Political culture and social movements

Substantial academic interest in Taiwan has coalesced around the diverse set of norms and behaviours captured by the rubric political culture. The role of patronage, personal networks and guanxi represent a perennial scholarly preoccupation. There is no better starting point for investigating the effects of these phenomena than Bosco 1992, a pioneering study on local factions. This classic article provides a compelling analysis of the workings and connections between the central institutions of state and agents at the local level, with a particular focus on the centrality of personal relationships in facilitating political behaviours. Another ground-breaking study on the importance of personal connections and feelings, based on ethnographic fieldwork, is Jacobs 1979, which made a substantial contribution to our understanding of the contours and dynamics of political relationships in Taiwan. These dynamics and relationships are openly manifest in the campaign practices of local campaigns, as shown by Mattlin 2004, a fine grained study based on extensive fieldwork of party organization and mobilization structures and behaviours during election campaigns.

As Gobel 2012 shows, alliances and factions are also moulded by exogenous conditions, such as changes in the way that resources can be accessed via electoral competition. “Political” relationships are not restricted to alliances between politicians or between candidates and voters. Indeed, as the classic work represented in Chin 2003 shows, Taiwanese politics throughout the democratization period, particularly under Lee Teng-hui, were shaped by a complex interdependence between the KMT, business and organized crime. Indeed the “politics, business and crime nexus”, established under KMT one party rule as a means of propagating its control over society, became even more salient as the KMT prepared itself to face democratic competition. Refocusing the analytic lens, Ling and Shi 1998 examine the effects of Taiwan’s Confucian cultural heritage on democratic attitudes. The collection presented in Paolino and Meernik 2008 focuses on support for democracy, public trust and other attitudes at the individual level using large-scale survey data. This edited volume is also a useful introduction to the kind of empirical work being done with the aid of national data collection projects like the Taiwan Election and Democratization Survey (TEDS) which allow the contributors to probe voting behaviour, democratic attitudes and national identity.

A different dimension of political culture, Taiwanese cultural nationalism, is comprehensively dissected by Hsiau 2000, the classic study of Taiwanese identity and nationalism from the Japanese colonial period through one party rule to the democratization era, with a focus on the roles of language, literature and history in constructions of Taiwanese and Chineseness. Hsiau 2010 examines the cultural transformation of Taiwanese society, which exerted a powerful influence on the nascent opposition movement, tracing it back to intellectuals in the 1970s who themselves looked back in time to the Japanese colonial period to seek understandings of Taiwaneseness.

With the gradual opening of civil society space, activists and ordinary citizens had the opportunity to get their voices heard and fight for their interests. In the early stages of democratization, much of this energy went into the fight for democratic reform and other issues relating to national identity, as Tu 1996 demonstrates. There is also a long history of social movements in various other sectors, which is described in Ho 2010, a careful analysis of the different phases that social movement organization went through in the previous two decades, up to and including the recent resurgence of civic protest movements under Ma Ying-jeou. The earlier work of Hsiao 1990 focuses on the emergence of the conditions that allowed social movements to emerge in the 1980s. In later work, Hsiao 2002 focuses on the political and cultural “paradigm shifts” that transformed values, attitudes and expectations of Taiwanese citizens.

Among the more important social movements are the ones pertaining to the environment and the anti-nuclear movement and described by Ho 2003. The close connections between democratization and environmentalism (the ambiguities of the environmental movement long being tied to the DPP), and the challenge that both presented to the ruling KMT, are analysed in Tang and Tang 1997. The article focuses on the response of the KMT, as the sponsor of polluting industries, to the local politicians and civic groups that coalesced around the environmental movement and provides a convincing explanation of the success and failure of co-optation at various locales in Taiwan. Perhaps no other sector so aptly symbolizes the local effects of globalization, which is encapsulated in the analysis of environmental activism in Kaohsiung presented in Lee 2007. During Taiwan’s rapid economic growth phase, Kaohsiung, one of the world’s busiest ports, was a byword for environmental pollution and degradation. Now it is routinely held up as a success story for placing the environment at the centre of urban politics. Tang 2003 is a study of urban politics in the context of the northern wetlands, examining the relationship between local political actors, pressures from civil society actors and policies that tend towards promoting growth or environmental protection. Bibliography here.

Political parties in Taiwan: Short intro & annotated reading list

Political parties have played a determining role in the shape and outcome of democratization processes in Taiwan. For much of the early democratization era the KMT was the only party, and much research has focused on the behaviour, composition and evolution of the party. Hood 1997 provides a balanced analysis of the contribution of the KMT to political liberalization, which acknowledges the external pressures on the party and the rise of the Dangwai opposition movement. It is particularly valuable for the insights it gives into the competition within the KMT. Rigger 2001 is the most authoritative account of the growth of the Dangwai and the transformation into the DPP in 1986. Rigger’s detailed and nuanced analysis charts the DPP’s emergence as a major political party, up to the point that Chen Shui-bian won the presidency. Chen’s victory (albeit a minority winner in a three horse race) appeared to mark a turning point in Taiwan’s political history, and (at the time) perhaps the start of the KMT’s decline as has happened to other one party regimes after democratization. The sense of uncertainty comes through in the analysis of the party’s disastrous presidential campaign provided by Hsieh 2001. It is useful to keep this in mind given the KMT’s resurgence in 2008 and predicted futility in 2016: party fortunes are cyclical and long periods of governing are frequently followed by difficult elections and periods in opposition. Despite Chen’s landmark and surprise victory, the DPP was ill equipped to govern, especially in the context of incomplete reforms, divided government and KMT obstructionism, as Wu 2002 demonstrates. The article benefits from being written by a US trained political scientist turned DPP politician who served as Taiwan’s representative to the US under Chen.

The DPP is by far the most successful and enduring of the parties established on Taiwan (i.e. not the KMT which was established in China), outlasting the Chinese New Party, Taiwan Solidarity Union and People First Party among others. Taiwan has evolved into a multi-party democracy, although the parameters of political competition are dominated by the KMT and DPP. As one strand of political science would predict, the two major parties converged on major issues as democratization progressed. Party preferences over time on a range of issues are analysed in the pioneering work of Fell 2005, an indispensable study of party politics, specifically focusing on party positions on various issues across a crucial period in Taiwan’s democratization process. Dense empirical analysis of party materials combined with interviews of party politicians make this the most authoritative work focusing on Taiwanese parties in the 1990s.

However, it is not just issues that differentiate parties or electoral candidates. Bosco 1994 presents a detailed picture of how factions intersect with issues and ideology to affect the mobilization of voters and electoral outcomes. Similarly, Hood 1996discusses the effects of democratization on the behaviour of KMT factions, and the refocusing of factional mobilization on delivering votes. Factions can also influence who is nominated for election, as Fell 2013 and Fell et al. 2014 show in their analyses of how parties select their electoral candidates. Candidate selection processes have changed over time partly in response to changing rules. Lin 2000 (another US trained political scientist turned DPP politician) shows that parties are highly adaptive to changes in the political environment, in particular showing how they have responded to the expansion of electoral competition. Focusing on a different aspect of political parties, Chen 2000 analyses the composition of party support across time, focusing on variables at the voter level across three different generations.

For much of Taiwan’s political history since 1945, the Legislative Yuan has been a marginal political institution. With democratization, the disbanding of the obsolete National Assembly and constitutional reforms, the Legislature has become much more influential. As the DPP found to its cost, controlling the legislature is a crucial source of power for a party wanting to implement or block a policy agenda. The transformation of the Legislature (from “rubber stamp” to “roaring lion”) is captured by Liao 2005, a historical analysis of the institution from 1950 to 2000. The relationship of the Legislature to other branches of government, and the nature of Taiwan’s political system, is not totally clear-cut, as Kucera 2002 shows.

The incomplete reforms enacted in the mid-1990s created great difficulties under conditions of divided government after 2000. Liao and Chien 2005 explore these difficulties with a close examination of the ROC Constitution. In addition to the Legislature’s position within the political system, another research interest concerns legislative elections and the electoral system used to elect legislators. Nathan 1993 analyzes the first non-supplementary election in 1992 while Chu and Diamond 1999 assess the effects of the 1998 legislative election on the consolidation of democracy. Of particular interest to Taiwan scholars and comparative political scientists, has been the SNTV electoral system, which was in effect prior to 2008, making Taiwan the last polity in the world to use it. Tsai 2005 focuses on the effects of SNTV on party strategy with regard to policy positions and factions while Hsieh and Niemi 1999 looks at the systemic effects of SNTV. Legislative elections since 2008, when the number of seats available was also halved, have taken place under the new and supposedly fairer MMD system. O’Neill 2013 assesses this supposition by comparing the performance of the DPP under the new and old systems. Bibliography here

The ROC President: A short introduction and bibliography

The ROC President is the single most visible political actor in Taiwan and much of the literature charting Taiwan’s progress towards democracy and democratic consolidation has focused on respective presidencies. Although Chiang Kai-shek cannot take any credit for the political liberalization that occurred after his death, he was the dominant political figure in Taiwan for almost three decades until 1975 (although his power was derived from heading the KMT and military rather than the ROC Presidency). The definitive study of Chiang’s life is Taylor (2011). Much of the book concentrates on the period of Chiang’s rule over China and the civil war, but there is some excellent coverage of Chiang’s relationship with the US after the relocation to Taiwan, including the period up to the normalization of relations between the PRC and US (and the implications for Chiang and Taiwan). Chiang’s son, Chiang Ching-kuo, had a greater role to play in the transition towards democratization, although the extent of his contribution and willingness to liberalize is still much debated. The complexities and ambiguities of Chiang Jr’s political life are expertly covered in Taylor (2009). If the seeds of liberalization were sown during Chiang’s tenure, they bloomed under President Lee Teng-hui, which is reflected in one of his nicknames ‘Mr Democracy’. But Lee’s tenure was not completely straightforward. Chao et al (2002) provides a collection of sophisticated analyses bringing out the differences between Lee’s unelected tenure when he was instrumental in pushing institutional and constitutional reform alongside continued economic growth and the preservation of the ROC, and the period after 1996, when decision-making appeared more arbitrary, corruption flourished and relations with China deteriorated as his discourse moved away from ‘one China’ to his ‘two states theory’. Lee and Wang (2003) sets Lee’s presidency within the context of battles within the ruling KMT, and demonstrates that the move toward democratization in the 1990s was not inevitable.Alagappa (2003) provides an assessment the Lee era and immediate reactions to the 2000 presidential election.

When the DPP’s Chen Shui-bian surprisingly won the presidency in 2000, as a result of a split in the KMT, some observers argued that democracy had been consolidated in Taiwan. But under the conditions of divided government, KMT obstructionism and the DPP’s lack of governance capacity created intractable problems for Chen’s reform agenda, as the essays in Goldstein and Chang (2008) show. With their focus on partisan battles, divided government and polarizing ethnic politics Copper (2009) and Chu (2005) emblematic of one strain of scholarship that suggests that democracy was not in fact consolidated by Chen’s victory in 2000 and that the Chen era was a wasted opportunity in which reforms stagnated. Much scholarship on the Chen era is divided by finding fault in KMT obstructionism or Chen’s intransigence; these articles lean towards the latter in seeking an explanation for a difficult period in Taiwan’s democracy. Rigger (2002) on the other hand finds fault in the institutional design that rendered the ROC President relatively weak (particularly under conditions of divided government). Cabestan and DeLisle (2014) gives an overview of the Ma Ying-jeou era from 2008 until his re-election in 2012, with much coverage centred on economic policy and dissecting the means and implications of Ma’s rapprochement with Beijing. It is the most authoritative and comprehensive analysis of developments during Ma’s first administration.

Elections have provided many of the milestones in Taiwan’s journey to democracy, and elections for the highest office have commanded much scholarly attention since the first direct election in 1996. The drama of the campaign in 1996, preceded by the intrusion of Chinese missiles off the coast of Taiwan, and featuring open conflict between conservative and progressive elements in the KMT, is ably captured in Rawnsley (1997). This article also provides an early account of the evolving political communications environment.  Splits in the KMT did not prevent a comfortable victory for Lee Teng-hui in 1996, but the independent candidacy of James Soong in 2000 would allow Chen Shui-bian to sneak home with 39% of the vote. The result represented a milestone in Taiwan’s democratization: the first change of ruling parties. Diamond (2003)provides a compelling account of the behind-the-scenes strategy and machinations that led to President Lee nominating Lien Chan thereby setting off the train reaction that would see Chen into the Presidential Palace. Approaching the surprise result from the opposite side, Niou and Paolini (2003) investigates the behaviour of voters, and provide a precise quantitative assessment of the effects of Lien and Soong splitting the KMT/blue vote.

Seeking to avoid such a split in 2004, Lien and Soong joined forces to try to spoil Chen’s quest for re-election. In a memorably bitter campaign, Chen prevailed in controversial circumstances, after surviving an apparent assassination attempt on election eve. Clark (2004) provides a detailed account of the campaign and the party’s campaign strategies. One of the masterstrokes of the Chen campaign was to use the presidential agenda setting power to tie a defensive referendum to his Taiwan identity project. Kao (2004) provides a clear analysis of Chen’s clever, and clearly instrumental, use of the defensive referendum which helped him frame the campaign on his preferred terms. Taiwan identity was at the heart of this campaign, the parameters and effects of which are well covered in Corcuff (2004) and Bedford & Hwang (2006). Chen’s second term was tainted by corruption and continuing governance problems, which Ma Ying-jeou pledged to turn around. Ma Ying-jeou’s landslide election in 2008 ushered in a new direction in Taiwanese politics, particularly in terms of economic policy and relations with China, and the election is well covered by Muyard (2008). Ma’s first term brought breakthroughs in cross-Strait relations, including signing a limited Free Trade Agreement with China. It also saw economic problems and question of personal effectiveness. As Tsang (2012) recounts, in the end Ma was comfortably re-elected, despite a strong challenge from the DPP candidate Tsai Ing-wen, who will run again in 2016.

Democratization in Taiwan: A short introduction and bibliography

In the second half of the 20th Century, Taiwan evolved from a colonial backwater under one-party rule to become an exemplar of equal economic development and peaceful democratization. During the past thirty years elections have constituted important milestones and strongly contested political competition to control resources, implement policy agendas and set the ideological tone. In January 2016, Taiwan will hold its latest set of presidential and legislative elections. Taiwan is a polity where core issues like “who are we” and “where are we going” have yet to be decided. Befitting such a polity, Taiwan 2016 will be fiercely contested and the outcomes will have major implications beyond the Taiwanese political scene. In anticipation of these elections, and drawing on work I have done separately for the Oxford Bibliographies in Chinese Studies project, I will be posting a number of annotated reading lists on various aspects of Taiwanese democracy, the first being democratization.

Democratization processes in Taiwan proceeded incrementally over a prolonged period punctuated by electoral milestones. Although generally peaceful, political liberalization required significant effort on the part of activists and the opposition movement to pressure the ruling KMT into adopting reforms. Concessions by the KMT were soon followed by further demands from the opposition, generating momentum towards democratization that eventually overwhelmed conservative elements within the party. In 1986, opposition activists with disparate concerns and interests came together to form the Democratic Progressive Party, the first organized opposition party. To do so was technically illegal under Martial Law, but the DPP was allowed to field candidates in the 1986 Legislative election and Martial Law was rescinded a year later. Following the death of President Chiang Ching-kuo in 1988 Lee Teng-hui was selected by the KMT to be interim President. He was officially elected to the Presidency, not by universal suffrage but by the rubber-stamp National Assembly in 1990, the final time that the ROC President would fail to be chosen by universal suffrage.

After a protracted struggle between relatively conservative and reform-minded factions within the KMT, which resulted in the formation of the breakaway Chinese New Party (NP), President Lee accelerated both the indigenization of the KMT and democratic reform, including bowing to widespread demands, the Wild Lily student movement for instance, for the President to be chosen by direct election. Lee himself later became the first ROC president to be elected by popular vote in 1996. A DPP candidate, Chen Shui-bian, won the presidency in 2000, marking the first change in ruling parties. Political competition in democratic Taiwan is intense. Major parties are well organized and highly motivated. By the standards of many consolidated democracies, the electorate in Taiwan is highly engaged. The media environment is well developed and relatively free, and civil society actors are politically involved. Support for democracy remains strong and widespread at the individual level. In short, on several salient indicators, Taiwan’s democracy is a success story, despite continuing concerns about corruption, media ownership and inequalities and inefficiencies within the political system. In the existing scholarship on Taiwan’s democratic transition and democratic practice, debates continue around the extent to which democratization was led by top-down or bottom up processes, the extent to which Taiwan’s democracy “works” or whether it is uniquely susceptible to political crises, and the issue of how to enjoy the fruits of democratization in the shadow of a complex relationship with China.

There are several valuable accounts that put the democratization period in historical perspective. Bruce Jacobs (2012)provides a concise but authoritative analytical account of the democratization processes from the origins of Taiwanese resistance to the Japanese colonialists to Ma Ying-jeou’s first term. Linda Chao and Ramon Myers (1998) is a similarly careful historical study of the Martial Law period and analysis of the initiation and development of democratization processes. The treatment of the emergence of the opposition movement and movements within the KMT which in combination created pressures for reform is particularly strong. Denny Roy’s (2003) Political History provides a concise and useful (albeit less sophisticated) chronological account of Taiwan’s political development. Mikael Mattlin (2011) is a close examination of the political reform process in which the ruling KMT attempted to lock-in certain institutional advantages that would serve it after the transition and ensure continued social politicization. If you have access to a university library, the four volumes of The Politics of Modern Taiwan (2008), a collection of seminal papers on various topics relating to Taiwanese politics, are the closest thing the field has to a dedicated Handbook.

The processes that constituted and advanced democratization in Taiwan took place over a prolonged period of time and involved bottom-up, top-down and external forces. The contribution of bottom-up “democratic forces” is well covered in Cheng (1989), an influential article that went beyond then-prevailing explanations of Taiwan’s democratization rooted in economic modernization theory. Winckler (1984) on the other hand surveys debates and developments within the ruling KMT as it faced external challenges and domestic pressures. It is an excellent analysis of manoeuvres and preferences within the KMT and the pressures and resistance to political liberalization among the “gerontocratic-authoritarian” regime. Tien (1975) provides a detailed contemporaneous account of KMT thought and strategy on political liberalization at a time of crisis for the regime. The collection edited by Cheng and Haggard (1992) has good coverage of the transition from ‘hard’ to ‘soft’ authoritarianism. Most chapters focus on political developments in the 1980s and provide then-pioneering empirical detail and theoretical work on regime change.

Chu 1992, a landmark examination of political liberalization in the early democratization era, provides sophisticated reflections on the nature of political reforms undertaken by the KMT. Chu Yun-han is probably Taiwan’s pre-eminent political scientist, and he combines rich empirical detail with sophisticated explication of a number of theoretical frameworks. Chu and Lin (2001) examine the close, perhaps inextricable, links between democratization and national identity. This important article establishes the continuities between the two “émigré regimes”, the Japanese and the KMT, that dominated Twentieth Century Taiwan, providing a compelling explanation for the evolution of each. The edited volume Feldman and Nathan (1991) presents the views of numerous DPP and KMT politicians on the nature of political reforms particularly in the 1980s. The analysis of Taiwanese society, and attempt to explain both the high and equitable growth rates and socio-political stability that characterized the ‘economic miracle’, presented in Gold 1986 is the essential backdrop to developments on the political scene (for more on the rapid growth era, see also Wade 1990).

By the start of the 1990s, much progress had been made towards democratization. The KMT had (willingly or because it had little choice) loosened its grip on civil society and the media, allowed opposition political parties to form and contest a growing range of public offices put to electoral competition. Chao and Myers (1994) investigate the KMT’s reform policies which led to the progressive opening up of political space and electoral offices from the mid- 1980s onwards. Tien and Chu (1996) similarly focus on the KMT, particularly the run up and implications of the first full legislative election in 1992. A stylized version of the KMT’s own liberalization narrative, for domestic and external consumption, was that enlightened leaders Chiang Ching-kuo and Lee Teng-hui were committed to democratic reforms. Leng and Lin (1993)provide an early challenge to the KMT’s top-down liberalization narrative, noting the contribution of opposition activism in pressuring the ruling party. This article is an adept study of the complexities of identifying the causes of democratization.

Noble (1999) provides a detailed and incisive analysis of the important revisions made to the constitution under Lee Teng-hui’s presidency in the mid-1990s, focusing on the need for and consequences of the new arrangements. The machinations over constitutional reforms in 1997 suggest that common political concerns, such as strategy and self-interest, were dominant motivations. Rigger (2001) demonstrates that elections weren’t just symbols of progress, but were crucial mechanisms for coalescing and concentrating support for democratization within society, and inculcating the attitudes and norms that provided the momentum for Taiwan to consolidate its transition. Finally, Lin et al (1996) investigate how elections changed the nature of inter- and intra-party political competition, and in particular the effect this had on how the national identity cleavage would affect political competition after democratization.

The next instalment will focus on the presidency.

CCP-KMT Leaders’ summit meeting

Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping and Kuomintang Chairman Eric Chu are holding a summit in Beijing on Monday, the highest-level talks between the two parties in six years. While Taiwanese officials describe it in anodyne terms—discussing “issues of mutual concern”—simmering tensions across the Taiwan Strait make this meeting highly significant.

The two leaders will no doubt discuss their parties’ failed gamble on Taiwanese politics. The CCP and the KMT expected that by building closer cross-Strait ties they would strengthen support for the Taiwanese ruling party, which shares the mainland’s goal of eventual reunification. Instead the Taiwanese public rebelled against mainland influence in domestic politics.

In February of last year, the KMT brought cross-Strait relations to their strongest point in history. Representatives of the two governments met officially for the first time in decades.

Despite that breakthrough, the political fortunes of the KMT and President Ma Ying-jeou deteriorated dramatically. Student-led protests, dubbed the “sunflower movement,” blocked the keystone policy of Ma’s second and final term, an extension to the free trade agreement signed with China during his first term.

Then in November the KMT suffered devastating losses in mid-term elections, after which President Ma stepped down as chairman of the party. His approval ratings now languish in the teens. Ordinary Taiwanese are increasingly queasy about the KMT’s close links with the CCP.

With a paucity of viable candidates, the KMT is unlikely to hold on to the presidency. It may even lose control of the legislature for the first time in history come the elections in January 2016. Internal divisions threaten to split the party.

Beijing must now proceed along two tracks, shoring up the KMT while preparing for a DPP administration. That is the true agenda of this week’s summit.

Last year Mr. Chu narrowly retained his position as mayor of Xinbei, formerly known as Taipei county and now the island’s most populous city. He is the only potential presidential candidate with sufficiently broad support in the party and in society. In public, he insists that he won’t run.

In reality Mr. Chu is divided about running for the presidency. If he bows out, KMT losses are likely to be magnified. But he stands a far better chance of winning if he waits for 2020. If he runs next year he will also have to explain to the people of Xinbei why he is breaking his promise to them to finish his mayoral term.

There is still time for Mr. Chu to change his mind before the nomination deadline of May 16. It is reasonable to expect that Mr. Xi will use this week’s meeting to pressure him to run and offer support to boost the KMT’s slim chances

The Chinese side will hope such a high-profile meeting will allow Mr. Chu to showcase his credentials as a man that China is willing to work with. The talks come only a day after a joint KMT-CCP forum in Shanghai that always produces a number of joint recommendations and policies. Expect China to throw a few concessions Mr. Chu’s way, so he can return to Taiwan looking like a man who can get a good deal. Continue reading

Gearing up for Taiwan 2016

Leaders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Kuomintang (KMT) will meet in Beijing on Monday to exchange opinions on “issues of mutual concern.” At the top of the list will be the KMT’s prospects for presidential and legislative elections scheduled for January 2016, and contingencies should the KMT lose.

Xi Jinping and Eric Chu’s summit is the first between respective party leaders since 2009. It comes a year on from the first face-to-face meeting of official representatives of the governments of the People’s Republic of China (PRC, hereafter China) and the Republic of China (ROC, hereafter Taiwan) for several decades.

That symbolic breakthrough was the last dose of positive news for the KMT and the Ma Ying-jeou administration. President Ma, who stepped down as KMT Chairman in December following devastating losses in local elections in November, has witnessed a wave of social protests, a student occupation of the legislature and the demise of an economic agreement with China that was intended to be the keystone policy of his second and final term.

The depth of Taiwanese people’s disapproval of President Ma has severely damaged the KMT’s chances of retaining the presidency. The scrimmage to succeed him has exposed a lack of viable candidates and the escalation of factional battles and grim succession politics raises the specter of splits that have historically afflicted the party. Not only does the KMT face the impending loss of the presidency, there is a chance that the China-leaning Pan Blue alliance in which it is the major partner may lose control of the legislature for the first time. It is a prospect that should provide plenty for Chu and Xi to ruminate on.

The CCP and KMT have a long and tangled history and the contemporary impasse over Taiwan’s status and its relationship with China is to a great extent a legacy of ideological (and at times bloody) battles between the two parties. In recent years, the two old adversaries have discovered common ground—as they did many years ago in the fight against Japanese imperialism. Both oppose “Taiwan independence” and both believe that increased economic interactions are inevitable and good for Taiwan.

For some among the KMT, and unanimously in the CCP, the hope and expectation is that economic interaction will draw the two sides together, facilitating eventual political union. The common ground between the CCP and KMT is embodied in the shared endorsement, if not understanding, of the so-called “1992 Consensus” (“one China, separate interpretations”). This face-saving conceit has proven useful as the basis for the détente policies of the last seven years. It has also ossified as the major distinction between the DPP and KMT. Since China’s bottom line is acceptance of the one China principle and the DPP rejects the “1992 Consensus,” the KMT portrays itself as the only party that can deal with China—simultaneously Taiwan’s most important economic partner and an existential threat.

Given the KMT’s current weaknesses in other sectors (like the economy, previously a strength), the party will try to increase the salience of cross-Strait relations in the run up to the 2016 elections. Chu’s meeting with CCP general secretary and Chinese president Xi Jinping helps that cause.

The KMT has attacked the DPP’s traditional blind spot on China policy to a greater or lesser extent during every presidential election campaign. Seeking reelection in 2012, President Ma scored points by attacking Tsai Ing-wen’s untested “Taiwan consensus.” In light of that defeat, the DPP launched a party-wide drive to address the perceived weakness of their China policy.

The heterogeneity of positions across the party meant that the ultimate policy recommendations did not radically differ from the “Taiwan consensus” (which urges caution in cross-Strait affairs and establishing bipartisan agreement and supervision before pursuing further economic policies with China). However, Tsai, who has again secured the DPP’s nomination, appears much more confident in her understanding and delivery of the DPP’s position.

At a party meeting in April, Tsai expressed her support for “maintaining the status quo” and “stability in cross-Strait relations,” remarks that won praise from officials in the United States. Earlier this week, though, President Ma used a long address to the Mainland Affairs Council to question how Tsai expects to achieve these goals while rejecting the “one China” principle and “1992 Consensus.” Tsai’s response should provide food for thought for Chu and Xi as they meet in Beijing: the Taiwanese people, she said, do not share Ma’s preoccupation with the intricacies of the “1992 Consensus” because they are too busy worrying about a swathe of economic and social ills.

If Tsai’s moderate rhetoric is sufficient to convince the electorate (and opinion polls suggest it is) that the DPP’s China policy won’t be a dangerous liability, the KMT has nothing left to fight with. Outside of championing the “1992 Consensus,” the KMT is bereft of ideas. Continue reading

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.