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Lung Ying-tai: Culture, Language and Tradition Set the Foundation

(Continued from Part 1 – Lung Ying-tai: Stirring a ‘small river, small sea’ in Singapore
By Quek See Ling

“Politically, I have a Republic of China passport but culturally, I have a passport called Chinese. Anyone using Chinese, in my view, is my people.”

Lung Yingtai_1_Web 2Lung Ying-tai sharing her views at the 2015 UniSIM Cultural China Public Lecture in Singapore
 (Source: SIM University)

Lung said that the Chinese had lost their cultural confidence after the Opium War, with the younger generations adopting the attitude of contempt towards their own heritage and choosing to have blind faith in the government – not knowing that the government has already controlled the knowledge over individuals, reducing them to blindly embrace the country, the leaders, the doctrine and stability in the society without question.

Expectedly, Lung was asked for her views on Singapore. She revealed that she had asked 10 Singaporean friends on the biggest change in past 10 years, and their response was: “Turning left”. Lung’s statement that the transformation of Singapore – from the government’s belief that the citizens have to work hard to look after themselves, to its willingness to take care of the less well-off citizens – coincided with the theme of her lecture.

Lung did have an opinion on Singapore’s language policy though, and spoke out against the marginalisation of dialects in Singapore. “I believe grandchildren should be communicating with their grandparents using their grandparents’ languages. Otherwise, it would be a deprivation of cultural rights,” she said. Lung felt that dialects and Mandarin are the emotional umbilical cord of the Chinese. Therefore, in its continuing quest for greater prosperity, Singapore will have to think about how to establish the foundation of language as an integral part of culture. “Culture cannot simply be delivered like tap water,” she added.

Democracy: Politics Is Just One Facet
“Democracy is not about fighting in the parliament… Democracy must be put into practice and be actively promoted in the society. Given time, only then can justice permeate to all layers of the society, including the villages in the mountains.”

The lifting of martial law in 1987 was a watershed in Taiwan. In the current situation when many are suspicious and disappointed with democracy in Taiwan, Lung thought otherwise. She reasoned that politics is one facet of democracy; she likened it to be the water surface. Underneath the water surface is the attitude of the public and it is here that changes have already started. Having grown up with stories of disappearing political prisoners, Lung was active in making up for the historic sufferings when she was in public office by locating and returning the final letters of deceased political prisoners, and openly offering the government’s apology to the surviving former political prisoners. Lung indicated that the Taiwanese government had paid 20 billion Taiwanese dollars as compensation for the miscarriage of justice in the last 15 years. Though she conceded that the compensation could neither bring the dead back nor restore the political prisoners’ dignity, Lung believed that these acts of late justice are signs of democracy.

Lung concluded her lecture with two thought-provoking comments. First, pay attention to Southeast Asia. Lung believes that Southeast Asia is rich in history and full of zest; its history will become even more fascinating if one looks at it from the perspective of its diaspora. Second, pay attention to the villages and less well-off people in the society. A country can only be truly happy when the benefits from infrastructure building, human rights and justice, and social welfare permeate the entire society.

Lung Yingtai_4_WebLong queue at the book-signing session after Lung Ying-tai’s lecture (Source: SIM University)

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