The Rift and the Bridge

by on 週一, 30 一月 2012 評論

This is a two part documentary about how cultural understanding is forged on a day to day basis between models of civilisation that were considered to be fundamentaly incompatible. The aim is to make a case for ending caricaturised notions of 'the other' rooted voicelessness and disenfranchisement.

Today, we increasingly take it for granted that the divide between cultures can be overcome easily thanks to the rise of global consumerism. While the fundamental teaching of Neoliberalism argues that the common thread that runs through humanity is it's desire to acquire and consume, developments are taking place in the cultural field that contradicts this facile assumption.

The global project of the neoliberal ideology is the prioritisation of individual interest and the encouragement of forms of expression that are meant to liberate the 'self' from the shackles of collective domination. We are told, that the desire to participate in a collective, will drown our individual voice and leave us vulnerable to being swayed. What is happening instead is,  we are trying to mold ourselves into the image of the greedy, self obsessed homo-economicus, in the process isolating ourselves from networks of support and finally becoming increasingly more vulnerable to commercial institutions that specialise in manipulating our wants and desires.  We see organisations that are meant to be responsible for national welfare,  being discredited and replaced by new institutions that are modelled on ideas that glorify private investment and self interest.

This ideology becomes particularly interesting when it reflects itself on the mirror of a different culture, that values collectivity over individualism. Chinese tradition is often perceived by Western observers as suppressing forms of individual expression and favouring instead the interest of the community. It is therefore particularly interesting to observe the violent and immediate chemical reaction that occurs on the contact of these two opposing world views.

The earliest contact between Western consumerism and Chinese values dates back to the opium wars. Named after the smuggling of opium into China by the British East India Company. The relations between the Chinese and the foreigners dwelling in their country hit an all time low at the dawn of the 20th Century as the Boxer rebellion culminated in the siege of the Beijing Legation Quarter. After the rebellion was defeated the Legation Quarter was restored with it's own Administrative Commission, paved streets, electric lighting and police force.

British Author and playwright Somerset Maugham described the life of Beijing expatriates in his book "On a Chinese Screen" as follows:

"They talked of this minister who had just written from Bucharest or Lima, or that Counsellor's wife who found it so dull in Christiania or so expensive in Washington. On the whole it made little difference to them in what capital they found themselves, for they did precisely the same things in Constantinople, Berne, Stockholm and Peking. Entrenched within their own diplomatic privileges and supported by a lively sense of their social consequence, they dwelt in a world in which Copernicus had never existed, for to them sun and stars circled obsequiously round this earth of ours, and they were it's centre."

Maugham's observations in 1922 remains just as valid today when applied to the lives of the expatriates living in China and Taiwan.  The ideological element of this cultural divide came with the rise of communism in China and the experience of the Korean War.

American Journalist, Edward Hunter reporting on the Korean War has observed a severe lack of morale among the American troops and concluded that this must be due to highly advanced methods of persuasion invented by the Chinese, to convince otherwise perfectly reasonable, self-reliant Americans, into embracing conformist values associated with Communism. Hunter, not only argued that such means of mind control were developed by the Chinese, but they were also being used to bring the cold war to American soil, by eroding the self centred values that Americans pride themselves on. In a report he presented to the House of Representatives Committee on un-American Activities in 1958, he described the aims of what he called 'brainwashing' and explained it's purpose as follows.

I remember when I was a young man, every personnel department was looking for leadership qualities. What was sought was a man's capacity as an individual to achieve new things. Today that is not even considered by personnel departments in their employment policies.  They ask, instead, if the man ‘gets along’ with everybody.  They do not ask what is his individuality; they ask how he conforms. When we raise a young man to believe that at all costs he must get on with everyone, we have put him into a state of mind that almost guarantees, if he falls into the hands of an enemy such as the Communists, that he will react as he had been raised, to try ‘to get on,’ because he must not be ‘antisocial.’

Although Hunter's priority was to make a point about Communism, his association of brainwashing with the Chinese has coloured how the West views China in general and in relation, Taiwan.

And indeed for the greater part of the 20th Century, there didn't seem to be a great deal of difference between Nationalist Taiwan and Communist China, in terms of democracy. Although the United States foreign policy flaunted Taiwan as the last bastion of freedom against the red peril in Asia, it was really more interested in the Island nation as an "unsinkable aircraft carrier".

To the Americans, Taiwan represented the frontier between Eastern and Western ideologies. Two opposing poles. One with it's masculine self-reliance and it's realistic acceptance of the self interested motivations of individuals that form society. The other with it's effeminate attachment to deluded notions of altruism and seductive skills to intoxicate the other, to bend to it's will.

Taiwan, it was argued, was on the good side of this polar divide. The inconvenient fact that a democratic apparatus was not in place to allow for individuals to express themselves politically was disregarded as irrelevant.

After an extended period of protest and resistance to the single party regime, inspired by occidental ideas of non-violent protest and counter culture. Taiwan finally switched to a system of democratic representation and the first presidential elections were held in 1996. And hence the final rift that divided Taiwan from the Western world was bridged.

This could have been where the story ended, but it's merely where another one begins. Now that Taiwan has acquired all the necessary conditions to be virtually one and the same with the Western world. We see that both Taiwanese and Westerners are not always in compliance with the neo-liberal project of global cultural uniformity.

I want to now present how in the everyday contemporary life Western and Taiwanese cultures blend together. In this blend we will sometimes see cultural actors conducting themselves in all sorts of ways. Sometimes emphasising the similarity between the two cultures, other times the differences. But from the point of view of voicelessness and vulnerability, what we have to keep in mind while assessing them is to what extent their experiments and actions can be conducive to genuine dialogue between the two cultures, without submitting to the homo-economicus model of the neoliberal ideology which isolates personhood and renders it vulnerable to corporate exploitation.

Efe Levent

業非(Efe Levent)是國立交通大學應用藝術研究所博士班的學生,目前正以寶藏巖作為民族誌的田野場域,處理關於藝術與都市更新之間的關係。他同時在進行網路遊戲社群的研究,以及在「ROFLCOPTER」樂團中擔任吉他手。

Efe Levent is a phd student at Jiao Da university (Hsinchu), doing ethnographic fieldwork in Treasure Hill about the relationship between art and urban regeneration. He also does work on video gamer communities and plays the guitar in a band called ROFLCOPTER.

網站: twitter: @STBcollective

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