The Straits Times (Singapore), April 21, 2006.
Photo by William R. StimsonCracks in the soil near the geographic center of Taiwan, in Puli.
"Taiwan's Cracks "
What touches my heart about Taiwan is its cracks. You find them everywhere -- in the walls of houses and buildings, in sidewalks, highways, curbstones, and cement planters -- the legacy of the island's frequent earthquakes. Everything in Taiwan is just a little broken -- even the soil, in places, is rent with fissures. The island was wrenched up from the ocean floor by the Philippine continental plate banging into the edge of Asia. This collision that created Taiwan is still very much in progress. Taiwan is a place in the making. It's a shaky place, but it's an island with a future. This is true not just in a geological sense, but also culturally and politically. Communist China's notion of Taiwan as a "renegade province" is a lie. The truth is that modern Taiwan is a wonderfully fractured place that came into being where Japanese and Chinese history collided; and it moves into the future now at the real spot in the world where everything American bangs most forcefully into everything Chinese. As such, Taiwan is a rich, culturally fertile mix -- magnificently alive. It may or may not someday be a part of China; but the little nation is simply too important a cultural and commercial treasure for the world to allow it to be bullied by China or America, now or at any time in the future. Geologically, culturally, and politically Taiwan is a de facto self-building entity and deserves the self-determination that, by rights, is it's due.
Everywhere I go here I see beautiful new elevated expressways under construction, tall modern skyscrapers, elite apartment buildings, universities, and schools. An elevated high-speed railway line that stretches from one end of the island to the other is almost completed. The bridges here are of the highest caliber and look more like works of modern art or sculpture than engineering projects. Taiwan abounds with creative enterprise, the building up of newer and better things, even as all sorts of forces threaten at any minute to tear it down. The truth isn't that Taiwan survives in spite of these forces, but that it thrives and can be self-building precisely because of them. This is the real secret of Taiwan and its remarkable grass-roots creativity. Taiwan, not China or America, is the correct model for the developing countries of Latin America, Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, and Africa. Taiwan also provides a lesson for the creative individual and a constant source of inspiration. The creative life always springs into being at the juncture of powerful opposing forces. Early on it gets cracked and broken. Half the time it seems to be trying to get up from its knees only to be knocked down again. The example of Taiwan shows that it is exactly on such a foundation that the best things happen.
Cracks are evidence that deeper forces are at work under the surface and that something greater is coming into being. These are forces of an awesome magnitude. They would seem to outweigh anything we might be capable of, except that they elicit from within us that which is even mightier -- the inner freedom to create. It is when this freedom begins to move through our work and our lives that we rise to our true stature as human beings and, like Taiwan, bring into being something that has never been before, a thing totally new --that can't be squeezed back into old categories of history and culture, but has the power to break loose from the rigid and the dead, invent a greater freedom, and send everything off in a new direction.