Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Update on the potential problem of romanticizing Nazism in Taiwan

Some of you may remember a couple of posts (see here and here) I wrote last year about a Nazi flag I saw hanging from someone's window as I was traveling on the Danshui line of the metro. Most people thought I was making a big ado about nothing. I described at the time a debate I had with a friend about the display of a Nazi swastika:

He thinks that these displays of Nazi-era Germany are meaningless, and that the people displaying them are clueless about what happened. They are just doing it for fun. Or else it is just a small clique within Taipei society--the displays part of their fashion.

It is possible that this is a harmless fad, a group of people who think it is all a fun game, and that the symbols look cool. It is also possible that they are unfamiliar with the holocaust. I remember visiting Dachau when I was in college and seeing the George Santayana quote for the first time: "Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it."

The making light of the holocaust by displaying its symbols for fun is already a dangerous act; it is a forgetting. Is it possible that children in Taiwan--that children anywhere--aren't learning about the holocaust. I don't mean to focus solely on what happened in Europe; genocides have occurred throughout history and humankind still has not learned.

But I also wonder if there is something more nepharious afoot. Is someone purposely exporting the items to Taiwan and elsewhere--either a local or a foreigner--as a way of propagating some kind of ideology? How was it that these symbols came to Taiwan? And how do the people who display them interpret them?

In my second post on the subject, I felt the need to clarify some issues. One was that I knew the Nazis had co-opted an ancient symbol; I knew (and know) that Buddhists (and others) have a similar symbol. The following was also important for me to say:

Lastly, I would like to clear up a few points in my last post. I was not arguing that Taiwanese people are anti-semitic. The thought never even crossed my mind. I wasn't even making a case about anti-semitism. The latter is partly because I prefer not frame this kind of phenomenon as "what they did to us," but instead choose the frame: "what humans have done to each other." To me, the swastika is but one symbol of mass violence that humans have produced, and there is the potential for such violence in any society. That is why we should remember--to prevent it from happening again and to not glorify or romanticize the symbols of its manifestation in former times.

Months passed and I stopped thinking about the issue. Then, a few days ago, a friend of mine--Angelica Oung--who is a reporter for the Taipei Times told me about an article she read in the Apple Daily, which discussed a group of students in Taiwan who have formed a Nazi organization. As Michael Turton mentioned on his blog, Taiwan News then picked up the story:

Twenty university students yesterday founded an association with Adolf Hitler as its inspiration, and set themselves the goal of turning Taiwan into a Nazi country in a bid to show their extreme dissatisfaction with the continuous political squabbling that pervades life in Taiwanese society these days, according to local Chinese-language media reports.

The National Socialism Association presently has over 800 members on its books, most of whom are university or high-school students, according to information on the association's Web site.

One co-founder of the association, surnamed Hsu, announced plans to invite all members to hold a meeting next Saturday, explaining that supporters will be clearly told that the NSA aims to seize the reins of government.

"We will find a quiet place to discuss the association's future with our members earnestly," the 22-year-old Hsu was quoted as saying.

Hsu, who graduated from the political department of Soochow University last year, noted that she was so fed up with all the political wrangling between the ruling and opposition parties that she and several other followers of Nazi ideology decided to found the association.

It is hoped that they could transform Taiwan into a Nazi country, said Hsu.

Angelica and I then met in Beitou this past Sunday. She was writing a story about this new Taiwanese Nazi party and wanted to interview me about my reaction when I first saw the swastika from the metro:

What Alberts saw was a red swastika flag hanging from a window in an apartment building near the MRT line.

"It is a very ... potent symbol. I couldn't help but notice," Alberts said. "What is it doing in Taipei?"

After the interview, we then walked to the apartment building with the Nazi flag. The big question was whether or not this person was connected to the Nazi association.

My initial thought when Angelica mentioned a Nazi group in Taiwan, especially after seeing their website, was that they were children of conservative families who came from China in the forties, which still held a grudge over the loss of the "mainland"--families that still dreamed of the heyday of their beloved Republic of China and that weren't exactly happy with the move to multi-party democracy. Just a hunch.

I'll let Angelica, who has since written the definitive story on the subject up to this point, finish the story:

With Alberts' help, the Taipei Times located the apartment in which the Nazi flag was displayed. It was located in a gated community in Tienmu. A man in his late thirties answered the door and agreed to speak to us, on condition of anonymity.

"Hitler did a lot of bad things which I don't condone, but he also turned Germany from a weak and divided nation into a world power," he said. "I admire that because unity and strength is what Taiwan needs. Democracy and capitalism have their good qualities, but they have left our collective spirit chaotic, flagging and mired in defeatism."

These comments mirrored the rhetoric found on the NSA blog.

"We have seen relentless societal and political chaos since democracy was instituted in this country ... wake up, youths of Taiwan!" an open letter said.

However, the man claimed he had never heard of the NSA and had a view of the Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) legacy that was diametrically opposed to Hsu's.

"Taiwan used to be a part of the axis as a part of Japan," he said. "Who did more for Taiwan than Goto Shinpei as the governor-general?"

"When the KMT came, they were the brutal occupiers, they oppressed the Taiwanese," the man said.

Asked if he believed he would have fit in society if Taiwan were still under Japanese occupation, the man replied: "I am in contact with hard-right [sic] elements in Japan ... they all love Taiwanese people. If the KMT did not take over Taiwan, I believe that in time we would have been accepted as Japanese." Read the whole article...

Two similar yet opposed views both identifying with the same political symbol, the same powerful leader, the same ideology--both looking to an earlier time before democracy and capitalism--both lamenting the current weak state of their country and dreaming of a time when there was unity and strength and prosperity. Funny (or not so funny) how both selectively overlook the tremendous loss of life that was the flip side of their naive daydream.


Blogger Michael Turton said...

Fantastic post. I could hear you saying "I know what a Buddhist swastika is, and that ain't no stinking Buddhist swastika!!!"


11:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So that was YOu in the taioei times story. ! very good article.

by the way, there is some confusion in taiwan media over the nazi swastika shape and design, it has a S shape to it, while the Buddhist shrine symbol is a backwards S shape. Two different animals, but even Apple Daily got it wrong, So did Livrty times. Now the Simon Weisenthal Center in LA has said that the Taiwan student NSA group is dangerous and there might be some new news reports coming out later this week. you are right of course, the Nazi thin in Taiwan is NOT antisemitism, just ignorance and lack of hisotry understanding. the taiwan people are nice people. Most of them get it. a few people, like Ms Hsu at the NSA, don't get it. she will. she will learn. mayb you will learn her, Eli....

12:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


March 14

The Simon Wiesenthal Center in the USA has denounced efforts by a Taiwanese student
group called NSA that

sympathizes with Hitler to gain Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) status.
The National Socialist Association, or NSA, denies being neo-Nazi or racist
but champions Adolf Hitler for his ³strong leadership² in transforming a
weak Germany into a superpower. But participants on its online forums blame
democracy for social unrest in the country and also call for the
extermination of the children of foreign laborers.

In a statement released by the Wiesenthal Center¹s associate dean Rabbi

Abraham Cooper, said, "In

the global interconnected world we live in it is unacceptable anywhere to
seek to promote the policies and images of Hitler and Nazi Germany as worthy
of emulation.²

³Once before we had to deal with the introduction of Hitler's image in
Taiwan when Seiko Epson was going to make Hitler part of an advertising
campaign,² Cooper continued. ³So it is clear that many people in Taiwan
identify Hitler not with genocide and hatred, but power and notoriety.²

³If young people in Taiwan don't understand the unspeakable genocide brought
upon million of innocent people by this tyrant, then it is time to teach the
truth about the Nazi holocaust in the schools, films and exhibitions. Our
Center stands ready to work with those who want to empower the young people
with the truth,² Rabbi Cooper concluded.

12:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

year 2000 or so, NEWS ITEM:

Emblazoned atop the Tzu Chi Foundation Building in Taiwan is what appears
startlingly to Jewish eyes to be a swastika. In fact, it is *NOT* the
hated nazi symbol at all, but is the Buddhist sign representing
reincarnation. The arms of the symbol are in the *reverse* direction of
the swastika, with the top-most branch going to the left, and not to
the right.

"It is *not* the German sign of death," said a guide. "It
means just the opposite." ******!

"You see this symbol everywhere," Ruth Kahanoff, representative of
Israel's Economic and Cultural Office, said back in Taipei. "You get
used to it after awhile." !!!!!

12:54 PM  
Blogger Wulingren said...

Thanks everyone for the comments. As for the last anonymous comment, how many times do I have to say it: I KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A BUDDHIST AND A NAZI SWASTIKA!!! The guy who has the Nazi banner hanging in his window also knows the difference. So does the NSA. Or as Michael says: "That ain't no stinking Buddhist swastika!!!"

1:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The news has now hit the global Internet, google AP for "nazi taiwan" and you will see the news in over 500 newspapers worldwide.

3:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


5:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


5:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That Anon guy can't type. Here is the real story:

Taiwan Hitler admirers draw Jewish protests

TAIPEI, Taiwan (Reuters) -- An international Jewish human rights organization this week condemned a year-old network of Taiwan political activists who revere Adolf Hitler, and an Israeli official said he would protest to the Taiwan government.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center on Tuesday condemned the National Socialism Association for championing the former Nazi dictator and blaming democracy for Taiwan's "social unrest".

"In the global interconnected world we live in, it is unacceptable anywhere to seek to promote the policies and images of Hitler and Nazi Germany as worthy of emulation," Simon Wiesenthal Centre Associate Dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper said in a statement.

About 1,000 people, all from Taiwan and mostly college-aged, belong to the 19-month-old National Socialist Association, said self-described "main leader" Yue Shu-ya, 23, of Taipei.

Members usually communicate via their Web site, twnazi.org, he said.

"We want to study Hitler's good points, not study his massacres," Yue said, suggesting that Taiwan learn from Hitler's "welfare state" model. "It has nothing to do with Nazism."

Israel's representative to Taiwan said he planned to protest to the Taiwan government about conditions on the island that led to the group's formation.

"[The group] is a reflection of ignorance and an emotional void as well as [a] psychological and social sickness, or a combination of all the above," said Raphael Gazmou, the Israel Economic and Cultural Office representative in Taipei.

"It's also particularly sad that in Taiwan, where people have managed to achieve democracy and human rights, there is this kind of nostalgia for monsters as role model," he said.

Hitler has been the subject of controversy before in Taiwan. In December 2004, Taiwan's Nationalist Party withdrew a presidential election campaign advertisement featuring a picture of Hitler following protests from Jewish groups.

In 2001, President Chen Shui-bian's Democratic Progressive Party also withdrew a television commercial with footage of Hitler. In a separate incident, a Taiwan bistro removed pictures of Holocaust victims and other decor that upset Jewish groups.

Copyright 2007 Reuters.

5:39 PM  

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