Int’l reporters welcome, but not their cliches on elections


By Ross Darrell Feingold

With Saturday’s presidential and Legislative Yuan elections coming up, journalists from outside Taiwan have arrived in large numbers to cover the vote and its immediate aftermath. It only benefits Taiwan to receive international attention for what is generally expected to be a free and fair election followed by a peaceful transition of power from one government to the next, regardless of which party’s presidential candidate wins. This is especially so given recent events in the nearby Chinese societies in Hong Kong and the mainland, where democracy and freedom of expression are increasingly constrained. However, English-language journalists, and scholars, writing or commenting about Taiwan often overuse certain terms, making those words cliched. Thesaurus.com defines a cliche as “a trite, stereotyped expression; a sentence or phrase, usually expressing a popular or common thought or idea, that has lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse.” Here are some of the most frequent English language cliches associated with Taiwan: 1. Heavyweights For reasons unknown, the English-language media loves to inflate the weight of Kuomintang and Democratic Progressive Party leaders. A Google search of “Kuomintang” “heavyweight” “Taiwan” returned 23,300 results, and “DPP” “heavyweight” “Taiwan” returned 36,400 results. For comparison’s sake, a similar search was conducted for Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party, which has ruled Japan, with over five-times the population of Taiwan, almost continuously since 1955 (other than interruptions in 1993 to 1994 and 2009 to 2012). The Google search of “LDP” “heavyweight” “Japan” returned 15,500 results.

From the time of Taiwan’s first directly elected presidential election in 1996, none of the three winning candidates (Lee Teng-hui, Chen Shui-bian and Ma Ying-jeou), nor their losing opponents could pass for “heavy.” Nor have KMT and DPP party chairmen or chairwomen been notably overweight. It’s time to rectify descriptions of political party leaders with the reality of their physiques. 2. Radical Independence Fortunately, Taiwan rarely suffers from political violence, and when violence is directed at government agencies or officials, it usually arises from a personal dispute rather than ideology. Yet pro-independence politicians and parties are periodically labeled as “radical independents,” which conjures up images of persons, insurgents and terrorists engaged in more dangerous activities. A Google search for “Taiwan” “radical independence” returned 16,500 hits. Perhaps after this election we’ll have a better idea of how “moderate independence” differs from “radical independence” as an ideology in Taiwan, though hopefully better descriptions can be found to describe the differences of opinion among those who favor the speed at which Taiwan should move to declare its formal independence. 3. Pan-parties The People’s First Party split from the Kuomintang in 2000 and the Taiwan Solidarity Union’s creation in 2001 led to the use of the now cliched prefix “pan” combined with “blue” for the KMT and PFP, and “green” for the DPP and TSU. The reality is that the PFP and KMT often could not cooperate and talk of reunification. In the last two Legislative Yuan elections, the PFP won only one and three seats, and the TSU won zero and three seats. Although the necessity of describing politics as “pan-blue” and “pan-green” seems to have long since evaporated, a Google search for “Taiwan” and “pan-green” returned 26,100 results, and a search for “Taiwan” and “pan-blue” returned 29,800.