It’s now time to listen (*)
Listen to the ones beside you
Listen to the ones on the other side of the ocean (**)
Listen to the ones we do not like, we do not agree with
It’s a pity that I have not met Lung Ying-tai in person.
Actually, I should have met her if I had attended her speaking event “Face-to-face with Lung Ying-tai – Ask Me Anything” (與龍應台面對面 – 文學AMA), held on 6 November 2016 in Zhongshan Hall, Taipei, Taiwan. At that time, I did not care much about missing this event as Lung Ying-tai was any special writer to me but a celebrated writer, whose name was frequently mentioned in a literature workshop I attended when I was at NCCU and whose books are presented right at the center of literature area, near the main entrance of Eslite Bookstore in Xinyi, Taipei. I did not know anything more about her.
It was not until the end of November, 20 November to be exact, that I really listened to her speech out of curiousity. My first impression of Lung Ying-tai is her calmness, her knowledge and her being just. When it comes to “being just”, I mean her just attitude towards audiences coming from different groups. There were hundreds of people attending her event that day, nearly half of the audiences came from China, nearly half of the audiences came from Taiwan, and lots of audiences come from Hong Kong, Singapore, and the US. Given the complicated relationship taking place in the Chinese-speaking world, the welcome of Lung Ying-tai by people coming from these different backgrounds and political regimes is not that easy.
And amazingly, serendipity took place again. By the end of November, while struggling to write my final report with the topic “Which adjectives should be used to describe Taipei?” I listened to the recorded video of this event and found a very nice answer by Lung Ying-tai. Answering a Chinese student on her favorite cities in China and in Taiwan, Lung Ying-tai made a nice comparison between Taipei, Beijing, Hong Kong and Singapore (From 1:01:50).
Her description of Taipei as a worth-living city for its nice preservation of the tradition regardless of the economic development strikes a chord with the way I felt about Taipei. I then paid more attention to her book when visiting bookstores. “Big river, big sea – Untold stories of 1949” (大江大海-一九四九) should be the most famous book of hers, in which, Lung Ying-tai wrote about the 1949 Civil War and the escape to Taiwan of supporters of Kuomintang. The book has been sold over 100,000 copies in Taiwan and 10,000 copies in Hong Kong in its first month of release but discussion of her work was banned in mainland China following the book launch. (See more here) Other famous books of hers were The Wild Fire (野火集), Dear Andreas (親愛的安德烈).
The book I bought home, however, was “Listen” (傾聽), published in April 2016. “Listen” is a collection of Lung Ying-tai’s speeches delivered in various places in the world, from Peking University to Hong Kong University, addressed to MBA candidates to graduates from medical schools. She told about how conflicts between people speaking the same language yet living under different political regimes, reflecting her idea of the modern world where the conflicts should be solved by peaceful discussion on the basis of mutual respect, not on the basis of power. She told about the importance of a true and fair history as a means to resolve conflict and connect people on our way towards development. She shared with the future civil servants about the necessity of learning Literature, Philosophy and History, shared with the future doctors on the importance of learning Literature as a means of understanding the value of patients’ lives. She expressed her concerns over the undermining of traditional value and historical sites of Hong Kong driven by corrupted government with greedy corporations in the name of “economic development”. She emphasized the need of preserving old buildings as a means of storing the memories of the community, connecting the past, the present and the future. She criticized our current emphasis on the success story of globalisation but ignoring the ones who are left behind in the globalisation wave and urged for our attention towards the issue of inequality. She wrote about the importance of embracing local traditional value, challenging the “progressive” ones, who thought that only the Westerners’ culture is worth preserving. She shared about how civic education is taught in German education system so that the young ones are taught to be aware of the changes in society and being an active driver of changes in society. What I can see throughout her writings is the consistency of support for the government for people and support for diversity. The ideas brought out by her are not totally new but she learns how to persuade the audiences by reminding them of the old songs, the old customs, providing with examples of the beautiful yet familiar thing like the old-styled convenience store of our grandmother, the traditional customs for worshiping Mazu in Tainan, raising our awareness of the importance of preserving our own culture, of being an active participant of society, and the necessity of tackling inequality issues.
I started reading her book on 21 November 2016, in my final week at NCCU. While reading the book, I am often amazed at how her thoughts frequently strike a chord with me and how it aligns with what I learnt in Taipei on old building preservation, on democracy. And then I found out that Lung Ying-tai used to be Taipei’s first Cultural Bureau Chief (1999-2003) and as Taiwan’s first Culture Minister (2012-2014) and she was the one who initiated a lot of movements to preserve the old buildings in Taipei where I have been to like Taipei Artist Village, Taipei Story House, Qidong Poetry Salon or Li Kwok-Ting’s Old Residence. Perhaps I am the one who can be easily brainwashed or Lung Ying-tai, along with other Taiwanese writers, cultural critics are so good at making the others believe in their idealism.
Coming back to “Listen”, I personally think that this book, while mainly addressed at Chinese-speaking population in the world, is accidentally written for Vietnamese people as well. Her writing on the importance of a true and fair history, her writing on the consequences brought by the vandalism in the name of economic development is perfectly written to Vietnam’s current situation.
Other than the aforementioned reasons, I do feel that “Listen” is really a meaningful title. We have heard somewhere that we have only one mouth to speak but we have two ears to listen but as far as I know, listening skill still seems to be the most difficult skill to lots of people. When I came back from Taiwan, lots of people asked me about how it was like in Taiwan. For example, when I said that I felt that Taiwan is really a progressive and democratic country, few people really want to listen to how it is like when I said “progressive and democratic”. Some, in an effort of proving that they are the ones who know everything, will immediately and conveniently jump into conclusion that well Taiwan is a pro-America country so it is democratic. Some will simply not care, assuming that Taiwan cannot be as good as America or some European countries so I do not have much chance to speak more about what I really felt during my time here. So my experiences in Taiwan, from an Asian country, not Japan and Korea, are not worth listening. If I described the same thing but relocated the place of experiences to the US or Europe or Japan, it would be more likely to be welcomed. Perhaps being brought up in our education with limited diversity has limited our way of obtaining knowledge. We are given too few possibilities and then easily idolised a model without considering other models. We blindly idolised the diversity promoted by the Americans but few really wants to understand what makes diversity a need or they even limited such diversity by solely worshiping the American without having a look at the other cases of the world. We dare not listen to the ones who come from different backgrounds with you, we let our mind filled with prejudice and not willing to listen to the others’ ideas. And as Lung Ying-tai shared in the introduction session of the book, it is the lack of mutual communication and respect that leads to the unnecessary conflicts in our world. Considering the whole mess happened in our world in 2016, this book is really an inspiring one that reminds us of the very basic attitude to life, which is “listen” and “respect” and reconfirms our belief in a better world where everyone’s voice will be heard.
What makes the book more interesting is that while you read the book, you may track the original speech on Youtube. What I really feel pitiful is that the book is written in Chinese so it will be accessed by only Chinese-speaking people. For the ones who do not know Chinese, you may visit these below sites to grasp better understanding about her:
Building a Democratic C onsciousness in T aiwan: An Analysis of Lung Ying-tai ’ s P olitical Essays Over Three Decades (1984–2003)
For Vietnamese readers, you may read one piece of writing by Lung Ying-tai (Long Ứng Đài) that has been translated into Vietnamese.
(*) Original text:
(**) The ones on the other side of the ocean means people coming from the other side of Taiwan Strait or the ones from China