Room Service Only for Democracy Tourists in Taiwan

I remember covering the early Taiwan elections in the 1980s as the Taiwan correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. In those days, Zhu Gaozheng, who had a Phd in philosophy from Germany and loved to get into punching matches with KMT opponents, got elected as one of the first 13 DPP legislators by promising to cause an “earthquake” in Taiwan politics. Twenty-plus years later, that earthquake now appears to be sending aftershocks across the Taiwan Straits. Taiwan’s democracy is emotional, messy and noisy. But it works. This article from The Globe and Mail’s Mark MacKinnon about Mainland tourists in Taiwan being told by their Mainland tour operators that they have to stay in their hotel on election day is just another example of how the traditional Chinese policy of “yuming zhengce“ (愚民政策) — keeping the masses ignorant so they will follow the rulers — is unworkable in the day and age of international business, global tourism, weibo, blogs and cell phone cameras.

Beijing limits democracy tourists to Taiwan – The Globe and Mail

“On Election Day we are not allowed to go out into the street. We have to stay in our rooms [on Saturday] until the results are announced. Then we can go out.”Asked who gave the order, Ms. Geng pointed up, indicating her superiors, and shrugged. Taiwanese tour operators say tens of thousands of other would-be mainland tourists were prevented from coming at all when Beijing halved the number of tour groups allowed to travel to Taiwan during the election period.“They’re afraid [the tourists] will see how elections are run and that they’re peaceful and the government doesn’t beat people up,” said Bruce Jacobs, an Australian academic who is part of an election-monitoring group known as the International Committee for Fair Elections in Taiwan…

Witnessing the campaign up close does seem to have had an impact on the Chinese tourists who have been allowed to come. Ms. Geng said her group has soaked up as much as they’re allowed to, building detours into their itinerary in order to watch the caravans of the three presidential candidates as they travel the country rallying supporters…

One Hong Kong tourist agency organized a special “Taiwan Election Carnival Inspection Tour,” charging about $350 for a three-day package that included stops at Friday night’s final pre-election rallies, as well as visits to voting stations on Saturday and the victory celebrations Saturday night.The election has also captivated Internet users in mainland China. “The democratic awareness of the Taiwanese people is admirable. Everyone takes part in the voting, everyone cherishes and guards their right to vote. They therefore have the feeling of being the owner,” one Beijing-based Internet user wrote on the popular Sina Weibo microblogging website. Others wondered if and when China’s Communist rulers would ever allow competitive politics on the mainland.


About James McGregor
James McGregor is an American author, journalist and businessman who has lived in China for more than 25 years. Currently, he is chairman of APCO Worldwide, Greater China. A professional speaker and commentator who specializes in China’s business, politics and society, he regularly appears in the media to discuss China-related topics. McGregor is the author of the books "No Ancient Wisdom, No Followers: The Challenges of Chinese Authoritarian Capitalism" (2012) and "One Billion Customers: Lessons from the Front Lines of Doing Business in China" (2005). He also wrote the 2010 report "China’s Drive for ‘Indigenous Innovation’ – A Web of Industrial Policies." From 1987 to 1990 McGregor served as The Wall Street Journal’s bureau chief in Taiwan, and from 1990 to 1994 as the paper’s bureau chief in Mainland China. From 1994 to 2000, he was chief executive of Dow Jones & Company in China. After leaving Dow Jones, he was China managing partner for GIV Venture Partners, a $140 million venture capital fund specializing in the Chinese Internet and technology outsourcing. In 1996, McGregor was elected as chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China. He also served for a decade as a governor of that organization. He is a member of the Atlantic Council, Council on Foreign Relations, National Committee on US-China Relations and International Council of the Asia Society. He serves on a variety of China-related advisory boards.

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