Official in UK weighs in on ‘bumbler’ debate

By Shih Hsiu-chuan and Mo Yan-chih  /  Staff reporters

Sat, Nov 24, 2012 - Page 3

In a letter addressed to the global weekly The Economist, which last week ran an article critical of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) for his lackluster performance, Representative to the UK Shen Lyu-shun (沈呂巡) said the term “bumbler,” used to brand Ma in its headline, should have been put inside quotation marks.

“The people of Taiwan have every right to use harsh words against their president, but when a foreign media organization repeats the name-calling, it should at least use quotation marks,” Shen wrote in a letter to the editor published in the latest issue of the publication.

The article described how Ma, who rode in on high expectations since elected in May 2008, saw his approval rating drop to 13 percent, while it said that: “The country appears to agree on one thing: Ma is an ineffectual bumbler.”

The Ma administration reacted strongly to the article and said the president felt “distressed and wronged by incorrect reports.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also quoted Ziegler as saying that the term was “irresponsibly mistranslated” by some Taiwanese media as “笨蛋” (or “dimwit”).

Speaking by telephone with the Taipei Times last night, Shen said the article, titled “Ma the bumbler,” was “a plain report that described how people in Taiwan have criticized and discussed Ma” rather than how the publication judged Ma’s performance.

“That way, [bumbler] should be between quotation marks,” Shen said.

Shen registered concerns over the article published in last week’s edition and received an e-mail reply from Dominic Ziegler, Asia editor of the weekly magazine, on Monday.

From what Ziegler said in his reply, the article was a description of the Taiwanese public perception and the use of the word “bumbler” in the headline was not insulting, Shen said, adding that it warranted quotation marks to be a factual reporting.

In the letter, Shen said the article “focused only on the economy and overlooked his accomplishments in cross-strait relations and foreign policy, which are his primary responsibilities under our constitution.”

“President Ma has reached 18 agreements with China over four years, greatly easing tension [between the two countries] and promoting peace in the Taiwan Strait. Meanwhile, the number of countries and territories awarding Taiwan visa-waiver status has jumped from 54 to 129 under his watch, unprecedented in Taiwan’s history,” Shen said.

Shen also cited various economic data in his letter, such as data showing that Taiwan last year outpaced the UK, Germany, France, Japan and South Korea in terms of per capita income when adjusted for purchasing power parity last year — known as PPP-based per capita GDP, according to the publication’s Economist Intelligence Unit, he said.

Ma also played down the “bumbler” comments during a meeting with Taiwanese poet Yu Kuang-chung (余光中).

After the two discussed the meaning of the term, Yu, who is a seasoned translator, said “bumbler” means “clumsy,” which in Chinese can also mean “dependable” or “act cautiously.”

“In Chinese literature, ‘bumbler’ can also mean foolish wit (大智若愚) ... The problem is how the media translated it,” Yu said.

Ma insisted that as a national leader, he took different opinions with humility, and that the magazine has explained the content to the ministry.