What you need to know
A famous Chinese dissident takes a foreign journalist to account over a recent article giving China several advantages over Taiwan.
Forbes contributor Ralph Jennings has whipped up a social media storm with a brief, apparently off-the-cuff, article on three areas in which mainland China outdoes Taiwan. What are they? Pinyin, Chinese culture, and easy-stroll sidewalks courtesy of China’s chengguan — city law enforcement officers.
To be sure, Pinyin is a good Romanization system — easy to learn and easy to input Chinese with — but other Romanization systems work equally well when they’re implemented properly. Wade-Giles is a case in point. It was used by foreign learners of Chinese before the development of Hanyu Pinyin in the 1950s, and is the basis of Taiwan’s poorly implemented Romanization system. Unfortunately, the latter has arguably has been worsened by successive government-led policy moves to impose uniformity without caving in and adopting the mainland-developed system. It is indeed an area in which there is room for improvement.
Jennings’ two other arguments for mainland China are, however, dismal fails.
Taking the issue of Chinese culture first, I was born and raised in China, lived there for 21 years, and I have lived in Taiwan for an equal length of time. I can confidently report to the world that Chinese culture has been systematically destroyed in the People’s Republic. I think even the most diehard “motherland-loving fifty-cent loyalist” would agree that Taiwan has done a much better job of preserving Chinese culture than the mainland has. This can be seen in the way people here treat their families, the way they treat each other, the respect with which they interact with their peers, the tomb sweeping and Chinese New Year traditions, and even superstitions that date back thousands of years.
To be sure, as Jennings points out, you can see people sipping tea in China, but there are two obvious reasons for that: the unavailability of other beverages for decades after the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) took power, and the fact that drinking tea did not pose a threat to the CCP.
But, putting that aside, the culture of drinking tea is very much alive and well in Taiwan. Taiwan grows some of the world’s best tea and it is home to well patronized tea houses with Taiwanese-style tea ceremonies. Many of the tea houses in contemporary China are copycats based on the Taiwanese model, and mainland Chinese tourists load up on Taiwanese tea on their shopping runs here.
Jennings’ sloppy “reporting” hits a real nadir, however, when he evokes the chengguan, China’s most despised arm of the law — little more than thugs who take bribes, and frequently resort to indiscriminate violence in their efforts to keep city streets clear of roadside vendors. Sure, the streets of Taiwan can be cluttered with motorcycles, but the situation has improved immensely in the 20 years that I have been here. The traffic is far safer, and cars motorcycles now stop at red lights, making it safe for pedestrians to cross the roads at zebra crossings. Even if we were to imagine that China needs chengguan, law-abiding and generally polite Taiwan doesn’t.
The chengguan are more a source of chaos in China than a guarantee of law and order, humiliating the dignity of the Chinese people in the name of civic law and order. Jennings’ piece is the only article I have read that praises Chengguan, including in China. If the writer is so enamored of such order that he is prepared to glorify the role of thugs who routinely beat the disadvantaged with sticks, Berlin of the 1930s would no doubt suit him well — provided he is of pure Aryan heritage and does not — as I do — disapprove of totalitarianism.
This article originally appreared on the author's Medium page.
Edited by J. Michael Cole