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Moral rearmament movement in Taiwan

The Ministry of Education launched a one-and-a-half-year campaign last month to make the people on Taiwan acquire “character,” “grace” and “taste.” Cheng Jui-cheng, the minister of education, got his NT$1.2 billion movement under way because he was convinced our people considered rude and vulgar worldwide are not that bad and all they need is a little more character, grace and taste. Of course, he is right. But he has prescribed a naive remedy.

His campaign has four features: ethical education, art embedded in school education, formation of a life-long habit of reading, and public awareness of the importance of sustainable ecological development.

It's impossible to make the drive a success in a brief span of time. The campaign has to be a long-lasting one, like the Moral Rearmament Movement of 1938. I don't know whether our good education minister has that in mind when he decided to kick off the most ambitious movement ever in history, for it involves not just moral revival but cultivation of refine ladies and gentlemen as well.

At any rate, Cheng got President Ma Ying-jeou to appear like a railroad station master with a regulation cap but wearing no uniform to speed off a group of schoolchildren aboard a special train to highlight the inauguration of what should be better called a new moral rearmament on Taiwan.

Remember Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek started a “new life” movement in China before the Marco Polo Incident of July 7, 1927 and President Chiang Kai-shek's similar campaign in Taiwan in the late 1960s? Chiang wanted the Chinese on the mainland and Taiwan alike to behave like decent people.

Chiang failed.

Actually, nobody can make such a movement successful in just a few years.

The Moral Re-Armament Movement (MRA) Dr. Frank Buchman launched is, essentially, a religious one.

Confronted with a sinful world, his Buchmanites taught the importance of absolute honesty, absolute purity and absolute usefulness. The influence of the movement shouldn't be underestimated, but the Christian world hasn't been made less sinful.

Religion, in a wide sense, is a system of truths and the obligations arising therefrom which constitute man's relationship with God or Tao as by far a greater majority of us who are basically agnostic Confucian Chinese believe. We used to be taught to honor and obey our parents and ancestors, love our brothers and sisters, and teach our children to be honest, not to waste anything, to work hard and, above all, to do nothing that may reflect shame on our family.

That moral fabric began to fray long before the West knocked at the door of China with the Opium War of 1939. But westernized bureaucrats and political leaders, unlike their Confucian predecessors, have made the situation worse in the recent past.

Cheng's campaign was planned by such bureaucrats, who are, in the best characterization Premier Liu Chao-shiuan gives them, “those who lack common sense, though they have academic knowledge.” They may not be as bad as Tu Cheng-sheng, who claimed Taiwan is in the center of the world by putting the island right in the center of a world map, or his chief of staff at the education ministry, who called Ma Ying-jeou names and insulted his father in public while he was campaign for president. But all the bureaucrats under Cheng do not know character is built up over the long years, including the formative years, albeit taste and grace can be learned much later.

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