Little Sister Chiu

I write in response to George Thompson’s opinion piece which appeared on Tuesday, February 1, 2005.

Mr. Thompson (who I presume hails from North America) lays the tragic death of “Little Sister Chiu” at the feet a variety of shortcomings in Taiwanese society and culture, and goes on to support his view with a myriad of examples and analogies.

Before entering the labryinth of logic woven by Mr. Thompson, it might be wise to state that the passing of “Little Sister Chui” was caused by a severe beating at the hands of her father.  I need not canvass statistics from North America to lament the fact that many unfortunate children suffer similar fates in Mr. Thompson’s home country and, doubtlessly, also in Mr. Thompson’s home town, wherever that may be.

The fact that this battered child was denied the immediate medical care that may have saved her life is tragic, but certainly not unique to Taiwan.  There is a plethora of examples of people in Canada and the United States being denied life-saving medical care for a variety of reasons:  Long waits for socialized services in Canada; lack of insurance or financial resources in America.  None of this excuses or mitigates what occured in the specific case of this one little girl, but neither does it support Mr. Thompson’s contention that the cause is some unique deficiency in Taiwanese culture.

Mr. Thompson proceeeds to provide examples of what’s wrong with Taiwan.  He begins with English cable television stations.  How this relates to battered children one struggles to imagine, but he argues that this is indicitive of something larger.  That HBO et al tend to repeat their programming, in his view, demonstrates a lack of “service, responsibility or accountability,” and states that the consumer has, “no choice, no exit option and no avenue of complaint.”

In a country of 23 million, where English is the THIRD language (behind Mandarin and Taiwanese), one might be thankful that there is English programming at all.  As for choices and exit options, Mr. Thompson might consider turning the television off and spending his leisure time in any of the beautiful municipal parks, basketball and tennis courts, or swimming pools that are so widely available in Taiwan.  He might rent movies, or become sufficently competent in Chinese that he can increase his viewing options by 70 or 80 channels.  In any case, Mr. Thompson demonstrates a severe lack of understanding of commercial television production in addition to weak logic in this example.

Next on Mr. Thompson’s laundry list of Taiwanese shortcomings is the traffic.  How utterly common to hear a foreigner complaining about the driving habits of Taiwanese motorists.  Yes, Mr. Thompson, the Taiwanese don’t drive like the folks back home.  Given the sheer density of traffic on this postage stamp-sized island, is it any wonder?  Nevertheless, I’ve yet to see or hear about incidents of road rage in which guns are fired.  As for people running red lights, clearly Mr. Thompson has never operated a car in Montreal, or Wahington, D.C., or any other major North American city, where to venture off the sidewalk is to risk life and limb.

Mr. Thompson then turns to the educational system.  He sees what might be loosely termed “The Confucian method” (in which the teacher lectures), and compares it to the western “Socratic method” (which utilizes a dialogue between students and teacher) and finds the former lacking.  One might wonder why it is that Taiwanese students consistently and dramatically outperform western students in standardized testing, given that they suffer in a system in which everyone does the “bare minimum to justify their positions.”  One might also wonder at the number of western students who leave high school unable to read or write.  He defies anyone to “prove him wrong on this point.”  I believe the evidence does just that, but since he speaks his opinion without regard to facts, I shouldn’t trouble to make the effort.

Mr. Thompson continues by stating that, “anyone living in Taiwan knows…the same dynamic of irresponsibility, unaccountability and duplicity…manifests itself millions of times each day throughout Taiwan…”

I live in Taiwan, Mr. Thompson, and I say you not only exaggerate, but do so from a false premise exacerbated by western ignorance and arrogance – a quality I see all too often demonstrated by fresh university graduates who have the whole world all figured out.

If Mr. Thompson wants examples of duplicity, he need look no further than the White House; if he wants irresponsibility, he might review the shameful circumstances of Enron; if he seeks unaccountability, he might examine the details of Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, or cast an eye towards the Catholic Church in their dealings with pedophile priests. 

None of these qualities are unique to Taiwan, and none are the result of “Taiwanese culture” any more than the examples above are the result of “American culture” (whatever that may be).

Mr. Thompson closes by stating that his comments are not the result of culture shock.  Perhaps not, but they DO demonstrate a profound lack of understanding of “culture” (as a concept) and specifically this culture. 

He states that he has lived in Taiwan for almost three years.  I’ve lived here longer than that, and I have friends who have been here over 20 years.  None of us claim to have achieved the level of understanding that would support an analysis of what’s wrong with Taiwan.  In fact, the one thing on which we “long-timers” agree is that, no matter how long one stays, Taiwanese culture is something that foreigners will never completely comprehend.

It is beyond question that the death of “Little Sister Chui” is a tragedy of almost unspeakable proportions.  To lay the blame on everyone and everything Taiwanese, however, is not only mistaken, it’s stupid and rude. 

Frankly, I find Mr. Thompson’s opinion arrogant, condescending, poorly considered, and utterly without merit.  Perhaps he ought to seek employment in another country, where nothing bad ever happens, and everyone is polite, considerate and altruistic.
Perhaps Dorothy and Toto need an English teacher.