Fu Manchu and the Yellow Peril

Sax Rohmer, penname of the journeyman British writer Arthur Henry Ward, wrote music hall routines, serial fiction and popular novels to make money. From a working class background and unblessed with great talent or connections, Rohmer was forced to develop an eye for what would sell. He struck gold with a creation that tapped into a rich seam of anti-Chinese racism, and exploited the prevailing Anglo-Saxon sense of racial superiority combined with a growing feeling of vulnerability vis-à-vis “the Chinese”.

By the time Rohmer’s Chinese supervillain Dr Fu Manchu emerged on the scene in London in 1912, the “Yellow Peril” idea had been around for several decades. Gina Marchetti’s classic study of romance and race in Hollywood film traces the popularization of the narrative to late 19th Century America. A dialectic characterized the “Chinese masses” as a threat to the lives of morally superior and yet physically vulnerable (by dint of their smaller numbers) whites. Yellow Peril discourse typically advanced a “semantics of spread”, with images of expansion, takeover and appropriation. Fears of an influx of Chinese labour to West Coast America, following major migrations during the gold rush of the 1850s, led to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, a ban on Chinese immigration that was not repealed until the 1940s.

Such narratives have recurred over time and are not limited to the Chinese (consider fearful projections in some quarters about “Hispanicization”). Unsurprisingly, when it was later exported to the US, Rohmer’s work found a receptive audience, particularly in the screen version where Fu Manchu was played by Warner Oland (later reincarnated as Charlie Chan) and Boris Karloff in the 1930s. Christopher Lee reprised the role in a series of five films as late as the 1960s. In the early 20th Century Yellow Peril discourses resonated powerfully with British audiences too, although for a more nuanced reason than American fears of impending or imagined Chinese migration alone (despite British historical sensitivities about invasion). For the British, it was the alleged malevolence of the Chinese, reflected and reinforced by the Fu Manchu character, rather than sheer numbers, which triggered feelings of vulnerability heightened by a sense of decline, if not impending loss, of the Empire.

The character of Fu Manchu is spectacularly stylized, to the extent that he is the Yellow Peril incarnate. At one point in The Mask of Fu Manchu, the detective Nyland Smith comments in awe of his nemesis that “the spread of the thing is phenomenal”. As Ruth Mayer puts it in her investigation of the ideology behind the Yellow Peril, Fu Manchu’s “volatility and intangibility, his expertise at masquerade, infiltration and impersonation render him at the same time impossible to locate and ubiquitous”. Racial stereotypes were an important feature of colonialism, strategies to cultivate the self-image of the colonizers while Othering their subjects. Constructing “the heathen Chinee”, to quote Bret Harte’s poem of 1870, was to justify acts of subjugation in the name of “civilizing missions” to force open trade, expropriate land or secure converts to Christianity. Chinese men, if they were considered as individuals rather than a mass of coolie labour (from the Chinese苦力meaning hard or bitter work), were portrayed as despicable, disgusting and physically, mentally and morally inferior. They could also be devious, villainous and inscrutable, as with Fu Manchu. Asian women were sexualised, available and in need of being rescued, a fantasy embodied by Fu Manchu’s Eurasian slave-girl Karamaneh.

Sax Rohmer’s own fantasies were served by a passing familiarity (which according to Christopher Frayling he greatly exaggerated) with the goings on and the characters of Limehouse, a riverside district in London where Chinese sailors, labourers and sundry merchants and associates resided. Known as ‘the Asiatic colony’, in the popular imagination (fed by Rohmer and others) Limehouse became synonymous with opium, crime and squalor, a microcosm of the “Far East” by the Thames. Rohmer, like many of his compatriots at the time, was fascinated with the “mysterious” Chinese underworld, secret societies, and the violence, drugs and prostitution that surrounded them. Movies like Big Trouble in Little China (1986) show the longevity of such fantasies. Edward Said argued that Orientalist fantasies were the externalized fictions of Europeans, essentially a made-up view of the world. Said didn’t study China (a regret expressed to Frayling which inspired the latter’s recent book), but the China scholar Colin Mackerras has shown how western images of China are consistent with Orientalist projections and the Orientalist schema. As Frayling says of the Fu Manchu series, “the stories were about us—they were not really about China at all”.

Racist stereotypes like Fu Manchu and the Yellow Peril are repugnant and utterly anachronistic. And yet they underpin racist discourses, which serve as the basis of world views that are extraordinarily resilient and hard to budge. For instance,Emma Mawdsley’s analysis of UK broadsheets’ contemporary coverage of China’s engagment in Africa invokes striking stereotypes about “the Chinese”. Ono and Pham’s book on Asian Americans and contemporary US media speaks of the “structured embeddedness of the Yellow Peril”, which they find is deeply “entrenched within the cultural fabric of the US”. Frayling notes that “some of the most indelible visual images from popular culture were of ‘Chinamen’”. Unfortunately they were mostly Yellow Peril stereotypes like Fu Manchu and Ming the Merciless, of the subservient Charlie Chan variety or played by white actors like David Carradine (who was cast ahead of Bruce Lee in the TV series Kung Fu). Another genre is the mocking “yellowface” impersonation of Asians by white actors, like Mickey Rooney’s lamentable Mr Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

It remains to be seen how the PRC’s recent rise to economic and political prominence, and increasing competition with the US, affects depictions of Chineseness. Racism doesn’t require or attract creative genius, as reflected by the limited repertoire of Fu Manchu’s fiendishness, and one wonders if the Yellow Peril will simply find another target without China’s economic clout (North Korea for instance, which appears to have replaced China as a source of Hollywood baddy). The Yellow Peril has changed little over time. Consider a complaint by Rd. EJ Hardy, Chaplain to the Forces in Hong Kong and published in the periodical Tit-Bits in 1896: “the peril is that China will manufacture things cheaper than Europeans can and dismiss us from trade in the Far East” (quoted by Frayling). This could easily come from the lips of any contemporary American or European politician. The target for Yellow Peril can change over time (it is hard to imagine, now that it has become a diplomatic and military bulwark against China’s rise, the fear and loathing Japan inspired in the US merely thirty years ago), but it won’t go away.

Land grab protests in Tianmu

When Hong Kong students launched their “Umbrella Revolution” in 2014, the comforting narrative of youngsters striving for democracy combined with the aesthetic of tents beneath the skyscrapers captivated the world’s media.

The scene in gritty Tianmu, a village outside the northern industrial city of Tianjin, couldn’t be more different to glamorous Hong Kong – nor could it be more typical of the widespread protests taking place on the Chinese mainland.

Without much fanfare or media attention, Tianmu’s residents have been protesting for almost as long as their counterparts did in Hong Kong. Instead of universal suffrage, the villagers have more mundane concerns on their minds: a fair price for their land. And in Tianmu, as in so many villages and towns throughout China, getting a fair price from local officials can be no less arduous than getting the central Chinese Communist Party to agree to free and fair elections.

For more than 70 days, several hundred people (and sometimes a few thousand) gathered outside government offices to demand the removal of the local party secretary, Mu Xiangyou, who they accuse of illegally selling off their land and pocketing the profits. The protests have only just begun to taper off.

Reports said that a public security official ordered the village committee to “find a solution”, but protesters have promised to return to the streets if their demands are not met.

Land disputes between residents and local officials are one of the main causes of civil unrest in China. Most incidents are directly related to the issue of unpaid or unfair compensation for land, since house-building and industrial development is a major source of income for local governments. Officials are known to collude with developers to sell land at prices well below market value; they sometimes employ thugs or cut utilities to force out people who are reluctant to move.

Corruption of this kind is common in China, where graft and clientalism are woven into the social and political fabric. Incidents in places such as Tianmu therefore tend to attract little attention and, as long as the protests don’t suddenly blow up, it is unlikely that Mu and his associates will be investigated or punished.

But Tianmu’s protesters are acting up at a sensitive time, just as elite party leaders appear near-obsessed with purging corruption among their unruly agents – and their protest reflects a dangerous situation for the central government.

Xi Jinping’s Beijing has responded to the outbreak of land protests with a number of measures. Its latest law clarifies citizens’ rights to sue the government for violating land agreements and compensation. State media say the law is aimed at promoting officials’ awareness of the “rule of law”, the rhetoric currently in vogue in Beijing.

But the new law is unlikely to change the status quo. The odds will remain stacked in favour of officials and their partners in development.

In theory, land acquisitions are restricted to projects that are in the public’s best interest – but in practice it is up to local officials to determine what the public’s best interests are. The obvious potential for conflicts of interest explains why protests over land are springing up all over the country. Compared to Tianmu, most of these incidents have been small and short-lived – but the problem isn’t going away.

Like others before them, the residents of Tianmu are using the party’s own anti-corruption language to voice their grievances. Intentionally or not, this is perhaps the best tactic in the current political climate. The legal culpability of local officials can be hard to determine because Chinese land law is so ambiguous, but even the most egregious misdeeds seldom end up in court.

The protesters’ best bet for success is to make themselves heard as widely as possible – increasing their numbers as much as possible and trying to grab the attention of China’s online community.

But China’s online public sphere is under more pressure than ever since the Xi administration decided to tighten its grip on physical and online space. Xi’s war on online rumours and influencers has had precisely the intended chilling effect, largely defusing Weibo’s once-great capacity to stir public outrage.

Some commentators, for instance the prominent American scholar David Shambaugh, see Xi’s various clampdowns as a sure sign of weakness. A confident government, the argument goes, would not be bothered with cracking down on academic institutions, putting the screws on the already heavily controlled internet, or targeting activists, including those working in previously “safe” areas such as women’s rights.

But anxiety and insecurity at the top are nothing new. Worries about real and perceived threats have been a constant feature of the party throughout its existence. The entire political system is based on the party maintaining ultimate authority and, as such, it is constantly looking for challenges and jealously defending its power.

Full piece with Samantha Hoffman here.

China’s Dark Road

The Dark Road, by the exiled Chinese writer Ma Jian, is a dystopian road movie following family planning fugitives Meili, Kongzi and their One Child Policy-compliant daughter Nannan down the Yangtse. The plot begins with Meili pregnant for a second time as the family planning militia descends on rural Kong village. These shock troops are here to collect fines for violations of the state’s population policy, and to force abortions and sterilizations on women whose husbands can’t pay up. The family escapes, but this is just the start of the state’s pursuit of domination over Meili’s body.

Kongzi is a 76th generation heir of Confucius, and his raison d’être is to produce a 77th. Kongzi (a nickname that literally means Confucius) feels the pressure of his obligation to continue the illustrious family line. He pursues his mission to sire a son relentlessly throughout the families’ travels and travails. A village girl with traditional values, Meili accepts her part in this quest and despite the grubbiness and general peril of their surroundings there are moments of genuine shared intimacy. Unsurprisingly, Meili feels the pressure to produce an heir even more keenly than Kongzi; agonizing about the gender of her unborn babies (girls won’t do) and the consequences of getting caught with an out of plan child falls solely to her. Little wonder Meili feels her body isn’t her own, musing that a woman’s genitals belong to men and her womb to the state.

The Chinese title陰之道gives a sense of the book’s complexities. The character yin 陰is the yin in “yin and yang” 陰陽, the contrasting but complementary sides of nature fundamental to Chinese conceptions of the world. Yin is the side representing darkness, hence the English title. Darkness can be sinister, but it also represents the feminine side of nature (to yang’s male), so the book could equally be titled ‘a woman’s road’. 之is a particle with no substantive meaning here, but Dao 道is another word with complex potentialities. It can mean a literal or figurative road or path. It can also indicate a doctrine. Dao is the character that forms the word Daoism or Taoism 道教, a philosophical system where the focus is on the ‘way of nature’ 天道. Dao is also the central component of Confucianism, where it is usually translated as ‘the Way’, and focuses on the ‘way of man’人道. Much of the Analects is about extolling the virtues and prescribing how to attain the Way. Thus Ma’s Chinese title is full of potential meanings; invoking the perniciousness of Confucianism; the sinister one child doctrine; a literally dark pathway in the form of the polluted Yangtse; a figurative dark path to the margins of society symbolising the families’ exile; the trauma of a woman’s path in China confined and compelled by the twin demands of Confucianism and Communist (family) planning; the path of China’s development that has mutilated the land and people’s values. Removing the 之particle produces the noun vagina 陰道the part of Meili’s body that is contested throughout.

Determined to give birth in hope it’ll be the anticipated male heir, Meili and Kongzi flee Kong village for a life in exile. They seek refuge on the Yangtse, living on boats with other family planning fugitives. It is a squalid and precarious existence, but left alone the family manages a homely tenderness. Kongzi is a teacher turned demolition worker (Jia Zhangke’s Still Life provides a perfect visualization for this part of the story). He affirms his intellectual status and noble lineage by quoting pompously from the classics, and providing a pious rationale for his libido. The family make do raising ducks, growing vegetables and repurposing bits and pieces. Their daily lives are a mix of shivering cold, duck shit and river stench, but they get by. But one day, with her baby almost at full term, Meili is captured by a family planning squad. The male foetus they named Happiness, is forcibly aborted in an indelible scene of shocking brutality juxtaposed with shocking transactional nonchalance (the physician calmly offers a knockdown price for the operation). Meili and Kongzi take Happiness away in a plastic bag and give him a water burial in the Yangtse.

The family continues on its way again downriver, slowly making towards a town called Heaven, where rumour has it you can have as many kids as you like. Despite the horrors inflicted on his wife, Kongzi doesn’t take long to resume his mission, and soon enough Meili is pregnant again. It is a period where Meili finds some minor economic success selling vegetables in a market, and she starts to dream of a materially better future and vows that this will be her last child. But when the baby is born, it’s a girl. The tenderness that Meili lavishes on her second daughter, who appears to suffer from a mental disability, is to no avail, and one day she returns to the family’s boat to find that Kongzi has gone off to sell her to a mutilated child begging racket. So much for Kongzi’s moral piety. Setting off in anger into the nearby town, Meili is detained and sent to an ad hoc labour camp for not having the proper documents. At the labour camp she shares a dormitory with an urban sex worker, who provides another view of the woman’s body, as an economic instrument. Meili rejects such a possibility, only to be let out of the camp into forced labour in a brothel. A nasty rape scene with the brothel owner ensues, but Meili escapes by burning the place down (an improbable twist, but at this point the reader is so desperate for a respite that it doesn’t matter), and is soon reunited with Kongzi.

The family finally reaches Heaven, which turns out to be a Guangdong cancer village recycling electronic waste. The melancholy cycle repeats again: the indefatigable Kongzi carries on and sure enough Meili becomes pregnant again. Traumatized by her experiences she is determined to protect her baby inside her womb. Meili refuses to relinquish the baby until many months beyond the usual gestation period. Finally she gives birth to a green alien-like thing mutated by the poisonous e-waste—Heaven’s kicker is that you can have as many kids as you like but none will be healthy. Finally released from her duty Meili lets herself sink into the river to reunite with the spirits of her babies. Her passage down the ‘dark road’ is over.

Set amid the uncomfortable realism that characterises Ma’s narrative, this surreal last twist is disconcerting, until you realise that the entire reality that Ma has constructed is an inversion or perversion of the ‘natural order’, that it is all “unreal”; Happiness is a murdered baby; Heaven is a cancer village; pregnant women are criminals; aborted foetuses are sold to restaurants; babies are produced for mutilation and the begging trade. This is a very grim book, an unrelentingly negative portrait of contemporary China. If you only read this book you would imagine that the fate of Chinese women is unimaginably horrific. This is an exaggeration—there are positives about China’s development and there is a more balanced tale to tell about the opportunities and challenges for Chinese women. But if it makes people think more carefully about why China has such an extreme gender imbalance, or a prevalence of female suicide, or why women are useless and “leftover” if they don’t marry in their 20s, then it is worth the discomfort. It is therefore all the more regrettable that Ma’s books are banned in China.

Chinese cyber policy

With the launch of a twenty year National Informatization Plan in 2000, progress towards an information society became an official aspiration for the Chinese Party-state. With the goal of increasing social productivity, the ambition to move beyond a barely nascent information economy was a bold one. For one thing, it would require the Party-state to relinquish its monopoly on information, a hypothetical move that would transform Chinese society. The formidable obstacles in the way of this goal were quickly thrown into harsh relief by the SARS cover-up in 2003, when the Party-State saw fit to withhold and actively cover up information that was literally of life and death importance from its people. The ambition for transparency was shown up for what it was—rhetoric that would not survive the political imperative of maintaining the authoritarian information order. At the same time that informatization was being discussed as an aspiration for a modernizing society, the idea of the “sovereignty of information” and the internet as an ideological battleground took precedence.

Despite the Party-state’s deep mistrust of information, the allure, in some quarters of government more than others, of informatization (信息化), would not go away. In 2006 a comprehensive e-government strategy was launched along with the gov.cn portal. A 2010 White Paper discussed online idea exchange, supervision of government, and the right to know. A Chinese Academy of Science report in 2011, Information Science and Technology China: A Roadmap to 2050, argued that a new set of political values was needed in order to make the transition to an information society. The report advocated for national information systems to be user-oriented, to promote convenient access to information, and, more radically, to operate free from monopoly. The report implied that informatization could only succeed with transparency and free flow of information. This radical notion was tempered by the caveat that it should also foster the construction of a “harmonious society”, a byword for many things (not least netizens’ understanding of “being harmonized” 被和谐, to be censored). It should also be noted that cybersecurity has been a preoccupation since at least 2003, when the Coordinating Small Group for Cyber and Information Security was established and issued its famous Document 27 set of recommendations.

The Party-state’s relationship with information abounds with contradictions. On one level, there is an acknowledgement that openness is a defining characteristic of information society, but while information continues to be treated with suspicion as a potential enemy eroding the Party-State’s hold on power, it is hard to see how genuine progress can be made. The principles of transparency and access do not go far before running into the roadblock of vested political and bureaucratic interests. What hope for an information society when the Party-state is willing to go to extraordinary efforts to impose total information blackouts on tragedies like the Sichuan earthquake in 2008 or unpleasant reminders of its treatment of dissenting voices like Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Prize? It doesn’t help that the cyber decision-making terrain is so crowded, with party leaders, technocrats, the armed forces, internal security, numerous different ministries and departments and business leaders squeezing out the few scholars and even fewer civil society actors who have a voice. Ultimately the public security and armed forces need only to invoke national security to intervene in any aspect of cyber policymaking, from technological choices to education programs and online censorship.

In 2014 the State Information Leading Group gave way to the National Leading Group for Cyber and Information Security headed for the first time by the Party General Secretary himself, in close cooperation with the renamed Cyberspace Administration of China. With President Xi taking a leading role, cyber policy has taken on a much greater security and political complexion. The rhetoric around informatization had consistently cast it as a driver of economic prosperity and social organization. But since Xi came in these goals have been downgraded or side-lined for a focus on control and cybersecurity. Stories in the western media on Wen Jiabao and Xi Jinping’s family wealth culled from public records led to a tightening of the rules on internet privacy. A crackdown on social media followed, with new rules on spreading rumours and punishments for online influencers having the intended chilling effect on unruly cyberspace. The main thrust of cyber policy in the last year appears to be on the threat of foreign software and the development of Chinese systems to avoid this threat. Although informatization has been linked to the en vogue catchwords corruption, rule of law and better governance, the “supervision” and “consultation” that have appeared in discourse on informatization appear to have stopped at ad hoc adjustments and interventions made on the back of online outrage. And now even the tolerance for websites that outed officials for showing off gold watches and expensive cigarettes appear to have evaporated.

Although Xi said in 2014 that “no informatization means no modernization”, what the Party-state wants falls short of the transformative information society. It wants a secure and trusted (and Chinese developed) environment for non-political information, to foster business and commerce, which includes reigning in cyber-crime, putting a curb on the “wildness” we saw at the apotheosis of ‘weibo power’, establishing itself as an internet power (网路大国), and getting prepared for the growing challenges of cybersecurity and information warfare. Soon after launching the new Leadin gGroup Xi also said that there could be “no national security without cyber security”. What this means for the rest of the world remains to be seen, but in a week when Github, a popular repository for open-source code, appeared to be have been attacked via Chinese government organs allegedly for hosting mirrors of websites the Chinese government doesn’t like, prompting Barack Obama to upgrade American cybersecurity to a “national emergency”, there is little cause for optimism. To make real progress on its informatization goals a new political vision is needed and there is scant evidence that the Party-state has the confidence in itself to move beyond its normal playbook. This is not to say that issues around informatization are no longer relevant. In particular for individual Chinese (whose rights are subservient to the Party-state’s interests) questions of privacy, surveillance and the uses to which ‘big data’ may be put are even more salient than they are in the post-Snowden west. On this point too, there is little cause for optimism.

China’s Silent Army

In the official realm, the PRC’s omnilateral diplomacy has produced a hyperactive collection of initiatives from FOCAC to the SCO. On the ground, Chinese companies and Chinese migrants are active and increasingly visible on every continent, often in locales that their western counterparts have given up on or wouldn’t consider in the first place. China’s Silent Army, written by two Spanish China correspondents, provides a taste of this new wave of Chinese outward migration.

The authors’ self-funded fieldwork takes them around the world on an impressive odyssey; to the casino resort of Boten on the China-Lao border where the Chinese Golden Boten City Co. runs an entertainment resort for Chinese that is reminiscent of the treaty ports of another era; the nightmarish Hpakant jade mine in Burma where impoverished miners endure frightening conditions to dig for “Blood Jade”; the Dragon Mart in Dubai, the massive market and warehouse for Chinese goods, a desert Yiwu where traders from across the region come to buy goods; to Sudan’s Merowe Dam (described byInternational Rivers as “one of the world’s most destructive hydropower projects”), reminiscent in ambition and disruption of the Three Gorges dam; to San Juan de Marcona in Peru home to the Shougang Hierro iron ore mine.

Along the way, the authors come into the orbit of numerous Chinese companies; Sinohydro building dams in Africa; the China Investment Fund, a shady Hong Kong-based institution that is disowned by Beijing but is apparently used for channelling and processing money for overseas projects; Beidahuang the state owned farming conglomerate, and world’s biggest soya producer, which is buying up agricultural land in Australia, South America and Africa to irrigate and grow crops on; and Anhui Waijing, one of the state owned construction companies laying down infrastructure across the developing world. Back in China, the authors also run across a labour export company, whose agents go around the countryside recruiting workers for projects overseas, reminiscent of the “immigrant hunters” a century earlier.

If Chinese companies are generally given short shrift, the authors appear sympathetic to the Chinese individuals they meet along the way: From the Shanti-sini, the Chinese rag traders who roam Cairo selling clothing from big bags on their backs to dorm-dwelling miners, groundsheet traders and even sweating, uncomfortable diplomats struggling to stick to the official line, the authors recognize the difficulties, the sacrifices and the straightforward intentions of most Chinese migrants. These “labourers, engineers, tailors, traders, cooks and entrepreneurs” are praised for their courage; but the authors ruin the compliment by calling them the “human face of China’s conquest of the planet” (p. 253). Continues here

Framing China’s global engagement

In recent years China has invested heavily in new media operations to balance negative global media narratives. This is an important task. China’s global engagement is going to increase in coming years and its economic activities will bring its companies and people into greater contact with local populations in every corner of the world.

It is important for host countries, for China and for international society as a whole that these interactions are positive. Intensifying connections in any sphere can cause friction, and it is vital they are managed and sources of tension minimized as much as possible.

In this regard, the Chinese government, one of the most efficacious institutions in the world, can do more to address the concerns that some host populations have. I am not suggesting that the government make efforts to monitor the behavior of private individuals abroad, but concerns about the ways in which state companies operate, for instance, could be better addressed.

Labor conditions, pollution, lack of knowledge exchange and the general unaccountability of Chinese companies are real issues that can damage China’s prestige and reputation. And while China is at pains to demonstrate its respect for African nations’ sovereignty, less effort is made to learn and adapt to local cultures and norms.

Transposing practices and norms directly from the Chinese environment can be problematic considering the incredibly diverse range of places where Chinese companies operate. Demonstrating greater sensitivity to local cultures could go a long way to enhancing positive attitudes toward Chinese engagement. While less tangible than infrastructure projects or trade figures, these practical, grassroots activities are an important component and basis of “soft power”.

Full article here

What next for the KMT?

A calamitous performance in Saturday’s local elections confirmed 2014 as an annus horribilis for the Kuomintang (KMT) and its Chairman Ma Ying-jeou. The embattled Ma signaled on Tuesday that he is ready to give in to calls to relinquish his chairmanship of the party. Many of his lieutenants have already beaten him to the exit. Ma has just over a year remaining until he is constitutionally obliged to stand down as president and many colleagues and supporters are counting down the days until he leaves office, taking (they hope) his toxic approval ratings with him. Hamstrung by widespread opposition to economic policies that have not yielded promised results and predicated on rapprochement with China that has moved too far and too quickly for most Taiwanese, the prospects for Ma’s policy agenda are dim. The salient question for the remainder of Ma’s tenure is this: how much damage will he inflict on the KMT’s chances of rebounding in national elections scheduled for early 2016?

However, in their enthusiasm to rationalize their performance in the “9-in-1” elections – the first time that nine different elections at local levels were combined into a single voting day – Ma’s colleagues would do well to look beyond scapegoating the outgoing president. The fact is the KMT’s woes run deeper than the unpopular president. With its gerontocracy and princelings, the party has lost touch with the electorate, neglecting its changing demographics and preoccupations. The extent of their estrangement should have been clear in the spring, when two years of large-scale popular protests culminated in students occupying the legislature for three weeks. Inexplicably, the party that had once skillfully adapted from authoritarian rule to democratic competition failed to heed the warnings. Even as changes in Taiwanese society became increasingly obvious, the KMT clung to its traditional electoral playbook of using vastly superior financial resources to run negative campaigns and leveraging long nurtured local networks. Although these tactics have worked well in the past, they failed to connect with voters in a rapidly changing post-Sunflower era. This is particularly true of younger voters who are the most alienated of all thanks to stagnant wages, poor job prospects and rising property costs.

Continue reading here.