The Poisoned Taiwan Miracle

Several days ago, I translated an article about the newspaper market in Taiwan (see Tabloid Journalism Trumps Politics in Taiwan).  The new development was that Apple Daily had seized the market leadership through a form of tabloid journalism.  The key factor was that they were able to win over young readers with scandals and celebrity news, while avoiding political partisanship.

A short while after that, the investigation report for the 319 shooting came out (see comment 071).  In the China Times (via Yahoo! News) public opinion poll: Do the respondents accept the explanation?  4% totally accept, 15% somewhat accept, 23% are dubious, 17% totally refuse to accept and 41% had no opinion.  By party affiliation, more than 90% of pan-blue supporters think the case is unsolved, whereas 69% of pan-green supporters believe in the official explanation; among the independents, 32% believe in the explanation, but 68% have doubts.  The blogger comment from here was one sentence: "The only certainty here is that party partisanship trumps objective analysis, and this is not the only time."

This happens not only in Taiwan.  Without trying hard to look, I found this July 4, 2004 CBS Poll titled "Polarization in America":

Can the Democrats and Republicans really be living in the same United States of America?  And they all have the same access to information.  Furthermore, you can add more issues: privatise social security? teach intelligent design in schools? criminalize abortion? and you won't need any survey to know how people fall into line according to party affiliation.

For the same phenomenon in the blogosphere, see this previous post: Group Polarization on the Blogosphere.

The following is an translation from an article titled The Taiwan Miracle That Has Been Poisoned By Hatred in The Journalist

A friend said that he does not read political news or commentary in the newspapers or magazines, because "they are often full of hate.  For me, it is not a smart thing to pay money to bring hatred into my home."  The clash between political ideologies has made many people unhappy.  If the struggle was limited only to the fight between unification and independence, or the political power struggle between the blue and green camps, it would not be as bad.  Most citizens would know at least which topics upset them and they can filter out those kinds of information.  Unfortunately, though, the elements of unhappiness are like randomly discarded pollutants that have seeped under the ground to all areas of life.

Water shortage should be an economic problem.  Water works and water resource management are mature subjects of knowledge.  The provision of water is a highly technical problem, and the mature government bureaucracy in Taiwan should have the technical expertise to deal with the matter.  But the whole thing was positioned as a political struggle between the central and local governments from the very start, or even an internal political struggle within the central government.  This was how the government officials behaved, and the media also looked at this economic problem from political angles.  The black-and-white political positions restricted any professional and technical discussion.  In truth, if the whole problem was really a question of water resource management, there would not be many people taking any interest in it.  In order to charge up the news, the media would not let the water problem go back into its transparent form; instead, they have to inject more dye materials.  Within the same media organization, we can even see analyses with conflicting viewpoints but co-existent commentaries.  The internal contradictions are unimportant, so long as all the articles point to the same end: they support a certain political camp or they criticize the other political camp.

The problems of inflation and "pain index" are even easier to process.  The media need only reduce the responsibility down to two points: (1) this government cares only about political struggles and does not care if the people live or die; (2) for ideological reasons, the government refuses to allow the Three Communications, and therefore the economy of Taiwan is doomed.  No matter what economic problem comes up, those two reasons become the ultimate answer.  Even specialized economic media will carry these kinds of commentary.

The media are like groundwater carrying the pollution of hatred everywhere.  Of course, the politicians themselves are the source of the pollution.  In Taipei City, a police informant for stolen cars wanted to deliver results and went into Taipei County to steal cars himself.  After the case was exposed, the Taipei County head and the Deputy Police Director held a press conference to accuse Taipei City.  It is astonishing that the very busy Taipei County head would make time to hold a press conference and use this hot headline news to poke at their neighbors who are ruled by a different political party.  Should not the Taipei County head be spending his effort to get the county police to have closer liaison with the city police in order to close the loopholes?

Under the pollution of political division, Taiwan society is divided into two groups of people.  They judge public events according to two different sets of facts and authorities that are totally opposite and therefore their conclusions are totally opposite.  Perhaps they each know that they do not have the absolute majority, so they end up shouting louder and overstating their cases for their self-satisfaction.

The sixtieth anniversary of the ending of the Pacific war was another illustrative example.  The government approves the fact that the Japanese Prime Minister did not visit the Yakusuni Shrine.  The unification camp was full of doubts, and hoped that the emergent strong China would teach Japan a lesson.  The independence camp believed that the "termination of the war" led to Taiwan being handed from one colonialist power to another one.  The unification camp believed that the "de-colonization" of Taiwan after the "War of Resistance Against Japan" was equivalent to "sinofication."  The media paid their attention to a new book which asserted that in 1945, the Japanese issued large amounts in Taiwan currency and caused inflation.  It is as if the issuance of Taiwanese currencies for a brief period of time (note: one scholar even suggested that this currency policy led to the 228 incident) can erase the even worse policy error whereby the Nationalist government under-valued the Taiwan currency in setting the exchange rate with the Chinese currency at the time.

The quarrels in Taiwan can no longer be described as 口水 (literally, saliva, but refers to free-swinging opinionating).  Taiwan has been poisoned by hatred.  The politicians create it and the media spread it.  The haters are especially sensitive to it, they react strongly to it, they become more obstinate in their positions and they insist on disagreeing rather than agreeing.  Who can say: Taiwan is a "body with a common fate"?

Blogger's comments: There will be people who would not regard this as a problem and think instead this is a triumph for democracy with full freedom of speech.  But the fact that Apple Daily is succeeding means that the the younger generation are being turned off from politics.  Not only do they refuse to hear about party politics, they don't even want to deal with anything else that is contaminated by partisan politics, when in fact those are critical issues in their lives (such as water management, environmental pollution, and so on).