Monday, July 03, 2017

Master Hsing Yun in the NYT *sigh*

The coast....

Tomorrow I hope to have a post on Democracy Challenged: The Chen Shui-bian Years, an edited volume on the Chen years. But today....

Hsing Yun, the political monk: Last week Ian Johnson wrote a puff piece on Master Hsing Yun and Foguangshan for the NYTimes. Johnson is a respected China correspondent. The piece perfectly illustrates what I am constantly noting: that even the best China writers can't write about anything Taiwan. I wasn't even going to mention it, but Johnson responded thusly to a pro-Taiwan friend of mine who abused Hsing Yun on Facebook, saying:
A Q and A with an important religious/political figure is a perfectly legitimate role of journalism. It is the way to go. Childishly insulting people and questioning the role of journalism is what's wrong with social media and why we're in this alt-fact mess.
As you can imagine, it took me a week to calm down from that remark. Haha. Why are we in the alt-fact mess? Because a ranking journalist like Johnson can research and write an entire article which simply side-stepped Hsing Yun's open and rich relationships with the KMT (he was a member of its central committee and is known as "the political monk") and downplays his longstanding work to use Buddhism to help annex Taiwan to China and "Chinese culture" to suppress Taiwanese culture.

Consider these remarks from the NYTimes piece:
But unlike in Taiwan, where it held special services during national crises and encouraged members to participate in public affairs, Fo Guang Shan avoids politics in China.
Foguangshan has the same politics as the CCP. It doesn't "avoid politics" because it doesn't have any reason to, the CCP heartily approves of its agenda. In Taiwan it plays politics by supporting the KMT. For example, when DPP turncoat Yang Chiu-hsing ran for mayor of Kaohsiung in the 2010 elections, Hsing Yun came out in support of him. He also supported Ma in the 2008 elections. Throughout his careeer Hsing Yun has operated as an arm of the KMT-CCP united front against Taiwan independence. This 2008 Asia Sentinel piece, easily found on Wiki, observes:
Of the four Buddhist masters in Taiwan – known as ‘the four high mountains’– Hsing Yun is the most political and the most openly pro-unification – to the point, in fact, that critics have suggested his politics have led him considerably far afield from traditional monastic concerns. He was a member of the central committee of the Kuomintang and in 1994 persuaded Wu not to run as an independent in the election for provincial government, to ensure a Kuomintang victory.
Imagine an alternative NYT piece, one on the importance of the Mazu and Buddhist cults as key nexuses of cross-strait pro-unification politics and political action. But we will never see such a piece...

...The truth is that the reason we have alt-facts is because the international media creates space for them by not resolutely and robustly printing facts.

Why did Hsing Yun refer to Chinese culture in his interview with Johnson? Hsing Yun himself said a few years ago (Taipei Times):
During a press conference at the forum on Friday in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, Hsing Yun said that “both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to one family. There are no Taiwanese in Taiwan and Taiwanese are all Chinese.”

Which Taiwanese is not Chinese?” he asked. “They are Chinese just like you are. We are all brothers and sisters.”

Hsing Yun also said that opening the forum in China and closing it in Taiwan was especially meaningful because it would enhance cross-strait exchanges and help the unification of the two sides, the Hong Kong-based newspaper Ta Kung Pao reported on Saturday.

“The more [cross-strait] exchange we have, the more mixed we will be. Then we won’t be able to distinguish who’s Mainland [Chinese] and who’s Taiwanese — and we will naturally become unified,” Hsing Yun was quoted as saying.
This background is entirely missing from Johnson's piece. Hsing Yun doesn't just work tirelessly to annex Taiwan to China; he also puts in a good word on China's alleged ownership of the Senkakus from time to time (like in 2012).

There are some assertions that don't make sense:
In 1989, an official fleeing the Tiananmen massacre took refuge in its temple in Los Angeles. China retaliated by barring Master Hsing Yun from the mainland.
But Hsing Yun was in China in 1989 and in 1990 met with the President of China. See this old LA Times piece on him from 1990, which does a much better job of conveying what Hsing Yun is: a monk tycoon who has long wanted to get his organization into China, just like any other large corporation engaged in long-term marketing and expansion.

As the LA Times piece makes clear (and, if you know the answer, you can see it in the NYTimes piece too), Hsing Yun offered the equivalent of the Prosperity Gospel, but for Buddhism. This was indeed a trick -- Christianity is a totally me-centered religion, so it is not difficult to get adherents to believe in something as self-centered as the prosperity gospel. But Buddhism has quite a bit to say about the relationship between the Self and the World that is not compatible with modern consumer culture. Hsing Yun drew on a humanistic Buddhist tradition to recast Buddhism in a way that is compatible with modern consumer culture. Ka-ching!

For his claims about the effect of Buddhist organizations on Taiwan's society, I have not read the book Johnson cited, Democracy's Dharma (He informed me on FB, Ian is very kind). Color me intensely skeptical, since I have rather extensive, personal knowledge of at least one of those organizations. But an organization and a leader that supported the KMT throughout the authoritarian era, continues to support it, calls for the extermination of Taiwanese culture, carefully avoids confronting burning social issues such as land expropriation and corporate power, and never spoke out for democracy in Taiwan, isn't one that is going to change China.

Ultimately, the reason China accepts Hsing Yun is that they know perfectly well he won't do anything to rock the boat, and his adherents will not engage in meaningful social action, and he will continue to work to peacefully deliver Taiwan to China.

1C2S Take 2: Taiwan Sentinel ran a piece on Beijing's rejection of the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
The most shocking thing about Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang’s remarks on Friday, to the effect that the Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong of 1984 is no longer relevant, isn’t so much Beijing’s dismissing of a binding UN treaty but rather the outrage from around the world by individuals who should have known that China never committed to abiding by the treaty to begin with.
Of course, Beijing's announcement was fundamentally an announcement that war over Taiwan, the Senkakus, and the SCS claims is inevitable. Can Japan trust China to adhere to a treaty over the Senkakus?

And then there is Taiwan... who would make a deal with China now? If someone in the KMT tries to return to the "50 year peace treaty" policy that pan-Blue politicians have periodically been mentioning, everyone will just laugh.
Daily Links
"The Taiwan Fellowship aims to promote researches related to Taiwan, cross-Strait relations and Chinese studies etc. The terms of fellowship are three to twelve months.

Applicants should be US citizens who are professors, associate professors, assistant professors, post-doctoral researchers, doctoral candidates, or doctoral program students at related departments of overseas universities, or are research fellows at an equivalent level in academic institutions abroad.

Application deadline is July 15, 2017. For more info, please visit"
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TaiwanJunkie said...

Foguangshan is losing its audience in Taiwan. Most Buddhists within Taiwan know full well about its political connections and KMT leaning. Just like most religious organizations, seeking out new turf and new converts is prime objective. I think the article is simply pointing out the obvious, Foguangshan is in foreign turf and must stay away from the usual political mishmash.

From the broader prospective, China imported Taiwanese and HK businesses to develop its economy. Now it is importing Foguangshan to fulfill the moral vacuum. I am no fan of Foguangshan. But it is quite pragmatic and if it able to inject a different moral standard into a space currently only filled by nationalistic propaganda and rhetoric, why not?

Michael Turton said...

I doubt very much it can inject a different moral standard into a space, it didn't in Taiwan.

Anonymous said...

TaiwanJunkie wrote:

>>China imported Taiwanese and HK businesses to develop its economy. Now it is importing Foguangshan to fulfill the moral vacuum. I am no fan of Foguangshan. But it is quite pragmatic and if it able to inject a different moral standard into a space currently only filled by nationalistic propaganda and rhetoric, why not?<<

(1) China is not "importing Foguangshan". It has been Hsing Yun alone who's been trying to get his business footed in China.

(2) It is not "Now": Hsing Yun has been eyeing his business expansion to China since before the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989. That's why he met with the Tiananmen Butcher Regime several times in 1989 and 1990, while the whole world was boycotting China.

(3) Had Foguangshan managed to "inject a different moral standard" into China, it would've no sooner been "Falungong"-ed. This has not happened, in spite of Hsing-Yun's efforts of almost 30 years, simply because Hsing-Yun's intent has not been an "injectino of a difference moral standard into China".

(4) The sole interest of Hsing Yun in China is commercial and political, i.e. to use religion to drag Taiwanese Buddhists into the "Non-Duality" of "non-separating" people into Chinese and Taiwanese. Yes, Hsing-Yun (mis-)uses the Buddhist concept of "Non-Duality" as a moral obligation of Buddhists to coerce a "unification"; thus, "we should unify people, not separate people", "There is no Taiwanese in Taiwan; we are all Chinese."

A fantasy of Hsing-Yun "injecting a different moral standard" into China remains a naive fantasy.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the pointed and informative post. I had previously suspected as much about the Foguangshan bunch, but I had no concrete basis to back up the suspicions with facts. Hsing Yun's past quotes in particular are starkly revealing.

It is a shame that the NY Times did not do any homework before blindly funnelling this corrupt and conflicted charlatan's gospel to their readership. Frustrating.

Keep up the great work Michael: yours is clearly an important service to anyone with a serious interest in Taiwan and its people. Your blog is a great resource. Thanks!

TaiwanJunkie said...

Anon, I'm under no illusion the Celestial Cloud is some wise benevolent moral compass. Nor did I say anything remotely close.

Of course China is importing Foguangshan. If something is allowed to exist within China with the blessing of the Party, it is being imported by the Party. For you to think otherwise would be naive.

As for Foguangshan's prior efforts to expand into China, that proves my point that China is importing Foguangshan. It is only because the Party is now allowing it in on a more massive scale. Think Special Economic Zone first and now more country wide. This is led by the Party, Foguangshan is just a willing participant.

The moral standard is state sanctioned. The Party is trying to improve the overall manner and quality of the citizenry, and this is part of the central planning. My point is, this is better than the void that exists right now.

As for Celestial Cloud's pro China agenda, as mentioned previously, its golden days in Taiwan is gone, it needs to find new furtile grounds. I do agree it was part of that massive KMT Party State apparatus. I don't really see a problem with it leaving for China much like the rest of the KMT.

Michael Turton said...

Anonymous is entirely correct. It is fantasy to imagine Foguangshan will change China in any meaningful way.

Anonymous said...

Well done Michael!

Anonymous said...

I would be interested to see concrete information on how recent socio-political changes have affected Foguangshan. Have they really lost any money or followers? How much or how many? He's got two universities, you know--are they hurting? etc. And what's going to happen to the organization when Xingyun kicks the bucket / ascends into mahaparinirvana? Same for the other "Big Buddhist" entities here (Dharma Drum, Chung Tai, Tzu Chi).

TaiwanJunkie said...

Michael and Anon, you guys do realize for centuries religious institutions (church, temple, mosque) served under the pleasure of the ruler, whether it be the kings or emperors or sultans. This is no different.

You mean to tell me these religious institutions never shaped the moral standard?

China was founded as a communist society. The state religion was Communism. As China became capitalist, Communism as a religion became a joke. So they thought they can use nationalism as the religion to fill the void. But things can get quite fascist that way. Since the Celestial Cloud is eager to return to his home country, the Party now welcomes him back to help fill that void.

Given Buddhism is a religion with less sharp edges then unbridled nationalism, this is a better alternative. Are they going to try to inject nationalism into their messaging? Of course they are, but still better than straight up nationalism.

Anonymous said...

He is telling the truth. Difference between Chinese people in Taiwan & people from Fujian is zero. Same language, culture, family value & also ancestry.

Stop trying to create fake Taiwanese identity that is completely artificial. If you wanna be independent then do it at a political level like Canada does. There is no difference between canadians and americans. But they are still seperate cause of political reasons.

Michael Turton said...

Stop trying to create fake Taiwanese identity that is completely artificial. If you wanna be independent then do it at a political level like Canada does. There is no difference between canadians and americans. But they are still seperate cause of political reasons.

So i guess the completely different historical experiences of the last 400 years are meaningless, eh?

Can't fix stupid, I guess. But at least it is sometimes amusing. Sadly, though, behind this stupidity lies a vapid, venomous lust for power.