While reading Taiwan: A Political History, I came across this fascinating passage.
Fascist Japan used narcotics as a mean of unconventional warfare as well as a revenue-generating enterprise, distributing drugs to soften up the opposition in areas or among populations over which the Japanese government sought political control. Northern China was one of the principal target areas. The Japanese administration on Taiwan also evidently made narcotics available to young, middle-class Hakka men, a group that produced a relatively high proportion of anti-Japanese activists.
The Hakkas are fascinating. Denny Roy notes that other Chinese call them Kejiaren, or “guest people.” Though considered Han Chinese, the Hakkas are a subethnic group said to have migrated south from northern China 1500 years ago. Subsequent waves of repression kept pushing the population further south, and a disproportionately large share emigrated to Taiwan and Southeast Asia. The parallels to diaspora minorities in the West are obvious. Oddly enough, in Taiwan at least the Hakkas are not clustered in commerce, in part because they were systematically excluded from landownership; rather, they are “overrepresented” in the police force and politics. This is interesting, and I’ll get back to it.
Several weeks ago I took part in a quirky series of discussions on (of all things) the fate of democracy, and one of my interlocutors made an impassioned plea for socialism. Her stated motivation was the abuse and neglect suffered by black Americans at the hand of the state, and on the surface she made a compelling case. But the obvious rejoinder was that the state that had committed the many abuses she had in mind was a majoritarian state, and that empowering a majoritarian state wouldn’t necessarily guarantee that the majority in question would become more virtuous. Ira Katznelson’s brilliant When Affirmative Action Was White takes a harsh look at how the political accommodation of segregationist Democrats turned the New Deal into an instrument that in some cases actually exacerbated racial disparities in income and wealth.
This, of course, is a powerful argument for using the state to reverse this specific historical injustice. I think that’s what my interlocutor had in mind: let’s dramatically strengthen the state so that it can undo the damage done by the state. And yet any discussion of historical injustice, in the real world at least, soon becomes thorny. Efforts to reverse the one historical injustice will inevitably yield others. Moreover, the stronger state we hand over to those we like, respect, and trust will, in the fullness of time, be inherited by those we distrust and loathe.
So that’s why the Hakka approach makes sense: as a vulnerable minority, it makes sense to pursue employment in the police and other arms of the state. Similarly, I’d like to see, for example, Asian Americans in the United States seek a larger share of political power. At the same time, I’d caution minority groups to pursue strategies of self-help rather than strategies rooted in the benevolent largesse of the majority.