What Does It Mean to Be Taiwanese?

I typed in taiwanese identity in the Search function, limiting the search to the Taiwan Politics forum, and got 101 matches (I don’t know whether all of them were good matches).

I would enjoy a discussion of what this means, that is, a discussion of what it means to be Taiwanese. Obviously (to me at least), such a discussion is going to involve some traits that are common to other cultures or countries, other Asian countries (especially China, HK, Singapore, Japan), and even traits that are common to all countries. To me, it’s perfectly OK to talk about Taiwanese identity without reference to other cultures, but I would also like to hear what anyone has to offer in the way of Taiwanese traits that are unique to Taiwan, or near-unique.

I’m also especially interested in hearing about what traits the Taiwanese people might have that would distinguish them from mainlanders, including Fujianese and Hakka on the mainland.

I’m also interested in the Taiwanese political culture and what makes it different from other cultures, especially other Asian political cultures, even non-democratic ones. Even in non-democratic societies, people have expectations of their national and local political leaders. Along those lines, I often wonder what Taiwanese expect of their political leaders, and not just national ones. What makes them angry with their politicians, happy, etc.? And speaking for myself only, because I’m from a part of the world (Louisiana) which is known for, let’s say, a free-wheeling way of conducting political business, I don’t think my conscience can be terribly shocked by anything posted.

I realize that this probably has to involve generalizations and that, since the topic is subjective, there may be disagreement.

I personally have begun to suspect that the Taiwanese are significantly different from other cultures, including those on the mainland, but my opinion doesn’t count for much because: (a) I’ve only been here since August of 2002; (b) I’m not as involved as I should be by now with Taiwanese society :blush: ; and © I’ve never lived on the mainland (not that not having lived on the mainland should stop other posters from airing their opinions on this topic).

And while I’d be interested in hearing anyone’s opinion, I’m also interested (very much so) in what Taiwanese and Taiwanese-born persons have to say.

Note to mods: I picked this forum for the topic because of the recent discussion here of Taiwanese identity. I think the topic has a great deal of relevance to Taiwanese politics.

Didn’t we already have this discussion? I think Bu Lai En started a thread like this a couple of months ago…

Aaargh! Sorry. I thought I did a pretty thorough search. I used words like “What does it mean to be Taiwanese,” “What it means to be Taiwanese,” “Taiwanese identity,” etc. What’s the title of the thread that discusses this, not merely in an incidental way?

Edit: OK, I just did a search using taiwanese identity under author Bu Lai En and got “New Constitution for Taiwan,” “Taiwan Better Off as a Colony?”, “Chinese are bad sports,” “Ethnic divisions and Taiwanese politics,” “Why do foreigners like A-Bian?” Is it another topic?

Edit no. 2: OK, never mind. Mods, feel free to flounder this thread.

Actually no, my bad, I was off in my recollection. [url=http://tw.forumosa.com/t/do-you-have-to-be-born-in-taiwan-to-be-taiwanese/13313/11 thread took a markedly different direction to your suggestion. Carry on. :blush:

How am I a MIT (Made in Taiwan) individual suppose to know what it means to be Taiwanese. The pan-Green leadership don’t even know themselves. Their definition, like their political position, is based on the not-the-KMT platform.

The KMT definition is so much easier. We were ROC citizens and had the purpose and responsibility of bring democracy and a free economy to the mainland one day. To liberate our Mainland compatriots. At its core the identity of a ROC citizen was Chinese.

As for what Taiwanese means now, your guess is as good as anyone else. But it is definitely not the KMT position expressed in the paragraph above.


OK, but please give us more info about this/these particular cultural component/s:

In other words, go with the above, but give us a full report on it. Give us the skinny, the scoop, the complete, unadulterated, unabridged 411. :slight_smile: What was it like to grow up with that set of prevailing ideas?

No sweat, Masked Man. Happens to the best.

In comparison to people I met from the mainland it was a mirror ideological concept. At the core they believe they were Chinese and were taught one day they would liberate us from the KMT. Where we demonized the actions of the CCP, they demonized the action of the KMT. Where they pitied us for having a government with no socialist ideals, we felt sorry them for having communism.

In comparison to people on Taiwan that rejected this concept. They usually scapegoat all their problems on WSR that came to taiwan in 1949. Everything from college entrance to finacial problem can always be trace to a WSR instigating their problems on Taiwan. If Europe had the Jews to blame everything on prior to WWII, Taiwan has the WSR.

Thanks for the posts, ac, and feel to post more.

For Taiwanese to bear responsibility of liberating the mainland China from Communist totalitarian regime is asking too much and asking for trouble.

A Taiwanese wants to live in a truly free, democratic, rule of law society. Rescuing Chinese people or the world is the responsibility of the UN and/or USA.

Taiwanese are not Chinese. Even if there is unification between Taiwan and China, Taiwan will be like California to USA. Taiwanese keeps all the human rights and rights of self governing. Unification is on free will rather than by force.

This is such a huge topic, it’s hard to know where to begin.

If we’re talking about ethnicity, I agree with Melissa Brown’s (in 'Is Taiwan Chinese?) analysis that ethnicity is based primarily on shared historical experience. It is clear top me that the shared historical experience of the majority of Taiwanese makes them different from the people of the PRC.

I think there are perhaps two stages or aspects in forging ‘identity’. One is a negative ‘differential’ thing, and the other is a more positive thing. I hear a lot of Taiwanese (‘waishengren’ and ‘benshengren’ alike) talking about how different ‘the mainland’ (China) and ‘mainlanders’ (Chinese) are. But so far, I hear very few people talking about what it actually means to be Taiwanese.

Note 1: I think it is misleading in a discussion such as this to use the term ‘mainland’. That is presupposing that Taiwan is (culturally or politically) an island part of ‘mainland’ China.

Note 2: This is a good discussion, but please make sure it stays on topic.


[quote=“Bu Lai En”]I agree with Melissa Brown’s (in 'Is Taiwan Chinese?) analysis that ethnicity is based primarily on shared historical experience. It is clear top me that the shared historical experience of the majority of Taiwanese makes them different from the people of the PRC.

I think it is misleading in a discussion such as this to use the term ‘mainland’. That is presupposing that Taiwan is (culturally or politically) an island part of ‘mainland’ China.[/quote]

I agree, because by defining ethnicity as shared experience, then the term mainland becomes useless as there are so many different experiences divided by region and class, etc. on the mainland. Someone who lived through the cultural revolution, for example, likely has a completely different experience than someone who was born afterwards. Likewise, a person in Qingdao probably has a different experience from from someone in Guangzhou.

So Paogao how would you consider yourself, surely your life here makes you Taiwanese?

Yeah, I think a lot of cultures start off being negatively differentiated from another culture, sometimes a dominant one.

Sorry, I’m just accustomed to using that term without thinking. I’ll try to remember not to use it in this discussion.

I also think that the experiences ac_dropout referred to–the ideological ones of his childhood–are particularly Taiwanese.

Does anyone know what the cultural differences are between people who speak Southern Min dialect in China and Taiwanese speakers here? Is there significant cultural difference? Also, what differences might there be between people who identify themselves as Hakka here and the Hakka elsewhere?

In any case, I believe that people can have the same fundamental culture and still identify themselves as being different from one another. That’s perfectly legitimate in my view.

Another question: How much Taiwanese-cultural consciousness does a typical Taiwanese have? If he or she identifies with another culture, how strong is that? (For example, my boss is an ethnic Chinese from Burma and has lived here, I think, since the early '80s, but I think she still thinks of herself as Burmese and Chinese, not Taiwanese.)

And another: Do individual Taiwanese perhaps have multiple cultural identities? (I believe from personal experience that this is possible.)

Another: Do you think culture is like Marx’s definition of class, i.e., there are no differentiations until people become conscious of them?

[quote=“Satellite TV”]So Poagao how would you consider yourself, surely your life here makes you Taiwanese?[/quote] Yeah, Poagao, help us out on this. Of course, you’re Taiwanese in my book, if you want to be, but if you don’t think of yourself that way, then you’re at least on your way to a similar position to that of the late Dame Violet Dickson in Kuwait, who lived there so long that she became a receptacle of practically all the cultural lore of that place.

Many Taiwanese identify themselves as “Taiwanese and Chinese” or “Chinese living in Taiwan”. However, you have to be very careful about language here as Chinese can have several meanings. i.e. national of the PRC, national of the ROC, part of Greater China, part of Chinese culture, overseas Chinese, etc.

I think many Taiwanese who talk about being Chinese are talking in terms of race or culture, not in terms of politics or the sovereignty of Taiwan.

Thanks, wix.

Yeah, it’s all pretty confusing to me.

When I was thinking about getting ADSL, a Taiwanese lady whose English was pretty good called up the phone company for me and said that they said I’d have to get a Chinese to sign for me. Not a Taiwanese, a Chinese. That struck me as strange.

Another incident that I found interesting: I was trying to have a conversation with an elderly man in the park one day (I say trying because my Chinese is awful), and he expressed admiration for the Japanese and strong dislike of the KMT, which validated some of the stuff I’ve read on this board. While we were conversing, another elderly man strolled by, and both as he approached and after he was out of earshot, my conversation partner disapprovingly informed me that the strolling gentleman was a member of the KMT.

Complicated situation.

And it gets more complicated. This is an excerpt from a review of the book that Bu Lai En mentioned above, Melissa Brown’s book:

aaanet.org/aes/bkreviews/res … bk_id=3250

I think someone discussed something like this, adoption of Han identity, somewhere on this board.

[Moderator’s note: Discussion continued here]

Poagao makes the point that if defining ethnicity or identity on the basis of shared historical experience then we are just as likely to find diversity within China as we are to find difference between China and Taiwan.

I’m not really familiar with identity in China itself. I don’t know whether, for instance, a Sichuanese is likely to think of herself as Chinese first then Sichuanese, or what.

I do, however, think that the experiences of the last century plus, overall have been very different in China and Taiwan.

China seems to have created a national identity around opposing colonisation, unifying China and fighting the Japanese. Taiwan’s experiences have been different, having been occupied by the Japanese for 50 years, having been spared decades of warfare, and not having experienced Maoist revolution.


I do consider myself Taiwanese, but of course it’s not black-and-white, as I can’t deny that I have a bit of cultural background I don’t share with most Taiwanese. I don’t think being born somewhere makes you belong to that place, however. I haven’t been back to my birthplace since a few hours after I was born, so I have no idea what it’s like. I did spend my childhood in the US, though, though I’ve never lived there as an adult. It’s complicated and hard to sum up in a post on a forum, but I imagine that many Taiwanese, caught up in between Chinese culture and language as well as Japanese and other influences, have similarly convoluted and nebulous views of their own identities.

aaanet.org/aes/bkreviews/res … bk_id=3250

I think someone discussed something like this, adoption of Han identity, somewhere on this board.[/quote]

Previously if an aboriginal woman married outside of her tribe she was forced to leave the comminity to live with her husband. The local Hans certainly weren’t invited to live in the aboriginal villages in times past.

I also consider mself Taiwanese, but like Poagoa I bring in the extra cultural bit’s from my own background.

We call it multiculturalism. Taiwan needs more of it.

Getting the locals to believe that I’m Taiwanese requires more than just speaking the language, they always ask to see if I have an ID Card :noway:, just to make sure lol :smiley: . It sure does surprise people who become very circumspect when they know you’ve had to renounce your own nationality to become and ROC national. :blush:

At least we understand some of the locals who have lived abroad for many years only to resume residence in Taiwan. They also feel partly that some of the local culture here could do with some changes. :help:

Take for example the fact that banks require you to take a number and wait inline. :smiley: Before those days people just plomped their stuff on top of your’s, rather annoying. :fume: Or they stand there trying to peer into your back account balance. :raspberry: Going to the post office was another place of stampede. :fume:

Little things like being forced to be polite and wait your turn. Still wish they wouldn’t all try to get into the lift on the first floor before those trying to exit have had a chance to get out.

I believe "What does it mean to be {xyz} is a political question in general but particularly so with this one given the current political and historical developments.

Based on my experiences with US w/r/t minority rights and ethnic studies curricula in the schools, all analysis starts and ends with the political environment. To answer this question via your normal sociological, historical, anthropological would indicate there are far closer relations to the Taiwanese and the Chinese (assuming you separate them) than there are differences, IMO.

Check out Identity Politics and Wikipedia’s definition.