Taiwan Journal, Part VIII

The Grand Hotel in Taipei


Welcome back to this journal, these jottings from Taiwan, an interesting, memorable, and important place. (I have mentioned the reasons for its importance before; I will do so again later.) Just joining us? Previous parts are at the following links: I, II, III, IV, V, VI, and VII.

Meet Mab Huang, a professor at Soochow University. He is a venerable, marvelous-looking gent, in a light summer suit and wide-brimmed hat. He has a trace of an English accent. He explains that he had an English tutor, when a boy. He has a long, interesting face — I think of a Chinese John Updike.

Professor Huang studied at the University of Chicago and Columbia, under some of the most important intellectuals of the age. One was Leo Strauss, “but I’m not a Straussian,” Huang says. Another was Friedrich Hayek. “Are you a Hayekian?” I ask. “No!” he says, laughingly. “I am!” I say.

I ask him a standard question: “Is Taiwan a country? A nation? A state? An offshoot of China? A Chinese province-in-waiting? What is it?” He says it’s hard to say. Certainly, in the minds of some, there is a community, a shared experience, a shared commitment, a sense of solidarity . . .

Many people who came from China, says Huang, could not speak the language — the Taiwanese version of Chinese — and did not really make an effort. And that made them “to some degree cut off.”

Huang suspects that Taiwan’s best shot at independence was right after World War II. In any event, this is a big subject, about which we could speak for a long time . . .

As we talk, Huang mentions that Taiwan could do a better job in its treatment of migrant workers. He is not the first person from whom I’ve heard this.

Discussion of unification, independence, and all that puts a line in my head. A mystic chord of memory has been struck. I’ll have to Google. Okay, this is it — you can sing along:

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

That’s a long sentence, isn’t it? And not bad.

I ask Professor Huang whether the Taiwanese public is aware of the gross human-rights violations on the mainland. He says, “Not as much as one would like to think.” He then says, if I have understood him correctly, something like the following:

As a rule, those who are interested in cooperation with Beijing choose not to see the human-rights violations. And those who are working for independence don’t want anything to do with China at all. They keep their backs turned. So . . .

What about the rise of China? Is that a help or a hurt to Taiwan? All depends, says the professor. If you’re in the unification camp, you welcome it. The incorporation of Taiwan seems ever clearer, more logical, and more natural. If you’re in the independence camp — you see this rise as a threat.

Huang’s own view is subtle and complicated, and I doubt my ability to do it justice, here and now . . .

Okay, the terrible question: If the PRC attacks, will Washington defend? Like everyone else, Huang thinks an attack is unlikely at this point. But if such a thing occurred — who knows? There is a debate, Huang says. China has been doing its best to persuade Taiwan that Washington will do nothing. The independence people tend to have greater trust in the U.S.