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A personal view of Taiwan 2012 from China

I reached out to several China-based scholars who do work about Taiwan with a mind to having a ‘view from China’-type post. Unfortunately these attempts have not produced any results. I can’t tell whether this is because Taiwan’s elections are too ‘sensitive’, or whether there is simply not a lot to say about them. So, changing track, I asked a couple of former students from China to give me a ground level view, maybe talk about what they’ve heard or their own opinions. What follows here was written by a former grad student, who wishes to remain anonymous. This student has done research on cross-Strait relations and is currently pursuing doctoral studies in China. I found this personal view very interesting; I hope you do to. Jon

“In 2008 after Ma Ying-Jeou won the election, my American friend Bob, Taiwanese friend Neil, and I were chatting happily in Bob’s living room. “So, how do you think about relations between China and Taiwan?” Bob asked Neil and I. “Oh, we are like a family” I answered. “No, we are enemies” Neil retorted. Bob burst into laughter. “You were diplomatic”, said Bob to me, “but you were telling the truth”, he said to Neil.

I can still recall how shocked I felt at that moment. First of all, I was not trying to be diplomatic. Instead, I sincerely meant what I said. I had been grown up in that belief, because everybody told me that Taiwan is part of China, including my Taiwanese friends who were doing business on the Chinese Mainland. I did often read from the media that there were a group of people in Taiwan who had been actively pushing Taiwan towards de jure independence, and that they had a lot of supporters who were called the “pan-greens”. However, I genuinely thought that there were at least half of Taiwanese, if not the majority, who believed that Taiwan and the Mainland should be a family, and did not want Taiwan to be separated from China permanently. Secondly, despite the fact that Neil was a “deep-green”, we were very good friends. Both of us agreed that political differences could be put aside and that people from both sides of the Strait should be able to be friends if they harbor good will towards each other. Thus, I did not expect that Neil, as an ordinary Taiwanese, was in fact so hostile towards China.

That incident four years ago made me start to really look at the history of Taiwan as well as cross-Strait relations. Also thanks to my Taiwanese friends from different political backgrounds and with different political views, I have developed a better understanding on the mentality of Taiwan people. To a certain extent, I even have sympathy towards the pan-greens because I can understand the historical trauma behind such a mindset. Thus, I share the expectations of those color-blind voters inTaiwanwho care more about which party can provide Taiwan people with a better life rather than the simple ideological division between the blue camp and green camp. By the same token, I believe that there should be a more conciliatory solution between China’s takeover of Taiwan—the handover of a democracy to an authoritarian state as some scholars suggest (personally I think scholars who suggest such possibility are doing so out of sarcasm or ignorance), and formal declaration of independence of Taiwan as Taiwan Republic or whatever, because the biggest concern for people of the both sides is peace and prosperity.

I might prefer Ma as most of the mainlanders do, because I think it would be easier for KMT and the CPC government to reach mutual understanding which would better facilitate a peaceful and prosper co-existence between both sides of the Strait (some of my fellows might even prefer Soong, because according to the mass media on the Mainland, the PFP is more prone to unification, though not all of them understand that Taiwan’s concept of unification is entirely different from that of the Mainland). Yet it would also be interesting to observe whether and how the Mainland and Taiwan could learn to better cope with each other in a more flexible and pragmatic way if Tsai got elected—a lesson CCP and DPP will have to learn sooner or later.

As a Mainlander I also believe that there is such thing as the Chinese nation, because the ethnical, lingual and cultural linkage between people from the Mainland and Taiwan is simply undeniable. Taiwan exceeds the Mainland in terms of economic and social development. Thus,Taiwan’s toady could be China’s tomorrow. And there are always things to learn and reflect on from each other’s experience.

Furthermore, though PRC claims the “sole representative of China”, it is Taiwan which has best inherited Chinese culture and tradition, and even the tinder for the rejuvenation of Chinese nation. During the late 19th and early 20th century, China was witnessing one of the most abysmal situations in the history, with its territory occupied or colonized, people slaughtered and humiliated, endless anti-invasion and civil wars, and political oppressions (Taiwan was separated from the Mainland under such a background). During that period, the pioneer of modern Chinese thinkers has identified two essential elements–science and democracy for China to grow out of this pathetic situation. After almost 100 years, while the merit of science has been widely recognized, democracy remains ill-defined, under-nurtured and frequently questioned on the Mainland.

To me, democracy does not simply equal vote, though the latter is a necessary part of the former. The ideal of democracy is a more grandeur institution that can liberate each individual from the fetish of collectivism that has made an authoritarian political system possible, so that everybody has the opportunity to live his fullest potential. When democracy on the Mainland has only been “uninstitutionalized” at its best, it has been taking roots and bearing fruit in Taiwan. It is far from perfect, of course. Yet as Lung Ying-Tai, one of the most famous writers on Taiwan has said, Taiwan proves that democracy is workable in the Chinese community. If it is workable in Taiwan, it is bound to be workable elsewhere among Chinese people. It might take time for a breaking point. It might sound too idealistic to say that Taiwan is a beacon of democracy, but Taiwan definitely would be a model that people on the Mainland keenly observe and draw the best lesson from.”

Mail me at jonathan.sullivan@nottingham.ac.uk, follow me on Twitter @jonlsullivan, or access my papers at http://jonlsullivan.com

Published inInternational PoliticsTaiwan 2012

6 Comments

  1. Carlos Carlos

    Thanks for posting that, it was a good read and certainly quite reasonable.

    In some ways it aligns with my wife’s way of thinking; her family is waishengren from Yonghe and very strongly pan-blue. She’s a big believer in the concept of a Chinese race-nation and in the idea that Taiwan’s democratization is a small and internal step its evolution. Like your student, she understands how historical events led to the divergence in identities – but she sometimes fears that the localization movement in Taiwan threatens her identity and heritage.

    She and I disagree on the contributors to democratization in Taiwan and on who or what are threatened. Ultimately the feeling of being threatened seems to be the strongest motivator in politics anywhere in the world, so that’s a big deal, and difficult to overcome.

  2. Pat Pat

    This concept of a great Chinese race-nation is borderline feudal and doesn’t really work in the modern world. It’s been clear for centuries that a common language, ethnicity, or cultural core does not make for a unified identity, nation, or culture. This is why there is no massive state which incorporates every nation in the Anglosphere or Hispanosphere, just to name two examples. Seeing identity solely through the lens of ethnicity or language was anachronistic in the 18th century, let alone today.

    • J B J B

      This is really the key point: how do we define nations? I think most intellectually inclined people outside China can agree that there are no objective criteria, but the vast majority of Chinese are wedded to the idea of a well-defined Chinese race, distinct from all others. They therefore have trouble accepting exceptions, like Taiwan, or ethnic Chinese of other nationalities.

  3. Martin Martin

    Almost all Chinese from the PRC who I have spoken to about this (students) really do seem wedded to a primordialist notion of an ethnically-based Chinese nation (the reasons for this might be interesting for a different discussion), while almost all ‘Westerners’ and Chinese from outside the PRC (scholars and students) have the usual modernist take on it. Perhaps we need a lot more examination and consensus on what words actually mean when we translate them, because there seems to be an issue with conflicting Chinese translations of ‘nation’, ‘state’, ‘ethnic group’, ‘(ethnic)minority’ ‘race’, ‘people’ and so on (and, by the same token, conflicting English translations of ‘minzu’, ‘guo’, ‘guojia’, ‘zulei’, ‘renmin’, ‘huaren’ etc etc.). When well-known scholars writing on Chinese nationalism give us conflicting Chinese translations, though, how can we know that ‘signifiers’ are referring to the same ‘signifieds’? Cue a discussion on Saussurean linguistics…:-)

  4. Dean Dean

    The problem with this concept of an ethnic-based Chinese nation is that it fully ignores all of the minorities in China. If the Han Chinese are so insistent that statehood by defined by ethnicity, then they should be prepared to give up Tibet, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, etc.

  5. GoTaiwan GoTaiwan

    2012 Taiwan election will be different from what happened in the past.
    It’s a fight between who get vested interests and who are victims.
    The blue-camp is pro the former, and the green-camp is pro the latter.
    The former populace is much less than the latter. Nonetheless, most of elections in Taiwan’s history showed that most of the voters chose who represented the former.
    In Taiwan, though medias are not censored for what they report, medias sell news.
    Yes, in Taiwan, many news on headlines are not really news, they are only brain-washing advertisements. That’s why green-camp outcries that elections in Taiwan are unfair, because blue-camp, KMT, has many party owned businesses. Meanwhile, green-camp, DPP, has no party owned business. Blue-camp can feed most medias, and green-camp can’t. The consequence now is most of medias in Taiwan now are pro blue-camp, and their “artificial news” influence the judgment of the voters.
    However, some voters are awakened because almost all promises blue-camp promised in 2008 are unfulfilled now, and they know blue-camp just tricked to steal their ballots. This time many voters who gave their ballots to blue-camp in 2008 are likely to vote for green-camp, and most of them are victims of blue-camp policies.

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