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Violence and Violence

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A reader writes that I have failed to understand the extent of the "real violence" in Taiwan. She attaches a video of a policeman wielding a truncheon, heaving at someone in a menacing crowd around a police vehicle. She says, "I have serious doubts about certain assertion [sic] in your article."

True, things are not going exactly as planned. But Taiwan has never been a peaceful place. When I first arrived there in 1996, the opposition party was out on the streets hurling iron bars and overturning cars. The police responded with water cannon.

When Hsu Jung-chi (notice I use the older, Taiwanese-esque spelling), the radio star wanted to make use of all the gangsters and ex-cons driving taxi cabs, he summoned them by radio to surround a government building and honk their horns at the same time. The minister of defense or some hoo-hah, called it "urban guerrilla warfare."

At the time, we scoffed. But that was not far off. The taxi drivers, many of them, carried steel clubs in the back of their cars. They were a mobile infantry.

When the opposition party won the presidential election, there were supporters of the ruling party out in the streets committing violent acts and threatening to attack former president Lee Teng-hui.

Violence? Taiwan's history is filled with violence. There is a colleague of mine who published a book through Stanford University Press who argues that underground gangs, triads, moved to Taiwan during the Qing dynasty. But the atmosphere on the island was so violent that they were transformed into ultra-violent organizations with blood oaths and vendettas. Eventually, the argument attests, it was the violence these gangs absorbed from the environment of Taiwan that brought down the Qing dynasty. Taiwan's violence led to the Revolution that ended imperial China.

So what is serious violence in this context?

One more question. China has threatened to invade if there is serious internal unrest in Taiwan. How serious do you want to define your violence now?