The Shame of Democracy

(  The Shame of Democracy.  By Si Dai.  August 15, 2008.  [translator's note: The title is a pun.  Previously, Chen Shui-bian is known as 民主之子  (minzhu zhizi, translation: the son of Taiwan).  After he revealed that his wife had shifted vast sums of money to overseas bank accounts held by family members, he is now known as 民主之耻 (minzhu zhichi, translation: the shame of Taiwan).]

[in translation]

The usually tough-talking Chen Shui-bian finally admitted yesterday that his family held overseas bank accounts that contained huge sums of money.  This time, Ah Bian appeared to "voluntarily" make the admission, even though there were earlier news stories that the Swiss department justice had sent a request to the relevant Taiwan government departments for assistance while listing the amounts of money in the Swiss bank accounts owned by the family members.

But Ah Bian still has his own ways.  First of all, he shifted the responsibility completely to his infirmed but famously greedy wife and maintained that he was totally unaware himself.  Secondly, he claimed that the reason why his wife "saved money" overseas was to let him use it for the "public interest" after his presidential term ends.  Thirdly, he claimed that all of the money were leftover from campaign funds with no connection to the secret state funds or the other cases of alleged graft.  Fourthly, he continued to drag other people in by claiming that Lee Teng-hui, Lien Chan, James Soong, Ma Ying-jeou and Vincent Siew kept their own campaign funds for themselves as well, and he demanded everybody to be investigated.  Finally, Ah Bian argued that "he had no intention of breaking the law, he did not break any law and his money was not illegally obtained; therefore, he was absolutely clean and problem-free."

When I read this, I was reminded about of a popular saying on the mainland several years ago: "One can be shameless, but one can't be shameless to this extent!"

I have titled this post <The Shame of Democracy>.  I do not intend to discuss the graft case of Chen Shui-bian.  Instead I want to discuss the chaos in Taiwan democracy and I want to talk about what is happening at the group blog.

First of all, let me talk about how the Democratic Progressive Party looked at and dealt with Chen Shui-bian's graft case.  After the corruption problems of Chen Shui-bian's family were first exposed  last year, there was a million-person Red Army campaign to dump Ah Bian.  Even many 'green' supporters joined the anti-Bian ranks.  Shi Ming-te, who is a leader of democracy in Taiwan and the former chairman of Democratic Progressive Party, was the leader of the movement.  At that time, the Democratic Progressive Party ranks from the Four Heavenly Kings to the members of parliament all kept a stony silence.  Nobody dared to say "No" to Chen Shui-bian.  Nobody from this party which is supposed to have so many democratic warriors in the past dared to stand by Shi Ming-te.  If someone should even slightly waver in their stance and make a weak plea for self-reflection and self-criticisms, they become the target ofs attack by the entire party, and they were either forced to resign or frozen out.

Readers, we are not talking about the mainland which is under the dictatorship by one party.  This is in democratic and free Taiwan and within the democratic and progressive Democratic Progressive Party!

In the case of the secret state funds, Chen Shui-bian avoided judicial investigation by exercising his presidential authority to classify a batch of receipts as "state secrets."  A Taiwan professor drew the analogy of "wearing your underpants on the outside."  The Democratic Progressive Party did not object and even made excuses for Chen at the cost of destroying what should be an independent judiciary.  These actions ran against public opinion, and caused the Democratic Progressive Party to be routed in the ensuing city/county, parliamentary and presidential elections.

After losing ruling party status, the Democratic Progressive Party began to talk about self-reflection and self-criticism again.  The new party chairman was Tsai Ing-wen, who has a fresh image.  This caused people to have great hopes about the Democratic Progressive Party rising from the ashes again.  Yet just a few days ago, when the weak and cautious Ma Ying-jeou decided to de-classify the materials in the secret state funds case, the Democratic Progressive Party once again performed recitation for Chen Shui-bian.  Is this a democratic party anymore?  Is this a progressive party anymore?  The press conference held by Chen Shui-bian yesterday was no doubt a big slap in the face of the Democratic Progressive Party.  Will the Democratic Progressive Party stand behind Chen Shui-bian's proclamation of being "absolutely clean"?  Will it keep dancing to the baton that Ah Bian wields?

Some people say that under a democratic system, it is necessary to be "partisan" (that is, always defend those in your party and always attack those outside).  In a democracy, there is at least the voice of opposition.  But is "partisanship" really the essence of democracy?  Let us look at the countries of Europe and North America.  Don't the parliamentary members of the ruling parties also criticize the presidents and the governments?  Are they disloyal for criticizing their own parties?  During the Watergate affair, did Richard Nixon have to resign without members of his own party joining to demand impeachment?  In Taiwan, how many righteous Democratic Progressive Party members of parliament stood up to support impeachment, much less join the million-person Red Army to protest in the streets?  In a free society under a democratic system, it is "the shame of democracy" if the people and their elected representatives don't dare tell the truth.

The situation does not exist solely within the Democratic Progressive Party.  Within the Nationalist Party (KMT), there is also a tradition of not daring to criticize the "big bosses."  It is as if making criticisms is equal to being on the side of the enemy.  Fortunately, Ma Ying-jeou has a better character and style.  If it were some other person or if Ma Ying-jeou becomes corrupted by power, then it could be back to a situation where the party has only one voice and everybody keeps mum.  Could this be due to Chinese culture?  Could it be the influence of the extended history of Chinese feudalism?

There is something else that I am not used to about democracy in Taiwan, and that is the "man-on-man" tactic when it comes to a parliamentary vote.  Both the Democratic Progressive Party and the Nationalist Party will keep watch on every member of parliament and make sure that not a single vote goes missing.  Does this situation exist in Europe or America?  When members of parliament cannot vote according to their own will, what kind of democracy is this?  Are they representing the will of their voters, or the will of their party?

When we criticize the chaotic situation in Taiwan democracy, some people will say that this is at least better than in mainland China; when we speak about the corruption of Chen Shui-bian, some people will say that Chinese Communist officials are even more corrupt. This may be true, but why do we have to compete on who is being "more rotten"?  Is this what we want democracy for?  Is this just to feel good after casting a vote?  Why are we voting for these people anyway?

In Chinese, democracy is translated as minzhu 民主, which means that the people are their own masters.  I cannot imagine that there are any people who don't want to be their own masters.  Therefore, it is meaningless to talk about whether democracy is good or bad.  It is also not sufficient to shout that you want democracy.  The important questions are: What kind of democracy do we want? and How can we achieve a good democracy?  The system of democracy is very important.  We should not think that a democratic system is all-powerful, because it is also important to have a democratic spirit and democratic attributes.

Over here at the, there are quite a few people who shout about democracy and chant about freedom every day.  But while some of these people may be chanting for freedom, they seemed only interested in the freedom for them to talk rubbish and spread rumors.  When people disagree with them, they start using labels such as "retarded" and "brain-dead."  While some of these people are shouting about democracy, they seem to think that democracy must only be opposing the rulers.  When someone says something on behalf of the rulers or to clarify some basic facts, they charged that the person must be "brainwashed," a running dog or a "fifty cent gang."  When you raise your arm to yell "Down with XX," you are a democratic warrior.  When someone else raises his arm to yell "Long live China!", that person is a patriotic "trash."  These people won't even respect the majority opinion, so how can you expect them to respect the rights of minorities?  When these people get exposed this way, they complain that they don't have the power to deprive other people of their right to speak and they don't have the means to betray the nation.  Yes, maybe they can't do so at this moment, but what if they have the power and ability some day later?  Will these people do any better than the party that they are criticizing now?  Will they be any better than Ah Bian?

The people described above may be acting this way because of cultural deficiencies and because they lack the democratic spirit and attributes.  But there are also others who treat democracy as fronts and covers.  By embracing the banner of democracy, they become the embodiment of truth.  They will only permit themselves to scold and attack others under the banner of democracy.  When people criticize and rebut them, it becomes anti-democratic and supportive of totalitarianism.  This type of absurd logic is a standard trick of Ah Bian.  This logic is not one about the use of brute force.  This logic is the logic of a "prostitute."  A prostitute clutches the chastity archway and thinks that she is not a prostitute.  Sorry, a prostitute clutching a chastity archway is still a prostitute, and a prostitute clutching a democracy archway is still a prostitute.

Over here at, nobody is against criticizing the rulers and nobody is against the denunciation of corruption and injustice.  But criticism is not just about picking a quarrel, and it definitely does not involve fabricating facts.  It is not about opposing for the sake of opposition and criticizing for the sake of criticism.  What I don't get is that since these people say that rulers are so terrible, there must be plenty of things that deserve to be criticized and denounced.  So why do they have to fabricate some stories?  Or else they magnify some trivial matter beyond the scope?  Don't they know that this will only make the masses think that perhaps the rulers aren't that bad or that there isn't much to criticize about?  Are these people spy-moles0-saboteurs?

As for "partisanship" (in the sense that you always defend your party and you always attack the others), it is definitely not intended within democracy.  If you are advocating a "unified will" to create a "unified nation," then that is alright.  If you genuine respect the spirit of freedom and independence of character,  you should rationally study and think about every problem.  You should not let other people hijack your thinking and will, and you should not tie yourself down onto someone else's war chariot.

Coming back to Taiwan, the path to democracy took place on a peaceful and stable basis.  I feel that this is the most commendable part.  There is no way to create a true democracy out of a state of violence and chaos, and it cannot bring happiness to the people.  These are observations made by contemporary wise people and this has been borne out by Chinese history over the last century.  I am a firm believer that "China must not lapse into chaos."

During the development of democracy in Taiwan, there were some signs of chaos.  We cannot deny the greatness and exemplary of the progress of democracy in Taiwan on account of that, and we cannot deny the significance of democracy for our nation.  Conversely, we cannot withhold the criticism of these chaotic signs just because Taiwan carries the aura of democracy on its head, nor must we regard these chaotic signs as the essential or necessary consequences of democracy.

Finally, I want to say that democracy and freedom are not just goals to be pursued, but they have to respected.  This is not just about fighting for your own rights and freedom, but you must also respect the rights and freedoms of other people.  I hope that each one of us can understand this basic idea and I hope that we will possess a good democracy with genuine freedom.