Give Us A Politician

(Southern Metropolis Daily; China Times)  Give Us A Politician.  By Lung Ying-tai ().  March 20, 2008.

[in translation]


What kind of president does Taiwan need?

On June 27, 2006, the Taiwan parliament voted on the recall of the president.  I wrote the essay: "Today's lesson: Character" in which I said that the leader of a nation should have four core responsibilities:

First: no matter how difficult the situation is, he must make the people proud of their country and instill them with a healthy sense of self-pride;

Second: no matter how strong the opposition is, he must have the ability to concentrate the sense of identification with the people, with the nation, with society and especially with each other;

Third: he must have the ability to offer a long-term vision for the nation.  The people will accept this vision and work towards this vision together;

Fourth: he does not have to be a saint, but he has to have a certain moral standing.  He will represent the people to the outside world.  He will represent the common values of society internally.  When elementary school students write about their vocation, they should be able to name him as the person that they want to be.

Today is March 20, 2008, two days before the presidential election in Taiwan.  Twenty-three million people are thinking:  What kind of president does Taiwan need?


When I first arrived in Europe, I observed a totally unexpected detail.

At the intersection crossing, people often get impatient with waiting for the red light to turn green.  About half the people look left and right and then they dash across the street in spite of the red light.  But if somehow among the people who are waiting for the light to turn green was a father or mother holding the hand of a small child, all those people in a rush will wait patiently for the green light to come on.  Then they walk quickly.

The father or mother holding the hand of the child will lower his/her head amongst the rushing crowd to tell the child: "You see.  You cannot walk while the light is red.  You must wait for the green light."

I was astonished: What kind of unwritten social contract is this!?  You don't have to say anything aloud, but a group of strangers all knew and accepted that they must do so.

Whatever you do, your child will emulate.  Therefore, you must not offer the wrong example to children.

The same understanding manifests itself in other ways.  I drove through the rural area of America and I passed through the seemingly endless cornfields.  Suddenly a small town appeared.  The first sign that appeared did not carry any grand saying, just this simple sentence: "There are 53 children in our town.  Please drive slowly."

The tacit understanding between the townspeople and the passersby is for the sake of the children.

In 2006, a million Taiwanese people put on red clothes to come down to the Ketagalan Boulevard to protest.  I was crossing the plaza around midnight and I listened to the wearied people chatting with each other, whether they were acquainted with each other or not.  As I walked through the plaza, the most frequently phrase that I heard in the night air was:

How do you want us to teach our children?

There is something that Europe or America will never give up on.  There is something that the "blues" or "greens" really care about.  This is the core values.

The core values may be divided on account of differences in social class, ethnic groups, special interests or ideologies.  But they will provide the best value for the future.  It is the greatest common denominator because it surpasses politics and has nothing to do with political positions.


So what kind of president does Taiwan need?  A clear standard of evaluation would be: Whoever can provide the best environment for our six-year-old child to grow up in is the best president.

The six-year-old child is about to leave the embrace of the parents to enter school and join in the process of socialization.  Through the government's operations, his character, vision and intelligence will be molded, nurtured and trained for the future.  We entrust the child to the school as well as all the other government departments -- the Ministry of Education determines how and what he shall study; the Ministry of Culture will influence his cultural tastes; the Ministry of Defense will determine how far or close he will get to war or peace; the economic policies will affect his ability to face competition when he becomes eighteen years old; the environmental policies will affect his health; the media policies will affect his judgment and views; the foreign policies will affect his dignity and self-respect as a citizen ...

The rules, regulations, policies and laws made by these organizations may well determine the general social conditions.  When the rulers are corrupt, society will be corrupt; when the rulers are unjust, society will be contentious; when the rulers break the law, society will be in turmoil; when the rulers are combative and defensive, society will be divided.

What is a president?  He is the person to whom we entrust these organizations.  At the same time, we are entrusting the future of our six-year-old child to him.

When we think on behalf of this six-year-old Taiwanese child, we are not thinking just about this four or eight year period of the presidency.  We may be thinking further about how these four or eight years will impact on what happens to this child twelve or sixteen years later.  Sixteen years later, the six-year-old child will be graduating from university.  What kind of quality will he have as a person?  Will he have received the education that prepared him to face the world?

For this longer time span, we may recognize that the many contentious issues of the moment (such as whether the economic market shall be Chinese or Taiwanese, the ports that shall be opened for the Three Communications, the number of tourists to come each year, etc) are quite short-term issues.  The competition to determine who loves Taiwan more is even baser.


I think that the future of a six-year-old child is the most basic standard in politics because his future is the future of this society.

If I were that person holding the hand of the child waiting to cross the street at the pedestrian light, I would choose the following type of person to be the president:

First, he must have a basic character.

No, he does not have to be a saint.  He only has to not go through the red light in front of the eyes of the child.  It is sufficient that he can fulfill all the basic morality that elementary school teachers instill amongst children;

The elementary school teacher says, You must not steal.  Therefore, the president must be clean and not take a cent that does not belong to him.

The elementary school teacher says, You must not be rude to people.  Therefore, the president must not be rude to people and the people that he appoints to work for him must not be rude either.

The elementary school teacher says, It is a traditional virtue to be gentle and humble.  This means that one should be well-mannered, kind-hearted, humble, frugal and also considerate towards the weak and vulnerable.  Therefore, the president must know to be gentle and humble.  He and those whom he appoints must all know the balance between power and humility.

With such a president, we do not have to worry that the six-year-old child will think that bullying and fighting are impressive accomplishments.


Second, he must have an unlimited capacity to tolerate.

I am not willing to let the six-year-old child witness the demolition of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall or the destruction of the Grass Mountain Chateau again, and I don't want the child hear the teacher say that the textbooks have been changed again to the point where she does not know what to teach.  I am even more unwilling to let the child witness the destruction and then see the same structure being rebuilt and restored at the same location using the same methods, or the textbooks being restored to the old form using the same violent methods.

I hope that this six-year-old Taiwanese child can grow up in a genuinely liberal atmosphere.  I hope that our elected president can say that if the Dutch fortress, the Qing artillery battery, the anti-Qing historical site, the Japanese temple or the Chiang Kai-shek residence is to be demolished or restored, there should be an open civilized debate within society.  No matter whether the map is going to be upright or sideways and no matter whether history is going to start from this or that end, there should be an open civilized debate within society.  I hope that our elected president will say that there is no hurry to instill the positions and values of his political party or group through his authority, and that there is no need to inject our beliefs into our children.  Our children should be allowed to tolerate difference and listen to dissenting opinions.  The children of Taiwan should learn first to think deeply in a civilized manner.

I hope that the future president will say that there is no more "blue" or "green" -- let us apply soothing ointment on our wounded hands, let us mend the divisions and let us follow the principles of fairness and respect each other with infinite tolerance.


Thirdly, he should have a broad global vision.

The children of Taiwan hardly sees any international news when he turns on the television set.  When he reads the newspapers, he hardly sees any international analyses.  He sits in the classroom and his civics teacher asks: "Are you Chinese or Taiwanese?"  At this school, there are very few foreign students.  Within his social circle, there is little discussion about international affairs.  When he sits down to have dinner with this parents, the ruling party leaders use passionate voices and gestures to howl on television: "Love Taiwan."  Meanwhile, the opponents use equally passionate voices and gestures to howl "Love Taiwan."  The crowds are howling "Taiwan first!"

I hope that six-year-old Taiwan children can grown up in a tolerant, rational and open-minded environment.  I hope that our elected president will say that since Taiwan is so small, it would be fatal to shut ourselves inside -- so let us open all the windows!

I hope that he can say: Let us stop demonizing mainland China which only turn us into little white rabbits.  Let us put the giant-like mainland China and our tiny Taiwan onto the global map.  Then we can contemplate the new possibilities within the global view, the strategic considerations and the future angle.  How did Singapore manage to find the method to survive while being surrounded by the Islamic world?  How did Qatar find its point of balance amongst the mighty Arab world and the powerful western world?  How can Taiwan break away from the sixty years of "two shores of the strait" thinking and use the global view to re-define its own positions with respect to the mainland?

I hope that our elected president will fulfill his promises about his Minister of Education: the Taiwanese child must learn to have the qualities of the global citizen.  We need to work hard for the future citizen in three ways.  Firstly, he must know international history and the complicated global issues.  Secondly, he must be trained on his civic skills so that he knows how to think; to debate; to organize, connect, interact and cooperate with the international society; to learn the techniques and methods to establish the rules of the game.  Thirdly, the Taiwanese child must be nurtured to have a broad vision.  The human rights, fairness and justice that he is concerned about is not restricted solely to Taiwan, because they also apply to the entire world.  The war refugees in Africa, the AIDS orphans in China and the school-less impoverished children in Cambodia can all be the weak groups that he is concerned about.

I hope that the president say that the soft power represented by the economic power and the civic society in Taiwan today will make greater contributions towards the world community.  That is why we are bringing up broad-minded, idealistic and capable young people to prepare them to make these kinds of contributions.

With such a president, I can imagine that the six-year-old child in Taiwan today may someday grow up to be an outstanding global citizen.


Fourthly, he knows empathy.

I don't know how a six-year-old child in Taiwan looks at another child whose mother came from outside Taiwan.  Will he be contemptuous of this companion because her mother is Vietnamese, Indonesian or mainland Chinese?  Will his father or mother used extremely prejudicial or violent terms to abuse the nurses or servants who have darker skin colors?

When the six-year-old child sees the adults bully others based upon ethnic, economic or political positions, I really don't know how to teach the concept of "human rights" to this child.

I hope that our future president will be someone who can understand and emphasize with the pains of the vulnerable groups and treat them as the foci of his policies.  These vulnerable groups include foreign workers, overseas brides, homosexuals, economically exploited aborigines, mentally and physically handicapped people .. only a president with empathy can be a president for human rights.

Only when the whole society is  concerned with human rights can our six-year-old child treat human rights as a core value.


How many presidents have the people of Taiwan gone through?  The Chiang father and son, Lee Teng-hui, Chen Shui-bian.  That would be three generations.  The first generation was the 'strong men' generations.  The second generation was the president during the transition from the strong men to democracy during which many things had to be broken down and many other things had to be built.  Of course, there was a great deal of overlap between what had to be broken down and built up.  The third generation was Chen Shui-bian, who represented the first democratic experiment after the political transition was completed.  He was a total failure.  Yet his failure did not mean that the people of Taiwan failed.  In truth, the eight years of Chen Shui-bian contributed to Taiwan democracy: he made us become aware clearly about the kind of president that we don't want.  The painful lessons taught us clearly about which kind of president we would never ever want again.  As a result, the people of Taiwan have become more mature.

After these three generations of presidents, the people of Taiwan have real reason to expect: Please give us a politician, as opposed to a political operator.

Just like the political operator, the politician knows about the techniques related to the machinations and power play under democracy. But my understanding is that there is a fundamental difference between a politician and a political operator: the political operator only knows to count the number of people who are waving flags and shouting slogans on the plaza, but the politician will always have a 6-year-old child in his heart -- he is truly concerned about the future of that child.