The Lung Ying-tai That You May Not Know

(China Times blog)  The Lung Ying-tai That You May Not Know -- She is the only person who dares to criticize the Nationalist Party, the Democratic Progressive Party and the Communist Party.  By Huang Ching-lung (黃清龍), editor-in-chief of China Times.  December 26, 2006.

[in translation]

After the publication of <The Proceedings of Lung Ying-tai's Speeches at Harvard University and Washington DC>, the netizens responded powerfully and enthusiastically.  Some agreed with her, some admired her, some rebuked her, some cursed her and all that.  Pro-Taiwan independence, pro-unification ... one label after another was hurled at her.  It was bustling with noise and excitement.

What kind of person is Lung Ying-tai?  The book-reading club that invited her to speak in Washington DC introduced her thus: "Her ancestral home was in Hangshan (Hunan province).  She grew up in a rural area in southern Taiwan.  She was nurtured by Chinese culture.  She harbors a deep emotional bond for Taiwan.  She studied and taught in the United States.  She lived a long time in Europe.  She has traveled over many places and she has experience with complicated international situations.  Lung Ying-tai uses a clear mind to connect history with the present, she understands the conflict between eastern and western cultural values and she employs a tolerant attitude to interpret the world in front of our eyes.  Furthermore, she knows her own limitations and she will not conceal or pretend.  She uses an open mind to face the complex and tricky cross-strait relationship.

It was precisely by "facing the complex and tricky cross-strait relationship" that the one and same Lung Ying-tai is receiving severe criticisms from the opposing red and green camps on the two sides of the straits.  The first type of criticism came from mainland Chinese websites.  One author criticized that Lung Ying-tai was being arrogant and conceited when she complained about the international isolation of Taiwan and therefore she was "conducting a personal battle for Taiwan independence."  The author believed that Lung Ying-tai has committed the typical mistake of pan-blues in Taiwan.  Some of them may get the idea of Greater China, but they ignore the reality that the Republic of China is history.  In truth, the Republic of China of their hearts no longer even exists in Taiwan anymore.  "Lung Ying-tai and them" tried to use their imagination to circumscribe China, but the real China has progressed far beyond their imagination.  This caused them to feel lost, and so they had to use western values and their imaginary Republic of China to smear the real China today.

The other type of criticism represents the viewpoint of the independence advocates.  One author affirmed Lung Ying-tai's series of speeches that identified with a democratic Taiwan, but he also criticized Lung Ying-tai for not being able to break away from the curse of the "cultural China" and not supporting the basic right for the Taiwan people to build a democratic nation.  This author believes that Lung Ying-tai is just like Yu Ying-shih, for they are all struggling and floundering in the dead sea known as "cultural China" in the vain hope of finding a path to modern democracy from within the corruptive and decaying Confucian system of civilization.  Their obsession and insistence on scholarship are ordinarily harmless; but once they are ideologically co-opted by manipulative politicians such as Ma Ying-jeou who have "unification as the ultimate goal" so that their theories are rationalized to advocate "unification as the ultimate goal," then "they are endangering the lives and livelihoods of the 23 million people in Taiwan.  Therefore, we must spot them, we must rebuke them and we must oppose them in clear terms."

These two types of criticisms against Lung Ying-tai both involve the issues of retaining or abandoning Chinese culture and the Republic of China.  At first blush, it would seem that Lung Ying-tai was being attacked by the reds and greens from both sides for supporting the "Republic of China."  Yet, is Lung Ying-tai really a supporter of the "Republic of China"?  "Or perhaps shall one say that her concern about the cross-strait problem is solely in order to defend the existence of the Republic of China?"

Concerning the cross-strait problem, Lung Ying-tai is obviously going beyond the limitations of national borders and traditional culture.  She follows a set of values that are consistent with global civilization.  This can be seen in her emphasis that "the core values of both sides of the strait are human rights and rationality, which are even more important than unification."  In her critical essay about the rulers in Taiwan, she wrote: "It is basic conduct not to take anything from the people; honesty is the first principle."  Confronting the Chinese Communist rulers, her essay emphasized: "Whether you allow the media to be independent or not, whether you respect intellectuals or not, the attitude with which you face your own history, how you treat the people ... every small decision hinges upon the one word 'civilization.'"

If Lung Ying-tai is complaining about the situation in Taiwan, it was less about the "Republic of China" than believing that the isolation of Taiwan is against the United Nations Charter of Human Rights and also unfavorable to improving cross-strait relationships.  When she introduced the literature of tragedy in Taiwan, her major reason was to explore the complex historical background in of Taiwan and the helplessness of the people under those historical circumstances.  From the past of Taiwan, one understands the present and then one can move forward to understand how Taiwan shall step out of the past to move towards the future.  With respect to mainland China, Lung Ying-tai uses the same approach.

According to the logic of Lung Ying-tai, "a democratic Taiwan can be a reference example for China to learn from.  If the international community believes that a democratic China is an essential ingredient to world peace, they should care about Taiwan and bring it out of isolation.  If Taiwan continues to be isolated, there will be obstacles in the development of democracy in Taiwan.  At the same time, the setbacks in Taiwan will make them blame China and ultimately lead to separation.  This will lead to more conflicts and severe consequences."  No matter whether born in Taiwan or China, anyone who does not want to see the internal divisions in Taiwan continue or does not want to see continual confrontation across the strait should contemplate the true meaning of what Lung Ying-tai said above.  They should not arbitrarily assign ideological labels to her based solely upon their own narrowly prejudiced political positions.

As a writer, Lung Ying-tai ought to be playing the role of a critic.  But this is actually her character that caused it.  Russell said that what impels him to express his opinions is "the need for love, the thirst for knowledge and the deep sympathy for human suffering."  Lung Ying-tai believes that this is a description of her own frame of mind.  A cultural critic wrote: "Such a person may become a thorn in the back of those in power and mock the worldly wise ones.  But the person is also like a canary in a coal mine which lets the majority of the people feel safe in the knowledge that fresh air still exists."

Without doubt, such a Lung Ying-tai is destined to be solitary while offending multiple sides.  Yet since writing <The Wildfire Collection> more than twenty years ago to criticize the Nationalists, she has been consistent in holding onto her core values and concepts firmly.  Lung Ying-tai once said: "As a matter of fact, I am just someone who refuses to believe that human rights must not be distinguished by political position.  The Nationalist Party, the Communist Party, the Democratic Progressive Party, whatever f*cking party, if human dignity is not your core value and if you permit human rights to be determined by the powers-that-be, then you are just an object upon which I spit.  You do not intimidate me."

Lung Ying-tai is actually no big deal.  She is merely the only person in Taiwan who dares to criticize the Nationalist Party, the Democratic Progressive Party and the Communist Party.