Late Sinologist's appeal: Keep China from gaining moral high ground

06/14/2022 11:54 AM
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Columnist Joyce Yen on a CNA podcast
Columnist Joyce Yen on a CNA podcast

Taipei, June 14 (CNA) Taiwan has been likened to Ukraine because of the threat it faces from a powerful neighbor, but its best approach to possible aggression by China may be based on a late Sinologist's wisdom, according to a student of his works.

That approach in the words of Chinese-born American historian and Sinologist Yu Ying-shih (余英時) is "Never let Communist China command the moral high ground," argued columnist Joyce Yen (顏擇雅) during an interview on a CNA podcast that was aired on June 13.

Yen published a book in May in which she compiled Yu's articles on political issues found in numerous different 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).

According to Yen, Yu's argument was that Communist China's most powerful weapons targeting Taiwan and Hong Kong in recent years have not been missiles, tear gas, aircraft carriers, or fighter jets, but rather staking out the moral high ground.

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 1.4 billion population 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's 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, noting that Yu believed that "if Taiwan only emphasizes its own nationalism, it will never hold the moral high ground against China."

Yu passed away in his sleep in the United States at the age of 91 on Aug. 1, 2021.

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 activist and scholar 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 Chinese intellectual historian of his generation. He was also known for supporting democracy movements in both Hong Kong and Taiwan.

In 2013, Yu penned an article for the Hong Kong edition of Apple Daily in which he expressed his solidarity with those involved in the city'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 city's leaders.

(By Chiu Zu-yin, Teng Pei-ju and Elizabeth Hsu)

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