Saturday, 31 May 2014

Macau Protestors Force Chief Executive to Withdraw Controversial Bill

On May 29 Cui Shi'an (崔世安, Chui Sai On in Cantonese), the Chief Executive of Macau Special Administrative Region, announced his decision to scrap a controversial bill that would have allowed him to receive 70% of his salary until he found a new job and that would have granted him immunity from prosecution during his tenure. Furthermore, it would have granted high pensions to officials after leaving their posts. The bill had angered many Macau residents, who accused Cui of trying to "selfishly enrich himself" (私心自肥, literally "fatten himself"). 

The bill proposal sparked an unprecedented wave of political protests among the population. Activist groups organised a demonstration in front of the Legislative Assembly, and around 20,000 people took part in the rally on May 26. This was the biggest popular movement since Macau was handed over to the PRC in 1999.

Members of Macau Conscience (澳門良心), one of the major activist organisations involved in the demonstration, wrote on the group's Facebook page: "May 29 2014 was a great victory for the people of Macau!". Because of the date of the first rally the movement has been dubbed "525 Movement".

Wang Dan (王丹), an activist who took part in the Tiananmen student protests of 1989 and who is currently teaching history at National Tsinghua University in Taiwan, stated that Su Jiahao (蘇嘉豪), one of the leaders of Macau Conscience, was one of his students. According to Apple Daily, Su studied political sciences at National Taiwan University, and his current political activities were inspired by his experience with social movements and democracy in Taiwan. Taiwanese media have already drawn a comparision between Macau's 525 Movement and the Sunflower Student Movement, while Su Jiahao is considered the Macau version of Lin Feifan

In recent years, Hong Kong and Taiwan have seen the growth of social movements that demand more transparency and democracy. In Hong Kong, the Occupy Central movement has already sparked heated debates between pro-Beijing and pro-democracy groups. Macau, which has been rather quiet on the political front after the handover in 1999, seems to have joined the club of the discontent. Wang Dan goes so far as to say that Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau should work together against the common enemy, the Chinese Communist Party

Macau Legilsative Assembly

In the case of Macau, however, the focus of the protests doesn't seem to have been China itself, but the contradiction inherent to the SAR model. Both Macau and Hong Kong suffer from a lack of transparency and popular representation, and their respective governments are accountable more to Beijing than to the people they are supposed to represent. Macau, for instance, can be described as an oligarchy rather than a democracy.
According to the Basic Law of the Macau Special Administrative Region, the Chief Executive, the Legislative Council (or Assemby), and the Courts are the three branches of government. The Chief Executive is elected by an Election Committee made up of 300 members, 100 from the industrial, commercial and financial sectors, 80 from cultural and educational sectors and other professions, 80 from working classes and other sectors, 40 chosen from the Macau representatives in the National People's Congress and in the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in Beijing. 

However, the members of the election committeed are themselves elected by a small group of people. This system is designed to make elections relatively marginal, if not altogether superfluous. In 2009, for example, there were exactly as many candidates as there were eligible seats. In 2009, Cui Shi'an, the current Chief Executive, received 95% of the vote, as there was no other candidate except for him (see Hao 2011, pp. 45-46).

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Taiwanese Woman Kills Herself in Her Brother's Home – He Asks for Compensation

Last year a 63-year-old woman from Taichung surnamed Chen went to visit her older brother. She had been suffering from a chronic desease and was in low spirits, so her brother invited her to the countryside to stay with him. One day her brother and his wife left home to go on a trip. During the absence of the couple, the woman hanged herself in the flat's kitchen. After the man returned home, he discovered his sister's dead body. He became angry and sued his sister's three kids for damage compensation, arguing that the suicide of his sister had reduced the value of his flat. He asked that he be indemnified by the woman's children. 

According to Apple Daily, the man's lawyer declared that his client had invited his sister home to recuperate from her illness as an act of kindness, but she had decided to kill herself in his flat. He couldn't understand his sister's behaviour. He believes that when his sister killed herself, she didn't think about the damage she would do to others, and specifically to the value of the property where she committed suicide. 

In fact, after the flat had become a haunted house (凶宅), its value dropped by 40-50%. He therefore asked to be paid an indemnity. The woman's children stated that their mother and their aunt had inherited the three-storey building from their parents, but they had ceded it to their three brothers. The eldest brother and his wife now live there. 

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Parents of Taipei MRT Knife Attacker Apologise

Yesterday the parents of Zheng Jie, the student who killed and injured several people on Taipei Metro, visited a Buddhist ceremony held near Jiangzicui Station for the victims and their families. This is the station where Zheng Jie got off the train and was subsequently arrested by the police. In the days following the knife attack, many people put flowers outside of the station to commemorate the victims.

Zheng Jie's parents went there to apologise and pray for the victims and their relatives. They were surrounded by journalists and were protected by police forces, as it was feared that relatives of the victims might try to harm them.

The father knelt down and read a short statement. He repeatedly apologised for what his son had done, and he said he and his wife would burn incense and pray for the victims and their families. He stated that he understood their suffering and that he was himself suffering.

"Although he is our child," he said, "the crime he committed is terrible ... The judge will probably sentence him to death. Although he is our son, I think he must face up to the death penalty. That's the only way to give a little peace to the suffering families of the victims ... We hope that he will be a good man in the next life."

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Armed Man Wearing a Military Uniform Arrested on Taipei MRT

Yesterday, 26 May, passengers of the Taipei Metro were shocked when they saw a man wearing a military uniform and a gas mask and sitting on a train of the Bannan line, the same line in which last week's knife attack happened. The man was holding a rifle, and hand grenades were hooked to his belt. Several passengers were alarmed and called the police.

At Taipei Main Station, the man got off and was soon surrounded by the police. But, as it turned out, this seems to have been just a misunderstanding. As Apple Daily reported, the weapons weren't real and the man was heading to an Airsoft site located near Jiantan Station. When asked by the police why he entered the MRT dressed like that, he just said: “It looks good!”

After the knife attack on the Taipei MRT, in which four people were killed and more than twenty were injured, a wave of hysteria seems to have swept the Taiwanese capital. A few days ago, a woman showed up on the MRT holding a sword in her hand. The unusual images immediately circulated online. 

The UnionPay Scandal in Macau

In the following article, which I wrote for the Italian magazine L'Indro, I explain how the China UnionPay network is used by mainland Chinese who travel to Macau in order to evade taxes or take huge amounts of money out of the country illegally. The article is, of course, in Italian, so if you can speak it check it out.
Sabato 17 maggio due cittadini cinesi sono stati arrestati a Macao mentre prendevano un taxi fuori da un casinò nella zona di Cotai. L'arresto è avvenuto nell'ambito dei recenti tentativi del Governo centrale di Pechino di combattere la fuga di capitali dalla Cina attraverso Macao. I due cinesi, di 25 e 30 anni, erano in possesso di 690.000 dollari di Hong Kong in contanti, e di fiches del valore di 500.000 dollari di Hong Kong. Gli uomini si erano procurati il denaro attraverso due carte della rete di pagamento statale cinese UnionPay.
Proprio la UnionPay è stata di recente al centro di un nuovo scandalo che conferma come i cittadini cinesi utilizzino vari metodi illegali per portare capitali all'estero e così evadere le rigide restrizioni imposte dallo stato cinese. La fuga di capitali con la rete UnionPay non è difficile. Un cittadino cinese si reca nella Zona Amministrativa Speciale di Macao, che è di fatto divenuta la capitale del gioco d'azzardo della Cina e dell’intero Est asiatico. Utilizzando una carta UnionPay, la quale fa parte della rete bancaria statale cinese, egli si reca in un negozio, ad esempio una gioielleria, e chiede al negoziante di fargli fare un finto acquisto. Il cliente si fa consegnare dei soldi prelevati con la carta dal proprio conto cinese, e maschera il prelievo come acquisto di merceIn questo modo si può aggirare il limite massimo di denaro che i cittadini cinesi possono portare al di fuori dei confini della Cina continentale, il quale è di 20.000 yuan (3-200 dollari) al giorno.
Il 'sistema UnionPaypermette a molti cinesi ricchi di riciclare denaro sporco, spendere cifre elevate nei casinò, o di evadere le tasse. Ad esempio, i due uomini di Fujian arrestati questo mese avevano manomesso i loro dispositivi UnionPay in modo da connetterli ad una piattaforma commerciale della Cina continentale che trattiene una commessa di 26 yuan per transazione, invece dell'14% previsto sulla rete UnionPay di Macao. L’utilizzo illegale dei conti UnionPay ha fino ad oggi arrecato alla banca una perdita di 220.000 patacas in tasse di transazione. Fra febbraio e gli inizi di maggio, 12 persone sono state arrestate in casi frode legati all’uso illegale di carte UnionPay.
La UnionPay, poco conosciuta in Occidente, è l’unica organizzazione nella Repubblica Popolare Cinese autorizzata al rilascio di carte di pagamento. Fu fondata nel 2002 con il benestare della Banca Popolare Cinese, ed è l’unica rete bancomat interbancaria della Cina continentale. La rete UnionPay si estende ormai a 141 Paesi, inclusa l’Italia. A poco più di un decennio dalla sua fondazione, la UnionPay, il cui quartier generale si trova a Shanghai Pudong, è giunta a dominare il mercato globale. Con 3.53 bilioni di carte di pagamento in circolazione, essa ha infatti soppiantato le sue ben più famose rivali come la Visa, anche se le transazioni di quest’ultima, pari a 4.6 trilioni di dollari, rimangono ancora al primo posto. Ma la UnionPay, che con 2.5 trilioni di dollari è seconda, può dire di aver raggiunto lo scopo che la leadership cinese si era prefissa: internazionalizzare e conquistare i mercati globali. Come spesso avviene nell’economia cinese, questo risultato è stato raggiunto attraverso una rigida regolamentazione statale. La UnionPay, infatti, gode di un monopolio di mercato in Cina, e operatori esteri come Visa e MasterCard sono obbligati ad affiliarsi alle reti UnionPay per poter offrire i propri servizi.
Dal 1999, anno in cui la colonia portoghese fu restituita alla Cina, ad oggi, Macao è divenuta il luogo privilegiato in cui la nuova elite politico-economica cinese si dà al gioco d'azzardo, e in cui può riciclare denaro sporco, ad esempio quello che la corruzione dilagante mette nelle tasche di alcuni membri del Partito Comunista, evadere le tasse, o portare denaro all'estero per reinvestirlo in beni immobili, in progetti di emigrazione, o per depositarlo in paradisi fiscali.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Living Without "Made in China"

Have you ever heard of Westinghouse Electric? Together with Allis-Chalmers and General Electric, Westinghouse used to be one of the biggest electric manufacturers in the United States. The firm was founded by George Westinghouse in 1886 and soon became a leader in electric appliances. 

In its first decade, the company invented a transformer for long-distance alternating current (AC) transmission; it installed the first commercial AC power generating station; it acquired Nikola Tesla's patent for a system of electrical generation and created a polyphase AC system and an inductor motor; it installed the first long distance power transmission lines between Willamette Falls and Portland, Oregon; it lighted up the 1893 Chicago World's Fair with 250,000 electric lights; it electrified Buffalo and New York, and it invented the first electric locomotive. 

In 1954, Westinghouse was part of a thriving US electric manufacturing industry that sold $876 million worth of electrical products, with 5.6% of revenues coming from exports (Bidwell 1956, p. 224).

Today, Westinghouse Electric doesn't exist any longer. Over the years, the company shifted its focus from manufacturing to broadcasting and finance. "Already on a slow decline, regional employment, which stood at 28,000 in 1980 and 18,000 in 1990, fell even faster as Westinghouse laid off thousands and sold divisions to survive" (note). In 1997 the company changed its name and became the famous CBS Corporation. The brand Westinghouse continues to operate in the nuclear energy sector, of which the Japanese corporation Toshiba has 87% ownership, and it licences its name and logo to other firms. It employs around 14,000 people. 

Today, Westinghouse and CBS together employ around 30,000 people. In 1900, when the US population was just around 76 million, Westinghouse Electric had 50,000 employees.

The story of Westinghouse is typical of many other big American brands that started as manufactures and ended somewhere else. This is the story of why no present-day American could live on domestic-manufactured products. 

Sunday, 25 May 2014

The Taipei MRT Knife Attack and Taiwan's Society

Every time a crime is perpetrated, the media find themselves in a difficult position. On the one hand, they have the responsibility to spread knowledge, inform and analyse. On the other hand, they are a business that must make money out of the news they report on. They are easily tempted to speculate on the suffering and the misfortunes of people, to turn them into entertainment. 

The Taipei Metro knife attack that happened a few days ago is such a tragic and sad event that I think everyone should be careful not to use this massacre as a pretext to speculate and fabricate theories that try to explain why Zheng Jie committed that crime. The most absurd of such theories is that the Sunflower Movement made society more violent and therefore encouraged individual acts of ferocity such as Zheng Jie's. These ideas can't be taken seriously, as they completely lack evidence and are nothing more than insinuations. The murder of four people should not be used as an instrument to fight political battles. 

Another theory that has been suggested is that society is responsible for the alienation of young people like Zheng Jie. In particular, a post that went viral these days claims that Taiwan's obsession with success and the wrong attitude of parents creates a negative social atmosphere. The post was written by Chris Wang (宥勝), a Taiwanese actor, singer and writer

Do we care about Zheng Jie?” he asked in his post, wondering if it is right to condemn him as a “scum”, instead of trying to understand what led him to become violent. Chris Wang criticised the attitude of Zheng Jie's parents. 

According to Wang, despite the fact that they publicly apologised to the nation, they didn't seem to love their son very much, as they were all too ready to declare that Zheng Jie had always been a problem in the family, that he liked to play violent video games, that they felt shamed, etc.

Now, I am not interested in such supposedly psychological analyses. It is not given to us to see through the mind and soul of a person. We know neither Zheng Jie nor his parents personally. And the crime that has been committed is so atrocious that I believe we shouldn't use it as an excuse to rant about politics or society. It is the job of the police to clarify Zheng Jie's personal and psychological background and to determine why he murdered. But we shouldn't forget that he did murder. So, before starting to make him a victim or a hero, let us express our solidarity to the families of the real victims, those who have lost their lives. 



Therefore, I will skip the part of Chris Wang's argument about Zheng Jie, and focus on some of his general reflections about Taiwanese society, which I find extremely interesting.   

People familiar with Taiwan may know that many Taiwanese tend to project a positive image of the island as a friendly, kind society. “Taiwanese are nice, friendly, helpful” etc. are phrases one often hears; they are part of Taiwan's self-image. This view is often passively adopted by foreigners, as well. I am not saying that there are no nice Taiwanese; I have indeed met many people who were extremely kind to me. However, the idea that Taiwan as a whole is nice and kind is in my view entirely at odds with evidence that shows a different picture. 

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Neoconfucianism and China's Internet Valentine's Day

(source: Wikipedia)
On May 20 China celebrated the so-called Internet Valentine's Day (网路情人节 / 網路情人節 pinyin: Wǎnglù Qíngrénjié). Chinese netizens believe that this day at 13:14 is the most auspicious time of the year for lovers. Those who already are in a relationship should declare their eternal love, while those who are still single have a good chance to find a boyfriend or girlfriend.

Before Internet Valentine's Day, a Chinese netizen published a post called “The 2014 New Girlfriend Criteria” (2014女友新標準 / 女友标准, pinyin: nǚyóu xīn biāozhǚn), in which he listed off the characteristics that a perfect girlfriend should have: 

her height should be between 1.62 to 1.73 and her weight between 50 and 61 kg. She should have long hair. Her nature should be gentle and soft, and she should neither drink nor smoke. She must be able to cook, she should care about others and be a filial daughter (孝順父母). She should love animals, have elegant manners, she shouldn't say bad words and not be suspicious without reason. She shouldn't check her boyfriend's mobile phone, and from time to time she should give him a little surprise. 

A girl who meets these criteria is someone worth marrying.

Does this Chinese-style male fantasy have any general cultural interest? I would say that it does.

In fact, these criteria echo a long tradition of Confucian social roles, about which I often wrote on this blog. I wonder how many Westerners living in China or Taiwan have heard with a certain feeling of surprise some of their Chinese or Taiwanese friends talk about the necessary criteria that a future husband or wife should have: tall, rich, white skin, gentle etc. It is as if one chose a partner on the basis of abstract patterns, long before meeting the actual individual they might eventually marry. 

This has to do with a specific element of traditional Confucian thought that has survived until today despite all political, social, and economic changes: the individual is subordinated to standardised social roles, hierarchies and power relations. The individual's task is to conform himself to these roles, to fulfil them and repress his individuality whenever this comes into conflict with society's expectations. 

One of the major concerns of Confucianism was indeed how to create a perfect state and a perfect society by using the family as its foundation. In this context, huge pressure was put on women so that they might dedicate their lives to repressing their individuality and committing themselves entirely to Confucian family ideology, in which they existed mainly as functions of the patrilineal family. As Kai-Wing Chow puts it in his masterful study The Rise of Confucian Ritualism in Late Imperial China: Ethics, Classics, and Lineage Discourse:

The ritualist ethics of the Han Learning scholars in most cases served to enhance the gentry's effort to promote the ancestral cult and the cult of women's purity--two of the most important values on their cultural agenda. [They put pressure on] women to conform to the cult of women's purity. 

Purity is not to be understood in the Christian sense of the term – as many Westerners often mistakenly do. It does not make sense to interpret a non-Christian tradition by referring to the concepts of a Christian or Christian-derived system of ethics. Rather, we must understand purity in a thoroughly Confucian way, that is, from the point of view of an ideology in which women's virtue was subordinated to the requirements of filial piety and the perpetuation of the husband's family lineage. 

This ideal is best explained by the works of Zhu Xi (朱熹; 1130 – 1200), one of the most important neo-Confucian scholars (I will write a separate post about him). 
Zhu Xi saw the survival of the patrilineal family as depending from the compliance of the wife with the precepts of Confucian virtue. Zhu Xi writes:

[Taking] a daughter-in-law in marriage is to continue the family line. Some ancient people predicted whether a family would prosper or decline on the basis of the virtuous or vicious character of the daughter-in-law. The matter is of utmost importance. Should the choice be neglected? (Zhu Xi, Chapter VI).

Therefore, the choice of a wife wasn't a son's matter, but a family matter. The future wife had to meet 'the criteria' of virtue as envisioned by Confucians. She had to be docile and submissive, be able to work hard and sacrifice herself, and she had to accept her husband having other women. From the moment she was married on the meaning of her life was help maintain the prosperity, the proper hierarchies and rituals (what Chinese often call 'harmony') of her husband's family.

Zhu Xi gives an interesting examples of a virtuous woman. He quoted the Song Dynasty scholar Cheng Yi, who wrote about his own mother:

My mother was known for filial piety and respectfulness in serving her parents-in-law. She and father treated each other with full respect as guests are treated. Grateful for her help at home, father treated her with even greater reverence. But mother conducted herself with humility and obedience. Even in small matters, she never made decisions alone but always asked father before she did anything. She was humane, altruistic, liberal, and earnest. She cared for and loved the children of my father's concubines just as she did her own (Zhu Xi, Chatper VI, my emphasis)

The comparison of the respect between husband and wife and that proffered to guests shows how human relationships were viewed not in terms of mutual understanding and individual feelings, but in terms of standardised social roles and hierarchies. We see that it is expected of the mother to accept her husband's concubines. Not even the son expressed any pity for his mother's condition. This reveals that the family was not based on love in the Western sense, or on purity in its Christian meaning. 

As mentioned before, the individual was obliged to hide his true feelings and conform to social norms. This is exemplified by the following passage:

Shun served his parents well but they were on occasions still not delighted because his father was obstinate and his mother was insincere. They were absolutely unreasonable. But when parents have the nature of an average person and their love and hate do not violate principle, the son should obey them. He should do his best to entertain his parents' dear friends so as to please his parents. He should do his best to prepare for the service of his parents' guests, without figuring whether he can afford it. However, in supporting parents one must not let them know that one is straining one's effort and resources. If they should became aware of the difficulty, they would not feel happy (ibid., my emphasis).

We see that a son had to subordinate his own happiness to that of his parents. The purpose of his life was to 'serve' them, make them happy and continue the family lineage. In the West, parents-children relationship was never understood on the basis of 'service' or life-long hierarchical subordination, at least not in mainstream discourse. Therefore, a Westerner might show understanding for children who do not love parents whose behaviour is bad. 

In the given example, the author admits that Shun's parents had a bad character, although they formally complied with social norms (“their love and hate do not violate principle”). However, the son must repress his feelings and pretend. Some Westerners may view the parents who ignore their son's feelings as selfish, and the son who doesn't show his feelings as deceitful. To Chinese, on the contrary, not repressing one's feelings and not subordinating to parents is perceived as selfish. 

The perfect woman of the 2014 list of criteria is modern only on the surface. In reality, this is a Confucian ideal of a docile, submissive, filial woman, subordinated to man. The perfect woman is not a real human being, an individual with a name, a face and a soul. It is an abstract pattern, a framework, an ideal – indeed, a Confucian-style social role. 

Many Chinese women end up conforming more or less sincerely to such standards, if they feel family pressure and social pressure to get married before getting too old. In the Chinese marriage market, this understanding of social roles often leads to tensions between feelings and social expectations, which may be manipulated for individual purposes, as I will show in another post. 

Friday, 23 May 2014

An Old House in Taipei - Or Not?

It's hard to write a blog post the day after the Taipei Metro knife attack. So I decided to just upload a few pictures I took one or two days before I left Taiwan in February. 

These are the pictures of a building I've always been curious about. It has an old-style tile rooftop and it looks quite old. Since it's located inside a courtyard separated from the street by a wall I couldn't see much except for the roof. 

The house is in Roosevelt Road in Taipei, and I've always wondered if it's really an old one or not. My dream is that it's a Japanese or Qing-dynasty house, and that we can save it from its decay. But I'm pretty sure it's just a dream, because the whole area is modern, with nearly no exception (but there are a few, which I hope to show in the future). 

I would like to meet some local Taiwanese who know something about this building. But so far, that, too, has been a dream.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

"I didn't want to live, but didn't dare to kill myself, so I wanted the death penalty", said Taipei Metro Knife Attacker

The Taipei Metro massacre perpetrated by the 21-year-old Zheng Jie (鄭捷), has shocked Taiwan. The country is among the safest in the world, and in the almost 20-year-long history of its underground network there had never been any major episode of violence. Indeed, in the minds of many Taiwanese the Taipei Metro system has come to represent Taiwan's ideal of an orderly, civilised, modern society. 

Zheng Jie used this very place of civility in order to commit the bloodiest carnage in recent Taiwanese history. Policemen were astonished by the man's calm and cold demeanour after the arrest, and by how conscious he was of what he had done, by how unrepentant he was.

During the interrogation conducted by the police, Zheng Jie explained why he had decided to carry out the knife attack

He said that he felt too much social pressure, that he didn't want to live any more. But he didn't have the courage to kill himself, so he wanted to be sentenced to death. He had been planning to commit murder since his childhood, and he thought that only by killing a large number of people would he get the death penalty. 

He chose to carry out the massacre on the Bannan Line, between Longshan Temple Station and Jiangzicui Station. He said that the distance between the two stations is longer than usual, and this gave him the opportuniy to kill as many people as possible while the passangers were trapped in the train. He added that after killing those people he felt very satisfied. Policemen said they couldn't believe a man could be so cold-blooded after killing four people and injuring more than twenty.

According to a former senior high school classmate surnamed Wang, Zheng Jie was a fan of Japanese writer Koushun Takami's Battle Royale and other violent Japanese novels. In his school years, Zheng Jie would himself write novels in which he described different methods with which people could kill each other.

However, Wang said that Zheng Jie overall seemed like a normal teenager and that he was quite popular with his classmates. 

Zheng Jie attended the College of Management of the National Defence University for two years before quitting and transferring to Donghai University, where he is still enrolled in the Department of Environmental Science and Engineering. According to his parents, he didn't have many friends and spent most of his spare time at home playing video games. 

Unlike other Metro systems in the world, Taipei doesn't have any security controls for passengers entering the paid area of stations. In other Asian cities, like Beijing, every passengers must go through security checks before accessing the inner part of stations.


Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Four People Killed, 22 Injured in Taipei Metro Knife Attack

Four people have been killed and at least 22 have been injured in a deadly knife attack in the Taipei Metro. At around 16:26 local time, a 21-year-old student, who according to witnesses had boarded the train in Longshan Temple Station, launched a knife attack, stabbing dozens of passengers. The attack happened during the rush hour in the Bannan Line, one of the busiest lines of the Metro.

The attacker has been identified as Zheng Jie (鄭捷), a second-grade student at Donghai University (東海大學). Pictures show that he was wearing a red T-shirt and black short trousers. The Bureau Chief of the New Taipei Police, Chen Guo'en (陳國恩), said that the man had planned the attack last week and that he showed no signs of regret. 

Videos show the panicking passengers trying to protect themselves from the man (watch video below). As soon as the train stopped at Jiangzicui Station (江子翠), the passengers rushed out, looking for a place to hide. Within a few minutes, the police had seized the man, who was covered in the blood of his victims. Three of them, a 47-year-old woman and two men, 20 and 30 years old respectively, died from the injuries.

Upon his capture, Zheng kept repeating: "Since I was a child I've been wanting to do something big!" (我從小立志要做一件大事!) (note). According to preliminary investigations, the man was not drunk. When asked by the police whether he knew that he would be punished, he replied: "I know I will be sentenced to death" (note).

The parents of the attacker said that he is a "nerd" (宅男). He has no friends, no girlfriend, and except for going to school he just stayed at home playing video games (note).

The Taipei Metro is considered one of the safest in the world. This has been the first incident of the kind since it began operations in 1996.

The Koxinga Shrine From Which Honey Flowed

I am still struggling to understand Taiwan's religiosity more deeply. I just found out that Koxinga (Zheng Chenggong) is worshipped as a deity in Taiwanese temples. Koxinga was a Ming Dynasty loyalist who resisted the Qing invasion of China in the 17th century. 

He retreated to Taiwan in 1661, expelled the Dutch and founded a Dynasty that ruled Taiwan until 1684. In a recent post, Apple Daily reported on a shrine built in Changhua County. Suddenly, from the statue of Koxinga honey began to flow. However, that was not a miracle...

Statue of Koxinga in Tainan's Koxinga Temple

In fact, bees had used the base of the Koxinga statue as their nesting site and had grown a colony inside. Looking at this shrine, I wonder what people think and feel when they worship Koxinga. In the West, this kind of deification of humans was common in the Roman Empire, where Emperors were declared Gods (divi). Perhaps, this can be compared to the worship of saints in the Catholic Church. 

Koxing is also worshipped in mainland China, and a statue in his honour can be found on Gulang island, in Fujian Province. 

A short video of Koxinga Temple in Tainan

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

My Love-Hate Relationship With Taiwan's Convenience Stores

Some Taiwanese friends of mine make fun of me because I spend too much time in convenience stores. I have a favourite one near my home. Late at night, I am often the last customer sitting there. It is quiet, there is Wi-Fi, I can read books or surf the internet or do some work while drinking a beer, or coffee, or eating some snacks. Sometimes I also have dinner there.

And yet I don't like convenience stores. They don't have the relaxed, individual atmosphere of coffee shops; their packaged food - which must be heated in the microwave - is full of preservatives; Wi-Fi isn't free; they are more expensive than supermarkets. 

Nevertheless, there is hardly a day when I don't go to a convenience store to buy a drink, to top up my phone, to withdraw money from an ATM, etc.

Inside a Family Mart store

Taiwan is the country with the highest density of convenience stores in the world, and perhaps it is also the country where they have reached their highest stage of evolution so far. They have all sorts of food and snacks: rice dishes with meat and vegetables, cold noodles, noodle soups, fruit boxes, tofu snacks, vegetable snacks, tiramisu, cakes, soy milk, yoghurt, sushi, salads, rice and fish snacks - the list is simply endless. Apart from food, you can buy plenty of other merchandise; from disposable raincoats to umbrellas, from surgical masks to underwear, from deodorant to shampoo. You can also order drinks, withdraw money, buy train tickets, receive mail – well, you can do so many things there that I would need a whole catalogue to list them all off.     

A recent article on the WSJ shows how fond Taiwanese are of their convenience stores. Many people go to convenience stores several times a day. They buy coffee, have a meal, meet colleagues, hold meetings, or take away food. Convenience stores have become a part of many people's lives, most especially of single workers who have no time to cook. Besides, more and more convenience stores (like my favourite one) have tables, so that many people go there to eat food, read newspapers, study, surf the internet etc.

Many Taiwanese I met in Berlin complained about the fact that Europe has no convenience stores. “Where can I buy things at night?” they asked me. “Where can I buy things on weekends?” “It is so inconvenient!”

Divas and Open Chan, the 'cute' 7-11 mascot

Most of us foreigners tend to be even fonder of convenience stores than Taiwanese. I guess the majority of us resorted to convenience stores during our first days or weeks in Taiwan. There are so many restaurants and food stalls in Taiwan, but we don't know which one to choose, how and what to order. We see the menus full of Chinese characters we can't read, and only pictures can save us – but most menus have none. Little by little, we start to experiment, go to different restaurants, compare them, make some mistakes, but gradually we learn. At the beginning, however, convenience stores are by far the easiest option. 

I am not a very talkative person and I don't like crowded places. So I still go to convenience stores from time to time to have dinner. On weekends, when restaurants are teeming with people, who even form long queues in front of entrance doors, I choose not to eat in the rush hour; I just wait patiently, with empty stomach, until the crowds have dissolved. Then the atmosphere becomes more relaxed and quiet. But restaurants have already stopped serving food or are about to close (the rhythm of Taiwan's dinner rush hour is something I'll never understand). I have no choice but to go to a convenience store, eating a sad prepackaged meal. But better than sitting next to tens of people in an overfilled place, with customers walking around, searching for a seat, wishing you got up and freed a table, and while waiters look at me as if I was eating too slowly, and as if reading a book or watching a video during dinner was inconsiderate. 

In such cases convenience stores become my refuge. They have air-conditioning, are open 24-hours, I can sit there and take my time. 

When I first came to Taiwan, I actually loved convenience stores. But after some time I began to perceive them as symbols of what is not so good about Taiwan's lifestyle. Many Taiwanese people are restlessly busy; busy with dealing with their family, busy with making money, busy with getting by. There is not much time to relax at home, to cultivate hobbies and interests, to stop and breathe in and just enjoy life. Convenience stores reflect this rhythm, this restlessness, this desire to consume quickly. At some point I got tired of eating microwave-heated food, of seeing the frustrated faces of underpaid store staff, especially of those who do night shifts. Convenience has its downsides.

A long 7-Eleven advertisement video

October 1945 and the China-Taiwan Encounter

In November 1943, the Allied governments gathered at Cairo to discuss the post-war settlement. Among the leaders of the soon-to-be victorious powers was Chiang Kai-shek, the man who had led the Guomindang and the Republic of China (ROC) since 1927. Chiang was determined to restore China’s might in East Asia and to redress the wrongs that Japan had done to his country over the past fifty years. He therefore wanted all the territories which Tokyo had conquered by war, including Taiwan, to be returned to the ROC, which claimed to be the legal successor of Imperial China. 

From its temporary headquarters in Chongqing, where the Guomindang apparatus had retreated during the war, the ROC government organised Taiwan’s administrative takeover. Chen Yi, the former governor of Fujian Province, was chosen as the head of Taiwan Investigative Committee. He was helped by native Taiwanese who supported the Guomindang, the so-called half mountain.

On September 2, 1945, the Japanese signed the unconditional surrender, and on October 25, the official Retrocession Ceremony was held at Taipei’s Zhongshan Hall (see Davison 2003, p. 75). 

But how did the Taiwanese people react to their encounter with China after fifty years of separation? 

The Mainlanders Arrive in Taiwan

Contrary to a common belief, in 1945 Taiwan wasn’t a colonial backwater. In fact, Taiwan was one of the most developed countries in Asia, with a per capita GDP second only to Japan’s. Under Japanese rule Taiwan’s annual GDP growth averaged 4% and per capita income reached 752 USD in 1938 (Japan’s was 1,405). 20% of the Taiwanese population lived in urban centres with at least 20,000 inhabitants, and 6 out of 1,000 Taiwanese had a telephone at home. 

This remarkable development was achieved by Japan's colonial administration through its pioneering state-led capitalism that combined market forces and government policies such as direct government investment, tariffs, regulation etc. (see Liberman 1996, Chapter 6).

Monday, 19 May 2014

Paris vs Taipei: The "Importance of Appearances" Experiment

A few days ago norniTube released a video that shows how people react when a man falls down in a street in Paris, pretending to be sick. In the first part of the video, the man is dressed like a homeless person. People get by but no one helps him. In the second part of the video, the man is dressed in a suit, and immediately some people go to him and ask him if he's all right (note).

The incident is supposed to show that people often ignore each other's suffering, and that the way someone looks determines how helpful and friendly others will be. 

The same experiment was tried by Apple Chen in Taipei, in the wealthy Eastern District, near Sogo department store. However, the experiment was not about the different reaction of passers-by to a homeless and a rich-looking man. 

A normally dressed man begins to cough and then falls down. After just a few seconds some people go to him and ask if he's all right. He says that he has pills in his pocket, and they help him take them.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Stepmother in China's Guangdong Won't Face Prosecution For Abusing Child

On May 14 pictures of Binbin, a 10-year-old boy from Guangdong, circulated online, causing an uproar. His whole body was full of wounds and burns which, as it turned out, had been caused by the severe beatings administered to him by his stepmother. 

According to reports, she beat the child regularly, once or twice a week (note). Despite the case having been made public, the woman and the family won't be prosecuted. As China's state-run news network People's Daily reported: "The boy’s father worked in Dongguan most of the year and was rarely home. According to local police, the decision to not pursue legal action was made after requests from the boy and his father."

Although this is an extreme case, it highlights the issue of corporal punishment in the Chinese-speaking world. In mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, corporal punishment was widespread, and it was not just confined to child-beating, but extended to corporal abuse of wives. The awareness that corporal punishment can cause severe psychological as well as physical damage to children has led to a reduction of the phenomenon. However, the belief that corporal punishment is admissible and that it is a family matter remains widespread.

Feng Yuan, co-founder of China's Anti-Domestic Violence Network, told the Global Times:

There is no legal framework for public institutions like schools and hospitals to report child abuse …The nation has yet to deprive a single abusive parent of guardianship or to exercise national guardianship to guarantee the best interests of children (note).

A recent poll revealed that only 37.5% of respondents from Guangzhou believe that beating a child should be classified as domestic violence (ibid.). 

Surveys suggest that corporal punishment is still viewed as acceptable in Hong Kong, as well. A study conducted in 2008 in Hong Kong found out that 58% of 5,841 children aged 9-18 had been given corporal punishment by parents. A 2004 study further showed that 44% of adult respondents used corporal punishment to discipline their children (Ko-ling Chan 2012, p. 193).

In Taiwan, a 2004 survey revealed that 87% of respondents had beaten their children, although 78% said they later regretted it. 27% of parents said that corporal punishment was ineffective, while 25% said it worked. Some parents explained that they "failed to control their emotions and that the demands they placed on young children were sometimes too rigorous" (note).

Margery Wolf, who studied Taiwan between the 1950s and 1970s, noted that corporal punishment was very widespread at that time. The following excerpt shows that parents not only beat their children but also discussed openly about it with their neighbours, and that corporal punishment was considered a family matter as long as the community did not perceive that a parent was going to far:

A beating administered by a Taiwanese parent is often severe, leaving the child bruised and in some cases bleeding. Parents prefer to use a bamboo rod to discipline children, but they will use their hand or fist if there is no bamboo available, and if they are really angry, they will pick up whatever is at hand. Crueler forms of physical punishment are also used by a few parents, such as making the offending child kneel on the ridged surface of an abacus or tying the child in a dark corner. One mother was pointed out to us who had recently punished her son by tying his wrists, throwing the rope over a beam, and drawing it up enough to keep him standing on his toes. Most parents find such techniques too harsh ... 

The following conversation took place between a group of mothers. One of the children was being naughty, and her mother grabbed her and hit her quite hard in the middle of the back. Another woman, Kim-lan, chided the mother. “How can you hit a child there? You’re as bad as Phik-gioq, you never look before you hit.” The mother laughed and said, “I never do. When I’m mad how can I look? I just hit them wherever I can with whatever I have in my hand. If I waited to find a stick, they could do anything.” A-mui, another mother in the group, admitted, “I’m that way too. You have to hit them when you are mad, or they will run off and you’ll forget about it. Like yesterday. I finished cooking about four-thirty. The youngest wanted to eat so I gave her something. Then all the others [five of them] came around yelling, wanting to eat too. I was so hot and so mad that I just grabbed the oldest one and beat her up. I think I really hurt her, but they made me so mad I just grabbed the closest one and hit her, and then they were all quiet.” Kim-lan said, “That is why everyone says, ‘If the children in the upper house are getting beaten, the children in the lower house will be good.’ ” 

Ordinarily, outsiders would not dare interfere in a “family” affair, but anyone, even a stranger, is expected to interfere when a mother clearly has lost control of her temper while beating a child. If this was not an accepted custom, there would be many more severely battered children in the villages than there are (Wolf 1972, Chapter 5)

Friday, 16 May 2014

Man Harasses Female Passenger on Taipei Metro

The Taipei Metro System is one of the cleanest and most efficient underground networks in the world. However, every now and then episodes of sexual harassment happen, which apparently are serious enough to have prompted the metro administration to issue ani-sexual-harassment posters that can been seen in most underground stations. Today, Apple Daily reported on another such incident (on the video below). A friend of mine told me about one episode of sexual harassment that happened to her. Yet I never witnessed one myself, perhaps because I seldom take the metro during the rush hour.

Between 2002 and 2007 the Taipei police arrested 53 men involved in cases of sexual harassment. They were between 20 and 40 years old, and 14 of them had an undergraduate or master's degree. Some had psychological problems. The men were arrested for either touching, filming or taking pictures of women. Some of the victims were college students.

One man who had been arrested for splashing his semen on women said this helped him release emotional pressure (note).