Ancestors’ deeds and status shouldn’t impede solidarity
Less than a week after Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen ( ) called for a “defamation-free campaign,” she and the Kuomintang’s (KMT) presumptive presidential candidate are both under a barrage of attacks from one another’s support base.
“I expect that this election campaign between two women will give the public a new image and create a true paradigm for democracy,” Tsai had said after opinion polls gave Deputy Legislative Speaker Hung Hsiu-chu ( ) over 30 percent of the KMT’s support, making her the party’s presumptive candidate for 2016.
So far, Tsai’s fresh and clean election culture has not materialized. On social media platforms, netizens are claiming that Tsai’s father owned the seafood restaurant chain Hai Pa Wang ( ), which had invested heavily in China.
Meanwhile Hung, who awaits the official confirmation of her candidacy at the KMT’s national party congress in July, has faced an assault from pan-green television pundits accusing her father of being a communist agent. Her father, the late Hung Zi-yu ( ), was imprisoned on Green Island for three years for alleged communist collaboration during the White Terror. He was later acquitted of the charges.
Taking the candidates’ ancestors to task is a strange exercise that is also vaguely paternalistic. This week, the “daughter-of” label has taken on an outsized importance in national talk-show discourse, and the candidates have been all but eclipsed with aspersions of the supposed advantages or personal defects gained through their fathers’ positions.
Undermining candidates by undermining their ancestors is also a dispiriting campaign strategy that reinforces the idea that social order is immutable.
This is an idea that, in today’s Taiwan, does more harm than good. We have a young democracy, in which the population continues to be fractured by provincial origins, and where ancestry is still a valid social index. But if Taiwanese are to eventually consider themselves a cohesive people, the grip of ancestry needs to be allowed to lose some of its strength and the public must believe that anybody, through determination and good luck, can choose to be whoever she wants to be.
The choice is important because if we cannot choose, we are all bound to go down with our ancestors. Each of us has something to account for: Many of our ancestors displaced others; some murdered and plundered while the majority survived through varying degrees of questionable cooperation with colonizers, local rulers and governments across the strait. Some fought for freedom from Japan and a return to Qing China; others pursued freedom from China.
Taiwan’s political and cultural landscape is transforming more and more rapidly, and one moment’s heroism will be the next’s original sin. At some point in the future, each of us or our descendents will be called to answer for historic injustices, and at that moment, the only redeeming answer will be that anyone, regardless of the circumstances of birth and background, can become an accomplished person and an upstanding citizen.
In the next seven months of the presidential campaign, that is the narrative we should be telling — of Taiwan as a meritocracy with a future — instead of getting to the truth about the senior Hung’s imprisonment, about Tsai’s father’s financial status or identifying which candidate has the very worst background and the least amount of privilege. It is not clear yet what a fresh paradigmatic election culture might be, but what we have so far isn’t it and will bring down both of the candidates and the voters, too.