Friday, July 24, 2009

More on the ECFA Cartoons: Guest Post

My friend and budding scholar Drew Kerslake, who has spent many years studying the original peoples of Taiwan, won a Wiki award for his work on the Wiki page on Taiwan aborigines, and is full of insight into local colonialisms, had a few thoughts on the ECFA cartoons which he has graciously consented to let me use as a guest post. Without further ado:

+++++++++++

This was on my mind last night, so I thought I would riff on it this morning.

The issue of "racism" from the article above has been discussed at length already, but I think there is still a little meat on those bones that may warrant a little deeper discussion.

First, we must assume that the agency that created this campaign was a professional outfit (probably owned in-part by the KMT) and therefore they do not deserve a mulligan for ignorance, as professional advertising agencies are usually staffed by experts in semiotics, human psychology, semantics and other disciplines from which they can best manipulate opinion.

Is this cartoon racist?

My short answer would be "no". It is not "racist". Contemporary Chinese nationalism i.e. R.O.C. and P.R.C. ideologies are both rooted in the concepts of racialism, which were popular around the end of the 19th Century as a political reaction to social-Darwinism. Racialism is a basic assumption that there are distinct "races" of human beings on earth. The early Sunists (followers and contemporaries of Sun Yat-sen) adopted racialism as one part of their nationalization program to help validate their project as they sought to discredit the Manchu Qing empire by simple virtue of "blood" and thus question future Qing legitimacy based on biology. The Sunists constructed a racial cosmology in which "white and yellow races" were superior and the "brown and black races" were "degraded" and "inferior". This is where racism enters the picture, but by Sunist definitions Taiwanese are "yellow" and "share the same blood" as all yellow people and therefore we are not dealing with an issue of "race", bigoted surely, but racist, no.

I feel this is more of an issue of Taiwan's problematic post-coloniality under the R.O.C. Much of the early Republican movement was characterized by the recurrent themes of modernism and scientism. The Sunists often used the latter to validate the former. The Republicans positioned themselves as modernists armed with "science" to destroy traditional Confucianism and traditional "backward" folk beliefs. The political actors from within the new Republican government positioned the state as a strong centrality and a transformational power from which they could modernize "China" to compete in the great Darwinian battles among nations. The state structure positioned citizens on a trajectory of modern vs. backward, with those more closely aligned with state ideology to be the most "advanced" and those who embraced Confucian traditionalism of folk beliefs to be "backward".

The R.O.C.'s rejection of traditionalism remained intact until the 1970's, when the P.R.C. and tang-wai activists began to seriously question the R.O.C.'s legitimacy, and then a major shift to a state centered traditionalism was promoted with the Chinese Cultural Renaissance Movement, designed to invent and promote state sponsored Cultural production. The products of this movement are what we now consider to represent traditional "Chinese" culture.

For the colonizer, the role as a “civilizer” is implicit on defining the objects of their civilizing project (Said 1979: 44-45). The resulting definitions must contain two exclusive, yet interrelated parts: A convincing demonstration of the people’s inferiority and the people’s ability to become “civilized” under colonial rule. By providing definitions for peripheral people, the civilizer provides the colonized with a set parameter of comparison with the colonizer and a reason they must become “civilized”(Harrell 1996: 8-17).Often, the distance between the periphery and the center is imagined, not simply as physical space, but in terms of time. By projecting the “other” in terms of temporal displacement or “denial of coevalness”, the colonizer distances himself from the colonized (Fabian 1983).

In the case of the cartoon images we see a clear example of Hoklo and Hakka as "ethnic other/periphery", with the KMT and its representatives firmly in place as the "civilized center" or as "advanced" on a constructed trajectory using the dichotomies of forwardness and backwardness/ advancement and degradation/modern and backward/ civilized and uncivilized .

The Taipei Times article states:
The comics portray Yi-ge as a 45-year old Hoklo-speaking man from Tainan City who works as a salesman in an unspecified traditional industry. According to his profile, Yi-ge is a vocational school graduate who speaks “Taiwanese Mandarin” and knows very little about the proposed ECFA. He is content being a follower in all things, but when it comes to protecting himself, he “goes all-out.”
We can see the Hoklo, Yi-ge character, is located in the "backward" south and the Hakka woman is located in "more-forward" Hsinchu, a stereotypical location for Hakka. Both places are "away" from the metropole or civilized center (symbol of modernity). Yi-ge is represented with little education. Formal Mandarin is used to symbolically represent modernity/advancement while "Taiwanese Mandarin" is represented as "degraded" or "less-authentic" form. The State provides all the answers which elude Yi-ge, as he has not been transformed, and only by allowing himself to be transformed by submitting to state power, can he then understand the elusive mysteries and "advance". We see this trope in nationalisms and missionary projects where the object suffers from an innate "lack" and the civilizer inserts itself to provide for the lack, which validates the civilizing project. Still, the relationship between civilizer and his object maintains an indelible colonial "taint".

Yi-ge is depicted as lacking education (a point of contact with the state) and education has deep social and class functions in Taiwanese society as far as social mobility is concerned. Education is also an indoctrination point for state ideology. The greater contact has with education, the greater chance they may be transformed by the civilizer. Here we see the KMT class construction is reliant on contact points with the indoctrination points of state structure.

I still think the symbolism runs deeper yet.

At first glance the characters are depicted to resemble opposites. Yi-ge the lowly, uneducated, blue collar worker, juxtaposed with Fa Sao, an educated, upwardly mobile Hakka. Although this may be a ploy to score political points with the Hakka, which have gradually shifted support behind DPP candidates, the cartoon depictions serve to degrade both Hakka and Hoklo speakers to the fetishized objects of colonial desire.

The act of transforming the "ethnicities" into cartoon characitures serves to diminutize them to become "childlike". It is common for the colonizer/civilizer to depict their object as childlike or female to reduce the object's imagined "power" as thus diminish contact between the civilizer and their object as one of an unequal power relationship. This is particularly salient in patriarchal societies like Han and Judeo-Christian groups. The scientism promoted by the R.O.C. determined females to be similar to children and vast amounts of literature were produced to lend scientific support to traditional female roles (Dikotter 1995). We can see other examples of diminutizing the object in the 2004 tourism campaign, "Naruwan, Welcome to Taiwan", in which a cartoon Amis girl became the symbol for Taiwan. The Amis character allowed the state to appropriate and deploy (subjugate) the indigene for their own political project while reducing the complex meme of indigene into a /tame/harmless/impotent/childlike face.

Both cartoon characters in the ECFA promotion are reduced to cartoon images and therefore both are having their power reduced and usurped by the KMT state (civilizer). But beyond that... Often, when there is contact between the civilizer/colonizer and their "object", an act of mimesis occurs as one attempts to mimic and replicate the object before them. It is an attempt to capture, hold, possess and control the power of the object (Taussig 1993). We see this in cave paintings, tribal art and in the souvenirs brought back from around the globe. On a more local level, one can go to the Nine Tribes Cultural Park and purchase their own Aborigine doll, dressed in a "Tarzan" leopard skin to bring home. These all act as a means of capturing some essence or power of the original object.

In the case of the cartoon figures we can clearly see that they have been located by the civilizing center, and they have determined by the center to be lacking modernity, but transformable into something "better" if they only follow the prescribed program (Of course, like an unruly child Yi-ge does not readily get with the program). They have been visually transformed into weaker/lesser human beings for the appropriation/consumption by the civilizer, which holds a desire to appropriate their object's power to grant a political mandate to rule.

What I can't believe is that this is still playing out in 2009.

Andrew Kerslake

References:

Dikotter, Frank.1995. Sex, Culture and Modernity in China: Medical Science and the Construction of Sexual Identities in the Early Republican Period. Honolulu, HI. University of Hawaii Press.

Fabian, Johannes.1983. Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object. New York: Columbia University Press.

Harrell, Stevan, ed. 1995. Cultural Encounters on China’s Ethnic Frontiers. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Said, Edward W. 1979. Orientalism. New York: Vintage.

Taussig, Michael. (1993). Mimesis and Alterity: A Particular History of the Senses. New York, Routlege.

Taipei Times article

_______________________
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums!

26 comments:

Arthur Dent said...

An excellent analysis Drew, and thanks to Mike for giving him the forum to share. In a country where labels and stereotypes are so readily referred to, one can't underestimate the crudity and probable negative impact of the ECFA cartoon characters. One last note. Is it me or do accusations of 'ethnic tension' usually come from the pan-blue camp when they feel their authority and legitimacy are in question?

Anonymous said...

Very informative. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I think it is a mistake to think that racism has anything to do with race, regardless of whether you're doing it within the ideological or outside of it. Who says that these idiots are consistent? They may have noticed that Min-nan are "yellow" too, but that doesn't stop them from holding racist ideas about their capabilities.

Racism is racism as soon as the conflict between ethnic groups, imagined or otherwise (sure, we can take them all as being imagined) goes from mutual dislike or hatred to that where there is a hierarchical sense of superiority.

Something funny in the post--calling Yige a blue collar worker, but then noting that he is a salesperson. Really? Every time I see a suit in Taiwan, I automatically think sales, real estate agent, or Mormon. But I do give you that it is seen as less intellectual or less honorable work than say being, an engineer.

Dixteel said...

Wow, Mr. Kerslake analysis is amazingly in depth. Good work.

Readin said...

The commentary was going pretty well until I still think the symbolism runs deeper yet at which point it seemed to dive into reading words in alphabet soup.

The act of transforming the "ethnicities" into cartoon characitures serves to diminutize them to become "childlike".

Using cartoon characters for in ad campaigns to make the characters less threatening and more broadly appealing is common advertising practice used regardless of whether the subjects are "ethnicities".

We can see other examples of diminutizing the object in the 2004 tourism campaign, "Naruwan, Welcome to Taiwan", in which a cartoon Amis girl became the symbol for Taiwan.
Hmm, They are trying to appeal to people so they use females. Females tend to be better looking than males. What does this have to do with colonization?

On a more local level, one can go to the Nine Tribes Cultural Park and purchase their own Aborigine doll, dressed in a "Tarzan" leopard skin to bring home.

And I can go to Toys 'R' Us and purchase a Batman doll. There are even places where you can by an Obama action figure.

Readin said...

Much of the early Republican movement was characterized by the recurrent themes of modernism and scientism. The Sunists often used the latter to validate the former. The Republicans positioned themselves as modernists armed with "science" to destroy traditional Confucianism and traditional "backward" folk beliefs. The political actors from within the new Republican government positioned the state as a strong centrality and a transformational power from which they could modernize "China" to compete in the great Darwinian battles among nations. The state structure positioned citizens on a trajectory of modern vs. backward, with those more closely aligned with state ideology to be the most "advanced" and those who embraced Confucian traditionalism of folk beliefs to be "backward".

The Republican/Sunist movement in China sounds a lot like the modern Democratic/Obamist movement in the United States, except for the part about competing with other natinos.

Anonymous said...

Excellent stuff. One irony is that Yi-ge, the "follower" is being put down for not following. The broader irony is that the people pushing this kind of thought seem incapable of even even beginning-level scope and consistency in their logic(as Michael pointed out in replies to comments on the previous post on the topic), despite, in many cases, being beneficiaries of a lot of higher education. I know this is serious stuff, but it's still pretty funny that people like this could ever imagine themsevles quailifed to civilize anyone.

Anonymous said...

UNBELIEVABLE! The KMT has come out and said the DPP is fomenting racial discord for pointing out the racism of the cartoons. In other words, they are turning it all around and accusing the DPP of racism! Can we say DOUBLE SPEAK?

Julian said...

Awesome! Thank you!!

CJB said...

Good work Drew. Right on time.

Michael Turton said...

Hmm, They are trying to appeal to people so they use females. Females tend to be better looking than males. What does this have to do with colonization?

The exotic and the colonized are conventionally represented in terms of the Feminized Other. Have you read Edward Said's _Orientalism_? It's the starting point of this kind of analysis.

That said, you are correct to note the general use of infantile comics here. But there are many kinds of representation that could have been used in the Naruwan portrayal.

I think Drew will have more to add when he comments here later.

Michael

Anonymous said...

adding...


I'd like to first point out that this was originally just a quick blurb for a few people and thus a little...er... rough. More of a quick scribble while the iron was hot.

I think the Naruwan campaign and the depiction of indigenous Taiwanese in general provides a great metaphor for understanding the government's creation, appropriation of and deployment of ethnic stereotypes to advance public policy. During the 20th century the popular image of the indigenous Taiwanese traversed the spectrum form "savage" to "tame". The imaging of these groups of people was the direct result of the various civilizing projects undertaken by successive political structures and the desire of the various political actors to fulfill a prescribed ends. The current government is creating and deploying a chosen stereotype with these cartoons. I also hope the Naruwan campaign, a DPP initiated program, demonstrates the multilayered complexity of the problem as one greater than simply "the oppressive KMT"... but rather the flawed, colonial nature of the current structure of the R.O.C.

Here are a few notes.

From a 1937 book on human physiology last published in 1965:
"The big thick lips of the black baby were shaped during the time of suckling. The 'white race' had mammary glands with inverted nipples, leading to the tight lipped characteristics of the European: 'Generally, civilized people have thinner lips than the savage races. Africans have particularly thick lips'. Only Chinese people approached perfection: their elegantly shaped chests and beautiful lips were the source of a noble language and a brilliant civilization. Handicapped by thick lips, the African could only speak a language characterized by clicking and flat sounds..." (Dikotter, 1995 p. 32)
--------------------------------------
"They are trying to appeal to people so they use females. Females tend to be better looking than males." Readin

Umm... I think this statement provides its own answer regarding the issue of gender inequality, along with the the dominant male view in patrifocal societies and their various projects.

New representations of the body spread by the print culture in Republican China made the female skeleton look more fragile compared to that of the male" (Dikotter, 1995 p.30)

"... analogies were thus established between the woman and the infant: 'The shape of the woman resembles a child. The original characteristics of the child are a long torso, short legs and abundant fat. The torso of man is short, his legs are long and his muscles are developed" (Dikotter, 1995 p.31)


The Sunists also believed in eugenics as a means to build a "stronger nation" by building a "stronger citizen". The importance the state stressed on physical strength makes a direct correlation to the passage above regarding the "advanced" physiology of the male. These beliefs are still very much at the core of the R.O.C. constitution and KMT ideology.

So I hope you can see the semiotic importance of gender portrayal in R.O.C. government propaganda.

I think I have shown that the R.O.C. is still in the midst of conducting a civilizing/colonial/nationalizing project and these cartoons are just one more artifact of that project. It also gives rise to the discussion of Taiwan's problem with entering a post colonial state.

Anonymous said...

"Hmm, They are trying to appeal to people so they use females. Females tend to be better looking than males. What does this have to do with colonization?"

Reading:
I think you aren't familiar with the Taiwanese stereotypes and prejudices that are operating here. Supporters of the DPP are thought of (by some) as uneducated, largely crass, blue collar males, while females are associated with proper Mandarin, Taipei, business, "international"-ness through linguistic ability, etc.

For the most part, I find that females in Taiwan, on average were much more socialized into believing whatever the KMT wanted them to believe and hating their own background and trying to become a "proper" Chinese person. Minnan Taiwanese females are much more likely than males to have a negative feeling towards speaking Taiwanese.

Basically, I think the stereotypes they are trafficking in are that "these type of people listen to us" (the north, Hakkas, females, corporate business people), and look they make money and are successful. Those that don't listen to us--those that run traditional factories, the Taiwanese speaking, the south, you are greedy, but are all talk and no action, and you won't be successful.

Craig Ferguson (@cfimages) said...

They should have used Hello Kitty. At least Crazy Annette would have been happy. :)

Anonymous said...

I think this is a very pertinent issue, especially when we consider how these stereotypes may play out when backed by state power.

Anonymous said...

Females are also less likely to fart at the dinner table, thereby demonstrating their greater willingness to "sell out" to the civilizer. Or something.

The baby-faces are easy to explain. Disney's Mickey Mouse influenced Japanese manga, which influenced Taiwan. The explanation is arguably more psychological (infantile features = cuteness) than political. Anyway, when students here draw pictures, more than half the time they look like this. You can even get little Chinese gods in this manga style.

Readin said...

Excellent stuff. One irony is that Yi-ge, the "follower" is being put down for not following.

That's the most insightful comment I've seen so far. Simple but briliant!

Readin said...

Umm... I think this statement provides its own answer regarding the issue of gender inequality, along with the the dominant male view in patrifocal societies and their various projects.

New representations of the body spread by the print culture in Republican China made the female skeleton look more fragile compared to that of the male" (Dikotter, 1995 p.30)

Well, unless I'm mistaken, female skeletons are indeed thinner and thus more fragile. And as people age, women more susceptible to osteoporosis. So the famale skeleton doesn't just "look more fragile compared to the male" in the print culture of the Republic of China, it actually is more fragile and depictions of it as such are a simple reflection of reality.

And women do look better than men. Both women's magazines and men's magazines contain far more pictures of women than pictures of men.

From an evolutionary point of view (I'm pretty sure our moderator is not a creationist) it makes sense. Men pay far more attention to good looks when selecting a mate then women do, so appearance in the famale gender would be selected for much more than appearance in male gender leading to quicker evolution of appearance in the female gender.

So I hope you can see the semiotic importance of gender portrayal in R.O.C. government propaganda.

Um, well, I had to look up the word "semiotic" and Merriam Webster says it is " a general philosophical theory of signs and symbols that deals especially with their function in both artificially constructed and natural languages and comprises syntactics, semantics, and pragmatics" so um, I'm stil not sure what it means. :)

I will just note that men and women are diffent. They are different by nature, by their DNA, by how biology affects the development of their bodies and their brains, and by the way God made us. Awareness of these differences is of course a part of every advertising/propaganda campaign. Ignoring them would be silly. That the ROC campaign uses these differences is not a sign of evil, patriarchy, or any other supposed pathology - it is a sign that the ROC has not completely abandoned its senses and embarked on fantasy the way communist societies sometimes did when attempting to deny differences between the genders.

Readin said...

Anonymous wrote: I think you aren't familiar with the Taiwanese stereotypes and prejudices that are operating here...

I basically agree with you. The KMT is playing on stereotypes and denigrating the Hoklo. It's bad form. And they are attempting to make their supporters look good and their opponents look bad based on the values that the KMT has.

The only thing I can't agree with, but only because I haven't seen enough to say 'yay' nor 'nay', is your middle paragraph about females being more socialized into KMT thinking. While I was in Taiwan, I noticed that some men seemed embarrassed about their lack of ability in Chinese but I can't say I ever noticed it in women. Perhaps it was simply because the women were better at learning Chinese.

Most of the Taiwanese men I hang around with these days (I'm in the US now) are rather proud of being Taiwanese and unwilling to say that lack of ability in Chinese is a fault (though I suspect in truth they do feel a bit embarrassed about it; sadly I don't speak enough Taiwanese to hold a polite conversation like I can in Chinese). But what you say makes sense and I certainly don't dispute it.

Anonymous said...

"And women do look better than men. Both women's magazines and men's magazines contain far more pictures of women than pictures of men. "


I think that was the male chauvinism that was being explained in the post to support that women aren't regarded as equals.

Readin said...

Nice timing on this report: Women are getting more beautiful

Scientists have found that evolution is driving women to become ever more beautiful, while men remain as aesthetically unappealing as their caveman ancestors.

Anonymous said...

"Scientists have found that evolution is driving women to become ever more beautiful, while men remain as aesthetically unappealing as their caveman ancestors."

To whom?

You are aware there is lots om money being made on BBW websites. Look into it.

vin said...

While not wishing to express a pro or con opinion on the use of female images in the case cited, I think it's always appropriate to bring (as Readin has done)evolutionary biology into any such discussion

Anonymous said...

I think what Readin is getting into is, what feminist theory refers to as, "The male gaze". This is a very important feature for analyzing the female image in advertising and the act of gendering in general.

Readin said...

the act of gendering???

And some people wonder why "feminist theory" isn't taken seriously.

Anonymous said...

...riiiiight!

Feminist theory has only become one of the preeminent discourses for analyzing and critiquing the studies of human societies, covering topics ranging from anthropology and art to economic theory and post colonial studies. feminist methodology and theory is often used to analyze studies involving gender, stereotyping, othering, discrimination, objectifying etc...

It is not only about women.

Although the term feminist is often substituted by other names for qualitative research, the methodology remains the same.