Monday, 31 March 2014

What Does Hong Kong Have to Do with Taiwan's Sunflower Movement? Or, Why Anti-Chinese Sentiment Unites People

In the light of the recent protests by Taiwanese students and activists against a planned trade deal with China, I have found myself in the uncomfortable position of criticising the demonstrations and, in some respects, defending the KMT administration led by Ma Yingjiu. 

As I am not a citizen of the PRC or the ROC, I am not involved in party politics and I have no interest in changing the situation in these countries. I am a EU citizen, and that's the place where I want to be politically active. Therefore, when I talk about the politics of East Asia, I try to see things from different perspectives and not to side with one or the other party. Shortly, I am one of those who criticise or praise according to the concrete situation, and not out of ideological affiliation.

As I have said in my last post, I think that the widespread support the current protests have received by international media, the expat community, and a part of Taiwan's media, are not only excessive, but also somewhat ideological. This support seems to me to be driven by a common anti-Chinese and anti-KMT sentiment, which blurs the distinction between the KMT, China, and the economic issue of free trade.

In Taiwan, this is understandable not only because of the polarising issue Taiwanese vs Chinese identity that divides the island, but also because the media reflect these divergent outlooks. For example, the China Times (中國時報, founded in 1950 by Yu Jizhong, a KMT member) and United Daily News (UDN) tend to be pro-KMT and pro-Chinese (not necessarily pro-PRC, though), while Apple Daily and Liberty Times tend to be more anti-Chinese (Apple Daily's founder Jimmy Lai is a notorious critic of Beijing's communist regime). 

But in international media and among expats, the general feeling is anti-KMT, anti-CCP, and anti-Chinese. The KMT is still viewed as the party that unleashed the White Terror, persecuted dissent, proclaimed martial law (lifted only in 1987) and repressed Taiwanese identity. These are all historical facts, but it is also true that the KMT gave its contribution to Taiwan's democratisation and since the early 1990s it has accepted to compete in democratic elections with other parties. Today's KMT is not the same as it was between the 1950s and the 1980s.

China is notoriously a complex matter, regarded sometimes as a friend, sometimes as a foe, and certainly not without reason. I would be the last one to defend one-party rule, as I am a strong supporter of pluralism, tolerance, rule of law, and freedom of expression. I can't justify Chinese nationalism either, since I am in principle against nationalist ideologies as such. 

But since we do live in democratic societies, we should be able to see things from different perspectives, and state our views without fearing of being ostracised. Unfortunately, democratic societies are not necessarily free from a certain pressure to conform oneself to fashionable views or movements. 

As I have explained before, I think that storming the parliament to block a democratically elected government, isn't at all democratic. After all, governments are not elected through opinion polls and should not be ousted by furious protesters in the middle of their term. Moreover, this government represents voters that have the right to be respected, and only elections can confirm or withdraw this popular mandate. These are the rules of the game. 

As I have argued, it is mostly the anti-Chinese undertone of the protests that drew attention on them and helped it gain so much international support. The last proof of this are the demonstrations held in Hong Kong to show solidarity with Taiwanese students and activists

If the protest was about the issue of more vs less free trade, then why should Hong Kongers demonstrate? I've never heard of any Hong Kongers demonstrating against free trade between the EU and China, or in support of anti-austerity movements in Europe.

There might of course be a mistrust towards free trade as such, which I do share. However, the current protest in Taiwan is much more than about economic issues, it's about keeping China out of Taiwan. Since many Hong Kongers share the anti-Chinese sentiment of Taiwanese protesters, they are showing their solidarity to them. The message is: keep the mainlanders out, or you'll end up like us!

It is absolutely legitimate to advocate less free trade with China; after all, the PRC is pointing missiles at Taiwan. I wouldn't sign a deal with someone who's threatening to shoot at me, that's for sure. 

However, there is a lot of hypocrisy here. On the one hand, Taiwanese have for years made money through China. There are Taiwanese who are totally anti-Chinese, but perhaps they are proud of Taiwan's big brands such as Asus or Acer, which manufacture their products in China and amass their wealth on the backs of low-wage mainland workers, and maybe they also work for such a company or go on business trips to China. 

As to 2010, there were over 1 million Taiwanese living on the mainland, with many more travelling there (note). It seems to me that many Taiwanese are willing to make money out of China, but at the same time they want to keep China away. If the great majority of Taiwan's population are serious about defending their native land against Chinese aggressors, why don't they go and protest in front of the headquarters of all the big Taiwanese companies that produce on the mainland, or why they don't strike, or why don't they organise themselves in order to make Taiwan's economy independent of China's? It seems to me they want the easy way: we want to be able to make money in China, we want to be able to travel to China, but the Chinese shouldn't do the same here. How can that work? And is it at all fair?

On the other hand, as the KMT as been elected (and it was elected twice, in 2008 and 2012), it means that it was able to gain enough support among the population, and certainly among the aforementioned business elites with interests in China. Whether this support has meanwhile been withdrawn or not, we will see in the next elections. 

But a rational discussion about how much Taiwan should be integrated into the Chinese economic sphere cannot end with the occupation of a democratically elected parliament in order to favour the opposition and topple or block the government. And, moreover, the economic issues should be considered in all their complexity and without hypocrisy. If the majority of the Taiwanese want to restructure the island's economy in order to make it independent of China,it is their right to do so and choose the party that promises that. But there is no half way.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

The Kuomintang and the Sunflower Movement - A Few Thoughts About the Legitimacy of the Anti-Trade Pact Protests

The recent student protests in Taiwan have become a highly debated topic on the island's as well as international media. The movement, which calls itself 'Sunflower Movement', was formed on March 19, when students occupied Taiwan's Legislative Yuan. The reason for this act of protest was a trade agreement with China which the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) was pushing through parliament in a way that the opposition party DPP and a part of the population regarded as non-democratic (note 1, note 2).

While Taiwan's press was divided on whether the movement was legitimate or not, with the pro-KMT and the anti-KMT camps offering their own respective interpretation, Western media have universally celebrated the movement as a proof of Taiwan's democratic maturity.

As I have explained in my previous post, I am quite sceptical about the Sunflower Movement, mainly for three reasons:

1) the protesters are trying to delegitimise an elected - though unpopular - government through extra-parliamentary means;

2) the movement has a strong Taiwanese nationalistic undertone;

3) the media are glorifying the movement in a simplistic way;

1) the trade deal with China should not come as a surprise. The KMT (Chinese Nationalist Party) is a pan-Chinese party. One can see this clearly by visiting the official page of the KMT. The party's self-introduction explains:

The Kuomintang (KMT) is a political party with a long history and a wholesome ideal. This ideal is the establishment of the Republic of China (ROC) as a free, democratic, prosperous and dignified modern nation. The KMT’s long history is a glorious record of its committed struggle to the realization of this ideal. 
In 1894, at a critical juncture in the Sino-Japanese war of 1894-1895, Dr. Sun Yat-sen, with clear perception and vision, traveled to Honolulu to appeal to the overseas Chinese there to form a revolutionary organization with the aim of rescuing the Chinese nation. Named the Revive China Society, it was the beginning of the KMT. 
This event also marked the start of China’s drive for modernization. It has been 106 years since this remarkable process of change and development began (note).

It is obvious that the KMT regards itself as a Chinese and not as a Taiwanese party, and that it is committed to maintaining the principles established by the 1911 revolution in mainland China. Therefore, Ma Yingjiu sees himself as the President of the Republic of China, not as the President of Taiwan, which in pan-Chinese ideology is not a country but a province of China. 

Of course, the attempted revival of pan-Chinese nationalism during the Ma administration borders on absurdity. For instance, in 2013 a government document urged school teachers to explain to their students that the capital of the Republic of China is Nanjing, in mainland China, and that Taipei is just the current location of the government. In fact, the KMT's original purpose when it retreated to Taiwan in 1949 was to use the island as a base from which to retake the mainland and return to Nanjing. This prospect is completely unrealistic, to say the least. Another example is Mongolian and Tibetan Commission Minister Tsai Yu-ling (Cai Yuling, 蔡玉玲), who stated that Mongolia remains ROC territory (even the PRC has recognised Mongolia as independent!) (note).  

However, the KMT administration has been democratically elected. Ma's government defeated the DPP in two elections, in 2008 and 2012. According to the New York Times, the KMT gained support among business elites who have interests in China and people who wanted to maintain the status-quo with the PRC (note). Perhaps, also people who were disappointed by Chen Shui-bian's administration might have enlarged the KMT's electorate.

That the KMT wanted closer ties with China must have been clear to everyone. This was not only a consequence of the KMT's ideology, but also part of its electoral campaign programme. 

The DPP and anti-Chinese forces cannot delegitimise a democratically elected government by taking to the streets and trying to impose their own agenda. Rather, they should organise in order to defeat the KMT in the next elections and pursue their own policy. Apparently, the deligitimisation of the KMT is the goal not only of the opposition, but also of a large part of the expat population and foreign media. They all seem to be extremely anti-Chinese and anti-KMT. 

2) The anti-Chinese component of the Sunflower Movement is a mix of anti-Communism (to which KMT indoctrination during its one-party regime contributed greatly), Taiwanese nationalism, anti-KMT sentiment and anti-Chinese stereotypes. I have witnessed anti-Chinese stereotypes among the Taiwanese populationmany times, and although I am not denying that certain mainland Chinese individuals behave badly and that the CCP government gives enough reasons for criticism, anti-Chinese feelings often go too far.  

Former Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian fomented native Taiwanese nationalism which was directed against 'mainlanders' and non-Hoklo speakers. Chen's policies upset a part of Taiwan's population, including 'mainlanders',  Hakka, and aborigines (see John F. Copper: The KMT Returns to Power: Elections in Taiwan 2008 to 2012. 2012, Chapter I). Taiwanese nationalism also gave rise to more radical groups, such as the Taiwanese Nationalist Party (TNP), founded in July 2011, whose programme is based on ethnic strife and ethnic cleansing. The party's goal is, in fact, that of "expelling the Chinese and safeguarding Taiwan” and of holding a referendum for independence. As Chinese, the TNP defines all the people "who were born in or have lived in Taiwan for an extended period, but who identify [themselves] as Chinese” (note). I will explain in another post why I consider nationalism (and especially this kind of exclusive nationalism that politicises ethnic strife, collectivises identity and blurs the difference between individual and public sphere) as a negative force in politics.

In a previous post ("Does Taiwan Belong to China?") I wrote that, in my opinion, both pan-Chinese and Taiwanese nationalism are legitimate ideologies. It is up to every party to gain enough support and consensus among the populace and to secure the viability of their different perceptions. Since the KMT has managed to gain consensus even after the demise of the one-party state, it should be allowed to govern. Blocking a government and imposing on it a different agenda is not a sign of democratic spirit, but of intolerance and of ochlocratic tendencies. Of course, this argument is not valid if the KMT has breached the law. In this case, popular protest may very well be justified in order to restore legality. 

The nationalistic attitude of some protesters hinders a rational discussion about the economic reasons why the trade agreement might not be good for Taiwan. As Hsiao Hung-pai has explained in an article published on The Guardian, it is the free trade component of the agreement which many workers are afraid of. These economic considerations are certainly reasonable and are understandable as a reaction against neoliberalism, of which Ma Yingjiu seems to be a strong proponent. But again, if people don't like free trade, they have the chance to vote for a party that does not support it and change the government.
3) Public opinion seems to have double-standards when it comes to popular protests. When the police forcibly evicted activists from the Executive Yuan, leaving hundreds injured both among protesters and policemen, there was a public outcry, which is certainly justified since some police officers seem to have gone beyond the limits of what their duty allows them to do (note). 

However, I have seen little sympathy for many other protesters in other countries who were injured during demonstrations. The many victims of police violence against anti-austerity protesters in Europe have been ignored, or worse, mocked, while the EU, international organisations and the US not only watched idly, but also approved (note, see also a gallery of pictures of injured protesters). Many Taiwanese, too, have shown little interest in those people who suffered injuries during protests, as it was of no consequence for themselves or was done against 'lazy' people who somewhat deserved to be maltreated a bit. 

The reason why Taiwan's protests are seen in a positive light, is, in my opinion, their anti-Chinese element. This has actually become the main message of the demonstrations, while the economic component has been downplayed. 

Monday, 24 March 2014

Good Protesters and Bad Protesters: A Comparison Between Taiwan's Demonstrations and Europe's Anti-Austerity Movement

A few days after the beginning of Taiwan's protests against a planned trade agreement with mainland China, I am still struggling to admit to myself that I am not caught in the general euphoria. 

I am going to say something very unpopular, but I think the hype around these protests shows again how schizophrenic media coverage and popular perception can be.

First, I shall briefly summarise the events that led to this crisis. 

In June 2010,  Taiwan and mainland China signed the Cross-Strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), a general agreement that strengthened economic cooperation between the two countries. The follow-up to this agreement was the Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA), signed in June 2013 (note). This pact would open 80 sectors of China's service industry to Taiwanese investors and 64 sectors of the Taiwanese economy to China. Among these areas are finance, healthcare, transportation, and tourism (note). Given that the fortunes of many Taiwanese millionaires are tied to mainland China, the trade pact was welcomed by the island's business elites, but it was extremely controversial with the general public. 

As the Asia Times Online reported in August 2013, the signing of the agreement 

sparked a two-day occupation of the legislative podium by opposition Democratic Progressive Party and Taiwan Solidarity Union lawmakers. The boycott ended only after all legislative caucuses agreed that the agreement would be reviewed line by line instead of being rammed through a ratification vote, as desired by the rightist Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang or KMT) government (note).

The breach of exactly this compromise led to the demonstrations of the past few days. In fact, KMT lawmakers blocked the clause-by-clause review, causing an uproar. As J. Michael Cole reported, 

on March 17, with the legislature brought to a standstill and the DPP occupying the podium, Chang [i.e. Chang Ching-chung, pinyin: Zhāng Qìngzhōng, 張慶忠, a KMT lawmaker] citing Article 61 of the Legislative Yuan Functions Act, announced that the review process had gone beyond the 90 days allotted for review. The agreement should therefore be considered to have been reviewed and be submitted to a plenary session on March 21 for a final vote (note).

This action, which was deemed undemocratic by opposition legislators as well as by a large part of the Taiwanese public, sparked protests and sit-ins in front of the Legislative Yuan, which ended up in the occupation of the building by students and activists. 

The reason why the trade agreement with China is so divisive (after all, Taiwan has signed trade agreements with other countries) reflects the divide between Chinese and Taiwanese nationalism on the island (I will talk about this in my next post). While the KMT and its coalition partners seek closer ties with China, the DPP, other opposition groups and a large part of the Taiwanese population are afraid that by allowing PRC nationals to invest in Taiwan, Beijing will gradually undermine the independence of the island and pave the way to its eventual annexation. They also charge the KMT government of acting against the will of the people and making big decisions behind closed doors. 

The general public both in Taiwan and abroad sees these protests as a proof of the strength of the democratic spirit of Taiwan's civil society, and they are endorsing the demonstrators. This perception of the demonstrations echoes that of Ukraine's Orange Revolution and of Egypt's Jasmine Revolution. 

Police forces have not removed the protesters from the Legislative Yuan, but they have evicted by force those who had stormed the Executive Yuan. Dozens of injuries among protesters and students are reported (note).

There are two aspects of these demonstrations that I find at least questionable: 

1 - protestors are occupying government buildings. Of course, they are defending Taiwan's democratic processes, but they are also undermining a government that has been elected democratically. In a democracy, a government may do things that a large part of the people dislike (world leaders like George W. Bush, Silvio Berlusconi, Margaret Thatcher and others have at times been extremely unpopular), but the democratic response to it should be to wait and defeat the government in the next elections. Moreover, I haven't so far understood if the KMT breached any laws or if it just ignored an inter-party agreement. If the KMT did something illegal, it may be justified for protesters to storm the Legislative Yuan and restore legality. But if the KMT did not breach the law, I don't see the reason for an occupation of the institution.

2 - the nationalistic and anti-Chinese undertone of these protests, about which I will write in another post.

Let's move now to the other side of the world, to Spain, where over the last few weeks there have been massive anti-austerity demonstrations. The so-called "March of Dignity" aimed at drawing attention to the poverty caused by austerity measures. Tens of thousands of protesters marched in Madrid, and in the final hours of the demonstration there have been clashes between violent protesters and the police, resulting in more than 100 injuries (note).  

The completely different way in which protests in Spain and Taiwan have been covered by the media is astonishing. While in Taiwan the protesters are heroes of democracy, in Spain they have either been ignored or they have been portrayed as members of 'yet another' anti-austerity movement. It seems that if you protest against China you are a hero, but if you protest against neoliberal and austerity policies that lead people to hunger and suffering you are a parasite, a leftist, and a good-for-nothing. Why haven't all the popular protests in Greece, Spain, Italy, and other countries been celebrated as proves that the people still believe in democracy? Why has the fact that, no matter whom you vote for, most European governments pursue the same agenda, not been denounced as undemocratic? 

If you take a closer look at the comment section of CNN, it seems to me that the majority of the people reacted very differently on Taiwan's and Spain's protests.

Let's read a few comments written about Taiwan:

  • The students are great. They sacrificed their cosy life and stay all night in the  cold rain night. They are better than me just siting in front the screen.

  • Most of these people are students who are protesting the under-the-table secret agreement signed by the Ma regime and the Chinese Communists.

  • fight for our democracy!!! Help Taiwan by spread this News!! Anti-dictatorship!

  • Stupid Taiwan media focuses on students drinking beer instead of focusing on the real problem.  Who cares what a few students do, this is a bigger issue that Taiwan needs to resolve.  The story is not the beer drinking, the story is how stupid Ma's government is, as an expat in Taiwan, I do not want Taiwan to become anything like China or HK.  

If you look at the comments on Spain's protests, they are very split. Some people react positively, others negatively, but certainly there isn't this general feeling that the protesters are heroes: 

  • I've never understood why people protesting against government action feel it's okay to injure the police who are attempting to keep anarchy at bay. If anything, the protesters should go after the politicians directly who pass the laws that these people are protesting against. Go to their homes or offices -- you'd get better results.

  • this is why it's better to not give people free stuff in the first place. The moment the country has to reduce the payouts because of fiscal issues is the moment the people receiving those payouts flip out because they've not developed any other skill besides saying "gimmie" and then taking money. The US should heed this warning
  • You obviously have no clue what the demonstration was about. It's not about welfare, it's about a 21% income tax rate in almost everything, including basic necessities which were at 8% not too long ago. It's about educational, social, and cultural cutbacks. It's about serious salary reductions for public servants (teachers, firefighters, police officers), major cutbacks and reduction of public transportation,pensions and health care. It's about a corrupt political class with extravegant lifestyles who make extra tens of thousands of euros for meals and lodging even though they own properties where they work. It's about a senate for a country with less than 40 million people that is larger than the US Senate which represents more 310 million U.S. Americans, and which actually accomplishes nothing but meanwhile they get lifelong salaries for serving one term. It's about the Catholic church getting 10,000 million euros (about $13.4 B) from public coffers. It's about people getting evicted from their homes by the banks, and still having to pay the mortgage on a home they no longer live in or own. It's about the royal family getting an undiclosed amount (somewhere in the hundreds of millions of euros) from the government so they can go on hunting expeditions and pose with the dead elephant, and travel the world on their yachts while the government maintains their palaces and mansions and they live their luxurious lifestyles, and go about their shady business deals which defraud the nation and investors of millions.I could go on for pages, since this is just the tip of the icerberg but I won't, if you really want to know do some research.

  • It seems that every time there is a protest, and it is at about once a week, there are the scum with their masks that start the vandalism. They have made a career of this type violent actions. Although I believe the unemployment situation is the cause of a lot of the protests, many socialist feel that they deserve a home, food, medical care without having to work for it. For example, many feel that if they cannot pay their mortgage they deserve to live in the home anyway.

So why are the Taiwanese students and activists celebrated as heroes of democracy, while protesters in Europe are seen as a nuisance or as defendants of a hopeless cause it's not worth talking about? Is it because the first are anti-Chinese, while the others are anti-neoliberalism?

Sunday, 16 March 2014

How Conservative Is Taiwan? - 5 Cases of Sexuality in Business, Marketing and Media

Is Taiwan a conservative society? Are Taiwanese people prude, family-oriented, and faithful to their partner?

Before going to Taiwan, basing my opinion on what Taiwanese had told me, I would have answered all these questions with yes. But after living there for some time, I began questioning my assumptions. 

In many of my posts I have tried to explain some features of the Chinese/Taiwanese family which make it clear that every Western perspective on East Asia should take into consideration the different values and social structures that the Chinese-speaking world has developed over the centuries.

In this post, I would just like to mention a few interesting cases of liberal sexual conduct and the objectification of the female body, which challenge the image of Taiwan as a prude society. 

One day I was walking around the German city of Potsdam, near Berlin, with a Taiwanese. She often told me that Taiwanese people were conservative, Taiwanese girls naive and innocent. But on the other hand, she told me things that were at odds with these ideas. For instance, she kept on asking me why waitresses in Germany were so ugly. "If restaurants hired pretty girls," she reasoned, "more customers would come. People like beautiful things."

She wondered if she should apply for a job as a waitress. In fact, she was very beautiful, and I assume that some male customers might go to a restaurant only to see her. But she was disappointed to find out that Germans don't give tips. She wouldn't have earned as much as she had hoped, so she gave up the idea.

Over the years, I gradually realised that a lot of women in Taiwan accept to play roles that serve male stereotypes in order to get an economic or social advantage. As I will explain in another post, this willingness is not limited to professional life, but it extends to the search for a marriageable partner, too. 

Let me now give you 6 examples that show that Taiwan is in reality a highly sexualised society, or at least not less 'libertine' than Western countries. I will discuss some of these points more in detail in later posts.

1) Sexy Girls Are Good For Business

The following video shows a TV anchor from a business-focused Taiwanese TV channel. A pretty girl with an extremely low-cut dress and a sexy body appears next to a normal-looking man who explains some serious stuff. 

The use of female bodies as a marketing tool is very widespread in Taiwan. Be it 'beer girls' (girls who work in restaurants or clubs, who approach customers and advertise beer), sexy dentists, sexy shopkeepers, sexy cosplay girls in department stores, etc., it seems that the objectification of the woman for business purposes bothers neither the general public nor women themselves (generally speaking, of course).   

2) Agong Dian

Prostitution in Taiwan is widespread. There are massage parlours, bars, barber shop etc., which offer various sexual services. There are also online services where you can 'book' a girl and then go to her flat or let her come to you. 

In the old district of Wanhua, there are also establishments called Agong Dian (阿公店, literally: "granddad shops"), unlicenced parlours with hostesses, mostly frequented by elder men (hence the name) (note). The  Agong Dians are only one of the different kinds of legal and illegal brothels in Taiwan, not to mention all the prostitutes that operate privately, offering their services online. 

According to a Taiwanese group called Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters, there are around 100,000 sex workers operating in Taiwan (note). This is a large number if one thinks that in 2013 the total amount of residents from English-speaking countries living in Taiwan were less than 15,000, which means that the number of English teachers in the country may not exceed this figure (note).

Nevertheless, the number of sex workers appears to have halved over the past two decades. An article from the LA Times published in 1990 described Taipei as a paradise for sex-related services:

"Taipei is a city of lust," City Councilman Yen Chin-fu said. "Girlie restaurants and bars are everywhere, even in residential and school areas. Some are next to police stations." (note)

The article also mentioned the issue of families selling daughters to brothels. This problem had been analysed by Margery Wolf, as I will show in another post. 

As Taiwan got richer, the sex industry has diminished in size and many of its worst social consequences have disappeared. 

Below, you can see a video about Agong Dians

3) Betel Nut Beauties

If you happen to drive on certain highways in Taiwan, such as some stretches of road in Taoyuan, near Taipei, you may see booths with girls sitting inside. If you stop in front of one of the booths, a young, sexy, scantily clad girl will totter on high heels out of her box and come to you smiling. She is a so-called 'betel nut beauty' (Chinese: 檳榔西施; pinyin: bīnláng xīshī), a uniquely Taiwanese phenomenon (see video below). Betel nut beauties sell products like drinks and chewing gum on highways, and their usual clientele are male workers, such as truck drivers or commuters. As the name suggests, though, their most profitable merchandise are betel nut. 

In the mid-1990s the business of attractive girls selling betel nut exploded in Taipei and then spread to the rest of the country. Competition among girls was fierce, and it led to them wearing increasingly sexy and revealing clothes, to the point of being nearly naked (see Dave Tacon: Taiwan's Betel Nut Beauties. In: Geographical. Volume: 84. Issue: 8. August 2012, p. 32). As the LA Times noted, betel nut beauties don't sell their body. They use their body to sell products (note). From this point of view, they are not entirely different from other similar categories, like the 'beer girls'. 

Starting in 2002, the government cracked down on the 'betel nut culture', which was blamed for damaging the nation's image abroad and for causing moral decay (Tacon 2012). Consequently, the betel nut beauties disappeared from Taipei City and from many other areas, choosing to retreat to less visible places. Their business is still worth millions of dollars, though.

4) 'Booth Babes'

'Booth babes, like the ones you can see at Taipei Computex, are a common marketing strategy in Taiwan. In the male-dominated environment of tech shows, booth girls create a 'stimulating' environment, and attract more male customers. The sexual appeal of the show girls is obvious, though not openly stated, and it is clearly calculated to market products more effectively to a male clientele.

5) Sexuality and the Media

Tabloids like Bild Zeitung in Germany or The Sun in the UK are known for their erotic or semi-erotic sections. Taiwanese tabloids are in this respect second to none. For example, Apple Daily, Taiwan's most popular newspaper, has many articles with sexual content, and even a page entirely dedicated to 'beauties' (see here). 

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Taipei First Girls' High School (臺北市立第一女子高級中學, former Confucius Temple)

This unprepossessing building, located at the crossroads of Guiyang Road and Chongqing South Road, may seem nothing special to the passer-by; and indeed, I have never seen anyone stop and take a closer look at it. But if you walk along Chongqing Road, you will see the following plaque, which reveals a history that takes us back to the roots of Qing Dynasty Taipei.

In fact, where now stands Taipei First Girls' High School, there used to be a building that was typical of imperial Chinese cities of that time: a Confucius temple. The fact that the school is inside Taipei's government district, close to the Presidential Office and opposite the Judicial Yuan, is in itself a proof of the outstanding importance that this site used to have.

You see Taipei First Girls' High School on the left, and on the right
the tower of the Judicial Yuan

The Confucius Temple (文廟) was the first of its kind in Taipei. It was built at around the same time as the city walls (completed in 1884) by the then prefectural magistrate Chen Xingju (陳星聚), using left-over construction materials (note). Close to the Confucius Temple, a Temple of the God of War Tiangong (武廟) was erected (ibid.).

The Confucius Temple was an important civil, religious and political centre. It was fundamental for both the imperial administration and the scholar-officials (ibid., and Zhuang Zhanpeng et al. Taipei Gucheng Shendu Lvyou. Taipei 2000, p. 88). During the tenure of governor Liu Mingchuan (劉銘傳), every year ritual sacrifices were performed in the Confucius Temple, which was also an important social and religious occasion for the scholar-officials (note).  

In the 20th year of the reign of Emperor Guangxu (1894), the Sino-Japanese War broke out, and in the following year China was forced to cede Taiwan to the victorious Japanese. At first, the Temple of Confucius was occupied by Japanese troops during the period of fierce anti-Japanese resistance (抗日) that followed the conquest of the island. Many important artefacts inside the temple were either looted or destroyed. After Taiwan had been pacified, the building was left in a state of neglect (ibid.).

In 1904, the Japanese founded the Japanese School on the site of the Confucius Temple, which was gradually demolished. According to the racial segregation imposed by the Japanese colonial regime, the school was reserved for Japanese girls who lived in Taiwan, while native girls attended the Third Girls' High School, present-day Zhongshan Girls' High School (Zhuang et al. 2000, p. 88). 

That's how the school looked like in the Japanese era
The current campus has a total area of 26,408 square metres, and it has six main buildings, constructed in different periods. The oldest surviving one is the so-called Guangfu Building (completed in 1933, see a picture here). The second oldest building is the Mingde Building, which was constructed in 1954. The Zhongzheng Building was constructed in 1977. The Activity Centre was added in 1971, and the Zhishan Building in 1993 (note).

Unfortunately, nothing remains of the building that was once the Confucius Temple. As many other parts of Taipei, this one, too, has been erased from the collective memory, and only written documents and old photographs remind us of what used to be the centre of power of Qing Dynasty Taipei.