TEA LEAF NATION
Taipei's Fiery New Mayor Knows Whose Culture Is Best
And it's not Taiwan's. In an interview, he discusses the benefits of
colonization, his superior understanding of the Chinese Communist
Party, and the state of the New York subway.
Former trauma surgeon at one of the most prestigious hospitals in
Taiwan, Ko Wen-je made a surprising career shift and ran for the
Taipei mayoral election last November.
A political newbie, Ko bagged more than 850,000 votes and has become
the first Taipei mayor in decades — a position considered a
stepping-stone to the presidency — who bears no affiliation with
any political party.
作為一個政治素人，柯拿到了 85 萬票，當選為台北市長
Ko's blunt talking style and a series of rapid moves to take on huge
Taiwanese corporations such as multibillionaire Terry Gou's powerful
Hon Hai Group, which makes iPhone parts, have riveted Taiwan.
Ko also made international headlines when he accepted a watch as a
gift from the visiting British transport minister, a cultural taboo
among Chinese speakers.
(Ko reportedly later joked he could sell the watch for scrap metal.)
In a freewheeling Jan. 20 interview with Foreign Policy in Taipei
City Hall, Ko spoke about the impact of his victory, his views on
the Chinese Communist Party, and why a picture of him riding the
capital city's subway managed to go viral.
The interview, conducted in a combination of Chinese and English, has
been condensed for clarity.
On the impact of his victory:
Ko: The country has been shaken up by me. I am just being myself. In
our society, no one dares to be themselves. During the campaign, the
slogan that made me proudest — "Starting now, I will redefine
politics" — has been realized. Politics isn't that difficult; it
is about finding your conscience again. So, just do what is right.
Doing the right things is more important than doing things right.
There have been a lot of lies and fabrications [in Taiwan's
On Asian history and colonization:
For the [world's] four Chinese-speaking regions — Taiwan,
Singapore, Hong Kong, and Mainland China — the longer the
colonization, the more advanced a place is. It's rather
embarrassing. Singapore is better than Hong Kong; Hong Kong is
better than Taiwan; Taiwan is better than the mainland. I'm
speaking in terms of culture. I've been to Vietnam and mainland
China. Even though the Vietnamese are seemingly poor, they always
stop in front of red traffic lights and walk in front of green ones.
Even though mainland China's GDP is higher than that of Vietnam, if
you ask me about culture, the Vietnamese culture is superior.
embarrassing 剛剛誤譯成悲哀了，抱歉 [sarada]
On Taiwan's current state:
At this moment, Taiwan is like a car with very powerful engines but
no steering wheel.
On America and Taiwan:
I lived in the United States for a year and I've been thinking over
the past 20 years about why the United States is a good country.
Whether you like it or not, [you have to admit] its people are
rather free. A cultivated nation is not about having nuclear
weapons, spaceships, or high-speed rail. It is about the realization
of basic social values and letting citizens live like human beings:
democracy, freedom, rule of law, human rights, and care for the
underprivileged. They may sound very basic, but these are the
fundamental values of a society.
我在美國住過一年，過去 20 年一直在想為什麼美國是個好國家。
On Taiwanese democracy:
Does Taiwan have democracy? Real democracy means politics belongs to
the people. Taiwanese politics belongs to corporations and is
controlled by political parties.
On mainland-Taiwan relations:
If you ask me about the one-China policy [which recognizes only one
China, while allowing both the mainland and Taiwan to claim they are
the "China" recognized] my question is, what is one China? You
have to tell me what one China looks like. If a girl is to marry
into another family, you have to tell her what that family is like.
Cooperation is more important than reunification. If reunification
is achieved without cooperation, it will be meaningless. We have to
mutually know, understand, respect, each other; then finally we can
cooperate with each other. We have to convince Mainland China that a
free and democratic Taiwan is more in China's interest than reunification.
On the photo of Ko taking the Taipei subway that went viral in
mainland China, in part because of its contrast to the cosseted life
of many mainland officials:
I couldn't have imagined that [the photo would get so much
attention], but in fact I don't care, because I was just being
myself. This is called a cultural gap. I once said that when more
than 99 percent of Chinese people close the doors while doing their
business in bathrooms, we can start talking about reunification.
This hurt the feelings of many Chinese people, but a cultural gap
[between mainland China and Taiwan] does exist. There's nothing
wrong about officials taking the subway. Why is this unusual? So
people talked about "one country, two systems," but maybe we
should talk about "two countries, one system" instead. We should
try to narrow the gap.
我曾經說過當 99 % 的中國人上廁所都會關門時，我們就可以來談統一。
On the Chinese Communist Party:
I have a better understanding of the Communist Party than most party
members because I like reading. I have a better understanding of the
Communist Party than most party members because I like reading. I
have read a lot of books about the party's history. The party isn't
a rival; it's a client. China's a problem that we must face, no
matter [whether] you like it or not.
Throughout China's history, there were very few dynasties when
every citizen was fed. It's unbelievable that the Chinese
government can achieve this. It's something we should respect.
However, they have their own difficulties to overcome.
On Taiwan's influence on the mainland:
I think keeping a democratic, liberal Taiwan benefits Chinese history.
When people say the Chinese people do not deserve universal suffrage,
there have been five presidential elections in Taiwan already.
People say that the Chinese people are not civic-minded;
[but] take a look at Taiwan's subway. It's cleaner than the New York subway.
On Taiwan's 2016 presidential election:
I don't know what will happen in the future, but I hope Taipei city
will be a "demilitarized zone" between the blue and green parties.
[In Taiwan, "blue" refers to the ruling Kuomintang, while "green"
means the Democratic Progressive Party, which advocates a tougher
stance towards Beijing.] I will try to keep neutral. I will not run
for president. That's a clear-cut answer.
關於 2016 總統大選：