A friend just asked what I thought of Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan. My reply was succinct:
‘Of course she should have gone. F*** the Communist Party.’
I haven’t always been so clear. For years, I felt a misplaced sense of loyalty towards China, a sentiment that trickled in by osmosis from the adults around me. My father, especially, believes all things Chinese to be superior. This, despite the fact that he was born and raised in Malaysia, lives in the US and has only visited China once.
He is far from alone. Whenever I point out inconvenient truths, many relatives and friends of Malaysian-Chinese descent choose to remain silent.
Take the issue of sexism. My paternal grandparents were immigrants to Malaysia from China, where the idea that you need to have a boy-child is so ingrained that after three girls in a row, they became desperate. They gave away the third girl in the belief that a sacrifice was needed. The gods had to be appeased, and along came my father. His parents did not seem to care who they gave their daughter to – she ended up in an impoverished family living a life I can scarcely imagine. All because she was a girl.
Such behaviour is just plain illogical.
Yet, even the most Westernised of my family members prefer to overlook this. They revert instead to talking about the awful things that happen to girls and women elsewhere, as if a thousand other wrongs make a right.
Or they say, ‘Ah, but things have changed.’
Indeed, there are now tens of millions more ‘missing Chinese women’ – the girl babies who were abandoned, given away or simply murdered (see chart below from a BBC article) when the one-child policy came into force. Disparities usually become less acute as a country gets wealthier. Not so in China: the richer China grew, the more distorted its gender ratio became – a first on our planet.
The men on the Central Politburo’s Standing Committee must have been delighted. More boys! This Standing Committee is a subset of the Communist Party’s Central Politburo and comprises just seven members – an elite amongst the elite. China’s Standing Committee has never had a woman. Not one since 1949: you can see the dour male faces for yourself by clicking individually on the links.
In Party hierarchy the Standing Committee is all-powerful; who would dare accuse any of them of sexual impropriety? Only a tennis star, it seems: Peng Shuai, and look what happened to her. Corralled, censored, silenced and now missing. The man she accused was a member of the Standing Committee from 2012 to 2017. No wonder she’s gone from the public eye.
Taiwan, with which I started, is an altogether different country. This series of islands located off China’s south eastern coast has been self-governing since 1949. Taiwan has evolved into a functioning democracy with genuinely contested elections. It allows dissent. Governments change. It has passed progressive laws. As mentioned previously, if I so chose, I could marry my girlfriend there legally.
For years, friends who have been to Taiwan have extolled its scenic beauty and its food, especially the Japanese cuisine I adore. Taiwan used to be a Japanese colony – amazing Japanese food this is among the legacies.
In past decades, a distinct Taiwanese identity has also emerged. A growing number of its citizens apparently don’t regard themselves as Chinese but as purely Taiwanese, an identity
‘not based on race or blood but… on the sentiments that we are a country with democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law, and we can participate in the political decision-making.’
There is something to learn from them. Heritage is an anchor, but heritage should not shackle us. It must surely be possible for us as Asians to be proud and at the same time, critical. If we can’t criticise, how will anything improve? We may even need to reject aspects of our heritage en-route to forging something new.
Of course, sentiments like these can only be expressed by people who live in countries where freedom is enshrined.
Taiwan is no renegade province owned by mainland China. It’s a separate, independent and very real country, one we should all visit – and not because Nancy Pelosi went.
Part 5 to follow