Friday, 21 September 2012

Taoyuan Racists?

"Taoyuan County Councilor Lu Lin Hsiao-feng (呂林小鳳), who represents the constituency, denied that residents wanted foreign workers to leave because of racial discrimination.

“It has nothing to do with discrimination,” she said. “With 460 households and more than 1,000 residents, Rueilian is a peaceful community. They are merely worried that clashes could happen because of these foreign workers, with their different skin color and different culture, going in and out of the community.”..."
This was the "money quote" from a front-page article by Loa Iok-sin in the Taipei Times published yesterday (emphases added).

On the face of it, it would seem to suggest that the residents on whose behalf Lu Lin Hsiao-feng is supposedly speaking are (a) racist and (b) unaware that they are racist. This perfunctory interpretation was immediately offered by Jenna Cody at Michael Turton's blog:
"We're not racist, but......we're racist."
Maybe, but I suspect there is more to it than that. From my own experience, I know of many Taiwanese people who, whilst they never complain about the Filipino care-givers paid to look after the elderly, nevertheless used to advise me against running in the downtown city park across from the railway station late at night due to the prescence of large numbers of Filipino workers. Of course, I did my running there anyway and nobody so much as approached me, let alone threatened me.

The fact that Lu Lin's reported remarks refer to worries of "clashes" and, elsewhere in the article, the residents apparently wanted the Filipinos barred due to "safety concerns" would suggest that what is actually worrying the people in Rueilian is the presence of unfamiliar and seemingly idle young men in the 18-35 age group at the same time that they want their children to play in the park. That demographic group - young men in the 18-35 age group - are far more likely to worry the Rueilian residents than any other demographic group due to an obviously greater capacity for violence than say, a group of pre-teen girls or a shuffle of old people on zimmer frames. That they are present in large groups and are unfamiliar to the residents is probably enough to make the locals worry; the fact that the foreign workers are Filipinos and therefore have darker skin will only highlight that aspect of the perceived threat, namely their unfamiliarity*.

The other thing which I think may be going on here, although this has to be presumed because I don't know the question to which Lu Lin was responding... is epistemic error - an error of reasoning made possible by the psychological filter of "face". 

To people like Lu Lin, raised in a State-run "education" laboratory in which racist views were (are?) tacitly inculcated through history lessons and so forth, it might well seem natural to consider public opprobium to attach to expressed views and actions rather than to privately held attitudes expressed in confidence. As I speculated to Ben at his place...
Yes it's a retarded way to think. 

But it's also retarded to just jump to cartoon conclusions about other people's "racism". The residents in Rueilian may indeed be racists and maybe they do harbour a potentially violent, race-based dislike of the Filipinos, or alternatively it may be that either they or Lu Lin cannot think straight about what it is that is worrying them.

From my own experience of living with Taiwanese people, I would doubt that it is the Filipino's skin colour that is bothering them.

*I experience a similar thing from time to time.

I have been walking my dogs in the same park now for years, and most of the regular locals who use the park and live nearby know me quite well, as does the park superintendant (I help him clean up sometimes). However, on certain weekends - for instance those which coincide with a national holdiday - I often get a few stares from those people who have returned to Tainan from Taipei or elsewhere to see their parents. Some of these stares express fear and others aggression*. I have always assumed it is because (a) I have several "big" dogs which I walk without a leash, and because (b) as a white-skinned westerner I stand out and am unfamiliar to them, even though I've been coming to this same park for nearly five years now. I generally just get on with what I have to do.

*Then again, some of the girls stare at me in a very different way!

Update: Saturday's Taipei Times staff-written editorial opines...
"Rather than being open to the idea that someone from a different country and culture living nearby offers an opportunity to learn something about another culture... the people of Rueilian have chosen to close their doors and live in fear."
I don't know about anyone else, but I would think the Rueilian residents might want to choose whether and if so when, where, how and from whom they learn about other cultures. I would also bet that many of those residents are old people: old people who are tired, cranky and can't be bothered with the hassle of "openness".

Of course the real source of the problem here is that the "public" park is a State-regulated commons: power over the rules, over who gets to use what when pretty much makes these kinds of conflicts inevitable. I have further remarks to make about this, but I should really sleep now.


Would the residents have made the same protest against large groups of idle young Taiwanese men? I don't know, but I can certainly imagine it without any great difficulty. Still, the natural limit to tolerance is not to tolerate intolerance in others, and on that view alone then the Rueilian residents might be condemned.

On reading John Locke's "Letter Concerning Toleration" over the last few days, it struck me that he was able to draw a distinction with ease which we cannot really do today; the distinction between the proper bounds within the magistrate (i.e. the State) can act, and the proper bounds within which the Church can act; so the magistrate must concern himself with a limited and easily defined set of civil concerns, whilst the church alone must concern itself with the "salvation of souls". Rather than "salvation of souls", we might today refer to matters of virtue and attitude. Today, that distinction has collapsed, with the result that this latter function has been outsourced to, or expropriated by the State. And that helps to explain, to a degree, the rise of political correctness and is also why people today might expect the State to punish others for matters of attitude (e.g. racism), rather than actual criminal behaviour or in settling civil disputes.


  1. Your welcome.

    Of course I could be wrong, and it could be that the Rueilian residents' "safety concerns" were based on racial prejudice alone and nothing else, although I have to say I think Loa lok-sin's report is a bit lacking in information about the Filipino workers (e.g. whether they were, in fact, a large group of idle young men).

    Whether that information was available or was deliberately discarded in the drafting of the story is a question we can only guess at.

  2. Unless someone has seen other reports and TV bulletins elsewhere?

  3. Personally I think Lu Lin's unusual statement was just her attempt to avoid saying "This has nothing to do with *race* per se. We just don't want to have a bunch of *poor, low-class* people around."

  4. Does that fit with the claim of "safety concerns"?

  5. Well what do the stereotypes say? Being poor, low-class members of society, they are supposedly less educated and less civilized. So they are supposedly more likely to cause trouble (e.g. by fighting, drinking, stealing, harassing, etc.), especially when present in large numbers.

  6. So that only makes sense if you first suppose what I did: that they are all young men sitting around idle in large groups. No?

  7. Oh absolutely. But by itself the category of "young men idling in large groups" is maybe a bit too broad in that it includes congregations of students and white-collar workers and whatnot and therefore does not elicit a particularly strong emotional response. I doubt any Taiwanese is particularly bothered by the sight of a bunch of 30-year old engineers off the job or by a group of students playing a silly game in the park, even if they are all male.

  8. Maybe.

    Although... (a) "...the sight of a bunch of 30-year old engineers off the job... is a bit of a rarity, at least insofar as public parks are concerned, and (b) "...a group of students playing a silly game..." cannot be considered "idle" by definition since they are involved in playing a silly game.

    Anyway, I agree it is unlikely to be just racism per se.


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