Taiwan’s Real Tragedy: What the Death of an Army Corporal Says about Taiwan’s Future (Just a Lao Wai’s Humble and Detached Perspective)

In an earlier post I made reference to several reasons why I believe Taiwan’s domestic politics will not save it from Beijing’s pressures. More bluntly, I seriously doubt the resilience of Taiwan’s democracy in the face of a growing China. I tend to find the average Taiwanese—again, this certainly does not apply to all—too complacent, ambivalent, and “tolerant” to seriously challenge dicta from on high. The average Taiwanese—again, this certainly does not apply to all—also appears to hold Taiwan’s military, at best, in low esteem and, at worst, with utter contempt.

The story of army corporal Hung Chung-chiu (洪仲丘) is to what I was referring when I briefly commented on “the death of a young soldier last year and the hands of officers.” (Anyone can Google his name and find information on his story in either English or Chinese.) Yesterday (March 7, 2014) the verdict came down for thirteen of those involved in Hung’s untimely death. The family expressed outrage. Some of my friends, family, and contacts made comments to my face or on social media. Many scolded the “justice” system, the government, and the military.

But in the end, I fear that the media here, which suffers from collective attention-deficit disorder, will move on quickly to the next outrage, as will the utterly incompetent and ineffectual opposition party. The family will mourn. The average person will say, as I’ve heard so often, “This has nothing to do with me personally,” and move on without a second thought. People will protest, but their voices will not be heard for longer than a few days to perhaps a week or two. And, to echo George Orwell, life will go on as it has always gone on—that is, badly.

To not come across as though I am a lao wai trying to project my values upon others, I can only say these things. I care a great deal for this beautiful island and the many people I have met and come to in many ways admire. I perhaps care less than I used to simply because I am, and should be, powerless to do much about what I feel people who are not and should not be as powerless as I—i.e., the average Taiwanese citizen—should and yet can do against their oppressors. I have to remain detached, or I will become the lao wai everyone hates, forcing his views on others, or worse yet, I will become angry. In a society in which only certain people can become angry and angry people are treated like crazy people (without the average person thinking beyond the situation in front of his or her eyes and contemplating for a second or two why the angry person is angry), being angry is far worse than being almost anything else.

I think Taiwanese should be angry—and they are justified in being so. But there I go projecting again. There I go getting involved. There I go caring more about the average person here than he or she cares about him- or herself. Taiwanese are completely justified in being outraged. But they won’t really be. Give it a few days to a week, and this will all pass. Give it a few years and Taiwan’s loss of anything remotely resembling freedom will all pass. But what can I say or do about it? If these things are what the average person in Taiwan wants, who am I to judge? If these are the things the average person in Taiwan wants, I must calmly accept it an either move on or move elsewhere. In the end, this too shall pass. And life will go on as it has always gone on—that is, badly.

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