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June 23, 2017

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A post-truth world makes us get personal about the meaning of honesty

Tuesday's editorial in the China Post this past week saves us the trouble of getting bogged down in every last detail of an intriguing story. "Look around — we're in post-truth Taiwan" was the title of the editorial, in my view, unusually well done.

All right, so we know already that local author Chen Hsuan-ju, also known as Tanaka Mika, has confessed to having lied about her identity. She is not at all a descendent of a Japanese family from colonial Taiwan. We now know that her award-winning book, "Wansei Back Home," is a fraud in the sense it does not originate, as it had claimed upon its publication in 2015, in the personal experiences of its author. Readers at that time were given to understand that the voice behind the words belonged to a Japanese by nationality and culture who had lived as an historical personage through the turbulent years of colonized Taiwan, World War II, and so on.

The book thus was purported to be historical fact. Its sales exceeded 50,000 copies. In 2015 it won the coveted Golden Tripod Award for its author. The book profited the author additionally when it was later made into a highly praised documentary.

The judges for the award are in a process of reconsideration. Should they now rescind the honor? Reports are they will, if they determine that "the identity of the author has an impact on the value of the work." Chen is asking her readers not to doubt the emotions of her characters, their pain and suffering, or their love for the Taiwan they "knew" as fictional creations.

The China Post has already highlighted an irony here. The entire story of a fabricated identity for the author here is old news. When pressed about what appeared to be inconsistencies in her text, Chen admitted in a 2013 interview with the Japanese paper Sankei Shimbun to having deceived readers about her nationality.

We shake a finger of disapproval at the panel of judges for the Golden Tripod Award. What is their explanation upon hearing of Chen's admission on Jan. 1, 2017? How do we explain this gap in knowledge on the part of representatives of the Ministry of Culture? I hate to think someone was sleeping on the job.

I agree entirely with the words that conclude the "post-truth Taiwan" editorial: "There really are such things as facts ... We should not normalize the collective post-truth reactions of those caught in a lie."

At the same time, I believe this "incident about a mere book" pushes us to face our human penchant for fabrication and lies.

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