Out of place

Leland Stange’s column “Listening to Taiwan” (Aug. 30, 2018) presents an interesting summary of an innovative research project. Nonetheless, I found his piece troubling. Mr. Stange’s analysis of Taiwanese society seems to come straight out of an early-modern philosophical thought experiment, such as Montesquieu’s “Persian Letters” or More’s “Utopia.” The Taiwan of Mr. Stange’s portrayal, with its “script of tradition and reverence and respect,” has little in common with the Taiwan of reality. It is, instead, being used as an idealized foil for aspects of American society that Mr. Stange takes issue with. A less romantic and Orientalizing view of Taiwan would find that Taiwan, like any other country, contains multitudes — traditionalism and liberalism, generosity and cruelty, ignorance and enlightenment. Nor is Taiwan in any sense a land left behind by time; it is not the bastion of old-fashioned values that Mr. Stange lauds. To the contrary, Taiwan, especially under the current government, is demonstrably more progressive on cultural issues than virtually any other country in Asia. For a regime devoted to restoring “tradition,” Mr. Stange should look across the Strait.

Mr. Stange is right, however, to identify Taiwan as a largely successful democracy. But Taiwan’s robust democracy is at least as much a product of its universal health care system, relative absence of income inequality and institutional commitment to human rights. It is only under such conditions that Mr. Stange’s ideal democracy can flourish.

Gabriel Groz ’19