Thursday, October 14, 2010

Taiwan: so useful if it didn't exist it would have to be invented

A friend of mine sent me this tale in an email the other day. He is an American married to a Taiwanese and living in southern China....
....I would expect that China's history books have reamed Japan pretty well because of their nasty behavior in China in WW2, so public support of China policy (like they care about support) is going to be high. However, I am still reeling from a conversation with my two hip, 27 y.o. colleagues, who I hang with and who have had dinner with my wife and I.

The subject of Taiwan and Japan came up obliquely, I mentioned that Taiwan people have an affinity for Japanese culture that developed during their "benevolent occupation". Ding! Wrong fact to bring up. They jumped on top of me and robotically stated "Taiwan is a part of China and China was never occupied by Japan". Along with various statements about hating Japanese.

After collecting my senses, I asked how they could explain how my parents-in-law both speak Japanese if they were not educated by Japanese. They accused me of stating that their history books are wrong. Of course, I explained how every country's history books are wrong, that they are a tool for whoever is in power.

College educated (maybe that makes it worse), one has worked for 3 foreign companies and is a sparkling personality. That's why it is so disturbing, it means perhaps 99% of the people are misinformed about such a significant and recent fact of history. Hearing about propaganda and seeing the effect of it, are different things.
Jim Mann argued in The China Fantasy that the urban middle classes would ally with the State to enable them to maintain their position and assets and lifestyle against the masses below.

The State also connects to the educated urban middle classes in another way -- many of these hip, educated types are in service businesses that are dependent on the state flows of credit to local construction and land development -- real estate, law, accounting, engineering, consulting, interior design, architecture, and similar, or on foreign firms which are there on the sufferance of the State and buy and sell to and from its firms and projects. Westerners, especially Americans, have weird dramatized ideas that Leninist states like China or the KMT state on Taiwan succeed by a kind of coarse and obvious repression, but the reality is that they succeed by getting buy-in into the System from constituencies whose support they need. If you see past the surface, the KMT and CCP govern in the same manner: both Chinese Leninist parties co-opt their needed constituencies using flows of money and credit out of the central government to the construction-industrial state and those it feeds.

I suspect this is why so often you hear about educated urban middle-class professionals in China who are savvy analysts of Chinese government domestic politics and who are often properly and creatively skeptical about what they are fed about the domestic situation, but who immediately become mindless authoritarian blusterers if Tibet or Taiwan is mentioned. Such hollow nationalism represents a safe area in which hip urban types can display agreement with the State. While ignorance at the domestic level can be perilous for the assets of the rising middle class, bombastic nationalism is cost-free. Taiwan is thus all too useful.
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16 comments:

STOP Ma said...

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I worked with a couple of colleagues who recently immigrated to Canada from China. They are both talented Software Engineers.

I remember having heated discussions with them during the Beijing Olympics.

When I mentioned that the Chinese media is state-controlled propaganda (a fact I thought would not be in dispute), they immediately launched into a tirade on how the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) is the equivalent in quality and truth in its reporting. While I personally believe that big media does have a distinct bias, I would find it very difficult to equate the CBC to Xinhua.

I've seen this defensive attitude amongst a lot of young Chinese professionals. And it goes beyond the Tibet and Taiwan issues. While they are aware of the distinct differences between a democratic society and one ruled by an authoritarian government, they justify the Chinese establishment wholeheartedly. Torture and the lack of free speech, for example, is looked upon as "tough love".

I must say, to hear these young smart professionals talk in such a naive way about the establishment in China scared the crap out of me.
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Okami said...

This is common in the west, too. It's just that your point of reference is off. If you talk with people and have done a lot of reading of the history of things, you'll see a lot of this really comes out in any country.

People tend to not be taught history or economics very well in school so when you actually debate them on subjects using facts from history and economics, they either go real quiet as the cognitive dissonance starts or they become irrationally pissed off and start screaming or threatening you with violence.

Of course it may just be me and my wonderful personality.

Ampontan said...

Of possible interest, from a 1941 article in Harper's: Who Goes Nazi?

http://harpers.org/archive/1941/08/0020122

Boyd R. Jones said...

Having worked with several educated, middle-class Chinese, I can attest that they support "reunification" with Taiwan in a very jingoistic, nationalistic way -- thoughts of state patronage do not enter their minds directly. "Getting back" Taiwan is seen in the same light as, say, Palestinians see the recovery of lands from Israel.

I think they are much blunter with me, however, then they would be with their Taiwanese bosses or colleagues.

The fact that there are tens of millions of Chinese who see reunification with Taiwan as a gut, visceral, to-die-for issue, does not mean, however, that the Taiwanese people should not pursue independence (if that is what the Taiwanese determine). But Taiwanese need to be aware of the thinking of the Chinese (it seems to me most Taiwanese eschew thinking about this).

Jade said...

I must admit when I first came to the United States from Taiwan in the early 1980's, I had the same feeling as a lot of Taiwanese people in thinking that Taiwan is part of China (ROC, that is). It's amazing how much a young mind can be molded with orchestrated political agenda. This is not surprising due to the political environment during the period in which I was growing up. Then came the information age and I could get almost any information that I need from the Internet. The more I read the more I realized that how much I have been misinformed. Many of the books I read were written by people who I believe had absolutely no political reason to lie. This is why I find it very unfathomable that there are still people who I considered intellectual who believe everything that the KMT preaches. Don’t they have moral responsibilities? Do they profit from cheering a regime that has no legal basis to govern a country that doesn’t belong to it? Are they naïve enough to think it would be better for Taiwan to be annexed by China? I am not surprised to see STOP MA’s Chinese colleagues cheering for the Communist government. I was one of those KMT cheerleaders too. I just wished that I had known what I know now.

Robert Scott Kelly said...

I'm not sure who these Chinese are that don't know about the Japanese occupation of Manchuria, but they haven't been brainwashed: they are simply brain-dead. I spent the summer in Dongbei (the area formerly known as Manchuria) and there is a anti war of aggression museum in every city highlighting the occupation of the region and of course Japanese atrocities. Puyi's old residence is now a museum dedicated to the period when he was the puppet emperor of Manchuria. Really, the Chinese don't hide this.

Furthermore, many educated Chinese have a very clear notion that Taiwanese people's "level" is much higher than theirs and generally seem to believe it is a result of the Japanese influence. They obviously know Japan occupied Taiwan.

MeisterJäger said...

Your friend should have thrown in the argument that if it wasn't for the USA stopping the Japanese in 1945, many people in China would be speaking Japanese today.

Strange how many PRC citizens have the chip on their shoulder about events that happened 150 years ago (foreign imperialism), yet events 60 years ago that had much great significance are oblivious to them.

Likewise, the Mao worship thing. Their own "blood" murdered 40+ million people, but foreigners are still the enemy. Go figure

Dixteel said...

I am not surprised. Met too many Chinese as described here in Canada as well. Right now I just avoid talking to them because there is no point actually.

SoCalExpat said...

I don't think your friends' PRC colleagues are very familiar with their own textbooks as the PRC makes no secret of Japanese colonialism in Taiwnan. You shouldn't read too much into the opinions of the ignorant, regardless of their nationality. Many Americans have equally ingorant views of US History but one cannot judge the US education system based the opinions of a few ignorant Americans.

Anonymous said...

I suspect your American friend is an idiot accustomed to putting words in the mouths of others.

No remotely sane Chinese individual would argue that Japan "never occupied China". Japan occupied huge swathes of China (even ignoring Taiwan) for three decades.

mike said...

"Do they profit from cheering a regime that has no legal basis to govern a country that doesn’t belong to it?"

Yes. And any question of a country "belonging" to a political party is as retarded as it is dangerous.

SoCalExpat said...

"Westerners, especially Americans, have weird dramatized ideas that Leninist states like China or the KMT state on Taiwan succeed by a kind of coarse and obvious repression, but the reality is that they succeed by getting buy-in into the System from constituencies whose support they need."

So true. People often forget that Hitler was democratically elected.

Don said...

Great post, insightful comments.

There's an anti-Japanese Hate Week in China every year in the runup to the Nanjing anniversary. Propagated for the proles through the TV and tabloids. Those hip young urbanites get an extra blast through membership in the CP, which they joined at college as a networking thing.

On Taiwan too -- a Patriotic Education campaign was created and cranked to full volume in the wake of the Tiananmen massacre to ensure that exactly those savvy aspirational urban types didn't make the same ideological error as the students in 1989. Apparently designed to hammer home China's humiliations at the hands of colonial powers and how the CP made China independent free and great again. Certainly not emphasizing the "humiliation" of the tens of millions who were killed or saw their families wrecked at the hands of the same CP in the years following "liberation."

No doubt the party line on Taiwan figures prominently, helping to explain that robotic consistency of response whenever the topic comes up with an outsider.

After all, Taiwan is a gaping wound on China's national psyche, right? Not an issue visibly manufactured by the twin Chinese nationalist parties, for their own ends, since they changed their tune on the island's status in the early 1940s.

Mad Minerva said...

In my own anecdotal experience, the very word "Taiwan" triggers an almost Pavlovian response from otherwise perfectly OK, educated mainland Chinese.

You're right, Michael. Taiwan's so convenient a thing that if it didn't exist, it would have to be invented. Ditto the often-clueless media coverage, far too much of which insists on calling Taiwan a "rival" and provocateur -- as if it were the bully.

Anonymous said...

MeisterJäger wrote, "Your friend should have thrown in the argument that if it wasn't for the USA stopping the Japanese in 1945, many people in China would be speaking Japanese today"

If the Japanese have the capability to take over the whole country and hold it like the Manchus, it's almost 99.999% that the Japanese will now be speaking Mandarin today. Further, Japan will just a province of PRC.

The Japanese are damned lucky that they lost the war.

Richard said...

"In my own anecdotal experience, the very word "Taiwan" triggers an almost Pavlovian response from otherwise perfectly OK, educated mainland Chinese."

Hah, very brilliantly stated. Might borrow that from time to time. :)