1999 / 10月
Anna Wang /tr. by David Mayer
"Because man treads upon the earth and the natural world day after day, he forgets his awe for the forces of nature." --Li Min-yung, poet
Since the earthquake hit in the wee hours of September 21, everyone in Taiwan has been haunted by images of fallen homes, shattered families, and once-verdant hillsides reduced by landslides to lunar landscapes. Bad news just keeps pouring in, and it would be no exaggeration to say that we have all been living under a cloud of fear, grief, and rage in the past two weeks.
It doesn't matter whether you're at home, on the street, in a taxi, at a restaurant, or surfing the Internet-terrors, tears, and sorrow bombard our senses from every direction. It has given us much to think about. For me, it brings to mind the words of the poet Li Yung-min, who wrote: "Man forgets his awe for the forces of nature."
This forgetfulness may not have been the direct cause of the disaster, but there can be no doubt that we have indeed forgotten the feelings of awe and humility that our predecessors once knew. In our single-minded pursuit of economic development over the past 50 years, we have been blind to the costs of unbridled exploitation of the resources of this silent, suffering earth.
When the Kuomintang government withdrew from the mainland, they came to an island that had been laid to waste during World War II. At the beginning, the government couldn't even pay the salaries of its own employees. Half of all localities in Taiwan had neither running water nor electricity. Many people now in their 40s and 50s have memories of walking to school barefoot in order to reduce wear and tear on their shoes. Today, by contrast, Taiwanese shoppers travel around the world on the most extravagant of shopping sprees. In one instance, a group of cash-laden Taiwanese travelers bought so many Rolex watches at one store that the elated store owner raised an ROC flag in their honor! This huge change has won strong praise from Harvard economist Michael Porter, who lived in Taiwan as a child and created quite a stir when he returned here last year to speak on the subject of comparative advantage. This progress is also a source of great pride for the people of Taiwan. Ours is a story of hard work and success, to be sure, but in attaining success we have lost the very qualities that make possible the progress of society-humility, human warmth, and a spirit of mutual understanding. We strip the mountains bare, replacing beautiful forests with roads and cash crops. Is it any wonder the earth has roared in displeasure? Haven't the repeated landslides awoken us yet from our dreams of gold and riches? Now that we've had an earthquake of historic magnitude, will we come to understand the error of our ways? Will we strike a balance between the demands of economic development and environmental protection so that our descendants can continue to enjoy life on this beautiful island?
There is so much good about Taiwan that is worth holding on to. The poet Chang Hsiang-hua, for example, recently wrote about the Taipei of her youth, where she remembers fish swimming in a crystal-clear stream at the foot of Yuanshan Hill on Taipei's north side. And I'll always remember the kindness that someone showed my mother 50 years ago not long after she had fled to Taiwan from the civil war in mainland China. Times were hard, and she was working at home as a seamstress to supplement the family income. An elderly woman, locally born, brought her some silk and asked her to make it into a dress. My mother didn't know how to sew the collar, and she made a complete mess of it. Surprisingly, the customer not only paid the bill without a complaint, but actually continued using her sewing services. It turned out that the customer had only given my mother work to help her out financially. This kindness was never forgotten.
The Taiwanese showed once again after the earthquake just how kind and accepting we can be. The government, religious organizations, and the general public did everything they could to contribute to the relief effort. Buddhist leader Cheng Yen perhaps best summed up the mood of these past two weeks: "It's all too sad for words. We just have to do what we can." Even when the news media have expressed criticism and the public has vented rage, it has been done out of a deep concern to see aid arrive in time to those who need it; everyone wants the government to put forward a detailed plan for recovery as quickly as possible.
More than 10,000 people have lost homes and beloved family members in the earthquake, and every one of us has a responsibility to help them rebuild their lives. We must also reflect upon the price that we have paid for the last 50 years of economic development so as to ensure that our children and grandchildren can enjoy the same kind of success over the next 50 years. If we can do this, the victims of this earthquake will not have died in vain, and we may one day begin to heal.