I would like to thank Denise Tang and Travis Kong for inviting me to Hong Kong University. In the past when I visited Hong Kong, the activities tended to take place in Kowloon or at most in the New Territories. I am very happy that this time I can finally take the opportunity to get to know Hong Kong Island a bit, especially the areas beyond the usual shopping districts of Admiralty, Wanchai, and Causeway Bay.
The process of social change has been a fascinating topic for me since the early 1980s when I was still a graduate student; in fact, it was this interest that urged me to go back to Taiwan right after the lifting of martial laws in 1987, even before I had time to finish my Ph.D. thesis, which I eventually did three years later. Like many of my peers, we wanted to not only witness but intervene in the dramatic changes that were about to take place in Taiwan. Over the years, one important lesson we have learned about social change is its immense complexity and growing unpredictability in the global context. My talk this afternoon is only one attempt to describe the specificities of Taiwanese democracy, not as a mere political system but more importantly as a constitution of the social, predicated upon certain basic operational procedures and commonly-held values that are deemed to be democratically-based. I would like to describe some of these specificities of Taiwanese democracy through an examination of the particular structure of emotions that has been in the process of formation in Taiwan for more than 20 years. I am interested in following this line of development for two important reasons. First and foremost, because this formation of emotions is mostly carried out through an intensification of intolerance and stigmatization–and more importantly the criminalization–of non-conformity and even non-normativity, most prominently in the area of sex. Secondly, because this structure of emotions makes up an integral part of Taiwan’s transition from authoritarian rule to governance, where new civic norms are now effected through a civilizing process that makes whatever lies outside the sensibility and taste of the middle-class increasingly unpalatable and at times abominable, and hence resolutely relegated to the illegal.
I say there are two reasons but in fact they are two sides of the same coin, with one focusing on the exclusion of the marginal or unqualified, and the other one focusing on the consolidation of a new sensibility for the recognized and accepted. The connection between the two lies in the fact that social exclusion is increasingly conducted not through coercion but instead through seemingly intuitive emotional responses of shock or displeasure toward knowledge or sight of non-normativity or marginalities; the shock or displeasure are then projected as vulnerability and/or harm of age-and-gender-coded victims or an imagined innocent “public,” hence forming grounds for social penalty. (This may sound abstract, but it is exactly how most sexual harassment and obscenity cases are now established in Taiwan.) The consolidation of the new sensibility, likewise, is achieved not through imposed discipline or indoctrination but through the formation of an affective state that predisposes citizens to feeling indignant toward perceived deviances to the extent that collective actions of reprimand are felt to be compellingly necessary. In this paper, I am proposing the term, “self-dignified citizen,” as a locus through which we may observe these two aspects of the citizen subject that is being produced in this very special democracy of Taiwan.
The New Self-Dignified Citizen Subject
Let me begin by saying that this self-dignified citizen acquires her energy most significantly from the developing contradictions between Taiwan’s emergence as a strong economic body and her constant struggle with questionable nation-state status, situated within the increasingly complex political-social-economic-cultural fluidities of globalization.
The resettlement of the KMT government in Taiwan in 1949 was constructed as part of the Cold War deployment of the US. But as a regime in exile, Taiwan’s questionable nation-state status and its forced withdrawal from international diplomacy engendered a profound sense of insecurity that fed into the nationalist project to build Taiwan up as a US-backed anti-communist bastion, the so-called “beacon of freedom.” In the meantime, economically, Taiwan was integrated into the capitalistic global export processing system in the 1960s and 1970s and has enjoyed great economic success hereafter as one of the four Little Tigers of Asia. Relieved against the prosperity of Taiwanese economy, the continued uncertainties of nation-state status and its implied limitation for the self-affirmation of a booming economy steadily transformed insecurity and anxiety into discontent and frustration that came be funneled into the democratization movement and its challenge to political authority in the 1980s. Significantly, the interplay between the pride of rapid economic success and increasing demands for political liberalization and international recognition led to the creation of an imagined citizenship that was best captured in a late-1990s Yamaha motorcycle commercial, compensatively proclaiming the emergence of a “Dignified World Citizen” (尊貴的世界公民) in Taiwan at the exact moment when the latter’s diplomatic partners dwindled in the shadow of the rise of China.
However, this “Dignified World Citizen” was much more than a term fabricated to talk Taiwanese into “feeling” good about themselves. In fact, it marked the evolving fruition of a civilizing process propelled by a nation-building project that eventually consolidated the emergence of governance in Taiwan. Let me elaborate.
Codified civic norms were introduced into Taiwan to build up a citizen base for law and order under Japanese occupation (1895-1945) and were enforced with severe punishment. When the KMT took over Taiwan in 1949, it brought its own modernist version of civic guidelines known as the “New Life Movement”（新生活運動）created out of a combination of traditional Chinese ethics, new nationalism, the chivalric code of Japanese bushido, and even Christian values. In 1968, mainland China’s Cultural Revolution prompted the KMT to re-affirm its own authentic Chinese-ness by instituting a much more detailed set of “Guidelines for Citizens’ Daily Life”（國民生活須知）that concretized a civic education through basic etiquettes of speaking, dressing, eating, walking, etc., derived from a mixture of traditional Chinese manners and nascent modernity’s fervor for order and cleanliness. These guidelines aimed at training all citizens to perform basic manners and hygiene, demanding obedience and uniformity rather than encouraging individuality or self-pride.
But along with Taiwan’s growing economic prosperity, two structural developments became conducive to the cultivation of the new “dignified world citizen” of Taiwan. The first structural change has to do with the formation of a new globally-situated hierarchical order in which Taiwan found herself at a dignified advantage. In 1979 economically prosperous Taiwan had opened its borders for its citizens to take tours overseas; in 1988 Taiwan further liberalized its policies for visitation rights to Mainland China. In the following year, large warehouses such as Dutch-based Makro and French-based Carrefour opened for business in Taiwan. Millions of Taiwanese began tasting the power of the New Taiwan dollar both overseas and at home. International mobility and domestic influx of global commodities allowed people to experience the superiority of Taiwanese economic power in daily consumption and recreational activities that now carried global significance. More importantly, the importation of foreign labor since 1992 filled low-end jobs in construction, fishery, and home care, totaling 350,000 by 2010. Furthermore, since mid-1990s, up to 450,000 imported brides from Southeast Asia and Mainland China have entered Taiwan’s family space. The ubiquitous presence of immigrants from the Third World seeking better life opportunities confirmed Taiwan’s superiority and desirability. Ethnic differences and class differences, concretized in daily exchanges and constantly mobilized by political struggles over indigenousness, came to foster a growing sense of distinction new to the Taiwanese, as they now see Taiwan as a member of the elite club of advanced countries. The self-image of the dignified citizen thus aptly embodies Taiwan’s new positioning in the global flow of economy and desire.
A second and concomitant structural change that fortified the emergence of self-dignified citizenship has to do with the transformation of Taiwan’s industrial structure and the entry of multi-national service industries into Taiwan, which propagated new patterns of interaction that fostered individuality by dismantling the traditional Chinese interpersonal exchange styles that tended to consolidate hierarchical familial and generational structures. McDonalds’ entry into Taiwan in 1986 certainly opened up the first wave of employment possibilities for teenagers who would become entrenched in the well-composed service performance of courteous impersonality that would help them resist the usual age-and-generation-coded position of servitude prescribed by the Chinese society for its youths. On the same premises and opposite the teenagers are countless children who will gradually internalize such courteous impersonality through their most casual and pleasurable consumption activities. And if the kids are displaying desirable behavior of politeness and self-restraint, it’s understandable that adults would feel compelled to follow suit. By 2008, the size of the service sector has grown to over 75% of Taiwan’s annual GDP, with almost 60% of the population working in that sector. The intensity and frequency of exposure to or practice of such personality-shaping acts of self-composure, self-restraint, and self-monitoring in daily life activities cannot help but produce a general tendency toward civility that is often described by visitors as a “warmth and friendliness” unique to Taiwanese people
So far I have tried to describe the birth of the dignified citizen through mostly looking at the structural changes in Taiwanese society as it was further incorporated into the global system. But what really marked the dignified citizen is as much their positionality and assumed self-composure within the global system, as a specific structure of emotions that has been cultivated concurrently in the process.
A New Indignation and Righteousness
I have described this process as a “civilizing process” in reference to the work of German sociologist Norbert Elias, whose monumental work, The Civilizing Process (1939) raises awareness of shifting emotional structures as an important and necessary dimension of the overall change in social structures. In his analysis of post-Medieval court society of Europe, Elias points out that the aspiring classes tend to exhibit a sharper sensitivity and alertness, expressed as heightened emotions of embarrassment and aversion toward conduct and movements previously considered commonplace but now to be banished to the land of impropriety. Under this vigilant human observation, every act takes on “prestige value” (114) and judgments are made accordingly. This attention to distinctions thus prompts the civilized subjects to demonstrate a superior sensitivity/sensibility through being highly self-conscious, constantly checking and adjusting, and easily shocked by improper sights of incivility.
While Elias describes the ruling emotions of the civilizing process as embarrassment, shame, and aversion, all intransitive emotions directed at exhibiting the affective state, thus the class, of the subject; I cannot help but notice that Taiwan’s civilizing process commands a very different set of mutually complementing emotions—on the weaker side are vulnerability and displeasure, and on the stronger side are self-righteousness and indignation—and all are constructed as transitive emotions aimed at the actions of the problematic other.
To give an example of a rarely noticed development, in the first half of 2010 alone, 124 cases involving the use of offensive or profane language were taken to court and sentenced, contrasted with fewer than 10 cases annually in the 1990s. Actual indicted cases included saying things such as: “you are more poisonous than the milk powder in China,” calling someone a “watch dog,” “son of a bitch,” “crazy woman,” “fat and ugly like a pig,” “king of tardiness,” etc., and sentences passed range from US$300 fine to six months imprisonment. Insulting words posted on the internet could result in similar sentences. A man who failed in business called his business partner “a greedy devil” and “wolf in sheep’s clothing” on the internet and was sentenced to 30 days in prison; an athlete who described on the internet a fellow female athlete as “psychologically problematic,” “stay clear to avoid being accused of sexual harassment” and was sentenced to 40 days imprisonment. One professor wrote on the web that his dept. chair was a “mobster” and was sentenced to 20 days imprisonment; the chair felt unappeased and left message on the internet saying the professor was “evil in intention, unforgivable in gravity of misdemeanor” and was sentenced to pay the professor US$30,000 in damages to the latter’s reputation. Nowadays even body language expressions, such as raising the middle finger, could bring upon court cases.
The offensive language cited in these convicted cases is quite commonplace in daily life, and in the past, such expressions would be taken as just words that aimed to vent the anger of the moment, but now more and more people are taking each other to court over the casual use of such language, and such tendency toward litigations has its consequences. For self-dignified citizens may seem polite and amiable in their self-restraint, but their dignity allows no challenge or questioning, so they vigilantly respond to inappropriate behavior or responses that fall below the expected standards of civic performance, which may damage the dignified world around us. Whenever discordance results in linguistic exchanges, self-dignified citizens no longer bother to negotiate; they simply resort to the law to deal with undesirable language use. Such non-confrontational, or civilized, behavior cedes more and more power to the court, leaving the judicial system in charge of punishing those who demonstrate uncivilized behavior. The thresholds of intolerance for uncivil exchanges, both for the self-dignified citizens and for the court under the sway of so-called “public opinions,” are distinctively getting lower. The arbitration of the court over such cases thus gradually set up the absolute standards of civilized language and civilized interaction. “Open insult” and “defamation of reputation” become forbidden zones of human interaction, as more and more words and expressions—and the aggression, anger, resentment, and contestations underneath—are exiled to the land of the repressed. As the law replaces dialogs and debates with legal sentences, the social contradictions and personal conflicts that give rise to such impulsive acts remain untouched. The media’s interest in profiling such cases only further highlighted the changing sentiments of the citizen; and the frequency of convicted cases serves to affirm the sacredness of the felt dignity of the Taiwanese citizen.
In the age of the new social media, this carefully guarded and nurtured sense of dignity and civility can produce other unforeseeable effects. For in the space of the social media, contemporary progressive values of human rights, equality, order, care for the weak, etc. have now become values to be performed in plain sight for the multitude of viewers—and this required performance certainly feeds into the sense of righteousness that can be ignited against uncivil behavior. Any act that is seen as deviating from the imagined norm can now rouse up strong emotions in defense of the mandatory civility. Emotionally charged postings on Facebook have been known to fan up such moral outrage that all space for rational discussion or investigation is closed off, leaving only room for condemnation and demonization issued forth from an anonymous but fiercely vengeful crowd. Recent examples that have fallen prey to internet mob bombardment in Taiwan include judges whose lawful sentencing of perpetrators of sexual assault of young girls fell short of mob expectation, a young man who raised his middle finger at an ambulance that was blowing its siren to pass him, a drunken female performer who was involved in a scuffle with a taxi driver and instigated her boyfriend to beat up the driver, two high school boys who poured human waste over the homeless, and many many others. The perpetrators in these cases were all hunted down by the internet mob and showered with social condemnation from all sides, resulting in almost complete social death. With Taiwan’s penchant for political populism, now populism has spread to the cultural and moral realms, polarizing right from wrong to the extreme and rigidly shrinking the space for diversity and tolerance.
As shown above, the dignity of the dignified citizen subject does not stop at a sense of pride born out of self-discipline and self-restraint, but often turn to the judicial system to penalize the language and acts considered uncivilized so as to maintain a good clean social environment. In a world where low fertility rate has become a global problem, where cross-generation relationships are tense, where education finds itself almost ineffectual, the charge of “setting a bad example for children” has acquired extreme weight. Nowadays, adults easily feel shameful of what used to be common behavior for them (from drinking to smoking to pornography to sex to arguments to fights), because now concern for the young is supposed to eclipse any positive rights of the adult. The demands of the self-dignified citizen thus converge with social purity movements in the name of child protection, creating more and more restraint for adult behavior. This easy slide from self-discipline and self-esteem toward severe surveillance and regulation of others marks the class competitive strategies of self-dignified citizens.
Ironically, the self-restraint that has come to characterize self-dignified citizens also finds prime occasions for complete and unreserved outpour of all of its pent-up emotions when such internet mob flare ignites. Publicly expressed emotions now command cultural authority for they embody a collective sense of justice, a justice that is to be honored and carried out by the media, the state, its police and the judicial system. And what better cases than those involving marginal sexualities, where existing prejudices and sex-negativity guarantee the righteousness and effectiveness of such outpours of indignation? Instantly, what used to be varied values and practices in different communities of sexual subjects are now described as crisis situations in which the core values of the society, and its most vulnerable members, i.e. children, need to be protected against the sex predators through rigid codification of sex. This is where I would like to turn to the recent tendency of turning emotions into law.
Emotion Turned Law
As the civilizing process, understood and desired as the vanguard of modernity, spread through Taiwan’s major cities, sensibility, self-restraint, circumlocution, and politeness gradually became expected performance through civilizing and socializing processes carried out in the family, the school, and the society as a whole. Reinforced through mutual applications, “polite, extremely gentle, and comparatively considerate way of correcting” has become “much more compelling as a means of social control, much more effective in inculcating lasting habits, than insults, mockery, or any threat of outward physical violence” (65). And, in cases where social consensus or moral imperative is breached or challenged, the self-dignified citizens are more than ready to respond by reigning in the wild and deviant. Hence, in the hands of the morally vigilant, an ever-expanding pool of shameful acts continues to extend itself to include more and more shameful sights and even shameful thoughts.
Notably in the case of Taiwan, shameful cases concentrated mostly acutely in the realm of things sexual, thanks to the collaboration between the tabloid media and conservative Christian groups. In a social context where display of the body and references to the sexual are increasingly prevalent with the globalizing commodity culture and the fully-saturated and highly competitive news market, what used to be taboo is now entering a particularly contradictory mode of representation. On the one hand, the tabloid media are more than eager to take advantage of anything sexual to make sensational news, and they always use the most explicit language and photos to augment the impact. Yet on the other hand, the news is almost always couched in a tone of strong moral critique as it assumes the most inexperienced and innocent tone in reporting the incident so as to hint at the media’s noble action in exposing such unspeakable phenomena. Visually, more and more portions of the news scene are blocked by mosaic censoring or pixelization that not only covers up any exposed and sometimes even clothed parts of bodies in the picture but also scenes that suggest any degree of intimacy or sexual contact. The ubiquity of mosaics on the TV screen in Taiwan constantly informs the audience that unacceptable and shameful sights are everywhere, but the mosaic censoring or pexelization also marks their presence exactly to draw in the crowd. If the angle of news reports in relation to sexual matters betrays aversion and fascination at the same time, the same contradictory emotions are also present in the delivery of the narrative of the news, as anchor persons vividly describe sexually explicit or problematic scenes but always tagged with statements of strong anxiety and condemnation.
The media may be planning on projecting a fragile and delicate audience so as to augment the sensationalism of the news, yet such projection also creates the perfect justification for conservative populist groups to push for ever more rigid legislation so as to rid social space of any reference to sex, but all under the name of protection of the young or tender from such exposure and possible harm. This explains why Taiwan’s civilizing process leans toward calling upon the self-dignified citizens to express shock, anxiety, fear, indignation and other strongly turbulent emotions aimed at the problematic other, in particular, the marginal or difficult. At these moments of moral indignation, the affective state underneath the peaceful, restrained civility betrays its fragility and explosive containment, both easily mobilized through moments of moral panic. This is a significant structural transformation of individual affect: the shame and embarrassment that had made up the content of dignity and delicateness are now ceding their dominant position to a new sense of vulnerability accompanied by emotions of panic and indignation. Sensational reports by the tabloid media thus become occasions when the public is called upon to openly display negative emotions against undesirable things. And in the hands of the conservative groups, the anxiety and fear of facing up to such uncivil things are mobilized to make demands on the government to enforce policies that would safeguard delicate/dignified subjects from being confronted and thus disturbed by such things.
This statist orientation reflects not only the class imaginary of the dignified citizens, but also its sex-negative tendencies which are increasingly expressed as ressentiment toward those who insist on exhibiting their erotic vitality, for it is this erotic vitality that sets in relief the barrenness of sex negative lives. With the media’s exposure of sexual activities outside the norm, public anxiety and fear came to be organized into collective hatred and political action. In the past 15 years, these negatively-cathected public emotions and public actions have led to the creation of new women-and-children-protection legislations. Conversely, waves of “sex panic-sexual legislation” processes also work to strengthen the image of women and children as extremely vulnerable to sexual explicitness, thus justifying an extreme protectionism that came to underlie all new legislations. Let me briefly mention these new legislations and their consequences:
with Child and Youth Sexual Transaction Prevention Act (amended 1999), all internet messages are now under surveillance in order to prevent youngsters from coming into contact with sex-work-related information; consequently, no mention, inquiry, or even discussion of casual sexual transaction would be allowed on the internet for fear of contaminating the minds of the surfing young;
with Sexual Harassment Prevention Act (2005), no woman, man, child, and even gay or lesbian would suffer the trauma of whatever may be interpreted as unwanted sexual advances or insinuations, not to mention all forms of sexual explicitness; and the vague feeling of displeasure or awkwardness are used as the basis for determining sexual harassment cases;
with Sexual Assault Crime Prevention Act (amended 2009), no teenager under the age of 14 would suffer from tasting the pleasures of any form of sexual play that involves even merely touching the sexual organs (now deemed as equal to rape);
with The Children and Youth Welfare Act (amended 2010), different life realities and needs of different age groups are effectively erased, and the cause of child protection is transformed into a powerful justification for surveillance and regulation of adult life and activities to the extent that no TV shows or news reports could present anything that may be interpreted as slightly offensive to public taste by the standards of the most conservative;
with anti-bullying clauses in the Gender Equity Education Act (amended 2011), campuses are to be purified of aggressive language and acts, not even to be used by queers at play among themselves.
The creation of such special laws has been consistently the work of conservative Christian groups mobilizing parent groups to concretize extreme protectionism into actual legislations. And the argument is justified by imaginary gender characteristics identified as vulnerabilities that are then further extended to children. Riding on the public’s emotional response to such constructed vulnerabilities, laws were rushed into place to eliminate all language, behavior, representations that are said to agitate people’s emotions, fan up their desires, and eventually resulting in attacks and assaults. In other words, the extreme delicateness of the subjects justifies the extreme harshness of the law.
Beyond the Delicate Displeasure of the Self-Dignified Citizen
Martha Nussbaum has criticized contemporary laws for using strong emotions such as shame and disgust as the foundation of legislations and their enforcement (4), yet now in Taiwan, the key emotion that props up laws such as the Act to Prevent Sexual Harassment is a very broad, very vague, and not so distinct feeling of “displeasure” toward whatever can be perceived as disturbing or difficult to the imagined subjects of extreme vulnerability, women and children, who are characterized as easily hurt by pornographic information, flirting looks, sexually insinuating jokes, downgrading language, and unwelcome sexual invitations. And they are now strongly encouraged to take such feelings of displeasure as grounds for litigation against the alleged perpetrator. If they choose not to, bystanders could initiate legal action on their behalf. This vague sense of personal displeasure, constructed through discourses on sexual harassment and absolute gender inequality, is now solidified by the law into the new threshold of emotions, transforming the personality and sensibility of subjects, calling on them to become a strong force in the effort to survey and purify social space. In the past few years, detailed procedures and rules have been set up in all of Taiwan’s campuses and workplaces to regulate gendered interactions and possible feelings of displeasure. A four-year-old boy has been accused of sexual harassment for accidentally touching another girl’s bosom in scuffles during recess; teenage sex between lovers has been relegated to the realm of sexual assault by anxious parents; disgruntled feelings of ex-lovers have resulted in many cases of alleged sexual harassment and assault. When a simple feeling of displeasure is treated as evidence for sexual harassment or assault in a culture where erotic or regular negotiations haven’t had a chance to work out their ways, it is saddening to see people being goaded by the law into creating legal cases to appease their own feeling of shame and guilt and other confusing emotions.
Under this vigilant monitoring, what used to be considered rude, indecent, impolite, or poor taste, reflecting cultural or class differences, is now relegated to the realm of the unlawful, liable to be prosecuted anytime and resulting in severe sentences. Civility is no longer taste, manners, politeness, but things to be arbitrated by the law. From dirty jokes to eyeing women from head to toe, to unconscious erections, to keeping lewd pictures within your own work cubicle, to pinching a little girl’s face and saying she’s cute, to praising women for being beautiful—these could be unwelcome or unpleasant in the past, but now as people move toward dignity/delicateness, these acts are relegated to the unlawful and dealt with through the new severe legislation. Those who fall under the judicial system will pay high prices and bear stigmatization for impinging in the most despicable way (via sex) on the most vulnerable; those who have not yet been touched by the law also have a fearful lesson to learn here about thorough self-restraint. As emotions are considered to be true to the core of personality, and thus understood as authentic and basic to human nature, the delicate, agitated emotions of vulnerable subjects often are taken to be justified reason for protectionist legislations.
Extreme protectionism can spill into areas other than the sexual and produce even more deeply entrenched delicate and vulnerable feelings for the citizen subject. Youtube and other image-sharing channels had once provided immense possibilities for display of social differences and minority-community-building, but now they have become hunting grounds for news-hungry media and passionate righteous citizens who seize every image that may trigger feelings of displeasure and make that a case for witch-hunt. Sexual minorities exchanging their experiences and desires are treated as dangerous secret societies that not only corrupt our society but also verge on the criminal. Recently, playful acts that involve pets or children or even peers have drawn fire from the angry mob. Such huge waves of mass hysteria and condemnation stem from and turn around and produce more vulnerabilities for the popular script of “abuse.” As the imagined delicateness spreads, any deviant, non-normative behavior calls for collective expressions of indignation, followed by collective demand for state action. And as such social milieu thickens, the law, and the conservative moral consensus, is now more than ever justified to enter every nook and cranny of our daily life, notwithstanding the sexual.
The dignity and delicateness of the citizen have been constructed to echo the most conservative moral sense and to consolidate the strong power of the state in Taiwan. The emotional structure of the masses has provided the material base for the operation of governance in Taiwan, where conservative Christian NGOs conveniently mobilize age-old prejudices and recent anxieties to tighten social regulation and produce a morally vigilant nation. Viewed in this light, when economically buoyant states rush into today’s competition for national image and international reputation, the emergence of self-dignified citizens and their cultural/political involvements will be one important battlefield for the sexually variant.
Ho, Josephine. “Queer Existence under Global Governance: A Taiwan Exemplar.” Positions: east asia cultures critique, 18.2 (Fall 2010): 537-554.
Irvine, Janice M. “Transient Feelings: Sex Panics and the Politics of Emotions.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 14.1 (2007): 1-40.
Nussbaum, Martha C. Hiding From Humanity: Disgust, Shame and the Law. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2004.
Scholars of international relations are elated about the seeming shrinking of state power as they celebrate the rise of “governance” and the expansion of global civil society; they tend to amplify the impact of the NGOs upon the state without looking into the nature of such successful NGOs and their convergence with the state on regulatory impulses. The collaboration between the state and the NGOs, in China, governance is even heralded by liberals as the ideal that would reform the Communist regime. Sadly, as NGOs take up franchises from the state and eagerly enter the scheme of governance as consultants or decision-makers for government policies, many of them are also gradually absorbed into the bureaucratic structure. Rather than being organizations of social transformation or at least social critique, NGO activism and feminist careerism have become increasingly disciplinarian, leading to stagnation of movement energy in many Asian countries ranging from India to Japan. Conservative NGOs, in the meantime, have enjoyed great success in turning themselves into the long arms of the state in the creation and execution of policies, legislations, and strategies that purify and rigidify social space, real and virtual. The enumeration of terms such as Gongos (government organized NGOs), Bongos (business organized NGOs), Gingos (government interested NGOs), and Bingos (Big NGOs which epitomize the professionalization of NGOs) signals a growing sensitivity toward this developing diversity and complexity within civil society and the symbiotic relations developing between the state, the corporations, and certain parts of the civil society.
When governance brought forth the diversification of the civil society, social activism for marginal issues suffers. What is being described as economic justice in the new liberal democracies is basically distributive justice, far from any socialist aims geared toward transformations in the productive realm. In actuality, such distributive justice is often expressed through the institution of welfare policies that do not necessarily form any coherent, full-scale measure to deal with structurally engrained economic injustice, but are only limited to remedial measures that mitigate some of the hardships faced by marginalized populations. Furthermore, as such welfare policies are always mediated through active negotiation with the state by representative NGOs, there is not only the problem of adequate representation but also the common problem of bureaucratic and strategic needs of the NGO institutions themselves overriding the true needs of the subjects for whose benefit the NGOs were created in the first place. Furthermore, in order to fit in with government regulations of spending and accountability, as well as to command respectability in image and appeal, NGOs tend to incline toward mainstream values and issues, making even distributive justice hard to achieve.
The professionalization of NGOs may end up defusing whatever limited radical impulse there had been, but the entry of conservative Christian NGOs into the government power circle of governance proves to be even more devastating for struggles for sexual justice. Development projects aimed at promoting population management, disease prevention, and maternal and child health end up intentionally or unwittingly shaping ideas about what constitutes “normal,” thus acceptable, sexual practices and identities. Much like US Christian NGOs that launched boycotts of liberal-minded or gay-friendly media programs or industrial corporations, Taiwan’s conservative Christian NGOs call upon big corporations to pull their ads from popular TV programs and tabloid newspapers that are more liberal in exploring changes in sexual values and practices. In 2006, city legislators associated with the Exodus International, an international Christian organization that advocates “freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ,” threaten to pull government funding from the annual gay festival in Taipei because city funds should not be used to “promote homosexuality.” Worst of all is of course the numerous international agreements on measures directed at (sex) trafficking, pornography, sex work, child pornography, pedophiles, internet content monitoring, etc. that aggressive Christian NGOs and their collaborating allies are helping to put into place. Such international protocols constitute the strongest justification for comparable if not more rigid local legislations that make struggles for sexual justice all the more difficult.
The interpenetration of the state and the civil society under governance arrives with other new technologies of power which may be potentially quite detrimental to marginal issues and subjects. A process of “deliberative democracy” has been introduced in some Asian states in recent years as a participatory method of policy-making that is arbitrated through public deliberation by a select but supposedly neutral citizenry. Procedure-wise, deliberative democracy seems to embody the essence of the democratic spirit where reason reigns, and the end result could include certain progressive ideas. The problem is, in the state’s own precarious status of legitimacy, it shifts its duty to uphold the rights and benefits of the minority to this mechanism of collective deliberation. Consequently, basic freedoms now need to be renegotiated, while the final result of the process can still be mitigated. In Taiwan, laws governing artificial insemination and surrogate mothering were subjected to the procedure of deliberative democracy and the initial conclusion was quite liberal, yet eventually the state legislation excluded lesbians and gays who wish to have children. In Hong Kong, faced with articulate progressive scholars and increasingly liberal censorship officers, ultra conservative Christian groups now demand that the definition of “indecency” be determined not by experts and professionals, but by opinion polls to be conducted among the general public every two years so as to reflect “true contemporary community standards.” Conceivably, deliberative democracy will be invoked most often when sex-related issues rise to controversy level, when only sexual stigma can effectively put an end to liberalizing impulses. In essense, deliberative democracy may in spirit be a new form of democracy that gravitates toward so-called “people’s reason,” but in its actual execution, it has the potential to become a new form of social exclusion that threatens social/sexual freedom.
Incidentally, nowadays, it is the NGOs on the right that are quite adept in using the language of multiculturalism, tolerance, and mild liberalism when they advocate their conservative agenda. Protectionist language is employed to chastise parents who do not live up to ideals of middle-class child rearing practices; feminist discourse on objectification and exploitation is liberally applied by the Christian groups to criticize positive female sexual assertiveness and any open expression or representation of sexuality. Actually, the right wing seems to have no more gripe with discourses on economic justice; but when it comes to advocacy of sexual justice, right wing groups flip over in anger and terror. How are we to understand this odd phenomenon? Well, perhaps the conservative Christian groups quite aptly grasped the deeply engrained cultivation of bodily sensations, feelings, emotions that constitute the material basis of agency and against-the-grain action. Perhaps, justice is not only the way our society is organized, but more importantly the way our character and emotions are constituted. After all, the belief in and feelings about justice need a material base too, not necessarily an “economic” base, but a “material” base that happens to have a lot to do with our very material bodies and their very material experiences with sexuality that are severely circumscribed by the given social environment. It is here that the impact of governance demonstrates its extreme potency: it aims to not only formulate the most intricate forms of social control, but also to constitute the very subjects for its rule.