One of the oddities of history is that although Taiwan is separated from mainland China by only about 100 miles, the first outside power to exert political control over the island was the Netherlands. Even more peculiar, and delightful, is the thesis articulated in Tonio Andrade's "How Taiwan Became Chinese": The Dutch are ultimately responsible for the Sinification of Taiwan; the transformation of an island populated predominantly by Austronesian aborigines into a culturally Chinese domain.
Andrade's book looks fascinating; he views the early colonial period, with trade networks extending around the globe, as the first real era of globalization. Leonard went on to excerpt a portion of his book:
... I worried that my title might help hawks in mainland China argue that Taiwan belongs to the People's Republic of China, and I strongly believe that Taiwan belongs to its people and should be whatever they decide. They're doing a great job ruling themselves.
Yet there is no doubt that Taiwan today is culturally Chinese... Indeed, in many ways Taiwan is more Chinese than its assertive neighbor. Three decades of Maoism stripped away parts of mainland China's traditional culture, but Taiwan preserves customs, festivals, and schools of thought that were extinguished across the strait....
Anyone who has been around Taiwan for any length of time knows that the claim that "Taiwan preserves Chinese culture better than the mainland" is an old KMT propaganda chestnut. Such claims of "preserved" cultures that view traditional culture as both identifiable and unchanging are romantic fantasies of the western colonial era, but more fundamentally, they beg the question of what is meant by "Chinese culture."
Looking at Taiwan, what does one see? Taiwan has a democratic government -- there is nothing else like it in Chinese history, and a growing awareness and appreciation for democracy -- also a rarity in Chinese history. The educational system and police structure are European filtered through Japanese colonialism and postwar authoritarianism. Japanese influence is enormous, from food and fashion to technology. The business culture is an ecletic blend of imported ideas like double entry bookkeeping and local ideas like guanxi networks. For breakfast I can get a "western" breakfast of a layer sandwich that is entirely a local cuisine, or I can eat a Chinese breakfast consisted of foods updated by modern technology and altered thereby, whose ancestral dishes stem from the continent next door. I drive on western-style roads, in western-style cars....well, I could go on forever. Just what's "Chinese" about Taiwan? (Purely as an aside -- why does technology always disappear when we talk about culture? None of the tech now used on Taiwan is of recent Chinese vintage. The major shaping influences are all western).
Well, on the other hand, just about everything, one could answer. The local languages are all Chinese languages, except for the aboriginal tongues. Cultural ideals about women, the family, child-raising, male and female relations, politics, sex, religion, power -- many deriving from "Chinese culture," (again, except for aborigines) but as for actual culture practices? Your mileage may vary. What people say about themselves, and how they actually behave, are very different things.
The only reason anyone even raises the "Is Taiwan Chinese" issue is because Taiwan's alleged "Chineseness" is a claim that is part of the package of assertions that Beijing makes about Taiwan to support its drive to annex the island. Definitions like "Is Taiwan Chinese?" are a matter of values, not facts, only worth arguing about over beer -- unless some predatory power decides to base a foreign policy on them. It's a shame that an academic who says he knows better has nevertheless chosen to use a highly debateable title that is so useful to Beijing.