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Monday, December 5, 2011

Problems Over-Developing A Bicycle Paradise

Map of New Development in the Rift Valley

A couple pieces have caught my eye over at The View From Taiwan, and I thought I could weave cycling into the discussion.

Two articles in particular stand out. The first involves the rapidly expanding development of Taiwan's East Coast. And the other highlights recent criticism of a bill that would critically impinge on the rights of Taiwan's First Peoples.

Michael does such an excellent job with many of the details, so I will simply expand upon the ideas here to better demonstrate how these initiatives impact and will be impacted by cycling and bicycle tourism.

Much of the hoopla surrounding the recent Taiwan Cup and Taiwan's International Bike Festival involved showcasing Taiwan as a cyclist's paradise. Although we each have our own idea of what cycling paradise entails, the thrust of the Taiwan Tourism Bureau's presentation revolved around the amenities and activities specifically constructed to cater to the bicycle tourist. Many of the projects put on display were the result of a tourism building boom that had given the Ma administration plenty to crow about, and moreover, these projects have provided construction and development companies a fertile playground to capitalize on the deliberate transformation of Taiwan from a leader in technology and industry into a tourist Mecca.

Although I support expanding rider support all over Taiwan, the country's penchant for unchecked development, illegal construction, kickbacks , payoffs and creative zoning threatens to not only discourage visitors who are looking to enjoy Taiwan's rugged wildernesses, but it also threatens the collective rights of Taiwan's indigenous inhabitants, many of whom own the lands along the Rift Valley between Hualien and Taidong.

Amis representative Konon Panay (古孟巴奈) said the central government did not define and grant Aboriginal lands, but it has been depriving Aborigines of their lands in the name of development.
Under the government of the Republic of China (ROC), the often correlative concepts of "development" and "eco-tourism" can be viewed as demonstrative of Taiwan's problematic postcoloniality.

When the Republic of China (ROC) arrived on Taiwan in 1945, the government instituted a program which located Taiwan's Hakka, Hoklo, Pingpu* and Aboriginal communities as "backward" in need of the modernity the ROC claimed to possess. The authoritarian government of the ROC used development programs in an attempt to "modernize" and transform the people of Taiwan into something subjectively better and "improved". Non-Taiwanese were located closest to the civilizing center and Aborigines at the furthest points.

In many ways the ROC scheme reflected pre-existing beliefs of Qing era transformationalism, or the belief that "savages" could be improved if they could learn to act like "humans", as well as the social darwinism that was popular with Sun Yat-sen and his cohorts. Taiwan's Aborigines were believed to be a degraded people who could be improved through the ROC civilizing program.

Many Aborigines were asked to move from traditional villages into "modern" concrete houses. Not only was the move away from traditional homes an attempt to modernize them, but the act can be viewed through the Confucianist lens as an act of taming; of transporting indigenous people through time to near the present and away from the "wilderness", which has been traditionally viewed by Han people as both savage and degraded. Even during the Qing colonial era, farmers along Taiwan's western plain were implored by official decree to "tame/open the wasteland" through farming. These believes reflect the deep connection between traditional Confucian views and official ROC ideology. Emma Teng's book Taiwan's Imagined Geography provides a great read on how these beliefs manifest themselves in official writing on Taiwan's indigenous peoples.

I think these beliefs can be seen from 2008, when Taiwan's current president and Chinese Nationalist standard bearer Ma Ying-jiu addressed a group of Aborigines.

Ma was quoted as saying:
"I see you as humans and as citizens of this city. I'm going to educate you well and do a good job of providing you with opportunities. That's the place from which the attitude of aborigines needs to be that you've come here, you need to play by the rules here..."
The pejorative distance between city and country, savage and non-savage, degraded and elevated are on full display with Ma clearly envisioning himself in the position of the civilizer.

The moves for development groups to go in and develop the indigenous lands along the Rift Valley while stripping or weakening the rights of indigenes to manage their own development creates a system of patronage, where the indigenous peoples must rely on the development groups and their political benefactors for economic support. Many of Taiwan's development schemes are not only owned by outside investors, but often many of the only jobs created are in service or entertainment where indigenous people are requited to perform quasi-traditional performances for the pleasure of tourists thus becoming the exotic object of desire on their own ancestral land while most of the profits go elsewhere. I recall "Aboriginal dancing" being one of the "highlights" promoted to visiting journalists for the Taiwan International Bike Festival.

The prospect of cycling tourism has become one of the driving forces behind much of this development; development that is neither sustainable, tenable, ethical or just.

For these reasons I would recommend cyclists ask for cycling development in Taiwan with a lighter touch to best enjoy Taiwan. I hope those people who arrive in Taiwan on a government paid junket or for cycling tourism can covey the belief that often less is more and we care about more than simply bike trails or hot springs. We care about the entire cycling environment including how the land was acquired and how much local involvement goes into planning cycling infrastructure. For now many of the decisions on bicycle infrastructure and development are made by politicians, developers and their corporate backers.

* Pingpu existed under the Japanese, but were incorporated into Hakka and Hoklo groups under the ROC by 1953.

Food For Thought: Two thoughtful articles about tourism from Ryan at Savage Minds. Article 1 and Article 2