A Cockroach in Taiwan
More snarky material here on democracy as
practiced in Taiwan. This one is truly pathetic. Try convincing
mainland China that this kind of democracy is the best way to go!
Why do these things happen? Politicians get
elected in Taiwan by winning popularity contests, and that requires high name
recognition. Therefore, they are compulsively addicted to find ways of
staying in the media limelight. They will make a sensationalistic charge
and accuse the government of sins of commission and omission, and they will take some shortcuts
(and even big cuts) to make the charge stick while anticipating no repercussions if
the charge should be proven false.
This present case is an
example of the worst of the worst. In the end, there will be those who say
that the system worked because the truth came out. But the system certainly did not work for
those restaurants whose business suffered due to the unsubstantiated blanket
charge. While some of the media did raise doubts about the story, most of
them gladly took the story and ran with it to the full tilt. The main
culprit here was also simultaneously a Taipei city councilor and a television
program host, which was the combination of the worst with the worst.
Chronology of Events (Apple
Daily mostly, but also bits and pieces from more than two hundred other
- June 2, 2005: People First Party Councilor Wang Yu-cheng
went public with a video-tape of a man in black (whom Wang characterized as
a "Funeral Food Offering Cockroach" (腳尾飯蟑螂))
taking funeral parlor food offerings (chicken, pork, fish and rice) and
selling them to local restaurants. The released videotape had two
segments. The first segment shows a man in black picking up a bag of
food from an alleged funeral parlor worker wearing a hat. The second
segment shows that the man in black went into a restaurant, held a brief
conversation with a restaurant owner, deposited the bag and walked out.
- June 3, 2005: At the City
Council meeting, Wang asked mayor Taipei City Mayor Ma Ying-jeou if he was
willing to consume the beancurd cubes made from funeral food offerings taken
from Taipei First and Second Municipal Mortuary. Wang put on a great show accusing the city of negligence. When Ma
begged: "Will you let me explain?" Wang said, "What do I want
you to explain? It is all on video. What can you possibly
Wang named eleven restaurants as being purchasers and re-sellers of funeral
parlor offerings. Business at all the restaurants in the same neighborhood
plunged as a result of the news.
- June 4, 2005: After an
investigation, the Taipei City Department of Health found that several of
the restaurants named by Wang were either out of business or non-existent at
the time when Wang claimed the tape was made (in March 2005). Doubts
begin to emerge from all sides. For example, it was cold in March this
year, so why was everybody in the video in short sleeves? Furthermore,
Wang claimed that the rice was taken to be made into beancurd cubes whereas the
manufacturer said that rice is not (and cannot physically be) an ingredient.
- June 4, 2005: Wang declared
that he has received threatening telephone calls ("if the investigation
continues, your whole family will be dead") and filed a report at the
police station. The press quoted Wang's six-year-old daughter asking,
"Why do I have to go into hiding?" He says he will have to
quit exposing evil in order to protect his daughter. Two of his aides have
reportedly quit as a result of the threats, but those two will come back for
a press conference three days later.
- June 6, 2005: Wang went to
visit the markets and restaurants in the area to apologize to the owners
whose businesses had been devastated as a result of the charges even though
they had nothing to do with the allegations, but he
insisted that the selling of funeral parlor offerings was happening.
The police tracked down two persons who own the motorbike (note: the license
number can be read from the videotape), but they had not seen it for some
- June 6, 2005: Mayor Ma
Ying-jeou went to eat at the market to show that he was confident that the
"dead persons' meal" is a rumor.
- June 7, 2005: Mayor Ma
Ying-jeou demanded that Wang produce the master tape and other proof,
because it might clarify some details (e.g. How did the cameraman in a car get to the
restaurant before the man in black on the motorbike? What did the restaurant workers do with
the bag of food? and so on). Wang said that he could not find the
master tape because it was taken a while ago.
- June 7, 2005: The man in black
was arrested by the police based upon a tip from someone who recognized him,
and he promptly confessed. He admitted that he was a friend of an aide
of Wang Yu-cheng, and play-acted the part upon request from that aide.
The motorbike was provided by Wang's aide, who had it without the owner knowing. The funeral offerings exhibited
were purchased from a food market, and not removed from a funeral
parlor. The alleged funeral parlor worker was play-acted by one of
Wang's aides wearing a hat. The man in black had gone into the
restaurant, placed an order, left the bag temporarily to go across the
street to buy a cup of tea, came back and picked up his order and the
bag. Then he took the bag home, and ate the food. He said that
the aide had promised him that the video footage would have the words
"simulated footage" on it.
- June 7, 2005: After news of the
arrest of the man in black appeared, Wang Yu-cheng and
three aides held a press conference, in which they admitted that the video-tape
was a simulated act recorded on May 28, 2005. As the aide explained
what had happened, his story got stranger and stranger about the motorbike
which had been reported as stolen by its previous owner. So the aide
got down on his knees in front of the media and swore an oath that he was
telling the truth: "I swear that everything I say is true. If I
tell any lies today, may I be run over by a car!"
Wang is the host of a television program on social issues on ETTV-S, and had
been trying to investigate this type of case. On June 2, TVBS-NEWS
reported on funeral parlor offerings. The ETTV-S people had a huge row
with Wang, accusing him of feeding the information to the rival
channel. So Wang ended up offering the video-tape of the man in black
Wang said that the aides did so without his knowledge, but he was willing to
accept full responsibility. When asked why he did not see that the
alleged funeral parlor worker wearing the hat was his aide, he claimed that
the camera was too far away and the focus was fuzzy. Wang insisted that
the re-selling of funeral parlor offerings exists and that the mayor should not lose
focus on the real issue.
- June 8, 2005: The People First
Party suspended Wang Yu-cheng from the party indefinitely, and he wept: "Leaving the PFP is the severest punishment for me.
I don't want to leave the PFP. I didn't do this deliberately. It was done out of good intentions." He
won't quit as councilor, because "it would be a betrayal of the voters
who supported me." Wang also had his television show cancelled by
Yu-cheng, his three aides and friend may in fact have no legal liabilities
for putting on this show. The beleaguered restaurant owners may file
civil suits, but it would be difficult to assess damages; the funeral
parlors have sued Wang for 10 million NT dollars, but their civil
equally uncertain. And it is unclear what municipal legal statutes (if
any) had been violated.