Liberty Times: It is said that you were always referred to as “big brother” by the children in President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) neighborhood when he was young.
Nan Fang Shuo (南方朔): I admit, I have known him since he was little and our paths crossed more than once in the past. But then again, I know a lot of people. I am even a friend to [former president] Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁). So yes, I knew Ma a long time ago, but how close were we? Don’t jump to conclusions: We weren’t that close.
LT: Everyone always gets curious as to why you, who should be close to Ma in political inclinations and such, would be such a severe critic of him after he became the president.
Nan Fang Shuo: Basically, I am holding Taiwan’s politicians and the government to a new standard, especially in this age of democracy and mass media. This new standard is harsher, and in truth I was already quite harsh with the Chen administration.
The Taiwanese public seems to perceive harsh critics as being in the opposition, and is not very open-minded to academics who take the middle ground. Before, when I criticized the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), I was perceived as pan-blue, and now that I criticize the Ma administration, I am viewed as pan-green. I don’t think that I am the problem, but rather that Taiwanese society itself has a problem.
LT: On the issue of leadership, in the past your writings and speeches compared Ma with the last Ming Dynasty emperor, Chong Jhen (崇禎), as a narcissistic type of leader, and more recently, you said he appears to be a frightened leader. What exactly is your total assessment of Ma?
Nan Fang Shuo: Many experts have come to the realization in modern leadership studies that a leader must have his own core ideals, which enables them to find a good team. Even a team that is not exceptional in any way may be made to be exceptional through good leadership, and a bad leader could do nothing even if you gave them a very strong team. It’s one of the reasons why leadership has become such a prominent subject in the West.
However, modern politicians, especially those in high places, are afraid to have their own ideas. Owing to the complexity of modern society, no one would find your proposals to be acceptable, criticizing you for everything. They are not aware that the more dynamic a society becomes, the more it is in need of good leadership.
The term “political altitude” refers to the ability to integrate all sorts of opinions, resolving divergent opinions from elevated positions. However, such leaders are increasingly rare.
Those who are fearful of having an ideal will sway whichever way the political winds blow, and this characteristic is very evidently seen in Ma. He’s a good person, I wouldn’t contradict that, but he really isn’t a good leader.
Without core values, the Ma administration is in fact forever deceiving people on every side; deceiving Taiwanese, deceiving Beijing, deceiving every side. In the end, the lies will be seen through, and he won’t be able to smooth things over on both sides. I think that the recent World Health Assembly (WHA) incident is Beijing’s warning to Ma.
LT: Many people have observed Ma’s decision-making circle as being too small. What are your observations?
Nan Fang Shuo: A leader’s greatest flaw is seeking homogeneity; birds of a feather flock together, and that’s the problem with this government. Everyone knows that there are only a few trusted aides, and if you put it on a larger scale, it’s ruling the Republic of China (ROC) through Taipei. They don’t care about a lot of people, and there are many people in Taiwan that they don’t know about.