Every society, democracy or dictatorship, has the capacity for justice or injustice. When justice stands proud and injustice lowers its head, society progresses. When justice goes to ground and injustice becomes emboldened, then society regresses.
Politicians, the press, powerful figures, higher learning institutions and pressure groups shape social discourse and direction. Whether they choose to stand for progressive or backward-looking ideas, for reform or obstruction, is crucial for a society to progress or regress.
Taiwan now stands at a crossroads.
On the one side, we have groups like the Youth Alliance Against Media Monsters, which stands for freedom of speech and against media monopolization. Many other students have also become involved in several high-profile cases — including forced land expropriations in Dapu Township (大浦), evictions to make way for the Wenlin Yuan urban renewal project and the labor dispute at Hualon Corp. They stand for justice for residents, land owners and workers, and do not have vested interests in any of these causes.
On the other side, we have people like Deputy Legislative Speaker Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱), who recently said: “Students are not legislators, of course they cannot question government officials.” This was the same person who, when she was a legislator, lambasted a Ministry of Education official, saying: “What kind of Ministry of Education is this?” and “Resign! Resign! Shut up!” and subsequently telling the press that the nation has a useless education ministry.
For Hung, it is okay for a legislator to embarrass a government official, but not for a member of the public to criticize a public servant. What does Hung stand for?
When students protested outside the ministry last week, Minister of Education Chiang Wei-ling (蔣偉寧) showed how much he cared for the students by sending out the riot police, and then asking universities to find out more about students who attended the protest and “show them concern.” This is happening today in a democratic nation that thinks martial law and political suppression have been consigned to history. What does Chiang stand for?
National Tsing Hua University student Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷), a co-convener of the Youth Alliance Against Media Monsters, was criticized for failing to show due respect to his elders in the way he spoke to Chiang at the legislature’s Education and Culture Committee meeting on Monday last week. What Chen was showing was the spirit of “I love my teachers, but I love the truth more.” However, the press branded him as “ill-mannered.”
Compare that with four years ago, when President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) referred to visiting Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) by his proper title, “chairman,” but all Chen could muster was a “mister” in return. The same press did not call the ARATS chairman “ill-mannered.” What does the press stand for?
Then there was Tsing Hua University itself, which chose to believe an alarmist report in the Chinese-language United Daily News and rushed out an apology to Chiang and the public without bothering to check the facts, only to hurriedly retract its statement after many people protested. The university presided over a farce caused by its lack of scientific spirit or due caution in checking facts. What does the university stand for?
Would Taiwan fare better under the principles demonstrated by Chen and his friends, or under those of the press, Hung, Chiang and Tsing Hua University?
Chang Kuo-tsai is a former deputy secretary-general of the Taiwan Association of University Professors.
Translated by Paul Cooper