Wednesday, May 18, 2011

KMT affronts dignity of aborigines again

The Taipei Times editorial has the call:
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.

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.
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.

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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Anonymous said...

A lot of the construction of the Aboriginal identity comes from their interaction with the state and how they are treated when put into contact with state power.

The state treats indigenous peoples differently and deploys loaded stereotypes of behavior, location, physiology, psychology and other constructed "differences" to create a type of imagined distance in time and space that validates the ROC civilizing project.

It was not just indigenous peoples who were subject to this program, but all peoples on Taiwan who did not closely identify with KMT ideology.

The Aboriginal identity is relatively new, having sprung from the reforms of the 1980's when Taiwanese were more free to negotiate their ethnic identities.

Okami said...

I love Han Chinese racism. I think Ma had a golden opportunity to look really good and threw it away because he honestly doesn't get it or was too shocked to properly respond. That along with no spine is a major stumbling block if Tsai learns how to campaign.

Do you by chance have the actual quote he used in Chinese or a link to it? Is Sun Ta-chuan Taiwanese of aboriginal descent? I'd go with general shock that someone could be that stupid and open his mouth and say it out loud.

Still funny he would just say it out loud like that. I'd hate to see the man's views on Taiwanese/Foreigner marriages. No wonder they cracked down hard on foreign bride merchants.

Anonymous said...

I think an indigenous or Aboriginal identity goes beyond choice.

The other part of the equation comes from they ways in which indigenous peoples come in contact with the state.

In Taiwan the state has deployed stereotypes of behavior, location, physiology, psychology, material culture and other "criteria to locate indigenous peoples within their civilizing program (colonial program). We still see this today with Ma's comments on Aborigines being good at sports and singing. These stereotypes simply reinforce the the ROC's own project to locate Taiwan's indigenous peoples as "backward" or "degraded" in need of the "ROC/Chinese" program for modernity. Locating indigenous peoples also serves to remove them and their collective rights from traditional areas leaving them ripe for exploitation.

The term Taiwanese Aborigine is a political construct that is the direct result of indigenous people's contact with the ROC state in which the relationship has been on unequal terms in favor of the ROC.

The ROC is constructed to promote Chinese Nationalist Han Chauvinism and therefore the collective Aboriginal identity arose in response. If the ROC had taken a culturally neutral approach to its form of nationalism, the Aboriginal identity may have become more integrated into a greater nationalist identity. The same can be said for the Taiwanese identity, which was subject to the same state civilizing project.

So, although it was often a choice to become Han, it was often the result of various roadblocks to mobility erected by the succession of states that also led to the collective Aboriginal and indigenous identities.

David on Formosa said...

I recognised some of the people burning the KMT flag. They are not part of the KMT voting bloc.