The Three Travelers

In The Analects, Confucius wrote:

子 曰 : 「 三 人 行 , 必 有 我 師 焉 . 擇 其 善 者 而 從 之 , 其 不 善 者 而 改 之 . 」

The Master said: "When three people are travelling together, there must be a teacher for me. I select their good points and follow them, and select their bad points and change them [in myself]."

That is very nice, but you won't see that at CKS International Airport in Taipei on this day.

This is the day when KMT chairman Lien Chan returns to China after a visit to mainland China.  When Lien departed, the world was treated to the stunning sight of a mass brawl between Lien's supporters and opponents while the police stood by (see The Big Brawl in Taipei).  It was a monumental sight for all times.  Interior Minister Su Jia-chyuan offered to resign over this debacle, but Premier Frank Hsieh has let him keep his job for the moment.

As reported by TVBS News, at a meeting with the Aviation Security Department, Interior Minister Su Jia-chyuan promised that there would be no more violence.  Su declared that National Police Agency Director-General Shieh Ing-dan will personally take full charge on the scene.  All crowds of demonstrators will be kept at least 300 meters away from the airport terminal.  There will be no assembly inside the terminal.  Su emphasized that if three or more persons are seen to congregate, they will be treated as an illegal assembly.  As such, they will be warned to disperse and that order will be rigorously enforced, including immediate arrest.  There will be 3,000 police at the scene and plenty more (3,000 or 5,000 or even 10,000) can be brought to the scene if necessary.  Every television camera in Taiwan will probably be at the airport on this day.

If you read through The Big Brawl in Taipei, you will have to wonder if Confucius was right.  There were plenty of bad points to learn from the thousands of people present, but none that were good.

What if you were to go by yourself to protest?  According to China Times (via Yahoo! News), the police have declared that any individual or group who exhibit "abnormal behavior" in the restricted area will be arrested.  What is "abnormal behavior"?  The police have listed: illegal assembly, demonstration, raising banners and placards, waving small national flags, silent sitdowns, throwing eggs, playing guitar, playing violin, lighting candles and wearing surgical masks.

This notion that "three persons or more observed together in public without a police permit = illegal assembly" is a familiar joke to older people in Hong Kong.  Once upon a time during the British colonial era, such a statute did exist in the books.  However, enforcement was necessarily selective in nature.  If a police officer did not like the way you and other members of your group look or feel, he/she can indeed invoke the statute to give you a hard time.  The law was on their side.  Meanwhile, millions of illegal assemblies were occurring in public each day and the police wouldn't and couldn't do anything about them.  Here is a list of examples: schoolyard assemblies, Catholic masses, music concerts, movie houses, wedding banquets, group tours, funeral ceremonies, morning tea with friends, bowling competitions, exercise classes, soccer games, and ... horror ... playing mahjong!  They would have to lock up the whole city  if they tried to enforce that statute to the letter.  They could not exempt specific places (such as soccer games or movie houses) because the 'evil-doers' can then congregate in those places to do their law-exempt misdeeds.

Of course, the police seldom had to resort to that statute at all.  Rather, they had an easier one -- the police can arrest and detain someone without cause for seven days; at the end of the seven days, you are allowed to leave the police station whereupon a policeman is waiting to arrest and detain you without cause for another seven days; in fact, they can keep you in there forever in multiples of seven days.

I know of another example of non-enforced statutes of law that always shock people when I tell them about it.  In New York City, there was a hundred-year-old local law that unless you carry more than 30 US dollars on your person, you can be arrested as a vagrant.  On any warm summer evening, the police can position themselves at the Central Park reservoir path and demand the runners/joggers to show that they have more than 30 dollars on their persons.  Which sweating yuppie athlete dressed in shorts and singlets can pass that test?  However, if the police tried that, they would be facing mass riots and the judges would have tossed out the cases as frivolous.  Instead, the NYC vagrancy law is selectively enforced to cleanse undesirables from upscale neighborhoods (Bowery Street bums are normal but not on York Avenue).

(Boston Globe)  1675 Indian ban puts convention bid at risk.  By Keith Reid.  May 11, 2005.

Boston is a finalist for hosting a big convention for minority journalists, but a 1675 law requiring the arrest of Native Americans who enter Boston could prevent the city from winning the bid. 

Officials in City Hall and at the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority met yesterday with the executive director of Unity: Journalists of Color Inc. to discuss repealing the state law, which has remained on the books despite being widely considered unconstitutional.

Its continued presence has sparked ire among some within the journalists' group, which represents Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanics, and Asian Americans working in the news media.  The ban on Indians entering Boston has been on the books since 1675.

We find that still there still remains ground of Fear, that unless more effectual Care care be taken, we may be exposed to mischief by some of that Barbarous Crew, or any Strangers not of our Nation, by their coming into, or residing in the Town of Boston. . . . Secondly, That there be a Guard appointed at the end of the said Town towards Roxbury, to hinder the coming in of any Indian, until Application be first made to the Governor, or Council if fitting, and to be . . . remanded back with the same Guard, not to be suffered to lodge in Town, unless in Prison.