The recent death of former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui reminded me of one my former Mandarin teachers in Taipei. She used good teaching methods and definitely helped me to improve my language skills when in 2004 I had to retake classes to obtain a new visa.
Born in Peking in the 1940s, she had fled to Taiwan with her parents at the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949. Like many “Mainlanders”, she openly despised Taiwanese, who basically hadn’t worked hard and got rich only by selling land to the Nationalist government that had relocated to Formosa, fleeing from the victorious Communists under Mao Tse-tung.
Besides her open contempt for her alleged compatriots on the island and her strong opposition to Taiwan’s independence, she also hated Japan to the extent that for many years she simply refused to teach students from there, until one day she met a Japanese she liked and changed her mind.
Therefore she profoundly disliked Lee, who due to his background hold very pro-Japanese views and even had served in the Imperial Army durng World War II. According to her, his father wasn’t just a police officer, but a Japanese national. She basically considered him a traitor to the Chinese nation she felt to be a part of.
At the same time, she vehemently defended every action of the Chinese government, including the brutal repression of the Falun Gong movement which began in 1999, saying that it must have had a reason for doing so.
One day, when she again started ranting again about how many Chinese the Japanese had killed, I couldn’t hold back anymore and asked who had murdered more of them, the Japanese invaders or the communist bandits, as Mao and his followers officially called in Taiwan, then still “Free China”, until the late 1980s.
Of course that was a futile attempt. She wouldn’t admit how much harm had been caused by those who wanted to create a “new China” on the mainland and whom she strongly supported, probably because she never had to endure the consequences of that ideological madness.
Although I never formally apologized and we kept a friendly relationship, I later felt bad about my behavior. Being disrespectful to a teacher is one of the worst affronts one can commit in a Confucian society, especially if it’s an older, very traditional person, deeply rooted in that culture.
After another 15 years of acculturation, I would try to avoid such tactless behavior by all means. Should I have a chance to see her again, I will let her know how sorry I feel nowadays about my past rudeness