Taiwan Journal, Part IX

Dancing in a park in Taipei (Wang Tsi/Flickr)


Taipei is bustling at night, as you know. It is one of those “cities that never sleep.” But it is equally bustling in the morning. People are going to work, of course — Taipei is a hard-working place, and they start early. But they also fill the parks.

What are they doing? Lots of things. Tai chi, as you would expect. And yoga? Can I tell the difference? There’s dancing, of various types. People dance in groups. And alone. A man dances with a woman, sort of ballroom style.

People chant. And sing — genuinely sing. In Daan Park, I encounter a group of about 50 who are singing together, in unison. Public singing is a rare thing in America, I find.

You got people playing badminton. I see a game of croquet. But, as in parks everywhere, lots of people just stroll or sit.

Very visible in this city — particularly in its parks — are old people. They seem more integrated than they do where I live. They often have nurses or assistants with them, but they also have people who look like their sons or daughters.

People in wheelchairs are on the fringes of the tai-chi groups (for example). If they can’t move their legs, they move their arms. They participate as much as they can. I have a feeling that some of these people have been doing these things routinely, for 60, 70 years. They want to keep going.

For previous parts of this journal, go to the following links: I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, and VIII.

In Part V, we met a Buckeye — Shaw-Chang Maa, of the Straits Exchange Foundation. He earned his Ph.D. from Ohio State. Chung-Jen Chang is another Buckeye — a Ph.D. from OSU. He works for the Ministry of Culture.

Chang is one of those who believe that “Taiwan” is merely a geographical designation — a name for an island. The name of the country is “Republic of China.”

He has worked in America, as well as studied there. “When people asked where you were from,” I ask, “what did you say?” “I said, ‘Taiwan, Republic of China.’” Like many others, Chang found that Taiwan was often confused with Thailand.

We talk about the division in the Taiwanese media — which mirrors, I believe, the division in Taiwanese politics. There are “Blues,” who are more unification-minded, and “Greens,” who are more independence-minded. “I don’t think there’s much of a middle,” says Chang.

In his view, are closer relations with China good? Oh, yes: “We have more chance to trade, more chance to make money.” If I have understood him correctly, Chang believes that ROC-PRC ties are key to the island’s economic health.

I’m curious about something: When did Taiwan’s media become truly free? When did government restrictions fall off altogether? Chang says, “About 1990.”

I pay a visit to a newspaper, the Apple Daily. In the lobby, I get a big surprise. There’s a bust of . . . Hayek? Yes. Underneath, there is an inscription, from the great economist’s Nobel lecture: “The recognition of the insuperable limits to his knowledge ought indeed to teach the student of society a lesson of humility which should guard him against becoming an accomplice in men’s fatal striving to control society.”

The editor of the paper is Wei-Min Ma. His parents came from the mainland, in 1949. I ask the standard question: Does he consider himself Chinese, Taiwanese, both? “When I was young,” he says, “I considered myself both. But now I think of myself as Taiwanese.”

I hear this a lot. And polls indicate that it is a national trend. There is a growing sense of “Taiwanese-ness.” A developing Taiwanese consciousness.

But I warn you that this subject is tricky — hard to be glib about. (What would writing be without glibness?)

So, I assume the Apple Daily is pro-Green and anti-Blue? That is, in favor of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and against the Kuomintang (KMT)? Ma says the paper picks on whoever is in power. And the party now in power is the KMT. When the DPP-ers were in, the paper picked on them.

Ma believes the paper must hold the government to account, plain and simple. Besides, he says, you know journalists: They’re like teenagers. They like to fight.

Does the government try to pressure Ma and the Apple Daily? Sure, the editor says — but it doesn’t work.


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