Erenlai - Daniel Pagan Murphy (李大年)
Daniel Pagan Murphy (李大年)

Daniel Pagan Murphy (李大年)

Graduated from the University of Leeds with a BA Chinese-International Relations in 2009. He has been living in Taiwan ever since and has been working at eRenlai since 2011.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012 14:08

The Biocode of Indigenous Knowledge

 

Papa Mape, recipient of this year's life sustainability award, tells us about his trip to Taiwan to receive it and describes his project and the importance of preserving nature. Interpreted by Professor Hinano Murphy.

Monday, 10 December 2012 15:31

Alternative Activism in Japan

Japanese band Punk Rock Labour Union. Photo by Park Swan

Zijie Yang introduces us to the young alternative scene of Japan, in particular Koenji, and describes his experiences establishing links with activists there during his recent visit. 

Monday, 19 November 2012 15:21

The Simple Lives of "Simple" Minds

In today’s cinema, with its emphasis on entertainment and commercial success, it is no easy feat to find stories that take a risk by using people that are different as their main characters. It is much simpler to use explosions and CGI or make a sequel than to try to voice some form of social criticism. The two movies I am choosing to review this week try to do exactly that. Their central characters are special, and have limited capacity for interaction, but that does not mean that they are limited human beings.

Monday, 03 September 2012 00:00

Just how Chinese is "Chinese Taipei"?

In this Olympic year, submerged as we are in an economic crisis, much has been said about whether the Olympics are viable and responsible economically, whether they have merely been a distraction for the country, even whether the opening Ceremony was better than the Beijing one four years ago. Today I want to look a little deeper and analyse certain political issues creating tension and the way that the Olympics can unfortunately, often be used to exert political pressure.

Friday, 31 August 2012 15:17

Bang Bang! They shut my café down!

“Zhizou” (Go Straight) café opened in September 2009, but closed at the end of April 2012 due to the landlord being unwilling to re-sign a contract. The idea for the store was to provide a place for disorganised activists to assemble. For the most part members were young artists and students dissatisfied with certain aspects of society that hadn’t found any other group that suited their needs. The members then got involved in various causes, for example participating in the “No Nuke” group’s protests against nuclear energy; taking part in international “Occupy movement” protests and protesting the forced demolition of the Wang family house in Shilin by the Taipei government. They even took part in activities abroad, such as working with Japanese activist Matsumoto Hajime and doing promotion for his second hand and “Zhizou” sister store “Amateur Riot”.

”Zhizou” was located in an alley in a quiet residential area, and the neighbours eventually ran out of patience towards these strange, overactive young people, and slowly started to complain. After that, police officers often patrolled the area when customers talked our smoked outside late at night.

With the landlord receiving a lot of pressure from the neighbours, he contacted the owners of “Zhizou” just before their lease was to expire, and openly told them that the neighbours had grown more and more resentful towards the customers coming and going from the café, and therefore he wouldn’t be renewing their contract.

cafe03Even though in the last month before closing the owners took action, making the effort of going house to house to attempt to connect with the neighbours, the landlord maintained his position and decided to no longer extend their contract. In this way, “Zhizou”, less than three years since its conception, stopped doing business.

After the “Zhizou” farewell party, the cafe received an unexpected letter from the neighbours in its mailbox. They originally thought it was another complaint letter, and never thought that the contents of the letter would be of encouragement, expressing that they appreciated the owners’ efforts and good intentions. Even though it wasn’t signed, getting a response like this was very touching for “Zhizou”, so they would like us to help them say thanks to this sweet neighbour.

“Zhizou” will of course keep moving forward. Although there aren’t any immediate plans to reopen, “Zhizou” is always looking for possibilities to continue their activism in a new location, and keep providing young dissatisfied people in Taipei with a platform for expressing themselves.

Original article by Jiahe Lin and Zijie Yang. Translated by Daniel Pagan Murphy. Photos courtesy of  Zhizou cafe


 

Watch an interview with members of the NoNuke movement at Zhizou cafe

 


Friday, 31 August 2012 12:17

Living with Noise and Smell

Living in a crowded city likeTaipei, often in close proximity to others, it is frequently inevitable to intrude on other people's privacy. In this video we interviewed a group of different people, talking about problems they may have had with neighbours due to noise or smell, and how they have attempted to resolve these conflicts.

 

 

 

Readers in China, please click here.

 

Thursday, 26 July 2012 00:00

Gaël Giraud's Proposals for Capitalism

Gaël Giraud, Economic Researcher at the CNRS, tells us about his book "20 proposals to reform Capitalism"(20 propositions pour réformer le capitalisme) and discusses topics ranging from the economic crisis to green development.

Friday, 29 June 2012 11:53

Got Beef with President Horse?


Is Ma Yingjiu truly the son of Satan?

Upon being reelected in the 2012 presidential election this January, Ma Yingjiu (or Horse England Nine1, as one of my former students called him), must have felt the calm satisfaction of a job well done. He had just defeated a fairly strong opposition by a very tight margin, and would have four more years of control to shape Taiwan the way he saw fit. Little did he know that just five months down the line, he would be the target of (almost) everyone’s criticism.
Friday, 22 June 2012 15:24

Exploring the rise of Taiwanese Mormons

Two young missionaries overlooking Taipei. Original photo by Benjamin Lee.

Living in Taiwan, it is a common sight to see a pair of clean-cut foreigners dressed in suits riding around in bicycles and approaching people in the street. They are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and their numbers are ever-rising in Taiwan, according to their official records at least.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012 13:59

Pet Shop Boys

Wan Anzhong is a pet food store owner very different from most others. His store focuses on products that are of a high standard, look great, and are actually good for the pets. We talked to him about his store and his inspiration. We also visited other stores which sell animals, food, and clothes for pets, and asked the owners the reasons why they believe people buy pets.

cakes

Cakes made in the shape of paws for the delight of dogs.

Are these kinds of delicacies more expensive than traditional ones?

In fact, they are just a little bit more expensive, not much more.

So, what’s the difference between your food and the normal one?

Normally the snacks we buy in shops are unhealthy. That food contains lots of preservatives. Our products never have any preservatives, and can generally last from 6 months to a year. Even though our products are more expensive than others, customers are still willing to buy them. The reason is our quality. We have the same standards for our pet treats as are found in food for humans . We also sell pet food for meals, so we can make sure the pets have a balanced intake of nutrients.

fish

Dried fish for cats and dogs, which, as our photographer can confirm, is edible for humans too.

Can you introduce the most popular products?

Our food is made mostly for either cats or dogs, and a large part of our products are suitable for both of them. One of our famous products is Apple Chicken. It uses chicken breast, which we puree into the shape we want.

Does the fancier food sell better?

Not at all really. Apple Chicken is simple but popular, and because dogs love to eat it, we sell quite a lot.

apple_chicken

Store specialty Apple Chicken.

What are some of your most special products?

This “Little Black Cat”, has tiny pieces of seaweed shaped like a cat in the middle. It’s very difficult to make because of the small size and the precision required.

cat_cookies

The impressive level of detail on "Little Black Cat"

You already make perfect food for pets, even humans can eat some of it too. What do you believe is the different between human and pets?

I think we are the same, not much different. Pets are important for people nowadays, just like one’s family members. This Dragon Boat Festival we are also preparing special rice dumplings for dogs, it will sell on the Direct Sales TV channel and in shops.

Ferrero_Rocher

Ferrero Rocher for pets, inside the wrapping is a meat ball.

Recently we have been in an economic recession, are customers less willing to buy your products?

No, they treat pets like their family or children, so of course they are always willing to spend money on them.

sushi

One of the store's most impressive creations, "Salmon Sushi", is made with dried chicken breast over rice. Dogs like it more than cats!

Do you have any pets?

Yes, three cats and a mixed breed dog at my father’s house.

Did you buy them from a shop?

No, I adopt them from the Neihu Animal Shelter.

So you personally support adopting rather than buying?

Yes. I don’t know if you have been to the shelter in Neihu, but there are more than ten thousand animals crowded into three warehouse-like buildings. After two weeks, if no one adopts them, they are put down.

What made you decide to open this special store as your first business?

My dog died years ago because of bad pet food giving him liver cancer. So I want to make some good and healthy food for pets, I researched and developed it myself.

paw_cookies

Dog paw cookies.

All these products are created by you?

Another qualified worker and I do it together. I majored in electronics, but this is my passion, so I chose to make it my job. I’m happy to do all of this.

 



 

Sequence-01_3

A different store owner shows us one of the most popular items of clothing sold mostly during the colder months, an animal fur coat for cats and dogs to wear. This elaborate piece of clothing is imported from Japan and costs over NT1000. In addition to this sort of fairly extravagant item, the store also sells more ordinary clothes and accessories for pets, in addition to treats and snacks. The owner believes one of the reasons people buy pets is because they are easier and cheaper to maintain than children, because "you won't have to worry about whether their schoolwork is good or bad and they won't start dating".

 


 

Sequence-01

Our third interviewee also has a store which sells pets and clothing for them, although his store's focus is more on accessories such as shoes. He believes that a lot of people who buy pets nowadays tend to treat them as people, buy clothes for them and pamper them. He believes the reason for this is that "animals are more predictable in many ways, they give back as much love as you give them, and they won't leave you when they grow up". He believes one of the common reasons people buy animals nowadays is "because their sons and daughters have grown up and left home and they don't want their house to feel empty".

 

Interviews by Gin Hsieh and Daniel Pagan Murphy,

Photography by Witold Chudy.

 

Wednesday, 30 May 2012 12:46

The Dubious "Art" of Bullfighting

A bull slowy bleeds while spectators look on passively. Photo by Mait Jüriado


As a student in Beijing, back in 2007, I used to travel quite often by taxi. Taxi drivers in Beijing are incredibly friendly people and always encourage you to chat with them, which is great when you are trying to learn Chinese. Of course, one of the first questions is always “What country are you from?”. After I answered Spain, the common response I got was either the driver lifting both hands off the wheel and using his index fingers to imitate the horns of a bull, which as I’m sure you can imagine is quite stressful when you are travelling at a fairly high speed; or some variation of the phrase: “Spain? Bullfighting is great!”

Unfortunately, at that time, after only having learned Chinese for a year, my Chinese was not good enough to answer with “I am morally opposed to bullfighting”, so I had to settle for the rather less impressive “I don’t like bullfights”. After that, the driver usually stared at me in confusion and asked “Why?”. Once, again, my Chinese was severely lacking and rendered me unable to communicate my elaborate point, but I usually managed to articulate “Because kill bull”.

The usual response to that was and still is, utter shock. Not only from taxi drivers but also from a lot of my Taiwanese or Chinese friends. A lot of them are not aware that the animal is killed. People who were enthusiastic about bullfighting at the beginning of the conversation become more and more disillusioned or upset as I go into the details of exactly what bullfighting entails.

I often wonder how there can be such misinformation about what bullfighting is. The killing is essential to the activity, and yet, both in Asia and in Europe, a lot of people seem to believe that bullfighting is running in front of a bull. This is actually a very specific festival called San Fermin, which is unique to the city of Pamplona (incidentally, this festival still culminates in a bullfight in which the bulls are killed). Whilst it’s probably not true that the Spanish government deliberately promotes this misunderstanding, it is certainly quite convenient that many people are not aware of the bloody nature of the act.

I realise that there are lots of different types of events that are called bullfighting, and lots of different spectacles that involve bulls. However, I am focusing specifically on the version practiced in Spain and in certain parts of Southern France, the only variety that includes the intentional killing of a bull for entertainment. Bullfighting has been one of the identifying features of Spain for quite some time, and is up there with paella and flamenco as one of the experiences tourists crave when visiting Spain. Its association with Spain was probably accentuated thanks to attempts from the Spanish fascist government to rally the people in support of an intrinsically “Spanish” activity, and indeed the propaganda from the fascist era includes many nationalist slogans exalting the act.

The issue of bullfighting and its status as art or brutality has been debated endlessly by both advocates and detractors. One of the common arguments that supporters of bullfighting repeat ad nauseam is that the bull is given a dignified, honourable and noble death, in addition to a chance to prove its worth and fight for its life. It must be noted that for a human being there may be a distinction between an honourable death and one that isn’t; for example, the samurai practice of Seppuku (ritualized suicide) being preferable to dishonour or slow death. However, for a bull, there is no such thing as an “honourable” death, since honour is a purely human fabrication.  Moreover, we could once again argue that there is, in any case, no honour or dignity in being slowly tortured by a group of armed thugs dressed up as clowns while a group of spectators leers and brays for blood. If it was a human being killed this way, would it still be called a “honourable” way to die?

However, out of these three erroneous claims, the most outlandish is the implication that bullfighting benevolently grants a bull a chance to “prove its worth”. A bull does not have a sense of worth, seeing as this is a human construction which stems from the way we are viewed by others and the way we see ourselves. Even if a bull had this sense of worth, surely it would not be derived from being humiliated and scared, since if anything one might say that would diminish its sel-esteem. Neither would it derive its value from trying to kill other living beings, the bull being the peaceful animal that it is. The whole concept is quite bizarre since the bull never requested a chance to “prove its worth”, and even when forced to do so is very reluctant to engage its opponent. The notion that the bull is fighting for its life is laughable at best since the cases when the bull is spared are ridiculously far and between, and in any case the bull usually dies from its wounds shortly after. It seems that it is rather a case of the bullfighter proving its worth by conquering the beast.

Some of the arguments advocates use attempt to remove human attributes from the bulls, presumably to establish a distance between themselves and the animals by turning a blind eye to any human traits they might possess. The most common way these people do this is with the sentence “el toro no sufre” (the bull doesn’t suffer). Whilst it is true that we do not yet know the extent to which animals suffer pain in the same way that humans do, it is certainly hard to argue that the cries of anguish the bull emits and the distressed look on its face are due to the joy of the experience.

The other common argument where bulls are dehumanized, is saying that bullfighting is a form of art or culture, therefore lowering the death of an animal to an art form, which obviously could never be said of killing a human. According to the Merrian-Webster dictionary, art is “the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects” and culture is “the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behaviour that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations”. There is no creative imagination used in the killing of a bull in the ring, the same actions are performed with next to no variations every time there is a fight, and the end result is hardly aesthetic. As for the belief and knowledge being taught to future generations, one would think that after thousands of years of human history, we would have something better to teach succeeding generations than a ritualized form of public torture, with no goal other than death. I suppose that it could be argued that this is indeed the best we have to offer, in which case it is a sad state of affairs that we are in. To quote the Spanish band Ska-p, in their song about bullfighting: “To call structured  and deliberate sadism, violence, and death culture, is an insult to intelligence itself”

7060387005_423314b677_z

Protest against the Spanish government taking schoolchildren to bullrings. The sign reads "Torture". Photo by AnimaNaturalis

There are many other arguments that proponents of bullfighting bring to the table. It is claimed that these bulls are to die anyway, seeing as there only purpose is battle and there are too many for them to be of use as breeding bulls. It is also questioned whether culling these animals would be preferable to killing them in the bullring, which is a very complicated point. If it has to come to premature death, if there is no other use that those bulls can be put to (although I personally find this hard to believe) in my opinion it seems better to end the life quickly and quietly rather than subject the animal to prolonged suffering. Bullfighting enthusiasts also maintain that the value of the activity stems from it being a long-standing tradition, which it is, there is no point in denying it. However, this immobilist approach is dangerous, since values and societies change. What is traditional and acceptable in one era is not necessarily so in another. No one wants to see a world where globalisation is so prevalent that local traditions are assimilated into a global culture, but still, it is a case of measuring the pros of the tradition against the cons. For me, the cons of bullfighting clearly outweigh the pros.

Sometimes I wish I lived in the blissful state of mind regarding bullfighting that a lot of foreign observers do, in which it is just a bright spectacle of shining colours and “matador” (which just means killer in Spanish) bravado and where the bull isn’t hurt. As humans, we often pride ourselves on being civilised, and indeed the fight may be symbolic of civilisation conquering the wild. It seems to me though, that when it comes to a bullfight, the bull behaves in a much more civilised manner than the bullfighter. This is why I feel no sorrow when a bullfighter (rarely) dies or is badly injured in the ring, for it is a victory of civilisation over mindless cruelty, and surely, a victory so rare and hard to achieve is worthy of admiration.

 

Thursday, 26 April 2012 15:04

Gender Imbalance and the Value of Women


As a teacher in Taipei, I am often shocked by how many boys there are in my classes, particularly when compared with the number of girls. The first few times I thought it was coincidence, but after teaching in many different schools, I came to realise there was a bit of a pattern. Roughly two thirds of the students overall were boys.

On realizing this I wondered whether this could simply be explained by the fact that parents try to give their boys a better education than their girls, but that didn’t seem to be the case since, when I asked the boys, they said that their sisters all went to cram schools too.

I stumbled upon the more likely reason for the skewed numbers purely by accident. Upon taking a new class, I asked the students about their families. I found that almost all the girls had younger brothers, but not older brothers. When it came to boys, they often had an older sister, although it wasn’t as common as the girls having a younger brother. From then on, I made a point to ask the girls, and was very surprised to see that, if a girl said she had siblings, I could guess that it was a younger brother and be right almost every time.

It is no secret that in traditional Chinese culture, boys are preferred to girls. There are various reasons for this. Traditionally, boys were more useful for doing manual labour and therefore could be put to practical use more often. The other main reasons are spiritual and cultural in origin. The Chinese believe that only sons are capable of making small offerings to their deceased ancestors during festivals such as Tomb Sweeping Day, and therefore the parents in a family without male children would be uncared for in the afterlife, since they would be unable to receive offerings.

The cultural reason for the preference of boys is much more complicated to analyse from a foreign perspective than the two reasons above. It has to do with the concept of what we could call “outside versus inside” in Chinese culture. To simplify massively, the Chinese have traditionally seen anybody inside their family unit as insiders, people to be cared for. Those outside the unit are outsiders, and while they might still be befriended and relied upon, they never quite qualify as family. The issues derived from this thought are twofold. First, when a girl marries, she becomes a part of the other family, and becomes an “outsider”. She becomes part of the husband’s family group. Thus, a female daughter is often seen as a temporary member of the family, whereas a son will always be a part of it. The second problem is that girls don’t carry on the family surname, which is passed on through males. Therefore, the only way to guarantee one’s lineage, which is of utmost importance to the Chinese family, is to have a son. Interestingly enough, it is believed that prior to the Shang dynasty, Chinese passed on their surnames in a matrilineal fashion, through the female line of the family instead of the male. The fact that the character for surname, 姓, includes the radical 女 , meaning woman, further supports this. Why, then, is the modern concept of surname so intrinsically linked with boys?

So, how exactly is this related to my introduction about the demographics of school classes? It’s quite simple really. The reason for almost all the girls having a younger brother is that, if the families don’t get a son the first time around, they will try again, whereas if they do have a son, the majority will stop having children, due to the expensive costs of raising a child (made even more expensive in Taiwan because of certain traditions regarding the mother after giving birth).

This leads us into the main point of this article. What to do, say, when you have a daughter first, and then conceive another daughter? This poses quite a dilemma for most families. Going for a third child could be a possibility, but the economic cost would be a severe burden and there is still no guarantee that it would be a boy. Traditionally, there was no way of knowing the gender of the baby before birth, so the ancient Chinese used several methods that they believed would influence the gender. An offering of flowers to the goddess Mazu was believed to change the gender of a baby from a girl to a boy. Similarly, removing the nails on a deceased relative’s coffin (previously loosened or unscrewed) with one’s teeth, a predominantly Hakka tradition, was believed to encourage masculine births, because the pronunciation for "lick nail" sounds similar to "add son" in both Hakka and Mandarin Chinese. Finally, it was also believed to be possible to influence the sex of the baby by eating certain foods the week before it was due, which varied depending on what sex was desired. These traditions are all still put into practice today.

Unfortunately, nowadays, couples faced with the problem of not conceiving a boy have an “easy” solution: having an abortion as soon as the sex of the baby is known. This is by no means just a problem in Taiwan, but is also all too common a problem in China and India, as well as a minor issue in a few other countries. Aside from the obvious ethical dilemma, it is extremely irresponsible from a demographic point of view.

The current ratio of boys to girls born in China is estimated to be around 120 boys to 100 girls. The world sex ratio at birth is usually estimated at 105 boys to 100 girls, and in any given country, anywhere between 101 to 107 boys per 100 girls is deemed acceptable and normal. Taking this into account, we can appreciate just how extraordinary the Chinese sex ratio at birth is. While Taiwan’s ratio is likely significantly lower, due mainly to the lack of state family planning policies, this is still a huge problem. Eventually, when all these children grow up, how will they be able to find spouses of their own? Sure, the ones that can afford to move abroad might consider that option, but for a large amount, there will be very little hope of finding a wife. The irony of this is that the main reason for wanting boys in the first place is to carry on the family name. If those boys have no girls to form a family with, then the family name is doomed anyway, after only one generation.

genderimbalance1
Photo by  Hubert Kilian

The problem with selective abortions is it’s very hard to determine the exact reason why a family might want to abort. In China, it is now illegal to scan for the sex of the baby before it is born, but there is a whole black market built upon illegal gender scanning. These kinds of policies are clearly not enough. In Taiwan and in China, what is needed is a general shift in the perception of girls’ value in society. In Taiwan, a country where women have the same rights as men and are capable of holding just as high positions and having similar opportunities to succeed, what sense does it make for a family to deny their daughter the chance of proving just how great she could be based on family name? This is one of the prejudices that need to change if women are to be treated as equal to men.

Currently, it is all the rage to talk about terms such as Renewable Energy, Sustainable Development, and a long list of etc. This is exactly what societies with heavy discrimination against baby girls need to practice: “Renewable Birth” and “Sustainable Demographics”. People need to realise that the effects of what they are doing will be devastating in the long run. They need to be aware that rationalizing it away as “we are only one couple doing this” is not a viable choice when everyone else is thinking the same. The governments are also at fault here and need to abandon their laissez-faire attitude in favour of a proactive approach which recognizes the gravity of the situation, with projects to increase the perceived value of women in society and economic incentives to those families that choose to have baby girls.

The saddest part of it all, for me, was seeing the effects this devaluation of women has on the little themselves, rather than in the big economic or demographic picture. I remember seeing a little girl, only five or six years old, the only one in a class of twelve students, having to walk all the way across the school to another classroom just to find other girls to play with at break time. For her it was normal, what she had always had to do to play. But this attitude, the one that sees the gender imbalance as normal, is precisely what has to change. Otherwise, in the future, the problem will become much more serious than a girl having trouble finding friends to play with.

 

 

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