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Friday, April 24, 2009

I am a Taiwanese, not a Chinese. 我是台灣人,不是中國人

Even though I have some Chinese background, but this does not stop me from being a Taiwanese.

Similarly, Mr. Obama has some African background, but that does not stop him from being an American and eventually an American president.

The Taiwanese identity is an interesting topic for discussion. The differences between Taiwan and some other countries on how immigrants are assimilated are discussed in this article; also the meaning of national identity and nationalism are examined.

In my opinion, Taiwanese society is a unique multi-cultural society with the Chinese culture being just a part of it. 中華文化只是台灣多元文化中的一部分

However, under fifty years of KMT rule, children in Taiwan were taught using the textbooks edited by the post 1949 Chinese immigrants, and all the literature and history books were centered on Chinese culture. The Chinese race was said to be consisted of the Han, Manchu, Mongol, Hui, Tibetan, Miao, Yao ethnic groups ( 漢滿蒙回藏苗瑤). Whether it’s the KMT’s version (孫中山五族共和或五族一家理念), or the CCP’s version (currently recognizing 55 ethnic groups) of defining the Chinese people, the ethnic minorities in China were forcefully Han-nized to fit either definition of the Chinese people. Until now, there was no sign of respect for the unique cultures of the minority groups in China, nor of equality on their social and political status in a multi-cultural environment.

After Taiwan’s post war occupation by the ROC, many Taiwanese people have also been Chinese-nized through the KMT imposed educational system.

What is Taiwanese culture? 什麼是台灣文化?

Taiwanese culture is an accumulated heritage from the aboriginal people of Taiwan, plus the heritage brought over by the early Chinese settlers from the Fu-jian and Guan-tong provinces, and the colonial cultural influences from the Spanish and the Dutch period, the fifty years of Japanese rule, the Chinese refugees who fled China with Chiang Kai-Shek after 1949, plus the traditions of the latest immigrants from all over south east Asia such as Vietnam, Indonesia, and all the other foreigners who have adopted Taiwan to be their home.

In other words, Taiwanese heritage came from the cultures and traditions of Taiwan’s indigenous people as well as the cultural influences brought over from the immigrants to the island, just like countries such as Canada, USA, and Australia.

However, the big difference between the Taiwanese assimilation experience and the other countries mentioned above is that in these other countries the late comers have been assimilated into existing societies and been “absorbed” in. On contrast, the Taiwanese society has been developed in a “reverse assimilation” way because the earlier settlers are forcefully assimilated into late comers’ culture by the KMT-imposed brain-washing educational policy, intended to replace the existing languages and traditions of the island. Most noticeably the KMT regime had imposed 38 years of martial law to restrict personal freedom, and in the meantime to extinct and replace the existing mother languages and cultures of Taiwan.

The indigenous people’s right to self-governing is supported by me, but this is a separate topic and will not be discussed in this article.

The American society is a melting pot, mixed into one new culture from all kinds of heritage of the early European settlers, the African Americans, plus other later immigrants that are blended into one big American melting pot voluntarily, and the people proudly identify themselves as Americans. The late comers get assimilated into the existing society in the process.

The Canadian society respects the diverse richness of the original heritage brought over by each immigrant group, therefore the Canadian culture resembles a nice-looking mosaic despite there has been some contention between the French-speaking and the English-speaking populations. Still, the late comers get assimilated into the existing society and identify themselves as Canadians with emphasis on multiculturalism.

The Taiwanese culture took an exact opposite path on forming into a current-day society. The core KMT members still refuse to assimilate, and continue to have the attitude of Han Chinese superiority over existing local culture. The Taiwanese culture has just begun to revive after Taiwan’s democratization, but with the KMT’s re-gaining power in 2008, the task of reviving local culture again faces uphill challenge.

Aside from the adverse effect of the KMT’s martial law, a secondary reason which has made some Taiwanese confused about their identity is the tradition of worshipping ancestry. Consequently, by following the religious practice of ancestry worshiping, too often it is forgotten that their ancestors left China behind to seek a better life in Taiwan. So, instead of building-up a new pioneer Taiwanese identity, some people indeed have leaned on their old root, and have identified themselves as being both Taiwanese and Chinese.

Coming from a Christian background, although I respect my ancestors, I don’t put their pictures on the wall and worship them like God. I am not confused about my Taiwanese identity. I am a Taiwanese, not a Chinese, although I have some Chinese background from Fu-Jien province some generations ago.

Another reason for my firm belief of my Taiwanese identity came from the influence of the French philosopher and writer, Ernest Renan (February 28, 1823 – October 12, 1892). In his writing on “What is a Nation?”, he stated that

A nation is therefore a large-scale solidarity, constituted by the feeling of the sacrifices that one has made in the past and of those that one is prepared to make in the future. It presupposes a past; it is summarized, however, in the present by a tangible fact, namely, consent, the clearly expressed desire to continue a common life.”

For the post war Chinese immigrants to Taiwan and their offspring, if they identify with the fate of the island and respect the equality of Taiwan’s diverse cultures, they are counted in by me as Taiwanese. On the other hand, people with no desire to care for their community, neither to pursue the same goals nor to share the same fate, they are classified as foreign parasites (寄生蟲) by me. The core KMT members who refuse to assimilate into Taiwan’s local culture while drawing benefits from the island are listed by me as parasites and many of them are also traitors of Taiwan such as ousted GIO official Kuo Kuan-Ying ( 郭冠英).

Continuing with Renan’s statements...

“A province, as far as I am concerned, is its inhabitants; if anyone has the right to be consulted in such an affair, it is the inhabitant. A nation never has any real interest in annexing or holding on to a country against its will. The wish of nations is, all in all, the sole legitimate criterion, the one to which one must always return.”

Therefore, may I ask “What good does it do for China to administer Taiwan if annexation occurs against the will of Taiwan’s inhabitants? Will it be easy to govern the people who resist your rule?”

Continuing with Renan’s statements...

“Let me sum up, Gentlemen. Man is a slave neither of his race nor his language, nor of his religion, nor of the course of rivers nor of the direction taken by mountain chains. A large aggregate of men, healthy in mind and warm of heart, creates the kind of moral conscience which we call a nation. So long as this moral consciousness gives proof of its strength by the sacrifices which demand the abdication of the individual to the advantage of the community, it is legitimate and has the right to exist.”

The people on the island had suffered together through the 228 massacre, had fought together for democracy, and will defend their freedom together now and forever. It is Taiwan’s cultural and historical experience which distinguishes the Taiwanese people from the Chinese people.

China should not feel threatened by Taiwanese nationalism because Taiwanese people are peace-loving, and in the East Asia, unlike China or North Korea, Taiwan is free of nuclear weapons, therefore, poses no threat to its neighbors or to world peace.

The party to party contact and agreements between the KMT and the CCP neither represent the interests of the Taiwanese people, nor of the Chinese people. It only represents the interests of a few people on both parties.

If one day the Chinese government is formed by democratic elections, then there will be some space for developing regional co-operation. Inter-governmental organization similar to the smaller-sized Nordic Council, or the larger-sized Council of the Baltic Sea States will probably be formed out of a need for regional cooperation, and without disrespect for the member states' territorial borders or cultural diversity.

How can China export to Taiwan its current political system that is not even welcomed at its own domestic turf? If it were a successful political system, why do Chinese people take every opportunity to leave their country and emigrate elsewhere?

Perhaps, China needs a leader with clear vision to reshape its government into a transparent and responsible one that respects minority rights and the human rights of its own citizens.

Sun Yat-Sen once admired the racial melting pot of the United States of America, and was dreaming of forming an equivalent powerful Chinese nation in the east with five ethnic groups, but his idea was centered on Han superiority, and the presumption that the minority groups would like to become Han-nized Chinese people (漢化的中國人). However, he and his followers had failed to observe that the secret of success for the United States of America lies on one word, freedom. The freedom enjoyed by the people in the United States is the magnet for attracting immigrants from all over the world to want to be melted into the pot.

Neither the KMT nor the CCP respects personal freedom in the execution of its political system. Failing this, a great Chinese nation is nothing but a dream, and the resistance from the oppressed people, minority groups or poor farmers, simply deepens.

Wouldn’t China look much more attractive to Taiwanese or to any foreigner who admired Chinese culture and wanted to immigrate there if it were a nation that respected personal freedom?

It is time that we re-think the true meaning of nationalism on each side’s own turf.

For further research on the Chinese race and ethnic minority groups in China, one could find the readings below interesting, http://books.google.com/books?id=SCxyF7haDDQC&pg=PA444&dq=孫中山五族共和 , http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_ethnic_groups_in_China, http://www.wufi.org.tw/republic/rep21-30/no22_04.htm, and an article on proposed Chinese multiculturalism, 蘇劍岳: 回歸五族共和傳統孕育中華五色文化.

Some articles found related to my topic are these links, http://iservice.libertytimes.com.tw/inform/complain_a2.php?no=090409008, http://blog.libertytimes.com.tw/sdatony/

3 comments:

Chris Shearer said...

This is a great article. I am African-American but I identify with the plight of Taiwan, idk why lol but I want them to stand up to China. Maybe it's because all history of African-Americans center on standing up to the majority group to gain freedom for the minority. Even though Taiwan is the opposite where on that island they are the majority being oppressed by the minority it's still oddly similar.

American said...

Hi, I was born in Taiwan and lived in US for 30 years. Many people think Taiwanese a kind of different race from Chinese, but I do not agree. Maybe we do not like Communists nor KMT, but you should not deny your own root.

I know my parents were Chinese so I respect my ancestors, I will never consider myself had anything to do with Japanese, Spanish, or Dutch heritage... but I guess there are also people claim themselves Martians too, so be it...

Άλισον said...

Having some ancestral root from China does not prevent me from being a Taiwanese because if you read my post carefully, you will conclude that my Taiwanese identity was based on the experience of “shared experience and shared belief in a common destiny” - one that I will call it “Taiwan experience, Taiwan destiny”.

Identity is beyond just root or race.

Besides, historically the original migrations from China were mostly male laborers, so there was considerable intermarriage with local plains aboriginal groups. The human leukocyte antigen typing study and mitochondrial DNA analysis performed in recent years show that more than 88% of Taiwanese population who either themselves or whose forefathers had arrived in Taiwan before 1949 have some degree of aboriginal origin (Sim 2003). Reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taiwanese_people

If your children were born in the USA, they would likely identify themselves as Americans even though they have other background.

Likewise, you cannot suggest to the current US president that he should identify himself as African because of his ancestral background.

Unlike you, I would not profile myself as an “American” (neither “Taiwanese” nor “Chinese”, emphasis added) and suggest to others what their identity should be. Identity is a personal thing.

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