Monthly Archives: February 2005

Macam-Macam Update on the Tsunami and Aceh

Last week, Macam-Macam posted a wide-ranging update on the “Boxing Day Tsunami” that included a link to a long backgrounder on the history of Aceh in, of all places, Margo Kingston’s web diary at the Sydney Morning Herald. The backgrounder is entitled “The Aceh conflict: past, present and Quo Vadis?” by a “PF Journey” of Chinese Indonesian background. Here’s a sample of what it has to say. (I’ve corrected a few of the typos that seem to be a Margo Kingston speciality.)

From Sabang to Merauke – Can 225 millions Indonesians be wrong?

Another one of Sukarno’s famous catchcries was “From Sabang to Merauke”. Sabang is located on an island in Aceh on the northern tip of Sumatra, the westernmost island in the Indonesian archipelago. (It was badly hit by the Tsunami). Merauke is located in West Papua near the border with PNG, and is the most easterly city of Indonesia.

It was the catchcry Sukarno and his nationalists of the 20s and 30s used to rally the people of Indonesia against the Dutch colonial power. It was also a nation building tool, for there was no Indonesia in those days. Indonesia, as the political entity as we know today, is a recent creature.

Every Indonesian student from Kindergarten to University has been constantly brainwashed and taught songs about “From Sabang to Merauke”. The Indonesians like to say that the sun rises at Meurake and sets in Sabang. To the average Indonesian, the unity of Indonesia from Sabang to Merauke is firmly etched in their consciousness. East Timor was more like an adopted son, whereas Aceh is like the number one son in the family.

Aceh is also known as Serambi Mekkah, the gateway to Mecca. Before the age of air transport, ships carrying Indonesian pilgrims on the way Mecca for the Haj had to stop at Sabang before crossing the Indian Ocean. Aceh has also been described as “the front porch of Mecca”. To a lot of Indonesian Muslims, Aceh is their holy land, so the spiritual and emotional attachment to Aceh is far far stronger than to East Timor.

Obviously this cut no ice with the Acehnese, especially with the Aceh Nationalists. Tengku Hasan Di Tiro, head of GAM (Free Aceh Movement), declared in 1976:

“There never was such a people, much less a nation, in our part of the world by that name (Indonesia). No such people existed in the Malay archipelago by definition of ethnology, philology, cultural anthropology, sociology or by any other scientific findings. Indonesia is a Javanese republic with a Greek pseudo-name.” (Indo- (combining form of India) + Greek nes(os): islands + -ia (suffix for country).

Indonesia’s total population is about 230 million. There are about 5 million Acehnese. Can 225 million Indonesians be wrong? …

The tsunami wildcard: curse or blessing?

A blessing? It puts Aceh on the front page. The world now knows where Aceh is and its problems. It exposes the incompetence of the Indonesia government and the military.

It provides a circuit breaker for GAM and the Indonesian Government, with a face saving opportunity to secure a peaceful deal. The AP reported recently:

“BANDA ACEH, Indonesia Rebels in Aceh Province said Monday that they were willing to put their demand for secession on hold if Indonesia accepted a “face-saving” formula that would allow the tsunami-hit region to hold an independence referendum within 5 to 10 years. Members of the Indonesian government and rebel leaders from Aceh Province held talks over the weekend in Helsinki to consider a possible cease-fire and to reopen a peace process that was broken in May 2003 by the Indonesian military.”

With the aid money that is pouring in, estimated to be US$5-10 billion, Aceh can be re-built, providing its long suffering people with better facilities and infrastructure. Aceh will not and cannot be closed again to the outside world by the military or the Islamic fundamentalists.

A curse? Conservative estimates put the tsunami’s death toll at about 5% of the population and it has affected about 40% of the population. The tsunami destroyed whatever basic infrastructure the region had. The Acehnese fear that after the initial shock and horror of the disaster the outside world will forget Aceh and things will go back to normal, out of sight and out of mind.

Influential Islamic clerics have declared that the tsunami that hit Aceh is Allah’s warning to the Acehnese against the influence of decadent western values and that they must more strictly observe their religion, including putting a stop to Muslims killing Muslims.

Another red flag needs to be raised here – the size of aid money that is pouring in for Aceh. Will this become the new honey pot for the corrupt officials from both sides? If so, the poor people of Aceh will be hit by a triple whammy: Firstly, the never ending war; secondly, the Tsunami; thirdly, another betrayal.

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Taiwan’s 2-28 Incident

On the evening of February 27 [1947], six police officers attempted to arrest a women selling cigarettes illegally in Taibei. A policeman struck the woman, an angry crowd gathered, and violence broke out after an officer fired his weapon, killing a bystander. The next day, 2,000 to 3,000 Taiwanese marched to the [cigarette] Monopoly Bureau Headquarters, and hundreds moved on to [Nationalist administrator and garrison commander] Chen Yi’s office. Besides protesting the beating and shooting, islanders complained of unemployment, food shortages, inflation, political repression, and corruption. That afternoon, a soldier or police officer at the office fired into the crowd, sparking an islandwide uprising. Vandalism and violence against police, soldiers, bureaucrats, and any mainlander unfortunate enough to be on the streets spread beyond Taibei.

The provincial administration had badly underestimated the willingness of Taiwanese to transform their discontent into concrete action. Incident turned into uprising as urbanites and government forces battled over buildings, railroad stations, and police stations in large towns and cities. Taiwanese gained control of most of the island since Nationalist soldiers, almost exclusively young draftees from the mainland, had little stomach for a fight. Many mainland officials and businessmen abandoned their posts and stayed home throughout the crisis. In some cities, officials and police sought safety together in local military outposts. Railroad, telephone, and telegraph traffic throughout the island ground to a halt in the first days of March. After two or three days of conflict, the situation calmed, although occasional shots were still heard in Taibei.

This crisis was not simply a revolt against the state. Many different groups used the opportunity created by the temporary power vacuum to pursue their own agendas. For example, while educated youth sought immediate political and economic reform, secret society and gang members took advantage of the chaos for personal profit. Urban workers and youth wanted economic recovery and jobs. Youth who had received Japanese military training reconstituted their old units in many of the island’s cities and took to wearing their old uniforms, singing wartime songs, and sporting swords. This naturally served to justify the suspicions of mainlanders that the Taiwanese had been “Japanized.” Ironically, many of these youth had joined the [Sun Yat-sen’s] Three Principles of the People Youth Corps after retrocession. Just as they had done immediately after Japan’s surrender, these young men helped maintain public order.

As had been the case under Japanese rule, the elite’s political agenda placed them between the state and Taiwanese society. They sought the restoration of order and reform of the provincial administration, but found themselves dragged into a maelstrom by the actions of less wealthy Taiwanese. In fact, Taiwanese politicians had frequently raised the problems of poor and homeless islanders in the town, county, and islandwide consultative assemblies. Their solution, however, was reform to facilitate greater Taiwanese control of the island’s resources. In late February and early March, prominent islanders often attempted to limit violence between Taiwanese and mainlanders. For example, Xie E, one of the few Taiwanese women involved in politics at that time, tried to calm islanders through a broadcast that suggested soldiers had not fired on the crowd on February 28. [Prominent Japanese-era reformer on Taiwan] Lin Xiantang personally protected Yan Jiagan, a Nationalist official, from angry Taiwanese. In another instance, some Taiwanese sheltered the Taizhong county magistrate from an angry crowd that wanted to cut off his nose.

SOURCE: Between Assimilation and Independence: The Taiwanese Encounter Nationalist China, 1945-1950, by Steven E. Phillips (Stanford U. Press, 2003), pp. 75-76

Let’s hope Lebanon’s “2-28 Incident” achieves better results sooner than Taiwan’s 2-28 Incident did in 1947 or Beijing’s Tiananmen Incident did in 1989.

UPDATE: Reader David of One whole jujuflop situation recommends a U.S. diplomat’s account, entitled Formosa betrayed of the bloody aftermath of the 2-28 Incident in Taiwan.

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The Guomindang in Taiwan: Liberators or Recolonizers?

The February 28, 1947 Incident and its aftermath represented a conflict between decolonization and reintegration, when the legacy of Japanese rule and the drive for local self-government clashed with the centralizing mission of Jiang Jieshi’s [= Chiang Kai-shek’s] Nationalist regime. Nationalist incompetence and misrule caused the short-lived uprising, but long-term Taiwanese political goals shaped its denouement….

The Taiwanese considered both the Chinese and Japanese regimes exploitative, but deemed the new government particularly dishonest, incompetent, unpredictable, and inefficient. Suzanne Pepper, in her review of the Nationalists’ takeover of occupied China in late 1945 and early 1946, noted four major problems: inability or unwillingness to punish collaborators; corruption; ineffective measures to rebuild the economy; and “condescending attitude adopted by returning officials.” The last three were amply evident in the Nationalist administration of Taiwan. The first point, however, is more difficult to assess in regard to Taiwan because of its complex colonial legacy. Policies on important issues such as the disposition of Japanese assets and economic reconstruction, cultural reintegration and language, and political participation engendered disappointment, frustration, then resistance. The Nationalists did nothing to dispel the ambivalence of Taiwanese toward the colonial experience. Because so many islanders soon came to see few major differences between the Japanese and the mainland Chinese economic and political systems, they began to discuss Nationalist rule as a form of colonialism.

The island faced two difficult economic transitions in late 1945: from the Japanese to the Chinese orbit, and from wartime mobilization to peacetime reconstruction. The Nationalists inherited an industrial infrastructure worn down from the demands of Japan’s war effort and American bombing. The most damaged areas included harbors, housing in coastal cities, sugar refineries, and communication and transportation facilities. Work on repairs ceased upon surrender, as Japanese technical experts and managers began to return home, and spare parts for equipment became difficult to obtain. Agricultural production, insufficient in late 1945, remained inadequate because of a lack of fertilizer. Food shortages and unemployment worsened as hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese who had been soldiers, laborers, students, merchants, and low-level bureaucrats in China, Japan, and Southeast Asia were repatriated. In such a situation, any government would have had a difficult time managing the island’s resources. The Nationalists magnified these problems by connecting Taiwan to the mainland’s economy even as the latter struggled, then failed, to recover from the war.

SOURCE: Between Assimilation and Independence: The Taiwanese Encounter Nationalist China, 1945-1950, by Steven E. Phillips (Stanford U. Press, 2003), pp. 64-65

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Taiwan’s Transition from Qing to Japanese Rule

The extent of Taiwanese participation in Qing-era government is closely connected to the issue of the island’s historical relationship with the mainland which, in turn, forms part of the debate over the island’s independence from China today. As one of the last parts of China settled and brought into the Middle Kingdom, Taiwan was more weakly tied to the central government and Confucian culture than other areas populated by Han peoples. For example, the Qing imperial bureaucracy had been less developed on the island than in mainland provinces. This made it easier for the Japanese to rule once they acquired the island, since there existed few leaders with strong political ties to the former central government to compete for legitimacy. As the historian Chen Ching-chih writes, “there were no more than 5,350 degree holders in Taiwan on the eve of the Japanese takeover. This figure would give Taiwan, which had a population of 2,546,000 in 1896, 21 degree holders for every 10,000 people. Taiwan thus proportionately contained a smaller group of degree holders than each of the eighteen provinces in China.”

The decisive defeat of the Qing dynasty in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 marked a major turning point in Taiwan’s history. The island became distinct from the mainland in an important way–of all China’s provinces, it was the only one surrendered completely and permanently to imperialists by the Qing. The island was no longer tied to a chaotic and crumbling China, but became part of an increasingly powerful and economically developed Japan. Colonial rule created the island’s post-1945 elite and shaped its attitudes toward a national-level government. Under the Japanese, the Taiwanese experienced the benefits of a relatively efficient and honest administration as well as its rigid and intrusive demands. Islanders were excluded from full citizenship in the Japanese nation, even as the colonial regime held out the prospect of limited participation in the state. The Japanese era presented a tangle of contradictions: law and order with repression in a police state; economic development and exploitation; and education and employment opportunities limited by systematic discrimination. Wealthy and educated Taiwanese reacted ambivalently, organizing a series of reformist political movements that vacillated between seeking further assimilation into the empire and demanding greater autonomy from it. In particular, the elite’s attitude toward the dual character of Japanese rule became clear in its attempt to expand self-government without seeking independence–setting a pattern for interaction between the islanders and Jiang Jieshi’s regime after 1945.

SOURCE: Between Assimilation and Independence: The Taiwanese Encounter Nationalist China, 1945-1950, by Steven E. Phillips (Stanford U. Press, 2003), pp. 6-7

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Taiwan at the Fall of the Ming Dynasty

During the Ming, Taiwan was not under the control of the Chinese state, although traders, fishermen, and pirates from Fujian Province had established themselves on the west coast of the island. Political upheaval on the mainland helped link Taiwanese and Chinese history. When the Ming collapsed in 1644, Taiwan became a redoubt for a fallen regime that claimed to represent the true China and its culture against alien rule, an image the Nationalists revived after 1949. The life and career of Zheng Chenggong (1624-62), known in many Western histories as Koxinga, a regional strongman and pirate who gained increasing influence as the Ming collapsed, linked Taiwan to the mainland’s political history. Zheng’s support of the Ming court against the non-Han Manchu invaders made him a permanent icon of Chinese patriotism. Even today he remains a particular source of local pride in Tainan, the city on the site where Zheng’s forces brought about the Dutch evacuation from their small colonial outpost in 1662. A combination of effective military strategy and generous peace terms, however, in 1683 enticed Zheng’s heirs to surrender to the Manchu Qing dynasty (1644-1912).

SOURCE: Between Assimilation and Independence: The Taiwanese Encounter Nationalist China, 1945-1950, by Steven E. Phillips (Stanford U. Press, 2003), p. 4

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The Last Yankee in the Pacific

In the Winter 2004 issue of American Speech (Project Muse subscription required) two dialectologists, Daniel Long of Tokyo Metropolitan University and Peter Trudgill of the University of Fribourg, have traced the linguistic heritage of an English-speaking native of Japan’s Bonin Islands back to a very distinctive accent found only in eastern New England.

ABSTRACT: On the isolated Bonin (Ogasawara) Islands in the western Pacific Ocean, the English language has been in use for close to two centuries. The first human residents arrived in 1830, and one individual from Massachusetts, in particular, left his progeny and his mark on island society. In this paper, we analyze tape recordings made in the 1970s of a speaker born (in 1881) and raised on the islands and demonstrate that his vowel system remarkably resembles that of Eastern New England, in particular that he maintains a phonemic distinction between NORTH and FORCE vowels. We discuss other conservative dialect features of his speech, such as a nonlabiodental variant of /v/ ([ß]) [like the Spanish /v/], which appears in complementary distribution with the mainsteam [v] variant, and contact features, such as th-stopping [i.e. th sounds like t or d]. In order to place this language variety, this speaker, and these recordings within their sociohistorical context, we provide a description of these unique islands and their complex linguistic heritage.

Here’s one of the key pieces of evidence: the vowel distinctions or lack thereof among LOT, THOUGHT, NORTH, FORCE (or stock, stalk, stork, store). (I’ve replaced phonetic symbols with lay equivalents: ɔ = aw, ə = uh.)

Conservative General American: LOT ≠ THOUGHT ≠ NORTH [awr] ≠ FORCE [or]
Modern General American: LOT ≠ THOUGHT ≠ NORTH = FORCE [awr]
Canadian: LOT = THOUGHT [a] ≠ NORTH = FORCE [or]
Scots: LOT = THOUGHT [aw] ≠ NORTH [awr] ≠ FORCE [or]
Conservative RP (“Received Pronunciation”): LOT [a] ≠ THOUGHT = NORTH [aw] ≠ FORCE [awuh]
Modern RP (“Received Pronunciation”): LOT ≠ THOUGHT = NORTH = FORCE [awh]
Eastern New England: LOT = THOUGHT = NORTH [a] ≠ FORCE [awuh]
19th-Century Bonin English: LOT = THOUGHT = NORTH [a] ≠ FORCE [owuh]

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The Power and the Glory

When Andrés Gentry asked me to cite the most influential book I have read, I listed Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory, which I read in high school, as a missionary kid questioning the faith of my family heritage. When I googled the title, I found an interesting take on the book’s Themes, Motifs, and Symbols at SparkNotes.com. I’ll give one example of each.

Theme: The Dangers of Excessive Idealism

To put it simply, an idealist is one who imagines that the world can be a much better place than it is. What could be dangerous about that? The [Mexican revolutionary] lieutenant, in many ways, illustrates the danger. Obsessed with the way things could be, he remains mired in dissatisfaction and bitterness about the way things actually are. Although the wish to help the poor is a noble sentiment, dreams of “starting over”, erasing history, and wiping out all religious belief are simply not realizable. Moreover, being unable to bring about the impossible leads the lieutenant to feelings of frustration and anger, an even more keen awareness of how imperfect the world is, and hatred for those people whom he views as obstacles to the realization of his dream. Moreover, his conviction that he knows what is best for the people is itself a form of arrogance. The priest, on the other hand, comes to accept suffering and death as a part of life; that is not to say that he does not wish to help alleviate suffering, but his faith in the next world helps him to accept the trials and hardships of this one….

Motifs: Abandonment

Many things are abandoned in this novel, and the words “abandoned” or “abandonment” crop up repeatedly. Many of the townspeople feel that the clergy has abandoned them, and the priest, in turn, feels that the people have abandoned him. Mr. Tench has abandoned his family, Captain Fellows and Mrs. Fellows abandon their house and their dog, and the priest tries to abandon the mestizo on the road to Carmen. These are just a few examples. It is an important motif, because it implicitly raises the most important question, whether human beings have been abandoned by God and left to the cruelty of nature and each other. Significantly, the greatest act of heroism in the novel–the priest’s decision to return to help the gringo–is a refusal to abandon someone in need, and a refusal to abandon a dangerous and ugly world….

Symbols: Alcohol

Alcohol recurs throughout this book as a symbol with two very different meanings. On the one hand, it represents weakness for “the whiskey priest”; a mark, to him, of his unworthiness and the decadence of his former life. The authorities’ attempts to rid the state of alcohol are a manifestation of the impossible and detrimental desire to purge the world of all human weakness. On the other hand, alcohol is an integral part of the Catholic mass, evidenced by the priest’s persistent attempts to procure wine. As we see throughout the book, the sacred and the profane are often portrayed not as opposites, but as two halves of the same coin.

Not bad for SparkNotes. The other two companion books I cited were Endo Shusaku’s Silence and Ooka Shohei’s Fires on the Plain.

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