President Ma deserves better than protesters throwing shoes

By David Kan Ting ,Special to the China Post

Of late, President Ma Ying-jeou has been dogged by flying shoes thrown at him by protesters and hecklers, so frequent and threatening that Taiwan’s police spent about US$16,000 to buy 149 “shoe-catching nets” to protect the safety of the president, although none of these projectiles has yet hit the bull’s-eye.

But not every public official was so lucky. Liu Cheng-hung, mayor of Miaoli in Central Taiwan, was struck right on the face last month by a Snickers bar hurled by a student activist from Tsinghua University named Chen Wei-ting, who was protesting the local government’s forceful demolition of private residences to make way for the extension of an industrial science park.

Shoe-throwing as a form of political protest is not new. Former U.S. president George W. Bush was the target of an angry Iraqi journalist — Mundadhar al-Zaidi — who threw his shoe at a joint press conference hosted by Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki in Baghdad in 2008. The iconic picture of Bush and Maliki fending off the unexpected flying object went viral, with Zaidi becoming an instant celebrity (and a prisoner later). But whatever the grievances, such kinds of protest should not be condoned. Tsinghua University President Chen Li-chun told lawmakers recently that students are adults who should be responsible for their own conduct outside campus and shouldn’t be treated differently if they break the law. Other educators were unanimous in their view that shoe-throwing is an “inappropriate” act because it is irrational and intolerant.

For quite a long time, Taiwan’s educators, including Education Minister Chiang Wei-ning (蔣偉寧), have stressed the lofty goal of realizing a “well-off and civilized” society (富而好禮的社會). But what has been happening in Taiwan, the self-professed torchbearer of Confucian values and ideals, is rather the opposite. Taiwan’s education is a failure if and when its students believe that shoe-throwing is justified as a form of free speech. Li (禮), or civility and appropriateness, is the backbone of Confucianism. When Wen Jiabao spoke at Cambridge University in England in 2009, his speech was disrupted by a student heckler who threw a shoe at the former Chinese premier. Other students in the audience were stunned and embarrassed and shouted at the shoe-thrower, a German named Martin Jahnke: “Shame on you!” Few saw Jahnke’s behavior as acceptable. England deserves to be called a well-off and civilized society.