Audrey Tang has many designations. Officially, she has been Taiwan’s digital minister since 2016. In the rest of the world, she is best known as the first trans minister. She describes herself as a “civic hacker.”
Civic, she means in the sense of the welfare of the public. And hacker to her means “understanding a system, and then innovating to improve it.” “I don’t want to disrupt existing institutions, I want to think about how they could be better.”
And the 39-year-old also sees herself as an anarchist, officially changing her gender designation in 2005 and subsequently both her Chinese and her chosen English name. For her, this means that she neither gives nor takes orders but designs things in a Daoist way, that is, without trying to force anything.
“I want to change mechanisms so that people come together naturally despite different positions.” As a politician, that is precisely her program. She sees herself as a “mediating minister”. Tang does not allow herself to be tied down to a clear political position. Instead, she sees her task as talking to all sides, listening, and ensuring that people can also listen to each other.
Absolute transparency according to Audrey Tang
From this interaction, she then develops positions that she subsequently advocates as minister. An important prerequisite for her approach: absolute transparency. She considers this to be the be-all and end-all of a functioning democracy.
She left school at 14 and trained as a software programmer. At 19, she consulted for Apple and the Wikimedia Foundation in Silicon Valley. In 2014, she participated in the Sunflower Movement, which occupied the parliament in Taipei in protest against a services agreement with China. The democratic island republic, which is considered a breakaway island by the authoritarian People’s Republic and is not recognized under international law, is fighting for its independence.
At the same time, Taiwan is closely linked economically with mainland China. Many young Taiwanese see this as a danger. The agreement was eventually withdrawn. With the election victory of the progressive democrats under President Tsai Ing-wen in 2016, Tang was persuaded to take over the office of digital minister as a non-party member.
Taiwan is the country with one of the lowest rates of COVID-19 infection, with no lockdowns at all – despite its proximity to the People’s Republic, the likely country of origin of the dangerous virus. Under Tang’s leadership, the country has been an early adopter of digital tracking of entrants who might bring in the virus from abroad.
Anyone entering the country must be quarantined for 14 days. The SIM card is monitored via a radio cell query – without an app. Once the quarantine is over, the monitoring is lifted all data is deleted immediately. The price: a normal life and a thank you of the equivalent of around €30 per day spent in quarantine. Felix Lee
Audrey Tang will join tazlab live from Taiwan on April 24th to discuss China’s digital rise with political scientist and sinologist Janka Oertel. Further information here.