Humanity at Stake
Abraham Young
2008. Published in the United States by CreateSpace and distributed by Amazon. 130 pp. Website: HumanityAtStake.com

A few weeks ago I was in class at NCKU when a young woman walked in. Although the room seats 40 there are only seven of us in the class, but after inspecting the roomful of empty seats she strolled over and took the seat next to me. Thinking she wanted to talk, I leaned over, and a moment’s conversation led to the discovery that she was an exchange student from Shanghai. I immediately invited her to lunch. We spent the next couple of hours in a local lunch box joint, discussing Tibet and Taiwan in Mandarin at her insistence, with her raising the by-now drearily familiar arguments. The conversation was not quiet, though we did not raise our voices, and it was obvious to me that many of the locals were silently listening in. After we stepped out of the diner, the young woman ran off to buy a drink and an older Taiwanese woman who had been sitting at the table next to us walked over to me. “Thank you,” she said, as she struggled to free her bicycle from the horde of bikes parked for the lunch rush. Looking down the road, where the Chinese woman was buying tea, she spat out: “Those Chinese are so arrogant!” All I could think was: well, maybe you should have told her that yourself.

Fortunately for Taiwan, Taiwanese-Americans have long been speakers on the island’s behalf, and this new book is the latest offering in that five-decade long effort to give an international voice to the island. From its unusually long subtitle to its promise on the back cover to donate $1 to Human Rights Watch for every copy sold, Abraham Young’s Humanity at Stake: On why the world should now end China’s military & political aggression, understand Taiwan’s democracy, and defend 23 million citizens’ human right to self-determination represents a unique approach to educating novice readers on the various points of view in the Taiwan issue, and on why supporting Taiwan is so important. Its appearance is all the more timely given the recent political developments in cross-strait issues.

Young’s book is a description of a dialogue between a relatively educated young American who knows a smattering about Taiwan, a young Chinese man, and an American of Taiwanese descent, told from the point of view of the last. As he describes them:

Here’s the kid from Taiwan, here’s the kid from China, and on the third side of this square table there’s the Mr.-All-American pilot, who is intelligent, friendly, has real knowledge of the world, has visited and pondered the cities of China, and though never visited Taiwan, has engaged in U.S. military to deal with the important dilemmas of international relations, overseas.

We have everything we need here for a real simulation—a so-called Strait-talk —with the exclusion of military arms to play offense, defense, and deterrent.

The three then go on to discuss the various arguments. The book is divided into two basic parts — one explaining the past, and one staking out options for the future. Readers who have been around pro-China trolls or been on discussion forums will recognize the arguments used by the Chinese and the disparaging commentary in the international media: that Taiwan is like a Hawaii, or that Taiwan’s democracy is “corrupt” or that Taiwan’s leaders “overreact.” The reality, as Young shows in the second half of the book, is that there is no credible argument for annexing the island to China. There is nothing that China cannot get from Taiwan as a free and independent state, except, of course, the satisfaction of ownership.

In addition to the dialogue, Young presents his interior monologue, displaying many of the same reactions all of us go through when confronting the combination of ignorance and aggression that represents the PRC point of view. This helps draw the reader in to Young’s point of view and make the work more interesting. An additional positive feature of the work is that Young does not turn his Chinese interlocutor into a caricature of the bombastic, violent Chinese trolls everyone on the net is familiar with, but presents him as a sympathetic and intelligent human being.

The book contains extensive, even elaborate footnotes that provide further background to the points Young makes in his responses. These usually have internet sources, enabling the reader to easily explore the issues in greater depth. Contemporary issues, such as the WHO exclusion, also make an appearance. A typical discussion reads:

However, this last point does not even need to be made to Wang and Chris, as their silence, their silence at the painful reality of 1,200-plus Chinese missiles aimed at Taiwan shows that there is no single argument—moral, logical, or just—that validates China’s past and present military aggression and missile arsenal, much less the continued growth on both menacing counts, which has been clearly the case.

Not just in reference to the basement where Wang, Chris, and I now stand, the real elephant in the room is this: not a single person, up through the highest levels of government, within China, the US, or Taiwan is capable of providing a single validating argument for this.

For readers who are unfamiliar with the Taiwan issue Humanity at Stake is an extremely readable introduction to the issues, packed with useful information. I look forward to the next edition, when the whole work is translated into Chinese using simplified characters. If Taiwanese really want to preserve their freedom, they need to start talking to the Chinese.