EDITORIAL: Ethnic equality: Ma's tough sell

Sat, Mar 28, 2009 - Page 8

While distasteful and unsettling, the Kuo Kuan-ying (郭冠英) affair has proven to be useful as a barometer of the rejuvenated Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) approach to ethnic issues.

Kuo’s bizarre blog articles, written under the name Fan Lan-chin (范蘭欽), were the type of concentrated hate speech one normally associates with discussion groups in need of a responsible moderator.

Even more bizarre, however, was the sight of Kuo publicly deceiving his superiors at the Government Information Office over his authorship of the material, then berating them and others as “the enemy” in self-destructive interviews with two Taiwanese cable news stations.

While the reaction in some quarters of the pan-blue-camp has come as something of a relief — note the furious reaction of certain KMT legislators who suggested Kuo receive psychiatric treatment — the point has been well made that the government’s reaction was insipid.

There is no question that due process had to be followed in determining Kuo’s responsibility for the blog articles and that any punishment had to wait for the results of an investigation.

What has disappointed many people, however, was how the government allowed such vicious language to go uncontested for so long — as if hate speech were a birth right and not so objectionable, after all.

When President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) finally commented on the matter on Tuesday, it was too little, too late.

His words of condemnation for Kuo’s articles were welcome and largely appropriate, but he took too long to speak out on an issue of obvious sensitivity.

Unfortunately, Ma’s comments also had a sting in the tail. In placing his party’s achievements in historical context, he lauded the “Taiwanese miracle” before referring to Taiwanese as “descendants of the Yen and Yellow emperors” (炎黃子孫).

Such race-based oratory seems like a throwback to the 1940s and is perfectly common among KMT officials, and this is precisely the problem: The psychology behind Ma’s invocation of blood connections to a mythical imperial golden era is extraordinarily similar to that underlying less tactful officials such as Kuo.

It is this sense of racial superiority that girds both the most abysmal manifestations of prejudice in Kuo and the stubborn, unificationist mission of the president.

Kuo has fallen from grace in a manner both dramatic and embarrassing.

But with the remarkable news that Kuo’s colleague at Taiwan’s mission in Paris allowed Kuo to use his name to pen an article in the Chinese-language United Daily News praising himself, the question now arises as to how many people in the upper reaches of the government continue to share Kuo’s racist attitudes toward ethnic Taiwanese and — worse — how many have been acting on this bigotry.

At some point, Ma and his hardline KMT colleagues, who share Kuo’s oppressive conception of China, will need to convince the majority of Taiwanese — who have no such conception — that their vision of a civilized society forbids the use of racist words and deeds and will not tolerate any expression of ethnic superiority.

With the president’s ethnically flavored gaffes already on the record, it’s going to be a tough sell.