Stagnation of social mobility stifles youth

When looking at Yushan (玉山), the scenery differs depending on whether one is seeing it from an airplane or gazing up at it at from a valley. In the same way, different perspectives to the recent string of student protests and social movements arise depending on the standpoint of the observer.
Therefore, before a situation is assessed, people should reflect on their own world-views, for this is the only way to see where blind spots lie.
I am a lawyer of a certain social status and have some economic power. It is not hard to predict that a person like me does not want to see total anarchy because I hope that society will continue to be stable. However, while I do not advocate destroying the current system, this does not mean that I do not want to make some adjustments to it.
In the same vein, the political views of the leaders of the Sunflower movement should not be the main focus. Of more importance is the socio-economic status of the tens of thousands of young people and students who took part in the movement’s related protests. Those who have not yet entered the workforce or have only just entered it still need to increase their economic power and it is not hard to see that they are more tranquil about the destruction of the current system.
So, has the system really reached the point at which it is necessary to occupy government organs and paralyze them?
Consider it from the point of view of the protesters. If social resources are quantified, it can be seen that a person with a resource value of 100 units and a person who has only one unit will naturally have different hopes and expectations when it comes to changing society’s rules.
The former will be more inclined to cherish the resources they have and will be more likely to resist change.
As for the latter, what possible losses could they incur if the rules were broken? Even if the real outcome was that they stood to lose even that one unit, this person might believe that they could turn their one unit into two, three or even 100.
Also, for the latter, a motivating factor when considering breaking established rules, despite the possibility that they will lose their only resource, is if the current rules give them the opportunity to increase their resources. This is what is referred to as social mobility.
Consider the current state of democratic countries around the globe. They all face a common problem: an ever-increasing gap between the rich and the poor. This has not only greatly decreased social mobility, it has also started to decrease the “aspiration” that society at large and especially young people, have for social mobility.
This is an important psychological factor behind all of the social movements the nation has seen recently.
Given the situation of the nation’s political system, it would be an overstatement to say that Taiwan is a dictatorship. The nation is still a democracy. However, even if the system is stable, it must be pointed out that all democracies must face up to the fact that social mobility is decreasing, both in a practical sense and in people’s hope for mobility. This is eroding the legitimacy of democratic systems.
If those in power do not face up to this fact, increasingly serious protests will come next. It would be incorrect to think that such protests would only be aimed at the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).
They will be aimed at any government in power, because — while on the surface it may seem that these protests are aimed at a particular leader — in reality, these protests are a warning to representative democracy.
C.V. Chen is a managing partner at Lee and Li Attorneys-at-law.
Translated by Drew Cameron

【20140508 Taipei Times 1030508】

Gay rights: Each day’s delay risks tragedies

Late last month, the Ministry of the Interior nullified a marriage registration because the couple’s “legal genders” when they wedded last year were different from their “biological genders” following the couple’s sex reassignment surgeries. I am opposed to this decision as a supporter of same-sex marriage and because it is a violation of the Constitution.
Even in the US, where traditional Christian and Catholic views are predominant, the US Supreme Court made two landmark rulings in favor of same-sex marriage last month.
The rulings said that the country’s Defense of Marriage Act was a violation of the US constitution because the law’s restriction of marriage to unions between a man and a woman was against the “equal protection principle.” Taiwan claims to protect all human rights, including equality, so how should the Taiwanese public deal with the absence of gay rights?
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is seen as the most gay-friendly politician in government, because during his stint as Taipei mayor, he not only designated a budget to supporting the gay movement, but also frequently attended gay events.
However, Ma has become much more conservative since he was elected president. When asked a question regarding same-sex marriage at a presidential debate during the 2008 election, he answered that the issue involved making an amendment to the Civil Code (民法), as well as social perception, and that he was “respectfully cautious” when dealing with it.
It seems that the nation’s social perceptions have evolved in the years since 2008. According to the Taiwan Social Change Survey 2013, phase 6, published by Academia Sinica’s Institute of Sociology in April, about 52 percent of respondents believed that homosexuals should be allowed to wed. This was similar to that of an opinion poll conducted by the Chinese-language United Daily News last year.
Therefore, both in theory and practice, those in power have no excuse for failing to create legislation to ensure homosexuals’ right to wed. Judging from social trends, it is only a matter of time before same-sex marriage is legalized. If this is the right thing to do and will happen eventually, why does Taiwan not take action now? In the face of institutional disapproval, suicide rates among homosexuals are much higher than among heterosexuals. So some grieving parents have even chosen to “come out” for their children after they ended their young lives. For each day this decision is delayed, there is a risk that there will be one more of these tragedies.
The legalization of same-sex marriage would mean that married homosexual couples will be entitled to the same benefits as heterosexual couples, including property inheritance, joint tax filing and family member status. More importantly, it would also mean social acceptance and recognition, which are the foundation for all human rights.
Same-sex marriage does nothing to hurt the freedom of others. That being so, some heterosexuals’ opposition may be a result of homophobia, or due to religious reasons. In Taiwan, homophobia is no longer expressed verbally in public, but reflected in the behavior of politicians who have no empathy for others.
According to Academia Sinica’s survey, non-heterosexuals account for about 4.4 percent, or about 1 million, of the nation’s population. This is a high percentage, so for how long will the so-called “democratic majority” continue to ignore this minority and continue to keep homosexuals’ constitutionally guaranteed rights locked up?
How will Ma, as both president and chairman of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), answer these questions?
C.V. Chen is a managing partner at Lee and Li Attorneys-at-law.
Translated by Eddy Chang
【20130719 Taipei Times 1020719】

My Ven Ven, a blessing in disguise

(C.V. CHEN 陳長文)

Dear Ven Ven,

You have taught us perseverance.

With this letter, I hope I can tell you how much you are our pride and joy. You are our special gift from God. You have brought us tears, pain, as well as laughter, which only bring us closer together as a family. We accept you as you are and embrace your difference with open arms. Your love and endearment in return give us strength and purpose. Because of you, we have truly been blessed.

From the minute you open your eyes each morning, you face challenges that we take for granted everyday. You struggle to accomplish tasks that others complete without effort. For every little “miracle” you achieve, you cheer and applaud yourself with such pure joy that we can’t help but feel your excitement and happiness as if they were our own. Your struggles have taught us there are no challenges too great to overcome and you have shown us perseverance that we thought only “super heroes” possessed.

Yet, you never seem to care if others look at you differently; you greet them with respect and sincerity before anyone greets you. I have seen how your sincerity and innocence have melted strangers’ hearts and helped them open up to you and learn to love like you. You have provided our family a new perspective — a perspective into the mission that God has given us. Without your inspiration, I would not have seized the opportunity to commit to work with the Red Cross, to do my part in helping those like you who need a little support. I shudder at the thought that had I missed this opportunity, I would have forever missed the chance to do something truly meaningful.

I hope that other families with angels like you could also appreciate that disabled children are not a shame or punishment. We must respect our children first before expecting anyone else to. And, we must believe that we are stronger than others and have been chosen to take on this important task of raising these special angels. They move us with their purity and sincerity, and patiently wait for us to discover the things that are truly meaningful.

I often think that those with power or wealth would benefit from having a child like you at home. This is not meant to be a curse; on the contrary, I sincerely mean for it to be a blessing. Only by having angels like you in their lives can they truly relate and sympathize with families of much lesser means and understand what they go through each day. And only then will they discover how much joy they can bring to those in dire need. Only in this way will they, with all their influence and resources, understand what a waste it was for them not to have used their power to do good.

Many people at the peak of their career or the top of their field often live under the illusion that they are invincible and, inevitably, feel that philanthropy can wait. But in reality, life is fragile; regardless of whether you are an average citizen, or the ruler of a sovereign state, life can come to an end very unexpectedly and abruptly. And when that time comes, one can only lament what one “could have done.”

I believe that if our politicians had children like you, they would be less likely to squander billions of dollars of public money on seemingly meaningless projects, such as military spending for national security or bribing lobbyists for buying foreign “friendships,” and more likely to devote more of our valuable resources to improving our social welfare systems and the lives of families with children with disabilities.

The opportunity to do good has no limit; there are the elderly, the mentally ill and many, many others who are in need. We have the ability to reach out to other countries and share our love with the whole world. I sincerely wish that the Commonwealth State as described in the Classic of Rites by Confucius could be achieved: “There is a means of support for the widows and the widowers; for all who find themselves alone in the world and for the disabled.”

You have taught us that suffering often stems from loving ourselves too much.

A quote that appears at the end of each of my e-mails by Kahlil Gibran says a person is no more than a drifting speck of dust if he can not love or be loved. I like it because it reminds me of you.

I believe that the pain people feel is often self-inflicted, caused by self-pity and selfishness. Those people are too self-absorbed and therefore incapable of giving or accepting love. They don’t realize that, to experience true happiness, you must be willing to embrace others and be embraced.

Because of you, Ven, our love has found its purpose. And because of you, we have the privilege of basking in your unending affection. I honestly believe that I am able to love others better because of the way you have loved me.

Let us pray that everyone will learn from you, and those like you, how to love and be loved. It is the only way that life will not whisk by like a speck of dust, but instead, blossom into an eternal spring of joy.

You are our dearest Ven Ven. Thank you for loving us with all your being. With all our affection,

Daddy, Mommy and your sister Theresa.
C.V. Chen is president of the Red Cross Society of the Republic of China and a former secretary-general of the Straits Exchange Foundation.

Friday, Aug 08, 2008, Page 8
Editor’s note: This is an open letter from C.V. Chen to his son, who is mentally and physically challenged. Taipei Times presents this to mark Father’s Day.

【2008/08/28 Taipei Times 970828】

中文版Chinese Ver. 〈陳長文給愛子文文的一封信〉

Guidelines are key to breakthrough

Koo was an ideal candidate for promoting cross-strait exchanges, and if the government had truly wanted to develop such exchanges, he would have been in a position to exceed their expectations. But if the government had no motivation, there was little Koo could achieve.

To elaborate, the SEF is only a “dependent variable” without the ability to decide its functions for itself; the “independent variable” that decides its functions is controlled by high-ranking government officials. Assuming that leaders on both sides are enthusiastic in their attitude toward cross-strait exchanges, the new chairman of the SEF can still achieve much, even if he is not Koo’s equal.

By following the Guidelines for National Unification, the two sides of the Taiwan Strait should be able to proceed toward peace and mutual prosperity. It is a pity that the guidelines were sidelined by Lee while he was president.

If we read the contents of the guidelines carefully, we can find that they resemble a superior blueprint closely woven for the benefit of all Taiwanese people.

What the Guidelines for National Unification outline is a conditional, phased unification process reaching into the future. Even from the perspective of pro-independence advocates there is little to be anxious about. It is simply the word “unification” that disturbs them.

First, the unification specified in the guidelines is not to happen immediately.

Second, the unification is conditional on China’s democratization and compatibility of cross-strait political and economic systems. If China truly is as bad as pro-independence advocates say it is, the compatibility premise will never be met, and therefore, unification will never be possible.

Third, if China does meet the conditions of the guidelines by political and economic liberalization, by that time, unification or independence will no longer be an issue, and there would be no need to oppose unification. Or indeed, why would China oppose Taiwan independence?

Our government officials do not have the patience to wait until the right time, and in turn, they choose to confront China. This is to be regretted.

Koo has passed away, but rather than discussing who will succeed him, it would be better if President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) were to exercise his political wisdom and restore the guidelines to a more prominent role. This is the key to creating a breakthrough in cross-strait relations.

C.V. Chen was the first secretary-general of the SEF. He is a senior partner at the law firm Lee and Li and president of the Red Cross Society.


【2005/01/14  Taipei Times 940114】

Chinese cultural influence is not harmful

Recently, it seems that the government has purposely implemented a program of “desinicization” in the nation’s education system in the hope of making Taiwan and China two separate cultural entities. Intentionally or not, this action denigrates the value of Chinese culture. I cannot help but wonder if “Chinese culture” deserves to be looked on with such disdain.
If we define “unification” as a conditional and future hope of unification (to happen when the political and economic systems of the two sides are compatible), I would be happy to be categorized as pro-unification. Despite this, I still regard the political advocacy of Taiwan independence with sympathy. There is no absolute right and wrong between unification or independence, for these are sentiments that are best thought about in terms of which might be better — given the risk of a war in the Taiwan Strait — rather than which one is correct.
I am, however, unable to acknowledge using “desinicization” as a means by some politicians to realize the goal of Taiwan’s independence. This is because Taiwan’s independence does not need to and should not be based on a separation from Chinese culture. Even if Chinese culture is not a source of pride for politicians overly conscious of their superior Taiwanese identity, would what is left after cutting away Chinese culture truly be Taiwanese culture?
Taiwan’s folklore and religious beliefs mostly originated from Chinese legends. Although some politicians have made meticulous calculations to claim that Taiwanese have long since ceased to have very much Chinese blood in their veins, can we return Chinese surnames such as Chen, Wang, Chang, Wu and others, back to China? Would it be possible to stop using “Chinese” characters and create our own new script? Should we cease using the Hoklo dialect (which originated in the Min-nan region of China) and rather create a whole new language for ourselves?
If the answers are no, what is the reason? Because culture itself is an inseparable “historical result.” Taiwan has its inheritance of Chinese history and culture, and also its own unique history and culture derived locally; the characteristics of these two cultures have long been merged.
Taking out Chinese culture as a way to search for a separate Taiwanese culture is just as absurd as telling a person to remove the genetic inheritance of one parent to isolate the genetic inheritance of the other. I would go so far as to say that this method would destroy Taiwanese culture, for the Chinese culture which gave birth to it is intrinsic to it, and any attempt to remove it would undermine the foundations of Taiwan’s culture.
It cannot be denied that, in the short term, the manipulation of “desinicization” will create and feed disdain and even enmity toward Chinese culture. As it puts up barriers between the people of Taiwan and China, desinicization might be seen as a way of facilitating the pursuit of Taiwan’s independence.
But another result would be to push Taiwan’s people into a cultural void. Speaking from a utilitarian perspective, because the impact of Chinese culture in Asia and around the world is positively associated with the rising power of China, separating Taiwanese culture from Chinese culture is tantamount to abandoning the advantages of our cultural inheritance.
Finally, even if we want to pursue political independence for Taiwan, we should not distort the origin of Taiwan’s history. Chinese culture is a part of Taiwan’s culture, so shouldn’t embracing this cultural inheritance simply be a way of displaying the broad tolerance of Taiwanese culture?
C.V. Chen is a senior partner at the law firm Lee and Li.

中文版〈什麼是中國? 政治獨立不應與文化歷史混淆〉,自由時報, 2004/11/18

【2004/12/02  Taipei Times 931202】

Arms deal does nto equal security

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Lawless has said that if Taiwan’s legislature does not pass the arms procurement plan, it will only prove that Taiwanese democracy has not yet reached a level where national security concerns override party politics, and that Taiwan would be seen as a liability, not a partner, by its friends in the international community.
I can sympathize with Lawless’ defense of US and Taiwanese interests, but as the bill will be picked up by the Taiwanese taxpayer, we need to further consider his comments.
First, does a failure to pass the arms procurement plan mean that Taiwan does not respect the importance of national security? A NT$600 billion (US$17.7 billion) arms purchase does not necessarily equal national security. National security includes a will for peace, improved domestic policy, public self-confidence and China’s development, but not necessarily the arms procurement plan.
Government finances are not a horn of plenty. Once overextended, the government will go bankrupt and the whole nation will met with disaster. The best example of this is the former Soviet Union. One of the reasons for its collapse was precisely its excessive investment in military equipment stemming from its inability to assess its own limitations. Furthermore, it doesn’t naturally follow that the arms Taiwan wishes to purchase from the US will guarantee Taiwan’s national security.
Second, will the US and “other countries” doubt Taiwan’s defense promises? I am curious to know what countries, apart from the US, are concerned about Taiwan’s security. Lawless’ statement instead highlights the fact that a joint defense treaty no longer exists between Taiwan and the US, and that the US according to international law has no obligation to defend Taiwan.
If Lawless, speaking on behalf of the US government, could say that the US is determined to back up Taiwan’s self defense and that it really wants to be Taiwan’s partner, then I would want to ask the US government to sign a new joint defense treaty with Taiwan and guarantee the safety of its partner. If that were the case, then it might be worth it for the Taiwanese taxpayer to spend NT$600 billion or more to purchase security.
Third, does opposition to the arms procurement plan mean telling Beijing that its threats are effective? On the contrary, I feel that defending the NT$600 billion arms procurement plan out of fear is tantamount to telling Beijing that threats are effective indeed. If China spends one dollar to build missiles, Taiwan has to spend four dollars to buy anti-missile equipment. Is there any more efficient threat than that? And Lawless’ statement is also intended as a threat, using Beijing to pressure Taiwan into buying US arms.
If the people of Taiwan are not brave enough to say no to unreasonable behavior, then such threats will only increase.
Fourth, does opposition to the arms procurement plan mean that Taiwan’s democracy still hasn’t matured and that national security concerns don’t override party politics? This is an even more serious and preposterous accusation.
In September last year, I published an article entitled “National defense requires more than national defense concerns.” My students said that, “Both the opposition and governing parties today place an overriding importance on the military budget when it comes to national security. Aren’t you afraid of being labeled a Chinese collaborator?” My reply was, “Let others decide on praise or blame. I am merely fulfilling my duties as an intellectual.”
In the year that has passed since then, opposition to the arms procurement plan has gone from being weak to being as strong as the defense of the plan, and opinion polls are beginning to show that opposition now is the majority opinion. The opposition movement includes both independence and unification proponents, as well as proponents of neutrality. Despite ideological differences, they are able to cooperate — a hard-won expression of the maturity of Taiwanese democracy.
The opposition parties were at first merely proposing symbolic changes to the procurement plan, but later changed direction after having seen where their political interests lay. Turning this awareness formed in civil society into an inter-party struggle is an insult to Taiwanese democracy. Maybe the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also should protest against Lawless’ inappropriate criticism of Taiwan’s domestic affairs.
Finally, the question of whether or not the NT$600 billion arms procurement plan will be carried out will be symbolic of domestic democratic development and an opportunity to transcend the differences between the proponents of independence and unification, and members of the blue and green camps. It is crucial to whether the Taiwanese people will be able to leave behind the ideologies that have hijacked our politicians. Let us work together and say no to the double threat from Beijing and the US.
C.V. Chen is a senior partner at the law firm Lee and Li.
Translated by Perry Svensson
【2004/10/19  Taipei Times 931019】

Real cost of the arms bill will be social work

Three true stories follow. Here’s the first: Because the Yunlin District Court’s juvenile settlement allowance is not sufficient to meet social needs, a probation officer of the court helps alleviate the critical situation by donating money out of his own pocket. During a preparatory meeting of juvenile halfway houses run by the Yunlin County government, Father Graham Harris, chief of the Salvation Army Taiwan headquarters, burst into tears after learning that some teenagers would be sent to other institutions due to budget difficulties.
Second, a poor elderly widow in Ilan County depends on her late husband’s NT$10,000 monthly compensation. She doesn’t use this money to meet her own basic needs — but rather scavenges people’s leftover food to save money for disaster relief, feeding the poor, participating in fund-raising activities, and so on.
Third, an elderly veteran, originally from China and now living in a retirement home in Changhua, donates his life-long savings in order to ensure better care for people in need. He’s not the only one. In the same home, another veteran offers NT$2 million to Changhua High School as a scholarship for students of poor families because poverty forced him to drop out of school.
The people in these stories, despite realizing their relatively insignificant ability to change the world, have no selfish motives and give whatever they have to society. It is not their money but their compassionate hearts that bring warmth to the world. Given the fact that we live in an environment filled with adverse social circumstances, it is because of the existence of these pure and kind souls that we are able to find hope and consolation amid depressing and negative news coverage.
Although being in a society filled with warmth such as this, my heart is still constantly filled with pain. I can’t help but sigh over our government’s inability to see the agony of its people, while poor people are giving so much.
While the government draws up a NT$600 billion (US$18 billion) arms purchase bill, the living conditions and benefits of most disadvantaged groups, disabled people, school dropouts, and elderly people living alone or confined in bed will likely suffer simply as a result of this costly arms procurement plan.
The budget of NT$600 billion can be used as an allowance for 30 million adolescents in need of social assistance. If we take the NT$600 billion to help these disadvantaged people, it will bring about immeasurable happiness and prevent a significant amount of tragedy.
The government in its self-deceit believes that obtaining sufficient armaments is parallel to buying national “security,” but these inhumane policies can make many socially disadvantaged groups even more disadvantaged before a war is launched.
The NT$600 billion budget is really not a small amount, and this is a budget in addition to the several hundred billion NT dollars spent annually on defense. We will see many government bodies complaining about their shrinking budgets, especially for social welfare, because of this massive spending on arms.
If the government believes that military expenditure is more important than quality of life, it should, at least, let its people know why.
The 1913 Nobel laureate in literature, Rabindranath Tagore, once said, “He has made his weapons his gods. When his weapons win, he is defeated himself.”
When we prioritize “national security” by passing the NT$600 billion arms purchase bill, have we ever thought about what will we will lose further down the line?
C.V. Chen is president of the Red Cross Society of the ROC.

中文版〈贏了刀劍,輸了自己〉,自由時報, 2004/06/07

【2004/09/29  Taipei Times 930929】

Mindulle showed us the need to be prepared

The god Apollo sent a dream to a king in which he told him: “Think of your people. You should store up grain and train a professional rescue team so that in times of trouble you will not be caught unprepared.”
The king immediately did as Apollo said. He ordered the establishment of an emergency granary to store a tenth of the harvest each season to be used in times of emergency. He also called for the training of a professional rescue team who could immediately start relief work in the event of a disaster.
But three years passed in peace. One day the king complained to his courtiers: “Apollo’s prediction was wrong. Nothing terrible has happened.”
Apollo came to him and tapped him on the head with his golden bow: “Do you want me to bring disaster down on you, destroying half your kingdom so that you will be able to make use of your stored grain and relief team?”
This mythical story highlights the need for disaster preparedness. In fact, the greatest hope of those preparing for disaster relief is that no disaster comes, that the disaster relief center remains idle and relief workers can do other work. But nature’s strength is beyond our comprehension and no one can say this wish will come true. It is like the story of the king and Apollo. The god wanted him to prepare for disaster, and it is simply because we have no way of knowing when disaster will strike that relief efforts are so important.
Even today, our ability to predict natural disasters is extremely limited. This was highlighted by the arrival of Tropical Storm Mindulle. We did not underestimate the strength of the storm itself, but we did not take into account its southwesterly air current, which caused considerable damage. The devastation to life and property of a natural disaster often happens in an instant, but the damage inflicted on the environment, infrastructure and the supply of electricity and fresh water can last for days, months or even years.
For these reasons it is necessary to be prepared for disasters so that relief work can begin with a minimum of delay after a disaster strikes.
American Red Cross president Elizabeth Dole once pointed out that times of disaster are the worst time to establish channels of communication. She said that if such channels are already in place, when the river breaks its banks in the middle of the night, you are still able to contact the relevant people and in a matter of moments and a smooth tightly-knit rescue operation can get underway. This is the spirit of disaster preparation.
Forewarned is forearmed. We cannot start thinking of solutions after a disaster has struck. Then it is too late to worry about how disaster relief should proceed, how it should be handled and the situation returned to normal — for while we may have the time, the victims of the disaster cannot wait. It is necessary that we reach a consensus on such issues, and conduct research and training to develop practical procedures which can effectively deal with disasters. We should also set up transport links of materials and train volunteers, so that when disaster strikes, we are able to respond in the quickest possible time in an orderly and efficient manner.
To put it another way, even as we put all our efforts into relief work in the aftermath of Mindulle, we should also be thinking about ways to increase awareness of the importance of disaster preparedness so that we will be ready when the next disaster strikes.
陳長文 C.V. Chen is the president of the Red Cross Society of the Republic of China.
TRANSLATED BY Ian Bartholomew
【2004/07/12  Taipei Times 930712】