October 10th is the National Day of the Republic of China. It is celebrated in both Taiwan and the Mainland as an event that liberated China from the grip of feudal rule.
My first thought on 10-10 this year is to smile. This is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the R.O.C. The political status of R.O.C. notwithstanding, accomplishment of territories under its control represent an important accomplishment of Chinese people, and there are definitely things to celebrate.
As Ma noted,
Despite its relatively small land area and limited natural resources, Taiwan has pulled itself up by its own bootstraps to become a major economic presence. Its companies are world leaders in the manufacture of high-tech products such as semiconductors, tablet PCs, smartphones, and photovoltaic equipment. Moreover, they have made outstanding contributions to energy conservation and reduction of carbon emissions.
In the 2011 World Competitiveness Yearbook released by Switzerland’s International Institute for Management Development in May, Taiwan ranked No. 6 overall, its best score ever. In the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2011-2012 issued in September, Taiwan placed No. 13, our country’s best performance in five years, and occupied first place in eight of the survey’s sub-indices.
Our young people are bursting with talent. They have turned in brilliant performances in the fields of design and invention as well as cultural and creative undertakings. In the six biggest international invention shows, they often walk away with the lion’s share of the prizes. Some 80 percent of the world’s Chinese-language pop music is created in Taiwan, and we have taken a place on the world stage in the fields of cinema, theater, dance, and design. Taiwan moviemakers in particular have made their presence felt. An amazingly talented younger generation is opening up limitless vistas for Taiwan’s movie industry.
The people of Taiwan are compassionate. There are over 40,000 nonprofit organizations with more than a million volunteers who work in anonymity for the greater good throughout Taiwan. More than that, they also travel overseas to provide humanitarian assistance wherever it is needed. Last year, 8 percent of our citizens were blood donors, a ratio ranking among the world’s highest. The people of Taiwan provided financial sponsorship for 300,000 poor children, 200,000 of whom lived overseas. And their annual charitable donations exceed NT$35 billion (US$1.1 billion), most of which comes from people of modest economic means.
In this land, we can see numerous examples of admirable people who have lived out their dreams. The generosity of ordinary people like Chen Chou, Chen Shu-chu, and the army veterans Yin Tien-chia and Hung Chung-hai, is simply stunning. The beloved Dr. Lien Jih-ching is known far and wide for his work in combating malaria in West Africa. Ultra-marathoner Kevin Lin is a tremendous credit to Taiwan. We certainly take pride in the world champion baker Wu Pao-chun, not to mention U.S. baseball major league pitcher Wang Chien-ming, who has returned to the mound after overcoming a debilitating injury. An elderly woman named Yang-Huang Mu-tan, despite her poverty, could not be tempted to keep a huge bundle of money she had found, and food safety official Yang Ming-yu went above and beyond the call of duty to expose a case of tainted foods. In the meantime, film director Wei Te-sheng recently released the brilliant epic “Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale.” And last but not least, I cannot go without mentioning world record-breaking LPGA champion Yani Tseng.
In these individuals, we witness the exemplary spirit of kindness, hard work, tenacity, firmness of purpose, and faith-the driving force of Taiwan’s advancement.
But parts of Ma’s speech may be interpreted as a rebuke to the Mainland authorities (e.g. see this Bloomberg piece), with Ma lecturing:
The October 10th uprising is a memory and heritage shared by both sides of the Taiwan Strait. I wish to take this opportunity, therefore, to remind the mainland authorities: In commemorating Double Tenth Day, it must not be forgotten that the aspiration of our founding father Dr. Sun Yat-sen was to establish a free and democratic nation with equitable distribution of wealth. The mainland ought to courageously move in that direction.
Obviously – there are some politics involved. An election is looming, and Ma does not want to appear soft to the people of Taiwan on the issue of cross-strait relations. Besides political posturing, I don’t think Ma meant to tout Taiwan’s present day mode of governance as some epitome of what Sun envisions. But to the extent he did, I would strongly disagree.
While Sun was heavily influenced by Western democratic ideals, that was mainly driven by a desire to tear down the suffocating burden of feudal rule. The driving force behind 10-10 was a rejuvenation of Chinese civilization that has by 1911 been undermined by foreign invasions and internal corruption. Democracy was seen as a vehicle to topple a corrupt order and to create a new fair and equitable society that unleashes the energy of the Chinese people – not a vehicle to destroy Chinese culture and adopt wholesale a Western way of governance.
Ma in his speech emphasized amongst the accomplishment of the R.O.C. the “safeguard[ing of] the viability of Chinese culture.” But under Chinese political philosophy, the art of governing is to indoctrinate people in position of power to work to build a justice society. Peace and justice flows from the grooming of wise and benign rulers, not from inciting lay people to impose their will through government.
That’s probably a good thing. A “mob” can reflect perfectly the “will of the people” – yet sensible people generally don’t condone vigilante justice. While America is generally recognized to have had over 200 years of democracy, a closer peek reveals that a large part of those 200 years, only a select few landowners can “vote,” a sizable portion of the population was permanently enslaved, and even within the century, over half the population (women) could not vote, and some races and nationalities (Chinese) were prohibited from ever becoming citizens.
Will future historians look to present-day American democracy as a beacon of peace and justice when the press is generally so myopic and agenda-driven, when money so clearly controls information (at least information that matter, the expensive ads needed to win elections), when the general populace is so ignorant (world affairs, math, science, you name it), when partisanship poison every aspect of free political discourse (that goes for Taiwan as well)?
Democracy is often used synonymously with the building of a just, peaceful and prosperous society, but I think the two represent separate and distinct concepts.
No method of governance is perfect. Democracy can be a great model of governance – but not inherently. It is great only when it is. I am glad the U.S. and many of its allies have found democracy so invaluable to their success. But in the long term, the normative appeal of democracies will only be as strong as the success they provide – and I mean, success that is fairly earned, and not gained on the backs of ignoble colonial history and military expansionism.
I don’t think 10-10 should be hijacked to promote a particular brand of governance. I don’t agree Sun vision of “a free and democratic nation with equitable distribution of wealth” should be distilled down to any self congratulatory and narrow conception of “democracy” and “freedom”.
The authorities in Mainland have maintained that even if Taiwan were reunified, it would be allowed to practice its own brand of government in its internal governance. To the extent the people of Taiwan find its version of democracy useful, they should continue to embrace and develop it. For the mainland, to the extent its current system of co-opting the best and brightest from all aspects of life (all classes, all ethnic nationalities, all genders, etc.) to the party to lead the nation – in a form of meritocratic democracy, they should also continue to embrace and develop it. To the extent the two sides can freely experiment and share with each what each learns, that can only make China stronger.
The people across the strait share a common history and a common future. As long as the two sides understand this, the future will be bright. Here is a toast – on this 100th anniversary of the long Chinese road to rejuvenation – to the budding Chinese Renaissance – and perhaps more broadly, a budding Asian Renaissance.