Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Struggle for Democracy:
The 2004 Presidential Election

At a temple in Tainan County, a banner welcomes native son Chen Shui-bian home after his successful bid for re-election in 2004.

Adapted from CBC News Viewpoint
March 22, 2004

It's all over but the crying. The presidential election in Taiwan is finished, the votes have been counted, and – unless Taiwan's high court rules otherwise – Chen Shui-bian, of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), will be sworn in for a second term in May.

In winning a second term, Chen and his vice-president, Annette Lu, have defeated the pro-unification forces of Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang, or KMT) leader Lien Chan and his running mate, James Soong.

Even before the failed assassination attempt on the lives of Chen and Lu, this closely fought battle had grabbed the world's attention because of one key issue: Taiwan's relationship with China. Now both the Taiwanese and the outside world are asking, "How will Chen's re-election affect that relationship?"

But to honestly answer that question, you first have to ask, "What was the relationship like before the election?"

The standard line is that Taiwan and China split in 1949 after a civil war in China, when Chiang Kai-shek's KMT forces lost to Mao Zedong's Communist forces. Mao formed the People's Republic of China (PRC) on the mainland, while Taiwan and it's surrounding islands became the last bastion of the KMT's Republic of China (ROC). Today, Beijing insists that the two entities on either side of the Taiwan Strait are part of "one China" that must be reunified – by force if necessary.

The reality is a little more complicated.

But it's enough to say that Taiwan has not always been part of China, and it has never been part of the PRC. For many years the KMT government seemed to have a "mutual understanding" with Beijing that kept the two sides at peace and allowed Taiwan to act as a sovereign state: an agreement in principle that there was one China, of which both Taiwan and the mainland were a part. In the KMT's mythology, this is what has become known as “the 1992 Consensus."

Conventional wisdom has it that the relationship has cooled considerably since Chen the sovereigntist took office in the year 2000. But conventional wisdom can be like an old wives' tale: just because you keep saying it doesn't make it true.

It's true that Taiwan and China have not had any of the unofficial talks that took place during the KMT's reign – the kind of "family meetings" that allowed China and Taiwan to live in peace even if they couldn't agree on living together. And it's also true that Chen has alarmed, frustrated and angered Beijing by declaring that Taiwan already is a sovereign nation and therefore has no need for a "declaration of independence."

But it must be noted that the cooling trend began long before Chen and the DPP took office in 2000. The relationship reached a nadir in 1999 – almost a year before Chen took office – when former KMT president Lee Tung-hui stated that Taiwan and China enjoyed a "special state-to-state relationship."

Beijing leaders responded to that pronouncement with bile and venom. They condemned Lee as a "separatist," suspended all discussions with Taipei, and again raised the spectre of a war to “reunify” Taiwan with the motherland. And they have done the same again with Chen Shui-bian.

Shortly after becoming president, Chen did offer olive branches to Beijing; but all his overtures were either flatly refused or ignored. Beijing and the pro-unification forces in Taiwan blame Chen for not recognizing the "one China" principle. Chen and the pro-sovereignty forces blame Beijing for refusing to treat Taiwan as an equal partner in any discussions.

In the past four years, there has been a lot of finger-wagging and showing of teeth from Beijing, but not as much sabre-rattling as in the past. And despite his provocative talk of sovereignty, Chen has shown himself to be a skilled political realist who knows how to push China's buttons without going too far.

So, while things have not improved under Chen's tenure, they're not really any worse.

Both sides hoped this election would be a watershed. Chen wanted a mandate for changes that would solidify Taiwan's identity as a separate and sovereign nation. Beijing on other hand, wanted rid of Chen and supported KMT Leader Lien Chan so that both sides could get back to talking about one China.

In this election, neither side got what it really wanted. Chen got re-elected by pushing the sovereignty issue, but with no real mandate for the kind of radical changes that independence would imply. And China must face the fact that the Taiwanese people have again chosen Chen and wish to be "maitres chez nous."

So the question now becomes, "What will the two sides do differently – what must they do differently – this time?"

The answer to the first part of that question is that nobody really knows.

The optimistic view, the hopeful view, is that Chen's election to a second term changes everything. Another man, backed by powerful business interests, might have made a deal with China that would have traded Taiwan's sovereignty for peace and prosperity. But this one will not, so China will realize it must now get over its distaste for separatists and deal with Chen.

Chen, having barely won an election he was supposed to lose, will reach out confidently and peacefully to China. He will make new overtures that Beijing – acting in enlightened self-interest – will respond to, so that growing economic ties between the two countries can proceed and both sides can continue to prosper in peace.

The skeptical view, some would say the realistic view, is that the election in Taiwan changes nothing. Beijing's policy toward Taiwan comes from decisions made inside the world of Chinese politics. There are both hawks and doves in Beijing, but the wind beneath their wings is the same: unification with Taiwan. There is not that much a president of Taiwan – especially an independence-minded president like Chen – can do about that.

Proponents of both views agree on the answer to the second part of the question: Chen now has the responsibility of making it easier for the "doves" in China to succeed. In other words, maybe he can't make Beijing change its mind and he can't make the leaders talk – but he can and must make them willing and able to talk.

That means toning down the independence rhetoric that makes the hawks want to pounce. It also means giving the doves some face, so that it doesn't look like they're giving up on the "one China" principle if they meet with Chen. Then and only then can any progress be made on key issues such as trade between the two countries.

Can any president do this and still make the Taiwanese feel that they are "maitres chez nous"?

If anybody can, Chen can. In the last four years, and again in this election campaign, he has proven himself to be a skilled political realist as well as a charismatic leader. But more importantly Chen – as the assassination attempt showed – is a survivor. He can take a bullet for the team and still come out alive.

Stephen A. Nelson is a Canadian freelance writer and broadcaster now living in Toronto.

In 2000, two bitter rivals from the Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomingtang or KMT) — Lien Chan and James Soong – had fought each other to become the KMT's presidential candidate. When Soong failed to get what he considered to be his by right, he split from the KMT – taking his supporters with him. The KMT, in turn, kicked him out of the party and said the same would happen for any of his supporters.

The very public and nasty split in the party resulted in the vote being split.

The “outcast” James Soong placed a close second in the election and nearly won.

The “chosen one” Lien Chan placed a very distant third.

The winner of the election was the dark horse: Chen Shui-bian, a former democracy-rights lawyer from the independence-minded Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

Vowing never to let the separatist Chen win again, Lien Chan and James Soong buried the hatchet long enough to run a joint campaign against Chen in 2004. After an extremely acrimonious election campaign, Chen won again – this time by a razor thin margin in the popular vote.

The victory came just one day after an apparent assassination attempt on the lives of Chen and his running mate, Vice President Annette Lu. Chen and Lu were both wounded by bullets fired at them while they were travelling in an open motorcade.

On election night, Lien, Soong and their supporters rallied in streets of Taipei. They charged that the election had been stolen, the voting had been rigged, and that Chen had faked his own assassination attempt.

Lien and Soong vowed never to accept the results. They led a month-long series of protests designed to produce a "people power" coup. At the same time, they challenged the election results in the courts.

When this story was written – just days after the election, their case was still before the courts. Of course, the courts threw out the challenges, saying there was no evidence to support their accusations.

That didn't stop Lien, Soong and their supporters from orchestrating a campaign to depose Chien Shui-bian, calling on him to "step down." It's a campaign that lasted until the 2008 presidential election campaign won by the KMT's Ma Ying-jeou. It's a campaign Ma won with the help and support of Lien and Soong.

But now that Chen has actually "stepped down" at the end of his term, the accusation that he staged an assassination attempt on his own life continues to be an albatross that the KMT hangs around his neck.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Matsu: Goddess of the See

By Stephen A. Nelson

Wednesday, Nov 16, 2005, Page 13

For your information :

Fish Ball, Fish Noodle, Ji Gwang Bing, Matsu Su, Gaoliang Wine


Uni Air¡G Reservation Tel: (02) 2518-5166, www.uniair.com.tw

Tai Ma cruise¡G Reservation Tel: (02) 2422-8267 or 2429-2117 , www.shinhwa.com.tw

Hotel Information

Nan Gan Area
Coast of the Dawn Tel: (0836) 26666 www.coasthotel.com.tw
Shen Nweng Village Tel: (0836) 26333
NiuJiao village homestay Tel: (0836) 26125

Bei Gan Area
Qing Bi Homestay Tel: (0836) 55456 www.chinbe.com.tw
Bi Yun Tian Hotel Tel: (0836) 55461

Dung Yin Area
Ying Bian Leisure Hotel Tel: (0836) 76336 or (0836) 77367
Qi Hwa Hotel Tel: (0836) 77600

Matsu Tourist Information

Lian Jinag County Government, Fujian Province, Taiwan
Tel: (0836)25125/ 22384

For the Taiwanese, Matsu -- goddess of the sea and queen of heaven -- is a deity many know about but few have actually seen face-to-face.

The same could be said of the Matsu islands north of Taiwan that were originally named for the goddess. When you actually do see them for yourself, you find they are more beautiful than you could have imagined and almost completely unlike anything you have seen before. Today's Matsu is a mosaic of military history overlaid on a maritime culture, carved out of solid granite cliffs.

We were in Matsu for a tour that would include Dongyin, Beigan and Nangan.

Dongyin Lighthouse

The Dongyin Lighthouse sits on the northeast side of Dongyin, perched atop a rocky mountain at the end of a peninsula facing the Taiwan Strait. It is perhaps the most famous of all the lighthouses in Taiwan, and the one that appears on all the postcards of Matsu.

The best photos are taken on a sunny day against a background of blue sky and aquamarine ocean that perfectly offsets the stark white gown of this "Maiden of the Mist".

But it is only on a less-than-perfect day -- when the island lies half-shrouded in fog -- that you can understand why the British built this lighthouse to guide ships on their way to China. It also explains the cannons that lies about 50m down the cliff from the lighthouse. These cannons did not ward off Japanese pirates or Chinese invaders. They were fog cannon to warn ships about the treacherous rocks below the cliffs.

Thread of Sky

Across the bay from the Dongyin Lighthouse is a unique place where the waves have carved out a cleft in the rock. The cleft forms a narrow passageway, with steep granite walls that rise straight to the sky. As you look up from near the bottom of this crevice, you can see only a thin, blue ribbon of sky. This is why the soldiers who dug in here called this place Yihsiantian or "Thread of Sky."

Another feature of this place, which remains an important military outpost, is the sound of crashing waves echoing against the walls. They say that when you hear the echoing waves here, you can imagine the sound of a thousand horses galloping through the crevice.

Andong Tunnel

The mountains of Matsu are hollow. Every one of them has been excavated to provide fortifications and shelters for Taiwan's military. On Dongyin, the most famous of these excavations is the Andong Tunnel, which was once home to 1,000 troops.

The underground fortress consists of one main tunnel that branches out into five smaller tunnels, each ending at an opening in the sea cliffs that offers a commanding view of the strait. Once upon a time, these outlooks were used to keep an eye out for enemy ships or enemy frogmen trying to sneak up on the shore. Today, they offer five great vantage points for looking out across the blue-green waters of the bay.

The tunnel leading to the sleeping quarters for the troops offers a view of a different kind: a look at the lives of the men who called this place home. Painted on the walls of the tunnel -- in large red characters -- are slogans that were meant to inspire the men in their fight against the communist hordes. Roughly translated, the inscriptions encourage the soldiers to "Be Strong" "Be Quiet", "Persevere", "Be Brave"' and "Be Solemn".

Qingbi Village

The old village of Qingbi represents the most traditional village in Beigan. If you rise early and go to Qingbi, you can watch the sun rise over the ocean. Like most of Matsu's villages, it's situated by a coastal inlet with houses facing out to sea and backing onto the hillside. As the morning sun climbs over the horizon, the village is still and peaceful. The dawn's early light casts long shadows from the stone-walled buildings.

Qingbi by dawn is as pretty as a picture, but unnaturally quiet. Most of the former villagers have moved away and sometimes it feels like a ghost town.

According to local history, houses were well made because many pirates used to live in Qingbi, making it one of Matsu's wealthiest spots. There is rumor that a pirate's treasure is still buried under one of the buildings. However, the cellar has now been filled in and no one knows for sure if the story is true. It's one of the enduring mysteries of Qingbi.

Tangchi Village

The pristine waters off Matsu provide abundant fishing grounds, making them a paradise for sportsmen and the lifeblood of Matsu. Of the many fish products from Matsu, perhaps the best known are fish noodles and fish balls. And Tangchi has the reputation for having the best.

Fish noodles and fish balls here are made from high-grade fish and have a have a very high fish-to-flour ratio. The noodles go excellently in a hot pot, and are also delicious served as a regular bowl of noodles. The fish balls go great in a soup. Both carry a tasty fish flavor. The flour-heavy fish balls and noodles they make on Taiwan can't begin to compare.

Niuchiao Village

Niuchiao is a fishing village carved into the side of a slope that edges down to a natural harbor. This is where the restoration and preservation of Matsu villages began. And as such, Niuchiao provides one of the best examples of the eastern Fujianese architecture that was once common on all these islands: hewn-wood interiors, tile roofs, and exterior walls of dressed or rough-cut stones.

Many of these houses have remained occupied. Others have been painstakingly restored to their former splendor. As such, they really are a "living museum" offering a glimpse into the way people used to live.

Tunnel 88

Tunnel 88 is an old military tunnel that was re-named to mark the 88th birthday of former president Chiang Kai-shek(½±¤¤¥¿). The tunnel, dug into the side of a hill, was once used to store tanks and shelter soldiers. These days though, the tunnel is more famous as the wine cellar for the nearby Matsu Winery.

These days, the winery is best known for its kaoliang. But it was once best known for its laojiou or "old wine" -- a traditional rice wine that was aged for at least 15 years. The problem with the old wine was that the winery didn't have proper facilities to store and age the vast quantities they were producing. But when the military abandoned Tunnel 88, the winery immediately saw the advantages of having a ready-made wine cellar with a natural climate control. They "borrowed" military excavation and -- in a stroke of marketing genius -- re-branded their generic product as "Tunnel 88."

Sales of the kaoliang took off. But the Tunnel 88 wine cellar is still filled with jars of ancient wine.

Beihai Tunnel

Another famous tunnel on Nangan is the Beihai (North Sea) Tunnel. Like similar tunnels here and in Kinmen, it is an underground quay meant for bringing in supplies and protecting navy vessels from enemy fire. And, like other tunnels, it was hacked out of the rock using simple hand tools.

Once, it was an essential lifeline for the soldiers stationed here. When in use, the tunnel could accommodate several naval vessels or dozens of smaller boats.

The corridor leading down from the surface passes large chambers hacked into the rock that once served as offices and sleeping quarters.

At the bottom of this shaft is a network of corridors, about 640m in all laid out in a stet shape. At low tide, the water in the channels is about 8 metres deep and you can tour the tunnels. At high tide, the water covers the pathways and no civilians are allowed.

Iron Fort

Not far from the Beihai Tunnel is another well-known military outpost, the Iron Fort.

Some say it is called the Iron Fort because the rocks here are as hard as iron. Others say it got its name because it was impenetrable. Maybe both are true.

The Iron Fort sits on tof of a rocky outcrop that juts out from the shore. The top of the shoal was dug out and concrete was poured to build the fortifications -- including sniper slots, gun emplacements, a kitchen and sleeping quarters.

When military tensions were at their peak, Chinese frogmen would regularly sneak up under cover of darkness and kill the sentries. To ward off the infiltrators, defending soldiers took broken bottles and shards of glass and embedded them in the rocks all around the fort.

Nowadays, with waves crashing against the rust-coloured rocks, it looks more like a place for a fishing line than a Chinese Maginot Line. Most of the protruding glass has been removed to make the area safe for fishermen and for tourists who come to admire the view. But closer to the bunker, broken bottles still embedded in the rock offer a sharp reminder of how this country's natural beauty, military history and maritime culture come face to face at Matsu.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Undiscovered Country: Taiwan
(Script from my first radio program
on Radio Taiwan International)

When I first thought about coming to Taiwan, I didn’t really know what to expect. Like many people, I came here with the idea of teaching English, making some money and – if I had time –travelling.

What little I knew about Taiwan I gleaned from an outdated version of the Lonely Planet’s guide to Taiwan.

Of course, that was before most people had the Internet. But even with the help of Netscape Navigator, I doubt I could have found out much about travelling in Taiwan.

The truth is, not many people outside of Asia think of Taiwan as a travel destination.

Millions of North Americans and Europeans visit Asia each year. They love to go to Japan and China to visit the cultural and historical places they’ve heard so much about and seen on TV.

They flock to the beaches of Malaysia and Thailand and Bali.

But travelling, exploring and discovering in Taiwan are not really high on their list of things to do.

For most of the world, then, Taiwan remains The Undiscovered Country.

And that is a great pity, because there is a great deal to discover.

Sounds of the City

The image most people have of Taiwan is one of a bustling, modern urban society of 23 million people who have turned this once rustic and agricultural society into a largely developed nation and an economic powerhouse: one of the “Four small tigers” of Asia’s economy.

This is definitely true. But at the same time, Taiwan is a “living museum” of history and culture – a place where traditional Chinese, Taiwanese, Hakka and Aboriginal lifestyles are not merely preserved but thrive.

Outside the cities, Taiwan’s urban jungle gives way to tropical forests that are teeming with exotic wildlife.

In short, Taiwan is a traditional Chinese watercolour painted on a tropical canvas with a digital printer.

OK, so that’s the big picture. But what people want to know is the nitty gritty.

I had been here less than a week when friends and family started asking the difficult questions:

Where is Taiwan?

If you’re looking for Taiwan on a map, it’s easy enough to find.

Find Japan and then trace your finger along the chain of islands that hug the coast of China.

When you come to the island that looks kind of like a tobacco leaf, stop. That’s Taiwan: The one the European explorers called Ilha Formosa – “the Beautiful Island.”

Taiwan’s main island lies about 160 kilometres off the south-eastern coast of China. It is separated from the mainland by the Taiwan Strait. Sitting on the western edge of the Pacific Ocean, it is about 394 kilometres long and about 144 kilometres across at its widest point. Americans always say it's about the size of Maryland and Delaware combined. Europeans say it's about the size of The Netherlands. I always say that Taiwan and its islands are roughly the same size as Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.

That's because the country of Taiwan also includes several offshore islands. These include the Penghu Islands – in the middle of the Taiwan Strait — and the islands of Kinmen and Matsu that are so close to China you can almost spit and hit the mainland.

Like Taiwan proper, these islands still known to many in the West by the names given to them by the Portuguese explorers 400 years ago: The Penghu islands, for example are also known as the Pescadores. Kinmen is also known as Quemoy.

What’s the weather like?

In a word… hot. Hot and humid. Well, for most of the time anyway. And a lot depends on where you are.

You see, Taiwan straddles the Tropic of Cancer, and that automatically makes for two climate zones: Tropical in the south. Sub-tropical in the north.

So while there are four seasons, they are perhaps not quiet as distinct as the ones in more Northern climes. Summers will be longer and hotter. Winters will be shorter and not as cold.

The things you need to know is that Taiwan is affected by the monsoon winds. That means May and June bring heavy rains. And late fall tends to be a warm, dry season — making it a great time to visit.

Of course, we also get the occasional typhoons in summer and fall. To the traveller, these are generally welcomed as blessings in disguise because they do clear the air and cool things down quite a bit.

What is it like?

Taiwan proper – like many of the surrounding islands – lies on the western edge of the Pacific “rim of fire.” That means that it was forged by volcanoes and earthquakes. All this prehistoric activity has created majestic mountain peaks, rolling hills, sweeping plains and dramatic coastlines. This sceptred isle also features placid lakes and gorgeous gorges.

On the East Coast, the jet-black cliffs seem to spring straight from the sea. Further inland, the Central Mountain Range features some of the highest mountains in this part of Asia. Among these is Jade Mountain (or Yushan).

At over 3,000 metres, this is a climb for only the most adventurous. The less adventurous Nature Lovers can try to Alishan (or Ali Mountain). There you take a ride on the historic Alpine railway that is unique in this part of the world.

These mountains are covered with forests, making them a virtual Noah’s Ark of wildlife.

Here there are birds and beasts of every kind – about 18,400 known species in all – with more than 20 percent of them considered rare or endangered.

For a more relaxed holiday, you can also soak up the sun in beautiful Kenting; take a romantic journey to placid Sun Moon Lake or visit the offshore islands of Kinmen and Penghu.

What about the culture?

Taiwan is truly the Beautiful Island. But Taiwan has more than offer than just natural beauty. There is also the beauty of more than 10,000 years of culture.

Of course, the Aboriginals were the first people here and their tribal cultures, languages, arts and religious practices can still be witnessed today in the villages around Taiwan.

But through the centuries, Chinese culture has taken root in Taiwan and the country has been developed with a Chinese sensitivity toward culture and art.

You can see this in the ornate temples and religious ceremonies of the Buddhists, Taoists and Confucians. These include not only the famed Longshan Temple and Confucian temples in Taipei, but in the thousands of temples and shrines found in every corner of every town in these islands. Some of the oldest "Chinese" temples in the world are in Taiwan.

You can also see the “Chinese characteristics” in the Taiwanese love of arts such as calligraphy, ceramics and paintings. When the Chinese Nationalists (Kuomintang or KMT) fled to Taiwan at the end of the Chinese civil war, they brought with them the crème de la crème of China’s treasures. That’s why today, the National Palace Museum in Taipei houses what many experts consider to be the finest collection of Chinese art in the world!

Taiwan is also one of the best places in the world to see and learn about the Chinese “performance arts”. In fact, if you want to learn about Chinese dance and Beijing opera (or is that Peking Opera?) – forget about Beijing: Taipei is the place to be.

So, are the people in Taiwan, like, Chinese?

The simple answer is yes – and no. Well, maybe. But not really.

Chinese people — including today’s Taiwanese and Hakka people — have been settling in Taiwan for hundreds of years, especially since the 1600s.

But Taiwan’s rich and colourful history dates back much further — 10,000 years in fact — to the early Aborigines who are believed to have come from nearby Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia, as well as from other islands in this part of the Pacific.
The descendants of these tribes remain in Taiwan today. In fact, some of the 12 tribes representing almost half a million people still practice and preserve the traditions of their ancestors.

With its natural resources and strategic location, Taiwan has also been a natural stop for colonizers, both Western and Oriental. Beginning in the 15th century, both Holland and Spain fought over control of the island. And for 50 years — from 1895 to the end of World War II — Japan occupied Taiwan and claimed it as its own.

These colonizers are gone now, but their legacy can be felt even today.

Each of these groups has contributed to the today’s Taiwan. Here, the different elements of religion, architecture, language, living habits and food have been pieced together in an exciting and vibrant mosaic.

What’s the food like?

Perhaps the best example of this cultural mixing and matching is food. Only in Taiwan can you find in one place all the different styles of cuisines from the diverse parts of the China.
Here you will find the famous Cantonese and Sichuan cooking styles, the renowned Beijing and Shanghai cuisines and the lesser-known but equally good Zhejiang, Hunan and Yunnan styles.
Of course, wherever you go, you can also enjoy traditional Taiwanese cuisine, as well as the local delicacies of each area.

And while the Japanese colonial rulers may have left, the Taiwanese fondness for Japanese food has not. Almost anywhere you go in Taiwan, you’re sure to find a restaurant that serves your favourite Japanese cuisine.

And if you’re longing for something a little more familiar, the major cities also have some of the best Italian and Indian restaurants in this part of the world!

Welcome to Taiwan

In Taiwan then, the blending of Aboriginal, Hakka, Taiwanese and Chinese cultures has produced a rich and colourful tapestry that many visitors have come to enjoy.

Come and see for yourself why those early explorers called this place the Ilha Formosa — “Beautiful Island.”