《TAIPEI TIMES》 Late Sinologist holds key to countering China

《TAIPEI TIMES》 Late Sinologist holds key to countering China

Writer Joyce Yen records a podcast episode at the Central News Agency in Taipei in an undated photograph.
Photo: CNA

2022/06/17 03:00

/ Staff writer, with CNA

Taiwan has been likened to Ukraine because of the threat posed by its powerful neighbor, but the nation’s best approach to Chinese aggression might lie in a late Sinologist’s remark, a student of his works has said.

Chinese-born US historian and Sinologist Yu Ying-shih (余英時) said: “Never let communist China command the moral high ground.”

Columnist Joyce Yen (顏擇雅) shared Yu’s wisdom in an interview on a Central News Agency podcast that aired on Monday.

Last month, Yen published a book in which she had compiled Yu’s articles on political issues from domestic and foreign journals over the past few decades.

Speaking of Yu’s incisive arguments and way of thinking, the columnist and publisher said the warning about holding the moral high ground summed up her book Yu Ying-shih Comments on Political Reality (余英時評政治現實).

Yu’s argument was that communist China’s most powerful weapons against Taiwan and Hong Kong over the past few years have not been missiles, tear gas, aircraft carriers or fighter jets, but rather staking out the moral high ground, Yen said.

It has “fanned the flames of nationalism and constantly expanded the definition of Taiwan and Hong Kong independence without limits to command the moral high ground,” Yen said, implying that China has sought legitimacy on the issue by framing it as a sovereignty issue backed by its people.

China has viewed its population of 1.4 billion people as a weapon in support of those efforts, Yen said, but Taiwan should focus on freedom of speech as a weapon it can use.

That is why Yu desperately hoped that Taiwanese would think about the circumstances under which China’s 1.4 billion people would become a weapon for China and under what circumstances they could become a weapon for Taiwan.

Yu often stressed that Taiwan should take on communist China with the concepts of democracy and freedom, rather than by emphasizing nationalism, Yen said.

“Yu Ying-shih taught us to overcome China’s nationalism with universal values,” Yen said.

Yu believed that “if Taiwan only emphasizes its own nationalism, it will never hold the moral high ground against China,” she said.

Yu passed away in his sleep at the age of 91 on Aug. 1 last year in the US.

His death was described as the “biggest loss to academia in recent years and a tremendous loss for Chinese society” by Wang Dan (王丹), a Chinese academic and rights advocate who is best known for his involvement in the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing in 1989.

Calling Yu “a model and spiritual leader for contemporary intellectuals,” Wang said the historian not only dedicated his life to the research of Chinese history and culture, but also advocated for social justice and freedom.

Renowned for his ability to interpret Chinese thought using modern methodologies, Yu was hailed by many peers as the greatest academic of Chinese intellectual history of his generation.

Yu was also known for supporting democracy movements in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

In 2013, Yu penned an article for the Hong Kong edition of the Apple Daily in which he expressed his solidarity with those involved in the territory’s “Occupy Central with Love and Peace” movement.

The movement, which took place in 2013 and 2014, called for a more democratic process in electing the territory’s leaders.


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