April 9-15, 2012
Editorial: A 21st century Taiwanese version of Naboth’s Vineyard
Translated by Lydia Ma
Yang Kui, a prominent writer during the time Taiwan was colonized by Japan, once wrote a fictional story to depict the injustices Taiwanese people faced during that time. In this story, a wealthy and powerful hospital superintendent and a peasant went on business venture that meant a lot to the peasant but required a lot of money and help from the rich superintendent.
At one point in the story, the superintendent became obsessed with one of the peasant’s family pet – a goose – and insinuated that the goose would make a great gift and a great means for the peasant to show his appreciation. Knowing full well that his children loved the goose and considered it a family member, the peasant couldn’t bear to give it away and the superintendent went away disappointed.
However, the superintendent soon began to withhold money needed for this venture to proceed and the peasant learned that the only way to keep the partnership and deal from falling apart was to give away the goose his family so dearly loved. Soon after gifting this goose to the superintendent, all the financial problems surrounding this venture were solved.
According to Yang, the moral of this story is that there is no such thing as “mutual prosperity” in a colonial system, no matter how hard a colonizer may try to convince the world otherwise. To our disappointment, barely 50 years after the Japanese colonization ended in Taiwan, the same kind of injustice is happening in our society. Only this time, the injustice is being perpetrated by governments and businesses – legally, openly, and in the name of development.
Just when the Wenlin Yuan Urban Renewal Project and the forced eviction of the Wang family captured national headlines, reports surfaced that a Catholic Church in Nantun, Taichung with a land mass of roughly 1,300 ping (1 ping is the equivalent of 3.306 square meters) is also being re-zoned and expropriated. The church currently has a building that serves as a place where students can go for after-school tutoring and after-school activities and these services are offered free of charge. However, these spaces may soon be replaced by luxury apartments as the construction firm has already claimed the land.
In response to this forced eviction, Father Gao Funan, a Congolese priest who oversees this church and its ministries said during a press conference: “If they want to take away this piece of land to help children and seniors or shelter homeless people in the east coast, I have no problem with that. But if they want to sell our land to line their own pockets, I will oppose this expropriation to the very end.”
The plight of Father Gao and the Wang family is eerily similar to the story of Naboth the Jezreelite described in the Bible in 1 Kings 21. In this story, Naboth’s refusal to sell his vineyard to King Ahab resulted in Naboth’s death in the hands of Ahab’s wife, Jezebel. However, the prophet Elijah also pronounced judgment and doom on Ahab and Jezebel because of their evil deeds and his prophesy is fulfilled later on in the story when Jezebel’s died a violent death during a coup.
You could say that Naboth’s vineyard, which he inherited from his father, stood in the way of King Ahab’s “Urban Renewal Act” because, unlike Ahab, Naboth wasn’t interested in earthly riches or glory and only wanted to live in peace and enjoy the fruits of his labor. Furthermore, Naboth was a God-fearing man who knew that, according to Jewish law, he could not sell the land of his ancestors.
In the end, Naboth died and his land was stolen from him because he was simply no match for a band of people who plotted against him using whatever means necessary to accomplish their goal – including forgery, false witnessing, and lawful execution of a wrongheaded government orders. But Naboth’s story is not irrelevant to contemporary Taiwanese society - we only need to replace the cast of characters in this story with a few individuals we’ve seen and heard a lot in the newspapers in recent weeks to come to this realization.
Unjust regimes are not a thing of the past and tragic stories detailing the plight of the Wang family, the Catholic Church in Nantun, the farmers in Dapu and their razed rice fields are only a few examples that prove this is the case. So, don’t say that what happened to these folks will not one day happen to you and your house, or your local church, or the PCT General Assembly office. As long as an unjust regime is in power, it is very possible.
In face of such an unjust, ridiculous, and disorderly conduct, how much longer can we remain silent? Should we not speak out against evil like the Prophet Elijah, who said, “God’s word: What’s going on here? First murder, then theft? God’s verdict: The very spot where the dogs lapped up Naboth’s blood, they’ll lap up your blood – that’s right, your blood.”