Second-class citizens

I usually try to be calm and rational when I write.  This post is raw, emotional, and personal.

Every so often, someone will ask me if I am an ROC citizen or if I want to apply to become one.  I usually give some polite and evasive answer.  The question is usually meant as a complement, and they would be startled and perhaps offended by the real answer.  I am not a citizen, and I don’t have any plans to become one.  One reason is that I have no desire to stop being an American citizen.  Another reason is that, no matter how much I think I am a part of Taiwanese society, I see little indication that Taiwanese society would ever accept me as a full member.  Taiwanese often talk about embracing globalization, building a pluralistic society, and welcoming immigrants, but these are usually empty chatter.


A few days ago, the media gave a tiny bit of coverage to the case of Wu Tsui-heng (武翠姮).  Wu, who is originally from Vietnam, came to Taiwan in 2005 for work, married a Taiwanese man in 2006, got ROC citizenship in 2010, and gave up her Vietnamese citizenship.  She had an extramarital affair, and her husband divorced her in 2011.  This week the government notified her that it was cancelling her citizenship because her extramarital affair violated the requirements for morality as stated in the Nationality Law.  It also cancelled the citizenship of her two young daughters.  Since the two daughters are in Vietnam and Wu is in Taiwan and none of them have valid passports, they are forcibly separated.

You can read more about this case … in very few places.  Michael Cole has the only English report I’ve seen.  The Taipei Times hasn’t written about it at all.  Apparently, cases of cancelled citizenship are of no interest to that newspaper’s readership.  If you read Chinese, google her name.

There are so many things that infuriate me about this case.  The anti-Vietnamese racism, the callous disregard for human rights, the legally legitimized gender discrimination, the indifference of the broader society…  (I waited three days to see if my anger would fade.  It hasn’t.)

On a more personal level, this case cuts me deeply.  I first came to Taiwan in 1989 and spent nearly 15 years on this island.  I have an advanced degree from a Taiwanese university, I hold a very good job (as a pseudo civil servant) at Academia Sinica, and I am married to a Taiwanese woman.  Taiwan is my home; my personal future is deeply entangled with Taiwan’s collective future.  That’s why this story hurts so much.  It sends a loud and clear message to all foreigners: You will never be a full part of this society.  Even if you are legally admitted to the society, you will always be a second-class citizen.  Why the hell would I ever want to be a second-class citizen?

What do I mean by second-class citizen?  When a “real” citizen breaks the law, there may be consequences.  Maybe there is a fine or a jail term.  When a naturalized citizen breaks the law, apparently she gets stripped of her citizenship.  That is not equality under the law.  In this case, Wu didn’t even break any law.  It’s not illegal to have an extramarital affair.  (Let me clarify, I don’t know if it is illegal or not.  There may be some law on paper.  However, it is not enforced in practice.  As all the media reports have pointed out, the Minister of the Interior had an affair and not only did he not get charged with a crime, he was appointed to oversee the law enforcement system.  So let’s just agree that it isn’t illegal for normal people to have an affair.)  So for doing something that isn’t illegal, Wu and her daughters were sentenced to become international orphans.  So if I were to obtain ROC citizenship, would good would it be?  Would it be revoked if I got a speeding ticket, or someone sued me for libel for an offhand comment in my blog, or if I didn’t report expenses properly on a National Science Council grant?  If those seem like unlikely things to lose your citizenship over, please reread the part about Miss Wu losing her citizenship for something even less serious.

(Before someone objects that the state has a legitimate interest in preventing fraud, let’s think about that.  No one has suggested that the original marriage was a fraud.  She had an affair and the marriage fell apart, but having a failed marriage is not a crime.  In fact, the explanation from the Interior Ministry was not that she used a fake marriage to illegally obtain citizenship, but that she had demonstrated poor morals.  What are poor morals?  Well, I think that clause is intended to prevent women from coming to Taiwan and working as prostitutes.  That fact that Miss Wu did nothing of the sort is apparently unimportant.  She had an affair!  What a whore!)

This is not a blue or green issue.  Most of the (very few) media reports have seized the irony of Minister Lee’s own extramarital affair to suggest that he should step down.  Of course they are more interested in who is scoring political points at the moment, but I have no illusions that the DPP would be any better on this question.  Theoretically, they welcome people like Miss Wu to become ROC citizens so they can talk about New Taiwanese and constructing a pluralistic society with some non-Chinese roots.  In practice, the DPP has strong tendencies toward Hoklo chauvinism that prevent them from building effective bridges to aboriginal voters, much less Southeast Asian immigrants.  More importantly, the DPP is terrified of the large numbers of brides from China.  Establishing precedent to expel Chinese immigrants isn’t exactly harming the DPP’s interests.


As an ROC citizen, Miss Wu deserves fair treatment before the law.  When you become a citizen, you make a commitment to your new state.  No less importantly, the state makes a commitment to its new citizen.  That new citizen should be given the full rights that every other citizen enjoys.  Article 7 of the ROC constitution states, “All citizens of the Republic of China, irrespective of sex, religion, race, class, or party affiliation, shall be equal before the law.”  The government has clearly ignored that mandate in this case.  Some people (immigrants? Women? ethnic Vietnamese?) are clearly less equal than others.  If she can’t expect equal treatment, why should I?  The next time someone asks me if I am or want to become a citizen, I might be more forthright.  At least my status as a foreign resident is honest; Miss Wu’s citizenship was a lie.


15 Responses to “Second-class citizens”

  1. Brian Says:

    Adultery is still a criminal offence on Taiwan, regardless of how archaic or unenforced that law may be so I’m afraid I can’t, “just agree that it isn’t illegal for normal people to have an affair”. It is, just normal people are rarely prosecuted for it. As an incomer to that society, the emphasis was on her to adhere to the laws of her adopted home just as it would be in the US or any other western society.

    A native born RoC citizen presents a different penal problem from a naturalised one in that their roots and family are on the island and so stripping them of citizenship and sending them to effective exile brings with it an inevitable severing of family ties that is not the case in a foreign-born one.

    Whether or not the punishment is proportional to the crime, the principles that ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse’ and ‘if you can’t do the time then don’t do the crime’ apply.

  2. Shang-Hung Chang Says:

    please accept my apologies

  3. Stripe Says:


    If you commit adultery something much worse than disenfranchisement should happen to you.

  4. Chris Says:

    I understand your anger and even though you describe the post as raw, emotional and personal it takes nothing away from your reasoning. Being a foreigner in Taiwan myself, even though for not nearly as long as you have been and, I assume, not nearly as literate in Mandarin and as integrated or well versed in Taiwan’s culture, I am shocked to read this news.
    The only thing that I could imagine to be omitted in your account of the affair are legal technicalities. Could there for example be a legal requirement for a marriage granting permanent citizenship to a spouse to last for at least X years to not have the citizenship revoked after a breakup? (I know that in other countries a marriage or civil partnership has to have lasted for a certain period of time to allow citizenship to be granted to a spouse, so this would not be so different.) Though this would not better the injustice committed against Ms Wu in any way. Moreover, whenever someone is prosecuted for moral rather than legal trespasses or when the difference of morality and legality is blurred, without an explicit definition of moral conduct given within the law, that is a gaping loophole for those in power to interpret morality however they want to prosecute whoever they want. This should not be the case in a democratic system with a well thought through legal codex.
    Could this be a special, nevertheless shocking case in a wider context of inequality before the law/unequal enforcement of laws on Taiwan (which seems to have increased after Ma came to power, as I infer from thefareasternsweetpotato blog posts), maybe because of a vengeful, well connected husband?
    Is/was the DPP any better in that respect? I’d like to know more about what you call their “Hoklo chauvinism”.
    Also: “complement”->compliment
    “…, would good would it be?”->…, what good would it be?
    (I point out these typos, because I fear theyes could possibly undermine your argument in the eyes of some readers)

  5. Paolo Says:

    I come from a third world country and currently studying in Taiwan. When I first came here, I thought this place could be my new home, I could settle here. But the longer I stayed, it became clear to me that although life is harder back home, it is still a place that would welcome me in open arms.

    I’ve read from somewhere that Taiwan is still far from becoming a truly global society because people here are homogeneous. They practically come from the same race (except the 0.0001 % aborigines). They have not experienced what a multiracial society is like, unlike the US.

    • frozengarlic Says:

      Paolo, please don’t get the wrong idea about my feelings for Taiwan. This is generally a very friendly society, and I am very happy to have made it my home. The reason that I am so angry is that I expect better from it. If I were just a visitor and an observer, I’d simply accept the society as it is. Every society is imperfect in some ways, and there are many ways in which I prefer Taiwan to my other home country (the USA). As Taiwan internationalizes, it is changing. Little kids (and sometimes older people) used to shout “hello, hello, hello” or “外國人, 外國人, 外國人” at me as I walked down the street. That hasn’t happened in a long time. With more (non-Han) people becoming citizens, Taiwan is adjusting its definitions of citizenship and society. It is moving too slowly for my tastes, but it is slowly moving.

      By the way, aborigines make up about 1.5-3.0% of the population, depending on how you count.

      • Peter Dunstan Says:

        I’m in your boat too. My son, though Taiwanese, will be called “foreigner” for much of his life in Taiwan. I, though Australian, will be called American for much of my life there.

        I find even the term “外國人” telling, particularly in that it is used by Chinese speakers abroad to refer to any non-Chinese locals (despite these ‘foreigner’ locals actually being inside their own country). I guess it just depends on which 國 is being referred to in that phrase.

        The ‘in the group’ and ‘not in the group’ sentiments and behaviours are so strong. ‘The group’ is expanding, and like you say, members of it are very friendly towards members of particular other groups (e.g. Australians, Americans), but broad openness and consistency have a long way to go. There is much to love about Taiwan, and much to do.

  6. Douglas Says:

    Hi, 容許我以中文發言. 潛水多年, 第一次發言.


    工作的關係, 會接觸到許多有中/越/馬/菲的本人與配偶, 中間有多少以結婚是否為真, 這個案例的族群本質大為不同, 有許多台面下不為人道的fraudulent情事.

    事實上這份新聞的文宣幾乎如出一份原稿, 似乎為熟悉媒體操作的人所為.

    根據版主資訊, 2005來臺工作, 2006與國人陳君結婚

    來源1: 頻果日報新聞:
    1. 2007年產下一女, 陳男因女兒長得不像他起疑
    2. 2010年(99年) 進行親子鑑定, 陳男確認女兒非其親生, 隔年訴請離婚獲准。

    來源2: 行政院決定書

    0. 武氏/范君在越南即已相識
    1. 武氏來臺從事藍領工作 (2005年),擅自離開工作場所行方不明,而遭管制入境
    2. 武氏與國人陳君結婚解除管制 (2006年)
    3. (2009) 98年9月間取得我國國籍 (因與國人陳君結婚)
    4. (2011) 100年6月間經法院調解離婚
    5. (2012) 101年2月9日在越南辦理結婚登記
    6. (2012) 101年3月起迭次向駐越南代表處申請結婚文件證明及范君來臺居留簽證
    7. (2012) 101年3月9日、7月20日及11月21日面談: 認定本案婚姻真實性仍有疑慮

    * 如果武氏沒有反覆提范君來臺居留事宜, 或許事情會不同
    * 武氏來台工作不到一年即遭管制入境, 但又旋即與陳君結婚解除管制?
    * 接著陸續產下2女(皆為越南范君之女), 陳男起疑, 但卻在2009取得國籍後才在2010進行親子鑑定?
    * 這份親子鑑定報告最重要是拿來主張證明武氏/范君育有2女, 拿來申請范君居留簽證

  7. frozengarlic Says:

    Douglas, thanks for the detailed reply.

    I have seen a few suggestions in recent days that people suspect that fraud may have been involved. However, at least according to media reports, the government’s official reason for cancelling her citizenship was “morals,” not fraud. If they can prove that the original marriage was fraudulent, they should directly state that. If they don’t then I must assume they do not have sufficient evidence to determine that the marriage was a fraud.

    A second point is that the government should make these determinations BEFORE granting citizenship. I don’t know why she was able to get citizenship so quickly. She got citizenship about 3 years after her marriage; I have to wait 5 years to even apply for permanent residence status. However, once you get citizenship, the ROC demands that you give up any other citizenships. This is a major commitment from the person, and the ROC should resolve any doubts before this step is taken. Once it is taken, the ROC should not be able to change its mind on a whim.

    Becoming stateless is no joke. Think of all the things you can’t do without an official ID. You can’t travel, work, open a bank account, rent an apartment, register in a hotel, apply for membership to Carrefour, get a credit card, send your kids to school, and so on. In fact, without ID, the police can arrest you at any time. (In the USA, there are wings of federal prisons full of people who have not committed any crime and can’t be returned to their original country for various reasons but who also do not have proper US papers.) Minister Lee said that Miss Wu can apply to reinstate her Vietnamese citizenship. However, once you give up citizenship, countries are not eager to give it back. They often look at those people as unpatriotic traitors. Lee has no way of guaranteeing that Vietnam will undo the damage that the ROC has tempted Miss Wu into. She can’t simply go “home” again.

  8. frozengarlic Says:

    The Taipei Times published an editorial on this case today.

  9. Douglas Says:

    I think you are right in the issue of 3 or 5 years. By reviewing the Nationality Act, there’s no way for 武氏 to get nationality in 3 years. The date of 2009 Sep in 行政院決定書 should be the date of applying “準歸化中華民國國籍證明”.

    That is not clearly written in the Nationality Act Article 6.
    5 or 3 consecutive years are all referred.

    I cannot find a copy of “台內戶字第1020136345號函”.

    If “morality” is the officially declared reason in that document, the government is really stupid in dealing a potential fraud.

    However, it is quite difficult to have enough evidence in true frauds. Middlemen +/- spouse are usually deeply involved in those cases.

    Getting back to this case in 9 steps required for obtaining ROC nationality:
    1. 結婚登記 (this case, 2006)
    2. 申請居留簽證
    3. 申請外僑居留證
    4. 申請”準歸化中華民國國籍證明”: 3或5年合法居留達183日以上. (this case, 2009 Sep)

    5. 申請喪失原屬國國籍
    6. 申請歸化國籍
    7. 申請臺灣地區居留證
    # We can safely assumed a couple of months are needed to go through step 5 to step 7.

    8. 申請臺灣地區定居證: minimal requirement: 自核准居留之日起, 連續居住一年
    # We can assume this case cannot apply for permanent residence status earlier than first half of 2011.

    9. 申請戶籍登記及請領國民身分證

    陳男 and 武氏’s divorce was taken place in June, 2011. The time point is too close between the divorce and getting her nationality. Moreover, 陳男 did not sue 武氏. 陳男 got his compensation of NTD 300K. Weird case.

    The government blundered by not finding solid evidence and dealing this case logically.

  10. Jenny Says:

    I first came to Taiwan on a Taiwanese visa issued by the Taiwan office in the Philippines in 1996. I have been living in Taiwan for 16 years and all this time I’ve only had a Taiwanese passport. It took me several years before I realized I was stateless because having a Taiwanese passport meant that you are a national (which I think counts for very little) and not a citizen (which apparently I had no way of applying to become until very recently). In order to QUALIFY to become a citizen, I have to have worked in Taiwan for seven consecutive years (and leave for a visa run every six months). So here’s why it sucks to be stateless with a Taiwanese passport:
    – people don’t quite recognize you as being stateless
    – you can’t visit some countries (so far I’ve been denied entry to HK, China, Macau, Thailand, and the US)
    – you need a Taiwanese visa in your Taiwanese passport to enter Taiwan (and you have to get the visa from a Taiwan office outside of Taiwan)
    – you don’t qualify for scholarships for locals
    – you don’t qualify for scholarships for foreigners
    – you’re taxed as a foreigner
    – you have to leave for a visa run every six months
    – you can’t get an ID
    – you can’t get an ARC

    I have been trying to fix my situation for years but I’m still far away from a solution. Mostly because I don’t really know where to start.

  11. pinyinnews Says:

    This travesty was up for review, so they could have fixed it. But no.

  12. Whitey’s up to no good again - Synapticism Says:

    […] Ah, but I am setting things up for a bit of a plot twist: it isn’t always about white people. Actually, given that westerners are a distinct minority among foreigners in Taiwan, we would do well to replace “white” with “non-Taiwanese” when discussing these issues. Broadly speaking, westerners typically make more than the average Taiwanese while working fewer hours, but the situation is entirely reversed for the vast majority of other foreign residents—most of them from Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand ประเทศไทย, and the Philippines. We hear little from the other side of this privilege gap in English language media for what should be obvious reasons—but we would do well to remember that systemic racism against foreigners in Taiwan is far more severe for non-westerners. […]

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