Saturday, 16 July 2011

On Ted Lau's Letter


Common as it is to hear the words "ideology", "ideological" and "idealogue" uttered with the derogatory, connotating aspect of "dogma", it would be a serious mistake to slip into this practice as an habitual reflex.

For it is not only the case that, in the realm of politics, "ideas have consequences", but that there is certain logic to the consequences of these ideas. Once legislative discussion of the merits of this or that State policy ceases to be informed by ideological aims, and instead focuses exclusively upon pragmatist calculations, then the door is opened to a more vigorous and primitive form of decision making.

Today's published letter by Ted Lau of the newly formed "Taiwan Nationalist Party" offers ample demonstration of this point, despite his corrections to Mr Cole's earlier editorial piece. For although Mr Lau does not call for the deportation of what he terms "Chilans" from Taiwan, his argument for expulsion of said people from political office does not aspire to the nobility of an ethically shaped ideology but rather, it is a degenerate pragmatism anchored only to the vague, though explicitly nationalist sense of those people who "continue to identify themselves as Chinese". Either this sense of identification he refers to is cultural - in which case it can be specified as a set of ideas and thus subject to rational criticism - or it can be reduced to mere ethnicity. It seems likely that this latter alternative is what Lau had in mind given his references to President Ma and Ma's talk of having "the blood of the Yellow Emperor" running within his veins.

It is imperative that we realize what seems to be happening: the rationality of political discourse in Taiwan has been reduced from talk of liberalization and democratization during the 1980s and 1990s to the arbitrariness and intellectual corruption of ethnically defined in-groups and out-groups.

I submit that this is consequent to the abandonment of even a pretense of Liberal, pro-free market ideology in favour of debased, pragmatist calculations of how to distribute State favours and corporate and social welfare to this or that group of rent seekers.

Such a State is rotten from the inside out and cannot last - to the extent this continues, the dreams of international recognition and respect for an independent Taiwan can only be rendered vain and contemptible.

Yours freely,
Michael Fagan.

(Sent: Saturday 16th July 2011. Unpublished by the Taipei Times.)


  1. In order to be a Chilan, one must identify oneself as Chinese which would mean, by their own definition, identifying oneself as a citizen of the PRC. Therefore, virtually no one in Taiwan is a Chilan. Congrats TNP, your job is done!

  2. Funny, but I think that's a misreading of Lau's letter. There are two versions of "Chinese" at work here: one is the de jure definition of Chinese in connection with the PRC (i.e. PRC subjects), whilst the other is the de facto, cultural or ethnic sense of "Chinese". I don't think Lau meant that one implies the other.

  3. Well that's my point. He's obviously trying to sidestep the cultural/ethnic sense by bringing out the de jure (Nationalistic?) definition, but taken at face value it doesn't quite work. So, as you say, he is using the cultural/ethnic sense of the word "Chinese", which can't be good.

  4. "...taken at face value it doesn't quite work."

    Sure: that's just what happens sometimes when writing in your second (or third) language.

    I shudder to think what people here will have to go through before this ethnic tension finally dissolves. The nationalism to which both centrist parties subscribe often seems like nothing more than a paper thin, face-saving device.


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