Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Old Soldiers Just Won't Fade Away

The world has turned over many times since I took the oath on the plain at West Point, and the hopes and dreams have long since vanished, but I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular barracks ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that old soldiers never die; they just fade away. -- Douglas MacArthur

One of the most divisive issues in Taiwan is one outsiders rarely hear about and Taiwanese themselves refrain from expressing opinions on, except around those they trust: Taiwan's system of military villages.

When the KMT split with the CCP and retreated to Taiwan, it brought with it hundreds of thousands of soldiers, a largely unskilled and semi-literate population with few economic prospects. The government set about constructing a system of military villages to house these soldiers, distributing them all over the island, in anticipation of that glorious day when they would retake the mainland. As the years rolled by and eroded this ideal from policy into theology, this population was largely left out of the economic miracle. It remains, however, a fierce supporter of the pan-Blue parties, the PFP and KMT.

The villages themselves are slowly disappearing (perhaps they will become tourist sites), being replaced by expensive high-rises built at government expense, ostensibly to house the dwindling population of military families, but in fact, now occupied by their descendents. For many native Taiwanese with roots that predate the arrival of the KMT and its dependents, the villages represent a parasitical population that they have supported for fifty years. A deep anger runs through the population at this perceived abuse of taxpayer funds. Taiwanese argue that the children of those families who now occupy those apartments, which they obtained free from the government, receive special treatment that is undeserved. Side by side with this anger, however, is also a recognition that the old soldiers had it especially tough, forced to leave their homes and live in penury in a foreign land.

Everyone recognizes, however, that the villages themselves had their own special culture:

The military villages - called jiancun in Mandarin Chinese - played a unique role in giving Chinese immigrants a foothold in postwar Taiwan.

Originally built as temporary bamboo-and-mud shelters while Chiang Kai-Shek's Nationalist government plotted to recover China throughout the 1950s, the villages evolved into permanent communities of one- and two-story brick and cement homes when it became clear that the planned incursion would never take place.

The families who occupied these isolated pockets of mainland culture, ringed by bamboo fences, spoke provincial dialects different from the Taiwanese language. Military rations of rice, flour, and cooking oil were delivered directly to village homes, and some of the larger settlements initially had their own schools.

With their husbands frequently away on duty, village mothers, who were known for being tough, spent much of their time playing cards and cooking the regional specialties of their native provinces. It was a communal life: Villagers shared public bathrooms and children often shared a bed with a parent.

But mainlanders' communication with neighboring Taiwanese was limited. Locals viewed the villages as closed societies and were wary of their military affiliation. Intermarriage between mainland men and Taiwanese women eventually bridged the two communities in the 1960s.

Taiwan News reported today that funding for the villages remains a thorny issue, as Greens and Blues joust over the next round of funding for the military dependents.

In a vote 4-3, the committee passed a proposal to reconsider the bill after Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) joined DPP legislators in criticizing the amendment to the Act for Rebuilding Old Quarters for Military Dependents.


Speaking at a weekly meeting of the DPP Central Standing Committee, the party's highest power core, Su referred to the amendment as a pork barrel bill that will benefit only a small number of people while sacrificing the interests of most other people in society.

The amendment, if passed, will be a clear violation of the principle of social fairness and justice, as it was designed to benefit some 400,000-500,000 retired servicemen who retreated from China to Taiwan with the KMT government more than 50 years ago, and would cost the current DPP government an enormous amount of money, Su said.


Lin warned that the amendment, if passed, would mean an addition of NT$1,500 billion to the government's expenditures over the next few years. The money would be allocated to help 430,000 retired servicemen resolve their housing problems, even though many of them already own residences, he said.

Lin questioned the need for such legislation, considering the fact of the government's shortage of funds to resolve other more pressing problems in this society. He said many college students had called the DPP and suggested that the government use the money to lower their tuition fees or to provide school children from low-income families with free lunches.

Meanwhile, the Taiwan Society (composed of scholars supporting Taiwan's independence from China) issued a statement opposing the amendment, saying that such legislation would only escalate tensions between people of different ethnic backgrounds.

The society said it suspected that opposition parties of trying to use such legislation to encourage one group of people to confront another group of people who are not eligible for such benefits.

One reason that identity issues on Taiwan remain so divisive is, as this case illustrates, that they are money issues.


Anonymous said...

I am aware of the animosity Taiwanese with long local heritages have toward "outside province" people. This is interesting facit of it that I have never heard before. Glad I keep coming back here.

Anonymous said...

The "old soldier housing" is absolutely ridiculous. I would bet that in some apartments, over 90% of them are turned around and rented at market rates basically making them the equivalent of a large subsidy for all these soldiers and their descendants. They don't need the housing, but they do love all that free money.

People ask why native Taiwanese don't like the people who just came "a little bit later". Well partly it's the history of these soldiers taking part in and loyally supporting the killing and disappearances of tens of thousands of native Taiwanese. Part of it is that they don't recognize Taiwan as a country and still have these imperial dreams of reconquering mainland China. But part of it is very material and forward looking. The waisheng population, be it through the still unreturned Chinese KMT assets, the 18% retirement fund interest rate given to soldiers/government workers/teachers who are mostly waisheng or otherwise pro-Blue (yeah that's right, many of the newer workers who come from more diverse backgrounds don't benefit from these idiotic interest rates) or through government subsidized housing continue to take more than their fair share. The ethnic divisions are alive and well thanks to these unfair government policies, not just some linguistic thing or some artifact of history.

Anonymous said...

My grandparents lived in one of these village and my dad grew up in one. It's quite obvious to everyone that this is nothing more than a fleecing of taxpayers. Lots of program exists to help homeless vets but to suggest the children and grandchildren of vets deserve free govt housing after years of preferential economic assistance from KMT govt is absurd.

My grandmother is in her 90's and is living in a assit-living hospice in Taipei. Her former house sits empty but my uncle (who by the fact that he was last of the kids to move out) may make out like a fat cat if this legislation goes thru.

Anonymous said...

One reason that identity issues on Taiwan remain so divisive is,Taiwanese nationalism dominates the political agenda.

People ask why native Taiwanese don't like the people who just came "a little bit later". Well partly it's the history of these soldiers taking part in and loyally supporting the killing and disappearances of tens of thousands of native Taiwanese.
that was so twisty.
1. it's ridiculous calling people of Han origins whose ancesotrs came to taiwan 300 years ago Native Taiwanese. Real Native Taiwanese are those whose ancestors were massacred, raped and evicted by people of Han origins.
2. more people died and killed by KMT during the white terror than 228 and most of the white terror victims were "outside province" people. please get the historical facts right.

Anonymous said...

Red taiwanese people: you are using an American argument way out of context.

The reason that people call American "Indians" Native Americans is to say that except for a very, very tiny portion of people almost everyone immigrated at some point recent and America is for everyone, not people that came 50 years earlier.

In a Taiwanese context, native Taiwanese and aboriginals recognize the rights of all residents to claim Taiwan as a homeland and there is absolutely no issue of native Taiwanese trying to squeeze out the mainlanders (it's rare and when it does happen, it's nothing compared to what mainlanders did to the native Taiwanese). However, the majority (not all) of mainlanders DO NOT RECOGNIZE TAIWAN AS THEIR HOMELAND. Do you get this? In their deluded minds, they recognize only an abstract China of former grandeur and future glory. They don't want to be a part of Taiwan so how do they have any right to any opinion on the term native Taiwanese? Native Taiwanese, applied broadly to anyone born here and recognizing the Taiwanese state sounds just fine to me. If you recognize Taiwan, then you can be native Taiwanese too.

Also don't try the Holocaust denier bit of trying to say that somehow mainlanders came out on the short end of a 50 year dictatorship run by them and their party. They came with money, guns, and a bad attitude. Sure, some mainlanders who cared about human rights and democracy or were otherwise seen as threats were also killed off. KMT was vicious to any threats of power. But they don't compare to bensheng ren killed, wounded, made to disappear, robbed from (KMT party assets include this), etc.

Also most Taiwanese don't realize but the majority of Aboriginals were assimilated. The larger populations lived on the plains and that no one remembers them is because they mainly intermarried with the Min-nan. Your accusations of violence towards the mountain aboriginals is only partially true (didn't occur often), and it was mutual among all groups, including at least two groups of Min-nan, Hakka, and aboriginals. That is there were all of the following: aboriginal-aboriginal wars, Min-nan/Min-nan wars, Min-nan Hakka wars.

On the other hand, local squabbles over resources surely is nothing compared to an ideological, government-party-state-delusion machine that SYSTEMATICALLY engaged in robbery, killing, repression, brain washing (many bensheng feel like they've woken up in the last 10 years or so) etc.

One other thing: you cannot believe how much has been taken by the KMT and many mainlanders. It is not their face value that matters. It is all that plus all the interest that has accrued since then. What value do you put on tons of Waisheng being able to weasel government scholarships to go to the US to study and come back and make high salaries? What value do you put on the extra money many had to get the tutoring and better education so that they won those scholarships fair and square? The effects of this kind of economic unfairness are way more than anyone realizes.

Anonymous said...

the majority of Aboriginals were assimilated. The larger populations lived on the plains and that no one remembers them is because they mainly intermarried with the Min-nan. Your accusations of violence towards the mountain aboriginals is only partially true (didn
't occur often),

that was very naive. please get the historical fact right. you can't call forced marriages and rapes assimilation. so called assimilations were always forced by invasions, military or/ and economy.

secondly, you still don't know the difference between 228 and white terror, do you?

more outside province people killed during white terror than local province people.

yes KMT is evil; but what has that to do with outside province people or China? kmt don't represent outside province people and kmt was renounce by Chinese people. don't forget, majority in the KMT party-state in the last fifty years has been local Taiwanese provincial people, for example local political factions. they were in fact the hard core of KMT regime and the actual power blocs in taiwanese society.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely know the difference between 228 and White Terror, but it's all the same, on the KMT's account. 228 was started by violence on the part of the KMT against the native population. There was some retribution on the part of bensheng. But add it all up. Don't pick and choose a small time frame and you get gross amounts of violence backed by money, military, police, secret police, and smug sense of officialness of the KMT.

Show me the statistics. What _legimitate_ source shows strong evidence that waisheng were harmed more than natives from the time KMT came to Taiwan up until today? Because that isn't the accepted view of mainstream historians so you with your "secret knowledge" have the burden of proof. Of waisheng that were jailed or killed, they were part of a small minority that dared to dissent against the majority of waisheng. No surprise here that they were eliminated too. If you claim otherwise, show me your evidence. Think about what you're pointing out. Waisheng who could give waisheng a better name were eliminated. So then what waisheng are around today?

Also where is your evidence of forced marriages? Let me tell you. Han Chinese, when they came from Mainland China 300 years ago, were simply a more "advanced" society economically. Most aboriginal languages don't even have numbers beyond one, two and a few. This is a long known truth--women go to where the money is. Maybe you don't like that, maybe our society today tries to strive towards other kinds of ideals and standards, but come on, you don't think they would want to marry with the immigrant population? They couldn't buy brides? Show me your evidence.

But if they continue to be loyal to a Chinese ideal rather than to the country of their birth, if they continue to willingly accept and lobby for unfair economic benefits, then of course people will make the native--outsider distinction.

Let me ask you this--are you waisheng? Do you recognize Taiwan or do you recognize a Republic of China that is the so-called "real" China?

Anonymous said...

there is a huge difference between 228 and white terror. 匿名者 needs do more study on taiwanese history.
I am "local province". when my ancestors came to taiwan 400 years ago your ancestors were still mainlanders.

what kind of idiot would ask questions like
"are you waisheng? Do you recognize Taiwan or do you recognize a Republic of China that is the so-called "real" China?"

ignorant? stupid or simply being naive?

does it would make my points of view less worthy if I am neither taiwanese nor chinese but british or japanese?

what do you silly guys mean "love for taiwan", "identifying with taiwan" or "recognising Taiwan"? they are merely taiwanese nationalists' propaganda / political spin substance like the Chinese nationalists say in mainland china for the sake of promoting unificcation. just like the nazi germans crying for "love for our mother land", quite the same thing.