SCMP Thursday, June 1, 2000


'Thanks, but Hong Kong can keep its one country, two systems'


Taipei's renowned feminist writer Li Ang was in a reflective mood. "Can Taiwan hang on to its independence a little longer?" wondered the staunch supporter of President Chen Shui-bian. "We don't want China to rule us, because Hong Kong is a bad example. China seems to be ruling Hong Kong through Tung Chee-hwa," she said.

After a pause, she asked: "Can you really write that in your newspaper?" evidently sceptical of whether press freedom still exists in the SAR after the handover.

"We don't want 'one country, two systems' to happen to us. We see that freedom of speech is diminishing in Hong Kong," added the 48-year old, who is a seventh-generation Taiwanese.

Previously a frequent visitor to Hong Kong, she has not made the trip since 1997 because she claims it is not a "fun" place any more.

Born in central Taiwan, Li has been writing for 30 years and has published 15 books. One of her most famous books, The Butcher's Wife, provoked controversy with its tale of how a woman chopped up her husband. The novel was translated into seven languages.

She said her writing background gave her first-hand experience of what it was like to have no freedom during the earlier years of Kuomintang rule, when the press was strictly censored. A personal friend of Taiwan's Vice-President Annette Lu Hsiu-lien for 30 years, Li witnessed the oppression she suffered.

"She was jailed for six years [for helping to organise Taiwan's first opposition rally in 1979]. While she was in prison, her mother died. She wanted some time out to attend her funeral, but the Kuomintang refused. From that memory, I know how precious freedom and democracy are to us today."

Li claims that, of all the Chinese communities including Hong Kong, the mainland, Singapore and Malaysia, Taiwan is the freest and most democratic. "Once China rules us, will we be allowed to have this kind of freedom?"

Not everyone in Taipei is so adamant in their opposition to Beijing, with some housewives taking a rather different view. "We don't want war. We can follow Hong Kong's example. We want to enjoy our freedom and stability," said Tseng Huai-yu.

Another housewife, who asked not to be named, said: "We are willing to be like Hong Kong. We want direct links with China, such as going to the mainland without having to pass through Hong Kong.

"The status quo is fine. We don't want independence, but that doesn't mean we want immediate reunification. Just go slow - until China is more free."

But Li's strident stance is one that is popular among Taiwan's younger generation. "We don't like reunification. We feel we will have no freedom," said Tzeng Lu-wei, a second-year university student majoring in business studies.

"Our standard of living is much higher than China's. Mainlanders, who are not so educated would be a burden to us, especially if they came to Taiwan to compete for jobs. Haven't they added to the unemployment rate of Hong Kong?"

Gary Wu Cheng-hao, a second year university student majoring in information systems, said: "We like the way we are now. We don't want any change.

"We make a good living. Taiwan is stable. China is too authoritarian for us. We don't want to be ruled by a country like that. If we reunite with China, the state of Taiwan will be relegated to a provincial government. Taiwan should be equal to China."

Mr Wu knows that there are vast trade opportunities between China and Taiwan, but believes business and politics should be separate.