Beyond Fear and Complacency



1. As Tien (1997: 124) writes, “Taiwan’s democratic transition has incurred relatively low social costs. Taiwan’s rapid democratic development has not led to significant economic decline, social unrest or serious political turbulence. … The incumbent regime is not overthrown … nor does it collapse.”

2. It is beyond the scope of this article to elaborate on the dynamics of democratic transition in Taiwan. This article will focus instead on the major challenge Taiwan’s democracy faces now and will evaluate various, especially left-wing, responses to that challenge.

3. Only a very limited amount of real estate has been returned by the KMT to the state, and the party refused to cooperate with an investigation into its assets in 2001. So far the party has been more interested in selling off these assets for profit than in returning them to the state (Fell, 2007).

4. The term used here refers to a variety of left-wing, pro-independence forces in Taiwan, from the liberal left who subscribe to some idea of social democracy to those with a more radical agenda. As for the former, the Taiwan Democracy Watch (TDW), a loosely organized group of scholars, was founded after the government’s violent crackdown on protests against the visit of China’s officials to the island in 2008, and published a manifesto titled “A Declaration of Free Men” in 2013. This declaration demands that issues associated with “people,” “human rights,” and “popular sovereignty” be taken on board with equal importance in any cross-strait political and economic negotiations. As for the latter, a number of intellectuals and activists employ the language of Marxism to justify their views on Taiwan independence. Some of them identify themselves with the intellectual tradition inspired by the writings of Su Beng (1918-), a renowned political dissident (sometimes dubbed the “Che Guevara of Taiwan”) who wrote a modern history of Taiwan from a Marxist perspective (Su, 1986). A newly formed political group called “Wing of Radical Politics,” which advocates “autonomy of sovereignty” (against China’s imperialism), “democratization of politics” (against KMT’s colonization of Taiwan), and “liberalization of society” (against economic exploitation), arguably best represents this position. It should also be noted that the term “pro-independence” here includes the stances both of abolishing the current regime of the Republic of China by enacting a new constitution and of maintaining the status quo of Taiwan as a de facto independent country. The majority of the left-wing independentists are wedded to the idea of civic nationalism (instead of ethnic nationalism).

5. Unless otherwise indicated, all translations from Chinese are mine.

6. In a commentary published on Christmas Day in 2012, Wu described 2012 as the “First Year of the China Factor” because Beijing’s influences were felt everywhere, from the presidential election to the media merger deals (Wu, 2012b).

7. As Au (2012a: 15) points out, “considering the degree of the party’s privatization of the state, the extent of the bourgeoisification of the bureaucracy, and the fact that it is the bureaucracy which constitutes the core of the bourgeoisie, Chinese authoritarian or state capitalism deserves a special name for itself.”

8. In the 1980s, “civil society” was generally understood as “folk society” in Taiwan (Wu, 2012a: 206).

9. As Varty (1997: 30) puts it, “authors, such as Marx, Polanyi and Schumpeter, have argued that it is the market that is dependent upon certain moral resources of civil society which the extension of market relations undermine and destroy.” Cohen and Arato’s work is a classic in this regard (Cohen and Arato, 1997).

10. The left-wing unificationists have systematically dealt with this mentality and its Cold War origins at least since the late 1970s. In my view this is one of their most important contributions.

11. In the words of Kang Chao, an influential scholar of sociology and a leading member of “Taishe”: “If China, as an idea that implies an appealing set of values and practices, paves the way for spiritual settlement, human coexistence and co-prosperity, or at least provides people in the region with justice, peace and dignity, then China as an idea will be the ultimate solution to the ‘Taiwan question’” (Chao, 2014: 284). It is noteworthy that what Chao proposed five years ago was the concept of “methodological Chinese” (Chao, 2009), but now his commitment to the idea of China and Chinese is less methodological than ontological.

12. Löwy (1989: 218) adds that “Marxist internationalists taking part in a movement for national liberation should keep their independence, and try to persuade the exploited popular masses of the need to develop the struggle (in an uninterrupted way) beyond the national aims, towards a socialist-revolutionary transformation. But they cannot ignore or under-rate the significance of the popular demand for national self-determination.”

13. It is not enough to stay there, however. The radical left in Taiwan has long evaded the question of evaluating the implications of, for example, Taiwan independence or federal (or confederate) arrangements for socialist struggles. Some of them adopt a passive stance of “neither unification nor independence,” a stance that is driving them away from the majority of people in Taiwan. In addition, I submit that socialists in Taiwan should also examine closely the current electoral system (a mixed-member majoritarian system) that systematically favors large political parties and coalitions. Under the current electoral system, even a moderate, progressive party like the Green Party Taiwan (the largest extra-parliamentary party in Taiwan) can hardly earn a legislative seat. It is not that the radical left should commit themselves only to electoral politics; they definitely should not. But a political system dominated by two parties does tend to shrink the space for radical politics.



Albert, Michael. 2003. Parecon: Life after Capitalism (London: Verso).

Alexander, Jeffrey C. 2001. “Toward a Sociology of Evil: Getting Beyond Modernist Common Sense about the Alternative to ‘the Good.’” In María Pía Lara, ed., Rethinking Evil: Contemporary Perspectives (Berkeley: University of California Press), 153-172. 2001.

Archer, Robin. 1995. Economic Democracy:The Politics of Feasible Socialism (New York: Oxford University Press). 

Au, Loong Yu. 2012a. “On the Rose of China and Its Inherent Contradictions.” In Loong Yu Au et al., China’s Rise: Strength and Fragility (Pontypool, UK: Merlin Press), 11-58.

———. 2012b. “How Socialist Is the Chinese Party-State?” In Loong Yu Au et al., China’s Rise: Strength and Fragility (Pontypool, UK: Merlin Press), 261-72.

Bunge, Mario. 1985. Treatise on Basic Philosophy. Vol. 7. Epistemology & Methodology III: Philosophy of Science and Technology, Part II: Life Sciences, Social Science and Technology (Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel).

———. 1998. Social Science under Debate: A Philosophical Perspective (Toronto: University of Toronto Press).

———. 2009. Political Philosophy: Fact, Fiction and Vision (New York: Transaction Publishers).

———. 2010. “¿Existió el socialismo alguna vez, y tiene porvenir?” Lecciones y Ensayos (no. 88), 17-41. 

Chang, Tieh-chi. 2013. “Chiang Ching-kuo and the Democratization of Taiwan.” China Change,

Chao, Kang. 2009. “Methodological Chinese and the Overcoming of the Division System.” Taiwan: A Radical Quarterly in Social Studies (no. 74), 141-218.

———. 2014. “The Stormy Spring of Taiwan 2014: Critical Reflections on the ‘Sunflower’ Student Mass Campaign.” Taiwan: A Radical Quarterly in Social Studies (no. 95), 263-84.

Chen, Kuan-hsing. 2010. “Paik Nak-chung’s Theory of Overcoming ‘Division System’: Rethinking China-Taiwan relations with reference to the two Koreas.” Inter-Asia Cultural Studies (no. 11, vol. 4), 566-590.

Chen, Shi-mon et al., eds. 1992. Dismantling Party-State Capitalism (Taipei: Independent Evening Post Publisher). (In Chinese)

Chou, Yi, Ping-fu Chao, and Wen-yuan Zheng. 2014. “Retrospect and Prospect in a Time of Downturn in International Workers’ Movement and Capitalist Crisis.” (In Chinese)

Chu, Wan-wen. 1995. “The Role of the State in the Development of Capitalism in Taiwan.” Taiwan: A Radical Quarterly in Social Studies (no. 20), 151-75. (In Chinese)

———. 2004. “Re-examination of Privatization in Post-authoritarian Times.” Taiwan: A Radical Quarterly in Social Studies (no. 53), 29-59. (In Chinese)

Cohen, Jean L. and Andrew Arato. 1997. Civil Society and Political Theory (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press).

Copper, John F. 1998. A Quiet Revolution: Political Development in the Republic of China (Ethics and Public Policy Center).

Coutrot, Thomas. 2005. Démocratie contre capitalism (Paris: Dispute).

———. 2010. Jalons vers un monde possible (Paris: Le Bord de l’eau).

Devine, Pat. 2001. “Participatory Planning Through Negotiated Coordination.” Science & Society (vol. 66, no. 1), 72-85.

Draper, Hal. 1992. Socialism from Below (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press).

Fell, Dafydd. 2006. Party Politics in Taiwan: Party Change and the Democratic Evolution of Taiwan, 1991-2004 (London: Routledge).

———. 2007. “Partisan Issue Competition in Contemporary Taiwan: Is Taiwan’s Democracy Dead?” Chinese History and Society (no. 32), 23-39.

———. 2010. “Taiwan’s Democracy: Towards a Liberal Democracy or Authoritarianism?” Journal of Current Chinese Affairs (vol. 39, no. 2), 187-201.

Fields, Karl J. 2002. “KMT, Inc.: Liberalization, Democratization, and the Future of Politics in Business.” In Edmund Terence Gomez, ed., Political Business in East Asia (London: Routledge), 115-54.

Fung, Archon, and Erik Olin Wright, eds. 2003. Deepening Democracy: Institutional Innovations in Empowered Participatory Governance (London: Verso).

Garver, John W. 2011 “Introduction: Taiwan’s Democratic Consolidation.” In Robert Ash et al., eds., Taiwan’s Democracy: Economic and Political Challenges (New York: Routledge), 1-34.

Hahnel, Robin. 2005 Economic Justice and Democracy (New York: Routledge).

Harrison, Mark. 2014. “The Sunflower Movement in Taiwan.” The China Story (April 18), www.thechinastory. org/2014/04/the-sunflower-movement-in-taiwan/.

Hart-Landsberg, Martin, and Paul Burkett. 2005. China and Socialism: Market Reforms and Class Struggle (Monthly Review Press).

Hsu, Szu-chien. 2014. “Stop Ignoring the Elephant in the Room: Party-State Capitalism in China and the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement,” (In Chinese)

Hu, Jason C., ed. 1994. Quiet Revolutions on Taiwan, Republic of China (Taipei: Kwang Hwa).

Huntington, Samuel P. 1991. The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century (University of Oklahoma Press).

International Election Observation Mission. 2012, “Report on the National Election in Taiwan,”

Kaeding, Malte Philipp. 2014. “Challenging Hongkongisation: The Role of Taiwan’s Social Movements and Perceptions of Post-handover Hong Kong.” Taiwan in Comparative Perspective (no. 5), 120-33.

Kuo, Chi-chou. 1999. Taiwan’s Left-wing Movement in the 1970s (Taipei: Strait Academic Publication). (In Chinese)

Liao, Wei-Hsiang, ed. 2012. The Unfinished Democratization: Unfairness and Abnormality in Taiwan’s Elections (Taipei: Taiwan Brain Trust Co.).

Lin, Shu-fen. 2004. “‘Democratization’ in Taiwan and Its Discontents: Transnational Activism as a Critique.” In Nicola Piper and Anders Uhlin, eds., Transnational Activism in Asia: Problems of Power and Democracy (London: Routledge), 168-88.

———. 2009. “The ‘Popular Democracy vs. Civil Society’ Debate in Taiwan Revisited.” Journal of Political Ideologies (vol. 14, no. 3), 227-52.

Linz, Juan J., and Alfred Stepan. 1996., “Toward Consolidated Democracies,” Journal of Democracy (vol. 7, no. 2), 14-33.

Löwy, Michael. 1989. “Fatherland or Mother Earth? Nationalism and Internationalism from a Socialist Perspective.” In Ralph Miliband et al., eds., Socialist Register 1989: Revolution Today: Aspirations and Realities (London: Merlin Press), 212-27.

Masahiro, Wakabayashi. 2014. “The Sunflower Movement and the Emergence of a ‘New Mass’ in Taiwan.”, July 31,

Paik, Nak-chung. 2011. The Division System in Crisis: Essays on Contemporary Korea (Berkeley: University Of California Press).

———. 2013. “Toward Overcoming Korea’s Division System through Civic Participation.” Critical Asian Studies (vol. 45, no. 2), 279-90.

Poulantzas, Nicos. 2000. State, Power, Socialism, New ed. (London: Verso).

Reid, David. 2009. “A Comparison of Transitional Justice in Taiwan and East Germany.” DianMo (vol. 5), 14-16.

Rigger, Shelley. 1999. Politics in Taiwan: Voting for Democracy (London: Routledge, 1999).

Rooksby, Ed. 2012. “The Relationship between Liberalism and Socialism.” Science & Society (vol. 76, no. 4), 495-520.

Santos, Boaventura de Sousa. 2005. Democratizing Democracy: Beyond the Liberal Democratic Canon (London: Verso).

Schweickart, David. 2011. After Capitalism. 2nd ed. (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield).

Shawki, Ahmed. 1997. “China: Deng’s Legacy.” International Socialist Review (no. 2),

Su, Bing. 1986. Taiwan’s 400 Year History: The Origins and Continuing Development of the Taiwanese Society and People (Washington, D.C.: Taiwanese Cultural Grassroots Association).

Tien, Hung-mao. 1997. “Taiwan’s Transformation.” In Larry Diamond, ed., Consolidating the Third Wave Democracies: Regional Challenges (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press), 123-61.

Varty, John. 1997. “Civic or Commercial? Adam Ferguson’s Concept of Civil Society.” Democratization (vol. 4, no. 1), 29-48.

Wan, Poe Yu-ze. 2011. “Systems Theory: Irredeemably Holistic and Antithetical to Planning?” Critical Sociology (vol. 37, no. 3), 351-374.

Wang, Chaohua. 2005. “A Tale of Two Nationalisms.” New Left Review (no. 32), 83-103.

Wang, Horng-luen. 2012. “A Preliminary Study of the Structures of Feeling behind Cross-Strait Nationalist Questions.” In Szu-chien Hsu and Roy Tseng, eds., Civility and Peace Dialogue (New Taipei: Rive Gauche Publishing), 181-231. (In Chinese)

Wang, Lixia. 2012. Rushing into the Door: In Defense of Marxism (Taipei: Tang-shan Publisher). (In Chinese)

Wolff, Richard. 2012. Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism (Chicago: Haymarket Books).

Wright, Erik Olin. 2010. Envisioning Real Utopias (London: Verso).

———. 2013. “Transforming Capitalism through Real Utopias.” American Sociological Review (vol. 78, no. 1), 1-25.

Wu, Jieh-min. 2012a. A Third View of China (Taipei: Rive Gauche Publishing). (In Chinese)

———. 2012b. “2012, the First Year of the China Factor,” Apple Daily (December 25). (In Chinese)

Yen, Yuan-shu. 2013. A Cool Heart is Boiling (Taipei: Strait Academic Publication). (In Chinese)