Taiwan's National Identity


#1

[quote=“Taiwan Advocates Conference”]What is Taiwan? How should Taiwan deal with an ever-growing China? And what will be the direction of national development in the 21st century? These questions must be answered if the general public is to have a clear vision of the future.

     Establish a national identity. When martial law was lifted in 1987 and the Democratic Progressive Party ended the Kuomintang's five-decade reign by taking power in 2000, the Republic of China became a democratic nation in both name and substance. In terms of international law, Taiwan possesses all the essential conditions required of a sovereign state. It therefore has the freedom and the right to shape its relations with other nations.

    It is therefore a pity that this self-evident reality is challenged by a national identity crisis and inadequate recognition abroad. The lack of a national identity can be traced back to Taiwan's 400-year history as a colony.[/quote]

What is Taiwan’s National Identity? What should it be? How should it be shaped? To what extent can the government shape these things - to what extent do they develop naturally?

It might be interesting to hear some views as to what the Segue community thinks.


#2

And who gets to decide this? Taiwan has a divided population and an untrustworthy governmental / business class.

Can any of us have that? Let alone control it. I think Taiwan would be doing well to just roll with the punches.

That’s a rather procrustean view of things. “Democracy” here is still cha-bu-duo, what with corruption and human rights problems and so on.

An optimistic interpretation. In any case, international law is frequently disregarded by powerful states. We are not living in a world of laws and rights, but in a life-and-death struggle with other people who want to spread their genes at the expense of hours.

The “crisis” is that (a) they don’t agree with each other, and (b) other powers don’t agree with them. Why is this such a problem? After all, some of them are bound to be disappointed no matter what happens.

Well, I would say it has more to do with the fact that during this time it was always on the periphery of empires–Dutch and Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, American–and sparsely populated for much of that. Most of the population descends from 19th and 20th century Chinese immigrants, so it’s not like all these empires have an equal influence on their identity now.

Why should “identity” especially take the form of a nation-state? People around here are more likely to identify first with their racial or ethnic group. Mainlanders identify with China first and after that their “home” provinces, or Taiwan. Taiwanese identify mostly with clan or region of Taiwan. Hakka are Hakka. Aboriginals have a dozen or so subdivisions which to them are primary.

Another possibility is de-Sinicization in the opposite direction, an “international” identity. If only the Taiwanese had kept up the Japanese language, and encouraged more ties with Southeast Asia and the United States, then they could more plausibly argue that they are different from the “Chinese” and so more deserving of statehood. Also they would have had more allies overseas.

Perhaps an approach like this could still be done. This would recoup more practical benefits than an emphasis on things like Taiwanese history, I think. (Which would help kids here more–Hakka or English?)

Obviously, people disagree on this. In fact to phrase it this way (“Taiwan’s national identity”) is already perilous. Again, I think other identities than national are primary here.

If I got to choose for them, they’d change their language to Klingon and their religion to Scientology!

For Chinese, letting the government decide things like this is natural. Otherwise they tended to get killed.

“Pledge allegience to the flag, whatever flag they offer…”


#3

And who gets to decide this? Taiwan has a divided population and an untrustworthy governmental / business class.[/quote]

Perhaps the bigger problem is with trying to define yourselves by what you are not. Not China, basically. And that is neither a positive message, nor, given the world’s love affair with China at the moment, a particularly attractive one.

[quote=“vincent”]I think Taiwan would be doing well to just roll with the punches.[/quote] Given your criticisms of Taiwan, you can hardly agree that a do-nothing strategy is best.

[quote=“vincent”]That’s a rather procrustean view of things. “Democracy” here is still cha-bu-duo, what with corruption and human rights problems and so on.[/quote] I originally thought procrustean was a sort of seafood. Apparently not. But I do not see how the process of evolving towards democracy can be seen as seeking “conformity through violence.”

The “crisis” is that (a) they don’t agree with each other, and (b) other powers don’t agree with them. Why is this such a problem? After all, some of them are bound to be disappointed no matter what happens.[/quote]

Do Americans all agree with each other? Is that a pre-requisite for a national identity?

I think that the Government is pushing the idea of a National Identity precisely because they want to shore up their power by creating an identity more closely linked to the nation state and therefore combatting the ethnic identities that you list.

I think that there is room to fudge the issue somewhat by trying to encourage an identity based on democracy, free trade, free speech - perhaps a Taiwanese version of the “American Dream.”

[quote=“vincent”]Another possibility is de-Sinicization in the opposite direction, an “international” identity. If only the Taiwanese had kept up the Japanese language, and encouraged more ties with Southeast Asia and the United States, then they could more plausibly argue that they are different from the “Chinese” and so more deserving of statehood. Also they would have had more allies overseas.

Perhaps an approach like this could still be done. This would recoup more practical benefits than an emphasis on things like Taiwanese history, I think. (Which would help kids here more–Hakka or English?)[/quote]

I agree mostly with this. But is “de-Sinicization” not exactly what the Government is trying to do? I think you are perhaps a little too hard on their achievements in both political and economic reform.

Yes. I accept there is too much emphasis on the re-writing of history. Surely, a national identity should be an encouragement of future developments, not raking over the disputes of the past. I guess the Government’s record here is less impressive.

For Chinese, letting the government decide things like this is natural. Otherwise they tended to get killed.

“Pledge allegience to the flag, whatever flag they offer…”[/quote]

But this is no longer the case in Taiwan. So, perhaps things are changing. Taiwan does have a claim to be the first fully-democratised Chinese society. Surely, along with a growing consumerism, there is a chance to build a more stable national identity over the coming years as the quality of life in terms of material goods and freedoms, continues to improve.

I think this will largely be driven by the younger, more outward-looking Taiwanese. Also, because they were born here and grew up here.

However, I also think that there are things the Government can do - promote free trade, continue with juduicial and political reforms. Stop being so hung up on China - opening up completely to China is probably going to emphasise differences more than similarities.


#4

[quote]Perhaps the bigger problem is with trying to define yourselves by what you are not. Not China, basically[/quote].

The marketing aspect IS a problem, though I would say economics and military strategy are bigger ones.

That’s not what I mean. I’m just pessimistic about Taiwan’s ability to influence the outcome, even if the people here could mostly agree on what they wanted to see happen.

What you see as a struggle between democracy and authoritatianism, I see as a struggle between particular groups of people. Some of this is “ethnic” based (DPP is Taiwanese, KMT waishengren) while much is based on local power-holders. The first makes “democracy” into a glorified census. The second leads to various shades of gangsterism, cronyism, and horse-trading. But perhaps I’m overly cynical. After all, most Western democracies would fit this description to some extent.

They agree on what flag to wave, and what their country consists of. If it ever happens that they can’t (say, in the wake of a serious race-war, a Civil War II type scenario), then they too (or some of them, anyway) will lack a national identity.

I agree with this. At the same time, governments are subject to pressure from powerful lobbies (typically business) to allow certain forms of internationalization.

A cross-cultural history of politics could be written on the basis of “fudging” as a unfying factor. Tribes make up false genealogies, nations make up false histories. But they have to be willing to be fooled.

If you mean the “national” government, in some ways yes, in other ways they shrink back. Often their moves strike me as irrational. For example, all this garbage about them opposing hanyu pinyin makes little sense even if we assume Taiwan independence as a goal. Better to work on establishing Taiwanese as a viable alternative to Mandarin. (Is there a Taiwanese language newspaper out there? In any writing system at all?)

Also, “de-Sinicization” can lead us in two directions: an introverted one in which Taiwan concentrates on things like minority cultures, and an extroverted one in which they emphasize international affairs. Which is more worthwhile, promoting English or promoting Taiwanese? Before you answer, suppose the decision would determine what your kid studied in school. Now which do you think is more worthwhile?

You’re probably right. Economically, half of East Asia has the same problems as Taiwan. Politically…well, I suppose it depends on what you compare Taiwan against. I get the impression that reforms have stagnated of late, but the times are unusual in that two evenly-matched political parties are poised to struggle over the shape of the playing field. This hardly makes for a collegial atmosphere, except when money is being passed around.

There’s that phrase again. “Fully democratized.” What does that mean? I wouldn’t blink if you had said “halfway democratized.”

Access to material goods may have peaked already. Maybe freedom has too. As for stability–well, if it isn’t stable already, then something will happen to make it more stable. Law of physics.

Will they run for greener pastures? Or become apathetic over their inability to change the system? But younger people are generally likely to be the ones pressing for change.

I’m not sure what you mean here. I see China as a great threat. Anything Taiwan does to make itself more vulnerable to it is dangerous. I think people here are united in not wanting to be a part of China as presently constituted, but divided in how willing they are to resist unification.

Is resisting China worth paying higher taxes, buying more expensive goods? Fighting and dying? And in terms of opportunity cost–can you be bought, and if so for how much?