Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Equality: because folks have waited long enough.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Constitution and Culture

I have been reading the Constitution of the Republic of China promulgated in 1947, and these two articles in the section on culture and education stood out to me:
Article 164
Funds earmarked for education, science, and culture shall be, in respect of the Central Government, not less than fifteen percent of the total national budget; in respect of the Provincial Government, not less than twenty-five percent of the total Provincial budget; and in respect of the Municipal or County Government, not less than thirty-five percent of the total Municipal or County budget. Educational and cultural foundations established in accordance with law, and their property, shall be protected. 
First of all, that seems like a substantial amount of funding for education, research, and the arts and humanities. And indeed, in the 2013 budget, the expenditure by the Central Government for these categories totaled 18.9% of the budget: 12.3% for education, 5.2% for science and 1.4% for culture.
Article 166
The State shall encourage scientific discoveries and inventions and shall protect ancient monuments and ancient relics of historical, cultural, or artistic value.
The Nationalists often expressed commitment to tradition, seeing themselves as the defenders of Chinese culture. To highlight the importance of heritage protection, one may note that the director of the National Palace Museum, the repository of the world's finest collection of Chinese artifacts, holds a cabinet-level position in the Executive Yuan.

Beyond this ideological orientation, a political milieu in which scholars and intellectuals had relatively greater say, and a set of institutional checks and balances, with Article 166, we can also point to explicit constitutional reasons as to why the Cultural Revolution would not have occurred under a Nationalist regime. Law alone is not everything and politics still matter; but at the very least, the Constitution reveals the values of its authors and the things they consider meaningful and worth addressing. In the Republic of China, it would have been unconstitutional for the state to advocate the wholesale demolition and destruction of heritage sites and ancient relics, as was instigated in the PRC by Mao.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Constitutional Perspectives

I was inspired by my friend Yang, who made an amazing Wordle of the Chinese (People's Republic of China) Constitution:

A single image speaks volumes about one-party rule in China and the primacy of the CCP.

I wondered what the U.S. Constitution would look like in contrast:

The biggest word? "States" That's +1 for federalism! The roles of Congress and the President also seem relatively balanced. And this doesn't even include the ten amendments that make up our Bill of Rights or later amendments on abolition and the expansion of suffrage.

Next, check out the Republic of China (ROC) Constitution (link), promulgated in 1947 and the one active on Taiwan today. It places great emphasis on the major organs of government, the yuan. In this context, one can interpret the word yuan 院 to mean "branch" or "body" of government.

In the five-power model advocated by Sun Yat-sen for the new Republic, the national government consisted of the legislature (or legislative yuan 立法院), the executive (executive yuan 行政院) and the judiciary (judicial yuan 司法院) -- the traditional separation of powers in the West. Two additional branches were drawn from Chinese tradition: the body in charge of the Civil Service Examination 考试院; and the Control yuan 监察院, tasked with auditing the other branches, and thus serving as an additional check on the government's power.

As my friend Yang notes, the word "law" features greatly in the ROC constitution. Pretty remarkable! In contrast, the word "party" shows up only in the following instances:
  • 7. All citizens of the Republic of China, irrespective of sex, religion, ethnic origin, class, or party affiliation, shall be equal before the law.
  • 138. The Army, Navy, and Air Force of the nation shall rise above personal, regional, and party affiliations and shall be loyal to the State and love and protect the people.
  • 139. No political party and no individual shall make use of armed forces as an instrument in the struggle for political power.

These three articles focus on non-partisanship: declaring that certain national institutions, such as the armed forces, must transcend politics, and asserting that membership in a party shall not define one's rights in the eyes of the law. Since full democratization in Taiwan, an additional 11 amendments have been added to the ROC constitution, securing citizens' rights and delineating rules for impeachment and new electoral procedures. In these amendments, the only further mention of political parties is as follows:
  • A line on how to apportion seats in the legislature to political parties, according to a revised electoral scheme.
  • Another line stipulating another non-partisanship institution: "Members of the Control Yuan shall be beyond party affiliation and independently exercise their powers and discharge their responsibilities in accordance with the law."
  • A requirement for all parties to abide by democratic principles and play by the rules of the game: "A political party shall be considered unconstitutional if its goals or activities endanger the existence of the Republic of China or the nation's free and democratic constitutional order."

In fact, it would be unconstitutional for a political party to reject democracy and push an agenda that deprives citizens of their rights or advocates for the imposition of authoritarian rule. Intriguing what a constitution says about a country and its values! 

Update 3/20/2013: As Xinhong Wang notes, most of the references to "Party" sit in the preamble of the Constitution, a fawning multi-paragraph account of the Communist Party and its contributions. (i.e. the section of the Constitution that states the purpose of the document and defines a national agenda) It's a none-too-subtle statement about the CCP's role in the life of the nation. In contrast, political parties are not mentioned in the American constitution whatsoever -- they were a later creation -- and only in a constraining role in the ROC constitution.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Elevate, meditate, translocate, incantate

The "luftpause" is a breath mark,
cloud-floating, wing-fluttering:

    air ... air ... air ... (inhale)

The transcendant lift in the polka,
a pause hanging in the broad, cumulus sky.

Lips brushing before a kiss returned,
the tranquil syllable unuttered when it ends.

The breeze as you push open the glass
door into a windswept afternoon.

The time it takes for a murmured incantation,
and the wave of a wand, to translate into magic.

Watch the ballerina at the end of a phrase
stretch im-per-cep-tib-ly—
extending the line.

You could fit a sunlit idyll into the space of that breath,
An elongated moment in musical time.

Monday, March 04, 2013

To the Square!

The March from Beethoven 9 makes me want to parade down the street swinging my arms -- a spring in my step, an added touch of flair. It's full without being heavy -- solid, with weight, but still sprightly in movement. There's a certain portliness to the music's motion.

Citizens step out of doorways and soon swell the streets: bakers in white, chefs wielding pots and pans, florists carrying armfuls of blossoms, petals floating every which way. Shopkeepers and clerks, blacksmiths and book sellers, broad-chested barmen and tavern owners, all joining in the joyful stream of residents filling the city's wide boulevards, flowing through the cobbled lanes. This rally is going to be so much fun!

Catch the march at 58 minutes and 52 seconds.

So then I marched down the street to our cafe, arms a-swingin'.

I must also admit to imagining this scene during symphony rehearsals too, while listening to the growling tread of the contra-bassoon, the treble lift of the piccolo, the floor-shaking, body-vibrating "WHUMP" of the bass drum!