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.
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
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