William Stimson: The Future History of Taiwan

This is a guest post. Its views do not necessarily reflect my own. (That said, it’s a great piece.)
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DoNothingGrass.3.JPG
Taiwanese youth in the ‘Do Nothing Grass’ Tea Shop down in Taichung on a day when the red shirts were thronging the streets of Taipei. (Click to enlarge.)

The Future History of Taiwan
by William R. Stimson

Europe and America have their coffee shops. Taiwan, in the Chinese tradition, also has tea houses. Here the solitary poetic spirit repairs to the most old-fashioned of settings to conjure up a Chinese culture and a Chinese mind that is utterly new and has never been before, and yet at the same time is more like what has gone before than anything now existing. The poet — like the artist, the writer and the true scholar — knows culture is not some inviolable tradition, written in stone, but an ever-expanding dance of freedom, aliveness and innovation whose aim is to create the better man, the superior person, the truer life. It thrives on freedom from the tyranny of ideas, dogmas and power. It reinvents the present in a way that reconfigures not just the future, but the past as well. History cannot change; but our way of looking at it does. We come to see the past in a different way. We draw new conclusions.


On the streets of Taipei today, and on TV screens and front pages around the world, the red shirts are out in number demanding that the President of Taiwan resign because of all the corruption scandals. Who among his loyal supporters down here in the heartland of Taiwan where I live isn’t a little bit glad to see the man and his party get this deserved slap in the face. The common people put him and his party in power because he promised to deliver them from the thieving KMT – not take over their role. ‘I feel betrayed,’ a staunch Green supporter said to me the other day with a sunken look. That’s the general feeling in this part of Taiwan: betrayal, shame, and disgust that the President would let this happen. But let us remember that history may view the events of today quite differently than we do now.

I think historians will look back and see that in these times Taiwan was moving towards the future in a radically different way than China. Authoritarianism in China, so long bolstered by aping the outer form of European Communism, now cloaks itself in the outer forms of American Capitalism to head into what promises to be a big, powerful future. China wears the different garment, talks the different talk, and walks the different walk. But the footprints it leaves behind in the lives of its own people show the claw marks of the same ugly beast. Taiwan is different. Not just because of the Green Party, and the indigenous Taiwanese intelligencia and pro-democracy advocates that came together under its banner, but also because of the Blues, and the innocent foot soldiers, thugs, entrepreneurs and bluebloods who gave rise to them. The magic that happened in Taiwan couldn’t have happened without both camps. The DPP and the KMT: each played its role. They are the pieces of a whole. In China this whole didn’t survive. In Taiwan it did. This is what future historians will see. That throughout Taiwan’s long history the island often served as a refuge for that which was hard pressed and on the run elsewhere won’t be contested. But whereas present historians stress this as a disadvantage, future ones are apt to see it as a boon. Something got preserved here, something survived, that got wiped out in mainland China. In Taiwan alone the whole of Chinese culture comes forward to meet the present-day world. The seed reached these shores, sprouted, and it grew.

The nations of the world make a huge mistake by not noticing this and by failing to admit Taiwan as a full-fledged member of the global community. They also err in not affording Taiwan the umbrella of protection it needs and deserves for its messy and puerile democracy to come to term and give birth to something that has never before existed in Asia – a Chinese culture that is alive with a freedom commensurate with its genius, and thus a Chinese culture that has been delivered to the source of its real creative power. The crippled beast on the Mainland, masquerading as the ‘one’ China, bristling daily with more missiles and armaments, is not intact, as its erratic and unpredictable behavior shows. It is a scary threat to global security. The world is too blinded by short-term greed to notice.

The very messiness of Taiwan’s democracy – the fact that the issue of official corruption is, for the first time in a Chinese culture, being openly addressed on the streets here, and most certainly in the tea shops also – is evidence not of Taiwan’s failure but of its great accomplishment. No matter which side you’re on, Blue or Green, this is obvious. Why it isn’t obvious to the red shirts raising such a ruckus in the streets today boggles the imagination. In China, demonstrators like them have been met with tanks and bullets. To even broach the subject of corruption in that country lands one in prison, or worse.

Because China is so important to the world, and because in Taiwan alone the whole of it is preserved, this island is a global resource and needs to be protected from the giant on the mainland, at least until which time the rulers there learn how to let China be free, how to let it be alive, and how properly to relate to it, its traditions, and, most of all, its people — especially those brave souls who dare speak the truth. These don’t belong in jail. China desperately needs them in its tea houses, where they can happily write their hearts out like they do here in Taiwan.

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William R. Stimson is an American writer who lives in Taiwan. More of his writing can be found at www.billstimson.com

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 24 Comments

Richard, the comments are all fucked up. I opened the stimson thing to comment, and I found all your previous posts in the comment. Apaprently your program just loaded them up in there. Quite strange.

Michael

September 29, 2006 @ 2:25 pm | Comment

No Michael – it’s the troll from hangzhou. He is copying and pasting the entire homepage to ruin the site. Isn’t that cool of him? Doesn’t it show us all how clever and mature he is?

September 29, 2006 @ 4:01 pm | Comment

Sorry, man. I feel for you. I got a couple of those too. I finally had to institute comment moderation. Why do people have to be a$$holes?

“The nations of the world make a huge mistake by not noticing this and by failing to admit Taiwan as a full-fledged member of the global community. They also err in not affording Taiwan the umbrella of protection it needs and deserves for its messy and puerile democracy to come to term and give birth to something that has never before existed in Asia – a Chinese culture that is alive with a freedom commensurate with its genius, and thus a Chinese culture that has been delivered to the source of its real creative power.”

What a fucking awesome thought. Bill is on fire. The crowning irony of Chinese hatred and jealousy toward Taiwan is that the explosive growth of culture of all kinds on Taiwan is referred to as “De-sinicization.” It is not Taiwan that has de-sinicized, but the mainland, forsaking as it has all the greatest that is its birthright, selling for a mess of authoritarian pottage.

September 29, 2006 @ 6:02 pm | Comment

Sorry, man. I feel for you. I got a couple of those too. I finally had to institute comment moderation. Why do people have to be a$$holes?

“The nations of the world make a huge mistake by not noticing this and by failing to admit Taiwan as a full-fledged member of the global community. They also err in not affording Taiwan the umbrella of protection it needs and deserves for its messy and puerile democracy to come to term and give birth to something that has never before existed in Asia – a Chinese culture that is alive with a freedom commensurate with its genius, and thus a Chinese culture that has been delivered to the source of its real creative power.”

What a fucking awesome thought. Bill is on fire. The crowning irony of Chinese hatred and jealousy toward Taiwan is that the explosive growth of culture of all kinds on Taiwan is referred to as “De-sinicization.” It is not Taiwan that has de-sinicized, but the mainland, forsaking as it has all the greatness that is its birthright, selling it for a mess of authoritarian pottage.

September 29, 2006 @ 6:04 pm | Comment

Yes, it’s Bill’s best essay so far. Bottom line: Taiwan is more representative of China than is the PRC. What an interesting thought.

September 29, 2006 @ 6:37 pm | Comment

A very interesting post. I think that for all the hatred of each other on both sides, the DPP and KMT’s existence is Taiwan’s strength. Maybe if they could just act maturely………

Anyway, it is true that China’s soul is being sucked out of it. The way things are going the country will just be about money, with an “I’m alright, Jack” attitude that will put the US to shame. Whereas Taiwan is much more “cultural” in many respects.

Such a shame really.

By the way, richard, just put the comment moderation feature on – we wouldn’t mind. Or isn’t there the option on the blog?

September 29, 2006 @ 6:53 pm | Comment

I wish I had that feature. After my big crash a few months ago, the system was left all screwed up and I’m hoping to get the whole site overhauled over the next few weeks. Meanwhile, I definitely will need some more monitors to help stop the troll. He’s definitely crazed, spending hours on the site today and posting bok-length comments every few minutes. Raj, may I volunteer you to be a hall monitor?

September 29, 2006 @ 7:03 pm | Comment

Sure, super-size me!

September 29, 2006 @ 9:03 pm | Comment

Err, how are you going to do that? Do you need me to make a typekey account, or something?

September 29, 2006 @ 9:07 pm | Comment

Raj, I’d have to give you the keys to the kingom – my login info, so you could delete the entire site at the touch of a key (I can hear the trolls salivating in the background). Send me an email and we can discuss further. Thanks!

September 29, 2006 @ 10:42 pm | Comment

Bah, if my eyes rolled any faster they would be spinning out of my head.

Damn separatists, get off my lawn!

September 29, 2006 @ 11:27 pm | Comment

Jing:

I’m going to come around for a momentary haunting – just for you….out of my self-chosen peaceful Arcadia-after-TPD….just to say to you:

…oh it pleases me SO much, Jing, to watch you CONTINUING to make an ass of yourself, and to demonstrate what an uncontrolled, malicious, vulgar, knee-jerk propagandistic Aging-Callow-Marxist-Academic-In-Denial-Of-Marxism’s-Bankruptcy shill you are… and you continue to be one, and you continue to be a very VULGAR and IMPOLITE one indeed, EVEN IN MY ABSENCE!

(sending a wink here ;-) to some other readers…)

ok, now back to my peaceful tomb, from which my ghost might occasionally come back to rattle some chains, in some rare instances like this one where it will really drive a point home.

Ivan’s Ghost

September 30, 2006 @ 1:43 am | Comment

It’s funny because the KMT is so smoochy with China right now…the right to protest against the governing administration en masse would never be allowed under a dictactorial government like the CCP. For that matter, they didn’t used to be tolerated so well under the KMT either.

It’s ironic because when I went to primary school in the eighties in KMT’s Taiwan, the communists in China were portrayed as the devil incarnate. Or at least as a shifty looking villain who looked oddly reminiscent of the Hamburglar. Now the same folks who were talking cocky about never forgetting Our Sacred Duty to our mainland compatriots and liberating them from the Eeeeeeeevil CCP are practically in bed with the CCP themselves.

It’s sad because the Greens were given two chances by the Taiwanese people and the messed up so badly as to make it almost certain that the Taiwanese will be voting the blues back in a landslide in 2008.

But yeah, despite the fact that they piss me off, I’m glad that the red-ants army have the right to clutter up ketagalan ave.

September 30, 2006 @ 4:25 am | Comment

******It’s sad because the Greens were given two chances by the Taiwanese people and the messed up so badly as to make it almost certain that the Taiwanese will be voting the blues back in a landslide in 2008.*****

No, the Greens are going to do just fine, and Ma is not going to win the Presidency in 2008. He’s got multiple vulnerabilities, hasn’t done any more for Taipei than Chen has done for the nation, and is dissed even by his supporters. Plus he is so obviously pro-China and anti-Japan/US… I wouldn’t bank on a KMT victory come 2007/8. I remember when Chen was going to get blown away by Lien or Soong, the Lien and Soong together couldn’t possibly lose….

Michael

September 30, 2006 @ 3:47 pm | Comment

Well, we’ll see. Michael you’re the greenest person I “know” and I’ve never really even heard you praise what Chen has done in his term. The DDP, they’ve not impressed. I think after eight years people will be ready for change again. Will it be Ma? I don’t know. I’m not too up on politics in Taiwan. But I certainly thinks he’s a better candidate than Lien.

October 1, 2006 @ 12:16 am | Comment

Generally, I agree with you, but at the same time, I would consider it a tragedy for Taipei to relinquish its’ claim to being the “one China”. It is my hope that one day, a Taipei government can extend its’ sovereignty over all of China and restore democracy. By pushing for “independence” from what is officially a part of the same country (part of which so happens to be illegally occupied by Communist bandits), the DPP is irresponsibly avoinding what I see as the Chinese government’s (and by that I mean Taipei’s) responsibility to ALL of it’s people.

October 1, 2006 @ 12:41 am | Comment

By pushing for “independence” from what is officially a part of the same country (part of which so happens to be illegally occupied by Communist bandits), the DPP is irresponsibly avoinding what I see as the Chinese government’s (and by that I mean Taipei’s) responsibility to ALL of it’s people.

That’s an interesting take, but the DPP and its supporters do not consider Taiwan to be part of China (it was never part of any state belonging to an ethnic Chinese emperor). It also considers the government in Taipei to be an illegitimate colonial state.

Well, we’ll see. Michael you’re the greenest person I “know” and I’ve never really even heard you praise what Chen has done in his term. The DDP, they’ve not impressed. I think after eight years people will be ready for change again.

Maybe. But Chen couldn’t accomplish much because the legislature wouldn’t let him. But if you look at the quality of the likely candidates, Su is better than Ma. The KMT will make inroads — the county chief level defeat last time was a serious problem — but if you look at the local level, the DPP has been quietly coming up on the KMT in every election. The overall trend is Green, so I remain optimistic.

Michael

October 1, 2006 @ 9:23 am | Comment

Welcome back, Ivan! Miss your humor. Jing is getting slapped around over at the Marmot’s, and besides the usual personal attacks, his posts show a fondness for graphic sexual metaphors.

October 1, 2006 @ 10:26 am | Comment

I know you wrote a disclaimer, Richard, but I must comment.

Bill Stimson can write some good stuff (e.g., “The Truth About Taiwan,” “Something Green in Taiwan”), but what he wrote here made my head hurt:
- – -
On the streets of Taipei today, and on TV screens and front pages around the world, the red shirts are out in number demanding that the President of Taiwan resign because of all the corruption scandals. Who among his loyal supporters down here in the heartland of Taiwan where I live isn’t a little bit glad to see the man and his party get this deserved slap in the face. The common people put him and his party in power because he promised to deliver them from the thieving KMT – not take over their role.
- – -

Did he accidentally drop that particular paragraph in the compost heap?

First, Chen Shui-bian’s opponents will use any excuse to make him step down. The first time they wanted to recall him was back in October 2000 [http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/front/archives/2000/10/31/59288]. If this latest attempt to take him down had anything to do with corruption, James Soong and Ma Ying-jeou wouldn’t have been up there with Shih Ming-teh, Wang Li-ping (convicted in 1994 of taking bribes and kicked out of the DPP as a result) would have never been up there, and Chang An-le wouldn’t have offered his “protection” to Shih. These demonstrations have nothing to do with opposing corruption!

Second, I’m not one bit glad to see Chen get “slap[ped]” by his opponents. Besides, what they’re doing/have done can hardly be called just a “slap in the face,” by any means. To see your enemies ganging up your friend because your friend couldn’t defend you (or even himself) from those enemies is not a happy sight.

If “his loyal supporters down here in the heartland” saw things as Stimson described them, you wouldn’t see the greens going at it with the redshirts, something which has taken place more prominently in the south. Did you see the turnout for the DPP’s rally in Kaohsiung Saturday? Those people don’t seem to feel the way Stimson expects them to.

As Michael said above (9:23 AM), the reason Chen can’t do what needs to be done is that the opposition won’t let him do anything, much less handle the issue of transitional justice, and unless he turns into a dictator, it’s pretty difficult to get past that. That’s what you call a Catch-22, and the last sentence of Stimson’s that I quoted ignores that dilemma completely.

October 2, 2006 @ 5:47 am | Comment

Thatdude wrote: It is my hope that one day, a Taipei government can extend its’ sovereignty over all of China and restore democracy.

Democracy in China is something that has to come from the Chinese people themselves. It is not something that can be imposed from the outside.

October 2, 2006 @ 11:32 am | Comment

I didn’t know you were also into fudge packing Sonagi. Color me surprised. Guess at your age, it works better than prune juice.

I have my personal attacks on those who I feel deserves them, that includes you, and you, and you, and you, and most especially you. :)

October 3, 2006 @ 2:42 am | Comment

heheheheh. good article calling for the protection of taiwan’s fledgling memetic network. but ultimately, the memetics bill outlines will be destroyed beneath the iron boot of development, for the simple fact that all the fluffy rot that he calls for is economically inefficient and therefore will be eventually outcompeted.

the “rights” he outlines are statistically linked with reduced economic growth. while i’m no fan of nepotism and corruption, mob action is not the correct political solution–giving maximum political representation to the most economically efficient corporations and individuals is.

in an anarchic international scene with most western progenitors of such memetics tied down with domestic strife, stagflation, and quagmires abroad, no national leader will risk sinking the fragile economic boat upon which their political career stands by “protecting” Taiwan (and her memetic web) over the country of China. game theory dictates that even if someone does do so, the other western actors will not side with either china or the island because they will benefit from the self-destruction of both china and the offending western country.

the world power spectrum is still mostly economic, not memetic. bill’s call to action is about 70 years too early.

October 3, 2006 @ 10:37 am | Comment

t-co,

Please print out a copy of George Orwell’s essay, “Politics and the English Language” (just google it and you’ll find some links) and tape it over your computer, so that you’ll refrain from writing in the above style ever again.

Furthermore, the next time you use the word “memetic”, you will be punished by the Jargon Fairy.

Sincerely yours,
Ivan the Realistic-Language Cop

October 3, 2006 @ 4:36 pm | Comment

I’m away and cannot spend more than a few seconds online every day or so. But I want to tell Jing that he’s really pushing it with his profanities. To delete or not to delete?

October 3, 2006 @ 9:09 pm | Comment

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