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.