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Feb 29, 2008

Hsieh's campaign

A couple of notes on Hsieh's campaign:

He has recently shifted strategy. The month immediately following the legislative elections was characterized by personal attacks on Ma's integrity, "Mr. Clean" image and patriotism, specifically by talking about the green card, suggesting Ma may have US citizenship, and hinting it was illegal for Ma's sister's company got monopoly rights to sell medicine to a Taipei hospital during Ma's term as mayor. Next helped by showing Ma's sister meeting with a gangster while visiting China.

But starting with his closing remarks of the first debate, Hsieh shifted strategy to attacking Ma's policy positions. He is suggesting that Ma's "give everyone money" campaign promises are impractical and would bankrupt the country; claiming that Ma's policy of creating a "common market" with China would be "legal unification" and "economic unification; and warning that an all-powerful KMT would be a huge step backwards for Taiwan's democracy. He also reminded people of Ma's lackluster record as mayor.

At this point, there's just 20 days until the election. Frankly, Frankie, I think you have much time to focus media attention on your own policy plans.

I know some people believe that since negative attacks seem to work pretty well, it's smart for the Hsieh camp to use them. But I'd like to point out a few things about Taiwan's electorate. They elected A-bian in 2000 in hopes of reform, despite KMT warnings that it could cause a war; they re-elected him in 2004 despite more serious fears of potential violence because (a) Lien Chan is a shitty candidate and (b) there were still hopes that the DPP would improve things.

So what I'm arguing here is that the Taiwanese electorate do want a positive campaign and are looking for a candidate that brings hope. The Ma campaign has done a fairly good job of leaving negative attacks on Hsieh to media and attack dogs; making general remarks about how bad the last 8 years have been; and focusing on what the KMT hopes to improve if elected.

And trying to scare people into voting for you doesn't have a great record here, either. Threats that the KMT would quickly let China anex Taiwan are probably about as effective as threats that China would attack in the event of a DPP win (read: not effective at all).

And finally, let's face it: by talking only about Ma, Hsieh is making Ma the focus of the campaign. Whether you're hearing a KMT press conference or a DPP one, you're probably hearing about Ma Ying-jeou or his policies! Is that such a good idea?

So I'm quite worried that the Hsieh campaign has been uninspired and is very unlikely to have won many people over. And there's no question the KMT has managed to convince many voters, especially young people, that it's time for change even if the KMT is essentially unreformed and honestly offering very little substantial change outside of larger handouts (the KMT strategy is pretty close to 'extend the 18% preferential interest rate for military and civil servants to include everyone').

Sometime between 2004 and now, the KMT actually figured out how to run a campaign. And it looks to me like the DPP forgot. It's going to be close, but perhaps not close enough.

My buddy Tim on Talking Show

Tim spent a lot of time growing up in LA and came back to Taiwan to work after he graduated. Here he is on Taiwan's highest rated political talk show, praising Taiwan and encouraging young people to vote. Tim and I hang out a lot when I'm in Taipei, and he came down to visit me in Kaohsiung too. He's a stand up guy.

I think we can also all agree the dark blue jacket does nothing for that green and yellow T-shirt he's wearing underneath.

Feb 27, 2008

Thanks, ICRT!

... for providing today's big news item.

The DPP presidential ticket's camp is blasting the sister of the KMT candidate for allegedly campaigning for him in China. According to a magazine report [in Next], Ma Yi-nan, the elder sister of Ma Ying-jiu, was in China recently, where she met with a prominent gang member to get funds for her brother's campaign. The DPP ticket is calling Ma Yi-nan a secret envoy to the mainland for her brother, and says the Beijing government is facilitating her movements and meetings in an attempt to influence the Taiwanese presidential election. The green camp says the Ma family is highly secretive, and recent events involving family members have shown that the Mas are not as clean cut as they appear.
I love how people are perfectly willing to see Next as a credible news source ... when it works to their advantage. But, Ma does not deny that his sister met with the gangster, claiming ignorance, and Ma says he'll tell her to "be careful" in the future!

The gangster, Chang An-le (張安樂), also known as "the white wolf," and a current/former member of the United Bamboo Gang, is hiding in China because the police are looking for him here in Taiwan. He's certainly the most famous ganster I know of. If you were a Taiwanese businessman in his neighborhood and were told he would really appreciate your vote for Ma /dislike your vote for Hsieh, I guess it could affect your voting plans ...

3 questions I wish I was hearing more

  1. In what way, if any, has the KMT reformed itself since their loss in 2000?At what point, if any, did Ma go from being anti-freedom and anti-democracy to being a real democrat?
  2. How can we elect a man who can say with a straight face that there's only one China in the world -- The Republic of China?
  3. Considering the government's already flat broke, how can Taiwan massively increase spending without more revenue in the form of taxes or WTO violating tariffs?

Also, former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman Hsu Hsin-liang (許信良) said his aunt yelled at him for an hour when he told her he was supporting Hsieh.


語 yǚ MC njwo (上聲) LH ŋɨɑ (上聲) OCM *ŋaʔ


語 yǜ MC njwo (去聲) LH ŋɨɑ (去聲) OCM *ŋah

'To tell'

言 yán MC njɐn (平聲) LH ŋiɑn (平聲) OCM *ŋan

'To speak, speech, talk'

Who would have known they once differed only in the final consonant?

(Information from the ABC Etymological Dictionary of Old Chinese)

Legislative agenda

Newly elected legislative speaker, Wang Jin-pyng, and his deputy, Tseng Yung-chuan, vowed to enhance the image of the seventh Legislature by promoting the professionalism and work ethic of the new lawmakers.

In this Legislature, where the KMT enjoys a 54-seat majority over the DPP, Wang declared he will respect the minority party and preside over the lawmaking body with no bias. He urged legislators to make greater efforts to benefit citizens and fulfill their duties with rationality. "Citizens expect us to bring fresh changes," Wang said.

Don't hold out any hopes. Yesterday, the KMT-run procedural committee, as usual, killed the bills the Executive Yuan brought up, which included: A bill for taking care of ill-gotten KMT party assets, amendments to the Financial Holding Company Law, amendments to the Agricultural Financial Law, amendments to the Military and Teachers Tax Law, and getting rid of the Provisions Governing the Organization of the CKS Memorial Hall Administration Office.

After striking down the Executive Yuan's bills and amendments, the KMT put the following items at the top of the agenda, where they will be reviewed on Friday: several amendments to Chinese investment laws, and an amendment to the referendum law which would require a two-step voting system when a referendum is being held at the same time as another election.

This should improve the KMT's image!

The supposed reasons the KMT says it supports two-step voting include: (1) two-step will have a lower chance of producing "questionable" outcomes where fraud might be alleged, since in a one-step procedure more ballots will have been cast into the wrong box, and therefore more ballots will be counted late, which may create the appearance of people making up votes; and (2) one-step voting procedures are an attempt by the DPP to "hijack" the general election, increasing DPP supporter turn out.

The rreason the CEC has decided on a one-step procedure, and the DPP supports it, are (1) as we saw in the legislative election, there were no accusations of fraud or making up votes (2) a one-step method is cheaper and (3) it will increase referendum turnout if you hold all the elections at once and hand out all the ballots at once.

The reality is the DPP does expect referendums to help it increase turn out, but that's just wishful thinking, as the legislative election proved. And the KMT's real motive is that it opposes referendum in principle, but can't say that anymore, so they've switched the rhetoric to the "sacred" referendum being used to "hijack" the election. They hope to minimize turnout and, if you recall, have boycotted all referendum so far.

What an auspicious start to the legislative session ...

Feb 26, 2008

Review of ABC Etymological Dictionary of Old Chinese

This book arrived in the mail from Amazon yesterday, and kicks my ass in more ways than one. If you like this sort of thing, you don't need me to tell you much about it. Pinyin news covers its release, and Forumosa has a thread about it.

The meat of the introduction:

Each entry offers one or more possible etymologies as well as reconstructed pronunciations and other relevant data. Words that are morphologically related are grouped together into “word families” that attempt to make explicit the derivational or other etymological processes that relate them. The dictionary is preceded by a substantive and significant introduction that outlines the author’s views on the linguistic position of Chinese within Asia and details the phonological and morphological properties, to the degree they are known, of the earliest stages of the Chinese language and its ancestor. This introduction, because it both summarizes and synthesizes earlier work and makes several original contributions, functions as a useful reference work all on its own.

For example, we all know that lin2 林 and sen1 森 look a lot alike; but would it surprise you to learn they also once sounded more similar and were even probably cognates, differing only in the onset?

lin2 林 (Middle Chinese ljəm), late Han lim, Minimal Old Chinese *rəm
"Forest, forester"

sen1 森 MC jəm, LH ɨm, OCM *srəm
"Forest, dense thicket"; probably an intensive derivative of lin2, possibly influenced by AA parallels.

Phonetic reconstruction may be the nerdiest of all topics in the history of the world, but do I ever love this dictionary. I've asked the legandary Bill Baxter what he thinks of the work, and he came gave me a very positive review by e-mail as well as revealing he and Sagart are on a database that will serve a similar function and will eventually be on the internet, when it's ready.

Taiwan Thinktank: Referendum support low

A survey by the Taiwan Thinktank released this afternoon indicated that while 64% of Taiwanese people support Taiwan applying to enter the UN under the name "Taiwan," only 46% support the current referendum efforts being pushed by the KMT and DPP while 31.6% oppose. Notice the 22% not replying.

This is good news and bad; it means that if the KMT follows the DPP's line and throws its weight behind both referendums (and I'm not counting on it), they could well pass; if not, they could well fail.

Should the referenda fail, do you think the international media will generously write that most people actually support spirit, but either opposed holding the referendum or holding the referendum in conjunction with the election?

Feb 25, 2008

Presidential Debate

I watched the Presidential debate yesterday on TV, and you can read the synopsis in all of the major dailies today. You can read the details of the debate there, and I'll just write about my impression here.

The debate reinforced the fact that both candidates have voiced virtually identical stances on every issue. On gay marriage, environmental policy, cross strait flights, and education the nuances that differentiate the candidates were virtually undetectable. On the economic issue, DPP candidate Frank Hsieh was a tax cutter while KMT candidate Ma Ying-jeou promoted more government spending. The similarity in virtually all policy positions reinforced the fact

I think the debate went to Ma Ying-jeou. Frank Hsieh's answers were less focused and more frequently incomplete -- his microphone was cut off several times for going over time. Hsieh also spent a disproportionate amount of time attacking Ma (please see his entire closing statement) and talking about what I think is simply a dead end issue, Ma's (very likely) expired green card.

Ma, on the other hand, had short, direct answers that sound fantastic on paper -- give everyone, including you, more money! -- and was able to use his closing statement to stay positive, arguing he was outlining his dream for Taiwan. Although Frankie got in a few good shots at Ma and the KMT, I think in the end he will come off looking like a bully.

That's not to say I think Ma had better answers to all the questions. As Hsieh pointed out in his closing statements, Ma's plan involves pending a lot more money, and Ma is pretty loose with the figures on where that money is supposed to come from -- and if the KMT were really serious, it could pass laws to accomplish virtually every platform goal tomorrow. On some issues, both parties clearly have just terrible records, such as environmental protection and gay rights. But at the end of the day, Ma's nervousness and awkwardness didn't stop him from "delivering the goods" and outlining a plan that sounds fantastic, while Hsieh did fairly well but couldn't keep within the time limits or be very positive. Ma also very wisely spent nearly all of his attack time hitting on Chen and the DPP's last 8 years instead of on Hsieh himself.

In my mind, Frankie really needed a big win in all three debates to close the gap with Ma, and I don't think he did that Sunday. Let's hope he improves markedly in the next debate.

Feb 21, 2008

Analysis on Beijing's framing of "Taiwan's Independence Plot"

An easy to read, thought provoking article by Edward Friedman on Taiwan's Independence Plot. I found several passages particularly interesting. First, on the CCP narrative which has been accepted by the international media:

In this constructed narrative of the CCP, there are only two viable possibilities, either Taiwan provokes war with China by seeking a legitimate international voice or it surrenders to China which treats the continuation of a separate Taiwan as a provocation. This article will show that this Hobson's dilemma for Taiwan— lose your democratic autonomy by either war or peace— is a historically comprehensible construction of the CCP which serves particular CCP interests at a certain historical moment.

And on how Beijing decides what amounts to a provocation even when Taiwan changes some domestic education policy (I suppose they'd rather have Taiwanese still being forced to worship the great Chiang Kai-shek):
In fact, identity changes inside of Taiwan culture and politics need have nothing to do with international politics, except that the CCP makes them an issue....

Taiwan is actually ever more internationally isolated and has no way of changing the peaceful status quo in its favor. China's rulers know it. In the 1950s Mao made nationalistic propaganda in China about an Eisenhower administration supposedly preparing to unleash Chiang Kai-shek's (蔣介石) military against China when he well knew and privately averred that President Dwight Eisenhower had actually leashed Chiang to prevent him from provocative actions. Then, as now, the big question was, what is the political logic behind a CCP propaganda campaign which turns the truth on its head? Why does the CCP treat a relatively weak Taiwan as if it were about to get international recognition of its de jure independence, and why do international observers not see through the CCP propaganda to the core reality of politics in Beijing?

And an explanation of Beijing's motives for creating such a narrative:

Saunders is typical of top international analysts of China who reverse historical cause and effect and describe the PRC's threatening military build-up as an "important response to increasing U.S.-Taiwan security cooperation,"28 when, in fact, that cooperation began only after the China initiated Taiwan Strait crisis of 1996; that is, long after the CCP decided to build a military threat against Taiwan. China was not militarily reactive. It was the initiator.

Making believe there is a threat from Taiwan which could achieve de jure independence is a tactic of the CCP to obscure its real goal— undermining Taiwan's de facto independence.

One might ask why the CCP uses an Orwellian discourse about a peaceful rise when the CCP actually legitimizes military action.... The reason, international relations analyst William Callahan explains, is that, within this discourse about a peaceful China, for others to reject a CCP demand would back-foot them, make them seem against a peaceful China. If you insist that the PRC's demands on your territory prove China is not peaceful, you thereby reveal yourself to be China's enemy....

However, the CCP sees Taiwan as an obstacle to China's establishing itself as the predominant power in Asia [author goes on to quote PLA documents] .... The discourse emanating from China about a Taiwan independence plot that threatens the peace of the region is a smokescreen to camouflage actual CCP policy ambitions. Like the humiliated and vengeful Goujian (勾踐), the CCP has been patient. Its objective is not a secret, however.

And the solution?

Perhaps it is true that China is trapped by its own post-1989 reconstruction of Chinese national identity, hoisted on its own petard. Perhaps the CCP has chosen to jump on the back of a man-eating tiger and now cannot dismount and back off without risking being eaten alive. Perhaps. However, the key point is that the source of the threat to the peace lies in Beijing and not in Taipei. However much an annexation policy agenda toward Taiwan has, for the moment, been embedded in Chinese nationalism,that is a construction with a recent history. It is not some deep Chinese cultural essence.

War or peace, therefore, is not about politics in Taipei. There is no Taiwan plot which threatens to end the mutually beneficial Taipei-Beijing relationship. Taiwan is ever more economically integrated into the Chinese economy. Rather, the threat to the peace is about politics and policy in Beijing. That is why it is important to see how, in the post-1989-91 era, a certain ruling group in Beijing redefined patriotism to serve its core purposes—monopolizing domestic power and expanding international power.

So there you go. Read and enjoy. Feel free to comment here.

Feb 18, 2008

A more serious Ma scandal: but will it matter?

The Taipei Times reports:

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Frank Hsieh's (謝長廷)campaign team yesterday accused Hsieh's Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) counterpart Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of violating the Public Officials' Conflicts of Interests Prevention Act (公職人員利益衝突迴避法).

Hsieh's camp alleged that Ma's older sister, Ma Yi-nan (馬以南), a former deputy manager of a pharmaceutical company, received incentives by monopolizing the supply of drugs to the Taipei City Municipal Hospital during Ma Ying-jeou's term as city mayor in 1999.

Hsieh camp spokesman Hsu Kuo-yong (徐國勇) said the campaign team had evidence to prove Ma Yi-nan's drug company, China Chemical Pharmaceutical Co, received benefits by being the sole drug provider to the hospital.

Another Hsieh spokesman, Chao Tian-lin (趙天麟), said the campaign would reveal more evidence to back up its allegations against Ma Ying-jeou in the next two or three days and urged the KMT candidate to come clean on the subject.

The law states that public servants are prohibited from using their position to establish commercial ties with their close relatives. Since Ma Yi-nan is the former mayor's sister, Ma Ying-jeou should not have allowed her to do business with a municipal hospital, Hsu said.

This whole multiple spokesman thing is totally getting out of hand. Both camps seem to have an entire team of these people, and that never helps you stay on message or keep the tone you are interested in. It's apparently just a way to employee people who would otherwise be out of the spotlight, including former legislators who didn't win seats this time around.

But that complaint aside, this seems to be a relatively serious corruption allegation, but it's hard to say how well founded. You can tell this from Ma's and the hospital's response:

When approached for a response later yesterday, Ma Ying-jeou called on the Hsieh camp to take its accusations to prosecutors and allow the judicial system to examine the case. He declined to give any further response.

Taipei City Hospital vice president Huang Chun-cheng (黃遵誠) yesterday dismissed the accusations and insisted that the hospital has always followed the Government Purchase Act (採購法) and chosen pharmaceutical companies by a public bidding process for all medicines purchased. Huang urged the Hsieh campaign team to provide solid evidence before making allegations against the hospital.

I imagine this allegation will have some sort of marginal effect on Ma's image and numbers. But I don't know ... can it change the picture? I think the general mood is that nobody is expecting really clean politicians anymore. People held out hope for that when the DPP was elected both times, but the feeling is that everyone's corrupt anyway. Will Hsieh's allegations make a difference?

I can't speak for others, but as a green supporter, I felt despair over the legislative election results. But that was expected. I knew the DPP didn't have a chance, even if the scale of defeat surprised me. But the looming presidential election hangs like a storm cloud. By all accounts, Ma is in the lead and Hsieh's campaign has been lackluster. Most people are betting Ma can get some 60 percent of the vote. And a defeat this time would not feel like a defeat in 2000 or 2004 would have felt. At that time, I think the DPP psychologically could have afforded a loss. This time, it feels like a "do or die" situation -- in which the DPP's very likely to die.

I am honestly convinced that a Ma victory would be a shockingly swift nail in the coffin to the Taiwanese independence movement, since the peace agreement Ma wants to sign with Beijing will likely formalize a framework where unification is the only option and eternally maintaining a de facto independence will be a non-option. Taiwan's future will be taken out of the hands of Taiwanese people and put into the hands of the United Front. And the KMT will effectively be rewarded for making it as tough as posisble for the DPP to do anything.

And I see little hope that this can be avoided.

Feb 15, 2008

Hsieh an informant? Candidates' citizenship status to be checked

Next magazine, a racy publication in Taiwan with a Hong Kong owner, published in its most recent issue allegations that DPP presidential candidate Frank Hsieh was a secret informant for the KMT government, reporting on the activities of his fellow Tangwai (黨外) activists.

The allegations are decidedly implausable. In rebuttal, Hsieh also brought up that there were ten people operating a conspiracy theory to discredit his campaign.

Producing copies of newspaper clips reporting on his fights with the Ministry of Justice's Investigation Bureau during the Martial Law era, Hsieh denied informing on democracy activists.

Hsieh said it was his understanding there were 10 people helping Ma with the smear campaign. These people have wanted to "decide the fate of the country" and have played various roles over the years, he said. Some of them were retired intelligence officials and knew a lot of inside information, Hsieh said. Their supervisors did not dare expose them because they knew their supervisors' weaknesses, he said.

Hsieh said he had been asked by the bureau to serve as an unpaid consultant for an advisory commission on an anti-graft crackdown. That consulting job was not a secret and newspapers had reported it, he said.

The 12 commission members included former Judicial Yuan vice president Cheng Chung-mo (城仲模), former grand justice Yang Chien-Hua (楊建華) and prominent legal experts such as Huan Tong-shong (黃東熊) and Tsai Tun-ming (蔡墩銘), he said.

Hsieh said he had joined the commission to push for "sunshine laws" and "legalize" the bureau.

He said he had been under constant surveillance both before and after the DPP was founded....

KMT Legislator Chiu Yi (邱毅) -- who alleged on Wednesday that Hsieh had secretly informed on fellow democracy activists during the 1980s ... said Hsieh had also been evasive when responding to questions on whether he had received a great deal of money from the bureau for "betraying" democracy activists.

OK, I just don't buy it. Doesn't make sense at all.
On an unrelated note, the CEC has said it will check into the citizenship/nationality of both presidential candidates, and will ask them to sign a release form allowing them to make a check with the Americans about Ma and Hsieh's status. A citizenship would disqualify a candidate from running; a valid green card would not. Both camps have signaled a willingness to comply.

Oldest Hieroglyphs Discovered in China’s Ningxia

This is hardly news -- in fact, it's two years old -- but when I was looking for info about the relationship between the Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches and the Phoenician alphabet (a dirivative of Egyptian hieroglyphs and also the parent alphabet of virtually all the world's major scripts), I happened across this article from 2005:

The rock art research center of the Second Northwest Institute for Ethnic Minorities (SNIEM) in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region recently disclosed to the outside world that the most ancient picture writings in China, discovered among the numerous independent cliff painting groups at Ningxia’s Damaidi, are thousands years older than oracle-bone inscriptions. The discovery may change the history of Chinese characters.

According to a report of China’s Xinhua News Agency on Oct. 5, a surprising number of prehistoric cliff paintings were discovered at Damaidi, Beishan Mountain, Weining, Ningxia, which dates back to the late Paleolithic period (Old Stone Age) about 20,000 years ago.

The surveys and studies by cliff painting experts at the SNIEM found that there are 8,453 individual cliff painting figures at Damaidi in 3,172 groups. The figures feature the heavenly bodies (sun, moon and stars), holy spirit of Heaven and Earth, hunting and herding, dancing and sacrificial rites.

These experts determined that the early cliff paintings were 16,000 to 10,000 years old. They have conducted on-sight investigation and in-depth studies on individual figures of the cliff paintings for nearly two years, and their findings have been appraised by Shanghai's ancient Chinese characters expert Liu Jingyun.

The research revealed that the pictures and symbols discovered in Damaidi were Chinese ancient characters, and many of the hieroglyphic and abstract signs have acquired the key elements of ancient writings. Similar hieroglyphic characters can also be found in symbols and signs of the Pottery Writing (5000 to 1600 B.C.) discovered nearly at the same period of time and oracle-bone inscriptions afterward. Moreover, certain compound characters comprised of two or more hieroglyphic signs have also acquired essential elements of hieroglyphic characters, logical aggregates, and self-explanatory characters.

What’s more interesting is that such hieroglyphic signs were not marked sporadically in Damaidi’s cliff paintings; instead, they formed a star-shaped distribution. Li Xiangshi, researcher from the art rock research center of the SNIEM, pointed out that among the 1,500-plus signs of pictures and writings found at Damaidi, only a small quantity of them have been successfully deciphered, yet most remain unknown.

MOE replaces Guoyu with Huayu

The Ministry of Education announced the day before yesterday that it will no longer use the phrase National Language (國語 guoyu) when refering to Standard Chinese or Mandarin Chinese, and instead will use the word 華語 huayu, which can more or less be fairly translated as Chinese Language (the word 華 hua in this context is a geographic reference to the central plains of China -- the same meaning we see in the ROC 中華民國 and PRC 中華人民共和國. You can see hua is now defined as just meaning 'Chinese' in most dictionaries).

Replacing 國語 with 華語 will not be done on elementary school textbooks, though, the place where most kids are first introduced to this phrase by the government.

The MOE will also use 漢字 in place of 中國文字 when refering to Chinese characters.

Now I worked with scholar Robert Cheng when he was chair of the Mandarin Promotion Council. At that time, his group was planning (1) government publication of a new dictionary with Mandarin, Hakka and Holo Taiwanese readings (this project has now been split into various dictionaries as far as I can tell) (2) a draft law to give all of Taiwan's languages protection -- not just Mandarin, Hakka, Holo and the various aboriginal languages, but also those other Chinese languages living on in old military neighborhoods and even the languages of Taiwan's newer immigrant communities.

Key to part (2) was a language equality law which would define the rights of communities to protect their language and give them some resources to do so. The draft law I was discussing with Cheng back in 2002-2003 was innovative in two key respects -- it declined to label any language as 國語, or the national language, and also declined to label any language as 台語, or Taiwanese. Instead, 華語 was used in the draft I translated because it is already a widely used and acceptable term for Mandarin, while 河洛(語) Holo Language -- or was it 福佬 (語)? -- was used for the language commonly used to refer to Taiwanese. This was specifically done to prevent any official termonology from implying that one language represented the country, or that one specific language represented Taiwan.

Also note that this draft bill -- still behing held up by the KMT legislature -- called every language XX語 and not XX話 -- giving all of them the status of a language and none the status of a dialect or vernacular.

I really agreed with these changes, and so I'm not the least bit surprised by the MOE's move. But man, did it ever piss off the UDN, which ran stories about it on page one explaining it and framing it as a De-Sinofication move; a page three lead, saying how pissed the Mandarin teachers are; another page three story about how scholars think it's a dumb move; and an editorial slamming the Ministry of Education. The sister paper, the China Post, was hardly kinder, leading with the headline DPP moves to 'rectify' Chinese language.

These changes will be incorporated into school courses starting from 2010.

But MOE officials said the official subject name of the "national language course" (國語課) in all elementary school curricula will remain unchanged to avoid drastic changes that could be controversial.

But the plan has already invited strong protest from many teachers of the Chinese language. They claimed this was another attempt by the pro-independence DPP to mix education with political ideologies.

MOE officials clarified that these decisions were made by a panel of scholars and experts on Chinese language and literature.

The panel's decision was later endorsed and approved unanimously by a curricula screening committee comprising 47 members, including professors, teachers, and representatives of parents' associations....

Yet most scholars in humanities, including Chinese literature, said "Hua language" is a term used by foreigners referring to the Chinese language used by residents living in Taiwan.

It is unnecessary for residents here to adopt a term used by foreigners, they said.

Wow , I didn't realise the China Post interviewed most scholars in humanities about this topic.

The Liberty Times carried a few articles too, and generally portrayed the DPP move as anti-ideological and in line with globalized trends.

I applaud the MOE's decision, but note they can't do much but change their own use of terminology. It may be some time before the use in social circles changes.

Note: Tim Maddog already covered this topic, specifically the Reuters treatement of it.

Feb 13, 2008

The KMT's majority

I was reflecting the other day on the scale of defeat for the DPP in the legislature and what it means. I know I had a sense of a "permanent majority" re-forming for the KMT, and I think I wasn't alone in that. Still, lately I've been pondering another angle.

For virtually all intents and purposes, the current pro-blue majority is a lot like their last one -- they can control committees, decide what bills pass, and just run the legislative show. The difference is that they will almost certainly be getting far more media attention and "credit" for what they are doing now than they did last cycle.

Technically, they can also recall initiate a recall on the president -- though the referendum on such an issue may keep them in check -- and could amend the constitution, though I can't imagine them doing much more to it than adding a few legislative seats or clarifying a presidential or parliamentary system. Of course, they have rarely shown any restraint in the past on this sort of thing, so perhaps this conclusion is just wishful thinking.

And the KMT wins in some districts were not necessarily huge -- it only takes a little swing to send things the other way in both Taipei County and in Tainan. And with 250,000-300,000 voters per district ... can the legislators really buy everyone off to gaurentee eternal incumbency?

Just putting this out there for discussion. I'm interested in seeing what people think.

DPP to support KMT referendum as well

After ridiculing the KMT for essentially faking their support for the "return to the UN" referendum that will be held on March 22 with the presidential election, the DPP decided to support the referendum regardless.

DPP caucus whip Ker Chien-Ming (柯建銘) explained the move as an effort to out-flank the KMT's likely plan to refuse to take the referendum ballots. The move was approved by both President Chen Shui-bian and Vice President Annette Lu.

There is an odd thing about the press coverage of the referendums: Western media coverage is clearly being driven by Chinese and Taiwanese media coverage instead of the facts. For example, far more attention has been paid to the DPP referendum than the KMT version, mostly because (1) The KMT doesn't say much itself about its own referendum bid, hoping people will forget all about it (2) The CCP appears to have some sort of tactic understanding on the issue with the KMT, and has focused its energy on slamming the DPP proposal while ignoring the KMT's referendum -- pretty much the same play the KMT is running and (3) The DPP has been relatively quiet on the KMT referendum as well, focusing on its own referendum without suggesting any official position on the KMT referendum.

Perhaps this strategic move will also refocus media attention.

We shall see how the KMT reacts. My guess is they will have some rumblings today about how the objection is not to referendums, but to "kidnapping" the election by using referendums; the party will then hold a central committee meeting to formulate an official response, especially with the first presidential debate approaching on 2.24; and finally, the party will officially decide to not take their own referendum ballot on the blatantly false premise that there's something perverted, illegal or anti-democratic about handing out all referendum ballots on the same day as an election.

Update: Looks like I was wrong. According to the China Times via People's Daily, the KMT spokesman welcomes the DPP's support for the KMT referendum, and internal KMT deliberations have decided that rejecting their own UN refrendum ballots would be "too hard" because the DPP could easily "put a red hat on the KMT's head" and accuse them of "singing in concert with the Chinese Communist Party." The KMT still said it opposed holding the referendum with the election in principal, however.

The KMT is holding out the option of asking their voters to not take the DPP's UN entry ballot while taking the KMT's UN reentry ballot, however.

Now this is really getting interesting. For both referendums to fail, I think you'd have to have either (a) a rejection of the referendum topics by the Taiwanese population, in spite of the position of all major parties or (b) continued efforts to actually downplay the referendum by the KMT.

I would note that when the details of Vincient Siew's secret meeting with the KMT leaked to the Apple Daily, one issue was that Siew promised the KMT wouldn't do anything different even if one or both of the referendum topics passed.

Update 2: maybe I spoke too soon. KMT is still asking for the elections to be held seperately, which is of course now impossible because of the CEC's decision -- which neither party can really do anything about.

Feb 5, 2008

Australia raps Taiwan over UN vote plan: foreign minister

CANBERRA (AFP) - Taiwan's proposed referendum on joining the United Nations is "completely inappropriate", Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said Tuesday.
I thought "completely inappropriate" would be reserved for something more serious.
Speaking at a news conference here with visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, Smith said Australia adhered "absolutely" to the one-China policy which it had maintained for more than 35 years.

"We are very concerned to ensure that action is not taken in Taiwan or in the Taiwanese Strait which would cause concern or potential for disharmony in the strait itself," he said.
Well that explains it. Yang just asked Smith to make a strong statement against the referendum, and to do otherwise would have been rude. But I have no sympathy for Beijing's "concern" about "potential disharmony."
"That is why I have told Foreign Minister Yang that Australia regards very much as completely inappropriate the referendum which on Friday was approved for putting to the electorate in Taiwan.

"It does not lead to stability nor harmony in North Asia, and we would we much better off if that referendum had not been proposed," Smith said.

At least they're not suggesting Taiwan somehow cancel it.
China warned Saturday that Taipei's decision to hold a referendum next month on whether to try to join the UN under the name "Taiwan" was a move
towards formal independence and could threaten peace in the Asia Pacific region.

China regards Taiwan as its territory awaiting reunification after they split at the end of a civil war in 1949.
Taiwan, under its official name the Republic of China, lost its UN seat to the mainland in 1971 and is now only recognised diplomatically by 23 countries.

Yang is in Canberra for an inaugural "strategic dialogue" on key global and Asia-Pacific issues, which is expected to become an annual event.

The two countries share a strong trade relationship, with China's hunger for raw materials to feed its rapidly-growing economy helping fuel a mining boom in Australia.


Hey there Delilah

There's a song which is currently popular enough to merit about thirteen dozen plays on ICRT every day. It's the Plain White Ts' Hey there Delilah, a soft little guitar/vocals ditty. I think the chorus is fascinating too. Here is the opening of the song and the refrain:

Hey there Delilah / What's it like in New York City? / I'm a thousand miles away / But girl, tonight you look so pretty / Yes you do / Times Square can't shine as bright as you / I swear it's true

Hey there Delilah / Don't you worry about the distance / I'm right there if you get lonely / Give this song another listen / Close your eyes / Listen to my voice, it's my disguise / I'm by your side

Oh it's what you do to me / Oh it's what you do to me / Oh it's what you do to me / Oh it's what you do to me / What you do to me
Now what's so fascinating here is that obviously, the chorus only spells out half of the construction, and leaves the other half to the listener's imagination. And I wonder if I'm alone in projecting at least a few words of that construction:

1. It's what you do to me [that makes me ... (have a positive emotional response of some sort)]

or perhaps

2. It's what you do to me [that I ... (love, can't do without, etc)]

I get the distinct impression the implied sentence is not

3. It's what you do to me [that my mother can't stand.]

The chorus engages the listener because he or she anticipates the second half of the utterance and will in some way try to finish the sentence. The listener becomes even further engaged because of the need to identify and empathize with the singer in order to make an intelligent guess as to how the sentence ends, which is why possibilities like (3) are not likely interpretations.

Additionally, the sentence is arranged with a sort of emphatic construction "it's x that y" which moves the x element closer to the default subject position -- even though it's not the real subject -- to make x more important. Consider the difference in tone between:

4. It's you that I can't stand.


5. I can't stand you.

I'm not sure there's a way to conclude this post well. It's just a rant that I wanted to post.

The Hsieh campaign

I was holding out hopes that after the legislative elections were over, A-bian would take a back seat and let DPP presidential candidate Frank Hsieh run his campaign on his own terms. Implicit was an understanding that Hsieh would be running a very different, laregely positive campaign focusing on policy and the future. I feel that to date, this has not been the case.

Since taking over the spotlight, the Hsieh campaign has used their airtime to focus laregely on three issues: Ma's past and potentially present holding of a green card, Ma's wife's sale of stocks in violation of a promise by Ma that his family wouldn't be buying or selling stock, supposedly just before it took a dive, and finally, as the Taipei Times puts it, a claim "that Ma accepted NT$500,000 from Taipei City's Association of Architects in 1998 when Ma was city mayor and a renovation code was amended in 2001 in favor of architects."

The Ma camp reacted to the green card issue poorly by displaying only limited photocopies of some documents; the accusations of stock price manipulation were fairly well deflected in my view, and Ma's wife is likely to sue the Hsieh camp; and similar accusations of bribes involving city government decisions during Hsieh's time in Kaohsiung abound, so I see no particular advantage in mentioning them.

The strategy was to demonstrate Ma's lack of honesty, but I don't think any of these issues will influence voters. In my view, Ma's image as "Mister Clean" or as a politician above the fray was already badly enough damaged. His supporters now just considered an effective administrator. There was not a need for more negative campaigning. And the strategy would have worked better in reverse anyway: start by laying out a platter of reasons to vote for Hsieh and then dump a slew of accusations on the market immediately before the campaign is over, leaving less time for the Ma camp to absorb the hit and an overall positive impression of Hsieh's platform.

I'm not suggesting Hsieh has presented an empty plate. His campaign consistantly makes policy announcements and has an economic plan that is more or less identical to Ma's -- tax cuts, greater social spending and special interest group spending (farmers, fishermen, the elderly, the poor in health, etc), closer economic ties with China. But take a look at the policy announcement area of his website. Notice how many headlines are more focused on Ma and the KMT than on Hsieh's own ideas. What's he thinking?

Frankly, I'm not only puzzled but flustered by this campaign strategy. Hsieh has proven himself capable of running a substantial, policy driven campaign as he did when running for Taipei mayor. It's how he got around 40% of the vote. The election is about a month and a half away. In my view, Hsieh was walking into the election with a more or less clean slate. Why has he used it to scrawl attacks on Ma instead of painting a picture for a better future?

Feb 4, 2008

Largest districts

Michael Turton does a good analysis on districts in terms of voting population, which is the figure you'd be looking at if you were gerrymandering. He points out that the number of seats per county seems to favor Taoyuan and Taipei County disproportionately, and should the CEC have been more favorable to the DPP, could have given Tainan and perhaps Kaohsiung another seat while cutting something from Taipei County or Taoyuan.

Of course, the CEC is drawing districts that are largely contiguous and along established county/township lines (there are some exceptions in Taichung, especially). Another goal was to keep communities with common interests together -- hence dividing Yunlin and Miaoli into coastal and interior districts, as both the political leaning and economic interests of these voters differs along these geographic lines. Remember, the average number of voters per county is 230,000 ...

Now if we rank these counties by total population size, which is what the CEC has to work with, we get the following result, where five of the counties with largest population were green, and five were blue:

  1. Hsinchu County (projected independent)
  2. I-lan County (projected green)
  3. Taichung City-2
  4. Tainan County-3
  5. Tainan City-1
  6. Keelung City
  7. Tainan City-2
  8. Taipei City 4 (competitive)
  9. Tainan City-4
  10. Tainan County-2

Most Taipei County, Kaohsiung and Taoyuan seats fall right in the middle of the range of size, with between 250-300,000 voters in each seat.

But if we do a comparison, we do indeed see a relative marginalization of the Tainan voters:

Taipei County averages 283K citizens/seat; Taoyuan, 312; Kaohsiung, ; and Tainan, 372, while a 6th seat in Tainan would have yielded a much more similar 310K/seat.

Still, sometimes you get what you wish for, right?