Friday, February 07, 2014

What is that thing called Taiwanese identity?

Sashimi, a Taiwanese dish.

Lorand Laskai writes in The Diplomat from Tainan on the KMT's de-Taiwanization policy and the history textbook revisions.
The potential hazards of a hostile occupation—Taiwanese protesters dying under PLA fire, freedom fighters waging guerrilla campaigns from house to house, and the international backlash that these images would set off—would very likely restrain Beijing from moving its threats beyond words. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) derided the foreign adventurism that landed the U.S. in Iraq, gleefully denoting the event as a milestone on America’s decline. It is unlikely to risk its own quagmire, especially while development and stability at home remains fragile.

A strong Taiwanese identity thus allows the country’s leadership to call China’s bluff. It is an electoral leaven—an insurance policy, if you will—against China’s inevitable military and economic dominance, one that will also strengthen Taiwan’s hand at the bargaining table. Political scientist Robert Putnam famously argued states involved in international negotiations play a “two-level game,” whereby they must simultaneously negotiate with international partners and domestic constituencies. Here democratically elected leaders have the notable advantage of being able to use domestic constraints to extract international concessions. That is, they can creditably claim at the negotiation table that “their hands are tied”—and have poll data to back it up—helping them win concessions where they otherwise could not. A fickle electorate, like an independent-minded Taiwanese public, thus can yield important benefits.
The effect of this identity is correct, which is, as Laskai points out below, one of the reasons the KMT is trying to suppress it. Beijing will have massive problems taking over a democratic Taiwan with an independent identity, and one of Ma's tasks to pave the way for the takeover was suppressing both. But interestingly, the Taiwan identity has incorporated not only an independent settler identity, but also, Taiwan's democracy, into its idea of Taiwaneseness. Voting is something akin to a sacred rite of that identity. This means that attempts to suppress democracy will attack that identity in ways that make it defensive.

Even more interestingly, the Taiwanese identity has incorporated KMT symbols such as the flag into itself, yet it rejects the ROC's bizarre territorial claims. This means that whenever the KMT waves the ROC flag, the locals see a Taiwan flag, and flag-waving reinforces a Taiwan/Taiwanese identity rather than an ROC/Chinese identity. Re-Sinifying the locals -- by which is meant, really, recolonizing them -- promises to be a daunting task, especially since the party that is the standard bearer of the Taiwan identity, the DPP, has the institutional presence in the counties and municipalities to meaningfully resist such re-colonization of the locals.

Beijing must be very frustrated with the KMT, which has no doubt promised the moon to get its support. One wonders when the backlash from the CCP for the KMT's failures will begin.
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16 comments:

Anonymous said...

I was recently musing on this issue as even the Mainlander identity is a Taiwan-centered identity (although that identity may not be fully understood by people who identify themselves as "mainlanders"). The Mainlander identity is an ethnic identity that is comprised of post-WWII immigrants from China and their offspring. They were a diverse group of languages and cultures, all bound together by their proximity to the KMT party-state, creating an entirely new identity when contrasted with the Taiwanese who had constructed a shared identity as Japanese colonial subjects.

In contemporary political thought, there are four ethnic groups in Taiwan (Hoklo, Hakka, Mainlander and Aborigine). There is actually a fifth group of "foreigner", but it has not been incorporated into the political discussion, nor does it have much of a lobby. Despite the fact that these groups have mixed so thoroughly, they still have resonance within the political sphere and must still be discussed as having some weight in the political process.

The people like Ma Ying-jiu, who are identified as "Mainlanders" (though will identify themselves as Taiwanese come election time) see themselves as being the most modern and at the fore of the Taiwanese ethnic groups. They were the political elite for decades. They might consider themselves to be regular Chinese.

What I think is interesting, is that this group, the Mainlanders, after realizing their dream of "unification", would likely be forced to confront the fact that they would be an unrecognized ethnic minority in Greater China, with unrecognized needs within a China that has already reified its ethic borders.

In China, Taiwan's 14 recognized groups of indigenes are all categorized as simply Gaoshan zu. There is no space for the other ethnic groups on Taiwan. If we use Taiwan's experience with the Chinese Nationalist program, we can assume the people of Taiwan would be tainted by their experience as different, much the same as when the Japanese arrived and later the KMT. The experience on Taiwan as a separate political entity created a gap between the center and the periphery. It is unlikely China's structure would allow that gulf to be bridged by those "tainted" from a Taiwanese experience.

It raises the questions: Are the pro-China mainlanders ready to become an invisible minority in China? Are they ready to face the fact that they have been subsumed under a the mark of an indelible Taiwanese identity?

Anonymous said...

Sashimi, a Taiwanese dish?
Certainly you mean something they learned from Japan.

Carlos said...

Anon, it’s an interesting question. My wife’s family is mainlander, and her position has evolved over time. She felt a bit of hostility from Taiwanese growing up (around the time you could start speaking Taiwanese in public again) and that cemented her Chinese identity… but that was before making contact with actual Chinese. While they were previously pro-unification, she and her mom slowly decided that yes, they were Chinese, but a sort of Chinese too different to be compatible with China as it is today. She’s happy for the ROC to be synonymous with Taiwan – though I think she would see the ROC’s end as a loss of cultural heritage and a negation of the sacrifices many of her family members made during the civil war.

Anonymous said...

Ah identity games. Why is it that in a country where almost everyone self-identifies as Taiwanese, the DPP side keep playing these identity politics and trying to separate people into Mainlander and Taiwanese? It's ridiculous, and it's time to get over it. "Mainlanders" see themselves as Taiwanese just as much as Hoklo do. Furthermore, most families who fled the PRC post-WW2 still hate the PRC govt, and have no desire to become part of PRC. If the pro-green side focus on identity politics, they'll give up any chance of winning in 2016 because they'll just be seen as an out-of-touch, one issue party.

Michael Turton said...

Why is it that in a country where almost everyone self-identifies as Taiwanese, the DPP side keep playing these identity politics and trying to separate people into Mainlander and Taiwanese?

Identity politics were a mainlander invention. Time to read history, not regurgitated ideology.

It's ridiculous, and it's time to get over it. "Mainlanders" see themselves as Taiwanese just as much as Hoklo do.

Some do, and are pro_Taiwan. Others despise Taiwan and identify as Chinese. You only have to talk to them. Don't read books, and don't get out much, do ya? I feel sorry for you.

Michael

Michael Turton said...

Sashimi, a Taiwanese dish?
Certainly you mean something they learned from Japan.


Just having a little fun.... :)

Michael Turton said...

Anon, it’s an interesting question. My wife’s family is mainlander, and her position has evolved over time. She felt a bit of hostility from Taiwanese growing up (around the time you could start speaking Taiwanese in public again) and that cemented her Chinese identity…

Yeah, post-colonization, the colonizers often report that when the situation is restored/reversed. You could hear it from whites in Kenya when I was there in the '80s and in Taiwan from mainlanders in the post-democratic era. It even came up on Language Log the other day, when some mainlander complained that it was "triumphalist" to put Taiwanese wordplay on a subway ad: Language Log post.

Michael

Anonymous said...

I think one of the main issues that needs to be looked at more closely is the concept of a postcolonial Taiwan.

Starting by definition, a colonizing or civilizing project involves two parts. 1) The colonizer/civilizer must locate its object and determine his object to be lacking, degraded and/or inferior. 2) The colonizer/civilizer must determine his object is capable of transformation and improvement under the program of the colonizer/civilizer.

When we look at the Japanese and the ROC systems side by side, they are both colonial programs with nearly identical methods and modes of carrying out their program in Taiwan.

As we see the continued tinkering with historical narratives for the sake of "continuity", it is plain to see the role of education as an agent of the colonial/civilizing project is still in force. The transformative mechanisms of the state's contact with the citizen are still active. The ROC is inherently a colonial/civilizing agent in its core ideology to transform a polyglot empire into a nation state with a strong centralized state culture. The chief goal of education in the ROC Constitution is to "promote nationalism". Documents from the Education Office show a curriculum steeped in propaganda with an emphasis on Chinese language, history and citizenship. A government report on mountain areas from 1953 reports its aims, starting in 1953, as chiefly being the promotion of Mandarin to “strengthen a national outlook and create good customs.” These goals have remained largely in place.

This leads to the conclusion that Taiwan as a postcolonial entity is problematic and in need of reevaluation.

The changes toward localization (bentuhua) made between 1990-2000 were largely pragmatic on the part of the KMT to retain power and rob the DPP of its talking points. It was very effective as it reflected the imagined national community felt by most Taiwanese; an imagined community built upon common systems within the ROC (education, taxation, governance, transportation and mass media).

I agree, the Hokloization often espoused by several members of the DPP was not helpful and often a knee-jerk to prior KMT policies (a phenomenon often observed in postcolonial studies), but leaders from outside the Formosa Movement have often tried to engage Mainlanders as the product of modern Taiwan and a respected culture. This outreach has yet to bear fruit as so much of the collective Mainlander identity is built around their close proximity to the KMT, which enabled a greater degree of socio-economic mobilization. The identity might shift, but the voting patterns have not shifted among those who identify themselves as "Mainlanders". It is an identity that has an almost religious affinity for the KMT, its mythologies and its popular iconography.

Shifting from this pattern will take a leap from faith.

Michael Turton said...

The idea that the ethnic issue is purely a DPP idea is KMT propaganda drivel. One bite is all the trolls get on my blog, sorry.

Michael

Anonymous said...

So I meet a patient for the first time here in the US, I got the inkling she's Taiwanese, but not wanting to assume anything, I asked what nationality is she. She hesitated, unsure of herself, and after a long pause, said she's from Taiwan.

Turns out she's a second Gen WSR.

These guys have been taught they are not Taiwanese, yet they don't want to be mistaken as Chinese. They have been taught by KMT dogma that they are 中華民國人. So they sit there like total idiots not knowing what they are, and finally answering indirectly with an answer about where they are from, but not who they are.

It is all together very very sad.

Anonymous said...

Westerners that love their flags and football teams have a hard time accepting that TW residents have a national identity that is plural and shifting rather than plural and enduring over time. For a TW person, they can identify themselves as Taiwanese, Chinese alternately without it entailing a contradiction. I don't believe all of them view that as sad, or even care about it for that matter. They can go back and forth out of different identities. Not saying that they'd necessarily choose it that way but I don't feel a strong urge by TW to align themselves with JUST being Taiwanese or Chinese.

Michael Turton said...

Not saying that they'd necessarily choose it that way but I don't feel a strong urge by TW to align themselves with JUST being Taiwanese or Chinese.

polls show that when given that choice, over 50% choose to identify as both. But no polls go further. For example, Taiwanese often start sentences with "We Chinese" when talking about their culture, but almost never when discussing their political positions -- you never hear them say "We Chinese own Mongolia" or "We Chinese will fight Japan and America for the Senkakus". Only Waishenren who do not identify as Taiwanese say stuff like that.

Michael

Jenna Cody said...

Am I the only one who still doesn't see the "Taiwanese" flag when I see the KMT flag? I know it's gained acceptance locally, and I'm not into telling people what they can and cannot see as a symbol of their country or identity, but I'm sorry. When I look at it I do not see the Taiwanese flag. I see the KMT flag. I don't think I'll ever change my feelings on this.

Good thing it doesn't really matter what I think, then :)

Michael Turton said...

Heh. I am the same way. But the locals grew up with it. I wonder how they will incorporate that flag into the flag of the Taiwan Republic.

Anonymous said...

Taiwanese often start sentences with "We Chinese" when talking about their culture, but almost never when discussing their political positions -- you never hear them say "We Chinese own Mongolia" or "We Chinese will fight Japan and America for the Senkakus".

>>>Right, that was the point. Taiwanese have no problem adopting the WEB Dubois style "double consciousness" and can go in out of identifying themselves along Chinese or Taiwanese lines, depending on the situation. Over half the population identify themselves as both.

Anonymous said...

I grew up with the flag. I can tell you the 2 reasons it has gained acceptance are familiarity and shared Chinese oppression.

After waving that flag for over 60 years, it is a very familiar and comforting presence. Especially given the steady progress within Taiwan over the 65 years, the people do not look at this flag as a foreign, superimposed entity.

Secondly, there's a shared history of oppression by a common enemy. This flag has essentially only represented Taiwan for 65 years, while it was used to represent ROC on China for just 20 years. And that 20 years was only de jure and piecemeal at best. With the persistent attack on the flag all over the world by China, such persistent attack brings out a strong desire for all Taiwanese to come out and protect it.

As for the future, yes, this flag has to eventually change. You simply can't have the symbol of one party on the national flag, it just doesn't make any sense at all. But for now, it is all we got , it is what is binds us, and that is why it is accepted.