Erenlai - New Ethical Challenges 全球化之下的倫理重建
New Ethical Challenges 全球化之下的倫理重建

New Ethical Challenges 全球化之下的倫理重建

Here are testimonies and analyses that explore business ethics, life technology ethics, and environmental ethics - all fields that determine the way we conceive our nature, monitor our social conducts and foresee our future.



Wednesday, 03 April 2013

Human Rights in Taiwan Under Review

From February 25 to March 1 2013, an international group composed by 10 human rights experts and legal scholars was invited to Taiwan to supervise the review process of the country's initial reports under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) that Ma Ying-Jeou signed in March 2009. The structure and dynamics of the review meeting made the event unique in its genre, as it did not only expose the official human rights records to the scrutiny of an international committee, but it also provided Taiwan's civil society with the opportunity to actively participate and be directly involved in the monitoring process.

Despite not being a member of the United Nations (UN) since 1971, Taiwan ratified the two UN covenants with the aim to gradually conform its domestic laws and legislations to the international legal framework concerning the protection and safeguard of human rights. The Implementation Act was thus promulgated in December 2009 precisely with the objective to integrate the two UN covenants into the national legal system and to guarantee the actual legal effect of the two international treaties. To assess the degree of compliance of the domestic legal framework with the two UN covenants, an official human rights report was issued by Taiwan's government authorities in April 2012 and was subjected to the accurate examination of the review committee.

"The fact that a group of 10 international experts has been invited to Taiwan to review independently the human rights system of the country is undoubtedly an important fact," said Brian Barbour, Executive Board Member of the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network. "Moreover, it was remarkable to have hundreds of officials attending the review meeting every day, along with the presence of local NGOs which had the opportunity to directly speak with the committee members," he further added. Every day from February 25 to 27, the review committee attended formal meetings with NGOs members in the morning and with government representatives in the afternoon. The international panel of experts had therefore the possibility to incorporate human rights official records with in depth information provided by civil society actors.

The panel of international experts has repeatedly stressed the pivotal role that civil society actors had in submitting detailed comments on the situation of human rights in Taiwan to the review committee. Unlike the UN official model for the review of the implementation of the ICCPR and the ICESCR - which does not contemplate the formal partecipation of NGOs in the process, the review mechanism in Taiwan offered local human rights activists and practitioners "the opportunity to establish themselves as an authoritative voice," highlighted chairman of the Union for Civil Liberty Danthong Breen. During the review process, Covenants Watch, a coalition of civil associations set up to supervise the implementation of the two international treaties, and Taiwan Association for Human Rights (TAHR) jointly presented a list of 45 core issues that, in their opinion, deserve closer attention by official authorities – and that are further addressed in the human rights "shadow report" which they published in May 2012.

After carefully examining the information discussed during the review meeting, on March 01 the panel of experts finally made public a set of recommendations in a press conference. In the "Concluding Observations" report, the committee members clearly pointed out that since the ICCPR and the ICESCR have been adopted by Taiwan's government as part of the national legal framework, they are already abiding and, in case of contradiction with domestic laws, they should take the precedence over the latter. The international experts thus called for Taiwan's government to strengthen the training of judges, legal practitioners and prosecutors in order to guarantee the proper application and enforcement of the two UN covenant also in practice.

The establishment of an independent human rights commission in Taiwan was highly recommended by the committee members, who further called for government authorities to adopt other UN international treaties and to better comply with the mechanism of human rights protection illustrated in the "Paris Principles".

Professor of law and human rights at the University of Vienna and former UN special rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak pointed out that the most serious problem under the ICCPR is the continuous use of the death penalty in Taiwan[1]. Nowak, who already visited the country in November 2011 to give a speech on torture at National Taiwan University, stated that in the last 15 executions carried out by Taiwan's government there was a clear violation of Article 6(4) of the ICCPR, according to which "anyone sentenced to death shall have the right to seek pardon or commutation of sentence."

The issue of the death penalty was a significantly debated topic during the review meeting, especially in light of the recent six executions that Taiwan's government carried out on December 23 2012. When rumors regarding the imminent executions of death row inmates began to spread in late November, two members of the review committee - Novak and Eibe Riedel, had sent a letter to president Ma Ying-jeou asking government authorities not to carry out any execution before the review process would be completed. They stated that any eventual execution would seriously undermine the successful outcome of the review meeting and cause the international experts' possible withdrawal from their review assignment. On February 26 during the examination of ICCPR Articles 6 to 13, Novak has pointed out that notwithstanding the recent executions, the review committee members nonetheless decided to accomplish their duties and perform their responsibilities as previously accorded, with the aim of fostering the process of abolition of the death penalty in Taiwan.

Government representatives have repeatedly stated that the abolition of the death penalty is a sensitive issue in Taiwan, since 78% of the population supports it. The recent executions, for instance, had been carried out in the context of a growing concern regarding the actual level of security of Taiwanese society, in order to avoid further negative public reaction[2]. Given that the majority of the public opinion perceives the death penalty as a deterrent to criminal activities, official authorities have argued that the process of abolition must be a "gradual and progressive" one.

Asma Jahangir, head of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan, has however stressed that in many countries where the death penalty has been now officially abrogated, the vast majority of the population was actually in favor of its use before the abolition process took place. She has moreover added that she understands that the process of abolition in Taiwan has to be "gradual and progressive", but she also called for government authorities to show a greater commitment in fastening the whole procedure.

Reiterating Jahangir's words, Novak has also pointed out that there is no clear evidence that the use of the death penalty acts as a crime deterrent, by adding that in the path toward abolition Taiwan should guarantee a greater compliance with the ICCPR with regard to the right to seek pardon or commutation of sentence. All six death row inmates recently executed in December had indeed applied for pardon and were waiting for the president's decision on their request prior their execution. The priority of Taiwan's government, the international experts unanimously stated, however still remains to promptly impose a moratorium on the use of the death penalty .

Another important issue highlighted by the review committee was the problem of forced evictions, which are currently affecting hundreds of family all over Taiwan. The experts addressed a number of specific cases, "but the most important point consisted in calling for Taiwan's government to provide proper consultation and adequate housing in case of proposed evictions," said Roseann Rife, Amnesty International's East Asia director.

Particular attention was laid on the highly controversial case of the forced eviction of the Huaguang community in Taipei. While a group of supporters and activists was demonstrating outside the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), showing their concern about the dramatic future of the community, some Huaguang representative members had the opportunity to directly illustrate their problematic housing situation to the international experts during the review meeting.

Huaguang residents are indeed facing an imminent and drastic eviction due to their "illegal occupation"[3] of the land where their dwellings are located, which is formally owned by the MOJ. The dislocation of the inhabitants and the demolition of their residences are the first steps toward the complete renewal of this traditional neighborhood located in the heart of Taipei, which seems to be doomed to become the new financial district of the city.

The review committee has pointed out that in this case, government legal proceedings aimed at the eviction of Huaguang community members and the demolition of their dwellings are evidently not complying with Article 11 of the ICESCR which, along with UN ICESCR General Comment 4 and 7, guarantees the right to adequate housing and declares the incompatibility of forced evictions with the requirements of the covenant. In particular, as highlighted by TAHR Executive Secretary Shih Yi-Hsiang, UN ICECSR General Comment 4(8) guarantees the legal protection of tenure, the latter defined also as "emergency housing and informal settlements, including occupation of land or property" – definition that clearly addresses the peculiar legal status of living communities such as the Huaguang community in Taipei.

In the "Concluding Observations", the international experts have therefore call for Taiwan's government to act accordingly the ICESCR by providing a formal consultation with Huaguang residents and by developing a settlement plan for the community members. In the meantime, they further added, the MOJ should halt forced evictions and demolitions plans in the area – and as pointed out by Shih Yi-Hsiang, Article 6 of the Implementation Act defines the "Concluding Observations" as a human rights report which has legal status, thus making it not just a compendium of suggestions but a set of abiding legal provisions.

With regard to refugee rights, Brian Barbour stated that Taiwan is one of the few Asian countries that actually has a refugee law, although still at draft stage. He suggested official authorities to take into account the comments that local NGOs submitted on the law to the committee members, with special reference to the exclusion of the Tibetan and Mainland Chinese population from the refugee law draft in Taiwan. He then added the importance of further investigating the issue of immigration detention and the situation of children who, in order to be kept with their detained parents, are currently imprisoned in Taiwan.

Most significantly, the international experts urged Taiwan's government to develop a follow-up plan and stressed the importance of an active collaboration between official authorities and civil society actors to comprehensively address human rights issues in Taiwan. According to the committee members, the government and local NGOs should interact more consistently to guarantee that progress is made in the implementation of the two UN covenants and in the enhancement of human rights protection in Taiwan.

Photo courtesy of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights.


[1] After an unofficial moratorium on executions lasted from 2006 to 2009, in 2010 Taiwan's government resumed the use of the death penalty by carrying out four execution in April of the same year, five in March 2011 and six in December 2012.
[2] On December 2 2012 in Greater Tainan, a 10 year-old boy was found killed by a man who claimed that he was not worried about either the process nor the sentence, since he added that in Taiwan no one is sentenced to death for the murder of one or two people. The episode fueled a general feeling of indignation for and dissatisfaction with the national judicial system, which public opinion accused to be too clement toward criminals and inmates.
[3] The Huaguang community members have been recently sued by the MOJ with the alleged accusations of "illegal occupation" (違法占用) and "illegal profit" (不當得利), but given the particular history of this neighborhood, government's decision has triggered the indignation of Huaguang residents and their supporters. The peculiarity of this residential community has indeed to be traced back to 1949, when the Nationalist Party (Guomindang, KMT) flew from mainland China to Taiwan, followed by a high number of military and party officials, along with their families. As the lack of abundant land where to build dwellings for the "new incomers", government authorities offered military and official employees the chance to settle down in Huaguang neighborhood, which at that time was property of the MOJ. Since then, relatives of the first generation of KMT officials have been living in Huaguang, by paying taxes and being provided with water and electricity, among other services. What has been recently labeled as "illegal" seems suddenly not to take into consideration the "legal" agreement between KMT government and its employees in the past, which had not been questioned until a decade ago when a new urban project for the area was proposed.


Friday, 22 February 2013

China’s shadow cast upon the textbooks of Taiwan and Hong Kong

In recent times Taiwan and Hong Kong have both gotten caught up in text book controversies, although these have root in different political contexts, they are both closely tied to the "rise" of China and its expansionist policies.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Photographing the Proletariat: An Interview with Ho Ching-tai and Chang Jung-lung

Documentary photographers Ho Ching-tai and Chang Jung-lung give us an exciting debate upon photography and its influence on society, as well as the "exploitative" relationship between the photographer and his subject...

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Interpreting China for the West - Jean François Billeter

Jean Francois Billeter (畢來德) is a Swiss sinologist who published in French a series of studies and translations on the Zhuangzi. Two of his books were recently translated into Chinese in Taiwan: Leçons sur Tchouang-tseu (莊子四講) and Contre François Jullien (駁于連). We had the opportunity to meet him during his visit to Taipei to present his books last November. In this interview he discusses his attempts to overcome the domination of Chinese scholars in interpreting Chinese classics and Chinese history, and explores the possibilities of looking at China with a Western audience in mind.

Monday, 12 December 2011

A Book Written for the Present

The Book of Revelation is the last one of the New Testament. Its style, its images and its dramatic aspect cannot but astonish its readers. Yet, it remains one of the most widely read of the Bible, especially in times of crisis.

It is difficult to understand its style and meaning if one does not know that it belongs to a literary genre: the “apocalyptic genre”, which developed in the Jewish world around two centuries before the birth of Jesus and will still last for one more century after his death.

Writers of “apocalyptic books” intend to reveal to their readers the project of God: the coming of His Day, when His Kingdom will be definitely established on earth. They first look at the past of Israel, reflect with their readers on the significance of the most important events, and draw a line of interpretation from this rereading of the past: God is faithful, He is working among His people today as He was doing yesterday, and as He will continue to do. Thus, understanding how God is working among us nowadays helps us to understand in which ways His coming is about to happen. Apocalyptic writers do not “see” specific events, they rather sketch the way God is working and will continue to work in human history. However, they need to do this with images and symbols. The reader needs to be sensitive to the literary code used by them. “White” is generally linked to victory and innocence; “Red’ to murder and blood; “seven” expresses perfection, and “six” imperfection; “three and half” refers to suffering and times of trial; “four” symbolizes the created world; “horn” is a symbol of power, and “white hair” of eternity rather than of old age…

John, the writer of the Book of Revelation, may be also the writer of the Fourth Gospel, or he is, more probably, one of his disciples. Traditionally, the writing of the Book is thought to have taken place around the years 90-96. Its redactor will make use of the images and symbols that we just mentioned For someone with a good knowledge of the Biblical text, most of the images being used are easy to decrypt: the completion of the victory of Christ will be evoked through the images of seven seals, seven trumpets, or seven cups… The tone of John’s Apocalypse is actually much more optimistic than the one of the former Jewish Apocalypses: Evil has already been unleashed when Jesus was crucified, but final victory is already ensured in his resurrection. Martyrs are associated to his victory. The message of the Apocalypse to his reader is quite straightforward: through our life and deeds, what Jesus has already accomplished will become everyday truer, more “real.” We can make it actually “happen”, we can make the salvation brought by Christ be known and experienced everywhere.  We are called to die to a certain way of conceiving our existence so as to live of the very life of Christ. This is painful, but the form of death we accept brings life to us and to the others. This is alike the suffering of the woman who is giving birth – an image common to the Book of Revelation and to the Fourth Gospel. This stress on the decisions to be taken by the faithful throughout his life gives a specific tone to the Book of Apocalypse: John does not describe the inexorable execution of a plan decided by God, he rather describes the path that men undertake with a God who walks with them, speaks to them and waits for their answer.

Whatever the multiplicity of images and tales he makes use of, John does not try to describe historical events to come, but rather to discover the meaning of the events that each generation of Christians is led to confront. Many descriptions of the Book of Revelation that seem to be projected into the future actually narrate events that have taken place during the life spam of the author – the persecution of Nero for instance. But they are narrated in such a way so as to receive a universal meaning. More generally, the Book of Revelation appears to be a global rereading of the Old Testament as it tries to interpret the two major events that define nascent Christianity: the break between Christian communities and the Jewish world; and the persecution it must almost immediately suffer from the totalitarian Roman empire.

Another “key of understanding” for entering into the text of the Book of Revelation is to note that it sounds very much like a “liturgy”: there are many canticles and songs, descriptions of celebrations taking place in Heavens, and allusions to baptism and Eucharist. Somehow, the whole human history is seen as a liturgy through which God is praised and glorified in the life and death of His witnesses.

Finally, the Book of Revelation celebrates the mystery of a God who comes towards us and who lives with us: Jesus is the center of history. The Verb has been made flesh, but his humaneness is expressed by a paradox Jesus is both the Lamb, whose blood reconciles God and humankind –as it was already announced in the Book of Exodus -, and the Shepherd, who cares for his people with love. He is the first and the last, the one who takes the humblest place and the greatest accomplishment of humankind. Enlivened by symbols and paradoxes that attempt to express something of an ineffable mystery, the Book of Revelation opens our eyes to a renewed vision of the Present – and calls us to fully and freely engage our whole being into the times that are ours.

Drawing by Bendu

Monday, 24 October 2011

Occupy Taipei

Following on from the 'Occupy Wall Street' demonstrations in New York, on October 15th protesters in Taipei gathered around the phallic symbol of Taiwanese capitalism, the Taipei 101 building, to voice their opinion on several issues, including high unemployment, inflated house prices, unpaid overtime, the rights of immigrant workers as well as showing solidarity with the global movement to resist or bring down the excesses of the capitalist hegemony and move towards a fairer society. Watch interviews with some participants below:

Monday, 27 June 2011

CEFC Files: Industrial Pollution and Public Health

Paul Jobin is the current director of the Taipei branch of the French Centre for Research on Contemporary China (CEFC Taipei). Since majoring in Oriental Studies, Paul Jobin has been researching the link between industrial pollution and public health, first in Japan and then, for the last four years, in Taiwan. His breadth of experience has given him first hand insight on everything from Japan's biggest post-war pollution disease, Minamata, to the nuclear energy question, having personally spent time researching Fukushima and other power plants before the Japan crisis struck in March of this year. He has previously conducted interviews with Japanese and Taiwanese nuclear engineers. Here, Paul Jobin talks to us about his academic background, before introducing the first industrial class actions related to industrial pollution in Taiwan and finally complimenting the successes of activists in recent actions such as the anti-Kuokuang movement:

Paul's experience at Fukushima and Taiwan's nuclear power plants before the disaster happened, has recently made him an important figure in the anti-nuclear struggle. Thus, he was recently requested to take part in a book which collected testimonies mainly from nuclear engineers in Japan, but also those in Taiwan. When we interviewed him he introuduced the book before giving us some insights and anecdotes regarding his experiences.

More info on the book presented by P. Jobin in his interview\

Also read a special issue of the Taiwanese Journal for the Sociology of Science, Technology and Medicine (STM) (introduced by the website 苦勞 (Colloud) -in Chinese)

To see the list of Paul's publications click here

Monday, 20 June 2011

Welcome to the CEFC

(The CEFC team from left: Su Wei-jeune, Dr. Stéphane Corcuff, Dr. Tanguy Lepesant, Dr. Paul Jobin, Dr. Marylène Lieber, Dr. José Ramón Pérez Portillo)

Over the next few months we will be releasing videos of all the current researchers based at the Taipei branch of the French Centre for Research on Contemporary China (CEFC Taipei) to introduce their new research directions in Sinology and Taiwan Studies. We begin with director Paul Jobin and executive secretary Wei-jeune Su introducing how CEFC Taipei operates, it's aims and what services and resources it provides.

Monday, 20 June 2011

“Surviving” is not good enough

More than once, when times at work or in relationships had been rough, I was encouraged by friends and companions to try my skills at “survival.” They meant by this that, sometimes, you cannot do better than sticking to your task, maintaining the trade or the organization you are responsible for, and waiting for better days… There is a kind of wisdom in such advice, but, over the years, I have been led to recognize that this was not very good wisdom: when you just aim at “surviving’ you are not very much “alive’ already… Slowly but surely, “surviving’ becomes the atmosphere that you breathe and exhale, and routine gains over the forces of imagination, passion and rebellion. My own advice may sound far-fetched, but is still the fruit of what I have experienced: in times of utter difficulties, do not aim at living less, but rather at living more, and more intensely. For sure, this might involve things such as to keep one’s head down for a while, cancel some projects, find ways to do more with less… but still, do not consider these limitations and expedients as a “survival” strategy; rather, let the challenges you are meeting with teach you daily lessons about change, inspire you new dreams and continuously enlarge your perspectives. In other words, always strive for revival. Yes, “revival’ – rather than “survival” – has to be the force that keeps us walking.

Till recently, I considered such ideas as belonging to the “private domain”, as to be shared only with a few friends when the climate was at sharing and confiding to one another. But I am more and more struck by the number of colleagues and friends who experience tiredness or even psychological exhaustion, who wonder how long they can go as they do, and who still do not see a way out. And I sometimes recognize in myself the old temptation: to be satisfied with “survival’ rather than aiming at “revival.” I am more and more convinced that this is not only a psychological phenomenon that would be due to some strange and sudden accrued frailty of the human species, but that we meet indeed with a social, global phenomenon – and quite a recent one: it seems to me that the aftershock of the financial crisis of 2008-2009 has been minimized, and that no real lesson has been drawn from it. After much talk about changes called for by the lack of sustainability of the current model, there has been a muted consensus to just continue like was the case before – on the basis of finance-driven profit, continuous time pressure and the taking of short-term risks. What is here at stake is not only the perpetuation of an economic model, but of a cultural one as well. Still, everyone perceives that incentives provided by such a model are not as strong as they used to be, while dangers and uncertainties are recurring. We now live as if being stuck between two crises, the former one and the next to come, and, in the meanwhile, we try to cope with the pressure of the times, not knowing whether our efforts will eventually bear fruits or will vanish in a collapse. Increasing ecological problems and large scale natural disasters have added to the global gloominess. And risks become sometimes hard-felt realities, as the dire budgetary situation of several European countries reminds us now. In China also, inflation, unemployment and food safety crises have tarnished past optimism. In another domain, the most recent and tragic reminder of what the minimization of risks my eventually bring to has been provided by Japan’s nuclear crisis.

Can we do anything against such trend? The first thing is certainly to convince oneself that we are still able to make choices and decisions, so as to live our personal and professional life in a responsible and creative way. We are still entitled and called to renew our ways of proceedings, to change our lifestyle, and to refocus our own goals. Networking is another way to go beyond pressure and complaint, to exchange advices, ideas and encouragements in such a way as to empower one another. Finally there is an obvious need to renew political participation at the local and national level and, going one step further, to build up a real “international political space”, a space of deliberation and decision on our common challenges. Communities (be they local, national or global), not only individuals, are called to “revive” rather than merely “survive” – and the call is to be renewed day after day.



Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Moral development is a life-long process

I teach in a School of Philosophy. I do not teach ethics, but I sometimes have to meet with questions related to this field. Students have been trained to reason in a very abstract way, and they like to come up with logical dilemmas, with problems seemingly impossible to solve. I have much difficulty in making them understand one very simple truth: in real life, you usually do not meet with abstract, logical cases, you muddle through situations that are multifaceted and require you to go through a process of discussion, discernment and progressive adjustment. There is rarely one logical answer to a given moral problem as actually experienced. You have to look for the minutiae of the case, to ask for your friend’s and your peer’s advice, and to come up with an answer that has to do with practical wisdom as much as with logical inferences.

Of course, it is good that students come up with such questions. It corresponds to one stage of moral development. You search for rules and principles, you exercise your capacity for judgment and consistency, and you do not satisfy yourself with easy arrangements: your conscience wants you to decide and to act according to clearly defined standards.

Still, other capacities are to be developed in order to live a truly ethical life. As rightly emphasized by feminist studies, empathy is one of them. Ethical judgment is concerned with real people and with needs to which you have to answer. And needs, especially the needs of the people who are the most vulnerable, are always special. If one truly wants to answer such needs, respect and care progressively appears to one’s conscience as the primary requisites. So, sense of care will develop along with empathy. Ethics will be lived less in terms of “principles” than in terms of “relationships.” Truth and life will come together, never separated from each other. Abstract truths can become deadly truths – or deadly lies. Conversely, a life lived without reference to the quest for truth will rapidly become meaningless, tasteless and obscured by insensitivity.

Ethical “sensitivity” will generally be acquired step by step. As we enter into complex, ever-evolving relationships, openness to others will challenge both our general principles and our self-absorption. Later in life, what we have learned throughout these relationships might blossom into a new set of standards and a larger vision. After having moved from general principles to specific relationships, we will be focusing again on universal concerns. But, at this stage, our convictions will have been nurtured by experiences slowly ruminated: care and empathy will have opened our heart and our mind to both universality and the infinite world of human differences.

Most of us do not move smoothly along the way. We may experience moral regressions as well as sudden awakenings. Other people will challenge our thought habits and prejudices – sometimes gently, sometimes less so -, and how we react to such challenges will prove to be essential in the process of moral development. The most important point is to recognize that living an ethical life is both a decision to be taken and a process to be nurtured – that is to say: both a decision to be periodically reaffirmed and a process that will end up only with our life.

Photo: C.P.


Tuesday, 08 February 2011

My Gwanju trip: transitional justice in South Korea

The Gwangju Incident on May 18th 1980 is the bloodiest event in the modern history of South Korea. Thirty years on we went back to Gwangju and were surprised to find how many similarities there were between what happened there and in Taiwan.

Being unable to wait for spring to arrive in Seoul, I headed south to Gwangju with my friends from Korea and Hong Kong, hoping to catch spring early. We were also there to visit the scenes of the 1980 Gwangju Incident. The strong contrast between the now joyous place of Gwanju and imagining the terrible event that once took place there made us feel uncomfortable.

Gwangju is the fifth biggest city in South Korea. We got off the bus and the warm sunshine made me feel as though I just got off a bus escaping from Taipei to the central south of Taiwan; I was feeling relaxed. We got on bus 518 which would go past many important historical scenes of the Gwangju Incident (or “the May 18th Incident”). First, we came to “The Cemetery Of Democracy” where all the victims are buried. Right after the Gwangju Incident, the bodies of the victims were loaded onto trucks and taken to The Old Burial Ground. After investigations, transitional justice and other courses of action were taken, The Cemetery Of Democracy, along with another monument, was built next to The Old Burial Ground.

The Old Burial Ground is still the most important place for campaigners and supporters of the democracy movement. They have been gathering here for their campaigns since the 80s. Before the new cemetery was built, the government was hoping that The Old Burial Ground could be relocated, preventing the campaigners from “stirring up trouble”.

Unravelling the past

A history student from Chonnam National University at the entry of The Cemetery of Democracy volunteered to guide us around. Chonnam National University is one of the universities in Gwanju City and many of its students devoted themselves to campaigns at the time of the Gwanju Incident. When we first entered the newly built memorial park, we were in awe of the magnificent buildings there. The guide told us in private that the memorial park and the museum have been in control by the government since 2007 and were monitored by hundreds of surveillance cameras. She wasn’t happy about this situation and was a bit hesitant in telling us about it. Not surprisingly she wasn’t feeling all that comfortable on making too many negative remarks on the subject.

There are many spirit tablets and photos of the victims inside the right part of the building. Some bodies of the victims have never been found, so their families grieve by placing photos of their loved ones here. Many are students in uniform and there is even a photo of a woman in wedding dress. The guide told us that the newly-wed woman was pregnant at the time when she was killed.

Then we went to the Gwanju Incident Museum. This was my first time here so I was only paying attention to the beautiful art installations, however, my Korean friend who has been here many times before, kept telling me that there had been a huge change. I couldn’t understand what she meant at first, until we met an old gentleman and his family. This old gentleman is a Gwanju resident who lived through the Gwanju Incident. He was complaining furiously to the guide that many of the first hand photos of the incident that were here before have been taken away, leaving only the manufactured interactive artworks on display.

41The memory that has been polished

The old gentleman said angrily: “They should display those photos here because only those photos can make people understand the raw violence of the incident without the use of any text.”

Only this sort of emotional intensity would make people realise that this piece of history cannot be repeated again. The old gentleman was using the holiday time to show his family around. His children listened carefully to what he was saying and asked him questions. The old gentleman’s grandson and granddaughter were pointing to the documentary film that was showing on the walls and were talking to each other in children’s language, running around the place. Suddenly, I felt very touched by seeing this family here. People pay tributes to their loved ones in a cemetery, however, here I saw people of different generations being alive, carrying on with their lives and the way they face their bitter past. Just like the bright sunshine outside the museum, they looked so hopeful.

Before sunset, we walked to the Old Burial Ground by following the tour signs. The national flag there is always at half-mast to express condolences. Although most victims of the Gwanju Incident were relocated to the new cemetery, there are people who lost their lives fighting for labour and social movements buried here. There are even some tombstones with red protesting scarfs tying around them saying “Lee Myung-Bak step down!My Korean friend told me that these people died in the protests against Lee Myung-Bak after he was elected president.


That evening we were in the campus of Chonnam National University asking for directions and chatting to the students there. My friends told them we were from Seoul and would like to see some historical scenes of the Gwanju Incident. One of the students told us that he is from Gwanju and there is nothing to see here any more. We asked him about Jeollanam-do Hall (where the Gwanju people fought to the end against the army in a gun battle). My friend said that he saw the bullet holes on Jeollanam-do Hall when he was here before, but when we were on the bus going past it earlier that day we discovered the whole place was closed and we were unable to go anywhere near it. The guide at The Cemetery Of Democracy told us that Jeollanam-Do Hall was going to be demolished and transformed into a civic centre. This piece of information was confirmed by the students at Chonnam National University.

A site that no one looks after

The next day we wanted to visit “518 Freedom Park” so we followed the map. We got off the subway station and saw “Kim Dae-jung Convention and Exhibition Centre” which looks as magnificent as the Taipei Arena and is very modern. After asking for directions we went past a golf course, but were lost and could not find any park. So we asked for directions again, and realised that the fences with little houses beyond them that we just went past were actually the park we were looking for. This was where the arrested survivors of the Gwanju Incident were imprisoned and brought to trial in a temporary military law court and prison. We heard that at the time of the incident over a hundred people were squeezed into each little house. We were the only ones in the “park” and even the help desk was looking deserted with no one behind it. Although it was a sunny day, the place felt gloomy and serious and we weren’t saying a word to one another. Maybe it was because we were too tired or because of the kind of place we were at, either way, everyone lost the ability to speak.


We also visited the nearby museum. Similar to the park, no one is stationed here. There is a Tai-Chi flag (national flag of South Korea) on display inside. This blood-stained flag was used to cover the wounds of the injured people at the time of the Incident. It is said that the flag has different meanings for the people of Gwanju - people who were hurt by their own country were using the national flag to stop the bleeding. Whose country is this? Who were the citizens of this country bleeding for?


An urban renewal plan that makes people think


This place is located in the newer district of the Gwanju City so we can tell that the temporary prison and courts must have been situated in the remote rural area at the time of the Incident. From inside the entry of the prison looking out, we could see in order, Kim Dae-jung Convention and Exhibition Centre, the elevated fences of the golf course and the newly-built tall apartments. In the warm sunlight, we could see that Kim Dae-jung Convention and Exhibition Centre was hosting a flora expo. The laughter and music coming from the centre strongly contrasted with the sombre museum.


By turning our eyes from the modern exhibition centre to the historical site, which was a place of killing and imprisonment, there are so many different angles we can look at it, whether it is from the inside looking out or from the outside looking in. The thought of Jeollanam-Do Hall being transformed into a civic centre made us realise that the urban renewal plan here is not as simple as just building new buildings on an old site, or the co-existance of old and new buildings or the old and new souls living together. The urban renewal plan will actually affect the way the people of Gwanju City will look at this last piece of history, which barely made its way to the present from the past.


42Transitional justice needs to be implemented

For the current government, we need to look at today’s Gwanju inside the framework of transitional justice. When I was attending a class on Human Rights as an auditor at Sunkonghoe University, the lecturer mentioned the three steps for transitional justice: truth, justice and reconciliation. We were encouraged by the lecturer to do case studies on the countries who are putting efforts into transitional justice, for example, South Africa, Indonesia, South Korea and so on. Some only have truth but no justice and reconciliation; some only have reconciliation but no truth. What is so complicated about transitional justice is this: what is the truth? To what extent do we impose justice on people? Who should reconcile with whom? Justice inside the human rights framework talks about punishment and non-punishment by law. Human rights activists would say that someone needs to be punished before justice can be achieved, otherwise a dictator or a military government will emerge again because they know whatever they do, they will never be punished by law. Take the case of the Gwanju Incident: many truths were revealed, the 518 Foundation was established and the leaders of the military government served terms of imprisonment. Everyone in my Human rights class agreed that some forms of justice and truth being carried out, but is this the end of it? Human rights cannot co-exist with anarchy, there must be some kind of political objective. However, how human rights and transitional justice are implemented without being taken advantage of by those with political interests is probably the hardest part of the equation. South Korea or its government can treat the Gwanju Incident as an average historical event or label those who died in the incident as patriots, making them national heroes. Or they can embellish these scars of history by transforming them into culture parks, so families can come here spending times together during holiday periods.


We have to face the bloody history




The rulers have too many ways to manipulate or “package up” history. This is evident by the fact that the museum of The Cemetery Of Democracy is being transformed into a leisure and arts exhibition centre, the photos taken during the bloody suppression were removed and the bullet-riddled Jeollanam-do Hall will be turned into a civic centre designed by well known architects. Leisure, culture, art and human rights seem unrelated to one another, but are being put together to make everything look blurry and pretty. However, the country’s violence should never be blurry or pretty. The victims and their families have their own stories to tell. They had to remain silent at the time of the Gwanju Incident, hiding their stories and watching them be hidden away from the public. After these people finally received the chance to redress their miscarriage of justice, are they going to watch the truths be hidden away from the public again?


We can sell leisure, culture and art for a good price. Human rights, after being decorated by art and marketing methods could probably sell even better. No one wants to see unpleasant pictures, gloomy scenes and the bloody past. However, using a positive attitude to try and solve these problems is a choice that any democratic country with proper human rights has to make. After doing some research on the 2009 Jingmei Human Rights Park in Taiwan and some controversies it was causing at the time, I was surprised to find that both the Korean and the Taiwanese governments wanted to transform a human rights park into some kind of culture park, hiring artists to try and make these places more “alive”. This is way beyond my imagination.


After visiting some historical sites of the Gwanju Incident, I wish that human rights and democracy will one day come to fruition in every country where people fighting and sacrificing for them. I wish that these rights will protect us and future generations. Those who fought for our human rights, just like flowers that bloom every year, will always be living in our hearts.


Translated from Chinese by Jason Chen. Photos provided by Ya-Qi Yang and Christopher John


The original article in Mandarin may be viewed here.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Genes and Culture

Human genes should not be used to cause conflict. Rather, they should be used as a medium to spread culture and love, making this world a better place.

Before I had gone deeply into the study of genes, my understanding was only limited to genes being either good or bad, far or close, simple or complex, illness or healthy and so on. It was very simple dualism.

Then I discovered that the makeup of a gene is not only hereditary and mutation doesn’t necessarily occur inside an embryo; many genes would actually have de Novo change in the current generation. This change might be caused by the environment or by any other number of external factors. So it is possible for a man’s Y chromosome to be different to that of his father’s, caused by a defected de Novo gene. Smoking cause genes to be cancerous, however, they are different to the cancerous genes found in a non-smoker. I often think of the thousands and millions of genes inside a human body as the stars in the sky, flickering differently in silence every passing second.

Genes have also evolved with time and we can find traces of other animal’s primitive genes in human genes. The complexity of genes in the human body can be compared to the thought process inside the Cerebral Cortex of a human brain, which is even more complex than a computer. A few simple genes can determine an animal to be male or female, just like switching on a remote control. However, to determine a human to be male or female, hormones, sexual organs and mix and match of different genes are needed. Human genes are not only recording the history of evolution, they also show the greatness of humanity, like praising the wonderful artwork made by the Creator.

I used the genes of the Taiwanese people as the material for my research. We can find racial integration of the Taiwanese people from the diversity of different genes. The researchers before me discovered that the Taiwanese Aboriginals are related to one of the Pacific Austronesian groups. Not only has the blood of the Pacific Austronesian mixed into the gene pool of the Taiwanese people, the Dutch blood of the Caucasian race has also appeared briefly in it. The integration of genes would normally cause similarities on the appearance of people from different races, however, after many generations we cannot tell the difference. This is like a certain culture has been in a particular race for a long time, it is impossible to find how this culture was put into the race without an extensive research on the culture’s origin. For a chromosome to have different genes integrated into it, vaguely sharing the common features of different races, is just like one big family caring for one another.

Human genes should not be used as political languages or causing conflict. Rather, they should be used to deliver culture and messages of love, embracing the world into a beautiful place as we have never seen before.

Translated from Chinese by Jason Chen, painting by Bendu

Read the original version in Chinese


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