Pursuing Quality Democracy in Taiwan    2012/12/29

George T. Chang

If we open a quarrel between past and present, we shall find that we have lost the future.
–Winston S. Churchill



As an ardent promoter of Taiwan Independence, I have repeatedly asked myself “What is my ultimate concern forTaiwan?” ”What is the future ofTaiwanI would hope for?”  After long fretting over the current political turmoil inTaiwan, I have come up with some clear ideas.


What I Have Witnessed


The first decade of the 21st century in Taiwan is epitomized by the conflicts between the Blue and the Green camps, which has set back Taiwan’s democracy.  While there are ample enthusiastic voters during election times, there are few rational citizens taking part in public affairs.  As politicians indulge in partisan quarrels, opinionated guests on TV talk shows fan the flames, discouraging people from engaging in sensible dialogues.  As a result, people become frantic and lose rationality. In discussing policy alternatives, political lines are clear-cut, making Taiwan a society where there is plenty of partisan politics that have little to do with right or wrong. The goal of political parties is to seek nothing but votes and electoral victories, and politicians’ visions are so poor that they focus on nothing but the year of 2016 and China across the Taiwan Strait. 

台灣當前的政治亂象:藍綠嚴重對立、社會不斷撕裂、政府持續空轉。歷次的民調也都顯示,有50%以上受訪民眾認為:「政黨惡鬥是台灣當前最大的危機」。幾年前,「經濟學人」(The Economist)雜誌曾評論:「政治文化是目前台灣最大的問題」。2011年8月美國時事雜誌「外交政策」(Foreign Policy)則指出:台灣、日本、比利時的國會,是全球三大最無能的國會。

What is left in Taiwannowadays is political chaos: endless partisan confrontations, deepening social cleavages, and ineffective government and politicians.  Indeed, numerous public opinion polls have showed that more than half of the population believes that partisan hostility is the most serious crisis in Taiwan.  As The Economist commented a few years ago, political culture is the most severe problem in Taiwan.  In its August 2001 issue, Foreign Policy also pointed out that the parliaments ofTaiwan,Japan, andBelgium are the most incompetent in the world.

其實在多元化、民主化的開放社會,意見不同本是很正常,不足為奇的;重要的是要用什麼態度面對問題?有沒有能力處理問題?不幸的是,台灣社會卻不懂得如何處理,處理模式更常常陷於:只有立場,不問是非;只有黨派,不問黑白。甚至拚命找對手的缺點、拚命找與對手不同的地方,追求零和遊戲(Zero-Sum Game),形成「互相否定、互相消滅」的局勢。完全缺少西方先進國家理性溝通、尊重包容,和而不同(Diversity in Unity),同中存異、異中求同的文化。我們必需認真思考,如何擺脫目前理盲又濫情、只問顏色不問是非的困境,建立台灣新的政治文化,回歸民主政治的常規,創造安定的政局。

In fact, diverse opinions on public issues are common in pluralistic democracies.  The point at issue here is what attitudes citizens are taking to resolve disputes.  Unfortunately, politicians are enjoying zero-sum games and are quick to attack one another in an attempt to exclude and even to destroy others.  InTaiwanthere is a deficiency in rational communication that commonly exists in Western democracies. There is no mutual respect and no culture of finding diversity in unity and finding unity in diversity.  We must contemplate how to get rid of irrationality and emotionalism and break away from partisanship while focusing on distinguishing right from wrong.  We must establish a new political culture and return to the normalcy of democracy to create a peaceful political society inTaiwan.



So, let’s face the problem! Avoiding political problems is not a healthy attitude.  As Master Shen Yen of theDharmaDrumMountainsays, “When there is a problem, face it, accept it, manage it, and resolve it.”


How I Reflect



As I recall the process of transformation from authoritarianism to democracy inTaiwan, I would say that it may set the best example in human history.  Under pressure for liberalization from within and without, the late President Chiang Ching-kuo, son of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, lifted martial law in 1987, taking the first step toward democracy.

1991年5月1日李登輝前總統宣布終止動員戡亂時期臨時條款:承認中共統治中國大陸、兩岸不對立、國內開放,這是台灣民主化最關鍵的一步。接著解除黨禁、開放媒體、凍省、廢國代、修改刑法100條、廢除海外黑名單、國會全面改選、1996年總統直選、2000年政黨輪替,政權和平轉移。短短10年間,台灣社會由威權體制轉化為民主開放的社會,這種世界史上前所未見的民主大轉型(great transformation),台灣卻付出相當低的代價,也因此被稱為「寧靜革命」,國際社會更常常稱讚台灣是民主轉型非常成功的典範。

On May 1, 1991, former President Lee Teng-hui terminated the Temporary Provisions effective during the Period of National Mobilization for Suppression of Communist Rebellion.  He recognized the Peoples’ Republic of China to end hostility in theTaiwan Straitand open up the society. This was a giant step towards Taiwan’s democratization, followed by lifting a ban on political parties and the media, freezing provincial government, abolishing the National Assembly, amending Article 100 of the Criminal Code, revoking the black-list on Taiwanese expatriates, and calling for general elections for national representative bodies and direct presidential election. All these eventually resulted in a peaceful party and government transition. In ten short years,Taiwantransformed from an authoritarian system to a liberal democratic society. It was a great transformation and unprecedented in the world, often touted as a successful “silent revolution” by the international community.


The political transitions in 2000 and 2008 came with high expectations from the people.  Unfortunately, they did not live up to expectations;  what people face now are political confrontations between the Blue and the Green camps, social cleavages, political standstills, economic recession, value distortions, and moral decay. Many observers believe thatTaiwanis one of the countries that has failed to neither consolidate nor deepen the democratization process.


Democracy may be easy to swallow, but difficult to digest.  Voting is not equivalent to democracy; nor is regime change equal to democratic consolidation.  Democracy is not a mere political institution; it is also a way of life, particularly in how people deal with one another.  Its merit is toleration of competing ideologies and opposing positions.  Nothing can take the place of democracy, not even the issue ofTaiwan’s political future, be itTaiwanindependence, unification withChina, or maintaining the status quo.

Furthermore, nobody can override the consensus that the future ofTaiwanis to be decided by all residents ofTaiwan.  Democracy has become the prevailing ideal, surpassing the independence-unification dichotomy, and it is also the best way to resolve this issue. Everyone must accept a consensus reached through a democratic method.  In other words, as long as the choice is made by the people’s free will, it should be honored by all parties.  I can never emphasize enough that democracy is our most reliable soft power againstChina’s threats.


A few years ago, a journalist asked me, “As a staunch proponent of independence and democracy, how do you view the contemporary partisan power struggles and social unrests in Taiwan?”  My reply was simply, “I am politically color-blind, seeing things only as right or wrong.” Is there any way out of the needless political confrontations between the Blue and Green camps? I believe there is.


Many problemsTaiwanis facing today, such as low morality, lack of social constraints and ethics, public officials’ dubious integrity and credibility, as well as our pursuit of the universal values of freedom, democracy, human rights, law and order, etc. have nothing to do with ideology or political affiliations. Many public policy issues such as government’s effectiveness, economic growth, national competitiveness, sustainable development, social order, judicial, financial, and educational reforms, land planning, government rejuvenation, health system overhaul, social welfare, and international relations, are all above the Blue and Green conflict and ideological contest. However, people have a tendency to overemphasize their differences and disregard their commonality.


In this era of globalization, we must realize that there is no wayTaiwancan do withoutChina.  Nor is there anyChinapolicy without its potential risks. In reality, there are both challenges and opportunities in economic exchange and cooperation with other nations.  We must objectively weigh both positive gains and negative costs.

Take for example the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) signed withChina in June 2010.  Before its approval by the Legislative Yuan, the ruling party only touted its merits while the opposition party only focused on its drawbacks.  Nobody cared to evaluate it in terms of its overall impact onTaiwan’s industries and people’s lives. We know that all policies have their costs and benefits, and that responsible policy makers ought to evaluate all major factors and maximize gains while minimizing losses.  Sadly enough, the two major parties find no common ground and appear to take pleasure in cutting each other’s throat.


With all these dismal problems, it is fortunate that Taiwanhas not run into as much violence as other countries.  In 1987, the opposition in South Koreacountered the ruling party by  self-immolation, suicide jumping, and throwing Molotov cocktails.  The PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) engaged in such terrorist acts as hijacking, car bombing, and suicide bombings in its effort to secure nationhood and eliminate Israel.  In the 1990’s, blacks of the ANC (African National Congress) of South Africa committed arson, riots and robberies while white policemen reacted by firing live bullets, throwing tear gas, and unleashing police dogs at them.  In comparison, these countries’ domestic and international problems were much more serious thanTaiwan’s. Yet they were able to find conciliatory measures to resolve their problems. We inTaiwan have to emulate their people’s wisdom and their politicians’ tolerance and magnanimity in seeking a path to a harmonious society.


In the case of Ireland, it used to be a poverty-stricken country and many people emigrated to other countries. In the 1920s, its people shed their blood and sacrificed their lives to get rid of British colonial rule and gain independence. There is an old saying, “The water in Irish rivers is salty because they contain tears of Irish people.”Even after its independence, Ireland remained so poor and chaotic that in 1987 The Economist called it the “European beggar.” However, in 20 short years, before the global financial crisis, Irish per capita income shot up to US$50,000, second in Europe. Its university tuitions were free and it was dubbed an“Investment Paradise.”

我仔細探討其原因,發現愛爾蘭的改變最主要來自於愛爾蘭人思考邏輯的轉變,跳脫過去凡事對抗的慣性思維,遇到問題時不是爭論問題、解釋問題、解釋立場(make a point),而是想辦法找出實際具體的解決方案(make a difference)。有句話說:「If you are not part of solution, you will be part of problem.」,如果你不是解決問題的一部分,你就是製造問題的一部分。愛爾蘭的轉變值得我們省思,希望台灣社會能夠學習用這種態度來面對問題、思考問題、解決問題。

I looked into its causes and discovered that it is because the Irish people have undergone drastic changes in the way they think.  Instead of customary reactive thinking–arguing a point and making a point, they now try to make a difference.  There is proverb “if you are not part of solution, you will be part of problem.”  So, I hope our people would reflect on and learn from the Irish experience—face the problem, ponder alternatives, and find the solution.


What I Expect


Since the end of World War II, the residents ofTaiwanhave lived together for more than sixty years.  We share a common history, form a common purpose, and are destined to have a common future.  Therefore, it is not difficult for us to meet our present-day challenges as long as we are willing to change our way of thinking and adjust our attitudes, namely, maximizing our consensus and minimizing our differences.  With this we can improve the quality of our democracy and shape a mature civil society.  Here is what we should do:


1. Toleration and Dialogue


First is tolerance and dialogue. I remember the first time I paid a visit to Master Sheng-Yen some years ago.  He enlightened me: “For statesmen, those who disagree with you are friends not enemies.”  I replied: “Master, You are a religionist and moralist, but I am only an ordinary man.  Still, I’ll try to adhere to the belief that those who disagree with me are my competitors, not enemies.”


The French philosopher Voltaire once said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”  Accepting majority rule is natural, but respecting minority opinion is even more important.  Only totalitarian or authoritarian regimes would manipulate people to form the absolute people’s will.  Diverse opinions on public issues are commonplace in pluralistic democracies.  With this basic understanding, we may begin to learn to respect and tolerate differences in pondering over public issues.


Furthermore, we must be reasonable even though we need to stick to our positions; and we must be gentle in trying to persuade our opposition. Those who are engaged in public affairs must respect disparate positions and exchange views with the opponents. In pluralistic democracies, there are no enemies, only competitors.  If all politicians are willing to embrace this idea, I trust that most issues can be resolved.  Without such a predisposition, no one is qualified as a leader in the modern world.


2. Honesty and Commitment


The second is honesty and commitment. Robert Bruce Zoellick, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, once said, “Keeping commitment is imperative both in domestic and foreign policy making.” In Western society there is a maxim: “Honesty is the best policy.”  Honesty and respect are two fundamental characteristics of human beings.  When we communicate with other people, especially those with whom we disagree, we must be honest, sincere, and tolerant, so that we can win their trust.  If there is trust, we can at least weaken our opponents’ resistance and can even have rational dialogues with them.  If there is no trust, even comrades cannot get along with one another.  Winning trust is imperative, and in order to win trust we must be honest and sincere.


Political contests among political parties inTaiwannowadays can be characterized as “antagonism without constructive criticism.”  It is easy to dismiss and assault our opponent’s position, but difficult to express our own. Accumulating one’s political strength and creating one’s opportunity to win elections by drawing attention to opponents’ mistakes is not going to upgradeTaiwan’s democracy.


Once upon a time, a kung-fu fighter lost a fight because he failed to find any weakness in his opponent.  He went to ask a Zen master.  The Master drew a line on the ground and asked him to make it shorter without erasing any portion.  The fighter could not figure out the answer. The Master then drew a parallel line longer than the first one and explained: In order to defeat your opponent, you need to strengthen yourself rather than to attack his weakness.  Much like you draw a longer line to beat the shorter one, you become stronger to beat your opponent’s weakness.


The opposition party’s bound duty is to oversee, oppose, and criticize the government. However, criticizing alone would not make an opposition party a ruling party. At peaceful times, opposition parties can win electoral approval by such “hard democratic means” as overseeing, checking, and balancing. However, at challenging times, it is necessary to use such“soft democratic methods” as respect, communication, dialogue, and negotiation to work with the government to confront the problems together. This is what “loyal opposition” really means. Both the KMT and the DPP have been in power and should know “only those in charge know how difficult it is to be in charge.” Therefore, in opposing a policy the opposition party has to propose an alternative policy or a complementary measure to let people choose. This is what true opposition and competition means.


3. Enlarging Consensus and People’s Rise


The third is enlarging consensus and people’s rise. I was once invited by a social club to deliver a speech.  A man in the audience praised me for having been bravely defiant against the authoritarian regime in the past by promotingTaiwan’s independence, freedom, and democracy.  He said, “The government wanted to arrest you for sedition and, as mafia boss Chen said in his confession, he wanted to assassinate you. In 1991, you returned voluntarily toTaiwanto be arrested.  All these must have demanded a great deal of courage.”  I replied, “I was too young to know what fear was. I just did it.”  Since I returned toTaiwanI have changed my mindset.  In an open democracy, one does not need a great deal of courage, but rather a bad temper to reprimand others.  However, if you need to praise your opponent who holds a different political view and ideology from yours it does require much more courage.

國、民兩黨、藍綠政治人物確實有不同的地方,但是也有很多相同之處。有爭論的就暫時擱置,從沒有爭議的先做。我們不要一味強調不同的地方,而應透過接觸協商,擴大有共識的議題,縮小不相同的部分。即使短期間無法取得共識,也可以暫時擱置,agree to disagree互相尊重;對於有共識的議題,就攜手共同合作推動。因為只要有機會共事,就可增進相互了解,會慢慢建立起互信的基礎,之後事情會越來越順利。

The KMT and DPP are different in many ways, but they do share many commonalities.  They must put aside controversial issues for the time being and work on the less controversial ones right away.  By forgoing differences, they may enlarge their consensus through dialogue and negotiation.  Even if consensus is difficult to reach, they may want to agree to disagree.  While working together on issues with consensus, both parties may have the opportunity to enhance mutual understanding and trust. Things will be easier to work out when there is mutual understanding and trust.

羅馬帝國時期凱撒大帝(Julius Caesar)被親信布魯塔斯(Brutus)刺殺時,布魯塔斯說:「沒有想到你殘忍得像隻獅子」,凱撒在斷氣前回答他說:「因為羅馬的人民軟弱得像群綿羊」。政治人物的作為,固然應該苛責;然而有什麼樣的選民,就有什麼樣的政治人物。政治人物的沉淪,恐怕人民也應當負起相當的責任,因為人民常常將自身的權利保障,委由特定政黨行使。日前蔣友柏先生在演講中特別提到:「台灣政府是最落伍的品牌」,政府如此,政黨更是如此。目前台灣社會公民意識微弱,到處都是感性熱情的選民,卻鮮少理性參與的公民;台灣要再進步,只有靠人民自覺,展現人民力量,用社會力推動,包括第三部門、非政府組織的建立,公民意識的形塑等等,讓人民成為國家真正的主人,這才是台灣社會發展的希望。

Julius Caesar was assassinated by his confidant, Brutus.  As Caesar was dying, Brutus asked him, “Why are you as cruel as a lion?” Caesar uttered his final words, “It is because the Romans are so weak as sheep.”  Even though politicians should be reprimanded for their misconducts, those who have elected them are to be blamed to some degree because voters delegate a lot of power to politicians and political parties. Yu-bou Chiang, a famous designer and the great-grandson of the late Chiang Kai-shek, recently scorned the government as the “most outdated name brand inTaiwan.”  I would add that the presentTaiwanis full of emotionally charged voters who are unable to participate in public affairs rationally.  ForTaiwanto upgrade, the masses must be conscious of such social forces as the Third Sector and NGOs.  Therefore, the future ofTaiwanlies in the people who have a strong sense of citizenship and are determined to become the true masters of the country.


Minister of Culture Lung Ying-Tai recently published the article “An Open Letter to Chinese Leader Hu Jintao.”  She maintains that although being an ethnic Chinese sentimentally, she disapproves of the CCP regime because there is no freedom, democracy, human rights, rule of law, and human touch in presentChina.  If we stick to Toleration and Dialogue, Honesty and Commitment, and Enlarging Consensus and People’s Rise, we are confident enough to say to the Chinese leaders:Taiwanwould use civilization to persuade you.


What I Envision for the Future of Taiwan


As a small country, Taiwanneeds wisdom to learn to live with its neighboring giants to survive in the international society.  We don’t want to live dangerously or blindly.  Finlandis to Russiaas Taiwanis to China; there are opportunities as well as threats.  I recall that the Finnish Minister of Defense visited the UnitedStatea few years ago.  In a public speech in WashingtonD.C., he bluntly said that the three largest threats to Finlandare Russia, Russia, and Russia.  Finnish people are practical enough to realize that they must get along with Russia, even though they did go to war with Russiatwice in the Winter War (1939–1940) and the Continuation War (1941–1944).  Right now,Finland is one of the happiest countries in the world and prides itself in maintaining a high level of competitiveness, affluence, welfare, equal and excellent education, a clean environment, and a clean government.


Facing the challenges of globalization andChina’s rise, we may learn some lessons fromFinland, particularly its strategies for survival and development.  As a torn family is destined to fall down, a torn country is going nowhere.  With endless political struggles, a dividedTaiwanis doomed.  As I often say, peaceful relations withChinacan only come from harmonious domestic relations among major political parties.  In other words, domestic harmony is conducive to external peace.  With more respect and toleration, and less finger-pointing and criticism, we can meet any challenges.


I once told the story of the 8.042 mile long Hsueh-shan (SnowMountain) Tunnel that connects Taipeiand Yilan. As I was watching the opening ceremonies on TV in 2006, I was proud of it being the second longest highway tunnel in East Asia and the fifth longest in the world.  Yet I felt sad because all current and past premiers of the DPP were on the leading jeep.  Missing was Tang Fei of the KMT  As we know, the tunnel construction was decided in 1991 by Premier Hau Pei-tsun and Minister of Transportation Chien Yo-sin under the KMT government. The project was executed and completed through different administrations. It would have been much better if all premiers, KMT and DPP alike, were on that jeep.  This should have been a matter of courtesy and respect, not credibility for any administration.  I believe that such courtesy and respect would have gradually bred mutual respect, contributing to political tolerance and reconciliation between KMT and DPP.

台獨前輩王育德大著「苦悶的台灣歷史」,李登輝前總統在接受司馬遼太郎訪問時,則提到「生為台灣人的悲哀」。這種論點,固然是台灣歷史悲壯的一面;然而也有像2002年普立茲獎得主、暢銷書「世界是平的」、「世界又熱、又平、又擠」的作者湯馬斯·佛里曼(Thomas L. Friedman),今年(2012)3月在『紐約時報』專欄上寫道,除了美國之外,他最喜愛的國家就是台灣,且表示身為台灣人是全世界最幸福的事。對同一事物的不同看法,自屬常態,更何況是現今台灣社會多樣的面貌與多元的立場。不過,我想以卡內基美隆大學(Carnegie Mellon University)教授蘭迪‧波許(Randy Pausch)的話,來提醒所有台灣人民。波許教授罹患了胰臟癌,在他人生的最後一刻再次站上講台,跟學生以及聽眾分享他這一生所體會到的經驗。他說:「我們不能決定人生會拿到什麼牌,但我們能決定如何打好手上的牌。」

My great predecessor of the Taiwan Independence Movement Ong Iok-tek (1924-85) wrote of Taiwan’s sorrow in his book entitled The Disheartened History of Taiwan published in 1979.  Former President Lee Teng-hui also mentioned the “Sorrow of Being Born as a Taiwanese.”  Both mirror the rueful side of Taiwan’s past.  And yet, Thomas L. Friedman, three time Pulitzer Prize winner and author of The World Is Flat and Hot, Flat, and Crowed, wrote in March 2012 in The New York Times thatTaiwan is his favorite country besides theUnited States.  To him the Taiwanese are the luckiest people in the world.  Diverse opinions on the same subject are quite common, particularly in this pluralistic age.

I like to remind my Taiwanese compatriots with the words of Randy Pausch (1960-2008), Professor of Computer Science at CarnegieMellonUniversity.  After learning that he had only 3-6 months to live for his pancreatic cancer in 2006, he gave an encouraging lecture “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” in 2007. He said, “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, but it’s up to us to decide how to play them.”


This applies toTaiwanat the present time. Political confrontations and problems may not be caused by us, but we have the responsibility not to make them worse.  I sincerely hope we can extend the olive branch to one another with the ideals of toleration, respect, coexistence, and harmony and begin to work together on our problems.  Together, let’s pursue a democratic country with Greek rationalism, Roman institutions, religious compassions, and fine culture.