Thursday, January 16, 2014

Disgrace in Academia - Smearing of a Democracy Icon

Yesterday, at the University Administrative Meeting, the National Cheng Kung University’s administrative committee dismissed the name “Nylon Square or the Southern Bayan Square (南榕廣場)” for the newly finished plaza at the University – the reason being “Nylon Square” was too political.  In all, 3521 students voted in the plaza-naming event sponsored by the University, and 971 students voted to have “Nylon Square” as the name for the new plaza.

The student’s decision to put “Nylon Square” as one of the names in the lot was straightforward.  Nan-Jung “Nylon” Deng was a democracy advocate.  More specifically, as the editor-in-chief of the Freedom Era Weekly (自由時代周刊), founded by Deng in 1984, Deng was particularly active in his quest to promote “100% freedom of expression”. 

Deng received indictment papers for “Attempting to Commit Treason (涉嫌派亂罪)” from the Taiwan High Prosecutor’s Office in January 21st, 1989 for publishing then-Constitutional scholar Ko Sei-kai’s (許世楷) “Draft for New Taiwan Constitution (新台灣憲法草案)”.   At the time, advocates of Taiwan independence can still be charged under criminal code no.100 of the “Treason Punishment Act (懲治叛亂條例),” as the Kuomintang government still yet to abolish the “Period of National Mobilization to Suppress Community Movement (動員戡亂時期)”. After seventy-one days of barricading himself in his magazine’s office, Deng self-immolated when the police tried to smoke him out with fire and attempted to force their way into Deng’s office to arrest him.  Deng’s sacrifice is now regarded as one of the most seminal moments of Taiwan’s democratization.

Apparently, the administrators and some participants of the administrative meeting at the National Cheng Kung University, where Nylon Cheng once attended, disagreed.  The University President refused to admit the school’s refusal to acknowledge the votes from the student is undemocratic and warrants an apology.  He further joked that it doesn’t matter what the plaza is called, as some people still refer to “Liberty Square” as the “Chiang Kai-shek Memorial”, there is nothing preventing the students from calling the plaza “Nylon Square,” even if the name was dismissed.

What was even more appalling was the rant of history professor, Wang Wen-hsia (王文霞).  While claiming she’s been teaching 19th century European history, Wang described the naming controversy as a failure of education in history.  Wang expressed her doubts on Deng’s contribution to Taiwan’s democratization, arguing that Deng wasn’t the only one responsible for advocating freedom of press.  Wang further compared Deng’s self-immolation to that of a “Muslim Suicide Bomber (伊斯蘭的炸彈客)” and depict Deng’s behavior as someone throwing a tantrum after not getting what he wanted, like a young man who decided to commit suicide after his girlfriend left him, or a child who kills his parents after his parents refused him money.  Wang then argued Deng’s self-immolation is anti-democratic and demonstrated Deng’s lack of respect to life.

After reading the transcript of Wang’s rant and listening to the recording (From 19:40) of her tone, I was left appalled and flabbergasted. Wang claimed historical inaccuracies to the other meeting participants' presentation of what happened to Deng on the faithful day of April 7th, 1989, yet she provides no clarification or evidence otherwise.  She also attempt to cast doubt on whether the police did use fire tactic to force Deng from his office.  Wang further criticized students and society in general for not understanding the values of democracy and contended Deng’s behavior was violent and also an escape to the problems he was facing.

Wang’s reference the “Muslim Suicide Bomber” reflects her own ignorance to Middle Eastern politics, the Islamic religion, colonialism and the roots of suicide bombing.  It is essentially prejudice and racist.  I am not even sure if Wang even understood the extent to which individuals who decide to give the ultimate sacrifice arrive such decision for a cause they considered so important to the collective.  The light-hearted, half-joking tone when she said, “He’s just like those suicide bombers mah~” said it all.  It was also a demonstration of her own arrogance, callousness and disregard to Deng’s surviving family members.

Then, there was political science professor Jaung Fwi-taur (莊輝濤), who said “academia shouldn’t involve itself in ‘political conflicts’.” 

All this left me wondering, if academia is supposed to be neutral and shouldn’t involve itself in political conflicts as Mr. Jaung claimed, then what is the point to even have a political science department at NCKU?  The field of political science IS all about conflicts - from Constitutionalism to Public Policy, Public Administration to International Relations and Comparative Politics and even Political Philosophy.  Theories of Political Science are derivation of clashes of tradition, class struggles, and confrontation between states, individuals and agencies.  For someone who supposedly is a teacher of political science to deliver such comment, one has to wonder what is he teaching to his students in his classes then?

It is good to see the students of NCKU, with support and along with students from other universities and faculty members have been and are fighting back.  An alumni took down the characters for “Retrocession” last week on the NCKU’s Kuang-Fu campus to demonstrate the term “retrocession” is also a political term devised by the Kuomintang government to demonstrate Taiwan’s return to the Motherland, China.   Students also advocated the removal of Zhong-Zheng Statium (中正堂), as Zhong-Zheng is the name of Chiang Kai-shek, who did commit mass murders in both China and in Taiwan. 

As upsetting as some of the comments from the NCKU administrative meeting were, the positive aspects from the plaza naming controversy at NCKU is that it brought the authoritarian apologists to the surface and let the public hear them through their own mouths.  The controversy created a platform for youths and the general public to learn or revisit Taiwan’s political history, her difficult journey to democracy and those who sacrificed their lives and personal freedom to make it happen.

An university is a place of challenge, a place for students and faculty to exchange ideas and to cultivate breakthrough.  The idea that politics should be kept off campus goes complete contradictory to the existence of an university, and it is simply stupid. 

Visitors pay their respect to Nylon Deng at the Deng Liberty Foundation on the day of Deng's death

Nylon Deng's office was kept in the condition after his self-immolation

An older visiter of the Deng Liberty Foundation speaking to a student about democratization of Taiwan