Lung Ying-Tai Confesses To Her Crime

The following is a translation of a Lung Ying-tai essay that appeared simultaneously in China Times (Taiwan), Ming Pao (Hong Kong), Sin Chew Daily (Malaysia) and Southern Metropolis Daily (Guangzhou, China) today.

The Voluntary Confession Report

After Ma Ying-jeou's special fees became an issue for judicial investigation at the end of 2006, I finally realized that the half of the special fees of the leader which does not require receipts may not be part of the salary; instead, it may be public funds which cannot be deposited and spent like personal wages.  Ma Ying-jeou may well be charged by the prosecutor.  The crime may be graft.

I am so astonished.  Since stepping in as the first Minister of Culture of Taipei City in the fall of 1999, half of my special fees -- NT$34,000 -- was directly deposited into my account for wages.  My secretary automatically did that without ever asking me.  Nobody ever informed me that there were other possible ways of handling it.  I remember having a conversation with a public servant colleague.  When I received my first pay stub, I was very surprised because the administrative chief officer of a city in the Republic of China only received about NT$100,000 in pay per month, which was disproportionate to the more than ten hours of work per day and the immense political pressures.  I joked, "This is lower than my writer's royalties."

The colleague said, "Fortunately, the half of the special fees can help a little."

At the city council, there was one year because "Minister Lung" had been "uncooperative," the motion was passed to eliminate one half of her special fees "to signify punishment."

I do not know if there are exceptions.  But in my personal experience as administrative officer, it is obviously common practice to use half of the special fees as supplement wages; the council that oversaw government budget created the one-half of the special fees as extra compensation and therefore used it as chips to "punish" officials.  Officials such as myself would only learn from the case of Ma Ying-jeou (in my case, it was four years after I left the post of administrative officer) for the first time that this was "graft."

I brag about being a person who strictly distinguish between the public and the private.  On my first day at the job, I gave the three telephone numbers of my family members in Europe to my secretary and I made it clear: any charges for telephone calls to these three numbers must be picked out one by one so that I can pay for it personally as opposed to using public funds.  There is also a continuous stream of overseas visitors coming to the Ministry of Culture.  Usually, they will not accept the standard memorabilia and prefer to have an autographed book from the Minister herself.  Cumulatively, this got to be a large quantity and an expensive amount.  I paid for it with my own salary and I did not use public funds, because "Minister" Lung Ying-tai cannot be allowed to make profit for "Writer" Lung Ying-tai.  The former works for the public, while the latter works for herself.

If Ma Ying-jeou were to be prosecuted for graft because half of the special fees was included with the wages, then what happens to me?  What happens to the 6,500 past and present administrative officers of the Republic of China?  Alternately, in a modern society under the rule of law, what should a good citizen do?

I went through the law books to find the "definition of voluntary surrender":  Before the crime was detected, the criminal voluntary describes the facts of his/her crime to the oversight organizations (such as the prosecutor's office or police station) or individuals (such as prosecutors or police officers) on his/her own accord and then accepts the legal consequences.

In terms of the method of "surrendering oneself," one can go to the prosecutor's office and press the bell, but "oral narration or written reports are also acceptable; in the written report, it is not essential to state that this was a voluntary surrender."  Therefore, this particular essay is the document of "voluntary surrender" from the first Taipei City Minister of Culture, Lung Ying-tai.

Yet, while my "voluntary surrender" (or the "voluntary surrenders" of 6,500 individuals) may initiate a judicial process in a technical sense, what does that solve?

Ethics cannot solve legal problems, and the law cannot solve political problems.  When ethics, law and politics are commingled and the true value is confused and unclear, we hastily and cheaply placed the responsibility on the judicial system because we know that we can get a final answer from there.  But we know that the airline schedule can show us the distance and speed between Taipei and Rome and it will tell us whether we can get to Rome in one day, it cannot judge for us whether we ought to be in Rome or whether Rome is our true destination.

The law enforcement must hold his place to defend the basic values of his immovable position.  But society as a whole needs to have a place that is higher in altitude than the rest of the placed.  The white mouse is unable to get out of his maze because he kept running around and around in the runways of the maze.  Without looking down from above, one cannot see the whole layout and detect the exit.  We go around and around with our technical interpretations of the laws, the electoral calculations of the blues and the greens and the game play of the unification/independence issues while we chase our own tails as if that is the target.

The real question posed by the case of Ma Ying-jeou is about from which high point should we look at the mess in order to find an exit.

By custom, I do not answer any inquiries concerning Ma Ying-jeou.  I believe that it is unethical to leverage the observations and understanding of a public figure by virtue of working together closely and sell to the outside as "authoritative information."  But we seemed to have reach a historical intersection of a forking path: if Ma Ying-jeou is prosecuted and if Ma Ying-jeou decides to withdraw from the 2008 election on account of his "personal obsession with moral cleanliness," then what does such a person and such a decision mean for the progress of democracy in Taiwan?

I have no intention of endorsing Ma Ying-jeou.  The painful history that the good and honest Lee Yuan-tseh went through is a frightening and cautionary lesson for intellectuals.  The conclusion is that many political figures are tested by the possession of power and turn into ogres at midnight and then they put on a suit to go to work the next morning.  If someday Ma Ying-jeou were corrupted by power and turned into a power-hungry ogre -- I will not accept any responsibility for him, now and forever.  Everybody should be responsible for his/her own ballot.

So who cares about Ma Ying-jeou?  But for the future of Taiwan, you cannot help but care.  This political figure will affect the future of Taiwan, whether or not he is part of the history of 2008.  Under the special circumstances today, I think that if I can talk about the characteristics of Ma's personality and their relation to the culture of democracy, it may have some historical meaning.  The special circumstances today are that we have gone though many frustrations and people commonly accept this logic: politics is a kind of con game for which you need to find the means.  Someone who "doesn't touch the pot," who has "an obsession for moral cleanliness," who does not divide special interests with others, who does not observe the "code of brotherhood," who does not understand the principle of "you rub my back and I scratch your itch" and who is unskilled at using public resources to swap for personal favors is not a leader who has "charisma" and "capability."

Should this kind of logic be challenged?

I don't know if Ma Ying-jeou has the capability or charisma to do this or that.  But we worked together before, and here are several incidents that made a deep impression in me.

Impression number one.  During a certain presidential election, I who had always refused to participate in any campaign activities received a telephone call in the middle of the night.  The top election manager for one candidate called to say that he urgently wanted to write an essay for that candidate.

I replied with annoyance, "No.  Besides, it is an extremely rude intrusion to call so late at night."

The next morning, I saw Ma Ying-jeou and I angrily told him about this incident.  He smiled and said nothing.  Later on, I realized that he had been under all kinds of pressures because people thought that as a subordinate to Ma, I naturally should help out the campaign of his camp.  Therefore, they thought that Ma should be applying pressure on Minister Lung, but Ma refused flat out: "Minister Lung is not going to do that.  Don't even bother trying."  Because he had repeatedly rejected those requests, they finally resorted to that abrupt telephone call late at night.

Impression number two.  The mayor's office official sent down an official document that was signed and stamped all the way until it landed on my desk.  I was annoyed.  On a certain day in a certain month, a certain economic park zone will be completed and the mayor will be there for the ribbon-cutting ceremony.  To put on a good show, the mayor's office is asking the Ministry of Culture to organize an art exhibit in that park zone; furthermore, the Ministry of Culture is requested to arrange for performance shows.

I wrote on this official document on which there were already many "approved" seals:

1. The art exhibit belongs to the realm of professional arts which has it own strict professional procedures.  It is not appropriate to use an art exhibit to coordinate with the mayor's ribbon-cutting "performance."

2. The Ministry of Culture is responsible to the people, and not to the mayor's aides.  Arranging performance shows may be done for the aesthetic education of the citizens, but not to "coordinate" with the mayor's ribbon-cutting ceremony.  It is more appropriate that the above events be sponsored by the Information Office.


I finished annotating the official document.  Then I asked the department chiefs and workers as well as the chief secretary to come into my office.  I read my annotations and I explained the concept to my colleagues: the Ministry of Culture is independent and responsible to the citizens; we are not the cosmetician for the mayor.  Cultural officials should have this basic concept and make sure that culture will not serve politics from even the smallest places.  This will prevent those in power from blurring the public and the private and abuse their positions.  If there are any more such directives in the future, the same will apply.

After the speech, the other colleagues left except the chief secretary who looked awkward and hesitant.  I knew that he had something to tell me.

He spoke frankly to this "little white rabbit": "Minister, I totally understand your concept and I agree with it.  But is it possible not to put it in writing?  This official document will be sent back and re-read along the way.  This would embarrass people in the mayor's office as well as embarrass the mayor.  That would not be good.  Officialdom has its culture of officialdom.  It is better if I telephone them to explain.  The original annotations can be erased."

I looked at this veteran public servant silently for two full minutes.  I was deeply moved because he was trying meticulously and sincerely to help a person who entered officialdom "by mistake" and he was concerned that she would be hurt.  After due consideration, I said, "I understand your carefulness.  But if I don't put it in writing, then all the public servants along the way who still have the old concepts will not recognize the importance of the independence of cultural administration.  When it is put down in black-and-white, the public servants will have to treat this issue seriously and that includes the public servants in the mayor's office."

As the chief secretary picked up the official document and got ready to leave, I said, "Besides, I am sure that Mayor Ma will support this position."

Actually, I didn't know how Ma would react.  But this was going to be a very good test.  On that evening, I was talking to the mayor on telephone.  So I related the story of this directive.  He listened quietly and then he said in a relaxed tone: "Yes, this is how it should be done.  This kind of concept should be established.  That's very good."  Then we began to talk about other official business.  Afterwards, the Ministry of Culture never received similar directives.

The philosopher Karl Popper who wrote <The Open Society and its Enemies> was observing the new democracies in post-war Europe and he said that it is insufficient to have a democratic framework, because in the end you have to put your traditional culture into that framework.  If the traditional culture cannot nurture a new democratic spirit, then that framework is not much use.  Democracy in Taiwan has been tested and the people have suffered.  Within the framework of electoral democracies, the culture that was put in it was still the culture of selling official positions for money, exchanging special interests, using public tools for private purposes and currying favors for personal gains.  The insiders are still the traditional ones who are good at forming insider cliques while attacking others.

The problem comes: under these atmosphere and circumstances, how shall we look at the special characteristics of Ma Ying-jeou as a political figure?  Should we adopt the views of the groups that form cliques to swap special interests as the political mainstream and criticize Ma's "clean conduct" as a case of political naiveté that does not comprehend power play and ignores reality?  Or shall we treat Ma Ying-jeou's insistence on the "public" as an important value in a modern civic society that should be supported and pursued?

Therefore, the case of Ma Ying-jeou is not just a judicial matter.  The "Ma Ying-jeou phenomenon" is asking us what our values are?  What will our future be like?  What do we imagine democratic politics to be like?  Do we believe that an excellent modern democracy can really take root in the soil of our traditional culture?  If we can understand this from atop, we can decide then  how we want to deal with a political figure such as Ma Ying-jeou.  He may withdraw from the election.  Is this a gain, loss or a matter of indifference for the progress of democracy in Taiwan?

The coming or going of Ma Ying-jeou is not just something for the "blue camp," just as the reform of the Democratic Progressive Party is not just a matter for the "green camp."  The survival of Taiwan depends on having excellent political leaders and excellent political parties.  Ma Ying-jeou and the Democratic Progressive Party are social resources that are far too valuable.  Whether Ma Ying-jeou is capable of being a great politician, or open up democracy in Taiwan, or influence the entire Chinese world is a question at a different level.  I don't know, I won't endorse and I won't discuss.  But if this absurd thing about the special fees brings the possibility that the people of Taiwan will suddenly lose a future choice, then I am uneasy.  I don't care about this person Ma Ying-jeou, but when a choice goes missing, it is a loss of the people's rights and the road becomes narrower.

Therefore, I disapprove of Ma Ying-jeou's so-called "obsession with moral cleanliness."  Does not withdrawing from an election in order to maintain one's moral image seems to be taking one's tiny self too importantly?  Shouldn't Ma Ying-jeou care about the long-term future of democracy in Taiwan just like any other citizen, instead of Ma Ying-jeou's own image?  Compared to the future of Taiwan, what is one's own image?

In the grand scheme of history, where is the place of Taiwan's democracy today?  What other severe and terrible challenges does Taiwan face in the future, especially with respect to cross-strait relationships?  Faced with these serious problems, should the 2008 election be about one's own political career, or should one show the love, duty and responsibility for the trailblazing history and future hardships?  If it is about the love, duty and responsibility for the land and people of Taiwan which nurtured us, then what obstacles are there to be afraid of?  What losses is there to worry about?  What humiliation cannot be endured?

History requires people to bear responsibility.  With a different person, history often goes down another path.  I want Taiwan to have more choices -- the road should be wide and the people should be more tolerant.  The people of Taiwan have been working too hard in the maze, they are too tired and they are too hurt.  We need and we urgently need a broader and tolerant future.