Ups and Downs in Taiwan

First, for the downs.  Just when one thinks that there is nowhere to go down further, miracle strikes as an even bigger hole is dug.

Taiwan opposition party KMT's Vice Chairman Chiang Pin-kun made a historic visit to mainland China.  A survey of 951 persons in Taiwan done by Taipei-based China Times showed that 37% of respondents said the visit would eventually help improve cross-Straits relations, with 19% holding the opposite view  (see China Daily).  Whatever else, it was a great PR coup.

In rebuttal, the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) attempt to grab the center stage with its own foreign journey.  TSU Chairman Shu Chin-chiang made a pilgrimage to the Yakusuni Shrine in Japan.  Given the annual row with China and Korea over Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visiting this shrine, this is clearly provocative action.  Here is Taipei Times' description:

Shu, dressed in a business suit, was cheered on by supporters who unfurled the flags of Japan and his party as he entered the Yasukuni shrine which is dedicated to 2.5 million war dead, including 14 convicted war criminals.  He called on Asians to "move beyond the grudges and animosity of the past."  

"As one Taiwanese and as a leader of a political party I have come here to pay my respect to the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for Japan," Shu said.  "At the same time, as one Taiwanese, I have come here to pay my respect for 28,000 Taiwanese," whose names are enshrined, he said.  ...  The Yasukuni shrine controversially lists the names of 28,000 Taiwanese and 21,000 Korean soldiers, most of whom were forced into service under Japan's colonial rule.

The Japan Times repeated those words, but chose to present a different headline and a lead:

Yasukuni war criminals have paid for crimes: Su

Su Chin-chiang, a Taiwanese member of a proindependence party who visited Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine earlier this week, said the Class-A war criminals enshrined there have paid for their crimes with their deaths.  Su made the remark Monday in Tokyo, hours after visiting the shrine. He is chairman of the Taiwan Solidarity Union, an opposition party and occasional strategic partner of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party.

As is easy to imagine, there are quite a few people in Taiwan who are unhappy, especially relatives of those who were conscripted to fight and died for the Japanese.  

In Taipei, Aboriginal legislator Kao-Chin Su-mei (高金素梅) angrily objected to Shu's pilgrimage.  "Japan launched over 160 battles to destroy Taiwan's Aboriginal tribes during its 51-year colony on the island," he said in a statement.  "We strongly protest the TSU visiting the Yasukuni Shrine," he said. "It is already an insult to Taiwan's Aboriginal people that our soldiers were enshrined there."

The above is a bizarre paragraph, because it misidentified the gender of Kao-Chin Su-mei.  

Not everyone is unhappy.  For example, it seems fine with former President Lee Teng-hui, whose elder brother, Takenori Iwasato, is enshrined in Yasukuni as a seaman first class killed in action in the Philippines on Feb. 15, 1945.

In any case, when Shu returned to Taipei, he was greeted by protestors throwing eggs (The Peninsula):

A group of Taiwan lawmakers who visited a controversial war shrine in Tokyo, where some convicted Japanese war criminals are honoured, was pelted with eggs by protesters on their return to Taipei on Tuesday night.

A dozen angry protesters shouted "Traitor!" and waved placards that said "Get out of Taiwan" as Taiwan Solidarity Union Chairman Su Chin-chiang and other members from his party walked into the Chiang Kai-shek airport's greeting hall.

"I want to tell everyone that our visit has nothing at all to do with militarism," Su told reporters, after an egg hit him on the left side of his head.  "In my eyes, the Yasukuni Shrine is a symbol of Japan's culture, beliefs and history, and has nothing to do with the militarism that the outside world talks about."

If only this was all there is.  On April 6, things went further downwards (see Taiwan Times):

Minister of Education Tu Cheng-sheng (杜正勝) ... told the legislature that the TSU was right to visit to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo and pay respects to the Taiwanese soldiers buried there.

But the now correctly identified Ms. Kao-Chin Su-mei said in Taipei Times:

"During the colonial reign of the Japanese in Taiwan, many Aboriginals were massacred -- during the Mutanse incident (牡丹社事件) and the Wushe Incident (霧社事件). Tu is a scholar of history, yet he has grossly misinterpreted history. He should step down and take responsibility," Chin said as protesters chanted the slogan "Tu Cheng-sheng, step down!"

The Wushe Incident occurred in 1930 when over 300 Aboriginals violently protested against Japanese colonial rule.  In the Mutanse Incident of 1874 -- which took place before the Japanese colonial era began in 1895 -- Japan took punitive action against Aboriginals over the murder of Okinawan sailors.

Chin later delivered a letter to [Premier] Hsieh at the legislature requesting Tu's resignation, saying that the minister's inappropriate remarks damaged the Cabinet's image.

If only this was all there is.  On April 7, things took an even deeper dive (see ChineseNewsNet):

It began at the meeting of the Education and Culture Committee of the Legislature, when People First Party legislator Lee Ching-hua accused the Minister of Education of misspeaking and demanded him to apologize and resign; he also accused the Minister for offending the "comfort women" and demanded an apology to those women.

Lee Ching-hua then went on a tirade against Tu's statements, accusing him of betraying the people.  "Are you going to resign?"  Tu wanted to speak to Lee, but Lee simply went on repeating "You are shameless!" and asking for a resignation and apology from "Japan's Minister of Education."

Meanwhile Tu kept repeating, "Lee Ching-hua is debasing the parliament building!" and so they went back and forth, ignoring the chairman's request to stop.  In total, Lee Ching-hua used "shameless" between twenty to thirty times.

If only this was all there is.  The TSU would proceed to dig a massive hole as they rose to defend the Minister of Education (see ChineseNewsNet)

TSU Legislator Tseng Tsan-teng ( 曾燦燈) said, "There were more than 28,000 Japanese soldiers of Taiwanese origin at the Yakusuni Shrine, and the actual number is 30,303.  We should welcome these souls back to Taiwan and set up a heroes' shrine for them.  Tu Cheng-sheng was wonderful in speaking the truth."

Tseng attacked People First Party lawmaker Lee Ching-hua (李慶華) for not being a history scholar, and therefore he did not understand these histories nor the fact that there were two kinds of "comfort women" -- those who volunteered to go and these account for eight out of ten "comfort women."

TSU caucus whip Lo Chih-ming (羅志明) also said that there are two kinds of "comfort women", one kind is like the "831" who sold themselves openly.

Now this was disastrous because they brought out some surviving "comfort women."  Whereas politicians can slap each other around silly, it would be morally repugnant for politicians to attack these survivors.  This would be a one-way slap-down (see ChineseNewsNet).

Two surviving "comfort women" came out to curse the TSU for not helping them to file suit against the Japanese and instead paying tribute at the Yakusuni Shrine.

One 80-year-old woman said that her entire life was ruined by Japanese soldiers, who would beat and abuse them whenever they felt like.  Her own left eardrum was torn from a slap by a Japanese soldier, and she lost her hearing from then on.  She wants the TSU to look inside their hearts and think about the tragic lives of these old women.

Tears were swelling in the eyes of the 84-year-old woman, who thought about what contempt other people will have for the Taiwanese for going to the shrine.  These women have fought legal battles for decades, but the TSU had no sympathy for them and chose to pay tribute at the shrine.  She said angrily: "What benefit is there to suck the pricks of the Japanese like this?" 「這樣捧日本人的LP,到底有何好處」

If the TSU is smart, this is the time to stay low for a while.  The hole is deep enough already.  It is a no-win situation with a slugfest against the victims themselves.

Footnote: An explanation of "831" (="military paradise")

For decades, more than 100,000 Republic of China soldiers were posted in the outer islands of Kinmen and Matsu, both for defensive purposes as well as under the hope of invading and taking back China.  At the time, the Ministry of Defense set up a number of so-called "831 military paradises" which were in effect official brothels.  The soldiers paid an entry fee of 13 local dollars (and 26 dollars for officers).  There would be rows of numbered photos of the girls on the wall, and the soldiers would get in line to wait for their turns.

The women were mostly former 'teahouse' ladies.  Since 'teahouses' were illegal sex-related operations, the women were often arrested by the police and then offered a choice of jail time or working at Kinmen/Matsu.  The "831" workers came 'voluntarily' by signing a contract.  When the contractual term expires, they have the option to renew or quit.  Thus, in that sense, this was different from the forced conscription of "comfort women" by Japan.

In Li Ao's book "Chinese Sexology", he characterized the "military paradises" as "meat markets."  Each woman has a minimum daily quota.  On pay day or holidays, each woman is expected to receive thirty to forty clients, with special awards if they can receive more than fifty.

In 1992, a legislator named Chen Shui-bian, who would later become the president, requested the Ministry of Defense to abolish these "military paradises."  Thus ended a piece of sordid history.

The abolition of the "military paradises" must surely be based upon a consideration of human dignity.  One Matsu sex worker married an officer, but she never stepped outside of her home for many years afterwards.  She was too ashamed to meet anyone, since practically all the soldiers there had purchased her ticket.  If you were on the street and you realized that everyone had patronized you before, it must be intolerable!

Now, for the ups.

How much should you charge for something?  As much as the market can bear, even if the price seems obscene.  For example, look at the case of sport stars in the United States.  Do you think that a baseball pitcher is worth $10 million per year?  Of a basketball player is worth $20 million per year?  But the market is willing to pay them those kinds of money.  So all power to them!

The price-setter is the famous kidnap-for-random artist known as Chang Hsi-ming (張錫銘), also known as the most wanted man in Taiwan.  His prior record included:

These are astronomical numbers.  While the demands are highly publicized (possibly false rumors), it is not clear if Chang always gets the money since the families will stay mum.  But the way, Chang is generous in that he always promises that he will never bother the same family again if the random is paid.

On March 20, 2005, an individual named Yu Ko-chu (于國柱) was kidnapped by three armed men believed to be members of Chang Hsi-ming's gang while driving on a freeway to Kaohsiung.

How much was the ransom demand?  First of all, it depends on the ability to pay.  So who is Yu Ko-chu anyway?  Apple Daily gives his resumé:

Name: Yu Ko-chu
Age: 44
Education: Secondary school
Prior convictions: Gambling, weapons
1989 opened a restaurant in Taichung with computerized betting
1993 opened a professional gambling den that introduced baccarat to Taiwan; he was arrested.
1993 opened a satellite television betting game, in which players can watch the live action from Las Vegas casinos and place side bets
2000 opened the Baoying website to accept soccer betting in China; in early 2005, the Chinese Public Security Bureau arrested almost 600 members of the operation and confiscated nearly 500 million RMB in assets.  However, this does not affect the operation of this overseas website at all, which is estimated to rake in as much as 100 million RMB (or NT$400 million) per day, with two to three times as much on Saturdays and Sundays.  Over the five year history, it is estimated that the profits have been as much as 100 billion RMB (or 400 NT$400 billion).

With that as the background, you will appreciate that the opening ransom demand was NT$4 billion.

Given Yu's unusual background, it was only natural that the family would seek help from 'influential' parties.  Thus, a Godfather-class gangster was brought in to mediate.  There are two versions about what happened -- that is, either NT$300 million or NT$500 million had been paid.  Obviously, the family could not be going to the bank and taking truckloads of cash as the police was sure to be watching.  Instead, it is believed that the money was wired from Yu's operation in China to a designated bank account in China.

What happened next?  Eighteen days after the kidnapping, Yu showed up in a rural part of Tainan and claimed that he had 'escaped' from his kidnappers and that no ransom had been paid.  That is the cover story, but nobody is going to believe that.

The bigger residual problem is that this is a case of rising expecations.  What will be the price for the next ransom?  Nowhere to go but up.