Recent global media coverage of Taiwan has at times reduced the nation’s success in containing the spread of COVID-19 to some East Asian values such as cooperation with social control or Confucianism. An article in Wired magazine debunks this myth, crediting the nation’s success to democracy and transparency.
It is appalling to learn that this misconception still exists. Here is one thing that world citizens should keep in mind: Taiwan is the first and only country in Asia that has legalized same-sex marriage. There is nothing Confucian about that. If anything, the Confucian legacy is a major obstacle that Taiwanese have worked hard to overcome.
There are also at least two reasons behind Taiwan’s success that have little to do with Confucianism. First, the nation has arguably the best and most affordable healthcare system in the world, along with epidemiologists and scientists who are the decisionmakers at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Second, Taiwan has a robust civil society made up of thousands of lawyers, health workers, biologists and social scientists, who endlessly debate the cost and benefit of each and every step that the government has taken so far. Literally every single day, sometimes even every single hour. The public supervises the government to make sure it does not erode people’s rights in the name of epidemic control. They closely watch the government to hold it accountable. It is civil society, not Confucianism, that makes democracy work.
The persistent threat of the Beijing government taking away Taiwanese’s democratic rights plays a vital role in epidemic control. Millions of Taiwanese are already immune to the countless fake news and distorted realities that Beijing wishes the world to believe. Taiwanese have seen the anti-Beijing memes on Weibo for the past two months and know that even Chinese citizens distrust their own government. At the same time, people are alert to the rise of anti-Chinese populism in Taiwan and oppose any anti-liberal measure.
So how can I not be appalled when the nation’s practice of democracy and transparency is reduced to merely Confucianism? The world should respect non-Western people. The myth was an arrogant assumption, humiliating to Taiwanese and simply wrong.
Like everybody else, Taiwanese are not perfect. Taiwan might cease to be a model example of fighting the disease that the world envies. The nation is anticipating the worst in the next two weeks. But no matter what is waiting in the future, it was Taiwanese value of democracy that has saved the nation so far.
Taiwan has a reliable and scientific healthcare system with a great CDC team, and Taiwanese deeply distrust everything said by the powerful regime across the Taiwan Strait that threatens the nation's sovereignty.
Chao En-chieh is a cultural anthropologist and associate professor of sociology at National Sun Yat-sen University in Kaohsiung.
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