Wed, Feb 25, 2009 - Page 8

Forget Tongyong, use Hoklo

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) city councilors who painted out the X on the Ximen (西門) MRT Station should be expelled from the DPP for their Chinese chauvinist promotion of the laughable Tongyong Mandarin “Hanyu pinyin lite” (“League protests Ma’s decision to replace Tongyong,” Feb. 22, page 3).

If they had half a drop of Taiwanese blood in them they might know that most of the population of Taiwan still refers to it in their own native tongue as “Se-mng.” So why weren’t they asking that it be labeled in one of Taiwan’s languages, instead of the colonial Mandarin? No matter what Pinyin system is used, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)-imposed Mandarin names are not the original names for places in Taiwan.

The creators of Tongyong claim that it can express all three Chinese languages plus all the hugely diverse Austronesian and Proto-Austronesian languages of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples. The linguistic absurdity of this aside, this is a clear statement of the Han chauvinist “one size fits all, tongpai” mentality that they bring to their colonial project of paternalistically imposing a Mandarin-based romanization system on Taiwan’s languages, which have long had their own systems.

These systems have been used to express the proper pronunciation of their languages, to teach children their mother tongue, to publish books, Bibles and songbooks for hundreds of thousands of people for decades, or in the case of Hoklo (“Amoy”) for more than a century. It is a sign of the Chinese imperial mentality of Tongyong’s creators that they regarded these indigenous Taiwanese systems as unworthy of consideration.


Toronto, Canada

A tale of two shoes

In response to a pair of shoes thrown at him at a news conference in Baghdad, Iraq, last December, then US president George W. Bush took it in stride, saying they were “a size 10.”

Coincidentally, just a month later, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶), experienced a shoe-throwing incident while making a speech at the University of Cambridge in England. He condemned it as “a vile act.”

Had Wen grown up in an open and free society like Bush, he would have made a similar remark to play down the incident, saying something like, “At least they were made in China.”

The shoe-throwing incidents reflect a stark difference between Western democratic beliefs and the deep-rooted Chinese authoritative mindset.


New York

Election was no mandate

Economic policy legislation that governments pass in times of poverty or financial crisis are often indicative of their political priorities, one of the most important being the need to meet the demands of more influential and significant parts of the electorate. Invariably, and especially in unregulated “democratic” capitalist systems such as in the US, the UK and Taiwan, it is the needs of big business that first get the government’s ear.

The Taiwanese government, seeing the current recession as an opportunity to make large-scale changes to Taiwan’s relationship with China, has decided that it needs a comprehensive economic cooperation agreement (CECA) because businesses desire it, and in the belief that without one, Taiwanese business will lose out.

Given that China is an authoritarian state and Taiwan a democracy, it is shocking that the government would seek to integrate Taiwan’s economy with China’s — what else does “comprehensive’’ mean — especially at a time when the outcomes of the limited opening have yet to be fully analyzed. Yet, as the government claims, businesses are clamoring for a CECA, even though no expert can predict how this pseudo-legal agreement would impact on the country’s economy or sovereignty.

Whenever the government has faced public concern about the many possible negative political and economic outcomes of a CECA, they have responded by reframing last year’s election results as a mandate specifically for the policy and for economic integration into China.

This barely disguised spin of year-old public sentiment is a phenomenon that increasingly media-savvy Taiwanese are building up defenses to, as evidenced by the administration’s low approval ratings.

Although the Chinese economy is under as severe strain as any other, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the government seem to see redemption in the massive US debt China has financed and in its foreign exchange reserves. In other words, Chinese spending is being framed as the most important remedy for the global financial recession. A Taiwan in China’s economic, and ultimately political, orbit would be rewarded, rather than having to watch as all the other nations get their cups filled.

I fear that the coming full shock of this financial crisis will disorientate Taiwanese and catch them unawares, giving the government the political space to roll back state intervention and economic independence (and thereby also political sovereignty), leaving Taiwanese scrabbling to protect both public and private assets.

On the basis of a CECA, economic freedom, a “harmonious” business environment, free trade, competitiveness and future economic security are being cited as reasons for the economic, then political integration into an altogether different country — almost unprecedented for any modern nation.

This is utterly, contemptuously in the face of the Taiwanese people’s hard and long fight for transitional and historical justice, democracy and independence. This is to be expected from a president and party that seem unable to recognize Taiwanese as a nationality.


Muzha, Taipei City