While doing research on Asian libertarianism in Classical Literature, I came across an interesting and very timely piece of writing: Lung Ying-tai’s letter to former President Hu Jintao, entitled “Please Use Civilization to Convince Me” (you can read it here or here). Lun Ying-tai was Minister of Culture of the Republic of China, usually known as Taiwan, and she is the author of Big River, Big Sea: Untold Stories of 1949 (which is, of course, banned in China). His open letter takes on some important issues about China and, because of Saturday’s historical meeting between Xi Jinping and Ma Ying-jeou, the respective presidents of the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China, I think it is worth commenting on it.
As readers may know, Mr. Xi and Mr. Ma are meeting this week (in Singapore)! And they have decided to call each other “Mister” because the People’s Republic of China does not recognize Taiwan as a country (neither does the United States, the United Nations, or any country in Europe but the Vatican by the way, but they all call Mr. Ma “Mister President”). Some people think this is a matter of mutual respect, but that’s because they don’t know Chinese. So let me tell you something you didn’t know: Mr. Xi and Mr. Ma speak in Chinese with each other. For real! So, when people in the People’s Republic of China refer to Xi Jinping, they call him “zhuxi,” which is usually translated as “president” in English but means something more like “holder of the rulership.” When Taiwanese people speak of Ma Ying-jeou, they call him “zongtong,” which again is usually translated as “president” but means “principal in command.” So basically Mr. Xi could be calling Mr. Ma “zongtong” and Mr. Ma could call Mr. Xi “zhuxi,” and there would be no problem at all. So why they don’t? Because Chinese people –i.e., the people of the People’s Republic of China only– are so racist that they believe there is only one “zhuxi” in the world (the Ruler of the World, you may say) and a bunch of barbarous “zongtongs.” In fact, they call all presidents from any country “zongtong” and their own “zhuxi.” Thus, this is not a sign of mutual respect, but of disrespect toward Mr. Ma.
Anyways, let’s take a look at Lung Ying-tai’s letter to “zhuxi” Hu Jintao.
First round. Economy and freedom. Lung Yin-tai is surely a tough lady. After telling Mr. Hu that China ranks 177th in the Freedom House index (in 2006, when the letter was written, China ranked 117th in The Heritage Foundation index, but it’s now 139th, a clear sign on negative improvement), she proceeds to dismiss these “western rightists” index and speaks of “social equality”:
“Fine, let us use a socialist standard then. In my understanding, pursuing equal distribution of resources – be it equal in poverty or equal in wealth – should be a core value in the leftist thinking. Yet in terms of equal distribution of resources, the Gini index for China is approaching a figure considered the benchmark for social chaos. Underneath this figure, we can only imagine how many grab as they will and how many have to die in ditches.”
Second round. I just love Mrs. Lung’s title: “A xenophobic nation-building myth.” She just hit the jackpot of jackpots. At the time Mrs. Lung published this open letter, a famous newspaper in China was closed due to an essay written by Yuan Weishi, a historian and professor at my former Chinese alma mater, Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou. He wrote an article about the distorted vision of history promoted in the Chinese textbooks, and the Party did not really like it –honestly, what did he expect? A medal? The following is a quotation from Professor Yuan’s essay about what Chinese kids learn in school:
“1. The Chinese culture is absolutely superior and unmatched by others.
2. Foreign cultures are evil and they corrode the purity of the Chinese spirit.
3. It is permissible to use political power or violent mob to cleanse the evilness in the field of thoughts and culture.”
This doesn’t even scratch the surface, but it’s a good start. I have seen Chinese kids in Spain who are told by their mothers that “foreigners are bad, don’t get close to them or they will hit/rape you.” When I was at Sun Yat-sen University I had many such interesting experiences. For example, I once took the elevator and the girl inside decided to get out and wait for the next one. I commented on this with one Chinese professor and she basically said that: “When we are younger, we are told foreigners are bad and should get not close to them.” Or as Cong Riyun, who teaches at the Chinese University of Politics and Law, has pointed out, the result of Chinese education has been that Chinese students today “firstly, they’re ignorant, their brains are full of prejudice. Secondly, they’re made violent by this education of hatred. Thirdly, they’re xenophobic, not just toward foreigners but also they show their hatred towards domestic traitors.”
But let’s check round three. Mrs. Lung wisely writes:
“I see that this ‘Mother China’ for which I have profound feelings is a country which tramples upon many core values I believe in.
It treats truth as lies and lies as truths, and it has turned this reversal into a system.
It treats independent-spirited intellectuals as slaves, the tame intellectuals as domestic servants, and it lets the most slavish take charge by handing him the whip, the ruler and the keys.
It has one face for the western world, a different face for Japan; one face for Taiwan and yet another face when looking at its own self.
It applies one standard when judging someone else’s history, demanding apologies, and it has another standard when facing its own.
It embraces myths, creates fables, and fears truth. What it fears the most is itself.”
What a perfect description of the People’s Republic of China. Take note, “Mister” Ma.
Last round. This one is just sweet. We got cute pandas travelling to Taiwan, so please, submit to the power of the Middle Empire. Mrs. Lung, however, “[doesn’t] care that much if the cute pandas will come to Taipei or not, even though they are so sweet that they melt your heart.” How mean of her. How hurtful it is for the sweet and furry Chinese people who just want Taiwan to reunite with the “mainland.” Instead, Mrs. Lung dares to “care about what happens to the jailed journalist Ching Cheong. If the ‘values’ of China are defined and even carried out by a bunch of slavish servants holding whips, rulers and keys, and if independence of mind and freedom of spirit are considered ‘crimes’, dear Mr Hu, kindly enlighten me about one thing: just where is the starting-point for us to talk about unification?”
Of course, she never got an answer from “Mister” Hu, and don’t expect “Mister” Ma to repeat the question to “Mister” Xi. After all, one thing should be clear for anyone in China or Taiwan: if you do NOT love the Chinese Communist Party, as many Chinese people claim, you would NEVER defend the return of Taiwan to China, because China, the People’s Republic of China, is a state founded by the same party you claim to NOT love. So instead, if you, dear Chinese citizen who screams “I love my country, I don’t love the party,” wanna talk about unification, you should ask China to go back to Taiwan, or the Republic of China, a government and a country that predates the mainland by 37 years (or you can just go back to Hong Kong, founded more than 100 years before the People’s Republic of China).
So Xi’s “One Country, Two Systems” has become “One Country, Two Misters.” The Taiwanese people does not longer trust Mr. Ma’s leadership, and whoever wins this Mister-battle, just be sure it’s gonna be the Taiwanese people’s loss.