Sunday, April 05, 2009

Ma Worships the Yellow Emperor

The CNA had a report which AFAIK failed to make the English papers this week, but is nevertheless a crucial indicator of the way that the KMT is attempting to reshape Taiwan so it is "Chinese". On Friday Ma Ying-jeou, President of the Republic of China, hosted a ceremony honoring the Yellow Emperor, the mythical ancestor of the Chinese, just as Amaterasu Omikami is the mythical ancestor of the Japanese imperial house, at Yuanshan in Taipei.

The report notes that this was the first time ever that any ROC President here in Taiwan had hosted this ceremony, which had hitherto been the responsibility of the Interior Minister. The KMT had never been comfortable with the feudalistic overtones of the ceremony, noted the friend who alerted me to this tale, and had thus delegated it to a lesser official. The report stated:

Presidential Office spokesman Wang Yu-chi said that the Yellow Emperor is the common ancestor of all the Chinese people. In order to commemorate the Yellow Emperor, Tomb Sweeping Day will be designated "民族 Tomb Sweeping Day." Based on the importance of "being thorough in the funeral rites and worship of the ancestors" to the Chinese (race/nation) (中華民族), President decided to personally lead the ceremony, showing the emphasis the government places on culturally relevant traditions.
Readers conversant in Chinese can see how difficult it is to translate "民族 Tomb Sweeping Day." It comes out sounding truly bizarre: Race Tomb Sweeping Day? Ethnic Tomb Sweeping Day? Obviously the "race/ethnicity" meant here is Chinese.

There's a rich vein to mine here. It starts with the construction of everyone on both sides of the Taiwan Strait being "Chinese", comments that have been in the news lately with the Buddhist Master Hsing Yun, but which, since Ma's election, date back to his May 2oth inaugural address (readers are encouraged to re-read the analysis I posted against this report on Ma's sacrifices to the Yellow Emperor). In my discussion of the speech, which uses the term 中華民族, I noted:
Two other translation points to make: the English text says "our common Chinese heritage" but the Chinese is explicit -- the people on the two sides of the Strait both belong to the Chinese race" (兩岸人民同屬中華民族).The second translation issue is even more interesting. Entirely dropped from the English text is the very next sentence, which says 中華民族智慧之高 which translates "the great intelligence/wisdom" of the Chinese race." As I noted, Ma's thinking treads the well-worn path of Han chauvinism in which other ethnicities are arranged in order below the dominant and wisely benevolent Han. The DPP, by contrast, offered "proto-state to state" and "partnership" with all the original peoples.
The DPP also had a completely different idea of how to define citizenship, one not based on belonging to a specific ethnicity/race, but on being a citizen of a Taiwan nation. Racial chauvinism, demonstrated in Ma's personal honoring of the Yellow Emperor with its Yasukuni-like implications, is a powerful component of Ma's thinking, and his fostering of a retrograde Han chauvinism/superiority is an important affirmation of the remarks of people like Hsing Yun or GIO master blogger Kuo Kuan-ying. Indeed Ma criticized Kuo's comments by saying that everyone was a Son of the Yellow Emperor, affirming the Han Chauvinism that drove them even as he distanced himself from that chauvinism's more odious expressions. In terms of creating a civil society with a Taiwan identity at its heart, this is a step backwards.

After Ma made that statement in his inaugural address, an aboriginal legislator stormed out of the audience and convened a press conference on the spot to denounce it. Not everyone in Taiwan is a Son of the Yellow Emperor.

Second, this construction of everyone on both sides of the Strait as being Chinese is obviously and intentionally a colonialist one. If you have ever had the (mis)fortune to argue with a Chinese nationalist, they will blithely inform you that Tibetans, Manchus, Mongolians, etc, are all Chinese. Indeed, the claim that "X is Chinese" should be taken as a presumptive declaration that X is about to have their territory incorporated into China. In this light, there was something deeply symbolic about the revelation that the "ethnic" performers at the Beijing Olympics were all actually Han.

Ma's treatment of Chinese symbols shows his ideological identification with them. Recall this event from October of 2008?
The Taipei Confucian Temple marked the 2,558th anniversary of the birth of Confucius yesterday amid criticism from some city councilors that the temple performed the bayi dance — traditionally performed to pay homage to an emperor — to “fawn” over the presence of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).
At that ceremony Ma strode through the Central Door of the Temple (中門), which only emperors are supposed to use.

I said then, it was only going to get worse. It is.

Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums!


Anonymous said...

This is all enshrined in Sunism (Sun Yat-sen Ideology) and is part and parcel of both PRC and ROC nationalisms. These are both colonial projects that seek to "civilize" the other and transform them into whatever the state wishes them to be. With Tibet we often hear Chinese nationalists exhort all the successes they have ad in bringing the Tibetans all the wonderful trappings of the modern Chinese state. Of course, these are indicative of the values of the PRC state and not of the tibetan peoples and not even of Han people.

Both the PRC and ROC have constructed differing definitions of "Chinese", which has led to an interesting dilemma of being and not being Chinese depending upon where you are. For all those who feel Chineseness is something permanent and primordial. Chineseness is a load of hooey invented by Chinese nationalists assisted by ignorant foreigners and the concept of Chinese Culture is just as loaded with nationalist bunk that should have been left in the early 20th Century.

The greater irony may be the fact that Chinese nationalism was a reaction against the dynastic system. It was Chiang Kai-sheck and his wife who really sought to re-imagine the Empire under the guise as a republic.

Anonymous said...

The concept of "Overseas Chinese" has often been interpreted racially (rather than, for example, as a matter of inherited citizenship). I believe China may do this as well (for example, when they determine whether a Hong Konger is ethnically "Chinese" enough for the purpose of visa-free entry.) In theory, a Malaysian Chinese with no documented connection to Taiwan (or the PRC in the other example) should be in the same position as a Russian from Moscow (since the Russians are a Chinese minority).

Anonymous said...

More than the honoring of the Yellow Emperor, it is the absence of any ceremony to commemorate Chiang Kai-Shek's death that truly worries me.

Chiang passed away on the 5th of April; yet there are no events planned this year to honor their "Great Leader". Is it because the KMT had pledged their allegiance to the PRC, Chiang's sworn enemy?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for drawing this to my attention and for your excellent analysis. I know that the DPP was truly revolutionary in its efforts to create a Taiwan-consciousness (following and building upon the efforts of Lee Teng-hui). It is most disturbing to see "New Emperor Ma" try to wipe all this away and re-create the Chinese dynasty on the "island of Taiwan," with Beijing as the center. (I recall seeing the most interesting marker in Beijing's Tiananmen square noting it as the center of the Chinese world.) Hopefully in future elections--if they are free and fair--the people of Taiwan can express their opposition to such dangerous ideology.

Stefan said...

I realize there is more to this than just the use of the gate. However I think a democracy outranks a monarchy. The elected president of a country is at least on the same level as an emperor. After all he has true legitimacy based on the expressed will of the people.

Some presidents are no doubt better than others, but that applies to kings and emperors, too. So while I follow your point that he probably shouldn't attend this ceremony - I think if he attends he should use that gate.

Anonymous said...

Hey, nice writeup of this issue in the Wall Street Journal!
I smiled when I saw your name there. Grats!

Anonymous said...

try not to bandy the term "Han chauvinism" around.

this is indeed could be offensive to the austronesian-speaking aboriginals of taiwan, but he is talking about the Han specifically on either side.

the Han as a group are not racially homogenenous (read some studies). it's not about race.

all I can see here is some crybaby white men boohooing that they are excluded from some non-existent "Chinese race".

A Chinese Malaysian is obviously more Chinese than a Russian, because Russians have nothing to do with China's culture while the Malaysians often do. Cultural compatibility is key to proper integration.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:22

It is about the "races" constructed under Chinese nationalism.

Chinese nationalism is a racialist movement.

There are many varieties of cultural Han. These constructions have nothing to do with DNA, but political leaders attempt to mask this issue and pretend it does.

"Chinese" ethnicity and culture are constructed concepts that emerged following the nationalist movement and therefore your final paragraph suggests a definable Chinese culture outside of nationalism.

Anonymous said...

"Chinese" ethnicity and culture are constructed concepts that emerged following the nationalist movement and therefore your final paragraph suggests a definable Chinese culture outside of nationalism.

What a whiner. What is "Chinese" has always been defined.. it's just that the definition was expanded to include more people falling within the borders of the ROC during the 20th century.

Your sad attempts to undermine and discredit Chinese identity is puzzling.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:48 AM, you said some very funny things. Has always been defined? But shifted to include people that just "fell" within the borders of the ROC? So, the Tibetans chose to "fall" within the borders of the then ROC? Taiwanese chose to become the new home of the "ROC"? The KMT chose to leave China? It's just funny how Chinese-ness is set in stone from the beginning of time, yet it can also change in some pretty mind-boggling ways, but no, you Taiwanese people, don't you dare say you're not Chinese or redefine your Chinese-ness or attempt to create a culture on your own terms of your own imagination and collective experience...

Anon, where do people like you get ideas like this? I want to try to understand...

aquarat31 said...

truly enlightening article!

Anonymous said...

9:52 PM

Such mind boggling garbage. Chinese identity has always existed for thousands of years, it differs from nationalist and foreign revisionism.

The political term "Chinese" is not to be confused with the ethnic label, and for you to conflate them at your convenience just puts your clueless hypocrisy on display.

Carl said...

The whole thing with defining "Chineseness" always comes back to the same dilemma. Is it an Han centric definition centred around Han cultural icons. Or is it a multi cultural ethnic definition incorporating "China's 52 nationalities all sharing "an inherant sense of Chineseness which permeates every essence of their being".

The problem is that Chinese nationalists attempt to have their cake and eat it.

As they claim Taiwan because "they speak the same language or differenct dialects of the same language. Have similiar traditional dress, customs and partake in the same religous and social ceremonies. In short they define "Chineseness" in terms of linguistic and folk culture similarities.

However Chinese nationalists claim Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang,Tibet and Yunnan as being inherantly Chinese since ancient times. Which blantantly contradicts the definition of "Chineseness" used to justify claiming Taiwan.

Anyway if having the "Yellow Emperor as a common ancestor" defines what it is to be Chinese. Then surely there must be objective records of "all of China's nationalities" coming together to express their fillial piety to the Yellow Emperor for "China's five thousand years of history".

Anyway "Anon 9:52" I am guessing there must be a stone tablet thousands of years old buried somewhere giving a definitive definition of what it is to be Chinese. But then again I wouldn't hold my breath.

Anonymous said...

similar argument can be made

what define a muslim?

is it an arab centric definition centred around arab cultural icons.

the problem with your theory is
that you tend to associate han = chinese

han was assimilated into chinese.

chinese exist long ago before han term been constructed.

do you call muslim as arab?
arab =muslim

do you call american muslim as ARAB?

because they practiced similar culture, religion, speak same language

dont forget, islam is "way of life"

secondly, china claimed taiwan as part of their nation

because taiwan is part of last china dynasty (qing) and roc.

nobody can make a claim for territory based on ethnicity.,race ,religion

china say " tibet, xinjiang are part of china since ancient time"

how do you define" ancient time"

qing dynasty period does not look " ancient" to you?

if i follow your logic, then indian people unable claim british raj (white property)

filipino cant claim american colony( white property)

DPP -majority of them are han chinese, not aboriginal

stop pretending that they are" native"

Anonymous said...

the author dont have problem

taiwanese worship western democracy,
( white men extreme nationalism)

white men are mass murderer

american troop had invaded taiwan island and kills many aboriginal.

american troop has brutally slaughter, raped, loot , burned chinese city during so called" Peking boxer siege "

auhtor has no problem with Taiwanese people continue to defile their own ancestor
by worshiping these mass murderer who once looks down on them?

why author practised self censorship on comment?

a hypocrite who preach freedom of speech, democracy

but cant let go of his control over speech?