Taiwan's Source of Injustice
You're in This Game Too
At a recent national industrial development conference, organizers pushed through a raft of recommendations amidst cries of objections. But the media buried the true story with hype, and the public blissfully ignored it.
You're in This Game TooBy Chang Ta-chuen
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 514 )
The editors of the new website "Independent Opinion@CommonWealth Magazine" (http://opinion.cw.com.tw) have given me the assignment of writing about "the three most serious incidents of injustice in Taiwan right now." However, if I really could accomplish such a task, I'm afraid I would do an injustice to all the other injustices coming in at 4th place through Nth place. It seems to me that injustice is hard to rank or differentiate on the basis of gravity. Injustice is unjust.
When cases of injustice are frequently reported, much to the shock of media audiences, structural deficits in a society can be exposed. On the other hand, such reports can also provide an inkling of understanding about a certain society. Often the uncovering of social injustice chiefly relies on longstanding, widespread social bias among the general public of said society. The notion of what amounts to "most unjust" circumstances, for instance, might count among these.
"Greatest injustice" could mean an injustice that attracts the greatest public attention or debate, causes the greatest suffering due to its nature or significance, results in the most dramatic destruction of current public values, or leads to the most aggressive undermining of social consensus… Regardless of the nature of an injustice, we seem to want to believe that by pointing out its extreme degree we might grasp the big picture and set a warning example. In such moments I always slowly take a step back, as if trying to find a proper distance that allows me to clearly see this "extremeness."
I would like to cite as an example a piece of news that probably received the least public media attention in 2012. On Dec. 10-11 last year, nearly 1,000 industry representatives, bureaucrats, scholars and researchers gathered at the Taipei International Convention Center for the National Conference on Industrial Development, hosted by the Ministry of Economic Affairs. The theme of the conference was: "Transforming Industries into New Engines of Economic Growth." The conference purportedly yielded a total of 167 joint recommendations. It came to a "successful conclusion" as Premier Sean Chen listened to the final report by Economics Minister Shih Yen-shiang. This is the kind of news that the biggest majority of ordinary readers won't notice at all – not just because it's doesn't involve boobs and butts, but also because it doesn't have anything funny or cute or what we would deem "entertaining."
The Most Unentertaining News
However, hidden under this piece of news is a feat that the government, the media and readers accomplished themselves in an unwitting conspiracy.
When Shih, the economics minister, read out the 167 "joint opinions," Chen Jiau-hua, associate professor at Chia Nan University of Pharmacy and Science, kept raising her hand saying: "Some of these are not joint opinions. This must first be confirmed," but Shih didn't acknowledge her objections at all. Subsequently, labor union representatives raised "procedural problems," but again Shih was unfazed by the protests and stubbornly continued to read out his script word by word. Then Pan Han-shen of the Green Party objected, noting that the "joint opinions" were not the joint opinions of the conference participants.
Ten Controversial Issues
Despite such disregard for procedural justice, the affair had not yet reached the peak of absurdity. In what followed, the so-called "entertainment" factor came into play! Right in the most convenient position for the cameras – that is, where photographers and TV crews could take their best shots without much effort – a veteran company boss came into view yelling: "If you keep fighting, even 15K will remain out of reach!"
("15K" refers to a monthly salary of NT$15,000 – even less than the 22K, or NT$22,000 per month, that many recent college graduates are forced to accept in the current Taiwanese job market.)
But in news reports a short while later, some media had changed his statement to read: "If you continue to fight, I'll see to it that young people in Taiwan won't even get 15K!" All of a sudden the bad guy had emerged as in a melodrama. In an ensuing massive cyber manhunt, the management representative whose original statement had been deliberately distorted – Richtek Technology Corporation chairman Kenneth Tai – was faced with a barrage of verbal abuse. Still, for the media the game was not over yet, as within less than a day reports again pointed out that Tai is "actually" a philanthropist who donates huge amounts to charity every year…
At this point no one remembered the great significance and wide-ranging impact of events at the conference, and no one cared about how the media glossed over and shifted attention away from the government's careless attitude. The media didn't realize they were only inciting a temporary uproar and were probably pleased with themselves for getting the story on "disturbances and confrontation" at the conference. And while clearly no consensus was reached at this so-called "National Conference on Industrial Development," its organizers nonetheless rammed through a host of "joint opinions." They included:
1. Adequately adjusting foreign labor import quotas; studying the feasibility of relaxing basic wage regulations for foreign workers
2. Adequately adjusting work hours in response to greater workforce needs in times of rush orders
3. Studying the adequate relaxation of regulations on work hours, fixed-term contracts, and redundancies and dismissals, to prevent excessive limitations on the hiring of temporary workers
4. Studying the possibility of allowing foreign blue-collar workers with certified skills to apply for permanent residency in Taiwan
5. Researching and lobbying for the possibility of management-level Chinese nationals coming to Taiwan for work
6. Income tax cuts and tax breaks for high-level staff of companies with operational headquarters, R&D centers or major investments in Taiwan
7. Reviewing the position, composition, organization, rules and regulations, and timetable of the Environmental Impact Assessment Review Committee
8. Studying the feasibility of water resource development plans for the seven major draught areas Taoyuan, Hsinchu, Taichung, Jhanghua, Yunlin, Tainan and Kaohsiung
9. Authorizing local governments to decide and approve industrial parks; studying the possibility of expanding the scope of valid properties from "non-urban land of less than 30 hectares" to "both non-urban and urban land less than 30 hectares," to shorten the review process for new industrial parks
10. Studying whether urban industrial parks should be granted floor-to-area ratio bonuses to encourage industrial park revitalization and transformation
Dear reader: If you quickly skipped over the above ten recommendations, you are definitely also one of the players in this big game of injustice with low viewer ratings, because you are too lazy to find out the real picture of injustice in our society.
Chang Ta-chuen is a writer.
Translation from the Chinese by Susanne Ganz
The above article is featured in the new CommonWealth Magazine website, "Independent Opinion@CommonWealth Magazine" (http://opinion.cw.com.tw). The goal of this Chinese-language website is to present independent voices from Taiwan and the greater Chinese-speaking world, across the broadest spectrum of age, expertise, group identity and vantage point.
For its inaugural edition, "Independent Opinion" has invited ten writers to share their thoughts on two different themes: "Taiwan's sources of injustice," and "Taiwan's sources of pride." What aspects of Taiwanese society are most unfair, and call out for its leaders to urgently address? And what things should Taiwanese people be most proud of, and delighted to share with the world?