My wife is one of a group of mothers who volunteers at the school. Today they found themselves processing the results of a large donation to the library....
In many local communities the school and its relationships and experiences continue to govern subsequent adult relations. Taiwanese, especially in small towns, sometimes stay in or close to one place their whole lives. The mothers that my wife volunteers with all went to that elementary school together, and forty years later they still volunteer there together. I should add that this has not appeared to affect their acceptance of my wife and daughter; the community has had no trouble welcoming us and my daughter and wife both have a raft of friends. Everyone treats me very well too.
Like all small towns, rampant moral hypocrisy is the order of the day in Taiwanese communities. Last year a former school student who has neither wife nor kids of his own donated NT$100,000 to the school PTA. He has often given sums of money, and comes by to help take care of the school. How did the PTA react to this display of generosity? Well, it seems the money was tainted because the man in question was living in sin with a woman not his wife. The PTA thus balked at taking it. Our PTA is not actually a PTA, but a GTA -- frequently grandparents represent the family rather than parents, resulting in very enlightened discussions like the one above, all in Taiwanese because the oldsters speak no Mandarin, and all involving men because the oldsters don't take female opinions seriously. Everyone in my wife's generation was absolutely disgusted with the PTA's attitude, but in the end the PTA refused the cash, and it was handed over to the library, which has a separate donation route.
Let's test your auditing skills. Today the library got the books and the receipts. The receipts matched perfectly, a book with a cover price of $250 was indeed charged at $250 on the receipt, and the final sums all worked out. Naturally, my wife and one of her fellow volunteers immediately cried Foul! to each other. Clearly there had been kickbacks involved, and someone somewhere in the system was pocketing a portion of the donation.* They raised the issue with the principal but he seemed reluctant to intervene. After that, the group resolved that future donations would be handled by them alone.
I was reading a paper on guanxi networks, SMEs, and the China market today, and reflected on this incident in light of what the paper observed. In Taiwan guanxi networks between officials and favored companies handle all such transactions. One of the interesting clashes between Westerners and Chinese is over this issue. My Western self immediately cried Corruption!, as did the mothers at the library. Certainly whoever did it knew it was against the law and procedure. But on the other hand, such networks require feeding and watering to sustain them. Hence, in the West, where the concept of civil society governs relations between organizations and individuals, such feeding and watering -- exchanges of kickbacks -- is viewed as a violation of civic norms and is condemned. But in Confucian society, such guanxi -- relationship -- networks are seen more positively. In purchasing books for the school from a particular agent, a set of reciprocal favors have been done, and these require appropriate exchanges of gifts, that have to be skimmed off the transaction. Thus a major clash between scholars with Western ethical orientations and Confucian ethical orientations is over the ethical nature of guanxi relationships. Whereas Western scholars are likely to see them as the nexus of under-the-table dealing, scholars working out of Confucian Chinese frameworks are more likely to view the construction of guanxi as an ethically positive act. To a certain extent, the problem of "corruption" in Taiwan is actually a problem of clashing sociocultural readings of relations between individuals and organizations.
*How did the mothers know? Ok, Encyclopedia Brown, I know you can figure it out!