Wed, Apr 01, 2009 - Page 8

Taiwan was part of China

Whilst agreeing entirely with Michael Wise’s comments (Letters, March 29, page 8), I feel I must correct his statement that “Taiwan has never been a province of China.”

In or about 1683, Taiwan was incorporated into the Chinese empire as a prefecture of Fujian Province and Chinese officials controlled contact between the mainland and the island. Taiwan was named as a full province in 1885; indeed it must have been part of China or it could not have been ceded to Japan in the Treaty of Shimonoseki following the Sino-Japanese War (see The Search for Modern China by Jonathan Spence, 1991).

Following the defeat of Japan in 1945, Taiwan was reclaimed by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government.

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Taiwan has never been part of the People’s Republic of China, and God willing, that it never will be.


Dacun, Changhwa County

Prejudice is not all bad

The public furor this past week over the issue of “hateful talk” following comments made on a blog by diplomat Kuo Kuan-ying (郭冠英) has been rather unsatisfactory.

While I in no way condone the remarks of Kuo, prejudice per se is not always the social evil it is frequently and wrongly portrayed to be. Prejudice is a necessary aspect of everyday thinking.

Many women, for example, are prejudiced against jogging in poorly lit parks at night. Some people are prejudiced against taking a ride in a taxi, given that there are no rear seat belts. However, these prejudices have a rational basis in the known facts of reality. To publicly reject prejudice is to publicly reject the rationality of everyday life.

The notion that all people are born equal and should therefore respect one another completely disregards the fact that all people do not remain equal — some commit themselves to a life of crime, for example.

Am I bound to respect mass-murderers, serial killers, rapists, petty thieves or pedophiles? Of course not. To do so would be to destroy the very notion of respect itself.

Respect — like love — can only be earned by action aimed at realizing certain values shared between two or more people. This is not a trivial playing with semantics — words denote concepts and public misuse of them is an offense against the human capacity for reason.

It is not respect, but the matter of civility of tone and tolerance in people’s dealings with one another that is important to the wider context of political freedom of speech. I may tolerate one who holds and expresses views different from mine, provided he extends the same tolerance to me — but that does not imply that I owe him respect or that he owes me any respect. Thus, both he and I ought to be free to express our valuations and prejudices against one another.

In a democratic society, however, there is a peculiar problem with that. Rather than resolving conflicts of value by reason, trade and peaceful social cooperation, the mechanism of majoritarian rule, the essential feature of democracy, only works because there are prejudices and conflicts of value. A democratic society does not resolve conflicts of value between people or groups of people — it merely contains them in a pressurized form between election cycles, with each political coalition longing for the chance to impose their values and prejudices on others.

Thus, prejudice and conflicts of value — whether rational or irrational — are vital to the life of a democracy and that is a terrible corrosive acid to a civilized life of reason, trade and peaceful social cooperation.



Politics defiles the spiritual

The refusal — as deplorable, outrageous and craven as it is — of the World Buddhist Forum to invite the Dalai Lama should not come as a surprise to anyone at all, given that the forum began in China on Friday and moved to Taipei on Monday.

A person need only take into account the people who control the political affairs of these two places to resolve this issue. Political affairs on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are currently in the hands of blackguards possessing megalomaniacal and despotic mindsets. As long as Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is president, the Dalai Lama will never be allowed to enter Taiwan.

In the West, so-called “temporal” or secular power has been conflated with — and has defiled — “spiritual” power. This has been the case since the early medieval period and the crowning of Charlemagne in 800.

Chow Mei-li (周美里) is reported to have asked: “Since when is a personal political view a criterion for participating in a forum about Buddhism?”

Her question is heartfelt and reasonable. Implicit in her question is the assumption that “raisons d’etat” should have no influence on, or connection with, spiritual concerns.

Unfortunately, rogues dressed in clerics’ robes have colluded and conspired with jackals in politicians’ garb all throughout history. Powers temporal and powers spiritual have forever been as intimately associated as briars and roses.


East Hartford, Connecticut