China · Taiwan

Taiwan’s election earthquake; HK Occupy showdown, Paul Theroux and Ha Jin interview links

Taiwan’s massive local elections unleashed a seismic change in the island Saturday while Hong Kong’s Occupy protests got more violent and desperate on Sunday and Monday. While these are two major events in places close to each other, the reason I’ve linked them in the same sentence is because they both have a big influence on China.

Taiwan’s elections saw the opposition DPP win the majority of municipals, including the capital Taipei, and counties, several of which were formerly strongholds of the ruling and pro-China KMT. The KMT now only holds 6 of these municipalities and counties, down from 15. For years, the KMT has depended heavily on boosting ties with China and it hasn’t worked out well. Frankly that has virtually been the KMT’s only strategy in the past few years and it’s no surprise that many Taiwanese have gotten fed up. Along with this, economic inequality, low salaries and social problems like forced relocations for property developments have continued to get worse. While my family has traditionally been pro-blue, I can’t say I was disappointed in this.

Meanwhile Hong Kong’s Occupy protesters’ showdown with the police didn’t go down too well with the public, the police and the government. By directly confronting and charging the police, the movement has certainly shifted from being non-violent and can no longer use that as a shield. Furthermore this allows Beijing to be smug and feel justified in labeling the protesters as radicals and troublemakers intent on causing chaos. The adult initiators of the Occupy movement, who actually have not had much control over the protests in the past two months, have said they will give themselves up to police this week while calling on protesters to leave the protest sites. That might be a wise choice for now as it will allow the movement to regroup and think about new tactics rather than degenerate into a more desperate and undisciplined group.

Alright, enough about politics.
Hong Kong’s SCMP interviewed two major authors – Ha Jin and Paul Theroux.

Ha Jin is a Chinese writer who’s written several novels in English and teaches creative writing at a university in the US, where he’s lived since the mid-80s. His latest book A Map of Betrayal is about a Chinese spy in the US who works for the CIA and has built a life and family there, and is unable to fully belong to either side. It seems like an interesting read so I’ll check up on it in future. The SCMP author sees a parallel with Ha’s life, including the fact he is an exile from his own country.
Because he has openly criticized the Chinese government especially for Tiananmen, he has been refused visas by China, including last year when he wanted to return to see his dying mother. It’s a terrible situation to be banned by returning home by your own government, which is ironic when patriotism is so often promoted as an ideal by said government.
Ha’s books haven’t been too controversial but haven’t shied away from covering tough issues such as the Cultural Revolution and the Civil War that ended in 1949. Ha is a strong admirer of the US, which he says is a good place for him and his family, and he openly supports the Occupy movement in Hong Kong. He also signed Charter 08, a pro-democracy manifesto calling for democracy in China in 2008 (for which Liu Xiaobo, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, was jailed).

The SCMP also interviewed Paul Theroux who made the astonishing claim that he feels “lost” in Hong Kong due to how “impenetrable” it is. This seems peculiar given Theroux has traveled the world including across Africa and Asia, and has actually written a book set in Hong Kong. He is an interesting sort, though quite irascible in his writing and a bit contrarian in the interview, and surprisingly humble such as laughing off instances where people have heard about his wife or sons but not him.

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