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Home Editorials of Interest Taipei Times Kneeling in politics is archaic

Kneeling in politics is archaic

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New Taipei City Mayor Hou You-yi (侯友宜) on Saturday attended a ceremony to mark the completion of renovations at Sinpu Elementary School in New Taipei City.

After Hou gave his opening remarks, New Taipei City Councilor Chou Sheng-kao (周勝考) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) invited borough wardens and members of parents’ associations to form a line on stage with him. On behalf of others, Chou bent on one knee to thank Hou for his efforts and dedication to the school.

Shocked by the move, Hou quickly gestured for Chou to rise. However, motioning for others to join him, Chou got down on his knee again to thank Hou again. Exasperated, Hou jumped up from his seat, waving for them to stop.

Chou later said he was merely performing a common gesture to show gratitude. However, New Taipei City Councilor Ho Po-wen (何博文) of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) found the move ludicrous and excessive, while New Taipei City council candidate Yamada Mai (山田摩衣) of the DPP said that because Taiwan is a democratic society, government officials are employed by voters to do a job, and consequently it does not make sense for the “employer” to kneel to the “employee.”

Kneeling is common in some situations in various cultures. Knights knelt to show chivalry to a lady, the pious kneel to pay reverence to their religion and courtiers kneel to acknowledge royalty. Similarly, in imperial Chinese protocol, officials or citizens kowtowed to the emperor to show reverence.

This tradition found its way into Taiwanese elections. The most famous example ocurred during the 1997 election for Taipei County commissioner, when former DPP legislator Lu Hsiu-yi (盧修一) got down on his knees and to show respect to now-Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌), the DPP’s candidate, who had been considered the underdog.

During the 2002 Taipei mayoral election, People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜), in an effort to woo votes for Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), the former president who was twice mayor of the capital, also got down on his knees while shedding tears, telling the crowd that he has never knelt to the public for his own good.

The kneeling act soon became a common episode to save an election campaign or to show determination to get elected. With passion, courage and perfect timing, the candidates or their family bend on one knee to stir up fervor and arouse the public’s sympathy for their “plight.”

Unlike former West German chancellor Willy Brandt, who famously knelt after adjusting a wreath of ribbons at the Warsaw Ghetto memorial in 1970 in an an act of humility and penance, Taiwanese politicians seemed to be falling to their knees for personal interests and political agendas.

Before Taiwan was a fully developed civic society, cheesy, pompous acts such as kneeling and shedding tears might have worked with some members of the public, but this kind of demagogic act is quickly losing its appeal. With the advent of a democratic society, citizens are now casting their votes for candidates who show leadership and competency, not stage presence.

If Chou thought he could elevate Hou’s status and garner public support for Hou by kneeling, he could not have been more wrong. In a democratic society where all are equal, Chou’s behavior can only be regarded as anachronistic and ludicrous. Hou must win the votes of New Taipei City residents with his policies and vision. Kneeling is a thing of the past.

Source: Taipei Times - Editorials 2022/07/29

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