How I am Learning the Lesson of "Chen Shui-bian"

(China Times)  How I am Learning the Lesson of "Chen Shui-bian".  By Lung Ying-tai (龍應台).  August 23, 2006.

[in translation]

I admit that I have been taking class like an elementary school student taking civic class.  The subject of the lesson is "Chen Shui-bian."  The subject was truly "astounding" and the test questions appended at the back of the lesson were much more difficult than I anticipated.

I am someone who has personally witnessed the dissolution of the Soviet empire, the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the Tienanmen incident, the Hong Kong July 1st march and I wrote the Wildfire Collection in authoritarian Taiwan.  But Taiwan politics today still astounds me: in the history of the Republic of China that we have personally experienced, who has seen a president's family and aides engage in such disgusting things?

Who has heard of the President's Office, which is the highest symbol of the nation, engaging in creating fake accounting books?  Who has seen a Control Yuan that only has air-conditioning but no committee members?  Who has ever seen a Minister of the Interior with so little knowledge and appreciation of the law?

Who has seen a president acting like a seven-year-old brat who gets mad at the criticisms from the people by responding, "I will not stand here and take the hits"?  Who has ever seen an opposition party become corrupt in such a short time after assuming power?

Who has seen a million small citizens register to donate money in order to express their anger against their rulers?  Who can imagine that when 20,000 people sleep on the plaza outside the President's Office, how will all this end?

Who can imagine that Taiwan would produce its local version of Richard Nixon/Alberto Fujimori/Roh Tae Woo/Ferdinand Marcos?  Who can imagine what the people ought to do when they run into their local version of Richard Nixon/Alberto Fujimori/Roh Tae Woo/Ferdinand Marcos?

In 2006, Taiwan is very 'chaotic.'  But its 'chaos' is still not genuine chaos in my opinion -- not turmoil or disturbance.  Taiwan is a newly risen democracy.  The meaning of a newly risen democracy is that there are many significant and emerging problems that appear for the first time during the practice of democracy.  People know that previous principles and viewpoints are no longer applicable, but they lack a new set of criteria of judgment that is readymade for the new problems.

What happened overseas cannot be directly used because of the big differences in historical conditions, cultural constitution and developmental stage.  When every person has his/her own set of criteria which conflict with each other, there are endless arguments.

"Chaos" is actually the noise during the process by which a newly liberated society finds its new values and consensus.  This type of "chaos" is simply the inevitable historical process through which a society makes the transit from authoritarianism to democracy and we are practicing on the road to democracy.

The lesson known as democracy has an endless number of test questions.  When we come to the chapter known as "Chen Shui-bian," there are many levels of indistinguishable "grayness" between the black and the white.  This caused me to pause after writing Today's Lesson: Character and think again.  Test question 1: Should Chen Shui-bian resign?

Speaking for the Democratic Progressive Party, Yu Shyi-kun said that in a nation under the rule of law, when there is insufficient legal proof that a president is corrupt, he should not be forced to quit because morality cannot replace legality as the standard.

This argument cannot be dismissed on account of Yu's status on behalf of the "defendant" because this is an issue that demands 100% seriousness.  All those who want Chen Shui-bian to quit must explain their reasons of objection to this argument in order to properly "bring down Ah-Bian."

My thought: Legally speaking, a president who has not been found guilty under the law does not need to resign.  But if politically he has become the source of social instability and political turmoil; if in terms of moral trust, he has become the subject of contempt by the people; if the President has lost the mutual trust with the majority of the people (the 18% public support should be a clear "assessment of truth), then he ought to bow to the people in apology and resign on his own.

He is conscience-stricken about the political responsibility assigned to him by the people because he has caused social instability and political turmoil; he is ashamed about the moral expectations from the people because his family is degenerate, his aides are corrupt and his personal trustworthiness is bankrupt.  Political responsibility and moral expectations cannot be written into legal regulations, but you cannot say that something does not exist unless it is expressed in legal articles.  The democratic rule of law emphasizes the importance of legal articles, but we cannot forget that the legal articles are the minimum (and not the sole) standard for maintaining order and mutual trust in society.

The citizens are asking Chen Shui-bian to apologize and quit not because he has committed any "crime" against the law, but because during the development of the case, he has thoroughly lost the trust and respect of the people.  Without trust and respect, he cannot effectively command the team and lead the nation.  The chairman of the Democratic Progressive Party offered the minimum standard as the totality of democracy, and this only goes to show how where the highest democratic ideal of this political party lies.

My demand is therefore the same as the 1 million NT$100 citizens: President Chen, please give us back our nation.

But how shall we let a president leave without completing his term?  The recall process failed and public opinion pressure has no effect.  That brings us to test question number 2: How can you make him leave?  Can you do that with mass movements -- a million people can "register" their protest; 200,000 people can march in the streets; 10,000 people sit in quietly through the night; will that do?

My thought: It depends on which type of "mass movement" you mean.

If it is a legal and non-violent march, sit-in or demonstration, then these are proper methods of expression within the democratic system.  If the process is legal and abides by the rules, such public expressions should be equally respected as lining up to vote on election day or casting a recall vote in Parliament.  The government must tolerate them, the police must protect them and society must respect them.  Assembly and marches are basic rights for citizens, and they are also progressive forces for societal development.

I do not oppose on million people standing peacefully on the streets to ask Chen Shui-bian to quit.  They are expressing a certain attitude and a certain value.  When people stand in Ketagalan Boulevard, they only want to let their children know: certain values cannot be sacrificed and certain rights/wrongs cannot be made fuzzy.

But I hope more that Chen Shui-bian would offer his resignation before the people go out into the streets because he "loves Taiwan" and because he wants to do it for the sake of social harmony and his own reputation in history.

Yet, if the so-called mass movement refers to the impassioned "People's Revolution"-style mass actions during the totalitarian era to "surround the President's Office" or "paralyze traffic" or use "clashes and bloodshed" to showcase "People Power," then I am sorry to say that I oppose this "People Power."

In a dictatorship, using extreme mass action methods to force a leader to quit is absolutely appropriate.  But within the design of a democratic system, there is a supposition; if the leader that you elected was a madman or crook, you must use either "recall" or "censure" to "delete" him midway.  If the action fails, then you must "restart" and use your vote to "eliminate" him in the next election and put him back into the "recycle bin."  If the "recall" or "censure" buttons failed, then you ought to go back and fix them.

Since the "delete" and "reboot" are in the system design, "People's revolution"-style mass movements have no room in a democratic system.

Therefore, the key lies in just which kind of movement is Shih Ming-teh's "one hundred dollar movement"?

The clear-headed Shih Ming-teh proclaimed "non-violence" and so he is obviously hoping to have civilian practice under the democratic definition.  He spent half his life in prison to gain his reputation and he is willing to risk that reputation under the smears by his opponents.  His willingness to oppose his former comrades is a model example for civil resistance.  If this was a peaceful and legal sit-in, then the 1 million "anti-Bian" donors and the people sitting in the plaza are actors in the civic society.  We are not afraid there are too many of them; we are only afraid that there are not enough of them.

But do the people really understand our subtle distinctions here?  Art the opinion leaders really avoiding fear?

When the sensationalistic television media continue to report on the rapid rise of the number of "anti-Bian" assembly and then present scenes of the Moscow Red Square and the confrontation between people and tanks at Tiananmen Square, they seem to be promoting a certain romantic aesthetic of "People's revolution" and they seem to hint that people must have the passion for "justice" and the impulse for "bravery."  At the same time, Vice-President Annette Lu even used Tiananmen Square as the example to warn people who were about to join.

I cannot believe my own eyes:  how can Tienanmen Square and the Red Square in the 1980's possibly be compared to today's democratic Taiwan?  The resistance at Tienanmen Square and the Red Square was the resistance against the totalitarian authorities by an oppressed people who were stripped of their rights and had no alternative.  But the people in Taiwan today hold the vote and they completely decide who shall rule; when the citizens can use the piece of paper to "overthrow" a government, why would you be talking about tanks?  When the law guarantees the people's right of freedom of assembly, why would you issue warnings by invoking the bloody suppression at Tienanmen Square?

When the rumors of "assassination" and "defense" rise, when the photographs about how the razorblades on the police barriers can rip out human flesh are shown repeatedly and when the "contest of wills" of "only one of us will remain standing" is treated as a "duel," then I begin to feel uneasy.  When the Democratic Progressive Party completely abandoned the civilized rules as the governing party and begin to use Cultural Revolution-style methods of mass struggle against Shih Ming-teh, I begin to see the "wire meshes" of hatred being silently erected in the shadows.

The tense "duel" is not civic practice.

An impassioned "People's revolution" will only overthrow democracy.

Then there is the problem that must be answered.

This is my test question number three: Will you donate NT$100?

It gave me a "headache" for one full week.

My thought: I won't donate.  Because bringing down Chen Shui-bian is not the most important issue.

At the moment when the black box known as "Chen Shui-bian" was opened, so many problems appeared like a dense horde of flies hitting your face.  These are questions that a newly risen democracy has never deal with, or even thought about.

Question 1: President Chen Shui-bian was elected through a democratic process.  Two years ago, more than six million people voted for him to govern this nation.

Those who did not vote him apparently did not have sufficient power to prevent his election.  Therefore, the elevation of Chen Shui-bian must be said to the collective choice of the more than six million who voted for him as well as the more than six million who did not vote for him.

So now Chen Shui-bian has failed the country.  But when will the people start to examine their own responsibility?  Do those who voted for him back then admit that they made the wrong choice?  What were they thinking when they made their wrong choice?  Did those who voted against him back then have the wrong reasons?

If we don't examine this thought, then aren't we doomed to make the same type of mistake?  Aren't we watching the people of Chen Shui-bian's home town of Kuantien organize a Qing-dynasty-style "self-defense force" to ward off "external aggression"?

Question 2: Do our voters recognize adequately that the vote in their hands can have certain serious consequences?  If we did not have that awareness at first and therefore we were rash or ignorant, then we are now being tortured and punished for our rashness and ignorance by having an immoral president.  Is this the lesson that we should learn and the price that we should pay?  Is this in the contract between us and the democratic system that we should pay the price for this mistake?

Question 3:  If on this occasion, we got so angry that we could not wait until the next election and we therefore resort to street demonstrations.  For every time in the future, if we think that we chose the wrong person, then should we also use mass demonstrations to force the president to quit?  Under what circumstances should we patiently wait for the next four-year election and use our votes to "delete" him?  Under what circumstances should we not wait and initiate a mass movement?  What are the criteria of judgment?

Question 4: What type of system produced Chen Shui-bian?  What type of system gave Chen Shui-bian so much power?  What kind of system allowed him to concentrate power and encouraged his corruption?  What kind of system made us discover the abuse of power and corruption of a President but still we could not cause him to quit?  What is wrong of political partisanship that we have no exit even though we are so aggrieved?

If we do not thoroughly examine and deal with the system that produced a political figure such as Chen Shui-bian and all the ideology and culture that are related to this system and we lock ourselves down on the single subject of "bringing Chen Shui-bian down": then I ask, how could the next person who ascends to the same position under the same system be any different?

We are all very worried about the lack of progress in our country; we are very disappointed with a governing party that has lost its ideals; we are angry at an incompetent and immoral president.  But the angrier we get, the more calm we need to be.

At the moment when the black box is opened and the flies rushed out, the question of whether to kill all the flied on the face should not be the 'sole' issue as hyped up by the media, and we should not treat this as a "life-or-death" duel.  The really important mission is to understand why the black box contains flies.  We should spend our efforts to understand where the flies are hidden and thoroughly understand the structure of the black box itself.  Otherwise, you can kill this batch of flies but the black box still exists and the next batch of flies is waiting to come out.

I am even worried that precisely because "killing all the flied on the face with one slap of the hand" is such a satisfying rapid action that it will get the focus of all the emotions and attention of the people.  Meanwhile, the real problems about the black box known as "Chen Shui-bian" -- the structural, the systematic, the philosophical and cultural -- are being pushed to the fringe.

The examination of the system, the reform of the mechanisms, the deepening of the democratic quality of the people and so on may be regarded as lofty, empty, remote and therefore forgotten in this angry mood that seeks release.  Yet, there will come a day (sigh!) when we have to start all over again.

I elect "not to donate NT$100" as a small voice that "dares to rouse the public ire": the object of the "duel" should not be the president with less than 20 months left in his term and a public standing lower than the knees.  It should be about the entire system that nurtured this type of person and permitted him to hang on and all the thinking in the people's minds behind this system.

To "overthrow' someone requires passion and anger.  Reforming the system, elevating culture, identifying the source of the problem and providing the proper solutions require an extreme level of calmness, deep thinking, long-range visions, grand knowledge and relentless persistence.

Truly, this is an extremely difficult lesson.