A fool is someone who is incompetent and incapable of doing things in an orderly manner, like a leader who knows neither what is good for his country nor for the people, and who has no idea of where his priorities lie; one who demands that others retract their statement if they call him a fool, even when he quite clearly is one, and moreover proves himself to be even more of a fool for doing so. Someone who exhibits all three symptoms is once, twice, three times a fool.
Few came to President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) defense when an article in The Economist branded him a bumbler, perhaps because they agreed, but dared not open their mouths.
In the run-up to the 2008 presidential election, then-Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) vice chairman John Kuan (關中) told an American Institute in Taiwan official about a joke circulating, even among pan-blue supporters, that the electorate had to choose between a “stupid egg” (笨蛋, “dimwit, fool”) or a “bad egg” (壞蛋, “scoundrel”). There is already mention of the word “fool” referring to Ma in official diplomatic records — need one say more?
Control Yuan President Wang Chien-shien has called Ma incompetent before, but in response to the “bumbler” comment, he brought up the academic institutions in which Ma has studied as evidence of his ability. The trouble is, a degree from National Taiwan University or Harvard is no guarantee that you are not a fool, nor is it a guarantee that you will not become one after four decades.
Ma is narcissistic, yet not self-aware; he loves himself, but does not know himself. He is seen as God incarnate by some people, yet when The Economist called a him a “bumbler,” he blew his halo and apparently ordered the Taiwanese representative in the UK to emphatically convey his umbrage. It is possible to have a diplomatic truce with China, but not to countenance such a sleight to “His Majesty.”
He did not get the response he wanted. The Economist’s Asia editor merely said that the Taiwanese media had mistranslated the word “bumbler” into the Chinese word for “dimwit.”
Finally, Ma just got some poet professor to put a positive, albeit dubious, spin on it, saying that “bumbler” means a “clumsy” individual, incorporating the ideas of diligence and dependability.
The poet professor had obviously not consulted a dictionary for this rather inventive interpretation: It was his own impression of how the word should be interpreted. Ma was delighted with it, though, because of its associations with the philosophy of Zeng Guofan (曾國藩), a Han Chinese official who served the foreign Manchu rulers during the late Qing Dynasty.
Zeng argued that the sincere shall triumph over the disingenuous, and that the diligent yet clumsy shall triumph over the artful. That interpretation of “clumsy” sounds pretty impressive, even though it had to be artfully manipulated to become so. What a fool.
Actually, whether Ma is a bumbler or not seems to depend on what he is wearing. He seems just fine when he is in sports gear. He never tumbles into the gutter when out jogging in his shorts. He never rumbles off the road into telegraph poles when he is riding along in his biking shorts. So why is it that as soon as he puts on his formal suit and goes out to work, he does not seem to do anything but bumble?
Among all this furor, Vice President Wu Den-yih (吳敦義), who used to shamelessly make Ma out to be the best thing since sliced bread, has sought to distance himself from the president. He is considering his own future. He knows it is all a storm in a teacup, and may well be chuckling to himself in private, because if the government is being cast as a ship of fools, it makes him look all the better by comparison.
James Wang is a media commentator.
Translated by Paul Cooper