View the West with Impartiality
People say that Taiwan idolizes foreign cultures?
It seems to be the case. Regardless of the quality of the product, when it’s labeled in a foreign language, people will flock to buy it. Upon entering a luxury hotel or restaurant, one sees that the service people are obsequious to foreigners, but oblivious of their compatriots. In order to get a speedy resolution to a thorny problem, one must always refer to the possible damage to Taiwan’s international image. Whenever a foreign dignitary comes to Taiwan, the reporters always want to emphasize his opinion of Taiwan’s image. Regarding education, the generation who used to proudly recite Chinese poetry and classics, are now rushing to get their children into kindergartens that teach them how to say ‘hello’ and ‘how are you’ in English. Every summer waves of brilliant and not so brilliant young people take jets to the west to ameliorate their brains and spirits. After they cross the ocean, most of them never return.
But does Taiwan really idolize foreign cultures?
It doesn’t really seem so. One fair haired friend of mine was looking at monkeys in the zoo, and suddenly a young man beside him shouted out, ‘Hey look, a monkey is watching monkeys!’ The people around them burst into laughter. My friend who understood Chinese left without saying a word. There are not just a few such Chinese who still regard foreigners as monkeys, barbarians and ‘foreign devils.’ The Chinese regard their cuisine as the finest in the world and consider themselves smarter because they can use chopsticks. The Chinese have higher moral standards and follow rules whereas westerners are more mercenary and very superficial. To a Chinese couple, one night together results in feelings lasting for a lifetime; whereas, most westerners tend to be promiscuous and have little sense of fidelity. When the Chinese were handing out moral concepts and building civilization, the westerners were still barbaric, eating raw and bloody meat.
If you say that Taiwan has a strong tendency to idolize the west, its xenophobia is no less. Writer A would always add to any suggestion he made that the west had any advantages a caveat that he was not idolizing the west. The fact that the phrase ‘idolizing foreign cultures’ is negative in connotation indicates that on the one hand our society is deeply attracted to the western civilization and on the other hand, we have a strong aversion in our hearts. Our society being torn between these two conflicting feelings gives rise to many strange phenomena.
For example, if a Taiwan born fair haired westerner says, ‘I want to be a Chinese and I don’t want to go to the U.S,’ or a foreign missionary says ‘I love the Chinese culture and would like to devote my life to China,’ our newspapers would applaud their actions profusely and every Chinese would feel validated. On the flipside, if an American born Chinese says, ‘I don’t want to be a Chinese,’ or a Chinese international student dares to claim that he loves American Culture and would like to devote himself to America,’ I’m afraid that many Chinese would resent and be angry at this and call him a traitor. In other words, we expect other people to look up to us, but we never allow ourselves to really appreciate other cultures. How can you make sense of this mentality?
Many parents use whatever means they can to send their children abroad so as to escape from Taiwan’s national examination. These parents are being criticized as being the ‘idolizers of foreign cultures.’ But as a matter of fact, all parents in Taiwan have unresolved concerns regarding their children’s welfare: they all want their children to have a care-free childhood, but with the current education system being so repressive, they have no choice but watch their children wearing thicker glasses and becoming bookworms and nervous wrecks. If there was a choice, what parent would not want their children to get away from this education system? Under the circumstances, when we see parents like these, we are not repentant nor examining the flaws in our education system and asking why Taiwan is losing them, instead labeling them as ‘idolizers of western cultures.’ Isn’t this a strange phenomenon?
Struggling between the feelings of idolization and rejection of the west, sometimes we seem like schizophrenics with dual personalities, one self-pitying and one arrogant. Thus we cannot be objective in our interaction with others. Obviously, there are many obsequious people, just as there are those who want impress foreigners of their patriotism and pretend to be rude and arrogant intentionally. Our overseas stationed staffs, because of this kind of mentality, sometimes would deliberately make it difficult for visa applicants. Because of this mixture of arrogance and self-pity, we cannot see things as objectively as we should. When we discuss social issues about Taiwan, we usually get three different spontaneous reactions, one being ‘Why are we being so critical of ourselves. Does this not happen in the west?”
I don’t understand it. Being that it’s Taiwan’s problem, what does it have to do with the west? If Italy had this problem, does that mean Taiwan does not need to fix this problem? Does the fact that Mexico is heavily polluted mean that pollution is not a big deal in Taiwan? Is it true that as long as other countries have the same problems, we can just let ours go? So regardless whether the west has similar problems, we still have to confront ours, is that not true?
The second reaction is: ‘You keep saying the west is more advanced. You are idolizing it!’ Such a reaction is totally emotional. If someone says that Europe is clean, the normal reaction should be to: One, ask whether the fact that Europe is clean is true, and two, ask whether ‘cleanness’ is something that we also want to have? If the answer to both of these two questions is yes, then we should ask what we can do to make Taiwan clean. The entire logic has completely nothing to do with whether one is idolizing foreign cultures or not.
第三種常出現的反應，尤其來自官方，是說：“那是西方的，不合台灣實情！”這”不合台灣實情”是個很重的大帽子，一方面罵人家崇洋、一方面罵人家不切實際，一方面也擋住了改革的呼求。什麼建議或觀念，只要加上“西方”的標幟，就容易以“不合台灣實情”來打發掉、而事實上‘凡是“西方”的，不一定就“不合 台灣實情”，‘不合台灣實情”也不表示不能作。公德心不合台灣實情吧？我們要不要公德心？近一代民主是西方的，我們要不要民主？守法似乎也不合台灣實情, 我們要不要守法？
The third most common reaction, which usually comes from the government, is that ‘that is western, and does not fit Taiwan’s current reality!’ Such a ‘not fitting Taiwan’s current reality’ actually has some very broad meanings. It does not only criticize the speaker as being an idolizer of foreign cultures and being impractical, but it also quells the demand for reform. Whatever the proposals or concepts, as long as they are labeled ‘Western’, they will be easily dismissed by ‘not fitting Taiwan’s current reality.’ However, not everything western is ‘not fitting Taiwan’s current reality,’ and things that are ‘not fitting Taiwan’s current reality’ are not necessarily not doable. Being ‘civic minded’ may not be ‘fitting Taiwan’s current reality’, but shouldn’t it be a part of us? Modern democracy is western, but don’t we also need it? Living by the law seems not ‘fitting Taiwan’s current reality,’ but shouldn’t we live by the law?
All three of these reactions are emotional. What we should focus on is whether the western values and behaviors have attributes that we should emulate. If they have, it shouldn’t matter whether it is ‘western’ or not, we should accept it as worthy of ‘idolizing’. If they don’t, it shouldn’t matter either, and we should resist the temptation of accepting it. If we cannot resolve the emotional influence against foreign and western cultures, -- either blindly idolizing them, or blatantly dismissing them – we will never be able to face the west without prejudice and make objective and reasonable judgments.
When a westerner says,’ there’s a risk of getting food poisoning when eating in Taiwan; or being run over by a car when crossing the street, or that the Chinese are dirty, messy, loud and rude,” very few Chinese wouldn’t become furious at these statements. But I wouldn’t, because I know when the Chinese return from travels to southeastern Asia, they also complain that, ‘Wow, they are backwards. You can get poisoned eating there and easily run over by a car. They are so dirty, so messy, and so loud, totally unbearable!’ How would ‘they’ feel at hearing it? Comparing others in the world by your own standards, is not limited to just westerners. In this world, there are ‘ugly’ Americans, ‘ugly’ Japanese … Germans and Frenchmen. How could you imagine that there would be no ‘ugly’ Chinese?
Moreover, when we hear criticism from others, the normal and reasonable reaction should be to ask first, whether it is a fact, and if so, how I can improve. When we hear criticism from foreigners, it is not a normal psychological reaction to either get furious out of your strong sense of nationalism, or be over-accommodating because of your desire to please the west.
On the radio, a legislator said that ‘when we are on business trips, we found that all European and American congressmen had their own assistants with them, but we didn’t, which made us feel lesser...’ He said it adamantly, but I was blown away by this argument: ‘since they had them, we should have them’ – what kind of logic is that? But such a mentality is very common these days: Since there is graffiti in the subways of New York, so therefore, Taiwan should have it, despite its ugliness. Since America has the Statue of Liberty, so therefore, we need a giant ‘statue of Confucius,’ despite its impracticality. This mentality is being psychologically enslaved. On the flip side, ‘since other people go abroad to study, I would not because I am patriotic.’ “The west values ‘openness and tolerance’, whereas I would value the virtue of conservatism.” “The westerners espouse ‘individualism’, whereas I espouse ‘collectivism’.” ‘Whatever the west embraces, I would do the opposite.’ Again, this is psychological enslavement. We must rid ourselves of this shackle and view the west with impartiality – If they oppose nuclear proliferation, should we too? If they are getting rid of pollution, should we also? They have paid vacations, should we? They tolerate sexual liberation, should we? For each separate issue, we should consider it objectively, neither with self-pity nor with arrogance, and discuss it without any negative emotions. Only by using these parameters, can the Chinese stand out from the giant shadow of the west. Otherwise, whether we ‘idolize’ or ‘oppose’ to foreign cultures, we will always be the slaves of others.