December 17th 2016

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Much food for reflection in a single Christmas carol

CANBERRA OBSERVED Coalition limps through year of frustrations

FOREIGN AFFAIRS The left's whitewash of Fidel Castro

THE MEDIA Greed, ideology generate burst of fake news online

WA LEGISLATION Foetal homicide reform a very small step forward

SOCIETY A proposal to assist the victims of sexual abuse

AUSTRALIAN DEVELOPMENT The financial and social costs of cramming ourselves into just five coastal cities

MUSIC What Ellington heard: Allan Zavod, RIP


CINEMA Capra on the Common Man: Meet John Doe

BOOK APPRAISAL Religious incredulity: a most modern virtue

BOOK REVIEW A continuing analysis

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by Jeffry Babb

News Weekly, December 17, 2016

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

American Declaration of Independence

In mid-1980, anyone entering “Free China” (Taiwan) for the first time would have immediately noticed that all apartments had bars on their windows. It might have been free, but it was a strange sort of freedom.

Less than a year before, in the biggest civil disturbance since the 1947 “2-28” rebellion against the Kuomintang (KMT) government, the Tangwai, or “Out of Party” group was involved in the Mei Li Dao riot in Kaohsiung. The locals made little secret of the fact that they disliked and distrusted yang gui zi (“foreign devils”). Girls who associated with foreign men were regarded as being little better than bar girls. Yet within 20 years, the island had a popularly elected (and popular) president.

Taiwan has a new Government. At the executive level, it is the third change of government since the end of martial law. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), led by President Tsai Ing-wen, also controls the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan’s unicameral parliament. This is the first time the DPP has controlled both the executive and legislative branches of Taiwan’s government. Democracy in Taiwan has truly come of age.

Taiwan is sharing its experience of nation building with other Asian nations through the Taiwan Founda­tion for Democracy, an institution that aims to foster the development of democracy, both directly and indirectly. For example, the foundation does not operate directly in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) but it does have contacts with exile groups, for example the Tibetans in northern India.

The difficulty of promoting democracy in China is due to the manner in which the Communist Party functions. All significant institutions in China have a civil structure and a Party structure. For example, in a university, the civil administrators will run the college, but the Party will set policy.

This applies in all institutions. The courts do not exist to dispense justice; they are answerable to the Party. The courts exist to implement Party policy. The Communist Party exists as a parallel structure to all institutions in China. Civil society, an institution separate from government, as we understand the term, does not exist in China. The Communist Party has a monopoly on power. The proposition that groups outside the Party have any real freedom of action is a mere pretence.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has a membership exceeding 85 million men and women. All their power and considerable privileges depend on the continued rule of the Party. It is not in their interests for the rule of the Party to crumble. As for young people entering the Party, forget about idealism. Most complain bitterly about the “pointless and stupid” political theory exams they must endure as part of the entry process.

As for Lei Feng, the paradigm of the selfless soldier of Communist propaganda, a do-gooder held up as an example to young people, most contemporary youngsters think he was an idiot. Repeated campaigns to promote Lei Feng as a role model for young people have fallen on deaf ears. Though it’s not for want of trying. The Lei Feng Memorial Hall in Hunan Province has written dedications from Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, among other luminaries.

In 1980, the White Terror in Taiwan was only slowly abating. The president was Chiang Ching-kuo, who had succeeded his late father President Chiang Kai-shek, the Generalissimo. The ruling Kuomintang (KMT) had arrived in Taiwan with the elder Chiang in 1949, when the communists took power in Beijing.

Those expecting democratic change from the younger Chiang had little to encourage that belief. Chiang Ching-kuo had used the secret police brutally against the opponents of the Chiang regime – he was his father’s right-hand man. Extrajudicial killings and “disappearances” were not uncommon. The KMT, which had a political structure similar to the CCP, had an apparently unshakable grip on power.

Hopes for democratic reform seemed to have reached a nadir with the Formosa Magazine (Mei Li Dao) Incident in the southern port city of Kaohsiung on December 10, 1979. A demonstration to celebrate Human Rights Day by Tangwai elements degenerated into a riot. Chiang Ching-kuo had cancelled elections after U.S. President Jimmy Carter announced in 1978 that the United States would recognise the Beijing regime as the sole Government of all China.

The Tangwai had expected to make gains in the elections. Who actually “caused” the riot is still disputed, but the Tangwai were ready for trouble. The trial of the Mei Li Dao ringleaders was technically a court martial, as Taiwan was under martial law. The penalty for treason was death. Future vice-president Annette Lu was on trial, and future president Chen Shui-bian was a defence lawyer. Although several were found guilty, no one was executed.

In discussions of democracy, most theorists use two essential arguments: democracy as an aim and democracy as a process. Democracy as an aim, for example, may be the French “liberty, equality, fraternity”. Democracy as a process, for example, would be the United States, where a nation of 320 million usually seems incapable of selecting two decent and intelligent people to run off against each other for the presidency.

No matter how bad the two main presidential candidates are, the commitment to and faith of the American people in the process of democracy is unshaken. Controversial candidates may even stir the electors to get out and vote. People will vote, even if they are disillusioned.

Under the KMT on Taiwan, the government had one aim: to recover the Mainland. It is now all so long ago that it may be difficult to recall how residents and visitors were assaulted with the imperative to “recover the mainland” and the associated slogan “Chiang Tzung-tung, wan sui” – “President Chiang, live 10,000 years!”

The army of the Republic of China on Taiwan retained (and still retains) two jumping off points for an invasion of the mainland: Kinmen (also known as Quemoy) in the south; and Matsu in the north. Retaining control of these two island groups was essential if the ROC was to credibly claim that it would liberate the Mainland by force.

When the U.S. recognised Beijing as the sole Government of all China, it became obvious that Taiwan would have no American support for its military ambitions. The government and people of Taiwan had had an aim – to liberate China, by force if necessary. But, as time went on, the line was “by evolutionary change”.

Taiwan’s staunch anti-communism won it many friends in the West, who were unaware of, or were prepared to overlook, its less than stellar human rights record. Taiwan also had developed a rich civic culture partially in support of its revisionist aims. Taiwan, by 1980, was well into economic takeoff. It was becoming the workshop of the world. A new aim dominated Taiwan’s public policy: Taiwan was not yet a democracy, but it had the civic institutions and governmental structures to become a democracy.

No one will ever know why Chiang Ching-kuo nominated Lee Teng-hui to succeed him as president. Many older mainland-born KMT supporters still think it was a mistake; indeed, they think democracy is a mistake. Lee is an academic agricultural economist; he is also Taiwanese. His Japanese is better than his Mandarin Chinese. His native language is Taiwanese. His brother, who died fighting for the Japanese in World War II, is commemorated at the Yasakune Shrine to Japan’s war dead in Tokyo. Lee scandalised many people in Taiwan recently when he said that he was not Chinese, but Japanese.

Whatever Chiang’s motives, it was an inspired choice. Many older Taiwanese did feel more Japanese than Chinese and accepted KMT rule only grudgingly. Having Lee in command meant that the KMT, with Lee at the helm, won popular support. Lee also fostered the career of a future KMT president of the ROC, Ma Ying-jeou, son of an old-line KMT party elder. Lee hailed Ma as a “son of Taiwan”.

If we were to speculate on when Taiwan became a true democracy, it was not when the DPP’s Chen Shui-bian took power as the first non-KMT president of the ROC, but when Ma Ying-jeou stabilised the country after Chen’s provocative antics had riled Beijing. That is, the second changeover of executive power.

President Ma was a Harvard-educated lawyer who recognised the importance of civic institutions. He had, after all, been a successful mayor of Taipei for two terms. The freedom with which young people now travel, including to participate in Australia’s Working Holiday scheme, adds a new dimension to civic culture in Taiwan.

The "Sunflower Generation" crowds
the streets of Taipei.

Thus, Taiwan has ceased to be “democracy by aim” and  begun to be democracy by process. The aim of “recovering the mainland” by force, as mentioned above, has been supplanted by assisting evolutionary change in China. The emergence of the Sunflower Generation – young people from their teens to 20s – is evidence of “democracy by process”. The Sunflower Generation has considerable political influence, but does not wish to exercise power directly.

If there is an aim in Taiwan’s democracy, it is to spread its experience to other Asian countries. The number of countries in South-East and East Asia that could be counted as democratic is very small. Japan is, in theory, a democracy but is so sclerotic that it is almost immobile. The Philippines has a vigorous civic culture but is prone to periodic excesses.

The aim of the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy is to foster what Peter Kavanagh, former MLC for Western Victoria (DLP), calls “thymotic pride”. That is, when people reach a certain stage of economic and cultural development, they wish to control their own destiny. Taiwan has entered that stage; perhaps others in Asia will, too.

All you need to know about
the wider impact of transgenderism on society.
TRANSGENDER: one shade of grey, 353pp, $39.99

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