On May 4, Council of Indigenous Peoples Minister Sun Ta-chuan (孫大川) presented a report to the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) Central Standing Committee on ethnic development and autonomy for Aborigines. Saying that Aborigines had interbred with other ethnic groups, Liao Wan-lung (廖萬隆), a member of the committee, wondered whether it would be possible to discourage intermarriage between Aborigines and other ethnicities to ensure the preservation of Aborigines’ cultural heritage.I don't know if I'd characterize Ma's response as tepid -- he was probably stunned that anyone could be so vapid and didn't know what to say -- but Liao's suggestion reveals the way that, in so many Sinic minds, terms like race and culture are more or less interchangeable -- culture is something you are born with rather than something you can acquire, and you have it as a result of having the right genes.
When Liao finished, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who is also the KMT chairman, replied that individuals were free to make their own decisions about whom they fell in love with and married, adding: “I am sorry, but I cannot comply.”
It goes without saying that Liao’s proposal incensed Aborigines, but so did Ma’s reply. Anyone hearing such blatant racial prejudice would be angry, and would have reprimanded Liao for his bigoted comments right on the spot. Even though Ma did not support Liao’s suggestion, such a tepid response simply did not go far enough.
The sublime irony of this is that in many cases local "Han" people were once indigenes who decided to adopt Han culture, as my man Drew is fond of pointing out on our bike rides through "Han" fruit growing areas. Arguably, the difference between "Han" and "aborigines" is how they choose to identify themselves, since genetically the groups are quite similar.
Local aborigines responded with anger (my students said that a group of them burned an ROC flag). Aborigines are a longtime KMT voting bloc. What effect the recent incidents -- including one from Ma himself -- will have on that bloc remains to be seen, but my guess is that it will be business as usual among the nation's aborigine communities when election time comes round.
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