This text is about a part of Chinese-Taiwanese history, without making a claim for academic quality, but simply being based on my seven weeks experience and the exchange with people in this wonderful, but politically very controversial country.
Taiwan is a country with its own history and its own identity which is obviously created upon the history and national narratives. Originally inhabited by aborigines it was, over a long period of time, discovered and settled by different people, more or less in harmony with those who already lived in Taiwan.
The Chinese influence increased steadily until the end of the 19th century when Taiwan became a Japanese colony after the Sino-Japanese war. This colony was under international pressure given back to China after the 2nd World War. At this time (1945) the Republic of China was already founded since 1912 on the mainland of China. As representative of the 中國國民黨(translated to Kuomintang = Chinese People’s Party) Sun Yat Sen became the first president of the Republic of China and was until his death in 1925 the opponent to the communist Mao Zedong. He was followed by Chiang Kai Shek who was defeated by Mao Zedong and moved to Taiwan where he lived in exile. The Republic of China remained with its exile government in Taiwan while Mao Zedong established the communist People’s Republic at the Chinese mainland.
Some time ago I had a conversation with a young Taiwanese man who is active member of the Kuomintang party. We chatted about our mutual interest in politics until he suddenly blurted out that Germany would be politically and historically a great example for Taiwan. He referred to the reunification between the East and the West. “I hope that we as well will experience a unification just as in Germany and that China will again be a great, democratic country, the true Republic of China.” I listened silent, but surprised.
I am aware of the existence of a political camp in Taiwan fighting for the independence of Taiwan from China and longing especially in regard to international relations individual recognition. However, the other, pro-Chinese camp endeavours reconciliation with mainland China. At least, until now I thought that is how it was thought to be. Now I learnt that the actual idea is not an inclusion of Taiwan into the Chinese system, but the other way around: the demand is for the Republic of China to get its attributable part back: thePeople’s Republic of China. Germany is the best example: the democratic West won over the communist East. I have to say, with all respect, that I find it astonishing how a historical event (in this case the German reunification) can be used as an allegory for the own megalomania without respecting its root or political development.
But I came to realize in my studies which rotates mainly about China that such a mindset should not surprise me. Facts, analyzed from scholars and researchers all over the world and discussed by us students are the one path to understand this for me new and different system. The other way is the learning of the new language.
But one after the other.
The Chinese history is dominated by dynasties where things were sometimes good, other times bad until everything went down the tubes from the midst 19th century (opium war and the loss of Hong Kong to Great Britain). Only since about 30/40 years things are looking up, especially economically. Long time China was an undisputed world power, developed, sophisticated and influential. There happened (and still happens) trade with foreign countries, but overall the political mindset rotates around the system of non-intervention. Mind your own business, as the saying goes. China has enough mass to be busy with own matters.
But upon this self-centered perspective builds a great self-confidence. China, zhongguo, the land of the centre, the highest of all. To be Chinese is a lucky destiny. Therefore applies following logic: Once Chinese, always Chinese.
Now I will move on to a delicate matter, especially for Germans.
One of the first words I learnt in my Chinese text book was華人(huaren). The term describes the ethnicity “Chinese” and is often mentioned in the context of race and the purity of the own blood. Chinese, Hongkonese (?), Taiwanese, Singapore people – they all are huaren. Same applies to people who immigrated to other countries. And their children. And grandchildren. And even mixtures of different ethnicities may count themselves in.
I know several young people in Taiwan whose parents or grandparents immigrated to the States. Most of them came to Taiwan to either learn Chinese or to teach English and to get to know their roots. They all grew up in the States, they identify with the American culture, overcame adolescent identity crises who were connected to their otherness and they rebelled (or still rebel) against the demands of their tiger mothers. Some of them only know to speak and read little Chinese. They have Asian faces, but square shoulders, American style and walk and they speak in the broadest dialects – how should it be different: they are Americans. Some of reject being called a huaren, but that does not mean they do not accept and respect their ethnic origin, it simply is the logical consequence from the fact that identity is not so much connected to blood and race as it is to socialization and an own decision. Conversely this mindset also means that I can never become a huaren, hence an actual part of this society, there will always be something I lack; my grey eyes will give away the truth.
The construct of identity built on national pride and race is dangerous and such an exclusive and infinite model cannot be healthy. At least not from my Western perspective, as biased this might maybe be.
In conclusion I can only say that my knowledge about and perhaps as well my understanding of the Chinese system will increase while I am here. If you have critics, reflection and thoughts on my own ideas and observations I am thankful about anything that will open my eyes to something I might not be able to see (yet).
For the first part I checked facts with „Roy, Denny: Taiwan. A political history. Cornell University Press 2003“.