Taiwan & China's Political/Religious Paradigms Interplay

  Previous  |  Next  

Thursday February 6, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

Whether we realize it or not, most of our lives are governed not by reality but by the multiple paradigms that reflect and interpret how we feel it is or should be. These paradigms in turn have multiple levels and are revealed as they play out in different intersecting fields. Some of our paradigms are assumed, and acknowledged while others that are subtler may be unnoticed until something challenges them and calls them into question. Take Taiwan for example, as it enters the Year of the Horse in 2014, Taiwanese may or may not be aware of the interplay of two important paradigmatic fields that involve their lives. They are the basic paradigms of ideology and religious spirituality. The differences in these point squarely to the basic differences that stand between Taiwan and that other country on the other side of the Taiwan Strait - China.

Why is this happening in 2014? Well first, Taiwan fought for and holds the paradigmatic belief that a democratic government is best for society; its democracy may not be perfect but it is a solid functioning democracy. And so it is natural that a major democratic event, namely Taiwan's upcoming seven-in-one elections on November 29, 2014 bring this discussion to the fore. In that election, the mayors and councilors etc. of municipalities, cities, counties, townships etc. will be chosen.

Who will run? Interest is aroused as Taiwan's major political parties are in the process of selecting who will be their best candidates for this election. But, the elections are also being watched by many as a potential bellwether. They are a bellwether not only because all the key Taiwan cities are involved, but also because the results could reflect on the growing unpopularity brought about after the six years of incompetence and stagnation of the Ma administration. This in turn could impact and influence the upcoming 2016 presidential and Legislative Yuan elections.

Many primaries are in process and many contenders have yet to be chosen but additional questions arise. Do the voters feel that it is time to punish the lackluster performance and failed promises of Ma and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)? Will the Green tide that is creeping north from the south prevail? While the results are up in the air, and some candidates are starting to distance themselves from Ma, will Ma try to impact at least the 2016 elections by pushing for more and closer interaction with China?

Contrast Taiwan's pursuit of a multi-party democratic paradigm with China where the paradigm held is a one-party state oligarchy masquerading under the guise of Communism. In China, there are no basic elections or contesting parties of consequence at levels where it counts. The hands that rule and control the nation are pre-determined and from select families. How one qualifies is worth examining. Bo Xilai tried to crash that group recently but his pedigree and style did not suit those in charge.

In China, the issue is not Communism vs. Capitalism; the claim to Communism is simply a means of the oligarchy to legitimize their ties to the past overthrow of a past privileged KMT group, which with its corruption had lost the minds and support of the people. Current China is not becoming a classless and moneyless society; it is becoming more the opposite. As the gap between rich and poor continues to grow, it best might be called a socialistic form of capitalism where a select and minute controlling cabal determines all.

Ironically, in some ways however, the Politburo that rules China is under greater pressure than the elected Ma government in Taiwan. For in China in order to placate the masses and justify the people's lack of participation and control, the oligarchs must now maintain a minimal 7.5 GDP growth. This means by one report that they must create some 7.5 million jobs in the coming year. With that pressure, any sincere Chinese leaders must in some way look in envy at how the elected Ma government can scrape by even with its continued failing growth numbers and poor, rock bottom performance approval.

To be sure of course China's oligarchs are not without other advantages and tools such as the lack of transparency to hide what is going on in their banks where money often "disappears." Similarly with state control of the media, they can protect and suppress dissent and questioning of their decisions. This prevails even as leaks from the outside indicate the large amounts of money that the major ruling families in China are stashing in off shore accounts etc. Is that what communism is about?

Thus far we have said little about the second paradigm in question, that of religion and spiritual freedom. A basic difference between Taiwan's ideological democracy and China's oligarchy is that of separation of church and state. By its nature, a democracy should not favor any religious belief or church. In China's oligarchy, however, the control factor enters in. Any and all religious paradigms must be controlled by the state and religious leaders must be approved if not appointed by such. In effect by controlling the appointments of spiritual leaders the oligarchs hope to control the direction of religions.

The government in Taiwan has avoided crossing into the realm of religious paradigms. It has diplomatic relations with the Vatican, and has never tried to appoint Catholic bishops. It has not tried to appoint successors to any Tibetan lamas, though Taiwanese should wonder why it has purposely not invited the Dalai Lama to come. The biggest paradigm contrast however is seen in the vis-à-vis the Falun Gong. In China the oligarchs see them as a clear threat to the state. Ironically in Taiwan, where Falun Gong meet, perform their exercises and develop their path and beliefs they are totally off the radar. They are not jailed as subversives, nor are their organs harvested as a controlling punishment; they do not represent a paradigm that must be controlled. This makes Taiwanese aware of the value of the contrasting paradigms that democracy allows, whether one is religions, agnostic or atheist.