Dec 30, 2012

How the world didn't end this time

Did you really expect the world to end on 21 December, 2012? Again?

Numerous times before has the end of the world been anticipated in various cultures. It's a fascinating concept, because it (quite often) allows for something else, something to follow after the world - as we know it - has ended. Something like a new beginning - which is, normally, just like the world before it, only better. Thus, the imagination of world's end is characteristically entangled with utopian ideas of new start, usually for a select few (since the bad of the old days must have been caused by something of somebody, and this source of evil must be uprooted before there can be something new).

Such concepts are quite familiar to the student of religion.

However, the alleged ending of the world this time also fascinated the larger populace. Yet, was anybody able to elaborate upon why they were expecting the end of the world? Apparently, the Mayan calender's cessation gained most of the headlines, combined with astronomical observations of a peculiar alignment of the planets of our solar system. (An alignment that would lead others to contend that it would change something in humankind's consciousness, but would not lead to an "end" of the world in a literal sense.) In the end, the pre-21 December media craze was born out of crypto- or pseudo-scientific claims that borrowed a lot from religious ideas. Moreover, the "sources" it was based on were more rumor than that, than sources to rely on.

The end of the world, now and again

Frankly, the idea of "history" as a timeline with a fixated starting and ending point is a strange one. It does not correspond well with what our (natural) environment would suggest. Nature would rather point to a cyclical order of things, which led most cultures close to nature to develop cyclical understandings of time. The idea of a "goal of history", a teleology, is not self-evident. But where does it come from? - This idea is probably nowhere so pronounced as in the notion of progress. And while other cultures may have had some understanding of the progression of time, the influential modern idea of progress that has become a totalistic paradigm was developed in what we often term "the West", meaning related Western European cultures originating in a Judeo-Christian tradition (among other influences).

While the Bible is not the only source and example for a teleological sense of time, it is likely the most influential one, especially with the addition of the Christian New Testament. However, whereas the inherent concept of "progress" toward the Messias' second coming made itself independent of its biblical context and came to dominate all aspects of human existence in Western modernity (economy, culture, science, psychology, biology etc.), it is originally coupled with a vision of an end to the world. There is no everlasting progress but an "end of history" - which, interestingly, was mirrored symbolically in Fukuyama's work in the 1990s on the "final" victory of democracy (and capitalism, which thus became identified with the "good side" or Christianity in this race toward armageddon) over communism. In the Christian context, the world will be destroyed, and a new world will arise where all survivors are to exist side by side with the Triune God.

This knowledge serves as the background in popular expectations of the apocalypse. Of course, in other cultures we find other but often similar visions of the end of the world. In Indian cosmologies, for instance, time is divided into different ages (kalpa) that each end with the annihilation of the world. In Buddhism, each kalpa is presided over by a different Buddha, and the end of each age is initialized by a period of decline in which salvation from the woeful realm of constant reincarnation (samsara) is hardly possible anymore. In these times, the birth of a Buddha - who will found the next age - can be expected. Historically, this has time and again led to huge salvationist movements in preparation for the coming of the Buddha Maitreya in China.

Do numbers matter?

Certain numerologically significant years have often served to anchor such salvationist expectations. In China, it was estimated that the period of decline of the Dharma (the truth betold by the Buddha) would last 500 years after a certain amount of years of prosperity. The coming of the alleged date in the 5th century caused widespread anxiety and upheaval. However, one might say it did pass without bringing about the feared (or hoped-for) results. Handily, the date could be estimated differently according to various variables and sources (does that ring a bell?). The evaluation of the occurance (or not) of the predicted changes differed also, of course. In any event, this is to say two things: First, that the sociological and political implications of salvationist ideas (and movements) were very real - just a common example: The fall of the Mongol Yuan dynasty was initiated by a Maitreya-inspired peasant uprising. Second, the date of the apocalypse is subject to interpretation and change. We might say it is a cultural (an anthropological?) constant in the history of humankind.

Clearly, the time relating to an event of such existential significance can not be arbitrary. Some kind of meaning has to be connected with the end of the world (arbitrarity would render the event pointless, even senseless, which would cause serious cosmological trouble). Thus, usually it is numerologically auspicious dates that get picked for the apocalypse. As the term 'millenniarist expectation' would suggest already, in the Christian context turns of the millennium are especially prone to mark the world's end. (Remember the fuss about the year 2000? For me, there is no reason to believe the millennarian turn before would have been any less anticipated. In my opinion, the Jazz trio Medeski, Martin & Wood put this quite aptly in the title of their live album recorded just before the turn of the millennium: "End of the World Party (Just in Case)":)

So why would the world end a week ago in 2012, when it had not numerous times (on more auspicious occasions) before? There was no legitimate claim, not even religiously, just some crypto-scientific ideas about the end of the Maya calendar that lacked solid foundation. (This link to a NASA report does not mean that I do believe in what science claims to know about the world. I put it here simply to show how easily rumors about Maya prophecies of the apocalypse can be discarded. This renders the issue a dispute between scientists and believers-in-the-apocalypse - if there was ever anyone who really believed in it this time.) What I want to express here is neither that belief in the end of the world at a certain date is unfounded, nor that it is stupid or dangerous. But it is a constant companion of human cultures, and in this sense quite normal. It has occurred several times before, and it will occur again. Since most cultural phenomena that have existed for that long do have some function (and thus make sense), perhaps there is also some logic to the belief in world's end. We only have to focus on the most prevalent visionof mondane destruction there is at the moment: Even scientists support the idea that there might be an end to the world of humanity if global warming were to continue (or any other scenario of human destruction of the world). Ironically, the reason for this apocalyptic vision is to be found in the idea of progress, which itself in its original religious context was meant to be leading to a desired armageddon and the end of the sinful world as we know it. This may sound like a self-fulfilling prophecy, only that we humans now possess the means to bring about cosmological apocalypse that was meant to be a divine plan...

Oh gosh, we have become so self-conscious... Personally, I don't believe in religious arguments for the end of the world as long as there is no scientific proof rendering it probable or at least possible. Scientific proof here refers to empirical visibility, testability, and falsibility. For me, the reasons for an apocalypse ought to be exoteric, not revealed to a select few. The latter would make them a matter of personal belief. As long as any science does not claim what it cannot prove empirically, it should be safe to believe in its validity. Why should only some people have access to the truth? How could the truth only be revealed to a select few at a particular point in time? Why not try to make it objective and accessible for everyone to test? I have to admit, believing in any kind of apocalypse is not typically a rational process of decision-making. But if there ever was a beginning (as even science contends), it is quite reasonable to assume that there will be an end. Yet, I'll happily tread middle ground and busy myself with what is going on in-between, the here and now. And this tells me that it rather is the idea of progress we need to focus on. Because this very idea may well lead us straight to armageddon either way.

Dec 25, 2012

Film review "The Ides of March"

It may occur a bit contradictory that I don't have a lot to say about this movie, because in contrast to Law Abiding Citizen (see below), I quite liked this one. As has been written elsewhere, the movie's main theme is that power corrupts. And the movie is quite cynical about it. This portrait of an American election campaign appears so real that it might actually be shocking. In any way, it doesn't help much to restore my faith in such political practice. Campaigning is a lot different here in Germany, less focused on the candidate alone, yet I cannot imagine a complete qualitative difference from the scenario presented in the movie.

Ryan Gosling's play is outstanding. As a professional yet idealistic campaign manager, he has an enormous presence. Credits should also be due for George Clooney, who as director left Gosling enough room to develop his charisma and as actor gives his senator a multi-facetted character but still stays in the background. Clooney in Q&A sessions in the movie can be so charming and smart that you might actually be willing to vote for him once he decides to run for office for real.
All in all, while not especially cheerful this is a very entertaining and intelligent movie - I needed to check the subtitles more than once - with a lot of starpower and strong supporting performances (Philip Seymour Hoffmann and Marisa Tomei are impressive in their roles - they seem to have developed a powerful on-screen relationship, all the more so since ). Finally, the movie also boasts great poster design (above).
Strong recommendation!

(Rottentomatoes rating is at 85%, while at imdb it scores 7.2. Here is the trailer:

Film review "Law abiding citizen"

This purports to be a movie with a message. And, honestly, it could have been quite good. For a third of its total length, it sticks to that plan. But then, the plot gets out of hand, and while generating a certain degree of suspense, this is marred by how the original idea of criticizing the US practice of law enforcement is completely undercut and forgotten in the end.
Don't get me wrong, the plot still makes sense on a certain level, but it's just sad how its originality was laid to rest, in favour of an all-too-normal finish that could have appeared in every other movie. I will get to this in a minute.

-- Spoilers ahead --
The overall acting in my opinion was quite okay, but not more than standard. Gerard Butler plays his part well two thirds through the movie (not the last part but this is rather due to the overall plot's collapse). Frankly, though, it was hard for me to believe his metamorphosis from helpless family father to cold-blooded murderer and secret inventor-mastermind. However, I did never warm up to Jamie Foxx's style of play. His lack of empathy may have been part of the role, but his play also lacks charisma. Too often, he is uttering empty tough guy phrases of the „Don't you dare touch my family“-type. The domestic conflicts were implausible, too, as they were never resolved but still in the end everything was just fine. Granted, this is Hollywood, but why create such a fuss about stress at home in the first place? This is just misleading and leaves the viewer with a feeling of not being put off with a cheap solution.

Finally, here is my verdict on why I consider watching this movie a waste of time. As mentioned before, it is the end which is completely ruining the movie. Had they gone through with the quite interesting idea of criticizing the way the American law system works, this may have been a good movie. Disappointingly, this idea somehow gets lost halfway through the movie, when the guy who is trying to prove a point (Butler) apparently loses his own sense of judgment. His actions do not stand in any relation to the point he is trying to make.

I basically blame this on Hollywood's inability (or unwillingness) to think outside the box. So instead of creating a highly controversial movie, for which the potential is there, things get resolved the conventional way: No effort is made to try to understand a possible critique to the hegemonic system-in-practice, to the contrary, the bad guy is turned into a monster who is acting completely irrationally (on a sidenote, in my opinion the topic of terrorist motivation has been handled much better by the screenwriters of recent TV series Homeland). Butler turns out simply to be a threat to society that needs to be eliminated. No further examination of his ideas is required in order to keep the larger society safe.
There is some ambivalence remaining, insofar as Butler is playing a "brainiac", but this only helps the plot in furthering it to a climatic scenario of destruction. His character is not simply insane but rather completely crazy (or nuts), which makes him even more dangerous. With his brilliant yet vicious mind, he is seemingly always one step ahead. At the same time, his bloodthirst is getting ever more outrageous. In my opinion, this is some people in Hollywood showcasing their fear of really smart people with different ideas who seem so crazy that there can not be any reasonable way to understand them. Or grasp their motives. So what you do is misrepresent them, create a complete caricature. And in the end, the tough guy finds a way to outsmart the dangerously brilliant freak. I would call this symptom a technique of auto-legitimation. A defence of our existing view of the world, at the same time a normative reassurance that this is how things should be.

In the end of the movie, apparently Butler has achieved what he had set out to do: change the prosecutor's handling of legal affairs. Yet, this suddenly does not suffice to satisfy him anymore, and he needs to blow things up regardless. This is what bothered me, it betrays his motives from the start, and you feel fooled by the screenplay which seemed to promise otherwise.

("Law Abiding Citizen" has a score of 25% at rottentomatoes - however, 77% of viewers liked it there - and received 7.3 over at imdb. It stars Gerard Butler and Jamie Foxx in the lead roles. Nonetheless, I'll still be looking forward to Foxx's new, Tarantino-directed film "Django Unchained".)

法律懲罰還是一般的教育,哪種對社會穩定比較有作用? An opinion piece

by Jacob Tischer, Xiamen 20121023- 31日,廈門
(Note: I wrote this article in Xiamen as part of a home assignment in my Chinese class.)
- in traditional Chinese characters -

(artwork in Xiamen University tunnel; picture taken by author)


但是,我個人的想法也受了西方文化背景的教育之影響﹔因此,我這樣的說法也比較偏向西方自由理論而重視個人教育。反而,中國人也許把這個問題理解得不一樣。怎麼對待此問題呢,跟一個社會的人性觀以及其歷史與文化帶來的思想脈絡挂鉤了很密切 1:莫個社會比較重視懲罰還是教育就會顯示反映這個社會對人的本性看成善惡的思想教義。該問題在中國哲學史上受過熱烈的考慮和辯論。因此,我從中國之思想歷史開始討論所謂‘法律’以及‘教育’這些概念的意涵。首先,在西方和東方社會‘法律’以及‘教育’的意思內涵多麼不同,要理解這兩種概念就要先搜尋其歷史文化根本。其次,可以討論兩者其中哪個對社會穩定作用比較大,作為這篇文章的專門題目。


第一個問題主要部分就是我們怎麼理解和判定‘法律’和‘教育’。所謂‘法律’除了德語之 ‘Gesetz’或英語之‘law’ 的翻譯還有其余的意涵?以我的看法,它不隻是一個移民詞語,然而還帶著中文字原本的意涵。兩字中較為重要的就是‘法’﹔‘法’在中國歷史上的意思十分豐富。春秋戰國時代的百家其中已有‘法家’的一家,法家的哲學代表人物 2 把這個概念(法)當成統治者的一個用具﹔每個人遭到‘法’,統治者唯一站位法律之外,他不受懲罰而能夠運用法律懲。所以能說法家舉起了統治者的位置﹔一般的人卻不算什麼,變成‘老百姓’。換句話說,統治者當時以來做為“一”,所有其他人做為“零”。控制法律的理論對應用操作法家思想的秦國行政和機構有利因素,使秦始皇統一國家。歷史發展卻顯示,法家建議的政策與秦國皇帝對人眾之嚴格態度、刑法制度不適合長久的帝國行政。


可是,一個國家的政府實際上不能單獨依靠倫理教育來行政而已。到了漢朝,朝廷開始應用儒家思想,國政從之以來綜合起來了儒家之倫理和法家之法律。雖然儒家理論上以教育為重,懲罰對中國實際的政策的重要性還是差不多。但是,所謂“法律”在中國歷史上其實指什麼呢?與教育不同,‘法’的意思比較不受儒學者的注意或辯論﹔這樣子‘法’的內涵一直保留了其原有之意。因此,法律反映了統治者的權力,而同時也顯示儒家思想者的地位缺乏實力。雖然儒學者正常做官,他們在自己的任務與生活 好像還是把國家行政的懲罰與儒學的倫理和修身分較清楚,甚至會影響人生上做‘官’以及當‘私’時的身份。這樣的情況下,所謂‘法’沒有收其他概念一樣多研究與判定﹔其意不定用法豐富,比如說佛教漢化時把法選為其最基本的概念 ‘Dharma’的專門翻譯詞語。因此,‘法’加上了一個統治全個宇宙的原理之意思﹔這種想法的影響力非常大,引起了宋朝儒家所題‘理’的概念。可以看出‘法’的意涵即多元化又具宇宙進化論(cosmological)的價值,比較沒有實用性的味道,而不容易改革。

與東方比,西方的法律雖然世界觀(weltanschaulich)性格也很濃 3,西方文化的‘刻法’(成文法律,codified law)傳統悠久,能夠顯示法律的改變與發展。立刻的法律的定義性又比較強。更重要的是法律不隻包括刑法,而也會防護個人或組織的權利。隻要有獨立法院,這種情況對社會的組織化非常有影響力,也會傳染到該社會的穩定。中國歷史上的懲罰模式實際還是等於刑法,因為缺乏立刻法律所以私立組織的權利並非發達。這下,法律規則、條件與解釋的不穩定性會影響到私人企業以及獨立組織的可能性。


回到原來的問題,我們怎麼判斷法律與教育兩者其中哪個對社會穩定的作用更大呢?找一個正確答案其實可能無法實現﹔法律與教育並沒有客觀的國際標准。反而,我們要特別注意所研究的社會的狀況(context),我們應該從歷史和文化背景開始理解其現狀。不幸的是,在這方面我們再遇到矛盾:現代所謂全球化使不同社會失去其所本質量 4,地球並無任何完全獨立的社會。同時,這種國際交流之下也發起地區化的反之趨勢。


換句話說,教育在中國哲學的普遍觀念上對社會穩定作用偉大﹔實際行政上的社會秩序卻更依靠著懲罰的進行。缺少法典的條件下盡管阻礙了堅強公民社會(civil society)的發祥,它居然還是確保了社會的穩定性,有效的管理制也使中央朝廷長期統治一個大洲性范圍的大國,此為全世界別無二致的現象。雖然中國長期歷史上革命不少,統治者之萬能權力與其管理之倫理教育的背景但也讓天下社會長期穩定。

總之來說,一般的教育與法律懲罰兩者對社會穩定的作用的確巨大,隻是作用領域可能不同。懲罰較考慮后果,事情發生后處罰的公共威懾的效力。教育反而注重預防事情的道德基礎,其人性觀為本質善。中國歷史從早以來受此兩者競爭的張力壓力。把法律與教育做成‘理想/典型類型’(韋伯所謂的 ideal type),兩者權力的基本卻不同﹔教育有其標准,就為儒學經典,法律的水准怎奈無如清楚而賴統治者的隨意。一方面,教育很穩定、規則化、可靠性,另一方面,法律不穩定、無法典性。其結果就是社會穩定,不過這種穩定的基礎是個統治權威獨裁主義的社會(authoritarian society),民眾合法行為的動機就是懲罰的可怕性。

這方面的歐美發展很不同。法律的法典化帶來著兩個重要結果。首先,因為有其文獻基礎,再加法院的獨立性,所以法律有其可靠規則與標准。理想上,在法律下每個人的權利一樣(everyone is equal before the law),無論權力多大。其次,因為法律文獻可以讀,其存在有教育性的功能!這樣子,雖然行政下法律與教育屬於不同機構,甚至像對抗現象的分裂,這可隻為行政的抽象解釋,而不等於民眾現實生活上的條件。我還是認為法律的刻寫性使教育與法律更密切的關系,兩者的距離沒有中國那麼大。以我個人的判斷,法律在歐美現代情況下需要刻寫的、可靠的、規則化的、法院獨立性的基礎才有用。達到了此目的,而且能包括法律教育的功能,其對社會的穩定性之作用最重要。法律的基礎也不是懲罰而是權利,其這樣帶來的社會影響為自由主義而非威權主義, 給與人家的機會平等。


1 所謂的思想脈絡目前指的是文化思想的主要潮流。

2 其中:商鞅,韓非子。

3 很多研究者把來自西方的人權概念也看成世俗化的(secularized)宗教或者宗教性的 doctrine。

4 這就是假設以前有所謂‘本質’﹔我不同意這種看法,卻認為注重民族本質是國家主義時代才引起的現象,之前並無該類概念和主義而有別的思想方式。

Dec 21, 2012

法律惩罚还是一般的教育,哪种对社会稳定比较有作用? An opinion piece

by Jacob Tischer, Xiamen 20121023- 31日,厦门)
(Note: I wrote this article in Xiamen as part of a home assignment in my Chinese class.)
(artwork in Xiamen University tunnel; picture taken by author)

但是,我个人的想法也受了西方文化背景的教育之影响;因此,我这样的说法也比较偏向西方自由理论而重视个人教育。反而,中国人也许把这个问题理解得不一样。怎么对待此问题呢,跟一个社会的人性观以及其历史与文化带来的思想脉络挂钩了很密切 1:莫个社会比较重视惩罚还是教育就会显示反映这个社会对人的本性看成善恶的思想教义。该问题在中国哲学史上受过热烈的考虑和辩论。因此,我从中国之思想历史开始讨论所谓‘法律’以及‘教育’这些概念的意涵。首先,在西方和东方社会‘法律’以及‘教育’的意思内涵多么不同,要理解这两种概念就要先搜寻其历史文化根本。其次,可以讨论两者其中哪个对社会稳定作用比较大,作为这篇文章的专门题目。


第一个问题主要部分就是我们怎么理解和判定‘法律’和‘教育’。所谓‘法律’除了德语之 ‘Gesetz或英语之‘law的翻译还有其余的意涵?以我的看法,它不只是一个移民词语,然而还带着中文字原本的意涵。两字中较为重要的就是‘法’;‘法’在中国历史上的意思十分丰富。春秋战国时代的百家其中已有‘法家’的一家,法家的哲学代表人物 2 把这个概念(法)当成统治者的一个用具;每个人遭到‘法’,统治者唯一站位法律之外,他不受惩罚而能够运用法律惩。所以能说法家举起了统治者的位置;一般的人却不算什么,变成‘老百姓’。换句话说,统治者当时以来做为“一”,所有其他人做为“零”。控制法律的理论对应用操作法家思想的秦国行政和机构有利因素,使秦始皇统一国家。历史发展却显示,法家建议的政策与秦国皇帝对人众之严格态度、刑法制度不适合长久的帝国行政。
可是,一个国家的政府实际上不能单独依靠伦理教育来行政而已。到了汉朝,朝廷开始应用儒家思想,国政从之以来综合起来了儒家之伦理和法家之法律。虽然儒家理论上以教育为重,惩罚对中国实际的政策的重要性还是差不多。但是,所谓“法律”在中国历史上其实指什么呢?与教育不同,‘法’的意思比较不受儒学者的注意或辩论;这样子‘法’的内涵一直保留了其原有之意。因此,法律反映了统治者的权力,而同时也显示儒家思想者的地位缺乏实力。虽然儒学者正常做官,他们在自己的任务与生活 好像还是把国家行政的惩罚与儒学的伦理和修身分较清楚,甚至会影响人生上做‘官’以及当‘私’时的身份。这样的情况下,所谓‘法’没有收其他概念一样多研究与判定;其意不定用法丰富,比如说佛教汉化时把法选为其最基本的概念 ‘Dharma’的专门翻译词语。因此,‘法’加上了一个统治全个宇宙的原理之意思;这种想法的影响力非常大,引起了宋朝儒家所题‘理’的概念。可以看出‘法’的意涵即多元化又具宇宙进化论(cosmological)的价值,比较没有实用性的味道,而不容易改革。
与东方比,西方的法律虽然世界观(weltanschaulich)性格也很浓 3,西方文化的‘刻法’(成文法律,codified law)传统悠久,能够显示法律的改变与发展。立刻的法律的定义性又比较强。更重要的是法律不只包括刑法,而也会防护个人或组织的权利。只要有独立法院,这种情况对社会的组织化非常有影响力,也会传染到该社会的稳定。中国历史上的惩罚模式实际还是等于刑法,因为缺乏立刻法律所以私立组织的权利并非发达。这下,法律规则、条件与解释的不稳定性会影响到私人企业以及独立组织的可能性。


回到原来的问题,我们怎么判断法律与教育两者其中哪个对社会稳定的作用更大呢?找一个正确答案其实可能无法实现;法律与教育并没有客观的国际标准。反而,我们要特别注意所研究的社会的状况(context),我们应该从历史和文化背景开始理解其现状。不幸的是,在这方面我们再遇到矛盾:现代所谓全球化使不同社会失去其所本质量 4,地球并无任何完全独立的社会。同时,这种国际交流之下也发起地区化的反之趋势。
换句话说,教育在中国哲学的普遍观念上对社会稳定作用伟大;实际行政上的社会秩序却更依靠着惩罚的进行。缺少法典的条件下尽管阻碍了坚强公民社会(civil society)的发祥,它居然还是确保了社会的稳定性,有效的管理制也使中央朝廷长期统治一个大洲性范围的大国,此为全世界别无二致的现象。虽然中国长期历史上革命不少,统治者之万能权力与其管理之伦理教育的背景但也让天下社会长期稳定。

总之来说,一般的教育与法律惩罚两者对社会稳定的作用的确巨大,只是作用领域可能不同。惩罚较考虑后果,事情发生后处罚的公共威慑的效力。教育反而注重预防事情的道德基础,其人性观为本质善。中国历史从早以来受此两者竞争的张力压力。把法律与教育做成‘理想/典型类型’(韦伯所谓的 ideal type),两者权力的基本却不同;教育有其标准,就为儒学经典,法律的水准怎奈无如清楚而赖统治者的随意。一方面,教育很稳定、规则化、可靠性,另一方面,法律不稳定、无法典性。其结果就是社会稳定,不过这种稳定的基础是个统治权威独裁主义的社会(authoritarian society),民众合法行为的动机就是惩罚的可怕性。
这方面的欧美发展很不同。法律的法典化带来着两个重要结果。首先,因为有其文献基础,再加法院的独立性,所以法律有其可靠规则与标准。理想上,在法律下每个人的权利一样(everyone is equal before the law),无论权力多大。其次,因为法律文献可以读,其存在有教育性的功能!这样子,虽然行政下法律与教育属于不同机构,甚至像对抗现象的分裂,这可只为行政的抽象解释,而不等于民众现实生活上的条件。我还是认为法律的刻写性使教育与法律更密切的关系,两者的距离没有中国那么大。以我个人的判断,法律在欧美现代情况下需要刻写的、可靠的、规则化的、法院独立性的基础才有用。达到了此目的,而且能包括法律教育的功能,其对社会的稳定性之作用最重要。法律的基础也不是惩罚而是权利,其这样带来的社会影响为自由主义而非威权主义, 给与人家的机会平等。


1 所谓的思想脉络目前指的是文化思想的主要潮流。

2 其中:商鞅,韩非子。

3 很多研究者把来自西方的人权概念也看成世化的(secularized)宗教或者宗教性的 doctrine

4 这就是假设以前有所谓‘本质’;我不同意这种看法,却认为注重民族本质是国家主义时代才引起的现象,之前并无该类概念和主义而有别的思想方式。

May 4, 2012

Orphan of Asia - Taiwan and the Impossibility of the Taiwanese

Jacob Tischer, Student at Departments of Sinology and on Religious Studies,  Leipzig University, Visiting Research Associate at the Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica, Taiwan 

The debate on Taiwan's identity is especially within Taiwan extremely tense and conflictual. This is due to the problematic situation in the conflict with China, which precludes Taiwan as the largest country not represented in the UN from international participation. Such precarious existence has grave economic, political and psychological ramifications, impacting Taiwan and its people in sports, science, international treaties and health issues like SARS. Chinese propaganda suggests that Taiwan is culturally uniformly Chinese, but I maintain that the matter is certainly more complex than that. The issue of Taiwanese identity will be tracked here in its historical, ethnic, cultural, political, and legal dimensions. In the resulting existential tension of their everyday experience as citizens of an internationally marginalised, yet functioning independent political entity, and Western swing towards an economically opening, but still authoritarian China, Taiwanese elites are virtually forced to form a distinct identity in opposition to Chinese nationalism. This identity turns out to have emerged through shared historical experience and continues to evolve around the consensual identification of Taiwan’s residents with their democratic state - both key features to distinguish them from Chinese sovereignty claims.

Ethnic and cultural identity in historical perspective

The island in the South China Sea, which was known previously under the name Formosa, has been inhabited for about 8,000 years by Austronesian settlers. Because of its tremendous genealogical diversity, it is the probable starting point of the Austronesian colonization of the Pacific islands.  In Chinese and Western narratives, however, Taiwan's history does not begin until its consecutive occupation by the Dutch (1624-62) and Spanish (1626-42) regimes, the Zheng kingdom of the historically illustrious Ming loyalist Koxinga’s descendants (1662-83), the Manchu-Chinese Qing Dynasty (1683-1895) - each of which controlled only parts of the plains of the mostly mountainous island - and as the Japanese Empire’s first colony (1895-1945).
After Japan's surrender Taiwan was occupied by troops of the Republic of China (ROC) and since the retreat of Chiang Kai-shek in 1949 forms the ROC’s remaining, albeit internally and externally contested, territory. Chiang's Chinese-nationalist party (KMT) ruled in dictatorial fashion through the coercion of martial law until 1987. Since the 1980s, however, lack of international legitimacy, a growing opposition movement, and external pressure on the part of journalists, NGOs, and the USA forced the regime to adopt democratising policies. In 1996, the first democratic presidential elections were held despite Chinese military threats; in 2000 a former dissident was elected president, and 2008 saw the KMT return to power.  The question of Taiwan's political and cultural affiliation could be suppressed no longer in a free political system and – in light of the sensitive political situation in East Asia today – firms more urgent than ever. In recent survey polls more than 50% of the population identify themselves as “Taiwanese” only and less than 4% as “Chinese”, revealing a rapid transformation of identity and a call for subjectivity of the formerly subaltern.  Although made possible by political liberalisation since 1987, this full-scale Taiwanisation has its socio-political forebears in the literary indigenisation (Xiangtu wenxue, literally “home-soil literature”) and democratic movements of the 1970s, its roots reaching as far back as the collective experience of Japanese colonisation.

However, even the concepts of an ethnically Chinese Taiwan are highly ambiguous and interpretative. Immigration from the southern Chinese provinces of Fujian and Guangdong did not begin to an appreciable degree until the 17th century first through labour migration for the Dutch colony and small-time merchants. These pioneers’ descendants now form the population of the “Taiwanese” (Chin. Benshengren, “people of this province”, about 85% of the population of 23 million). The immigrants formed close-knit settlements and organisations by common language, provenance from the mainland, and patrilineal descent (Chen 1994). Sociolinguistically, Hakka (15%) and Hoklo (70%) can be distinguished among them,  but only the Hakka identity firms historically constant (Wang 2007). Hoklo spokesmen further divided into subethnical groups based on origin, kinship, or surname and did not conceive of themselves as part of a larger, “national” community until the beginning 20th century. With Hakka and Aborigines they engaged in numerous armed conflicts, but also within rivaling subethnic groups in feud strife (Lamley 1981). Taiwan in Qing-Chinese understanding was a frontier territory outside the confines of Chinese civilisation, hence government control was weak. A popular saying has it that every three years a major uprising was due, something that statistics can confirm. Local religious cults provided an important communal identity marker and organisational anchor in these conflicts. However, religion was also crucial in establishing supraethnic cooperation and in the construction of a common, Taiwan-based identity on the expense of impoverishing links to mainland origin (Shih 2006).

The Austronesians (today 2%) were subdued and until recently categorized by different civilising projects of Confucian, Christian, and Nationalist provenance according to their degree of Sinicisation as "cooked" (domesticated, shufan) or "raw savages” (shengfan), but never on their own terms (Harrell 1995).  Scientifically neglected until of late has been the degree of Plains Aborigines’ assimilation into the Benshengren group. Since in Qing times migration was restricted, it was almost exclusively male pioneers who went to Taiwan and because of denied access of females and families to a considerable part took Austronesian wives. Their offspring were recorded following paternal descent and so over the course of generations "han-ised". Due to growing Chinese “civilisational” pressure, up to the 20th century whole Aborigine settlements adopted Chinese surnames and constructed patrilineal descent lines from the Chinese mainland (Brown 2004). This fact has long been overlooked in the discourse on "Chinese" Taiwan but is becoming increasingly prominent in Taiwan's modern search for identity. Scientific evidence demonstrating genetic differences between Hoklo in Taiwan and South China is a powerful means to assert Taiwan’s uniqueness. However, the distinction of Hakka and Hoklo as well as Benshengren identities from Waishengren (literally "people from outside the province”, about 12% of today's population who came to Taiwan in 1949 with Chiang Kai-shek) reflects at least as much socio-cultural as ethnic or genetic factors. A new approach distinct from Taiwan as a geographically and economically peripheral “frontier zone” is the sea-centered interpretation of its’ “island history”, which aims to include the Aboriginals and their histories but also puts Taiwan in relation to the larger Pacific island region (Tsao 2000).
Religion has been an important factor in the establishment of identities. The Chinese immigrant communities organised locally around central temple cults.   With the adoption of Christianity, the Aborgine groups won a strong ally and identity marker. Without the support of internationally networked churches, even more tribes’ identities might have been merged into becoming Hoklo. In recent years, the languages and even long-lost identities of groups such as the Siraya in Tainan County are under reconstruction using early Dutch bibles.

Legal and political identity

Taiwan’s international position is ambivalent: De facto independent since 1949, it is not recognized by the UN de jure.  Taiwan meets all requirements for inclusion in the UN and would, unlike some newly recognized states, not have to be created through intervention. However, the ruling regime in Taiwan is the state "Republic of China", founded in 1911 on the Chinese Mainland. Until 1971, the ROC held China’s permanent seat in the UN Security Council before it was transferred to the People’s Republic of China as tribute to changing political realities.
After  Japanese surrender in 1945, Taiwan was taken over by the Allies under U.S. military government authority and subsequently occupied by troops of the Republican China, but was not formally ceded to the latter at any point which in recent years has led to lawsuits by Taiwanese nationals to be granted American citizenship.  A decision on Taiwan's political affiliation is strategically postponed by the United States continuously to this day, even though more and more Taiwanese raise claim to exert their legally guaranteed right to self-determination and decision on their own future (Chow 2008). The U.S. government keeps the island as part of its protective umbrella in the Pacific in deliberate legal ambivalence. All the more surprising in this context appears recent Taiwanese history, in which the island’s inhabitants grew their state into a democratization theory model case of economic and political development.

Political identity concerning the idea of a national community in Taiwan remains controversial. Communal awareness surpassing ethnic boundaries first became manifest during the Japanese occupation period as anti-Japanese resistance. After its retreat to the island, a KMT feudal caste attempted to maintain mainland Chinese reality, trying to establish a hegemonic ethnicised Chinese high culture, which endeavored to make Taiwan a model Chinese province and suppressed alternative readings.  Exclusive access to resources by ethnic standards promoted the confinement of social groups and brought forth the collective idea of bipolar Benshengren vs Waishengren identities. Tension between both groups clashed most infamously in the island-wide 28 February 1947 uprising which was stroke down brutally and followed by a 40-year period of near-fascist rule known as “White Terror”. The ethnic groups’ hostility is still perceivable today, since Taiwanese nationalism is routinely accused of Hoklo-ethnic exclusivism - just as the KMT Chinese nationalism equaled pure Waishengren exclusivism. The narrative of Taiwanese nationalism as a history of resistance against oppression by foreign colonial powers in the eyes of some researchers prevented the emergence of an inclusive nationalism (Wu 2004). On the other hand, ethnic mobilization which increased since the 1970s led to the creation of an opposition party (DPP) and the democratization of the political system. Mainlander sensibilities, however, remain salient in public discourse, as the recent success of Lung Ying-tai’s book on the Chinese civil war (1949: Da jiang, da hai) suggests. A missed opportunity of reconciliation among the different groups may be the price Taiwan has paid for its peaceful change, as the KMT’s position of power proved impossible to be challenged effectively, leaving a critical reappraisal of its inglorious history in Taiwan out of the necessary to survive as one political party among others.

Every scientific treatise will be confronted with the fact that the ethnic, cultural, and political dimensions of identity in Taiwan itself usually get mixed up indiscriminately. Many adversaries understand the establishment of "Taiwanese identity" as a mere political project by independence supporters. The quest to create a common ethnic and cultural basis for the new political system sometimes gets dismissed as "ethnic racism" and DPP extremism harmful to relations with China and therefore to the economy. In fact, however, the construction of Taiwanese identity was closely connected with the demand for democracy, which today is recognized by all social strata and apparently also by the formerly dictatorial KMT. For the stability of the democratic state in the medium term, however, an established conjoint Taiwanese identity is necessary. Only a second, broader and more inclusivist definition of Taiwanese identity tied to state membership will work toward that end. Lee Teng-hui’s (President 1988-2000) concept of the "new Taiwanese" (Xin Taiwanren) to symbolically include the Waishengren was a step in that direction.  With further cultural development apart from direct Chinese control traditional ethnic differences will diminish in favour of new forms of expression. Taiwan's young are in the fast-paced, deliberate process of creating a specific culture blending local, oriental, and western influences. Although definitions of Taiwan's social, ethnic, or cultural identity are fragmented and contested, its political identity firms as a popular consensus to identify with Taiwan's democracy. Whether this modern and multicultural country will have to eke out its existence as "orphan of Asia" crucially depends on Western support for its vibrant democracy.

(Hi)story’s morale

This article intended to show that PR Chinese claims of a monoculturally Chinese Taiwan suffering from chronic separatism are a highly selective reading of the situation at best. It is linked to assumptions of Han Chinese identification which do not take any notice of inner Taiwanese discourses on identity whatsoever, yet are internationally accepted as valid. The people of Taiwan have gone through many identity crises and changes, from being officially Japanese to Chinese and now creating their own identity in a mere hundred years time. More appropriate to Taiwanese intrasocietal discourse would be a perspective on Taiwanese identity which centers on the reality of people’s lives and their identification with the liberal democratic system instead of relying on literature review, textual analysis, and abstract scientific theorizing. Political science would benefit from integrating the more sympathetic sentiment of such an anthropological approach of letting people speak for themselves.
A formal, internationally valid declaration of independence as Republic of Taiwan would – contrary to mantra-like repeated and in Western media oft uncritically accepted PRC propaganda – not pose a change of the much-quoted status quo, but merely its formalization. Changing the status quo, i.e. abandoning U.S. support for Taiwan's sovereignty as a "pawn" in the conflict with China, would not defuse the highly conflictual situation between the two antipodes. For the rising power will continue to invest in a reversal of power relations, or, in the Chinese perception, of a return to the "proper" world order with China at its civilizational center. Because of its democratic achievements and over many decades different development from the PRC the conclusion can only read – even in the context of legal ambiguity and political instability – international support for the self-determination of Taiwan's residents, regardless of whether one views them as Chinese or not!


Blundell, D. (2009), Austronesian Taiwan: Linguistics, History, Ethnology, Prehistory, Taipei.
Brown, M. (2004), Is Taiwan Chinese? The Impact of Culture, Power, and Migration on Changing Identities, Berkeley.
Chen, C. et al. (1994), Ethnicity in Taiwan: Social, Historical, and Cultural Perspectives, Taipei.
Chow, P. (2008), The "One China" Dilemma, New York.
Davison, G. (2003), A Short History of Taiwan: The Case for Independence, Westport.
Fleischauer, S. (2008), Der Traum von der eigenen Nation: Geschichte und Gegenwart der Unabhängigkeitsbewegung Taiwans, Wiesbaden.
Harrell, S. et al. (1994), Cultural Change in Postwar Taiwan, Boulder.
Harrell, S. (1995), Cultural Encounters on China's Ethnic Frontiers, Seattle.
Lamley, H. (1981), “Subethnic Rivalry in the Ch’ing Period”, in: E. Ahern et al., The Anthropology of Taiwanese Society, 282-318, Palo Alto.
Lung, Y. (2009), 1949: Da jiang da hai, Taipei.
Rubinstein, M. (2007²), Taiwan: A New History, New York.
Shih, F. (2006), “From Regulation and Rationalisation, to Production: Government Policy on Religion in Taiwan”, in: D. Fell et al., What Has Changed? Taiwan Before and After the Change in Ruling Parties, Wiesbaden, 265-283.
Shih, F. et al. (2008), Re-writing Culture in Taiwan, London.
Tsao, Y. (2000), Taiwan zaoqi lishi yanjiu xiju (The Sequel to Research on Taiwan’s Early History), Taipei.
Wachman, A. (1994), Taiwan: National Identity and Democratization, Armonk.
Wang, L. (2007), “Diaspora, Identity and Cultural Citizenship: The Hakkas in ‘Multicultural Taiwan’”, in: Ethnic and Racial Studies 30 (5), 875-895.
Wu, J. et al. (2004), Reimagining Taiwan: Nation, Ethnicity, and Narrative, Taipei.

This article was published in Powision, no. 9: Identitäten, in 2010.