Friday, May 22, 2009

Two by Adams

Local reporter Jon Adams has two interesting pieces out this week in CSM and in Global Post. First, he highlights the problems that many of us have observed in Taiwan's judiciary, using Chen supporters in the south as a backdrop, in the Christian Science Monitor:
But a growing chorus of Taiwanese and foreign scholars are echoing – albeit in more measured tones – villagers' concerns about how the case is being handled. The criticisms have put this young democracy's judicial system in the spotlight, as it struggles to handle one of its most politically charged cases yet.

Chen – who irked Beijing and Washington with his loud trumpeting of Taiwan's autonomy – faces charges of accepting bribes, misusing state funds, and money laundering. If convicted, he could be jailed for life.

He says he's innocent. He acknowledged last year that his wife wired $21 million abroad, but said that money was leftover campaign contributions. He's been in on-and-off detention since Nov. 11, including a month without charge– a sore point for critics of Taiwan's judiciary.

Media leaks and detention without charge

Critics also object to the reassigning of Chen's case to a judge seen as less sympathetic to Chen; a skit by prosecutors mocking Chen, which they say reflected judicial bias; and persistent leaks about the case to the media. (Click here for open letters from a group of foreign scholars in November, December, and January).

The government insists it has not interfered with the case, and the justice minister and other officials have denied any political bias or influence. (Click here for the government's responses in November, January, and February.)

In a December poll conducted by Taiwan's Academia Sinica, 50 percent of Taiwanese said the island's judicial system was biased (compared with 38 percent who said it was impartial), while 59 percent said Taiwanese law did not sufficiently safeguard human rights.

At Taiwan's own Judicial Reform Foundation (a nonpartisan, independent nonprofit), executive director Lin Feng-jeng says Chen's case highlights broader problems. The most serious, he says, is loose lips.

"All the information in this case was leaked to the media – that's our biggest criticism," says Mr. Lin. "And they still haven't fixed the problem."

Lin's group also says Taiwan should emulate Japan, which only allows holding suspects without charge for 20 days – instead of four months, as permitted in Taiwan. "Sometimes you need to lock someone up because they might flee," says Lin. "But four months is too much."

Finally, the foundation has long criticized the practice of cops recording conversations between detained suspects and their lawyers, as happened with Chen. Lin says on this front there's progress: Taiwan's top court has ruled such recordings unconstitutional.

Taiwanese resent control by those who fled China

Here in Chen's hometown, villagers also voice such concerns, flavored with a strong dash of partisanship. The village sits in Taiwan's breadbasket, a land of flat, expansive rice and sugar-cane fields, lingjiao (water caltrop) paddies, and banana trees. Older residents are often illiterate and don't speak Mandarin (they use Taiwanese, which is derived from a southern Chinese dialect).

When they talk, they lay bare the scars of Taiwan's defining communal division between Taiwanese like them, who have lived and farmed here for centuries (84 percent of the population), and Mainlanders who came to Taiwan with the Kuomintang and announced martial law in 1949 (now 14 percent).

For younger, urban Taiwanese, that communal divide is less and less significant. But for the older generation in Hsichuang, it's still very much alive. And it clearly colors their view of Chen's trial.
As I recall, the Supreme Court decision calling taping of lawyer-client meetings in prison unconstitutional does not apply to the Chen case. Hence taping may still be going on. Adams' piece is especially timely because yesterday another letter from concerned international scholars was published in the Taipei Times:
We raise these issues as international supporters of Taiwan’s democracy who care deeply about the country and its future as a free and democratic nation-state. As you recall, we voiced concerns on three previous occasions, most recently in a letter to you, Mr President, dated Jan. 17, 2009, in which we expressed our concern regarding the fairness of the judicial system in Taiwan.

These concerns have not been alleviated by either the response from Government Information Office Minister Su Jun-pin (蘇俊賓) or the cessation of troubling, flawed and partial judicial proceedings, in particular involving the case of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).

We reiterate that any alleged corruption must be investigated, but emphasize that the judicial process needs to be scrupulously fair and impartial. In the case of the former president, it is evident that the prosecution is heavily tainted by political bias, and that the former president is being treated badly out of spite for the political views and the positions he took during his presidency. Such retribution does not bode well for a young and fragile democracy, as Taiwan is.

The second issue that we feel we need to highlight is press freedom. In spite of earlier expressions of concern by international organizations such as the Committee to Protect Journalists and Freedom House, there continue to be reports of impingement on press freedom by your administration. A case in point is the recent disturbing report that Central News Agency staff were instructed to write only “positive” stories about the policies of your administration, and that reports containing criticism of your administration or China were excised.
It is evident from stuff I've read on the seminar at GWU the other day that the community of Taiwan scholars is becoming aware that Taiwan's democracy is not as secure as it was thought to be. As I've noted in the past, the anschluss with China cannot go forward without significant damage to Taiwan's democracy, since nobody here wants to be part of the PRC. That is why the KMT has been careful to insulate the ECFA agreements and the negotiations from oversight by the legislature -- the legislature it controls! -- and from democratic oversight by the public in the form of referendums, and to have those negotiations carried out by KMT party officials Lien Chan and Wu Po-hsiung, and not appointtees of the Administration accountable to the public.

Adams' also has a nifty piece over at Global Post on strikes at an Apple contract manufacturer, Wintek, in China and Taiwan:
The current labor action is unusual in that it's being taken on behalf of both Taiwanese and Chinese workers. It's supported by labor groups in Hong Kong, mainland China, Japan and South Korea, according to a press release about Thursday's protest.

On Thursday morning, about 30 protesters from local labor rights groups and trade unions held signs and chanted slogans, including "black-heart business" (heixin qiye), in front of Apple's Taipei office.

One protester held up an Apple laptop with the Chinese characters for "responsibility" on the screen. Behind, some 25 police officers stood by.

Some 15 laid-off Wintek workers joined the protesters later. Many wore surgical masks to prevent being identified, because they still hope to be re-hired at the firm's central Taiwan factory.

"If the company finds out you came here to protest at Apple, they will put you on a blacklist," explained Liu Wan-ling, of the Taiwan Labor Information and Education Association.

Read and enjoy.

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...

He knows more than your average Taiwan reporter, but he calls Taiwanese a dialect (argh... if it was, why isn't your Mandarin helping you out with it Mr. Adams??)

He also thinks the division is something like a Taiwanese people don't like later immigrants thing. Martial law is just the tip of the iceberg. The Mainlanders came and were automatically in charge of EVERYTHING. All government, military, judicial positions were taken over by them. Then there's all the favoritism for anyone whose father was waisheng. And this doesn't even cover political persecution, 228, White Terror, destruction of Taiwanese languages and culture through media and education.

It's not the old people, it's anyone who grew up prior to the 80s.

Michael Fahey said...


Article 23 of the Detention Act used to permit prisons to listen to and record the conversations of the accused and their lawyers. The Council of Grand Justices declared Article 23 unconstitutional and void as of May 1st 2009.

My understanding is that before Article 23 became invalid, the Ma administration issued administrative orders ending the practice.

In late April, the Legislative Yuan amended the Detention Act. Article 23-1 was added expressly forbidding the prison to record or listen to conversations between lawyers and the accused although the prison is allowed to monitor the meetings visually.

I think the practice has been halted although we would have to check with a lawyer who litigates criminal cases to find out what the real situation is.

Readin said...

It's not the old people, it's anyone who grew up prior to the 80s.Sigh, that's old people. Funny how it sneaks up on you.

Hsin Desu said...

Techincally, Taiwanese is a dialect to Chinese, as is Cantonese (look it up). Have you not spoken with a person from Mainland China in Taiwanese? Perhaps it will be to your surprise that some of them understand a lot more than you think.

I speak both Mandarin and Taiwanese, yet I hardly understand anything in Cantonese save a few functional bits learned from television and friends.

And if I'm not mistaken, Taiwanese does not yet have an official writing system.

Robert R. said...

Technically, the determination between language and dialect isn't particularly technical. At least not the common concept that Mandarin & Cantonese (and Taiwanese) are all dialects.

Tim Maddog said...

Haibane wrote:
- - -
Techincally, Taiwanese is a dialect to Chinese, as is Cantonese (look it up).
- - -

Okay, I looked it up. It would have been nice if you had provided a link, but here's what I come up with in two or three minutes.

Here's something from the Wikipedia page for "Taiwanese Minnan" [original contains links, emphasis mine]:
- - -
Taiwanese Minnan is a variant of Min Nan, closely related to the Amoy dialect. It is often seen as a Chinese dialect within the larger Sinitic language family. On the other hand, it may also be seen as a language in the Sino-Tibetan family. As with most “language/dialect” distinctions, how one describes Taiwanese depends largely on one's political views (see the article “varieties of Chinese”).

Min is the only branch of Chinese that cannot be directly derived from Middle Chinese.[3] This may account for the difficulty in finding the appropriate Chinese characters for some Min Nan vocabulary. This is maybe also part of the reasons why it is almost totally mutually unintelligible with Mandarin or other Chinese dialects.

- - -

Another Wikipedia page points out:
- - -
Chinese forms part of the Sino-Tibetan family of languages. [...] However, owing to China's sociopolitical and cultural situation, whether these variants should be known as languages or dialects is a subject of ongoing debate. Some people call Chinese a language and its subdivisions dialects, while others call Chinese a language family and its subdivisions languages. If the definition of "dialect" includes mutual intelligibility, this confusion would resolve into a paradigm of mutually incomprehensible languages, such as Cantonese and Mandarin, broken down into groups of mutually intelligible dialects, such as Beijing and Sichuan speech as rather easily mutually intelligible dialects of Mandarin.

From a purely descriptive point of view, "languages" and "dialects" are simply arbitrary groups of similar idiolects. However, the language/dialect distinction has far-reaching implications in socio-political issues, such as the national identity of China, regional identities within China, and the very nature of the (Han) Chinese "nation" or "race". As a result, it has become a subject of contention.

- - -

So, you see, people seeking hegemony over Taiwan will naturally call it a "dialect," even if that's not necessarily the case.

And if you want to read something more scientific (by an actual linguist), check out the stuff about "dialects" in this piece by Univerity of Pennsylvania Professor Victor H. Mair on Pinyin.infok, especially the subsection titled "The Myth of Monolingualism." (The link will take you directly to that section.)

Haibane also wrote:
- - -
[...] Taiwanese does not yet have an official writing system.
- - -

And your point here is... ?

Tim Maddog

Anonymous said...

"So, you see, people seeking hegemony over Taiwan will naturally call it a "dialect," even if that's not necessarily the case."

Tim Maddog- you are an ignorant moron foreigner who most likely do not speak a word of 台灣話/閩南語 and try to tell us, Taiwanese, what 台灣話/閩南語 is or is not, quoting an ENGLISH wiki entry- how ironic. Why don't you quote some real source in TAIWANESE writing, if you can find a so-called TAIWANESE writing.

閩 is the short hand for 福建 (Fujian) and 閩南語 is a dialect from Southern 福建 and IS where Taiwanese originated. All Chinese/Taiwanese know that China has thousands of "dialects" that can only be understood by locals, but that do not make thouslands of those dialects "languages" just because outsiders don't unerstand them.

Taiwanese/台灣話/閩南語 is my mother tongue and IS a dialect with no writing system. I can understand mainland Chinese from 閩南 90% of the time when we both speak 閩南語.

I only have seven "Taiwanese words" for an ignorant moron foreigner like you- 里電電 免靠腰啦!! You should shut up until you can decode the Taiwanese that I just told you.

Anonymous said...

Since Tim Maddog like using Wiki that much, let me give you a Wiki link as the "source": 閩南語Oh, wait, this link is no use to you, because you all so patronizing foreingers who seem to know everying about China and Taiwan can't read or understand anything unless it's written or said in English. 哈哈哈!!!!!!!.


So that Westerns think that 閩南語 is a "language", but it's in dispute according to Chinese scholars. Why should we, Chinese/Taiwanese, choose Westerner's definition of 台灣話/閩南語over Chinese's definition of 台灣話/閩南語? 是因為你們老外放的屁比較香嗎?

Robert R. said...

How eloquent, Anon.

While Wikipedia has it's own issues, it is at least a citation (which has it's own sub-citations). On the other hand "Taiwanese ... IS a dialect" or "All Chinese/Taiwanese know that China has thousands of "dialects" that can only be understood by locals" are just statements without any citation of linguists.

However, we do appreciate you conceding the point that Taiwanese and Mandarin are not mutually understandable. Since dialects should be, to a large extent, mutually understandable, this is a misclassification as a dialect.

Readin said...

Here's something from the Wikipedia page for "Taiwanese Minnan" [original contains links, emphasis mine]:Whenever you read a Wikipage on anything remotely related to Taiwan identity, Taiwan politics, Taiwan culture, etc., be sure to take a look at the discussion page as well. Chinese nationalists are frequently trying to put a Chinese spin on the articles. You can get some insight into this from the discussion pages.

My impression has been that English speakers in common usage tend to distinguish "language" and "dialect" based on the question if intelligibility, while Chinese speakers tend to make the distinction based on whether the written language is different. I suspect this is precisely because it allows them to claim that all the ways of speaking in China - having had a single writing system forced on them from the empire, are all using the same "language" although they have different "dialects". This is important to them because countries are often formed around languages.

Anonymous said...

"However, we do appreciate you conceding the point that Taiwanese and Mandarin are not mutually understandable. Since dialects should be, to a large extent, mutually understandable, this is a misclassification as a dialect."

Robert, again, you just gave me your Western dfinition of languages vs. dialects. Go read THE source that is not written in English, since you like "source" that much.

Wait, you can't read any other "language" except English, yet you like to tell us, Chinese/Taiwan, what to think or do about our culture, our hsitory and our issues. How typical of the white race. SHAME on you.

I don't care what YOU, White Westerns, think if 閩南語 is a language or a dialect. It's only Westerner scholars' points of views that it's a "language" which I totally discount. 聽里勒靠腰勒

Robert R. said...

You can view the relationship between the languages however you like. But if you're speaking in English, it's best to use the English definition of dialect. When everyone uses a different definition of the same word, it's impossible to communicate.

If a typical reader is reading Mr. Adams' article without an in-depth knowledge of of the surrounding issues, they will think that Taiwanese and Mandarin are mutually intelligible, and furthers the belief that all "Chinese-speaking people are the same."

If you and Chinese linguists wish to focus on the orthographic remnants of historical Chinese hegemony, have at it. Some of us (white or otherwise) think it's not particularly helpful in the current climate in international relations and politics, but hey, everyone can have their own opinion.

You keep calling it a dialect, and we'll keep calling it a language. We're not even disagreeing with each other, since the definitions are completely different.
However, don't be surprised when there's confusion.