Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Past and Present in Taiwan

In Fireproof Moth I wrote about events forty years ago, but even in the euphoria of my being welcomed back to Taiwan in 2003, the gaity was sobered by remembering not only the human cost of what had gone on years earlier but the possibility that days like that could again return. The seeds of democratization planted by Peng Ming-min, Hsieh Tsung-min, and Wei Ting-chao in 1964 and many others through the years began to bear fruit with the end of martial law in 1987, and finally the election of a non-KMT (Nationalist Party) President in 2000. Then, with the election of the KMT's Ma Ying-jeo in 2008, I couldn't get the overused but true words of novelist William Faulkner out of my head:
The past is not dead. In fact, it's not even past.
I do not subscribe to a cyclical view of history or theory of inevitability, and I doubt that Faulkner did either. I think he was acknowledging that the past is always alive in our present. Our experiences of deja vu remind us that hands from the past are always reaching into our present.

Readers may understand my sense of deja vu with certain recent events in Taiwan. The following was my OPED in the Taipei Times on April 29, 2011.

I was one of the signatories to the “Open letter to Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) KMT government” published in the Taipei Times (April 11, page 8), questioning his administration’s decision to investigate former senior Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) officials over 36,000 supposedly missing government documents.

Presidential Office spokesman Lo Chih-chiang (羅智強) denied in a letter received by academics this week that the investigation was politically motivated, even though it was announced on the eve of former premier Su Tseng-chang’s (蘇貞昌) registration for the DPP primary for next year’s presidential election.

I confess that Lo’s response to the letter from 34 academics, experts and writers gave me feelings of deja vu.

Deja vu is a French term for the experience of reliving something, or a compelling sense of familiarity with events in the past. I had several such feelings as I read the response.

Instead of speaking about the issues raised in the letter, Lo’s denial rested on his claim that “the Republic of China is a nation based on the rule of law.”

What is at issue is not that the Republic of China has laws, but how those laws are being used for political ends. The first feeling of deja vu took me back to statements of former Alabama governor George Wallace during the US civil rights movement when he tried to defend the practice of racial segregation by claiming that the state was “based on the rule of law,” as if that somehow justified its manipulation of the law to perpetuate segregation.

These were also the words government officials used in response to criticism of monumental human rights abuses during the White Terror era.

My second feeling of deja vu came when I read how the Presidential Office attempted to discredit the signatories of the letter, rather than engage them in serious conversation. I was taken back in time to the defenders of US racial segregation who criticized their critics by claiming that “the trouble is being caused by outside agitators.”

That seems to be the case now with the government’s response to the 34 signatories. I look over that list and I see the names of those who have been Taiwan’s friends for years, who are not ignorant of the country’s history and politics, who have lived for many years in Taiwan, who are Taiwanese and those who are deeply committed to democracy.

Late in life, Wallace said he was sorry for the way he had disregarded blacks and even sought forgiveness from some civil rights leaders.

In 2003, my first trip back to Taiwan since being deported in 1971 for what were termed illegal activities, I appeared on a panel discussing life in Taiwan in the time of the White Terror. After the discussion, a young Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) official came up to me and assured me that “we are not the same KMT we were when you lived in Taiwan.”

I replied: “I hope not.”

However, after the government’s response to the 34 signatories, I still have these feelings of deja vu.

Milo Thornberry is a former missionary professor and the author of a memoir about his days in Taiwan titled Fireproof Moth: A Missionary in Taiwan’s White Terror.


dan said...

Dear Milo,
Things are improving in Taiwan, of course, getting better year by year, but at the same time , sometimes there are some steps backwards and they need to be checked and spoke about, asn yuour good oped article said it well. Deja vu, all over again..... at the same time, "this too shall pass"....and Taiwan IS in good hands, in the end, the hands of the people, the people of Taiwan.....

However, recently another scary thing happened in Taipei, just this week. Two Japanese "on a tourist visa" visitng for a few days from the Fukushima nuke plant area where they live came to Taipei to take part in the streeet protest agaisnt Nuke power plants in Taiwan, a peaceful nonviolent, quiet march thru the streets and lo and behold, the two women even spoke on TV in Japanese to say they supported the anti-nuke people in Taiwan, from their experience in Japan recently, and the two women were very polite and soft-spoken, not radicals or leftwing terroirsts, and yet , after appaering on TV and in newspapersr with their quotes of support for Taiwan's anti-nuke protestse, the govt said they had violated their tourist visas which forbid any political activities in public such as taking part in a protest and speaking publicyly anmd the police threatene the two women with deportation for violating their tourist visas......scary...... but later, nothing happened and the women were NOT deported and they went home quietly, but not without some scary lessons from taiwan's media, well, some of Taiwan's media. the Taipie Times and Liverty Times supported the two women completely...... deja vu? not quite, but still a cautionary newspaper tale.....ouch!

dan said...

Japanese citizens could be deported for participating in nuclear power protest

The CNA news agency reported as printed in the TT last weeL

Two Japanese female citizens COULD BE ..BUT WERE NOT....deported for attending an anti-nuclear power rally in Taipei on Saturday, because officials said their participation in the protest was contrary to the stated purpose of their TOURIST VISA visit to the country.

The National Immigration Agency yesterday said it would assess police video footage of the protest and will decide whether to deport Miss Ayako Oga and Miss Saeko Uno. both in their 20s and 30s.

Thousands of people took to the streets on Saturday to urge the government to stop construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao District (貢寮), New Taipei City (新北市), and pursue a more sustainable energy policy.

Among them were Oga and Uno, who are both from Fukushima Prefecture where the March 11 earthquake and tsunami caused severe damage to a nuclear power plant and led to the worst nuclear power crisis in Japan’s history.

The two Japanese made PUBLIC comments TO TV REPORTERS ABND PRINT NEWSPAPWERS and SANG OUT LOUD TOO at the rally, but police said this was against regulations since the two women were in the country on tourist visas.

City police WARNED the pair that they risked VIOLATING the LAW , but Oga and Uno, remained at the rally.

*****The agency said their actions were in violation of Article 29 of the enforcement rules of the Immigration Act (入出國及移民法), which BARS foreign nationals from taking part in activities or work that does not match the stated purpose of their visit.

HOWEVER......MILO.....However, an SWEET KIND KMT agency official said the pair’s anti-nuclear stance was ***understandable*** in light of the disaster that had occurred in their hometown.

Based on human rights considerations and video evidence produced by the city police, the agency would decide whether OR NOT to deport the pair, the official said.

“We will not force them to leave the country simply because they said a few words on stage [at the rally],” the official said.


Milo Thornberry said...

Thanks for the cautionary note, Dan! Psychologists say most experiences of deja vu are illusions. I hope that is what mine was.

dan said...

deja vu IS an illusion of the mind, in terms of the real things,,,but as a poetic metaphor of real life, it is a good term and your oped said it very well. because as Carlos Santana said, ''....those who do not remember history may very well live to see it repeated again.....".. or was that George Santanyana? Memory bank going dry lately....

interomike said...

Dear Mr. Thornberry, my sister-in-law's father was a pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Yangming Shan 陽明山 during your time there and he also has a lot of stories about his years in Taiwan. Thank you again for writing about your life and the story of Taiwan. I hope you writings like yours will help the world understand what Taiwan is. Personally I hope that the world will Taiwan just be, Taiwan.