Friday, December 29, 2006

Nazi Kitsch

My country's sick of me,
I'll go to Germany,
to be a spy.
I'll eat their sauerkraut,
until my eyes pop out,
and then I'll scream and shout:
"Hotsie totsie I'm a Nazi!" -- Children's ditty, last line shouted out, sung to the tune of "God save the Queen/My Country Tis of Thee"

+ + + +

Taiwan Tiger recently remonstrated with one of his students about Taiwan and Nazi symbols:

I remember hearing a story once my friend told me about a Taiwanese guy who showed up to watch a German soccer match in a local pub while wearing a Nazi swastika shirt as an emblem of his support for the German team. The Germans (as well as all other foreigners) who were there were horrified, and finally my friend told this guy that it just isn’t appropriate due to its symbolic meaning. I think he went to the bathroom and reversed his shirt and all was fine. But the Taiwanese staff didn’t think anything of the fact that he was wearing it and was deeply offending half the bar.

So when this girl walked in, I could question her about why she was wearing a swastika around her neck. I explained that in the rest of the world, that would be likely to anger and offend many people. Her response? She said that she wouldn’t wear it in Europe or the U.S., but “Here is Taiwan.” What, is there no meaning to this symbol in Taiwan? Is Taiwan exempt from responsible actions? What is she thinking? I went on to explain that the symbol still has meaning in Taiwan, and she needs to think what message she is sending. Even after explaining that it is basically a symbol representing her support of the killing of 6 million people, she said “I know” and tucked it in her shirt. On what planet does it become acceptable as a fashion statement to wear the Nazi swastika? And why was I the first person to make her feel embarrassed enough to hide it?

While I was reading that today, my friend, the author Dan Bloom, emailed me this well-composed photo from the Taipei Times the other day:

Apparently the ROC is one of the last nations in the world to still use a version of the Fascist salute in swearing in certain government officials. Though little known, the US also used this salute, called the Bellamy salute, for the Pledge of Allegiance into the 1940s, before Roosevelt made it official to switch the whole nation over to the modern hand over the heart position. Here's a pic from the 1890s in the US:

Nazi kitsch is pretty common in Taiwan, where it simply lacks the cultural resonance it has in the West. Remember the Taiwanese company back in 1999 that used Hitler in an advertisement for German-made heaters sold locally? The blog Lost in Translation found this pic a while back:

Some people in Taiwan do understand how nasty the Nazis were and what they mean for westerners and exploit that -- it's routine for the pro-China forces to claim that Chen Shui-bian is a dictator and to mock him as Hitler, especially at media events where western media are likely to be present. Here's a pic from one of the Blues' faux "protests" in March:

And this ad that the Blues ran in the presidential election of '04 comparing Chen to Hitler, which eventually had to be pulled:

And of course, when you're an anti-democracy pundit, what could be more appropriate than releasing a book saying Chen Shui-bian is a Nazi? The People's Daily gushes:

Some personages from the cultural circles in Taiwan pointed out on August 8 that in comparison with the German history of the Second World War, the Nazi phenomena in Taiwan could be seen in the social political affairs today.

Attending a new book release, entitled "A shuddered future - analyzing the new dictatorship in Taiwan", political commentator Nanfang Shuo, writer Zhu Tianxin, as well as professors Xie Daning, Zhang Yazhong and Huang Guangguo expressed that the regime of the Democratic Progressive Party has on and on manipulated the national Nazis to form a Nazi environment and atmosphere. With democracy and human rights as covers, they pursue "Taiwan independence" and Fukianese' chauvinism.

But don't worry, if we have our Nazis, we also have our Anne Dan Bloom reports:

Did you know that Taiwan has an "Anne Frank" story of its own? It is about a man who hid from the secret police in small, secret hiding place -- a thin space between two walls, with no room to even stand up -- for 18 years during Taiwan's dictatorship period.

His crime? The government's secret police were looking for him, and rather than risk being arrested, tortured and perhaps killed, Mr. Shih Ru-chen decided to find a hiding place.

Whatever happens, we're sure to see more manifestations of Taiwan's uninformed fascination with Nazi kitsch...

UPDATE: reader Graeme B. sent me this pick of a drink shop sign:

Love the Hercule Poirot mustache.

UPDATE: The talented photographer Poagao snapped these (thanks, man):

The Hitler Cafe:

The Nazi Bike:

The T-Shirt:


Jonathan Benda said...

There's a guy in my apartment complex who's got a Nazi swastika bumper sticker on his BMW. I wish I could think of something that would be as offensive to him as that swastika is to me and cover the swastika with that...

Anonymous said...

Remember the heater advertisements that were running in Taiwan a few years back with the "cute" cartoons of Hitler? It didn't occur to the advertisers, or the venues that sold space to them (including Taipei's MRT) that they might be a bit offensive until the foreign community voiced complaints. For anyone who is interested, Sterling Seagrave has written about the connection between Japanese fascists and Chiang Kai-shek during the fifties in "The lords of the Rim." It seems a few of those assholes actually made their way to Taiwan during that time. They were given red-carpet treatment during their stay.

Joel Haas said...

It can viewed in the opposite way as well. Nearly all Westerners are ignorant of the swastika's use as a symbol of long life and prosperity. That's why the Nazis appropriated it.
I have a series of Rudyard Kipling's works published in 1900 with all the bindings covered with swastikas, to supposedly give it that "exotic Eastern" feel.

Joel Haas said...

I was startled my first half hour in Taiwan on leaving the Gao Xung Airport to pass a huge Buddhist Temple covered with swastikas across from Han Shin Department Store (which had its huge purple Xmas trees out and the Buddhist monks renting out parking spaces to Taoist Xmas shoppers in a Japanese owned store.)

I would not expect Taiwanese to give up religious use of a swastika any more than I would expect the Scots to quit using the cross of St. Andrew simply because Gen. "Stonewall" Jackson adopted its use for his CSA battleflag.

Michael Turton said...

Yeah, I mentioned those heater adverts...

...Joel, I think everyone here probably knows that the Swastika was a Buddhist symbol, in fact, if you look closely at the Hitler effigy of President Chen, you'll see the KMT idjits who made it got the swastikas on backwards....nobody complains about the religious use of the swastika.


Anonymous said...

I have some for you:



Anonymous said...

Joel.....and Mr T., and any other confused by this:

Your are wrong about those Buddhist symbols at temples and shrines. Those are NOT Nazi swastikas. Look again. The Nazi symbol has an S- shaped zig zag while the innocent Buddhist symbol is opposite that. a reverse S. Look again. Two different animals. One is a swastika, one is NOT. Western eyes again.

Hualien Hal

Anonymous said...

Joel.....and Mr T., and any other confused by this:

Your are wrong about those Buddhist symbols at temples and shrines. Those are NOT Nazi swastikas. Look again. The Nazi symbol has an S- shaped zig zag while the innocent Buddhist symbol is opposite that. a reverse S. Look again. Two different animals. One is a swastika, one is NOT. Western eyes again.

Hualien Hal

Anonymous said...

kinda creepy how in the last photo, the top right character has been modified, with two '8's, an old-ish white supremicist transposition - 88 - hh - heil hitler.

Michael Turton said...

Hualien Hal. Thanks, but we already all agreed on that. I think you need to reread the comments.

Thanks TC, I'll be posting them shortly.

Anonymous said...

I always like to engage Taiwanese Nazi enthusiasts in discussions about the Master Race, and cool it is that they recognize my blue-eyed superiority.

Anonymous said...

Okay, but who cares about the Buddhist symbol, the Hitler references and the red are obvious references to the Nazis. So... the Buddhist symbol is irrelevant.

Anonymous said...

Heh. An old guy near the Chang Kai shek memorial building asked a group of tourists where they were from. Upon being told they were from Germany, he greeted them with a hearty "Heil Hitler!" I was mortified, but the Germans laughed it off pretty well.

In a similar vein, there is a "Bin Laden's Cafe" so named because the owner has an Osama-esque beard.

For that matter, I know kids who are walking around with pot paraphanalia around their necks who proudly show me their "canadian maple leafs."

We cannot expect symbols with heavy significance in our culture to carry the same connotations everywhere.

If you find yourself offended by a Taiwanese sporting a swastika, gently tell that person that Nazism is considered a great evil in the west and that wearing symbols of Nazism will be seen as some sort of endorsement of it by the international community. But go easy on the indignation. The person you are talking to is almost certainly not an anti-semite, a hitler-lover or deliberately trying to antagonize.

When I tell my Taiwanese friends that my husband named our our three-legged dog "Percy" after his deceased paternal grandfather (who only had one leg), I can tell they are appalled. In fact, the conversation usually stops in its tracks as the Taiwanese person tries to recover from shock.

But after a while, most people will recognize that foreigners simply do not have the same sort of reverence towards their ancestors that would make naming your dog after your grandpa taboo. English names are also less specific to the person, I think, with many individual sharing identical names.

BTW, according to my husband, his grandpa had a great sense of humor and would have gotten a big kick out of it.

Anonymous said...

It's okay for many westerners and their news media, as well as pan-green "Taiwanese" to whitewash Imperial Japan, revise occupation history, and banzai the Yasukuni, but damn the Taiwanese because some young idiotic Taiwanese was wearing the Nazi swastika? How do you spell hypocrisy?

You ppl think we don’t know about the Nazis? How many westerners really know about what Imperial Japan did? Where is the coverage of高沙義勇隊 and how they want their dead’s name to be removed from Yasukuni? How about the coverage of various massacres of entire Aborigines tribes, Hakka clans, Taiwanese societies? I could go on, and any would make the white terror pale by comparison.

I am that Taiwanese who’s granddad is a survivor of the 228, and a forced draftee of imperial Japan. WTF does it have to do with anything? Nothing. But seems like pan-green “Taiwanese” crybabies like to bring 228 and KMT up every fricking time it suits them; even after the acknowledgement, the apologies, and the compensations. Imperial Japan never gave any apologies, compensations or even acknowledgements, only regrets because they couldn’t win the war, and how they are the only victim.

So before you westerners point your fingers at us, how about you look yourselves in the mirror.

台灣郎,阿餒丟希ㄞ台灣猴? 林北啦,北七.

Anonymous said...

And we have been using the Buddhist swastika long before Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei was even formed.

As stated before, for the geniuses amongst you, the Buddhist swastika is the reverse of what the damn Nazis was using. Be more observant, genius.

Tim Maddog said...

Don't forget about the adopted son of CKS, the Nazi Chiang Wei-kuo, and how he complicates the context here. I mean, does the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) love Nazis or hate them? Bring up Chiang Wei-kuo with anybody who compares Chen Shui-bian to Hitler and watch the heads begin to explode.

Anonymous said...

And there are plenty of japanophiles nowadays wearing T-shirts with the damn imperial flag, but seems like that is perfectly okay while the swastika (even the Buddhist one) is not.

As for Chiang Wei-kuo, everyone knows he trained in Germany and possibly joined the Nazi party, and you point being? CWK is a loyal member of the Nazi party? Ya sure, please.

There were also good people in the Nazi party who had saved more lives then most people ever could, such as Oskar Schindler and John Rabe. At least most of the evil Nazis got Nuremberg, or bullet in the head by the SAS, the Mossad and others; while most of the evil imperial japs got away. (Personally, they all should’ve gotten quartered alive or fried on the chair.)

As for KMT’s relation with Nazis, they are just one amongst many convenient allies the Nationalist was trying to get. At that time, they were looking for any allies they could find; that is why you have Madam Chiang (-Soong) wooing the American Congress, Chiang Ching-Kuo in the USSR, Chiang Wei-Kuo in Nazi Germany, and others doing their thing.

Chen Shui-Bian was nothing compare to CCK. At least under CCK, there were enough jobs, food, consumer goods to go around, he also do more and talk less. With CSB, there is just bad economy, ridiculous inflation, empty promises, and tall tales; and my family’s landline telephone is still wire-tapped just like my granddad’s phone under CCK.

And CSB is perceived by many as trying to create Taiwanese fascism, step-by-step. I don’t care if it goes one way or another. I am not a “mainlander Taiwanese” or whatever the pan-Green calls their scapegoat, much like the Jews under Nazi. It will only rip Taiwan apart and destroy Taiwan, so for someone shortsighted like me, I will only care when that happens and when they start knocking on my door.

Seriously, which Taiwan are some of you living on? Or are you guys even literate and fluent in both Mandarin and Taiwanese? Don’t tell me you actually only relies on the translated English news and a few acquaintance’s word-of-mouth to know what’s going on around you. There are a lot of things left out by everyone.

Michael Turton said...

Thanks, but the fact that Imperial Japan sucks and got away scot-free really doesn't mean that Nazi memorabilia is a good thing. Really.


Anonymous said...

Nice posting, and nice rejoinder.

I'm not completely convinced of the "innocence" of the Buddhist backward swastika. It's used by Falun Gong, who are really oppressed by the PRC government, but just because they're really oppressed doesn't mean they're not also a bunch of religious loonies marching (in this case, meditating) in lockstep:

Anonymous said...

-- from Eddie Smith in Taipei....

after reading yr blog, sir, i wrote letter to MOFA, they replied:
Dear Mr. Smith:

Thank you for the suggestion; we think you have a very good point there.
Since the official ceremony practices concern the Ministry of Interior's
jurisdiction, we have therefore passed your e-mail on to them. We believe
they will give your feelings on this matter due consideration.

Once again, thank you for your enthusiasm in looking after Taiwan's
international image, and we wish you a very successful 2007.

Best regards,

Information Technology Unit
Government Information Office
ROC (Taiwan)

Subject: fascist salute
in ROC
THIS LOOKS TERRIBLE TO INTL COMMUNITY overseas. it looks like Hitler
salute. Why does Taiwan still do this? from Japan era? It is wrong wrong
wrong. can you change this in future?


eddie smith, taibey

Michael Turton said...

Thanks, Eddie. That's really a wonderful thing to do.


Wondering Jew said...

The nazi relics is another good reason to visit Taiwan. Thanks for sharing! :)

Unknown said...

Poor people you are. Call me indifferent or whatever but don't you have other things to care about, or do you just enjoy witchhunts in general? Surprisingly the most "tolerant" people are most upset about any "evil" symbols. Can't you just ignore them completely if you believe in their stupidity? No, you can't, since your moral superiority grants you not even with a subjective but an objective authority to judge and prohibit parts of reality that other people may interpret totally different from you. If that was to happen in Germany, I at least could understand that you try to defend a local taboo which may serve as socially stabilizing in that area. However, trying to impose an absolute moral judgement concerning the National Socialist Svastika upon people in Taiwan is nothing but...primitive. Those people have a right not to care about implications and if this might have negative consequences for them in other parts of the world, so be it.

Moreover, why should a certain form of a pledge of allegiance be changed due to the fact that in "the rest of the world" it would be against superficial social norms concerning body signs and language? The mentality of "you mustn't do that" is present in most people's minds...It is logicall to behave accordingly to avoid facing social consequences but even blogging such stuff points out to a character of massive conformity.

By the way, those Kitsch-products are rubbish and its sellers are dumb idiots. However, not because of lack of awareness but beacuse of a defect of aesthetics unrelated to any political or historical parameters.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to add a bit of info here, i read some comment about how the nazis appropriated the swastika from asian peoples. This symbol has been around all over the world for thousands of years, even in America which has been isolated from the rest of the world there have been uses of the swastika as a symbol.

Archeological findings of the use of the symbol in Europe predates those found in India. Claiming westerners (or Hitler in this case) appropriated the symbol is wrong. It's an universal symbol, ironically, it could be used as a symbol to represent the unification of all people of the earth. (But i'm afraid Hitler destroyed that potential).

Shaun Cheon said...

And here we are again in 2016, GuangFu Middle Schol in Hsinchu coming up wit ha Nazi Parade to celebrate Christmas+Thanksgiving

Unknown said...

As a counterpoint it was a historical lesson, like US Civil War reenactors, not an actual Nazi rally. While I didn't agree completely with the Taiwanese guy's comments above. He's got a valid point about Japan, they still use the same flags that were used when oppressing Asians and no one gives a flip. If you want to further there have been pretty bad abuses and atrocities done under many current flags like the Union Jack.
Yes Nazis were evil but was NOT a Nazi rally just a show for educational purposes. Why aren't we getting upset about films and TV shows of Nazis in that case?