An­ces­tors’ deeds and sta­tus shouldn’t im­pede sol­i­dar­ity

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

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.

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