After Taiwanese American Eric Tsai offered to co-host a workplace discussion on the protests in Hong Kong, a disgruntled co-worker wrote in a separate WeChat of over 300 Chinese American employees:
“Let’s just spend some money and hire thugs to go after him.”
Editor’s Note: I want to be very clear that TaiwaneseAmerican.org has never been, and never will be, anti-Chinese, and certainly not anti-Chinese American. We support the Taiwanese people in their right to self-determination; we can, without contradicting this, honor the vast history and heritage of China that extends beyond her violent, possessive claim on Taiwan. As we work towards the full liberation of the Taiwanese, Hong Kongese, and Uighurs, we hope for the human rights of the Chinese people, too. What Eric Tsai shares today is a startling, necessary reminder of duality in play: the privilege of protesting in a situated democracy, the obligation to stand up for those demanding one. I argue, again, that the diaspora should not claim the aesthetics of our motherland without sharing in her burdens. Our calling has arrived. Taiwanese Americans: collect each other before they come for us, too.
I’m in Chinatown, at a rally in support of Hong Kongers who are against the extradition treaty and police brutality. In front of me stand hundreds of counter-protestors yelling obscenities:
“You filthy animal!”
“Traitors to your country!”
“Leave the country!”
In contrast, the allies of Hong Kong stare back in quiet fortitude. Some refuse to engage at all, stepping away from the mob to instead educate passersby on their cause and its urgency.
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I’ve been actively promoting Taiwan-related events for 10 years now and I’ve even been in front and on stage for pro-Taiwan rallies in Time Square. This is the first time I’ve been at a rally facing so many counter-protesters. This is the first time I felt fearful. Perhaps this fear was compounded because last week, I felt I was targeted by people like the counter protesters within the company I work for.
Last Thursday, I received a message from HR regarding a complaint that had been filed against me. The complaint was that I had posted something humiliating and offensive to them. Our company has a non-work chat channel for employee social activism. This is where employees can freely discuss social issues and the various ways we engage in activism. On Tuesday, I posted the following, asking if people would be interested in learning more about the protest in Hong Kong. With many upvotes, I worked with Hong Kong coworkers to set up a Q&A panel within 2 days.
24 hours go by with nothing but people in support of this. Then a coworker posted about my message in a separate WeChat (China’s chat system) group of over 300 coworkers, many of whom are from China. To them, that a Taiwanese person had advocated for Hong Kong fundamentally challenged their ideas that (1) both absolutely belonged to China, and (2) any deviation from this was a threat to Chinese national identity. As a result, what I had done was unacceptable to them. Knowing this would be an issue, this man fanned a flame that cannot be quelled.
“What does everyone think of the current situation in HK? Or does anyone care? Eric Tsai, the guy from Taiwan, is holding a QA panel tmr and thinks he is in the position to explain the current situation. Refer to #nonework-activism for more details for those who cares.”
6 hours later, a few members in the group chat decided to file an HR ticket with the aim to get me fired. I started to write an email to explain the situation when a new message was sent to the group:
“Let’s just spend some money and hire thugs to go after him.”
When HR reached out, they assured me that the company should and will be a place that allows employees to hold conversations and discuss dissenting opinions. However, these threats and attacks are unacceptable. This level of bullying and threat isn’t new. This type of nationalistic bullying has occurred at multiple levels, from celebrities being demanded to apologize for holding the flag of Taiwan to student union vice president petitioned to resign (but didn’t) and threatened to death for being Tibetan.
While I put on a strong face as I tell this story, I am scared. When in the office, whenever someone who looks like they might be Chinese glances in my direction, I can’t help but wonder, “Was this one of the people who tried to fire me? Was this one of the people who bear such hatred towards me for my thoughts?” I know not all Chinese people in America are like this. If anything, these are among the extremely few with radical beliefs in Chinese nationalism (or so I thought.) During this experience, a few Chinese people have also come up to me to warn me of these incidents, or come to have an open discussion about the situation. But while the group of few people hiding behind their keyboards and stirring up hatred seem largely anonymous and digital, it’s hard to truly assess their scale. These may be the opinions of the minority, but they’re shared with many.
It wasn’t until I stood facing over a hundred people shouting profanities in my face that I realized, there’s a good number of people who genuinely hate us.
Why do I care about Hong Kong?
“Why are you looking to die on a hill that isn’t even yours?” my friend asked. As I watch footage from Hong Kong of police firing pellets within meters of the protesters, pictures of men’s faces in pools of blood, beaten by police batons, and a video of a policeman brandishing a revolver after being attacked by protesters, I felt I couldn’t stay quiet. Just as it is my job to tell Taiwanese people about police brutality in America, racial injustice in the government system and xenophobia in my own communities, it is my job to help Americans learn more about Asia.
Looking past the Chinese protesters, I see the ROC flag hanging in the air.
The flag is a representation of Taiwan’s turmoil-filled past and its democratic present. But as I look at the mob in front of me, it reminds me that Taiwan’s future, too, has fierce and aggressive opponents. Today, I am not just standing for Hong Kong or against China, but standing for justice, freedom and human rights. I stand for the very same rights that these Chinese protesters are using to counter us. Standing for freedom, democracy and justice isn’t just standing up when it helps you, but standing up for those that need help, wherever they might be.
If I don’t speak out, Taiwan will be next.
When they come for the…
Like in the rally, at work, I stand against these bullies. I stand in the open hoping to face my opponents. Today, they came for me. I want to make sure that tomorrow, they are unable to go for others. While the red flags and red shirts over the weekend frighten me, they also reinforce my resolve. At work, I am collaborating with HR to make sure this never happens to anyone else in the office. In society, I am rallying supporters to stand up against international bullies because if they come for the Tibetans, the Urghurs and the Hong Kongers and I don’t speak out, Taiwan will be next.
Eric Tsai grew up in Taiwan and graduated with a BS in Computer Science from Rutgers University. He was Vice President of the Rutgers Taiwanese American Student Association. After graduating, he was involved in Formosan Association for Public Affairs (FAPA) workshops and helped organize multiple UN4Taiwan/Keep Taiwan Free rallies. He co-founded OFTaiwan as a way to help Taiwanese Americans learn more about Taiwan. Through the organization, he has spoken to multiple college Taiwanese American Associations and has been invited to hold workshops at ITASA conferences. He is fluent in Taiwanese, Mandarin, and English. He is currently based in Boston but is hoping to move back to Taiwan soon.