The Invisible Armada

From subalternity to all-out sinophobia – the noose around Taiwan's neck...

By Alain Brossat

14 October 2022


You will forgive me, I hope, for not being able to be with you and, even worse, for not being able to answer your possible objections and questions - I am, at the moment where this symposium is being held, on a plane that takes me back to Taiwan. What I would like to say to you in the preamble to my intervention on Sinophobia and in a rather affective and existential mode than strictly academic, is that when I talk about this subject, I cannot do so in a detached mode, as if I was talking about a subject that I can keep at a distance. It is for me a very personal question .

This for two reasons. The first being that, married to a Taiwanese woman and father of a half-breed child, ours, having lived with them for a long time in France, I am well placed to know that Sinophobia, in its most brutal and elementary form, outside the East Asian world is above all a question of faces . And therefore a calamity that does not go into detail, unless you constantly wear a T-shirt with the inscription "I am Taiwanese, not Chinese!" », and even so... - a fact of experience which would do well to remember all those agitated by the narcissism of small differences, on this very island, today in particular...

The second reason is that I am French and it so happens that one hundred and thirty-eight years ago, if I count correctly, France, a colonial and imperial world power at the time, tried to gain a foothold in Taiwan and Penghu (Formosa and the Pescadores, integral parts of the Chinese Empire according to the denominations current at that time), this on the occasion of a policy of predation typical of what the European powers then undertook in East Asia and in the purest style of gunboat politics and under a pretext sewn with white thread (The so-called Bac Lê ambush).

By chance, a few weeks ago, I came across a beautiful and large (red) book, an award book received at school by one of my grandfathers who later became a teacher, school principal and decorated soldier of two world wars, a book of remembrance written by a naval officer who took part in this campaign, a certain Emile Dubosc, a naval lieutenant; this work is entitled 35 months of campaign in China and Tonkin and it is prefaced by Pierre Loti, glory of French exotic and orientalist literature of the time, member of the French Academy, etc. However, it so happens that Loti prefaces these memories of a military expedition in the context of the conquest of Indochina by colonial France, for the good reason that he himself took part in this campaign in the China Sea - a discovery which was a shock for me, considering the notoriety, hardly withering, still today, of Loti. And, in his brief preface, here is what Loti writes, addressing the author directly: "Do you still remember our last meeting, already thirteen years ago, deep in the bad Yellow country, at a launch of torpedoes, in the bay of the Pescadores Islands?". The "bad Yellow country" is you, my friends, and I can assure you that there must still be hundreds of Pierre Loti streets, even Pierre Loti elementary schools or junior high schools, and public libraries in France today, Loti is still and always a national glory and a monument of French literature - just as there are many streets Admiral Courbet, named after the chief colonialist brigand who led this campaign before dying of yellow fever, precisely, off Magong – Divine Justice, no doubt...

At the time of this campaign during which the French fleet bombarded Tamsui and Keelong and their surroundings, then Magong, the soldiers and sailors massacring civilians and prisoners of war on the occasion (this without France being, formally, in a state of war with the Chinese Empire), the minister of the colonies who supervised the whole operation was called Jules Ferry – and well, Jules Ferry, he is the absolute hero of the republican “national novel” in France, the founder of the secular and compulsory school at the beginning of the Third Republic, etc. So you can clearly see how, in modern French history, the supposed heritage of the Enlightenment, the ideals and values of the Republic, the great names of literature are inseparable from the worst of imperial and colonial practices. And how this cocktail is inoculated into us from an early age – things have not changed fundamentally since my grandfather was on the school benches – Ferry, Loti and Courbet still have their place in the pantheon of great men of the Republic. It's not for nothing that my grandfather, first in his class, received this book in particular, as a prize for his outstanding performance - there is nothing like the story of a campaign where the Imperial banditry prospers and the most candid anti-Asian racism thrives to model young republican souls and make good little French people called, a few years later, to go and be massacred en masse in the trenches of the First World War.

In Dubosc's account, the Chinese, that is to say here without distinction the soldiers of the Qing army and the inhabitants of the island, are commonly and pejoratively referred to as "the Celestials" - when the French expeditionary force takes prisoners among the "celestial" soldiers, employs them as porters "in default of mules", and when women "wandering from house to house" in Keelong are arrested by a French patrol and suspected of being "stricken with 'horrible contagious diseases', they are shot on the spot – "the laws of war are pitiless", candidly notes the military brute Dubosc. The feeling of racial superiority needs these poisonous words ("Celestials") and these poor alibis ("yellow" people = yellow fever, cholera, syphilis...) to take root in the mentality of those who see themselves, as whites and Christians, destined to rule the world while exploiting and plundering the natural resources of the “colored” races.

I am now making an ellipse of more than a century which leads me to 1999 in Belleville, a district in the north-east of Paris which, during the last decades of the 20th century, became the second Chinatown of Paris, populated mainly by people from the Wenzhou region; the other, older district is located in the south of the capital and is populated mainly by Chinese from the Indochinese peninsula and who arrived in France mainly towards the end of the Vietnam War. I had a friend at the time, a Trotskyist, radical and ferocious like me, who had recently become a famous author of detective novels – his name is Thierry Jonquet, he died at the beginning of this century. Thierry was then one of the most eminent representatives of the "new thriller", very fashionable then in France at the time, and resulting directly from the spirit of insubordination and rebellion of May 68. Far from making the praise of the police, his novels lifted the veil on the foundations of social injustice, the abuses of the deep state, state racism, etc. Anyway, it turns out that Thierry had, in those years, settled in Belleville, a traditionally cosmopolitan district populated by descendants of all kinds of emigration – Jewish, Armenian, Arab, Kabyle, sub-Saharan, etc.

And then the Wenzhous had arrived and the district had indeed changed very quickly in a few years and that, my friend Thierry, internationalist and convinced cosmopolitan, could not stand it, perceiving the galloping sinicization of Belleville as an invasion. Which made him decide to react, according to his skills and taking advantage of his reputation, by writing a novel ironically titled Quiet Days in Belleville, a natural nod to the famous Quiet Days in Clichy by Henry Miller... A book in which he staged in a vengeful tone the “conquest” of “his” neighborhood by the Chinese invader, in the purest style of far-right xenophobia. At the time, my wife, my then-boyish son and I assiduously frequented Belleville, its restaurants and its Chinese grocery stores – a kind of small weekly substitute, for my wife, for the return home that she could only do once a year... Belleville was her little surrogate country, moreover a few years later, she acted as an actress in a film called The sidewalks of Belleville - around Chinese prostitution in this district... Upon discovering the openly Sinophobic pamphlet of my leftist friend, I was then appalled and personally offended – it was as if this book had been written directly against my wife and my son – and I did not hesitate to let its author know... But what had perhaps overwhelmed me the most, in this angry and fetid book, was the way in which Jonquet, when he was looking for a synonym for the word "Chinese" (in French, unlike the English, you always have to hunt down repetitions), rediscovered it quite naturally (in its dictionary of synonyms, I imagine) the word "Celeste" - "Les celestes" - the word of biological racism and the spirit of imperial conquest of the XIXth century, par excellence... Antiracist by conviction, Thierry would, I imagine, have punched without hesitation to anyone who, in a political discussion, would have used offensive words like "ratons" or "bicot" to designate the Arabs or, a fortiori, "Yids" for the Jews ... But "Celestials", no, no problem, just an expedient and decorative synonym of Chinese...

This, in short, is why Sinophobia cannot be an "inert" subject of study for me, it is a living and intimate issue, both in the dimension of my private existence (as we wrongly say) and in that of my presence in the historical world. The adventures of Admiral Courbet and Pierre Loti between Matsui and Magong are obviously distant in time, but it turns out that this past still lives in the present: every day, where I am when I write this text, in Menton, on the French Riviera, I cross a rue Admiral Courbet, a military and colonial bully with braid who has become an integral part of the national heritage. When today a squad of French senators or deputies invested in pro-Taiwan lobbying, that is to say separatist and business-thirsty, lands on the island, they are sometimes taken to the places where the French expeditionary force tried to disembark (in vain, fortunately), near Danshui... and there is celebrated, on the occasion of a parody of a ceremony of remembrance, the Franco-Taiwanese friendship – stupidity disputes it here, face to History, to cynicism - on one side as on the other... Of all these repressed crimes, of the baseness which, in the present, goes with it, I have to bear the burden, as I am what I am and what I come from where I come from - not to beat my guilt (I have, personally, nothing to do with this ilk, past and present), but because, whatever we do, we belong to a historical community – so it's stronger than me, when I discover in Magong a stele plaque honoring Admiral Courbet and his expeditionary corps, plaques commemorating (in French) the memory of the "good French soldiers" who came to massacre the "Céleste" in this archipelago, I can't help but yell like a wounded beast - it's my nature and it's too late for me to change it.

I can now move on to the second, more analytical aspect of my intervention.

Sinophobia is obviously a term that can have infinitely variable meanings, depending on the contexts in which it is used, both in spatial and temporal terms. It is, on the other hand, in its very scholarly structure (Latin and Greek, like genocide – well, well...), a recent term – Western languages and discourses have never lacked, I have just said, of terms and expressions intended to condense and designate negatively all that can be associated with the signifiers "China", "Chinese". Today, Sinophobia en situation, can manifest itself as an aversion, even a manifestation of active hostility towards anything that presents an East Asian physiognomy: during the Covid crisis, in the United States, street Sinophobia fueled by Trumpian insanities on the Chinese virus and “Kung Flu” did not go into detail: the enraged Sinophobic nuts attacked Korean-Americans or Vietnamese-Americans no less than people from mainland China... or Taiwan.

In the context of the new Cold War, Western Sinophobia is refocusing on the established regime in mainland China, its leading figures, its supposed wrongs and crimes. The racial Sinophobia associated with the "Yellow Peril" that flourished in Western imperialist discourse from the Opium Wars to the Korean War has ebbed - at least in scholarly and public discourse: the hierarchy of Races doesn't sell anymore; but it's also because things have become more “complicated” the configuration of conflicts opposing “worlds” has not only been redeployed by moving from race to culture; we see more composite blocs or systems of alliances than in the past: the yellow peril has been somewhat discredited since Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have become sure and loyal allies of the US hegemon, that is Westerners by adoption. And racial Sinophobia has obviously become an inconvenient motive as Taiwan, a de facto sovereignty with a population of more than 90% ethnic Chinese, has acquired the envied status of the darling of global democracy, universalist... and more imperialist, western-centric and conquering than ever...

The relatively recent appearance of the word sinophobia (much more common than its antonym, sinophilia and this asymmetry is not a detail...) in public discourse draws our attention to the extreme variability of the vocabulary associated with the designation of the “bad other” in current discursive usages and the very order of discourses. There are, in Western languages, a thousand ways of speaking badly of the supposed Yellows and the Chinese and also of giving substance to these prejudices, just as is infinite, in Western Europe and in France in particular, the richness of the vocabulary to designate pejoratively or insult Arabs and blacks. This proliferation, this ability to renew this vocabulary over time, is the signature of the colonial, that of the imperial perspective persevering well beyond the time of empires. From a genealogical point of view, these variations can stimulate interesting reflections on the same and the other: indeed, it is not without reason that one could say that basically, in France, in the discursive proliferations around the motif of the "fellagah" (the soldier of the Algerian liberation army, in the language of the colonizer, a word deriving from "fellah", peasant in Arabic) at the time of the Algerian war of independence and the contemporary frenzy around the motif of the "Islamist" or, better, the "Islamist terrorist", it is always the same object we speak about, in colonial or post-neo-colonial and imperial France: the Arab as a dangerous subject and a bad object. Similarly, in the discourse on the "Asian mobs" and the "Yellow Peril", at the time of the Tonkin war and in the current proliferation of Orwellian clichés about mainland China, its regime and its leaders, we find many elements of fundamental continuity , the same “ground” of ineradicable prejudice rooted in a white collective psyche – the Yellows as a dangerous human mass and, collectively, as a bad object.

But at the same time, against this background of long-lasting continuity, all sorts of ruptures, discontinuities, movements of rearrangement occur in the infinite landscape of the depreciation of the racial, religious and cultural other which affect the representations, the order of discourses as behaviors and actions. It is in this sense that the irruption of the word sinophobia in public and scholarly discourse is interesting – of what is this relatively new term the sign or the name? It is, in linguistic terms, a deictic, it designates, it shows – here something new and which takes shape in the discontinuity of historical duration as much as of the arrangement of discourses.

This novum is the new Cold War understood here not only as a confrontation of varying intensity between camps or systems of alliances, but above all as a major confrontation in the making, a fight to the death promised and announced, already begun, between "worlds" and "species". The new Cold War is much less the remake or reenactment, with variants and supplements, of the first (whose premises were completely different) than the announced realization, in the most barbaric form, of the imbecile prediction of Huntington – our era, after the victory of the demo-capitalist West in its confrontation with the Soviet Empire and “communism”, would be that of the violent collision between incompatible “civilizations” – Islam in the first place, but not only.

It is that the crusaders of universalist/imperialist democracy have succeeded in this tour de force, in their conquering somnambulistic blindness, of relaunching the weak scenario of Huntington from which they were, however, in the euphoria of the victory of the Reagan-Thatcher years, the first to stigmatize the dangerous simplism. They have indeed ensured, in their totalizing presumption (by placing their globalist ambitions under the sign of total democracy), that the lines of fracture which are emerging today in the disorder of the world do not only separate camps, poles of divergent or opposing interests, but worlds and species.

It is in this context and under these conditions that China, insofar as it asserts itself today as this also global power which, in the first place, resists the standardization of the world placed under the sign of Democratic imperialism, is gradually being “constructed” not as an adversary or competitor in the ordinary sense of these terms, but as an enemy of civilization and of mankind. The foundation of Sinophobia, which saturates the discourse with a thousand heads, a thousand mouths, of the West on China, is a teratology that results in making everything that is subsumed under the signifiers "China", "Chinese", not only a "systemic" adversary as political science says, but a barbarian and, as such, the antagonist of all civilisation. When, in Taiwan, the government elites now commonly speak of China as the enemy assigned to them by destiny, that is how they understand it: our enemy understood as the enemy of the human race and as a “monster”. It suffices, to be convinced of this, to take a look at the cartoons published over the days in the English-speaking Taipei Times...

No one is unaware of what leads, in all circumstances, this kind of teratology: the enemy of the human race, the monster, it is what we have the duty to annihilate and exterminate; this both in the name of the sacred obligation to protect our own integrity, but also in the name of safeguarding the human race. An action of public safety, a virtuous operation par excellence, therefore.

The stigmatization of China and the Chinese regime as public enemy No. 1 of civilized and democratic humanity (but above all Western and white) is a rhetorical operation sewn with white thread inspired by the spirit of reconquest of a hegemony arguably less jeopardized by the rise of Chinese power than by the failure of Western powers to "transform the try" after the fall of the USSR - having won the Cold War, they distinctly lost, and on all fronts the battle for a peace borrowing the features of a globalization placed under the sign of market democracy boosted by the spirit of neo-liberalism.

The haunting and incantatory stigmatization of the Chinese threat, which has become the master signifier and the fixed idea of the activists of the new Cold War, is a propagandist operation established on the most shaky of ideological scaffoldings - exactly the same type as the operation carried out by the Anglo-American think tanks and lobbies mobilized for this purpose and which led to Brexit – the same process of creating from scratch a state of emergency, an imminent threat, the same strings of agitation in the most simplistic black and white and, most alarming of all, the same penchant for chaos, that is to say the same nihilistic inspiration – it doesn't matter if the world perishes if our interests of the moment prosper; from this point of view, the Boris Johnsons, Dominik Cummings and other cynical looters of the little that remained of the so-called European construction and the Pompeos, Pelosi, without forgetting their Taiwanese debtors and clients, it is the same political brood possessed by the same inclination for the worse. These people, when they are in business, govern by instinct of death – and this is the reason why the construction of the imaginary enemy, the one who wants our death and who must therefore be neutralized before action is at the heart of their political unreason – the European Union determined to put an end to immemorial British sovereignty in one case, the Chinese ogre determined to make short work of the virgin Taiwanese democracy on the other...

We therefore clearly see here how the inertia of prejudice can be combined, like a sort of immemorial fold, (from the time of the deceitful and cruel "Celestials" to that of the Hitlerite-Stalinist Beijing totalitarians) with arrangements and dynamics that relaunch this same prejudice under singular modalities in given situations: each time, the horror of the other, sent back to the other side of the dividing line between the civilized and the barbarian, between the friend and the enemy (etc.) has its special features and the landscape of confrontation (of detestation) is populated by representations endowed with strong imaginary intensities – from Fu Manchu to Xi, the new emperor who also happens to be a mixture of Hitler and Stalin...

As Foucault remarked in The Order of Things, the West has always had a problem with the Same and the Other – we can clearly see this with what, over time, is subsumed under the contemporary generic term “Sinophobia” - the same object as a figure of racial, cultural, religious, political alterity, an alterity placed under the sign of disturbing strangeness, to say the least... But the same object constantly diffracted into a multitude of singular pieces, splinters. At the time of the Korean War, the Chinese People's Army which faced that of the United States and its South Korean proteges was the "Reds" in McCarthyist version - which presents a significant difference with the "totalitarians" Pekingese, in today's neo-Orwellian version. What is at stake here is not only the rhetorical or linguistic packaging of the confrontation – it is above all the singularity of the configurations – each of them arouses its own culture of the enemy, with the language of hostility that goes with it.

When a dynamic of confrontation develops, it is infallibly boosted and poisoned by the appearance of the figure of a hyper-enemy identifiable with racial, religious and cultural traits. From then on, everything is possible, without limit, in terms of flight into the imagination and enragement of the rhetoric of hostility. Sinophobia, as it is in vogue today in Taiwan among the power elites obsessed with their dream of independence, provides flagrant proof of this: once a relatively homogeneous human group endowed with a certain capital of power finds itself embarked on the dream of another, more powerful, master's dream - here that of the United States and its satellites, increasingly in a hurry to put mainland China "in its place" - reality in its most compact and simplest form – absolutely ceases to constitute a safeguard against the craziest imaginary excesses.

We are therefore going, in a country populated in its vast majority by ethnic Chinese and, from the point of view of customs, traditions, mentalities, language and the rest, Chinese to the tips of our nails, we are therefore going, in this country even, to see how the most vulgar and outrageous of Sinophobias thrives in the discourse of government, state, media, economic and, sometimes alas, academic elites. The culture of the enemy, or rather of white-hot hostility, is a tsunami that sweeps away everything in its path: the signifier "China" becomes in the sacramental expression "The China Threat", a sort of name for the devil and the evocation of this supposed threat, a form of exorcism; the caricatures of the Chinese enemy (or of his alleged supporters and accomplices) as repugnant animals, pigs, snakes, parasites – a propaganda rival in excess and vulgarity with the worst of Nazi agitation against the Jews at the time of the Third Reich; comparisons between Chinese leaders and the worst dictators and exterminators of the 20th century become routine in the poor storytelling peddled by uniformed (or liveried) journalists in Taipei Times and its Chinese-language equivalents; the imaginary genocides for which they are held responsible complete this picture of the apocalypse – I make it short but we could do about this literature of agitation which is nothing but a discourse of war that he conceals itself less and less, a whole black book .

What I would simply like to underline here in passing is the inevitable mirror effect or boomerang effect to which the East Asians who embark on this nauseous crusade find themselves exposed: the day when hostility might take an armed turn, between China and the aggregate bloc around the United States, a wave not of verbal sinophobia but of massive violence would be unleashed in the white and Christian West, whose characteristic would be not to differentiate between good and bad Chinese, the Korean or the Vietnamese and the accursed Mainland Chinese; in the streets of the major cities of the United States, Paris, London or Rome, you will not have had time to take your green passport out of your pocket bearing the words "Taiwan" in golden capital letters that you will find yourself in the gutter, your face bleeding. And that, innocent tourist or student in Paris or ABC of Minneapolis that you will then be - it is up to the sorcerer's apprentices who today play cynically with the fire of Sinophobia you will owe.

The question I always ask myself with considerable astonishment and even disbelief is: how can it be that, in a country so deeply rooted in the immemorial of Chinese life, language and culture, of Chinese cosmology, in big and small things, in a space where, despite everything, human and economic interactions with mainland China remain intense, the anti-Chinese sewer rhetoric developed by the arsonists who preside over the destinies of the country does not arouse immediate outcry and not immediately succumb to ridicule? There is in this situation, for the foreigner living in Taiwan as an assiduous observer of the upheavals which agitate this society, something truly unreal, “surrealist” as it is commonly but improperly said.

The only answer I find to the question is depressing in its realistic sobriety: In Taiwan, the governing elites have tuned in to the properly pandemic Sinophobia that never stops rising in the Western world (stubbornly white-centric, imperial and hegemonic) quite simply because it is the language of the master and because, since always, in the space by destination subsidiary and dependent of this island, the elites in love with power, those that are fascinated by the mirage of power, have constantly become accustomed to activate under the tutelage of a master, to anticipate his desiderata, to imitate him, to think, speak and act, in this condition of dependence, as subordinates. For historical and geo-political reasons on which I do not have time to expand here, the elites in power today have the characteristic of conceiving the exercise of their prerogatives and their political and historical future only in the close dependence vis-à-vis the United States and in their condition of clients and cousins by marriage of the Western bloc, therefore, in ethnic terms, as honorary whites (in the same way as the Hong Kong "democrats") and , in military terms as auxiliary troops, “proxies” of American power.

In genealogical terms, what matters here is not so much the alliance of the moment, it is the fold of subalternity: what is reproduced today in a particularly accentuated, simplified, caricatural form and whose ultimate outlet is the designation of the neighbor, not only close but “cousin”, as an intimate enemy, it is this very particular way of establishing oneself in a position of subalternity. The subordinate, here, is not the one who identifies himself as a dependent or a dominated and even less as an oppressed, but rather as a protected; not as a servant but as an ally; not as a client (in the Roman sense of the term), but as a partner...

There is thus a whole phantasmagoria of subalternity whose foundation is bad faith and the propensity to, as Marx would say, see the world upside down – the spirit of subalternity in Taiwan today is what inclines the power elites to try desperately to believe that the vocation of the United States is to defend (in the name of the universal values of democracy) the sovereignty of the island rather than to use and, probably, to sacrifice it in the apocalyptic chess game that opposes them to mainland China. Candor and bad faith can, in certain circumstances, come together in truly stunning cocktails. The way in which the United States today conducts its war by delegation against Russia in Ukraine, with the flesh and blood of Ukrainians, should however be enough to instruct them. But somnambulism has its reasons that reason ignores... The figure of the master as protector rather than as oppressor, evil genius or cunning manipulator, all this as a perfect example of Hegelian ruse of History – this would be a beautiful subject of meditation for all those who, today, praise the "rock-solid friendship" between Taiwan and the United States.

The paradox of Taiwan's modern history is ultimately quite easy to establish: it is a history made up of very strong discontinuities, in terms of relations between rulers and ruled, sovereignty, political regime, but these obvious discontinuities, dynasties Chinese to Japanese colonization then to the ROC of importation, then to post-KMT democracy in the form of an ever more openly displayed American protectorate – all this occurs against a background of obvious continuity. This is established on the constancy of a relationship of subalternity to a master more or less distinctly perceived as foreign or exogenous – the Chinese emperor and his administration, the Japanese colonizer, the vanquished of the Chinese civil war reconverted into an autocrat, and then, in the form of a happy ending for fun, the good American master, the powerful benevolent friend surrounding the island with his protective arm while the ambitions of the Chinese ogre are unleashed... But, whatever the version and the moment, in the varied contexts of the island's being placed under dependence and tutelage, what remains constant is the way in which the relationship between rulers and ruled remains enveloped in the relationship between a master and a subordinate in the constantly changing face – a second-class subject under the Chinese empires, a variably discriminated colonized under Japanese rule, a brutalized native under Chiang Kai-shek, a protege, an obligor or a client in the latest version...

What appears clearly is that along these lines of continuity, subalternity tends to become an order or a sort of symbolic institution – which explains why it can become a system of representations and behaviors irrigating all a society and sparing no institution – starting, horresco referens, with Academia...

However, what is typical of the latest version of Taiwanese subalternity, the one that interests us in and for our present, is the way in which an unbreakable link is established between dependence, subalternization and affirmation of identity, imaginary of sovereignty and independence: the more one pulls on the rope of independence and sovereignty, the more the slipknot of dependence on the new master tightens around the necks of the island and the islanders – which, in time and in the absence of a resolute side step, inevitably leads the sovereigntist and separatist pipers to drag the inhabitants of the island into the maelstrom of an exemplary proxy war with China, a war of which they will be the cannon fodder on behalf of the United States.

This is the historical outline of what is to come, perfectly visible and predictable. But to come back to Sinophobia and end on this motive, since it is the one that brings you together here, I would like to say a word about the human type produced by this kind of situation where, in the course of a civil war which never ends (Taiwan and its desire for independence is nothing but the terminal stage of the interminable Chinese civil war) where the vanquished must, in order to survive politically and historically, rally to a foreign master, assimilate to him, adopting its mores, language, representations – imitating it in everything, and, if not quite resembling it, becoming its auxiliary, useful idiot, mercenary, clone, etc.

The Taiwanese governing elites have, since the DPP came to power for the second time and seems firmly established there, thrown resolutely into this impasse which dooms them to practice, beyond mere political opportunities and obligations, a policy of assimilation culture and a pathetic mimicry without bounds or discernment – hence, for example, the farce of bilingualism for all announced for tomorrow, of English becoming the country's second language – a country where the vast majority of students in all subjects and of all levels is unable to hold an elementary conversation in the language of the master... Hence the inconsistency dreaming of becoming the East Asian Israel of the United States, with, in particular, the same forms of porosity between the administrations of both states...

The Sinophobia of the Taiwanese ruling elites therefore finds its inevitable outlet in the form of the most pathetic of whites – not washing , but facing: like the Trumpist and Johnsonian democrats of Hong Kong, they always see themselves as whiter, more “American”, they give, when we can, their statements, directly in English, with a Texas accent, they do copy/paste theses in English, they see the Pacific as a mental and maritime highway that connects directly from Taiwan to the west coast of the United States, in the pantheon of their deities, Matsu and Koxinga are replaced by the statuettes of Trump, Pompeo and Pelosi... in short, a mental continental drift which, relentlessly, moves the island away from mainland China and brings it closer to California – to Hollywood as a manufacture of lavish dreams of grandeur...

I cannot help but find the social, cultural and political type of humanity that is being produced here (through the process of denial and renunciation of their Chineseness and illusory conversion to the white-centric Western condition in which the ruling elites of this country are on board) particularly unattractive, to say the least. I even find them, these political and historical sleepwalkers, a rather ugly kind of human type: not just atavistic anti-communists on autopilot, karaoke democrats, but above all cultural renegades – because it's to this that inevitably leads them the slope of Sinophobia on which they have embarked. And the cultural renegade is a really depressing character.

I know very well that these people are playing their all in this business and that if they miss their shot, they will be nothing, they will lose all of their political and economic power and will swell the ranks of exile in the United States and Canada, the fate promised to the mercenaries of the West engaged in the lost battles of East Asia. But in the end, it is indeed they who threw themselves into this impasse which today leads them down the paths of this Taiwanese-style McCarthyism which prospers at the expense and will increasingly thrive at the cost of the supposed agents of the continental enemy whose crime is to persist in thinking that Taiwan and China are linked by an organic link, whatever the political and institutional form that must result from it. And it is therefore these ruling elites' own blindness that dooms them to end up, in one way or another, in the role of auxiliaries to the American empire in East Asia, where they dreamed of being heroes of independence. Taiwanese. All the wars, all the armies of the 20th century have had their auxiliaries, a constantly unhappy and despised species, dressed in a uniform of circumstances, speaking with accent the language of the master, denying their own background and their culture, without however being welcomed into that of the master. But obviously, the lessons of history do not exist, this no more on this island than elsewhere, no more today than yesterday...

Replies to this talk, which took place during the conference on Sinophobia at National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University:

Edward Vickers:

I’m sitting here in disbelief listening to this poison. Brossat is imperiously (I choose the word advisedly) dismissive of the intelligence, morals and agency of those in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Ukraine or anywhere else who, faced with brutal oppression (or the immediate threat of it), appeal to notions of democracy, civil rights or self-determination. Apparently, these are just brainwashed dupes of an all-powerful and uniformly malign ‘West’, and it takes a European intellectual to pierce the fog and see things as they really are. Who the hell does he think he is? The tragedy of Taiwan, Hong Kong, etc. is that the implacable insistence of Beijing on a monolithic vision of ‘Chineseness’, and of a Chinese nation-state, leaves them with no good options. To argue that this is all traceable to malign ‘Western’ modernity is to show utter disrespect for Chinese or Taiwanese agency, and to grant legitimacy to Beijing’s claims that its opponents or critics are all tools of Western coloniality…

He is right to point to certain specific policies - e.g. ‘bilingualism’ - as ‘farcical’. But to represent this as a ‘renunciation of Chineseness’ and abject surrender to Western cultural imperialism is completely unbalanced. Who is he to brand advocates of such policies as ‘cultural renegades’? What is the ‘culture’ that they are betraying? Who defines it? Can it not change and evolve, as Taiwanese society itself changes? One suspects that part of the sin of Taiwanese elites in these particular French eyes is to have selected English (especially the American-inflected version) as their linguistic alternative.

Juan Alberto Ruiz Casado:

This answer is despicable from an academic and ethical point of view. First, for attacking Alain Brossat personally (instead of attacking his arguments) when he is not even there present to defend himself. "How do you think you are to dare to side with the enemy?", Mr. Vickers says. Apparently, he, likely US citizen, believes he has the privilege to define who is right and wrong (that is why he can openly state that Alain is wrong): but, copying his words, “who the hell” he believes he is to talk like that about other scholar?

Second, for oversimplifying reality in a demagogic way to put Alain's opinions in front of the poor Ukranians and Taiwanese (as if they were in the same situation: again the wrong comparison between them), but conveniently forgetting other poor souls “faced with brutal oppression” by Western intervention. Including China, where sanctions imposed by the US and the military threat of the mighty US army and its allies in the region against the country grow by the day. If Alain says what he says, then “grant legitimacy to Beijing’s claims”, and that siding with the enemy is for him immoral (even if the arguments might be true, because he doesn’t actually counter-claim the arguments, just the positioning in the conflict). Mr. Vickers is performing an ideological critique rather than an academic critique. For that reason he asks Alain to only consider the “tragedy” of Taiwan in the face of the enemy, and to forget that the existence of ROC (and Hong Kong for that matter) as a separate entity today is directly the result of Western colonialism and US support to the proto-fascists during the Chinese civil war and beyond, as another pawn in the region. In the same way and with the same mechanisms to construct and establish vassal states as they have done everywhere else for decades. Mr. Vickers also leaves aside the fact that under international law Taiwan is a part of China (either under the regime of the ROC or the PRC, and contrarily to Ukraine, which is not a part of Russia). But Mr. Vickers prefers to forget all that, insults Alain Brossat for even mentioning it, and asks us don’t to even mention it to understand the overarching context of the conflict: China is wrong for not letting go its sovereign territory willingly and not leaving other “options” to HK or Taiwan to become pawns for imperialist intervention, and that’s all that should be said. Self-censor yourself or the hegemonic thinking in the academia will do it for you. If that is the approach employed by the holder of the UNESCO Chair on Education for Peace, Social Justice and Global Citizenship (Mr. Vickers), then Alain Brossat is totally right in his arguments and predictions: the hegemonic thinking, not very democratic in that sense, will only lead to polarization and war.

In the end, the poor argument of Mr. Vickers is furher demonstrated by the ultra-nationalist cliché/accusation at the very end: that Alain Brossat's siding with the enemy cannot be sincere but it is a product of Alain Brossat being offended in his nationalist honour, because in Taiwan they have chosen English instead of French. How absurd. I wonder if he is actually a Trumpist, otherwise I cannot see how he came up with that ridiculous line of ultra-nationalist imperialist thought and even shared it in public!