Archive for November, 2015

Campaign Trail: KMT event in Taipei 3

November 30, 2015

This morning Mrs. Garlic and I went to downtown Taipei to watch Chiang Wan-an 蔣萬安 open his campaign headquarters. Chiang is, of course, the great-grandson of Chiang Kai-shek, the grandson of Chiang Ching-kuo, and the son of (former Foreign Minister and KMT Secretary-General) John Chiang. Chiang Wan-an is running in Taipei 3, his father’s old district. I had not seen the youngest Chiang in person, so I was interested to see how polished and charismatic he seemed.

Chiang Wan-an will probably win this race. A few months ago, it looked like the DPP would nominate city councilor Liang Wen-chieh 梁文傑, and Liang would have been a tough opponent. Liang (probably) would have run a campaign about privilege vs personal achievement, seeking to paint Chiang as another spoiled prince like Sean Lien. This looked like it was going to be one of the highest profile races in the country, and given the current national trends there is a chance that the DPP might have stolen this historically KMT district. However, opposition elder Lin Yi-hsiung ruined this by demanding space for small parties and eventually forcing Liang to withdraw. The DPP did not nominate a candidate, and the green vote is now split between two lackluster candidates. Chiang is cruising to a quiet win. I think this might go down in history as the time when Lin Yi-hsiung saved the Chiang family. Wouldn’t that be ironic?

Most of these events are held in a parking lot, a school field, or some other big empty space. This one was held on a major street. They blocked off two lanes of traffic on Songjiang Rd, and had an overflow area on the sidewalk. (Amusingly, there was a car still parked on the side of the road right near the stage when the event started. The owner finally showed up to drive away about 45 minutes after the event started. I’ve never seen that before.) About 2000 people were there. It wasn’t heavily mobilized; about half of the people came as part of a group. By the normal standards of these events, it was a fairly young crowd. It was also quite enthusiastic, especially for a KMT crowd this year. Mrs. Garlic was impressed by how wealthy the crowd seemed. The woman standing in front of her was decked out in expensive jewelry, and the number of elegant-looking people was substantially higher than you normally see at these types of events. Afterward I was chatting with a random person who handed me his name card. He was in the yacht business. Taipei 3 is one of the richer areas of Taiwan, but this crowd was wealthy even by those standards.

The host of the event was a TV celebrity, and he had no idea how to run an outdoor campaign rally. There were lots of awkward pauses, and he wasn’t good at building an atmosphere. He also didn’t understand priorities in introducing VIPs. At campaign-launching events, you need to recognize your core campaign team to make them feel valuable. You also need to let their people know you are about to recognize them. When you introduce someone, you say their position first (and draw it out as long as possible) before stating their name. Ideally, you would say something like, “From Songjiang Li, our Songjiang Neighborhood head, Chen Chien-kuo, Chen Chien-kuo Neighborhood head!” This gives everyone a second to realize what’s going on so they can stand up and all their people can clap for them. The host today introduced a lot of people as “Chen Chien-kuo … Neighborhood head.” And that was it. He did it with a couple of city councilors, too, which is even worse. City councilors are important cogs in your organizational network, and you need to give them as much face as possible. Hosting a political rally is a skill, and it drives me nuts to see people trust amateurs with that job just because they are celebrities.

I wasn’t that impressed with Chiang’s roster of local volunteers. When I went to Zhonghe for Chang Ching-chung’s 張慶忠 rally, they had neighborhood chief after neighborhood chief. It took over five minutes (maybe ten) to run through them all. Chiang Wan-an had far, far fewer. In fact, he introduced far more neighborhood secretaries and party bosses than (popularly elected) neighborhood chiefs. The Chiang campaign also didn’t have nearly as many support organizations as most KMT candidates have, or at least they didn’t parade them up on stage. For a likely winner, Chiang’s organization struck me as surprisingly weak.

Chiang Wan-an was one of the first speakers. He struck me as a raw but promising politician. He has the warmth and outgoing personality to connect with a crowd, but he is still learning his way with the microphone. Electoral politics is difficult; you don’t become a master in just a few months. His speech was mostly fluff. In political science terms, he emphasized valence issues. A valence issue is something that everyone is for. We all want a better economy, happy citizens, and earnest politicians. He talked about how hard he has campaigned, how much he has learned, and how much he wants to help seniors, women, and children. He steered away from controversial issues such as One China, the KMT’s vice president, Ma Ying-jeou, and pretty much everything else relating to national politics. He wanted us to know that he is young, optimistic, and idealistic. He made a big deal out of insisting on positive campaign messages. This is all smart. He is running a front-runner’s campaign. The KMT should have a majority in this race, so all Chiang has to do is convince all of his natural supporters that he is worth supporting. As long as he is not like Sean Lien, he will probably win. The only time Chiang stepped near a dangerous topic was when he discussed his family background. He noted that some people want to label him a second generation politician (note: Nope. They want to label him as a fourth generation politician.), but he responded that he has worked hard to prepare himself for this job and he is proud of his family background and surname. I suppose he has to say something about his heritage, and this is just about the only thing he could say. Still, I hope he isn’t kidding himself. Lawyers are a dime a dozen, and everyone shakes thousands of hands. His surname is the ONLY reason he is going into the legislature.

After a couple forgettable speakers, former presidential candidate Hung Hsiu-chu showed up. I think she really liked being the presidential candidate because she made a presidential entrance. She entered from the back of the space and worked her way slowly up the central aisle like a conquering hero. This kind of entrance is reserved for the candidate and superstars, and Hung must think she is the latter. I watched the crowd as she entered. This was a deep blue crowd, so I expected that she would be treated like a pop idol. Instead, she got a rather ho hum welcome. It wasn’t cold and detached, but it certainly wasn’t crazed passion. I think Chiang Wan-an might have gotten a warmer response when he entered. Hung didn’t say anything controversial in her speech. After this week, I thought she might say something about loyalty to the KMT or hint at running for party chair. (Apparently, she let loose later in the day, attacking the KMT’s VP candidate.) However, all she did was talk about how wonderful Chiang Wan-an was. As she retires from the legislature, she is comforted to know that a new generation is ready to take over from her. At one point, she did get a little ridiculous, claiming that Chiang’s candidacy had absolutely nothing to do with his family background. He grew up just like normal people. (Note: When Chiang was an undergraduate in the department of diplomacy at NCCU, his father was foreign minister and KMT secretary-general. Somehow, I doubt Wan-an was oblivious to and completely unaffected by his father’s power and status. Maybe I’m too cynical.)

The last speaker was Eric Chu. There was a good 20 minutes between Hung’s speech and Chu’s arrival to allow her time to leave. Those two are not on the best of terms right now, and it would have been awkward if he arrived while she was still there. Chu did not make the long heroic entrance through the crowd. Instead, Chiang Wan-an chauffeured him in his car, and they drove right up on stage, something I can’t recall seeing before. This was a really nice bit of theater, though I’m not sure how many people in the audience appreciated it. Chiang Wan-an has been driving a car (with his campaign logo) around the district. When he sees someone hailing a taxi, he pulls over and offers them a free ride. During the ride, he answers their questions about his candidacy. These conversations are all recorded, and he posts the best videos on his facebook page. It’s a nice little gimmick, making him seem down to earth and accessible. I’m guessing this was also conceived as a defensive measure against attacks that he is another Sean Lien. Lien famously drove a Porsche and seemed to have no clue how regular people lived. Chiang is driving an economy car, and he is comfortable giving rides to ordinary riff-raff.

Chu gave a much more impassioned speech than I’ve seen at previous events this year. He castigated the DPP for its antagonistic attitude toward the mainland, saying they weren’t interested in constructive cross-straits relations. He spoke of the need for mutual respect and trust, and only then could the two sides realize mutual benefits. He insisted that only the KMT could properly manage the cross-straits relationship. If the DPP took power, cross-straits relations would inevitably go backwards. (Note: My memory is a big fuzzy on the specifics of Chu’s speech, so I might be missing some nuances.) Chu did not speak about his VP candidate or any specific policy proposals. He did mention food safety, expressing outrage that the courts had found the Ting-hsin bosses not guilty and demanding an appeal. He also tried to frame this constructively. The legislature would need to write new laws, and Chiang Wan-an has the legal training to write good laws to construct a better system to monitor food safety. I thought that was a bit disingenuous. The problem has never been that the laws were written by stupid or inept people. The problem is that the people writing the laws didn’t want to build a rigorous (read: expensive) monitoring system that would prevent food companies (read: political allies) from cutting corners and making large profits. Chu didn’t say anything about those sorts of motives.

When Chu finished, everyone quickly cleared out. Everyone knows that when the main speaker finishes, the event is over. (I once went to an event where the main speaker showed up early and the candidate – who was holding his first major event in his first campaign – didn’t get a chance to speak.) Everyone except the host knew it was over. He kept trying to continue the event. Apparently there were other people who still wanted to speak. They tried to persuade people there was still more, but after a couple of minutes, they finally realized it was futile and gave up.

Perhaps the most successful aspect of this event was something no one talked about. It was not at all well-funded. They held the event on a public street (read: free) rather than renting out a bigger space. They didn’t hand out baseball caps or vests to the people they mobilized. Chiang’s campaign headquarters are small and hidden away in a back alley rather than the more typical ostentatious office on a main road. If the intent was to send a quiet signal that Chiang is not obliviously wealthy like Sean Lien, it was very successful. Really, that might be the most important message of Chiang’s campaign: “I am not Sean Lien.”


Here’s a shot from the back of the space. It’s not a large space at all. We mostly stood on the sidewalk and didn’t have a great angle for taking pictures.


Chiang Wan-an rallies the faithful. He’s got a bit of natural charisma. In ten years, he’s going to be really good on the stump.



Hung Hsiu-chu gushes with praise.



Eric Chu has his say.



Chiang Wan-an’s “taxi.”


Chiang Wan-an’s parents.


Chiang Wan-an shaking hands with me. I assume the guy in the middle must be some brain dead party hack.



I coulda been a player

November 28, 2015

On November 12, I got an email that was just too much fun to ignore. It was from something called the Great Love Constitutional Reform Alliance 大愛憲改聯盟 asking me if I wanted to run for the legislature representing their party. They promised to pay the registration deposit, provide all campaign materials (posters, flags, webpage), and even pay me a salary during the campaign period. All they asked was that I support their constitutional reforms; I was free to take whatever position I liked on all other matters. How could I resist?

There is the small matter of me not being an ROC citizen, I suppose. There was also the matter of this being a mass email which I assume they sent out to everyone at Academia Sinica and probably to lots of other places. I went on their website, and it was clear to me that this party was run by some people who have no idea how constitutional reform works, much less party politics. After about five minutes of chuckles, I got tired of the Great Love Constitutional Reform Alliance and went back to work.

Two days ago, on the last day of registration (and barely two weeks after I got the email), sure enough, the Great Love Constitutional Reform Alliance showed up at various electoral commissions registering candidates. Hey, I could have been one of them! (Well, not legally.)

But you know who showed up on their party list? None other than Wu’er Kaixi 吾爾開希. That was unexpected. I thought he was sophisticated enough to know to avoid gimmick parties like this. By associating with that party, he is taking on all their prestige and gravitas. That’s not an improvement for him. Oops.






一、 誠徵宗旨:

1. 為實現你的理想你的夢、實現台灣理想台灣夢,支持《世界大同憲法標準》(草案)入憲。
2. 只要您有心為自己打造前途、為台灣打開出路,竭誠歡迎加入我們的隊伍。

二、 憲改立委的目標:


三、 誠徵條件:


四、 運作模式:

1. 有志共同參選之憲改立委,於競選期間,本黨將補貼薪資。
2. 登記選舉所需的保證金由本黨支付,競選期間的網路、海報、旗幟(共同規劃)皆由本黨提供,讓您免費選立委。
3. 參選人應在所屬提名區域作全職競選活動。
4. 有志共同參選之憲改立委,共同規劃競選策略和活動。

聯絡人:張博士 , 吳博士 大愛憲改聯盟敬上




(too many) legislative candidates register

November 28, 2015

379 candidates have registered for the 79 district and indigenous seats. This includes 356 for the 73 single seat districts, or nearly 4.9 candidates per district. In Taipei City, a whopping 63 people have registered for 8 seats. That’s nearly 8 candidates per seat. If that seems like a lot of candidates, it is. Many of these are not serious candidates. They clutter up the ballot, making it harder for voters to find the real candidates. They also slow down vote counting, raise printing costs (for the ballot and public election notice), waste bureaucrats’ time checking the candidates’ qualifications, and, worst of all :-), they force me to spend extra time whenever I construct a database.

If all the candidates really wanted to run, it would be excusable. However, many of these “extra” candidates don’t really want to run. They have registered so that their party can qualify to run a party list. According to the election law, a party can run a list if it meets one of four conditions: (1) win 2% in the previous presidential election, (2) win 2% in one of the three previous legislative elections, (3) have five incumbent legislators, or (4) runs 10 candidates in district or indigenous races. Newly established parties and minor parties almost all have to rely on the fourth method. They know they have almost no hope of winning single seat races, as those tend to be the province of the two major parties. However, in order to run a list, they have to run ten people in districts, hopeless or not.

This year, 18 lists have been registered, and six of those have qualified by one of the first three methods. That means 12 lists are relying on the fourth method. To put it another way, those 12 lists have nominated 120 district candidates, of whom about five have a prayer of winning a district seat. There are probably at least 100 extra district candidates because of the party list requirement. That’s about 1.25 extra candidates per seat.

Ironically, the election law is designed to discourage frivolous candidacies. Each candidate (or the endorsing party) is required to put down a deposit of NT200,000, and they forfeit this deposit if they do not win at least 10% of the eligible voters. Assuming 75% turnout, the threshold for getting the deposit back is 13% of all valid vote, a level that frivolous candidates rarely reach (almost by definition). In other words, you can enter the race on a whim, but it will cost you a pretty penny. The deposits are supposed to be set high enough to discourage frivolous candidates but low enough not to be a serious barrier to any realistic candidates. In elections without the party list provision, it has, in fact, worked pretty well. There are always a few hopeless candidates, but not too many.

Currently, a party that wishes to present a party list with five people on it must pay a deposit of NT3 million (10 district candidates + 5 list candidates * NT200,000). Basically, the NT2 million for the 10 district candidates is the cost of doing business. Even parties that hope to win a few party list seats know they have little hope of recovering that NT2 million in registration deposits. The requirement to find 10 eligible people adds very little to the financial deterrent.

Clearly, it is time to get rid of the fourth provision. It isn’t working, and it is arguably counterproductive by encouraging, rather than discouraging, frivolous candidacies. If the goal is to discourage frivolous party lists, a large registration deposit of NT2 million for a party list would do the job just as well as the current rule.

And if you like frivolous candidates, don’t worry. You can still have黃宏成台灣阿成世界偉人財神總統. He has registered as an independent.

Bad numbers for the KMT

November 27, 2015

We’ve gotten used to survey results showing Tsai leading the presidential race by ridiculously large margins. (Try to imagine showing yourself from 2012 a poll showing the KMT nominee trailing by a margin of 45-20. The 2012 version of yourself would have accused the 2015 version of you of blatant lying!) We’re getting used to the idea that Tsai is going to win by a comfortable amount, and I think some people are tuning out the presidential poll numbers. The real action is in the legislative races, after all. Tsai’s huge lead in the presidential polls is a reflection of her strong individual appeals and of Chu’s unreadiness and inadequacy. It doesn’t mean that the DPP is really that much more popular than the KMT, right?

I went looking for some numbers to assuage KMT fears. In particular, I went back to those presidential polls. Some of those polls added a second question, asking respondents which party list they intended to vote for. (The data are from the Wikipedia pages for the presidential and legislative elections.) If it is all about the individual popularity of Tsai and Chu, the party list vote intentions should look different from the presidential vote intentions. Chu might be miserable, but the KMT party list should probably look a bit better.

Actually, it isn’t that easy. There are a lot of smaller parties running party lists, so instead of looking at DPP and KMT, I looked at the blue and green camps. (Blue=KMT, PFP, and New; Green=DPP, TSU, and NPP; all others were excluded.) Here are the blue camp results for eight polls:

Org Date Blue president Blue party list
自由時報 10.16 26.8% 22.6%
TVBS 10.18 39.0% 38.0%
趨勢 10.24 26.7% 29.1%
世新大學 10.31 26.8% 27.9%
趨勢 11.7 30.4% 26.1%
趨勢 11.8 31.8% 31.4%
趨勢 11.14 29.7% 29.3%
自由時報 11.23 20.8% 20.6%

Support for the blue camp presidential candidates is almost exactly the same as support for the blue camp party lists. This is the case across all four polling organizations. It also holds whether the blue camps numbers were high or low. If I’m the KMT, this looks terrifying. It doesn’t seem to be the case at all that there are a lot of people who won’t vote for Eric Chu but who will vote for the KMT party list. To the extent that those people exist, they are coming from the (small) Soong camp, not the (big) Tsai camp.

Here is what the data look like on the green side:

Org Date green president Green party list
自由時報 10.16 47.0% 36.6%
TVBS 10.18 46.0% 36.0%
趨勢 10.24 48.1% 45.2%
世新大學 10.31 40.3% 39.4%
趨勢 11.7 46.7% 42.7%
趨勢 11.8 45.2% 45.0%
趨勢 11.14 48.4% 45.2%
自由時報 11.23 47.9% 41.3%

There is a bit more difference in these two columns. Since late October, Tsai has usually run about 3% ahead of all the green party lists. However, that’s still not a huge gap. There just don’t seem to be a lot of Tsai supporters whose party list votes aren’t being absorbed by one of the green camp parties.

What does this mean? When you see a presidential poll with Tsai enjoying a ridiculously large lead, don’t assume that only matters for that one single race. The presidential vote seems to reflect the broader partisan divide, at least at the party list vote level. Of course, since the presidential candidates are prominent party leaders, it might not be that surprising that many votes might decide which list to vote on based on which presidential candidate they like best. However, the KMT hopes are based on the possibility that voters see the KMT as something distinct from (and bigger and broader than) Eric Chu. They might, but that difference doesn’t seem to cross the center dividing line. Blue is blue, and green is green. Given the huge green leads in recent polls, that could be disastrous for the KMT.

Of course, what we really care about are the district races, not the party list races. The balance of power in the LY will be determined by the 79 district and indigenous seats, not the 34 list seats. In the district races, the KMT is banking on its 40 incumbents and their years of intensive constituency service to be able to cross that central dividing line. I expect that many of them will, in fact, be able to run ahead of their party. However, based on evidence from the presidential and party list polls, the central dividing line may have shifted so far in the green camp’s favor that even strong KMT local candidates could be swamped by the underlying partisan structure.


I keep searching for good news for the KMT, but I keep finding signs of an impending disaster. I just can’t seem to find any good reasons for the KMT to be optimistic.

party lists

November 26, 2015

Much has been written about the various party lists, especially the KMT list. I don’t want to repeat all of that. Yes, I agree that no one seems to know why the KMT nominated Jason Hsu 許毓仁 and that several important constituencies in the KMT are really pissed off right now. However, I want to look at the lists from a different angle.


From the mid-1990s through the mid-2000s, the KMT and DPP had very different ways of producing their party lists. The DPP generally had some sort of contested party primary, with party members voting on nominations. What this meant in practice was that each faction would determine how many people it could support in the safe section of the list and then organize its voters to vote for them. The factions registered large numbers of members for these (and other) contests, and there were often abuses. Factions were wary of allowing their members to be poached, so they kept a tight leash on members’ information. Dozens or even hundreds of members were registered at a single address, which usually turned out to be some faction organizer’s home. The faction bosses sometimes also paid their party dues, so that when it came time to vote, they could count on strict discipline. In nomination contests, faction leaders made deals across different districts. You vote for my candidate in county A, and I’ll vote for your candidate in county B plus give you 150 party list votes. Sometimes loyalty was enough to arrange these complicated deals, but sometimes they were cemented with a cash payment to the voter. Yep, that’s vote buying. It was a clear test of strength, and the factions tended to dominate the resultant party lists. Even when the DPP had three different sections for politicians, women, and experts or disadvantaged groups, the latter two groups were thinly veiled factional contests. Because the primaries took place at the same time as the district primaries, these fights tended to happen in the late spring or early summer of election years, months before the general election.

The KMT did things very differently. It tended to delegate the decision to the party leader, who usually had a committee put together a list. Of course, the leader had the final say if he wanted to exercise that right. However, the party leader didn’t have a free hand to stack the list as he wished. The list was a carefully negotiated bargain between all the different factions of the party, and the committee/leader was simply the final arbiter of the struggles. The KMT always released its list very late in the election campaign, just before the official registration period started. This forced aspirants to work hard for the party during the early and middle stages of the campaign in order to maximize their chances of getting on the list. It also prevented backlashes. If a politician found that she had been left off the list, it was typically too late to launch an independent candidacy in the district. Remember, she wouldn’t have laid any of the groundwork for a district campaign since that would have signaled the party leaders that she was disloyal and didn’t deserve a spot on the list. Moreover, since the list was only released when the final campaign was under way, it was too late to try to launch a rebellion within the party. Supporters were already focused on the party-to-party fight for the general election and would not want to expose divisions within the party. Losers simply had to accept being left off the list.

In 2012, the DPP revised its rules and moved toward the KMT system of delegating construction of the list to the party leader (who then delegated the task to a committee). There were two reasons for this change. First, the Election and Recall Law had recently been amended to extend penalties for vote-buying to cover primary elections as well as general elections. The DPP feared that the KMT would use this new provision to accuse it of vote buying in the primaries. Without reform, there was a real possibility that the DPP could go into an election with half of its list facing indictments for vote buying. That would have been both a public relations nightmare and also a governing disaster, since any conviction would strip the legislator’s seat. Second, the DPP had just gone through a vicious round of factional infighting in 2007 and 2008. By 2010 and 2011, that traumatic experience was still fresh in party members’ minds, and they did not want to go through another naked struggle for power. Delegating the task to the party leader seemed to be a better solution, especially since party chair Tsai Ing-wen did not have her own faction.

It didn’t work out very well for the DPP. The list was a balance of the various factions, and it didn’t go over very well with the general public. During the summer and early fall, there were continuous calls for the DPP to revise its list. Tsai adopted a tough line, refusing to admit there was anything wrong with the list and resisting any efforts to reopen the decision. However, the new system did not produce a list that helped the DPP win votes. This negative image was exacerbated by the glowing reviews the KMT got for its list. Chairman Ma declared he wouldn’t just hand out spoils to the various KMT factions, and he put a few activists in high positions on the list. The media was particularly smitten with the #2 legislator, disabled activist Yang Yu-hsin 楊玉欣. There was a clear contrast in images, with the KMT looking far more progressive.


Military generals are always refighting the previous war, and the KMT and DPP both tried to learn from the experience of 2012 when they put together their lists this year. In 2012, the DPP produced its list much too early. Because there was so much time before the election, the losers felt they had the space to try to reverse the outcomes. This time, Tsai copied the KMT’s traditional strategy and waited until the last possible moment to announce the party list. This worked very well. We haven’t heard much at all about the losers. This late in the campaign, they really don’t have much alternative other than to accept their disappointment and hope that there will be other opportunities to move up the career ladder in the future DPP administration.

The KMT tried to copy its successful 2012 experience. Then it was Yang Yu-hsin. This time Eric Chu looked for other social activists, and he put these high up on the list. His star selling point is Lin Li-chan 林麗蟬, an immigrant from Cambodia. By making her the first immigrant to become a legislator, Chu hoped to create an image for the KMT as a progressive, open, and tolerant party.

However, it isn’t 2012, and the KMT list isn’t selling so well this year. The KMT is so divided right now that even the late release of the list isn’t stopping a backlash by the losers. The various factions are furious, though they don’t all seem to know who they are furious at. They are working hard to keep all that anger under control during the campaign, but dissatisfaction with the list pushed that rage out into the open. Chu has quite a task to turn down the flame and put the lid back on the pot. It would be a challenge for a talented leader.

The other problem is that we can now see what happened with all those social activists from 2012. They haven’t had much success in the legislature. The problem is that simply being a legislator doesn’t mean that you have power. If you don’t have power – meaning support from a large, organized constituency preferably expressed in votes – you won’t have power in the legislator.

Taipei city councilor Liang Wen-chieh 梁文傑 has expressed this sentiment best. He writes that experts are used by political parties as decorations, but the most they can do is to provide expert questioning during the legislative process. When it comes to the actual decision-making, they have almost no influence. The idea that a mere expert could be a powerful legislator has always been a myth. In fact, if the governing party really valued their input, it could have made them cabinet ministers. It put them in the legislature precisely to marginalize their views while still appearing to value those views. As for the social activists, Liang is even more scathing. People like Yang Yu-hsin and Wang Yu-min 王育敏 are only able to help shepherd KMT bills in their areas through the legislative process and hold press conferences to act as attack dogs. People like Chen Pi-han 陳碧涵 and Lee Kuei-min 李貴敏 can’t even serve as attack dogs, and they are completely anonymous legislators.

Eric Chu has put several of these social activists on his list. The angst over whether Jason Hsu is a loyal KMT member and the praise for placing new resident Lin Li-chan on the list misses the point. Neither one of these has any political power going into the legislator, so they won’t have any once they get into it. When it comes time to make important decisions, they will be elbowed into the corner of the room while the big dogs monopolize the center stage. They are merely decorative flower vases. If the KMT really wants to advance progressive causes, it should find a real politician who holds progressive views.


This is an unrelated point, but I have not seen anyone make it yet. The #14 person on the KMT’s list is Lin Yi-hua 林奕華, who was formerly a Taipei city councilor and head of the Taipei city department of education. Chu is selling her as a regional representative, since she apparently has ties to Changhua. This is ridiculous. Lin is a Taipei-style politician, and all her career has been focused in Taipei. If the KMT really insists on sending her to Changhua for the 2018 magistrate race, she is going to get crushed. It is crazy that Chu couldn’t find a real person from central Taiwan for this spot in the list. (Or perhaps this insistence on regional representation is all a disingenuous façade.)

However, I do think Lin’s nomination is significant. She is still fairly young, and she has potential to move up. If she can get into the legislature (and #14 is no sure thing), she could then become a leading candidate for the KMT’s Taipei mayoral nomination. The current crop of KMT Taipei legislators is somewhat drab, and Lin could quickly pass them by. And since the Taipei mayor almost automatically becomes a presidential contender, you can see a path for her to the top job. It’s a very long shot, but if you want to take a bet now on the KMT’s 2028 presidential candidate, she makes more sense than most other names. Of course, this assumes that the KMT still exists in 2028. Also, Lin will have a hard time in that election, since Bi-khim Hsiao 蕭美琴 will be running for re-election.

Quick VP thoughts

November 25, 2015

I’m so far behind in writing for this blog. I have three or four topics backed up in my head, and I can’t find time to write them down. Today, a couple of quick comments on the VP nominations.

I previously wrote a meandering, unenthusiastic post about the DPP’s choice. To me, Chen is an acceptable but hardly inspiring choice. It turns out that the DPP probably did the best of the three parties.


The KMT’s choice of Wang Ju-hsuan seems to be going very badly. She is supposed to represent progressive women’s and labor constituencies, but they don’t seem very enamored of her. Labor seems particularly unhappy, and that has been exacerbated by the failure of the KMT to put a labor representative in a safe spot on their party list. However, the real problem is that she seems to have all kinds of unsavory allegations flying around her. (I keep thinking of Pigpen, from the Charlie Brown cartoons, who always had a cloud of dust and bugs swirling around him.) She has an answer for all of them, and she insists that everything is technically legal. However, technically legal isn’t the minimum standard expected of a politician. We generally want to put decent, honest people in office, not people who are smart enough to extract maximum personal benefit while remaining technically legal. Mitt Romney’s line, “I pay all the taxes I owe to the government and not a penny more” is great for a tax lawyer, but we expect our democratic representatives to have a sense of civic community. Four years ago, the DPP nominated Su Chia-chuan and his technically legal farmhouse. This year, the KMT is the side suffering the PR hit.


At first, I thought that Soong’s choice of MKT chair Hsu Hsin-ying was brilliant. By allying the two main non-KMT blue parties, the PFP-MKT alliance would set itself up as the logical landing spot for all the disaffected blue voters. This would establish them as a credible party for this election, and it would also set them up as a big, powerful block for the coming post-election bloodbath/shakeout/reshuffling on the blue side. The PFP has Soong and a block of voters. The MKT has money and a different block of supporters. This was a great alliance.

There is just one problem. They aren’t cooperating on the party lists. They are cooperating in the presidential race, and they are trying to coordinate district races so they don’t compete with one another. However, they will each have their own party list. This is the most important arena for these two parties, and they aren’t cooperating! What they hell are they thinking? In fact, by cooperating everywhere else, they are sending a message to their supporters that they are allies and those supporters should try to ensure that both of them are successful. In other words, they are effectively telling their voters to split party list votes between the two lists. Whereas before the announcement it seemed that the PFP had a chance to break the crucial 5% threshold and the MKT might only get 2-3%, now it is easy to envision them both getting 4% and wasting all their party list votes. This is lunacy! By not coordinating on the most important point, they are negating all the potential benefits of cooperating. In fact, they are probably wors

campaign trail: KMT event in Keelung

November 23, 2015

On Saturday afternoon, I drove to downtown Keelung to see Hau Lung-bin open his campaign headquarters. If you familiar with Taiwanese politics, you know all about Hau. His father, Hau Pei-tsun, was the top army general in the late 1980s, premier in the early 1990s, and the bitter factional enemy of Lee Teng-hui during the early years of democracy in Taiwan. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the elder Hau was the last bulwark of the old Chinese KMT before it had to fundamentally transform itself to adapt to survive in a democratic Taiwan. Hau Lung-pin entered politics as a New Party legislator in 1995. He served as head of the environmental protection agency (in Chen Shui-bian’s administration), won two terms as Taipei mayor, and is currently the deputy KMT chair. He doesn’t have much history with Keelung, but that is the point. He is trying to expand his footprint in preparation for national leadership. There was some speculation that he would run for the presidency this time, and he is almost certainly thinking about taking over as party chair after the 2016 election and running for president in 2020.

You might look at Hau’s resume and automatically pigeonhole him as a neo-authoritarian reactionary like his father. However, the younger Hau is more complex. He is a scientist, not a soldier. He was ideologically flexible enough to think about cooperating with the DPP when he was a New Party legislator and then to join Chen Shui-bian’s cabinet. No one was under the impression that this indicated a shift on national identity, where Hau still believes strongly in One China and eventual unification, but he has a strong pragmatic streak. A few years ago, Hau was also one of the first KMT figures to publicly call on President Ma to give a special pardon to former President Chen for any corruption charges in order to help society heal its wounds.

I was interested to see how Hau would present his candidacy. How much would he talk about national issues, and how much would he talk about local issues? Keelung has always been a fairly solid blue city. In last year’s mayoral race, the DPP won an outright majority with 53% of the vote, so the partisan foundations are probably shifting in Keelung as in the rest of Taiwan. Still, some of the DPP’s fantastic performance last year can be attributed to a big advantage in candidate quality, and I suspect the KMT still has an overall advantage here. This year, the KMT probably has an edge in candidate quality. The DPP is running a relatively anonymous city councilor, who will soak up most of the DPP support but probably not too much more. The PFP is running longtime Keelung politician Liu Wen-hsiung, and there will be a few other minor candidates. A NextTV poll conducted about a month ago showed the race at Hau 28%, Tsai (DPP) 22%, and Liu 13%. I expect that support for Liu will gravitate to the main two candidates as the election nears.

The rally was held downtown, on the roof of a parking garage with a nice view of the harbor. There were about 4,000 people there. Almost all of them showed the telltale signs of being mobilized. I’d guess that fewer than 10% came as individuals. Unlike the geriatric crowd at Chang Ching-chung’s event a couple weeks ago, this crowd had quite a few younger faces. In fact, this crowd might have skewed even younger than the DPP crowd I saw in Taichung a couple weeks ago. It was not overly engaged in the happenings on stage. Even when one of the stars was speaking, you could see lots of people talking among themselves and completely ignoring the stage. Still, they were engaged enough to wave their flags at appropriate times. It wasn’t a terrible crowd by any means. In fact, I got the feeling that it could have been a much better crowd, but it was held back by the awful theatrical production values. The hosts were terrible at their job. They had no idea how to build or maintain emotion. They didn’t cooperate at all, leaving lots of empty gaps of silence. At one point, one decided that they would do the frozen garlic cheer in four languages, Mandarin, Hakka, “Indigenous language,” and Taiwanese. He explained his idea to the crowd in a mumbling tone, draining any emotion out of the audience. He also skipped over the most important thing, apparently not realizing that not too many people know how to say “frozen garlic” in Hakka or Amis. After a minute of mumbling with zero energy, he suddenly decided to straight to fully charged, screaming out Eric Chu’s name. Was it any surprise that the audience wasn’t ready to participate? To make it worse, the other host seemed to have no advance warning of this plan, so when he called out Eric Chu’s name (always in Mandarin), she had no idea how she was supposed to answer in Amis. We were treated to an awkward silence. This happened three separate times! He did the same thing when he introduced Eric Chu. Instead of slowly building emotion and introducing Chu to a frenzied crowd, he caught everyone off guard, asking the people on the stage to step forward a little bit “and here is KMT chair Eric Chu!” Wait, what? When you are talking to a crowd of true believers, you don’t really need to persuade them that you are right. What you really want to do is take them to church, and let them be emotionally inspired to go out and work hard for you. This event must have felt more obligatory than inspiring to the true believers.

When I got to the rally LY Speaker Wang Jin-pyng was giving a long speech. It was all in Taiwanese, and I didn’t understand any of it. (I can follow some people’s Taiwanese, but others are incomprehensible to me. Some people speak like Shakespeare, but I need Mr. Rogers.) It is probably significant that Wang was invited to be a major speaker at Hau’s event and that he accepted that invitation.

In addition to Wang, there were a lot of other notable politicians present. You would expect to see lots of Keelung figures, and there were at least two former mayors (Lin Shui-mu 林水木, Chang Tong-jung 張通榮), two legislators (Hsu Shao-ping 徐少萍, Hsieh Kuo-liang 謝國樑), and several city councilors present. I also saw a guy wandering around who I’m pretty sure was Lin Pei-hsiang 林沛祥, the guy who was in line for the nomination before Hau parachuted in. However, the Keelung politicians were far outnumbered by the Taipei politicians, who showed up in force to support their former mayor. I counted four incumbent legislators (Alex Fai 費鴻泰, Lai Shi-bao 賴士葆, Chiang Nai-hsin 蔣乃辛, Lin Yu-fang 林郁方), two legislative candidates (Chiang Wan-an 蔣萬安, Lee Yan-hsiu 李彥秀), three city councilors (Speaker Wu Pi-chu 吳碧珠, Wang Hsin-yi 王欣儀, Kuo Chao-yan 郭昭巖), and there was a whole cheering section of neighborhood heads in the crowd. In fact, there were so many people there that I started trying to figure out who was absent. (I didn’t see legislators Ting Shou-chung 丁守中, Lo Shu-lei 羅淑蕾, or Alex Tsai 蔡正元.)

Hau Lung-bin answered my question about whether he would position himself as a local or national candidate quite clearly. He did not say one word about national politics until the last sentence of his speech, when he reminded people to vote for Eric Chu for president. Other than that, it was all local. Hau started by remembering coming to Keelung as a child, when his father had a post in the harbor, and thinking that Keelung was the most prosperous and bustling urban area in Taiwan, except perhaps for Hsimenting 西門町 in Taipei. Before entering politics, he often came to Keelung to teach in a local university, and two decades ago Keelung was the world’s seventh busiest container port. Keelung has obviously not grown as fast as the rest of Taiwan, and Hau promised that he was just the guy to help it transform to meet the future. Hau repeatedly emphasized his experience as Taipei mayor, talking about all the people and resources he could call on from Taipei to help Keelung implement a regional development plan. The phalanx of Taipei politicians standing behind him gave this claim some credibility. He finished his speech by noting that he had a clear lead in the polls and warning that the DPP would resort to mudslinging to try to turn the race around.

It was a nice, charismatic speech, and it seemed to do the job of connecting with the people in the audience. Hau is developing a stage presence that I didn’t notice when he ran for re-election in 2010. The themes were all reasonable. You have to acknowledge the obvious fact that Keelung is losing out economically. It doesn’t hurt to stress local issues and reassure the electorate of Hau’s ability to take care of grassroots concerns, especially in a bad KMT year like this one. Telling the voters that he is clearly in first place is a smart move since there is a PFP candidate with some support that Hau would like to siphon away. Yet, there are a few concerns that keep nagging at me. If Keelung is slipping, whose fault is that? I have three answers and none of them are great for the KMT. First, Keelung never got its fair share of the tax revenues generated by port. Decades ago, the KMT central government decided that the port would be directly under the central government, not the city government. The tax revenues were diverted elsewhere rather than being invested in Keelung. In other words, the KMT regime used Keelung as a cash cow (much like it used farmers) to fund higher priority projects. Second, the port doesn’t do as much volume these days because Taiwan’s industrial base has been hollowed out. Chen Shui-bian didn’t do much to stop that process, but Ma Ying-jeou has openly rooted for Taiwanese capital to go northwest. Third, Keelung wasted what resources it had. Instead of wisely investing in infrastructure, Keelung’s politicians built lots of shoddy pedestrian overpasses and similarly superficial projects. Over the past four decades, Keelung might have suffered worse local government than any other city or county in Taiwan. Almost all of that was courtesy of the KMT, including many years under people standing on the stage. Acknowledging the pain is dangerous if you are responsible for that pain. Last year when Premier Jiang came and complained that Keelung was a “moldy, rusty, second-class city,” I loved that he acknowledged the problems Keelung’s extreme humidity cause. However, the second-class part of it was a problem. The KMT didn’t create the climate, but they were responsible for Keelung’s declining stature.

The other thing that nags at me is whether it is wise to ignore Hau’s national profile and ambitions. Why did we need him to parachute in from Taipei if he is just going to do local stuff? Isn’t the whole point that KMT voters in Keelung have an opportunity to shape the rebirth of the party next year by ensuring that Hau is still in the picture? Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there is no need to say that sort of stuff out loud.

Chu was the last speaker, and he managed to speak for a long time without actually saying anything. While he was going on and on and not saying anything of substance, I found myself contrasting him with Hau. From the lens of this single event, even though Hau was supposedly the undercard and Chu was the main event, I wondered if everyone else was also mentally picturing Hau as the next party leader. Hau had a much more commanding presence, and he seemed to connect much more easily with the (mostly deep-blue) crowd. Maybe it’s just that, given all the events of this year, I’ve come to the conclusion that Chu is overmatched in national politics. I don’t know if Hau is ready, but I think he might get a shot. At any rate, on this day, it felt like Hau was already displacing Chu as the KMT’s champion.

When Chu finally stopped talking about how nice it was to be in Keelung and how hard working all KMT candidates were and other pro-forma drivel, he made three points. First, there must be peace in “China.” I put China in quotes because he used the term zhonghua 中華, which is the most ambiguous of various terms for China. Zhonghua can mean the ROC, it can mean the Chinese area (both the ROC and PRC), or it can mean a cultural China. It was a strange formulation, and I’ve never heard it put that way before. He was speaking in (mostly) Taiwanese, but he repeated the phrase three or four times and I’m pretty sure about this. Chu did not go into specifics about what would be required to maintain peace. He did not mention the Ma-Xi meeting, One China, or the 92 Consensus. He just insisted that it was imperative to maintain peace in zhonghua. Second, Taiwan must continue to open up. This meant opening up to China and to the international world. I think he specifically mentioned RCEP and TPP. Third, Taiwan must continue to be tolerant. The KMT is a party that welcomes all people, Min-nan or Hakka, Indigenous or Han, native Taiwanese or mainlander, old residents or new residents. At this point he talked for several minutes about putting an immigrant from Cambodia on the KMT party list and how that represented the KMT’s commitment to tolerance and welcoming of all different people. He didn’t talk much about anyone else on the party list, so it was quite obvious that he wanted to sell Lin Li-chan to the voters. At one point, it almost seemed like he was telling the mainlanders that, in a way, she represented them too. Maybe I misunderstood that part. At any rate, he spent more time and energy bragging about this choice than on any other point he made during his speech. Once again, it was a dissatisfying speech from a presidential candidate. It was long on platitudes and short on specifics. If Chu didn’t want to talk policy, at least he could have thrown some red meat to the crowd. That’s what Hung Hsiu-chu would have done. Alas, Chu didn’t do that either. Meh.



The crowd from the back. Look at all the matching hats and red shirts. This crowd was almost entirely mobilized.


The sign indicates that this is the youth section is surrounded by some people who are not exactly youthful. Ok, that’s a cheap shot. There were lots of young people in this crowd.


This guy is holding a sign saying, “women.” Ok, that’s another cheap shot. Everyone around him is, in fact, female.

The sign behind him says Huang Kuo-chi 黃國基, which is the name of the local Huang Fu-hsing 黃復興 (military veterans) party branch in Keelung. The big white flag behind that says Huang Fu-hsing. Military veterans are always one of Hau Lung-bin’s strongest constituencies. Remember who his father is?


Some kids from a temple loitering around the periphery. They’re much too cool to sit with the rest of the crowd.


Some kids working for the campaign wearing snazzy ROC flag shirts.


These guys work for Taipei legislator Chiang Nai-hsin, Taipei legislator Alex Fai, and Taipei legislator Lai Shi-pao. Wait, wasn’t this event in Keelung?


Yep, that’s Keelung harbor. I had to look to make sure. They thoughtfully put a big sign on the hill, just in case I got confused.


Before going on stage, Hau works the crowd a bit.


Chu makes his big entrance. Actually, this was another area in which the hosts utterly failed. They didn’t build up the entrance at all. In fact, they didn’t even tell us that Chu was making his entrance until he was halfway through the crowd. (Since the seating area was wide rather than narrow, it was already a very short walk from front to back.)  Then, rather than continually talking and building up tension through the entire process, they mostly just watched with the rest of us. They need to go watch a DPP rally to get a clue of how to do this properly. On the other hand, there is a lot less demand from the crowd to catch a closeup glimpse of Chu than Tsai. Everyone is quite aware that he is not about to become president. So maybe it’s best to get the entrance over as quickly as possible.


Before they spoke, Hau and Chu handed out campaign flags to the various support groups in Hau’s campaign. You could tell Hau is a parachute candidate, since this part took far, far less time than it does in most KMT campaigns. (I think there were more neighborhood heads from Taipei than from Keelung in the audience.)

For each group, a representative came up to the stage, was handed a flag, waved it around a few times, and then walked off. The last group was a bit different. They saved the last spot for the new residents (ie: immigrants from Southeast Asia and China). Instead of only one person, a whole group of women came on stage, wearing a native dress, and carrying a sign saying, “Cambodia, Lin Li-chan.” The host took a few minutes to emphasize what a wonderful thing it was that the KMT had put an immigrant on its party list. He added that Keelung has about 9000 new immigrants, slightly more than indigenous people. (I wonder how many of them are eligible to vote and actually will vote.)


Hau commands the stage.

The woman on the left in the politician’s vest and the miniskirt is Taipei city councilor Wang Hsin-yi 王欣儀. This might be the first time I’ve ever seen a public official wearing a short skirt at a campaign event. I can’t identify the two people to the right of her, but the next one is city councilor Lee Yan-hsiu 李彥秀, who is running for legislator in Nangang/Neihu. Next to her are three legislators. Lin Yu-fang 林郁方 is wearing a baseball cap but mostly hidden from view. Alex Fai 費鴻泰 is the tall guy, and he makes Lai Shi-pao 賴士葆 look short. Wang Jin-pyng is between Eric Chu and Hau Lung-pin.


Chu takes his turn.

Wang Jin-pyng is to the right of Chu. Behind him, you can just see legislator Hsieh Kuo-liang 謝國樑 and his crew cut. Right over Hsieh’s shoulder, I think that is legislator Chiang Nai-hsin 蔣乃辛 and his comb-over. The fifth person from the right is Taipei city councilor Kuo Chao-yan 郭昭巖 (pink shirt), Taipei city council speaker Wu Pi-chu 吳碧珠 is third from the right, and the last two on the right are the two hosts.


November 19, 2015

I spent last weekend in Kinmen 金門 for the Taiwanese Political Science Association annual conference. It was my third time in Kinmen, but it was my first time in over a decade. I don’t really know much about how the legislative race is evolving this year, but Kinmen always makes me reflect on Taiwan and the ROC from a different angle. I am used to speaking of this country as “Taiwan,” but Kinmen is not really part of Taiwan. In Kinmen, the ROC becomes much more real.


A few years ago, it was popular for tech visionaries to wax about how the internet was making distance and geography irrelevant. Those people should have been stuffed on a plane and sent to Kinmen. Geography shapes nearly everything about life in Kinmen.

Before I went there for the first time, I imagined that Kinmen was a tiny island with barely enough residents to begrudgingly be called a society. (Now I imagine that about Matsu, which I’ve never visited.) Kinmen is actually a good sized island with a fair number of people. It is 151 km2 with about 132,000 people. (For comparison, if you want to imagine what that is like in Taiwanese terms, go to the northern border of Tainan and combine Xinying 新營, Yanshui 鹽水, and Xuejia 學甲, which have are about 145 km2 and have about 131,000 people.) The most densely populated part of the big island is in Jincheng Township 金城鎮, on the western side. Downtown Jincheng feels about as urban as the downtown of many mid-sized towns in Taiwan. On the northeastern corner of the island, by contrast, Jinmen feels as rural as any township on the Changhua or Yunlin coast. (I have only been on the main island, so I won’t comment on the smaller islands.)

It doesn’t take long to realize that Kinmen has had a very different history than Taiwan. Taiwan’s historical timeline is similar to America’s, which had a long era of unwritten indigenous history followed by a wave of immigrants starting about 400 years ago who wrote their history, pushed the indigenous people out, and became the dominant culture. Kinmen’s historical timeline is more European. A person my wife was chatting with in the market proudly told her that, unlike Taiwan, Kinmen has 1300 years of history. Or maybe it was 1600 years. It went without saying that he thought history started with Han settlement and that this much longer period of recorded history was a source of pride. Kinmen was an ancient civilization long before Taiwan was even a wild frontier.

1895 is a defining date in Taiwan history, since that is when the Qing dynasty ceded Taiwan to the Japanese. For the next 50 years, Taiwan experienced a completely different trajectory than China. During this era, Kinmen remained part of China. It’s a little strange to a person like me to look at 80 year-old buildings and see no Japanese influence. While Taiwanese were building “foreign buildings” 洋樓 derived from European styles filtered through Japanese eyes, people in Kinmen were building quite different structures. On the one hand, they continued building regular housing in the traditional Chinese style, and there are many, many more of these still in use all over the island. On the other hand, Kinmen has its own “foreign buildings.” Many Kinmen residents went into southeast Asia as merchants, and those who got rich sent money home to build three buildings, a private house, a clan temple, and an elementary school. The private houses were often built in European style, but these ideas were filtered through southeast Asian colonial eyes, and they often fused a heavy dose of traditional Confucian ideas into the decorations as well. Some of the bigger houses have heavy walls and guard towers to guard against pirate attacks. In Taiwan, the Japanese state maintained a modern, efficient police force. In Kinmen, the republican government pretty much left the people in peripheral areas to their own devices.

Of course, Kinmen’s claim to fame in the modern world came after 1949. While the communists wiped up the republican forces on the mainland, the narrow strip of ocean proved to be just enough of a barrier to allow Chiang’s forces to dig in on Kinmen. The People’s Liberation Army tried to take the island with a clumsy landing in 1949, but the ROC forces managed to surround them at Guningtou 古寧頭 and wipe them out. A few months later, Kim Il-sung invaded South Korea, Truman put the Seventh Fleet in the Taiwan Strait, and CKS decided fortify Kinmen as much as possible. From 1949 to 1992, Kinmen was basically a military base with a captive civilian population. The island was under martial law and on a constant wartime footing. At the height of the militarized era, there were over 100,000 soldiers on the island and only half that many civilians.

The civilians lived under very strict rules. To give some famous examples, basketballs and volleyballs were tightly monitored to ensure that no extras were available for use as floatation devices; residents were not allowed to learn how to swim, and all windows had to be blacked out at night. The military rules may have seemed harsh and capricious, but there were extenuating circumstances. The Chinese mainland is extremely close to Kinmen. In some parts, it is less than two kilometers away at low tide. The threat of invasion by frogmen was quite real. In 1958, the PRC started shelling Kinmen and threatened to overrun the island. Eventually, they stopped trying to come ashore, but they continued shelling for decades. The every other day bombings were a fact of life for two generations of people. On even days, you could relax. On odd days, you needed to be at home and in your bomb shelter by 7:30pm.

There was a shadow-war element to all of this. CKS was constantly threatening both Mao and the USA that his forces might collapse. To CKS and Mao, Kinmen was symbolically important since, as part of Fujian, it linked Taiwan to China. Moreover, since it was so close to China, the heavy ROC military presence on Kinmen, which dominates Xiamen harbor and is inevitably a thorn in China’s side, kept the war hot and helped to prevent Taiwan from slowly drifting off toward a separate future. Mao didn’t want to take Kinmen without also taking Taiwan, since that would have effectively cut Taiwan adrift. To the USA, CKS played a different tune. The USA didn’t really care about separating Kinmen from Taiwan, and many Americans wouldn’t have minded turning the hot war into a colder war by having a larger buffer zone (ie: the Taiwan Strait) between the two armies. CKS countered this by putting so many military resources on Kinmen that he could credibly warn the USA that a defeat on Kinmen would be such a catastrophic blow to the ROC military that it wouldn’t be able to defend Taiwan. The USA was thus blackmailed into supporting the ROC presence in Kinmen. Thus, the PLA did things like cease its attack for a few days in 1958 in order to let the ROC forces resupply. Back in Taiwan, Hau Pei-tsun 郝柏村 rose to prominence for “heroically” commanding the ROC army’s resistance in 1958, but his job was made much easier by the PLA’s fear of actually winning.

After the height of the Cold War in the 1950s and 1960s, the ROC military gradually began reducing the number of soldiers stationed in Kinmen. There were still several tens of thousands there in 1992 when martial law was lifted. Today only 3000-4000 soldiers remain, a mere token force compared to that of the past.

During the military era, the economy was heavily centered on the needs of the military. Countless small businesses were set up to sell things that single men on leave for a few hours might want, such as toiletries, quick eats, alcohol, and so on. (The military also operated a brothel which Kinmen residents were not allowed to patronize.) When I first visited Kinmen nearly 20 years ago, it was a sleepy society that felt about twenty years behind Taiwan’s roaring economy.

As the military pulled out, the economy was forced to transform, and it has met this challenge remarkably well. All over the island, new houses are springing up. It feels as if half the housing stock has been rebuilt in the past two decades. The roads are in fantastic conditions, the schools are all new, and the busses are free for residents, and the county government hands out various welfare subsidies. This might be the wealthiest (or perhaps second wealthiest after Taipei) local government in the country on a per capita basis. Kinmen is also undergoing a population boom, at least on paper. During the military era, the best way to travel between Kinmen and Taiwan was on military ships, and the military didn’t always have extra space. Residents moved to Taiwan and were stuck there. There was a particularly large community in Zhonghe, in Taipei County, where the Kinmen county government actually built some public housing units for its citizens. With the economic boom, many people have moved back to Kinmen to invest in the booming real estate market or to take advantage of the generous welfare subsidies. Many of these people have only moved their household registration to Kinmen but continue to actually live in Taiwan, so that the actual population of the island is probably less than 60% of the official figure. Nonetheless, the official population has grown so much that Kinmen’s population has passed Penghu’s.

I can see three big factors driving this boom, tourism, kaoliang, and trade with China. Kinmen is a beautiful place for a vacation, with lots of interesting villages and military sites. It is fabulous for bicycling, with plenty of lightly traveled roads. I would happily have stayed there for three or four more days just poking around the countryside. It isn’t overrun with tourists yet, but the tourism industry is clearly growing.

The soil in Kinmen is a bright red, indicating a heavy dose of iron. Unfortunately, this soil is too poor to grow highly desirable crops, such as rice or wheat. Instead, farmers in Kinmen were forced to grow sorghum 高梁, a much hardier but much less profitable grain. In the early 1950s, the military decided to set up a distillery to turn that sorghum grain into alcohol. Kinmen’s kaoliang 高梁酒 is strong stuff, 59% pure alcohol. It also has a very distinct flavor that takes some getting used to, though it mellows with age. In the USA, most people have a tequila story; in Taiwan, we have kaoliang stories; in Kinmen, there is only kaoliang. (If a Kinmen person ever says something about selling a fish tail to you, run for your life!) The distillery is owned by the county government, but prior to 1992 the military appointed the county government so that wasn’t an important distinction. After civilians were granted control of the county government and the first elections were held in 1994, however, the ownership of the distillery became Kinmen’s most important public asset. They seem to have managed it well. Profits from the distillery have funded all those roads, schools, and welfare programs. The county has expanded production and aggressively moved into the China market. In fact, they sell so much in China that they are currently experiencing a minor recession due to Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign. A bottle of kaoliang is a nice gift if you want to curry favor with an official.

Both the burgeoning tourism and kaoliang have heavy connections with China. Since the opening of the three small links 小三通 in the Chen Shui-bian era, it has been easy to travel between Kinmen and Xiamen. (Chinese citizens don’t need a visa for each individual trip to Kinmen, so it is easier for them to go to Kinmen than to Taiwan.) I don’t know quite how much of the Kinmen economic growth is due to this new role as an entrepot between Taiwan and Xiamen, but I imagine it is significant. I also imagine that it could be much larger. Consider Xiamen, a city of 3.5 million people. Roughly 1.8 million live on Xiamen island, which is almost exactly the same size as Kinmen. Let me put this in Taiwanese terms. The old, pre-2010 Kaohsiung City is roughly the same size and population as Xiamen island. If you add together the old Kaohsiung County (except the three mountain districts) plus the old Tainan City (but not the old Tainan County), those are roughly equivalent in area and population to the parts of Xiamen City across the on the mainland. That is a very big metro area, and the wealthiest and most densely populated parts are right on the coast. Now imagine that there is an island three kilometers off the shore of Kaohsiung City that is exactly the same size as (the old) Kaohsiung City, and this island is not densely populated at all. If you could build a bridge, that island would immediately become extremely valuable land. Perhaps wealthy people might rush to build villas there to take advantage of the unspoiled landscape and clean air. Perhaps there would be a flood of Chinese capital investing in the tourism market. Perhaps a new business district would pop up there. That is the promise of Kinmen. Because of its geography, the pull of the Xiamen economy is extremely tantalizing to every landowner in Kinmen. Moreover, that bridge might be under construction already. There is a small island (Little Kinmen) between the main island of Kinmen and Xiamen island. The ROC government is building a bridge between the two Kinmen islands, and pro-independence groups on Taiwan have complained that this bridge seems suspiciously large. Why is such a large bridge needed for traffic between these two islands, since Little Kinmen only has a little more than 10,000 people? They are terrified that the ultimate plan is to build a second bridge between Xiamen and Little Kinmen. If that ever happens, Kinmen will be fundamentally transformed.


From the preceding discussion, you should be able to see why the DPP and its Taiwan-centric platform have so little appeal in Kinmen. It is clearly in Kinmen’s economic interests to be integrated into the Chinese economy. Just as importantly, Kinmen residents have been separated from China for a much shorter time than Taiwanese have, so their affinity with China is naturally closer. They certainly are not Taiwan nationalists. In presidential contests, the KMT usually wins 95% of the votes in Kinmen. In legislative and county magistrate elections, the KMT has often been beaten by New Party or People First Party candidates. The current county magistrate is an independent who was formerly a PFP legislator. This year, the legislative election is between Wu Cheng-dian 吳成典, an old warhorse who used to be a New Party member, and Yang Chen-wu 楊鎮浯, a newcomer whose father was a member of the National Assembly some years ago. I don’t have any idea who will win.

I’m actually more interested in the DPP candidate, who almost certainly won’t come close to winning. The DPP nearly doubled its vote share in the last presidential race, going from 4.9% in 2008 to 8.2% in 2012. I think this is most likely a reflection of the population boom. There are a lot of people who live on Taiwan and vote on Kinmen. They probably aren’t a strong DPP constituency either, but if 20% of these are DPP supporters, that would be enough to raise its overall vote share. The DPP has managed to elect one person to the county assembly, and he is now running for legislator. Chen Tsang-chiang 陳滄江 seems to have two appeals: constituency service and the need for Kinmen to have a conduit to the future DPP regime. This latter appeal reminds me of the old American South. In the Jim Crow era (roughly 1876-1954), the Democrats dominated politics in the southern states. In some states, the Republicans had almost no support. However, even Mississippi and South Carolina had a Republican party organization. These parties barely bothered to contest elections. Their entire purpose was to hope the Republicans could win control of the federal government. The federal government had a lot of money to hand out, and it naturally wanted to disburse this through local Republican operatives. Mississippi Republicans’ entire purpose was to be this bridge between the federal and state levels, so that they could siphon off some of those resources for themselves and their allies. This is almost exactly what Chen Tsang-chiang is telling voters in Kinmen: I’m going to have some goodies to hand out, so you will want to be my friend. I bet he’ll run ahead of Tsai.


Sorghum, the mother grain of Kinmen. My wife kept remarking how much the plant (though not the grains) look like a stunted version of corn. I was impressed by how untidy the fields look in comparison with other grains. They don’t seem to grow sorghum in neat rows. There’s probably a good reason for this, but I don’t know anything about farming.


This is fengshiye 風獅爺, the Wind Lion God. He protects Kinmen from windy storms. You see statues of him all over the island, almost like you see shrines to the local earth god everywhere in Taiwan. This statue is very weather beaten but still has fresh incense. I guess he’s doing a good job.


This beach was a few steps from the Wind Lion God. Who knew that Kinmen had beaches? Probably not the residents. Because of the military occupation, they have been completely cut off from the ocean for half a century. This is the case in Taiwan as well, but it’s more extreme in Kinmen. You can’t really see it in this photo, but we could clearly see the Chinese coastline from this vantage point.


The skyline in Bishan 碧山 village, on the northeast corner of the island. Note all the new houses sprouting up among the traditional architecture.


We stumbled upon this crumbling foreign house, and this may have been my favorite thing I saw all weekend. The house was built around 1931.


It seems to have been taken over by the military after 1949. There are patriotic slogans all over the outside. In the courtyard, the faded characters on the wall say “complete the great task of unifying China” 完成統一中國大業。This is on the main gate, and it says, “complete the mission of constructing the country.”


On the outside wall, you can just make out, “liberate our mainland compatriots” 解救大陸同胞。


Unlike the other slogans, this one is not merely painted, so it might be part of the original house. On the other hand, the translation 團結就是力量 is a favorite KMT slogan (assuming they really meant “unity is strength”).


That’s an impressive tree growing on the building. I think nature is winning.


Here’s the view from inside. Nature is kicking ass!


Right around the corner, here is the school. I didn’t see the clan temple, but I’ll bet the rich overseas Chinese merchant built one of those for his hometown, too.


This is a much better preserved foreign building, which is probably why they brought us to see it on our (very short) tour. Note the tower and heavy walls to defend against pirates.


Right next to the touristy foreign house, there is a bomb shelter. There are bomb shelters like this all over the island. It doesn’t look very cozy to me.


This is the final battle site at Guningtou, where the invading PLA forces were repelled. They were herded into this village, where the ROC soldiers wiped them out. Unlike later battles, there was nothing artificial about this one. The village has been preserved, and you can still see the bullet holes all over the walls. It’s hard to find traditional Chinese buildings like this in Taiwan these days, but they are all over Kinmen.


This building is in good shape. It has been spruced up a bit since the battle.


This one is not quite in such good shape. The housing agent will probably try to convince us that it has a central atrium and natural lighting. I don’t have a picture, but less than a kilometer from here in Guningtou, there is a great view of the Xiamen skyline.


The outhouse at Guningtou has been boarded up. When I came in 1998, there were lots of outhouses in use. Even in 2004, there were still a handful around. This is the only one I saw this time.


The 8-23 (August 23, 1958) Victory Monument. Kinmen is full of military statues in traffic circles. Why traffic circles? Remember, they had to black out all lights at night, so there were no traffic lights allowed.


A statue of CKS. The inscription reads “our nation’s savior” 民族救星。Note, “nation” refers to the Han nation (minzu), not the ROC state (guojia).


After the 1958 bombardment, the army blasted out this underground cavern so that they could unload supply ships safely even if the PLA was shelling the island.


This is a copy of Kinmen’s most famous graffiti. On a huge rock on one of Kinmen’s highest hills, CKS inscribed the characters 無亡在莒 “never forget when we were at Ju”.  The story dates back to the Spring and Autumn era (I think). A commander had lost so many battles that he only controlled two towns, one of which was called Ju. However, from that meager base, he launched a counterattack and eventually reconquered the entire country of Qi 齊。 In other words, CKS was giving Kinmen its sacred mission, to be the base from which he would reconquer all of China.


Oh, I guess I’ll throw in a campaign ad or two. Chen’s bubble says, “central and local, I’ll be the bridge.”


The KMT candidate counters with what will probably be more persuasive appeals, “peace in the straits, Kinmen’s key” and “people’s livelihood first, economics are the priority.”



DPP nominates a VP

November 17, 2015

The DPP is going to announce that Chen Chien-jen 陳建仁 will be its vice presidential nominee. I don’t have strong opinions about this choice, but I’ll offer a couple of comments anyway. That’s what blogs are for!

Chen is currently the vice president of my institution, Academia Sinica. However, I don’t know anything about him. We have three vice presidents, one for each division. My division, Humanities and Social Sciences, is someone else’s responsibility, so we never deal with Chen.

In general, I’m not crazy about putting academics into powerful political positions. Scientific research and/or teaching are not great preparation for politics. Scientists and teachers aren’t known for building coalitions among people who disagree, organizing networks of people, or suffering fools. They tend to be individualists who pursue their ideas, and they don’t care so much for teamwork. Many of President Ma’s cabinet appointments have been disasters precisely for these sorts of reasons. This does not mean that Chen Chien-jen won’t work out; each individual is different. It’s just that, all else equal, I’d rather have a professional politician than an academic.

Chen does have a political record, having served as in President Chen’s cabinet as head of the Department of Health and the National Science Council. Combined with his term in administration at Academia Sinica, this probably means he is capable of overseeing government bureaucracies. However, the politics side of things is just as important as the governing side. Can he put together a solid coalition of legislators and voters to support his administrative policies? As vice president, he won’t have to. Tsai Ing-wen will be responsible for maintaining political support, and she has proven quite capable in this regard. However, vice presidents sometime become presidents. The USA, for example, has had 44 presidents. Eight of them (Tyler, A. Johnson, Arthur, T. Roosevelt, Coolidge, Truman, L. Johnson, and Ford) became president when the previous president couldn’t finish his term. A few others were close (Wilson and Eisenhower had serious strokes, Reagan was shot, and there were probably other close calls that I don’t know about.) That is a lot of vice presidents who unexpectedly became president. Tsai Ing-wen is young and in good health, but so were many of the American presidents who couldn’t serve out their terms. Again, all things equal, I’d rather have a professional politician as the national spare tire.

A comment on Chen’s father. I’ve seen a few people speculate on whether Chen’s nomination might help the DPP steal KMT faction votes, sicne Chen’s father was the former Kaohsiung County magistrate and head of the KMT’s Kaohsiung White faction. The current White faction elder and leader is none other than LY Speaker Wang Jin-pyng, who some green sympathizers have had fantasies about wooing to their side for years. Wang has even said that the elder Chen was an influential presence in Kaohsiung politics.

I’m supposed to be an expert in electoral politics, and I didn’t remember a KMT Kaohsiung County magistrate named Chen. I looked it up in my big database, and it isn’t there. Fortunately, Kaohsiung County kept very good electoral records, so I was finally able to locate Chen’s father. My records only go back to 1957 for county magistrates, and Chen Hsin-an 陳新安 ran in 1951 and 1954. He won the first round in 1951 as an independent, but he lost the runoff to the KMT nominee. (Runoff elections existed back then!) He won in 1954 as a KMT candidate, but he did not run for re-election in 1957. Since he was running serious campaigns for county magistrate in the early 1950s, I assume Chen Hsin-an is not just an early member of the White faction but is in fact the faction founder. Nevertheless, he only served one three year term and then apparently faded into the background. By the time that Wang Jin-pyng was nominated for legislator as a 30 year old young whippersnapper in 1975, Chen would have been a respected elder but probably without much actual political clout. (Think about former Taichung City mayor Chang Wen-ying today.) How long ago was this? Yu Deng-fa was elected county magistrate in 1960, and the Yu family dynasty dominated Kaohsiung politics for the next half century before finally fading away at the end of the Chen presidency. Chen Hsin-an was county magistrate before Yu started his dynasty. I don’t expect there are many remnants of Chen’s 1950s coalition left for the DPP to steal away today.

DPP campaign event in Taichung

November 11, 2015

Last Sunday, after all the hoopla over the Ma-Xi summit, I needed to get away from dismal cross straits relations and back to the joys of elections. Since I had seen a KMT event on Saturday morning, I targeted a DPP event on Sunday. After a bit of searching on Facebook, I found an event in Taichung, so that is where the wife and I went for our relaxing day off.

Taichung 6 covers the downtown area around the train station. It includes a lot of the decayed city center areas, though it has some more newly developed areas out toward the west. However, most of the real estate frenzy of recent years has been in Taichung 4 and 5. The DPP won Taichung 6 away from the KMT in 2012. Lin Chia-lung 林佳龍 ran quite a bit of Tsai Ing-wen, who won fewer votes than Ma in this district. As readers well know, Lin ran for and won the mayor’s seat in 2014. Longtime DPP city councilor Huang Kuo-shu 黃國書 stepped into the vacancy, easily winning the by-election.

He is being opposed this time by former KMT legislator Shen Chih-hui 沈智慧. Shen was elected in 1989 and served six terms, finally losing her re-election bid in 2008. She is a Mainlander and came up through the KMT’s Huang Fu-hsing military veterans party branch. She never went over to the New Party, but she did join the PFP. In 2008, she was the odd person out, as the blue camp had four incumbents for three seats. She didn’t get nominated, and she didn’t get very many votes running as an independent in (what is now relabeled) Taichung 5. We haven’t heard much from her in recent years, and I assumed her career was over. Actually, I’m still pretty sure about that. Once you are out of the game, it’s extremely difficult to get back in.

However, one of the most telling indicators of how far the electoral terrain has shifted is that the KMT has had such difficulty attracting top-tier candidates for districts like this. This district was not merely competitive in 2012, it was actually a KMT-leaning district! This year, the KMT is putting forward a very weak challenger and effectively ceding the district without a fight. The KMT simply isn’t playing offense this year.

I didn’t really know what to expect from an event to open Huang Kuo-shu’s campaign headquarters. Since the KMT isn’t really contesting this district and the presidential race is a foregone conclusion, there wasn’t much reason for the DPP to put out too much effort. What I found was a fantastic crowd at a really nice event. There were not the usual signs of large-scale mobilization; my guess is that only about 20% of the crowd came as part of a group. However, it was a pretty big crowd. The space was a smallish street. They filled the first block and spilled onto the second block. From the way they had set up their tents and stalls, it looked like they hadn’t expected to need the second block. One speaker bragged that there were 10,000 people. That was clearly a stretch. I’d estimate it at 4000-5000, which is especially impressive given the limited mobilization. It was a moderately enthusiastic crowd. I wouldn’t characterize them as frenzied, but they were definitely engaged. There was one thing that I have never seen before: one stall had a couple of espresso machines and was giving away free coffee. Does this officially mark the beginning of gentrification of election campaigns?

The speakers included 2012 VP candidate Su Chia-chuan 蘇嘉全, legislator Tsai Chi-chang 蔡其昌, Pingtung County magistrate Pan Meng-an 潘孟安, mayor Lin Chia-lung, candidate Huang Kuo-shu, and Tsai Ing-wen. You might notice a New Tide flavor there, as Tsai, Pan, and Huang are all from the New Tide faction. One of the hosts, Taipei city councilor Lee Chien-chang 李建昌 is also a prominent New Tide figure. I didn’t listen too carefully to the speeches. They mostly said the sorts of things that you might expect. They criticized Ma for the Ma-Xi meeting, complained about the KMT in general, talked about how hard Huang works, explained the importance of this election, praised Tsai Ing-wen, and so on. I do remember a couple of jokes Huang made during his speech. People often ask him the difference between being a city councilor and a legislator. He tells them, as a legislator, he has a LOT more work. (laughter). No, they insist, there must be some benefit to being in the legislature. Not really, he replies. Well, maybe there is one. At campaign events like this one, he gets to stand in the front row next to Tsai Ing-wen. (laughter)

I did listen carefully to Tsai’s speech. Unfortunately, that was three days ago and my memory is deteriorating rapidly. It was a lengthy, meaty speech. She spoke disparagingly about the Ma-Xi meeting, criticizing Ma for lack of transparency, failing to include the “each side with its own interpretation,” and so on. However, since I had heard her say the same things in her press conference the previous day, none of that struck me as surprising. What struck me most was her tone. She was a little angry, but well short of furious. I think the best way to describe it might be as dismissive. What do you expect from him? That’s who he is. At one point she said, “Ma just isn’t democratically cultured” 他沒有民主素養。Ouch. Then, she moved on.

She started talking about what she would do as president by going through her five big principles: generational justice, government reform, congressional reform, transitional justice, and ending political divisiveness. She spent a few minutes talking about each one. For instance, generational justice included putting public finances in order to ensure that future generations wouldn’t be unduly burdened with public debt. After going through these five big ideas, she went through another list of concrete policy proposals, such as her regional development plan and four or five other things I can’t remember right now. One thing she mentioned was Taiwan’s growing drug problem. This stood out to me because I have never heard a candidate mention drugs in a campaign speech. Moreover, she mentioned drugs in the context of prisons, saying that 40% of people in prisons are there on drug crimes. I can’t remember anyone ever talking about prisons, either.

I’m sorry that I’m so short on specifics now. I can tell you that when we left, I couldn’t help but contrast her speech with the one I had heard from Eric Chu the day before. As I wrote in a previous post, Chu’s speech was short and only consisted of two points. First, he complained that the DPP could only reject and oppose; it had no constructive ideas. Second, he talked about local transportation projects in New Taipei City (where he is mayor). Tsai’s speech was so much more substantial. She talked easily about several different policy areas, occasionally dipping into what was probably too much detail for a stump speech. Chu complained that Tsai had no constructive ideas and repeated the “Empty Tsai” 空心菜 nickname the KMT has given her. Tsai didn’t even bother to point out that Chu has no clear program; she was too busy telling the voters what she would do if she were elected. I understand that there was a big difference in the two crowds, and Chu’s audience probably wasn’t interested in too much policy talk. Still, one got the idea that one of them has been preparing for this race for several years, and the other one jumped in at the last moment.


Now, some pictures. I’m a terrible photographer, but I got some good shots this time.


Su Chia-chuan recommends Huang (and his wife) to the voters.


Tsai Chi-chang and a few Taichung City councilors.


Awesome balloon candidates. If you look carefully, you can see that they are wearing sashes saying “legislative candidate Huang Kuo-shu.”


The volunteers giving away free coffee. I had some. It was good, even considering it was hot coffee on a hot day.


They were also giving out cold water and cold jelly tea. I passed on these. My hands were already full.


A group of people in orange shirts. I didn’t see what their group was, but the number of people wearing group shirts, vests, or hats was extremely low for an event like this.


The view from way in the back. I don’t think they expected anyone to be sitting in this area.


The people on stage are holding up signs with the name of their organizations. This is where the DPP pales in comparison to the KMT’s organizational muscle.


Hey, why is everyone looking in the wrong direction? Someone said something about Tsai Ing-wen, and they are getting excited to see if she is going to enter soon.


Huang Kuo-shu goes to the back of the event space so that he can enter along with Tsai. You better believe he is going to try to soak up some of the excess love thrown her way.


Now we’re getting serious. She’s almost here. Every time I see Tsai or Chu or any other candidate enter an event like this, I think about their personal safety and I cringe a little bit. Remember, Tsai does this five or six times a day on weekends. Then I look at people’s faces, and I remember just how important these sorts of rituals are. This is their candidate. She has to come to them, and they have access to her. A day after I watched Emperor Xi, who is surrounded by security and always at a safe distance from the ordinary people, I was deeply touched by how accessible Taiwan’s politicians are. This really matters. Just to drive the point home, a little old lady with a hunchback – she must have been 80 years old and no more than 140cm tall – jostled me out of my prime spot on the center aisle. She really wanted to see Tsai up close.


Here she is! (The woman just behind her is former Taichung mayor Chang Wen-ying 張溫鷹.)


I got TWO good pictures?? Didn’t anyone remind me I’m a terrible photographer?


Everyone up on stage while Tsai speaks. Hey, Huang Kuo-shu did get a front-row position!


I saw a friend at the event who asked me if I was going to hurry over to NPP candidate Hung Tsu-yung’s event in Taichung 3. What? I didn’t know about that! I hadn’t had a chance to see a NPP event, so we rushed over. Alas, it was already over. The buses were pulling away (they apparently mobilized quite heavily), and people were starting to sweep up and tear down the stage. Here is the backdrop. The slogan says, “Progressive Forces, Light Up Taiwan.” I don’t know what the airplane is supposed to symbolize.


On the left side, “use ideals to win the campaign.”


On the right, “bring justice into the legislature.”

Apparently Tsai went to another event later that night in Hsinchu City, and the crowd looked enormous – easily 10,000 – on TV. I wish it were easier to find out where the events are before they happen. I keep reading about them in the next day’s newspaper and wondering why I wasn’t there.