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An answer to a recently edited question contains the following sentence (emphasis mine):

In China (Beijing, Shenzhen , Shanghai ) we seems never say: 构建. Seems 构建,软体 only spoken in Taiwan province.

Coming from someone who I believe to be a mainlander (let's assume this is true for the sake of the argument), this is probably a translation of 台湾省, as in this wikipedia article. That aside, the answer is perfectly valid, and even got upvoted. Now, I think everyone can agree that "Taiwan province" in this context is a very strong political statement, which can potentially spark debate, or simply put off Taiwanese answerers.

I think it's better to keep politics out of SE and go with a neutral wording. "Taiwan" alone might work.

However, it's been acutely noted that the very act of editing "Taiwan province" into "Taiwan" itself can be construed as a political statement!

A case can be made that such posts may simply not generate any debate, and even if they did, moderators would intervene as soon as the discussion takes the wrong turn. So in this case 无为1 might be a valid strategy.

In general, is it okay to edit posts to remove political connotations? Does it do more harm than good? What does the community think about this?


Disclaimer: the linked post is an example that prompted this meta question. I seek not just to discuss the specifics of "Taiwan province", but to derive generic editing recommendations that anyone can follow.


[1] for 道德经 experts: I know what you're thinking, gimme some leeway :)

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  • Although in Taiwan the car plates do read "Taiwan province." See here for instance: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…. But this may have changed in '07? – Mou某 Jul 27 '20 at 13:04
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    At this stage, we should re-think how much this user is contributing versus how much fuss they are kicking up. I can honestly say we have never needed to direct so much effort for editing, flagging, deleting, commenting, and meta posting towards one single user in my entire time at Chinese SE. – dROOOze Jul 27 '20 at 22:46
  • Also, “Taiwan province” is blatantly ignorant - that sort of vocabulary is probably spoken on the whole of Taiwan island, which is a different idea from “Taiwan province”. – dROOOze Jul 27 '20 at 22:48
  • C'mon, we're meant to be assuming good faith here. If any user is making many poor answers, then automatic answer bans exist. – Becky 李蓓 Jul 28 '20 at 3:11
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    I vote too also for replacing "Taiwan province" by "Taiwan", as the first term is inherently political while the second is the most possible neutral term (on the other side we would have the term "Taiwan country"). – Puco4 Jul 28 '20 at 9:25
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For the general case... there are two distinct cases of posts containing politics.

  1. Good: When the politics is related to the question, and helps us understand Chinese. In these cases, it should ideally be presented in a matter-of-fact, detached tone, and kept to the minimum necessary. We're not trying to win an argument, nor endorsing certain viewpoints; we're trying to understand the Chinese language.

  2. Bad: When the politics is irrelevant to the question and the Chinese language. It says something political despite being unnecessary: deleting it would not change what we learn about the Chinese language. It's potentially harmful noise.

Is it okay to edit the post to remove the political connotation?

In the general case, if it's irrelevant to the question (and the Chinese language) then yes, it should be removed.

I feel most people are reasonable and will understand if we comment something like here we focus on the Chinese language; it's best to avoid political comments which might lead to issues down the line. However, some users might react strongly, so we're going to need to exercise some judgement, and avoid edit wars (i.e., just move on if the author reverts it [or flag, if relevant]).

The politics surrounding Taiwan in particular are not easily navigated; there is probably no correct decision. If we edit it, it looks like we're taking some political stance. If we refrain from editing it, it looks like we're taking some political stance. Sometimes we can't win.

For the given example, it looks like we are taking a "wait and see" approach for now. Also for now...

  1. ... I'll simply ask the whole community: Please make an effort to avoid politically loaded language. To have a functional site for understanding Chinese, we need to work together despite possibly having contradictory political viewpoints.

    Personally, I'm not overly worried about an isolated blip: I'm worried about it escalating out of control (is it a once-off? will others retaliate?). Over at Islam.SE, we had major issues with sectarianism, to the point where the site was almost shut down because people used it as their personal soapbox; I don't want to see anything like that repeated here.

  2. ... I'll highlight the Code of Conduct:

    When in doubt, don't use language that might offend or alienate.
    Code of Conduct

    It's reasonable to claim this Taiwan-related terminology could alienate some users (otherwise we wouldn't be having this discussion)---we don't want to alienate users. So if these things get edited, please don't get the wrong idea: it's about maintaining a functional site where we can all participate; it's not about taking a political stance, it's about creating an inclusive environment.

    A similar issue arose many years ago on meta.SE, where they opted for "Taiwan", so that's probably the optimally apolitical choice for the purposes of Stack Exchange.

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  • so, following the last link provided, meta.stackexchange.com/questions/170143/… i would suggest moderator actively delete the term “province”, and kindly remind op the rationale, and advise him to use a political neutral term. – 水巷孑蠻 Jul 28 '20 at 11:52
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    If I end up doing it, I'll try to do it quietly and unnoticeably. Right now I feel like it would create an inappropriate public spectacle. – Becky 李蓓 Jul 28 '20 at 12:45
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    emmm . . . maybe discuss with the other two moderators, prior to any action 😼 – 水巷孑蠻 Jul 28 '20 at 13:38
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If the user said 'Taiwan Province' he meant 'Taiwan Province'.

It is his personal view. There wouldn't be a problem until someone challenges this view for political reasons.

It does more harm to edit it than leave it as it is. Because by editing 'Taiwan Province' to 'Taiwan'. The editor is in effect, challenging this view. And for political reasons no less.

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    This seems kind of thoughtless. If a person uses a certain term that evokes a strong political message, it invites political arguments. Editing the post to making it a neutral reference to the location isn't necessarily challenging this view, but trying to avoid overtly referencing a big political issue. I don't necessarily think that this particular term should certainly be always edited (likely depends on context), but the logic that "this term only offends certain people so we won't change it" doesn't seem like particularly well thought-out moderation policy. – Sparksbet Jul 27 '20 at 12:52
  • By your logic, the term 'Taiwan' is also a strong political message in Mainland Chinese point of view – Tang Ho Jul 27 '20 at 12:56
  • Even if that is the case, I'm trying to emphasize a more general problem with the tone of this answer than just the specifics of this particular term (hence why I said I don't necessarily think this term should always be edited or anything) -- I would expect a more thought-out moderation policy re: politics than "we'll just leave all political language in a post alone because that's just their personal view and only a certain group would be offended by a given term" – Sparksbet Jul 27 '20 at 12:59
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    I didn't mean it is ok because it only offends a specific group of people, I was just stating the fact that why the term Taiwan Province would be deemed offensive by some people. My main point is if it doesn't attract attention, it is better not to draw attention to it by editing it. – Tang Ho Jul 27 '20 at 13:07
  • Fair enough -- that said, I would still prefer a more elaborated policy about what the threshold for "too political" is and how political content should be edited out once that threshold is reached, as even if this particular example falls below that threshold, there's surely some point at which a post has too much political content and needs to be edited. – Sparksbet Jul 27 '20 at 13:10
  • Of course, some topics are super-sensitive and will certainly cause a fight. We'll deal with them accordingly. Didn't I say if it doesn't attract attention, it is better not to draw attention to it by editing it? In other words, if it looks like it will certainly attract attention, then we need to stop it before it flares up – Tang Ho Jul 27 '20 at 13:17
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I believe defining the term first would be more helpful.

Taiwan Province is:

a nominal province of the Republic of China without administrative function

How big is Taiwan Province?

Taiwan Province covers approximately 69% of the actual-controlled territory of the Republic of China, with around 31% of the total population.

Also:

Between 1967 and 2014, six special municipalities (Kaohsiung, New Taipei, Taichung, Tainan, Taipei and Taoyuan) were split off from the province, all in the most populous regions.

Of course, there are territorial disputes, but this doesn't change the above definition.

If a writer believes they know specifically about Taiwan province, only 31% of the total population of Taiwan, then they can feel free to write about it all they desire.

There's no point getting into semantics when the definitions are clear.

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  • I see what you're trying to convey here, Mo. I understand that as a moderator, staying neutral on such a sensitive topic is very hard. I respect that. I don't mean to be harsh, and I can probably get behind the broader point of your post, but it does come across as a bit disingenuous. It's very hard to believe that the average user of this site could take "Taiwan province" as referring to this particular and narrow definition of an administrative division of the ROC. – blackgreen Jul 27 '20 at 14:13
  • So for the purposes of my question above, from your reasoning it follows that an active editor as I am should feel comfortable in adding that wikipedia link to the post. I'm afraid I wouldn't be comfortable doing that. – blackgreen Jul 27 '20 at 14:15
  • @blackgreen I'm not sure why a link needs to be added to the post? – Mou某 Jul 27 '20 at 18:11
  • Not literally, that was an example for the sake of the argument. With my question, I'm not only seeking to discuss the specific issue of "Taiwan province" but also posts that contain politically charged language in general, so that editors like me have a reference for how/when to edit. – blackgreen Jul 27 '20 at 18:16
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    @blackgreen Sorry, I missed the first comment you wrote the first time. I guess I only got pinged on the second one. I have had a similar interaction to what you're describing here. You can still see the comment I wrote, but the previous comment was deleted by their owner. Some people are “In Da Club,” it might not be very efficient engaging with them. Of course, any politically charged language should be edited out, though, we're not here to push any agendas, whatever they might be. – Mou某 Jul 27 '20 at 18:29
  • "we're not here to push any agendas" this is perfectly reasonable, and I agree. So for practical purposes, may I conclude that when the politically charged language is not the focus of the post, or not even very prominent, inaction is the way to go? – blackgreen Jul 27 '20 at 18:35
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    @blackgreen Use your discretion. If something is likely to cause issues: delete it, remove it, edit it, whatever is appropriate. If it isn't likely to be provocative then leave it. – Mou某 Jul 27 '20 at 18:39

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