1998 / 10月
Elaine Chen /tr. by Phil Newell
The Tzu Chi Buddhist Foundation has always been very successful in raising funds for charitable purposes. But recently when it began soliciting donations to assist victims of flooding along the Yangzi River in mainland China, there was considerable resistance from within the organization. In the past many people donated money for mainland China unreservedly. But after the PRC's missile tests and other military threats, and numerous incidents of Taiwanese business people in the PRC being murdered or otherwise victimized, people in Taiwan have lost their sense of empathy with people in mainland China: "Why should I give money to people who are hostile to me?"
However, says Master Cheng Yen, head of Tzu Chi, we should not confuse regimes with the people who live under them. She argues that when it comes to disaster relief, people should not distinguish between "us" and "them."
It is easy to advise people not to make distinctions; it is difficult for them to abstain from doing so. People distinguish between rich and poor, wise and foolish, and, most fundamentally, between men and women. In family life, society, and history, women have been seen, at best, as "needing protection"; at worst, women have suffered repression and discrimination. Even though the laws of modern society increasingly recognize equality between men and women, in real life, single women on their own still face many difficulties. Find out more in the article "Single But Not Alone" in this issue.
Another distinction is between animals that humans find pleasant, like butterflies, and those we find annoying, like caterpillars. People who would wax poetic over the sublime beauty of a butterfly in flight have recently been alarmed by a spate of caterpillar invasions of school yards and gardens. People have attacked the caterpillars with fire and water. But of course everyone knows that butterflies come from caterpillars. Why do people make such an enormous distinction between the two? Find the answer in "The Caterpillars Strike Back."
An even more difficult distinction to cope with than the one between beauty and ugliness is that between life and death. People praise life, and studiously avoid the subject of death. Yet, as a western philosopher has said, life is simply "being-toward-death." To think about death is to think about life. It has been said that only by looking at death will we have the wisdom and power to shoulder our responsibilities in life. See "Where There's a Will."
An old joke has it that "there are two kinds of people, those who divide everything into two categories, and those who don't." We distinguish between surface appearance and internal content, as illustrated in the article "Twenty Years of Designer Fashions." And we distinguish between friend and enemy, "us" and "them," as shown in the article "War and Peace: Recent Military and Diplomatic Developments in the Taiwan Strait."
The post-Cold-War world is witnessing, in many places, peaceful coexistence and reductions in military strength. In the past, the ROC and PRC stood at odds in military and diplomatic affairs. Today the two sides are preparing to sit down to discuss better ways to resolve differences. The ROC's military modernization program is aimed at ensuring the security of Taiwan and its surrounding islands using the minimum of military force. On this foundation, as Lin Chong-pin, vice-chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council, says, when the long-term interests of the ROC and PRC happen to be compatible, and as their views of suitable subjects for negotiation intersect, the Taiwan Strait problem will steadily improve.
The opposite of drawing distinctions is seeking commonality. Perhaps this is something only saintly people can succeed in doing thoroughly. For the great majority of us, it is almost impossible to eliminate the habit of drawing distinctions. We look forward to the two sides of the Taiwan Strait recognizing where these distinctions come from, and seeking common ground for the future.