This column first appeared in Chinese, published by Storm Media. See here for the original.

Lin I-hsiung[1], a founding father of the DPP but now a senior activist backing several of the new parties[2] to emerge recently, has harshly criticized the DPP for “not giving the new parties enough space.” On the surface, this is an electioneering conflict between the DPP and the so-called “Third Camp.” But at its core, this is a battle between the two over who bears the flag of pure idealism, just like a fight between sects of one faith, and just as thorny.

Looking at the DPP’s history, two founding members represent two different archetypes of the party. Lin surely is one; he represents the ideal of self-sacrifice for a greater cause. Everyone would agree that Max Weber would see Lin as a model for the “ethics of conviction.” The tragedy of our era is that we are surrounded by politicians who peddle in false hopes and false visions, but Lin’s vision is fiercely sincere. His singular focus is on faith, and all else is secondary, including actual end results.

If Lin is one archetype, the other must be another former DPP chairman Hsu Hsin-liang.[3] He ran to the opposing camp in the night, and negotiated with then KMT chairman and president Lee Teng-hui on constitutional reforms. He also brought back a gift of government subsidies to political parties, which enabled  new parties’ finances and helped with bringing about multiparty democracy to Taiwan. Whether Hsu is a model for the Weberian  “ethics of responsibility” is still to be determined by history, but most would agree the two personalities of Lin and Hsu are diametrically opposed.

If Lin and Hsu, both former chairmen of the DPP, set down DPP’s possible paths in the early days, then which path did the DPP eventually walk? Which chairman’s vision has the DPP accomplished?

To be honest, the DPP awkwardly tried to appease both visions, just like the DPP awkwardly found itself distanced from both former leaders. The DPP tried to fashion itself as the spiritual inheritor of Lin’s ideals, but Lin’s actual conviction, bordering on the religious, is not something the DPP can actually partake. Hsu was responsible for managing the DPP from a small party to a contender to rule and gave it financial security, but while the DPP accepted this gift, they would rather not admit they did.

In other words, the DPP is stuck talking the “Lin I-hsiung idealism” talk, but walking the “Hsu Hsin-liang pragmatism” walk. The result? Supporters are converts to the idealism, and they see any backtracking on the ideal as an act of betrayal to the party. As Weber himself pointed out, idealism “turns the political follower into a disciple, and the political opponent into an enemy.” Politics became religion, and the art of the compromise is lost.

Examples abound. On everything from cross-straits relations to nuclear power, political differences often turned into a fight to the death. But like it or not, the DPP must at some point compromise. Chen Shui-bian admitted it was impossible for him to declare de jure independence, and Tsai Ing-wen recently paid a visit to Formosa Plastics, all examples of the DPP bowing to the pragmatic at some level.

The DPP could have it both ways in the past, because no one called its bluff on the adherence to ideals. Now that the Third Camp came up, with Lin as its spiritual leader, their critique of the DPP’s pragmatism is a powerful one.

When Lin said Tsai does not have a clear stance on the national sovereignty, DPP city council member Lee Chien-chang had this to say: “surely Lin understands that Tsai’s position of ‘maintaining the status quo’ is the only realistic option. Taiwan must maintain its relations with the US and China, and therefore we can only crawl forward, not declare independence tomorrow.” However, the DPP’s message to voters is different. President Ma Ying-jeou crawls forward, and the DPP criticizes him for selling out the country. How will the DPP tell its voters now that once Tsai becomes the president, she also must only crawl forward as well?

30 years since Taiwan became a democracy, there are no more role models within the DPP. Our youth look to an even earlier generation of heroes, such as Su Beng and Cheng Nan-jung, people who bravely sacrificed themselves for their ideals, untouched by the new era of banal political maneuvering. On the other hand, those who contributed by working with the KMT became traitors, or your run-of-the-mill politicians. That the generation who lived through democratic transition became the generation without heroes, that the DPP has lost its way between ideals and reality, speak to the DPP’s enduring midlife crisis.

(Feature photo of Shih Ming-teh, Lin I-hsiung and Hsu Hsin-liang, in 1992, by The New Taiwan Foundation.)


[1] Lin I-hsiung was one of the founders of the DPP and its chairman from 1998 to 2000. In 1980, his mother and three young daughters were attacked in their home, with all but the oldest daughter brutally murdered. The murder is widely believed to be politically motivated and sanctioned by the KMT martial law government. Lin has also always been a staunch opponent of nuclear power, and has gone on indefinite hunger strikes many times, as recently as last year in 2014.

[2] Specifically, the New Power Party and the Social Democratic Party. Both parties were part of a group called Taiwan Citizens Union founded by Lin, but split and formed two separate parties.

[3] Hsu Hsin-liang was the DPP chairman in 1992 and in 1996. He was Taoyuan County Magistrate from 1977 to 1979. His stance on Taiwan independence has been controversial, as he advocates for various forms of cooperation and interactions with the PRC.


Jane Wu

Jane is currently the editor-in-chief of Storm Media, a Taipei-based digital news organization. She has a bachelor and masters degree in sociology from NTU. She was a journalist for IDN, China Times, and was executive editor at China Times and Chief Columnist for China Times Weekly.

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