March 30, 2005

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326: Taiwan march

The thing with memes is they infect without fear or favour. They are not necessarily facts but become part of the conventional wisdom because of a simple human flaw: if many people say it, it must be true. Put another way, enough noise can obscure the truth.

On the weekend Taiwan staged a march against China and the anti-secession law (follow that link for plenty of coverage and photos). It moved such sensible people as Roger Simon to this:

No one ever knows the accuracy of the stats in these things, but these are Beirut-like numbers. No doubt these demonstrators are getting the attention of the "Communist" rulers in Beijing, not to mention the citizens of Hong Kong. Who knows where this will lead? Is it possible that in its own way Taiwan will conquer the mainland through people power? I guess I'm a dreamer, but I remember Tienanmen. I wonder what the response to a democracy movement in China would be now. As we have learned in the last few years, anything is possible.
As always ESWN has done a great job compiling various estimates of crowd numbers and coming up with a more accurate measure. The conclusion:
Since there is no definitive number here, this will remain a point of contention for some time. The smart thing to do is to be wishy-washy and use an ambiguous description. For example, BBC reported: "Hundreds of thousands of people have marched through the Taiwanese capital, Taipei, protesting against China's anti-secession law." So everybody is pleased and nobody is offended. You may think that statistics is an objective science, but it is really a subjective art in real life.
It is a known unknown. So inevitably the number will settle at "a million" because that was the aim, that's the easiest to remember and that's the most dramatic. The march has been lumped with other happenings around the world as part of a rolling triumph of democracy (charted with zeal and zest by Publius Pundit). In some places that is happening and is to be celebrated. In others it is not. For example, Zimbabwe. Nor in China.

To answer Mr. Simon: Taiwan will not conquer China through people power for two reasons. Firstly China's media is well controlled and censored. They dutifully stuck to the party line on the anti-seccession law demonstration, covering Taiwanese critics of the march and focussing on the visit to the Mainland of an official from erstwhile opponent but new found friend KMT (a beautiful proof of "my enemy's enemy is my friend"). Secondly, if anything most Mainland Chinese are even more hawkish than the Chinese Government on the Taiwan issue. What also was missed by much of the blogosphere commentary was the partisan nature of the event in a Taiwan very evenly split down the middle on the issue. As for the comment "I guess I'm a dreamer, but I remember Tienanmen," the lesson of 1989 was the brutal repression and raw power the CCP uses when its rule is threatened. It was a trampling of the beginnings of a people power movement that elsewhere and more recently has been successful in overturning regimes. The response to a Chinese democracy movement now would be the same as it was then.

Did the "326" march* have much impact? A sympathy march organised in Hong Kong managed perhaps 100 people. ESWN pointed out in the same link that not one of Hong Kong's papers covered the march. Most people in Mainland China would not have heard about it, or if they had it would be in only negative terms. China's Communist leadership is firmly entrenched and with no sign of moving. There is little effective opposition. So the answer has to be no.

We are fortunate to be witnessing the march of democracy in many places around the world. At this point China is one place where it is not. It's great to feel the winds of change. Just be careful what you sniff or you end up getting carried away.

* What's with all this branding date numbering of events? From 911 onwards, any major event is designated by its American date form. Which means dates are fast disappearing. If you're planning your march/protest/invasion/event, find a date now. Otherwise you could end up with the "326 PM" March, or the "508 early morning but not too early thanks" protest. Has the media been overrun by historians forcing dates on us? Or is it laziness, much like "-gate" is affixed to any scandal? Let's call it "Dategate".

posted by Simon on 03.30.05 at 02:26 PM in the


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Simon, a minor correction: Taiwan is *not* evenly split down the middle on the issue of the anti-secession law. Almost every Blue or Green politician has denounced it. What I think you mean is that Taiwan is evenly split over whether to move closer or further away from China - but they are united in their wish that they should be allowed to decide without threat of war. (Of course the anti-secession law is aimed at the pan-Greens, so it was mainly them on the streets on Saturday)

Incidentally, the date thing (326) is a custom that predates 911 in Taiwan ... probably to do with how you write months/days in Chinese.

posted by: David on 03.30.05 at 03:40 PM [permalink]

David: you're right. It's badly written on my part. I was talking about attitudes to the mainland, not the anti-secession law.

posted by: Simon on 03.30.05 at 04:32 PM [permalink]

On the dates, I was more thinking about the anti-globalisation crowd who seem to have adopted the numbering system too.

posted by: Simon on 03.30.05 at 04:34 PM [permalink]

heh heh... 228 in Taiwan.

And it's nice to see that Mr. Simon (silently) re-wrote this entry to remove the nonsense about the march being in favour of independence.

Though it is interesting to note that those who reserve the right for themselves to settle international disputes with force still won't acknowledge that the march was simply against the use of force to settle international disputes. (and treaty agreements make this dispute international even if you believe in one china and not one china on either side of the straits.)

posted by: Tom - Daai Tou Laam on 03.30.05 at 07:51 PM [permalink]


I have not altered this post at all since I first wrote it. Indeed I never change a post without noting it as an update or otherwise highlighting the change.

posted by: Simon on 03.31.05 at 09:08 AM [permalink]

Ooops, I'm sorry. You're referring to Roger Simon. My bad.

posted by: Simon on 03.31.05 at 09:09 AM [permalink]

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