The people of Taiwan have every right to be outraged by the case of the four-year-old abuse victim recently declared brain-dead at a Taichung hospital. Moreover, the demands for greater regulation and oversight of the medical system in Taiwan are in line with the severity of the case. However, in reality this case is not simply a matter of medical malfeasance. The attitudes of the doctors at Taipei Municipal Jen Ai Hospital, the operators at the Emergency Operations Center and the Taipei hospital personnel that refused to take the case reflect an aspect of Taiwanese society that needs to be addressed.
Having lived in Taiwan for close to three years I have noticed that service, accountability and responsibility are weak concepts here. More dominant is the desire to do what is easiest and best for oneself at the expense of others. We do not have to look to extreme cases to see that in Taiwan, "what can I get away with" seems to be the national creed. Three basic examples from daily life can demonstrate this point.
For most people in Taiwan cable television is the norm. However, I have been watching the same movies for nearly three years. Movie channels such as HBO, Cinemax and Star Movies swap movies so that programming is redundant. To make matters worse, all of the channels that offer English-language programming replay movies and episodes of programs at lease twice, sometimes four times, in a 24-hour period. Essentially, consumers have no choice, no exit option and no avenue of complaint. Add to that the steadily decreasing broadcast quality and it is clear that cable providers have no real sense of service, responsibility or accountability to the consumer.
Driving habits offer another example. The driving situation here is not a matter of poor driving skills, but horrendous driving habits. The driving culture illustrates a near total lack of respect for the rules of the road as indicated in the number of vehicles that run red lights at high speeds.
Walk into any high school or university classroom and one can see this social dynamic played out in one of its most devastating venues. Teachers stand at the front of the room and talk, as if they are alone, rarely looking at the students. Students, if they go to class, often chat, sleep or read.
The teachers take little or no responsibility for classroom management, assuming that just showing up and giving the lecture fulfills the responsibility. Students take little or no responsibility for mastering the material, choosing rather to cram for a minimal passing grade at exam time.
The actions of both students and teachers exhibit a mutual lack of respect. These actions also exhibit a lack of respect for education and a lack of personal responsibility -- students and teachers both doing the minimum that they can get away with to justify their position. There may be exceptions, but I defy anyone to prove me wrong on this point.
Should doctors Lin Chin-nan (林致男) and Liu Chih-hwa (劉奇樺) be punished for their negligence? Should Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) be taken to task for municipal and administrative failures? Should Taipei hospitals and the national Emergency Operations Center be held accountable? Should the public now demand a review and overhaul of the medical system? Of course the answer to all of these questions is a resounding yes.
At the same time, anyone living in Taiwan knows that the same dynamic of irresponsibility, unaccountability and duplicity exhibited in the case of "Little Sister Chiu" manifests itself millions of times each day throughout Taiwan in myriad venues. Such behavior seems to be a basic part of Taiwanese society and culture. As such, we are all responsible for what happened to "Little Sister Chiu."
The parents that allow their children to believe that running a red light is okay as long as you do not get caught are responsible. The neighbor that refuses to report child abuse because the abused child is not a member of their family is responsible.
Every policeman that waits at a corner to give out tickets for right turns on red to fulfill his monthly ticket quota, rather than taking the time to chase down and ticket the motorist that runs a red light, is responsible.
Every politician that plays party politics at the expense of the interests of the people of Taiwan is responsible. Every bureaucrat that chooses to do things the same old way because it is easy is responsible.
Every teacher or professor, foreigners included, that does not make the education of their students a priority is responsible.
The manufacturer that puts old TV parts in new TV cases and the factory owner that lies about toxic pollutants are responsible. Anyone that uses Chinese or Taiwanese "culture" as an excuse for this social condition is responsible.
I do not introduce these points to trivialize the events that lead to the death of "Little Sister Chiu." Nor do I make these points as a result of culture shock or to berate the people of Taiwan. I know that any nation is very sensitive to criticism from a non-native, and I do respect and appreciate that.
However, the sad fact is that if Taiwan as a nation, a people, a society and a culture does not honestly look into this socio-cultural dynamic then we have not seen the last "Little Sister Chiu."
George Thompson is an assistant professor in the department of applied foreign language at National Penghu Institute of Technology.
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