The politics of frozen garlic in Taiwan

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From Nick Kaldis:

This article begins with a brief reference to the chanting of ‘frozen garlic’ ("凍蒜" dongsuan, Taiwanese pronunciation for "當選" dangxuan "to get elected") in campaign rallies for Taiwan's presidential and legislative elections in two days.


‘Frozen Garlic!’ Taiwan Likes Its Democracy Loud and Proud

At the island’s election rallies, warming up the crowd for candidates is crucial. “You have to light a fire in their hearts,” one host says.

By Chris Buckley and Amy Chang Chien; NYT (1/11/24) Photographs and Video by Lam Yik Fei

Since the NYT is between a high firewall (you can't even see the title of the article), I also provide this link to the whole article at MCLC (Modern Chinese Literature and Culture) Resource Center (The Ohio State University).

Huang Chen-yu strode onto an outdoor stage in a southern Taiwanese county, whooping and hollering as she roused the crowd of 20,000 into a joyous frenzy — to welcome a succession of politicians in matching jackets.

Taiwan is in the final days of its presidential election contest, and the big campaign rallies, with M.C.s like Ms. Huang, are boisterous, flashy spectacles — as if a variety show and a disco crashed into a candidate’s town hall meeting.

At the high point of the rally, the Democratic Progressive Party’s presidential candidate, Lai Ching-te, was introduced to the crowd in Chiayi, a county in southern Taiwan. Ms. Huang roared in Taiwanese, “Frozen garlic!”

The phrase “dongsuan” sounds like “get elected” and, yes, also like “frozen garlic.” Ms. Huang and another M.C. led the crowd of supporters, now on their feet, in a rapid-fire, call-and-response chant: “Lai Ching-te! Frozen garlic! Lai Ching-te! Frozen garlic!” Then they sped up: “Lai Ching-te! Lai Ching-te! Lai Ching-te! Frozen garlic! Frozen garlic! Frozen garlic!”

Never in a million years would you see such excitement for a democratic election in communist China.  In Taiwant it doesn't matter which party you're for, just "freeze the garlic!"


Selected readings


  1. Michael Sullivan said,

    January 11, 2024 @ 9:47 pm

    Link without paywall for NYT article:

  2. AntC said,

    January 11, 2024 @ 11:35 pm

    it doesn't matter which party you're for, just "freeze the garlic!"

    I can confirm in these last few days there's a frenzy of loudspeaker vans touring every suburb.

    My favourite coffee shop is opening late tomorrow, so the staff have time to vote. There's huge posters everywhere with the candidates' mugshots and party colours.

    The democracy couldn't be vibranter.

  3. AntC said,

    January 12, 2024 @ 10:12 pm

    Meanwhile … Over 200 arrested for Chinese interference in Taiwan's elections.

  4. AntC said,

    January 13, 2024 @ 1:29 am

    My morning constitutional took me past several schools, acting as polling stations. I can report brisk traffic of voters clutching their pink voting forms.

    The TV is showing long queues in (New) Taipei. And celebrities and politicians waiting in line — including the outgoing President Tsai Ing-wen.

    Jokesters are saying the waiting is making them hungry — as if anybody in Taiwan needs an excuse to go for a snack!

    The biggest problem seems to be that recording devices are not allowed inside the polling booths. Since everybody's fingers are practically welded to their phones, this is causing consternation.

  5. Jonathan Dushoff said,

    January 13, 2024 @ 12:04 pm

    I'm familiar with people yelling "當選" in both Mandarin and Taiwanese Minnan. But the way NYT describes it seems very bizarre to me.

    I haven't heard anyone '[roar] in Taiwanese, “Frozen garlic!”' I've heard people roar in Taiwanese "Get elected" in a way that sounds extremely similar to roaring in _Mandarin_ "Frozen garlic!". But that seems way less interesting than what NYT seems to be describing.

    Is there some new meme where people say it funny to lean in to the pun? Or is NYT just being weird?

  6. Jonathan Dushoff said,

    January 13, 2024 @ 12:45 pm

    … I'm now thinking maybe NYT finds in interesting because they generally chant the candidate's name in Mandarin, followed by the slogan in Taiwanese.

  7. AntC said,

    January 13, 2024 @ 7:37 pm

    … And on the night, plenty garlic got frozen: turnout ~72% — slightly less than 4 years ago, but well up on 4 years before that.

    There must have been some cunning strategic voting: the party of the President-elect is no longer the largest in the Legislative Yuan, so negotiation and compromise will be needed — as he acknowledged in his acceptance speech/press conference.

    (And top marks to the interpreters in that presso: conveying a lot of nuance in Mandarin/English, and with the presence of mind to correct their slips.)

  8. AntC said,

    January 13, 2024 @ 8:06 pm

    @Jonathan people say it funny to lean in to the pun?

    The folks I tried it on yes echoed me in Minnan. But the chief point is the punning — with a broad, knowing grin. Or they were perhaps indulging my terrible pronunciation.

  9. AntC said,

    January 16, 2024 @ 9:21 pm

    I have to add this bit of astounding (to me) local colour.

    I'm in a very small neighbourhood open-air fresh produce market. The successful candidate for the Legislative Yuan has just swept through to thank everybody for voting — even shook my hand, and I'm clearly not local. Everybody was gracious about it, including those I know didn't vote for her.

    I can't imagine anything like this happening in NZ or UK.

  10. AntC said,

    January 17, 2024 @ 2:59 am

    No petulant sour grapes from the loser

    Taiwan [i]s already a mature democracy, so while small incidents could not be excluded, large-scale electoral malpractice was impossible, according to Ko. [Third placed in the election for President]

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