The <Far and Wide Weekly> Interview of Lung Ying-tai

On May 17, 2007, the famous writer, scholar and Taiwan Tsinghua University and Hong Kong University professor Lung Ying-tai was invited by Cambridge University (UK) to deliver a speech (in English) about getting more international space for Taiwan.  The speech was published in China Times (in Chinese) from which a translation was made available at this website: If You Want Peace, You Must Not Keep Hurting Taiwan.  After the speech, Professor Lung was interviewed by <Far & Wide weekly> researcher Michael Anti and she explained her views about cross-strait politics, responsibility for political speech, etc.  Here is the translation of the interview.

(Far & Wide Weekly via Boxun)  

[in interview]

Q: Professor Lung, when did you first begin to address the mainland Chinese readers specifically?  Did you start with <Freezing Point>?

A: I would not say so.  I began to pay attention to mainland China in 1995 when I started a column with <Wen Wei Po> (Shanghai).  At the time, I began to receive letters from readers.  I felt like a novice and I began to learn about this society gradually.  With the passage of time, I increased my effort.  The <Freezing Point> episode can therefore be said to be a climax (translator's note: see Please Use Civilization To Convince Us).

Q: Your essays are published in six places (mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, the Chinatowns around the world) simultaneously.  Do you find it difficult to take all the viewpoints around the world into consideration?  It must be like a tight-rope walking act.  This is especially true for the Taiwan problem.  The basic viewpoints of the Taiwan and mainland readers are on opposite sides with respect to this problem.  Do you run the risk of offending both sides?

A: As a result, some of these essays are very specific and I will not offer them for the other places.  Sometimes I will have to add an editor's comment or a preface.  This is a relatively complicated problem.  I think that the people on each side of the strait must learn how the other side thinks and how they use their language.  Therefore, I will not modify the content but I will add a comment up front as a guide.

Q: As a writer, you are very much involved in political commentary.  Are there negative consequences?  Some people may think that your long-term professional research are on literature and sociology, often serving as the voice of conscience for writers.  Are you out of your depth in complex political problems?

A: I have two identities.  One is a writer.  The other is a citizen.  I never claimed to be a Sinologist or a China research specialist.  At the start of today's speech, I emphasized this point.  I am not a political scientist either.  I don't care about the political scientist's methods and viewpoints about some matter.  I am writing from the viewpoint of a writer and a citizen.  In a diverse and open democratic society, I write my thing and you write your thing, and the readers can choose for themselves.  Conversely, I have never demanded the scholars to write according to my way.  I am therefore no different from the scholars in my position.

Q: Many of your readers are your admirers and treat you as a guide and authority in matters of life and literature.  You have now entered a highly controversial area.  When you enjoin a political topic, should you have the political responsibility on account of that authority instead of simply treating yourself as a person exercising her free speech?

A: No.  As a writer, I don't think about how my so-called authority might influence this or that at all.  The only things that I am responsible to are my conscience and my words.  I only consider whether I have used the best words to express my ideas.  I do not consider the tangential issues that you talked about.  Just as I do not expect that the government should be responsible for me, I do not think that I should be responsible for any reader because the readers have to be responsible for themselves.  I can only responsible for my words, my observations, my thinking and my conscience.  When I have passed my self-examination on these principles, the essay shall be published.  It is your own choice whether you accept it, whether you treat it as authoritative, whether you completely disagree with it, or whether you did something as a result of agreeing with it.

Q: Can you talk about your experience at the Taipei Ministry of Culture?

A: Obviously, I learned to be humble.  As an intellectual, the criticisms directed at me used to be at an elevated level.  One of the most important reasons for entering the government was to test if my previous commentary had been right.  That was one thing.  The other thing was that a Taipei city minister actually has quite a bit of power and I wanted to know what kind of person I would become if I have power in my hands.  It is usually said that power is the most crucial test and this was a matter of self-discovery and self-testing for me.  When it was over, I learned that it was hard to accomplish something and I may become more cautious about making criticisms after I left government.

Q: You spoke today about the sense of isolation of the Taiwan people internationally.  Many mainland people in the audience raised certain questions because they felt that your assertion was very peculiar.  Compared to the Taiwan people, the mainland people felt that they were even more isolated internationally.  The Taiwan people have greater understanding and closer relationships with the world, exceeding those of mainland China by far.  Perhaps you were speaking in English to the Europeans, but maybe you should explain this problem to your mainland readers.

A: What you say is interesting.  We are actually speaking about different things.  Therefore, the reaction of the audience today is helpful to me to the extent that we need to explain different things in different language environments.  My logic was that Taiwan had a living standard, economic status and educational level comparable to nations like Spain and Greece.  In a certain sense, Taiwan is a de facto nation.  But it is under a blockade which imposed unacceptable and undignified conditions of living, which do not exist for these other nations.  The so-called blockade that they are talking about in mainland China are not the same conditions.  The "blockade" of mainland China is the various kinds of blockades over the past fifty or sixty years, including their own self-imposed blockade.  Therefore, if you must compare the blockades on mainland China and Taiwan, you must distinguish between them.  In that sense, mainland China is under an even stronger blockade than Taiwan is.  Therefore, the audience reaction today was normal.

But we are actually talking about completely different platforms.  For example, when the African leaders were meeting in Beijing, the local newspapers carried many reports.  The teachers talked about the background knowledge of these African countries and that was an internationalized education for the young students.  Meanwhile, the government officials had to prepare many documents because this meeting was being held here and they learned what one must do to deal with this or that country, etc.  When you can have hold such a meeting, then every level of society is learning the international experience.  Such experiences are cumulative.  But Taiwan has no such opportunities because they have been completely ostracized.

Q: Let us review the WHO problem.  You used SARS as the example to call attention to the situation of Taiwan.  I can understand the problem that you brought up, but I kept feeling that you were unwilling to offer a solution.  You brought up a problem that everybody knows about.  But what is the solution?

A: I cannot provide a solution, unless I run for the presidency.  Ma Ying-jeou and Frank Hsieh must provide the solutions.  Ma Ying-jeou has brought that out clearly in his cross-strait policy -- on the international problem, the KMT must sit down with Beijing at the negotiation table.

Q: As I was saying, you were facing an European audience and you were definitely calling for something.  What exactly were you calling for?

A: My first call of the day was that the Europeans should recognize what the problem is.  The blockage of Taiwan was not as simple as the western world understands it.  They believe that it was just a political blockade.  They did not know that the long-term political blockade also permeates into all levels of society and life, including the arts, academics and literature.  My second call was that the blockage of Taiwan was not just about the problem of Taiwan itself.  The goodness or badness of democracy in Taiwan is an important factor in the search on mainland China about the future of its modernization.  Therefore, I attempted to present this logic out today.  If you believe that the peaceful and stable development of China is important for world peace , then you must believe that the development of the democratic system in Taiwan is an important factor in coming up with a good model for the democracy in China.  Under this kind of logic, the western world should know that the very fragile state of democracy in Taiwan requires your intervention.  I was addressing a European audience today.  Under the democratic system in Europe, you first identify the problem and the next step is for you to influence your government.

Q: To influence the government to do what?

A: For example, Europe has a very strong NGO sector.  The strength of its NGO's is comparable to that of the government.  Therefore, the first thing about the China policy is to include this factor in policy formulation.  Secondly, the civil sector can enhance the NGO's to provide Taiwan with various opportunities under the blockade.  Taiwan cannot join the United Nations and it cannot join the WHO, but the World Dentists Association, the World Writers Association and other NGO's can be encouraged to form relationships with Taiwan.  None of this is possible right now.

Q: So you were emphasizing the NGO component.  I felt that you were using the example of WHO, which tends to make this a government issue.  Within the WHO constitution, the requirements for member nationhood is clearly stated.

A: I was using it as a point of emphasis, because it could highlight the problem most clearly.  Even when people are dying, you still don't want to send notices ...

Q: As an intellectual, what do you think are the relatively positive interactions between mainland China and Taiwan after the 2008 presidential elections?

A: I am not a political commentator.  I am not going to investigate this issue.  I can only made demands as an ordinary citizen.  For example, when the two sides of the strait sit down at the table to negotiate, they ought to talk about education, about how to recognize the academic credentials on the other side, how to exchange students, how to open up the universities on each side, how to exchange professors, and so on.  On the health/medical sector, there are many fields in the technical exchange area that have nothing to with politics.  I agree with Mr. Ma Ying-jeou's views.  When you sit down at the negotiation table, you start with people's livelihood issues and you bring up the most practical problems for discussion and formulate solutions one after another.  When your leaders reach some agreement with the mainland leaders on certain things after the first good-will interaction, you can increase your mutual trust a bit at a time through experience over time.  When sufficient trust has been accumulated, you may be ready some day to deal with the political issues.  But why not initiate this process now?

Q: Here is the final question concerning the democracy issue.  In your speech, you repeatedly spoke about the importance of democracy in Taiwan for mainland China.  But don't the ordinary mainland Chinese people think that the present state of democracy in Taiwan is precisely what we need to be concerned about?

A: You are correct.  In my English-language speech today, I was said that importance of democracy in Taiwan is not as a model but as an laboratory.  That is to say, mainland China should regard as important experiences about how Taiwan did well, how they fell down and how they rose up after falling down.  For mainland China, these are valuable experiences whether they are positive or negative.  Besides, I feel that mainland China (especially the intellectuals) should maintain skepticism.  The Taiwan that you see right now may not be the real Taiwan because the channels are not clean and smooth and you may find it easier to pick up things that come through certain channels and not others.  So these are not necessarily real things.  Therefore, mainland Chinese intellectuals and citizens should not reach any conclusions too hastily.

Q: In the logic that you presented today, it was basically a logic that only by protecting democracy in Taiwan will there be a democratic China.  But the pan-green camp folks will assert that there is no connection between Taiwan and China and that it is best that Chinese people and Taiwan persons with origins outside of Taiwan just get out of Taiwan altogether.  They definitely don't give a damn about democracy in China.

A: I am opposed to his type of deep-green ideology.  I can support Taiwan independence.  I feel that many people in Taiwan support Taiwan independence.  But what if you ask them whether it is worthwhile to go to war to achieve Taiwan independence?  Then it is different.  Is the price worthwhile?  My answer is definitely not the same.  Therefore this is a complex question.  My criticism against the deep-green is this: I can accept your Taiwan independence, but I cannot accept your "Taiwan nationalism."

To take one step back and suppose that Taiwan is an independent nation.  How can you not care about China?  At the political level, you are just a sailboat in an ocean next to an aircraft carrier.  Should you not care what the aircraft carrier does?  If it so much changes direction, you will sink.  Does Singapore not care about what Indonesia is up to?  Would you dare not to worry about China is up to?  Therefore, I felt that they are stupid when they say that they don't care.  Secondly, apart from the political level, you can look at it as pure idealism.  Did you not begin your movement based upon humanitarianism?  So how can you not worry about the human rights issues and the happiness of the people in mainland China, which account for one-quarter of the population of the world?  Whatever happened to your sense of morality?  Whether in terms of pragmatic politics or the insistence on morality and ideals, you cannot insist that you don't care about whether China lives or dies.