What you need to know
The almost universal reaction to a recent harassment case targeting elderly ‘Mainlanders’ in Kaohsiung shows that Taiwan has transcended archaic definitions of citizenship. But China may still use this to its advantage.
A controversy over a video targeting an elderly Mainlander in Kaohsiung put a damper on the Dragon Boat Festival on Friday and reopened the always touchy debate on race and citizenship in Taiwan.
The clip, posted on Facebook on Thursday by Hung Su-chu (洪素珠), a contributor to the People Post (PeoPo) citizen journalist platform operated by Public Television Service (PTS), shows Hung chasing an elderly Mainlander man at the 228 Memorial Park in the southern port city.
Off screen, Hung asks the man why he came to Taiwan. The man responds that he came in 1950 with his parents. Hung then starts yelling at the Chinese man and accuses Mainlanders of living off the Taiwanese. After she tells him he should go back to China, the man responds, “I live here, I have an identification card of the Republic of China.”
“I work here, and have contributed to this land,” he continues. “Why would I go back?”
“I do not want you Chinese people in Taiwan,” she screams.
The video has since sparked consternation across Taiwan. As the controversy snowballed, several other videos, all targeting elderly Mainlanders, have surfaced. In every video that has surfaced, Hung uses similar language against her victims. In one, the elderly man, who is sitting on a public bus, gets up and asks the driver to let him off. In another video, a man tells Hung that he was born in Taiwan, but she says she doesn’t believe him, that she recognizes a Chinese when she sees one.
Hung is reportedly a member of the Taiwan Civil Government, a stridently anti-China — and altogether fringe — organization that advocates for Taiwan becoming part of the U.S. (TCG now denies she is affiliated with them). She also volunteers at schools in Kaohsiung, and is seen in a video telling young children that Taiwanese are “the stupidest people on earth for giving their skills and money to the enemy.”
The criticism leveled at Hung has been loud, and prosecutors have called for an investigation. The Tsai administration has also condemned Hung’s behavior. Indicatively, in a Facebook post on Friday evening, President Tsai reposted the reaction of Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱), the chairperson of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT), to the scandal, which shows the extent of the agreement across the political spectrum regarding opposition to such ideology. Hung Su-chu’s behavior is on par with, and certainly no more acceptable than, that of Zhang Xiuye (張秀葉), the pro-unification woman who has been harassing, and occasionally assaulting, Falun Gong practitioners outside Taipei 101 and elsewhere.
But the damage has been done. Hung’s video has been picked up by the Chinese social media platform Weibo, where her targeting of Mainlanders has been portrayed as an accurate example of the type of harassment that ethnic Chinese face at the hands of the independence camp in Taiwan. It doesn’t matter that Hung’s abhorrent racism is completely out-of-touch with modern society in Taiwan, where one’s “ethnic” background is no longer regarded as a determinant of one’s “right” to be a member of Taiwanese society. For the hardliners in China who are looking for arguments to pick a fight with Taiwan, this is the perfect gift (worryingly, this reminds me of the allegations that ethnic Russians in Ukraine and Crimea were being persecuted by ultra-nationalists, which Moscow used as justification to intervene militarily).
Such archaic and divisive politics were laid to rest with the advent of the Sunflower Movement in Taiwan, which found its roots in a consolidated “civic nationalism.”
Remarks of this nature have no place in multiethnic Taiwan; regardless of their ideology or voting preference, “Mainlanders” are just as entitled as “Taiwanese” to live here and to be protected against discrimination. It is harassment and outright discrimination. Most of the Mainlanders who came to Taiwan after 1949 had no choice; first it was a matter of survival, and over the decades they became participants in the extraordinary experiment that is Taiwan.
There was a pattern to Hung’s behavior: it targeted a specific group and therefore has no claim to free speech.
The old wounds of ethnicity should not be reopened, not in this age. Taiwanese society must come together and use this incident to clearly state that discrimination will not be countenanced. PTS should also close her account with them, and Hung should be barred from addressing children in the classroom. Young minds should not be polluted with such bigotry.
(This article was updated on June 11, 2016, 10:35am: TCG denial.)