I recently remarked on my Facebook page that Taiwan lags behind China when it comes to the publication of translations of Western academic works. I said that Taiwan’s publishers lack interest in academic works and that books printed in China using simplified characters offer more than what is available in Taiwan in terms of topics and scope.
I added that this is because of the limited market for academic works here, which means that Taiwanese publishers lack the incentive to release such texts because there is not sufficient demand. I drew the conclusion that for Chinese-language readers who want to further their understanding of academic developments in the West, books printed in simplified Chinese characters are a must.
To my surprise, my remarks sparked heated discussion among Internet users, with many saying that translations done in China twist and conceal things contained in the original works because of the controls that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) imposes on free speech. This discussion about the differences between academic works in China and Taiwan has given me the impression that many Taiwanese do not understand enough about China.
The CCP authorities do impose many restrictions and controls on publishing, but there are still people working in Chinese publishing and academia who manage to survive in a hostile environment and translate numerous good books. For example, the Guangxi Normal University Press has published many interesting books in recent years.
China is a big country with a huge population, so the authorities cannot control everything. Thus, we should avoid dismissing everything about China just because the CCP is seen as no good, and this also applies to the sphere of non-governmental academic publishing.
Confusing the notion of the CCP’s rule with the idea of China and Chinese society is the problem. Many Taiwanese are unable to differentiate between China and the CCP.
Why do I say that the Chinese people and the CPP should not be equated with each other? The reason is simple — the CCP and the government it controls were not chosen by means of elections. Therefore, the public cannot be held responsible for the actions of the CCP. In response to this, some may ask why Chinese people do not resist, and whether people in China are responsible if they tolerate such a government.
People who pose these questions could ask the same thing about the way things were in Taiwan just a few decades ago. For example, one could very well ask whether Taiwanese were responsible for the White Terror era in Taiwan because they did not resist. Of course it would be unreasonable to say so. In the same vein, we cannot blame Chinese people for the missiles that the CCP has aimed at Taiwan.
During its process of democratization, Taiwan went through a similar phase to the one China is going through now. At the time of the Kaohsiung Incident in 1979, did not many Taiwanese swallow the official view that those involved were a bunch of ruffians? When we see others walking the same path, surely we should encourage and support them based on our own experience, rather than insisting that they will never be able to achieve the same thing. Surely Taiwanese should be broadminded enough to do that.
These days the nation has elections, and President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was elected by winning a majority of votes. Even if it was not an overwhelming majority, it was a majority nonetheless. Still, plenty of people would object if I said that everything the Ma administration did represented everyone in Taiwan.
So think about it: If many people do not think a government elected by a majority of voters can represent everyone in Taiwan, what about China, where they do not have elections? Is it really fair to equate the CCP with the Chinese people and think that everyone in China belongs to the CCP?
As the saying goes, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Wang Dan is a visiting associate professor at National Tsing Hua University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
Translated by Drew Cameron