Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Once and Future Soong

Wherever you are, there are wedding photos.

The latest Taiwan Indicators Survey Research (TISR) poll shows that Hung is now at 13.9% support, consistent with other polls. With Hung fading and unlikely to recover, the race is shaping up to be a two-way contest between Tsai Ing-wen and James Soong, a mainlander and KMT heavyweight who left the KMT to found the PFP and run on his own in the 2000 election, which he nearly won. How well Soong does will depend on his ability to attract faction politicians out of the KMT and into his party. To do that, he is remaking himself once again...

Frozen Garlic describes how Soong, who had until his appointment as Provincial Governor been little more than a standard KMT party insider, changed himself into a real politician....
However, as governor, Soong completely reinvented himself. He claims that he followed the example of his mentor, CCK, by getting out of his office and meeting with ordinary people. In fact, Soong did travel all over the island, meeting with regular people. Less obviously but more critically, he also met with lots of local politicians. In fact, this was the key to Soong’s governance model. Instead of sitting in an office, letting other people make financial decisions, and approving the paperwork, Soong went to township mayors, asked them what they wanted, and personally approved the funds. In doing so, he created an image of a compassionate leader who would do whatever was needed to solve problems. He also created a group of local politicians who were politically in debt to him personally. Township mayors are nothing to sneeze at. They control the local mobilization networks and distribute quite a bit of patronage. Back in those days, people who had descended from the central bureaucracy simply didn’t engage local people as an equal, but Soong actually wanted to listen to their problems and work with them to get things done.
Better than any other mainlander politician, Soong understands that the colonial rule of the KMT depends on its ability to manage and placate its Taiwanese support networks, and he is a master at positioning himself as a speaker for the Taiwanese KMT. Like Chiang Ching-Kuo, he cultivates a Taiwanese power base as an alternative power base to the cliques among the high-ranking mainlander politicians.

 In 1994 the Provincial Governor position became elected, says Frozen, and Soong again showed masterful political skills. Attacked by the DPP for not speaking Taiwanese, Soong learned it, then picked up a little Hakka and some phrases in aboriginal tongues. He won the election handily. His recovery was amazing -- he'd resigned in 1992 as KMT Sec-Gen to take responsibility for the KMT's poor showing in the Legislative Elections that year and initially no one thought Soong would win. The Provincial Governorship transformed his political career.

When Lee Teng-hui became president, Soong was one of the men who'd supported him against the KMT bitter-end authoritarians led by Hau Pei-tsun, the "non-mainstream" faction. But as the 1990s drew to a close, Lee turned against Soong and began to promote Lien Chan. To me the reason for this is clear: Lee knew that the popular Soong could lead a resurgent KMT to victory and maintain that party's grip on power, a grip Lee was committed to destroying. So he promoted the ungainly, unpopular Lien Chan over Soong to ensure the KMT's defeat. That is a common conspiracy theory among KMTers, and I see no reason to doubt it.

Although initially, as Froze recounts, Soong was more popular than the DPP's Chen Shui-bian or the KMT's Lien Chan, the Chunghsing Bills Scandal hurt him, and Chen squeaked through with a 3% victory in 2000, with the KMT candidates collecting 60% of the vote in total. Lien and Soong eventually mailed in their campaign in 2004 and blew that collective 20%  advantage. How has Taiwan's electorate shifted? Together the two mainlander candidates at the moment are polling at 35% of the electorate.

The 2000 election also featured Soong attempting to remake himself. This classic 1999 interview in the Washington Post with "democratic reformer" Soong is another milestone in the awfulness of Beijing reporters working on Taiwan:
At the center of a preelection brawl is James Soong, a 57-year-old powerhouse in the ruling Nationalist Party, whose businesses have made it the world's richest. He is also an architect of Taiwan's democratic reforms.
Frozen notes that Soong was a hardline unification supporter in the Chen era. He was always that way. In the WaPo interview Soong shows a deep understanding of the usefulness of democracy, and also says that Taiwan should have a plebiscite on any agreements with China (note how many of his positions were DPP policies). Unlike most mainlander politicians, Soong has mastered the knack of invoking democracy without sounding insincere; indeed, his ability to project sincerity and interest in others is one of his greatest political strengths. In 2000 Soong also positioned himself as a champion of Taiwanese:
Despite the fact that both the KMT's Lien Chan (連戰) and the DPP's Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) have expressed their willingness to visit China if elected, Soong voiced a decidedly conservative opinion.

"If China refuses to respect the dignity of the Taiwanese, I would not visit China if I am elected. If Taiwan's people fail to iron out their differences, what subject can we talk to the Chinese about?" he said.
Recall his 50 year peace proposal? He said that it should be signed as the "Republic of China", a position similar to that of Hung Hsiu-chu's peace treaty today. It was similarly panned by critics.

Soong has always made democratic noises, but a wonderful piece at Thinking Taiwan by the always awesome Anonymous observes....
As professor Jim Lee (李筱峰) has written in 1994 and 2003 essays (which have recently gone viral on the PTT board and make up the source material for this article), Soong played a major role in suppressing freedom of the press and freedom to use the Taiwanese language during his five-year-and-seven-month tenure as director-general of the Government Information Office (GIO) from 1979-1984. At the GIO, Soong played a major role in suppressing democratic publications and free journalism in an era that included the Formosa Incident, pressure on emerging dangwai (黨外, “outside the KMT”) and democratic movements, and apparent secret police murders of “enemies of the state” like Professor Chen Wen-chen (陳文成) and the family of Lin I-hsiung (林義雄). He also helped implement the elimination of the Taiwanese language from broadcast media.
Until his election to the Provincial Governorship, Soong had always been a loyal servant of the KMT ruling class. Indeed, he was one of 60 individuals selected by Lee Huan at the direction of Chiang Ching-kuo in 1976 for the high level training course at the elite party school, an indication that quite early he was seen as being ideologically sound enough to be groomed for higher things. That class also included Lien Chan and Wu Po-hsiung.

In 1999 I was teaching at a private university in a small southern town. The university was owned by a deeply pro-Soong family, and the staff was also strongly pro-Soong. "Why do you support him?" I asked a group of them once. "Because he is a gentleman." I read that as "he is of the class we perceive as being proper to rule over us." Things are different today. The Taipei Times noted:
In addition to post-Sunflower movement (and possibly post-anti-curriculum movement) younger people more willing and eager than ever to learn about the nation’s intentionally buried history, along with the fact that the PFP and its leader are more likely than ever to crowd out the KMT’s support in the coming elections, it is not surprising that the questioning is more vociferous.
The internet has made Soong's long history of repression and ardent pro-unification positions easy for anyone to access. And you know they will.

It's probably too late for Soong to win the presidency, but it will certainly be fun to watch whether and how faction politicians realign themselves between the KMT, the PFP, and independent runs as Hung's support continues to slowly dwindle to the Deep Blue core. Break out your popcorn! The fall election seasons promises to be full of KMT rancor and desperate attempts to replace Hung, along with the sincerity and laughter of the once and future James Soong.

REF: Don't miss this fine article on Soong from longtime Taiwan observer Bo Tedards. 15 years old, but still great.
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!


Anonymous said...

"The ruling Nationalist Party, whose businesses have made it the world's richest" - wait, the KMT is the world's richest political party?

Anonymous said...

* That Bo Tedards piece was awesome. Thanks for resurrecting it.

* I think you pointed out many years ago that when the tw was dissolved, the huge amount of debt that Soong created was dumped on the national government. The taiwan taxpayers ended up paying for all of his generosity to win votes.

* Soong is also an Eisenhower fellow with ties to Kissinger

I find it strange that many people think this guy is good for Taiwan. Even I, as a long time expat here, know what a snake he is. I think he will get about 7% of the vote from the die hard, anything but green knuckleheads, and that's it.

les said...

I don't see that Soong has reinvented himself. I think he's the same authoritarian, repressive Han-chauvinist he ever was. The cry a bunch, kneel at every chance style also seems not to have changed. Yes, he will still draw pretty pictures of how things will be if you give him the chance, but I'd rather look at what he did while in power as a predictor of what he would do. The electorate and those various faction politicians need to remember President Soong would have nothing like the same amount of loot to throw around as he did while Provincial Governor.. the money just isn't there anymore.

Anonymous said...

To follow up on Les's Han-chauvinist comment, it was pointed out in this article that Soong had some affiliation with the Pingquanhui (the KKK of Taiwan).

he report also mentions presidential candidate James Soong
who in September 1995, during his tenure as provincial governor, is said to
have provided this organization with a "favorable response". In an effort to
court his favor, the Pingquanhui allegedly threw all its support behind Soong
during his 1994 election campaign.

an angry taiwanese said...

I happen to notice some common characteristics in the Taiwanese that Soong takes under wing: the same stereotype that the elite Mainlanders want the Taiwanese to fit in. Soong has not had any poet, novelist, mathematician, philosopher, sculptor, filmmaker, painter among his Taiwanese associates. I don't think that he can bear to see such Taiwanese. It would evoke too much disgust, fear, hate, making a whirlpool in his stomach.

Stereotyping the Taiwanese into the cowardice redneck, who would take kissing ass of elite Mainlanders as an honor, was part of Soong's job. He created Golden Horse Award for movie makers. That Golden Horse carries on that stereotyping task still.

Anonymous said...

The Golden Horse Awards were founded in 1962, well before Soong was at the GIO.