who accused it of sycophantic reporting aimed at shaping the minds of the nation’s children to idolize Ma.
In light of the latest incident in which a similar kind of flattery is resurfacing, attempting to present Ma as an idol for the young to worship, maybe it is time that Ma revisits the Confucian teachings and refreshes his mind on how to win over people’s hearts through actual concrete governance, rather than opting for “political performance art” as a way to woo the public.