Monday, May 26, 2008

More on the "Chinese People"

A-gu over at That's Impossible! had another great catch today with the words of KMT Chairman Wu Po-hsiung as he greeted Chinese officials on his "historic" trip to China.


After some pro-forma remarks about the Sichuan quake, Wu then observed that "the two sides of the Strait belong to the Chinese [ethnic] people." A-gu opines that the KMT is now spreading this around as a way to get around the sovereignty issue. There are still those out there who fondly imagine that Ma will safeguard Taiwan's sovereignty....not with this catchphrase.

Another development this week was the suggestion that Taipei and Beijing open representative offices in each other's capitals. According to the China Post, this came from the new MAC Chairman Lai Shin-yuan...

According to Lai's position, the government here would welcome the intermediary organizations representing both sides in negotiations to set up representative offices in each other's territory. This means that Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) would open an office in mainland China, while Beijing's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) would do the same in Taiwan.
Note that by using the "non-governmental" organizations in charge of cross-straits relations, each side avoids the issue of whether they should deal with the other as a "government."


Tommy said...

I don't like Ma's assertion that sovereignty is not important, but in this context, the Zhonghua Minzu can be useful.

I see the problem with Zhonghua Minzu is that it tells the people in Taiwan what their identity SHOULD be. It does, however, sidestep sovereignty, and it does not rule out independence. It would be as if the Prime Minister of Spain said to his counterpart in Italy, "We're all of Latin peoples." This would not be controversial in these countries, because most people would agree.

It is only controversial in Taiwan because many people are not content with being called Chinese.

I myself wouldn't have any objections to the ROC being the ROC, as long as the world recognised that the ROC was not the PRC, and the PRC admitted that point. It would also be nice of the leaders of the ROC would admit just as vocally internationally that some in the ROC are not ethinic Chinese. I am just worried that if the ROC sticks too close to the ROC banner, that there will be less breathing room for that recognition, due to China's influence.

Anonymous said...

I previously posted on the idea that "Zhonghua Minzu" is sort of generic term non-specific to any ethnic group, and I saw your response that it is a colonial construct meant to blur distinctions.

I think you're right that they are trying to blur distinctions, but I'm not sure if I see a sinister Han chauvanistic slant to it. I don't see much of a difference with the US, where African-American, White, Asian and other ethnicities can claim to be "American" within the framework of a multicultural, multiethnic nation.

The corresponding term "Zhonghua Minzu" is fairly neutral and non-political to most native Mandarin speakers, but because foreigners equate the word "Chinese" with Han, they may be discerning a slight that isn't there. In fact, Annette Lu once suggested the idea of "一個中華".

I don't find Zhonghua Minzu to be a very political term. If all Ma is going to give the commies is Zhonghua Minzu, that's way better than if he were to say "One China", although the distinction on foreigners seems to be lost.

Can other native speakers chime in here?

channing said...

Zhonghua Minzu sort of legitimizes the concept of a 5000+ year old "Chinese" civilization, despite the changes of dynastes and ruling ethnicities.

ROC leaders using this term are simply using these catch phrases to be politically neutral--so that there is no "ROC" and "PRC" in their official stances.

I don't fully agree that this terminology is lost on foreigners; sufficient knowledge of Chinese history is sufficient.

Anonymous said...

I am a Taiwanese. Here is my two cents. From my understanding, "Zhonghua Minzu" started with Han and then grew when it absorbed other ethnic groups, which "embraced" (according to my history text book) the Chinese culture,ie, 漢化, and their lands have been part of China presently or at some point in history. Therefore you could certainly say you are Chinese without being Han. In this sense, the comparison between the terms "Zhonghua Minzu" and "American" is valid.

However, people seem to ignore that as you have a choice to be American or not, as a non-Han, you should also have a choice to be part of the "Zhonghua Minzu" or not. For example, the Mongolians in Outer Mongolia probably don't think they belongs to "Zhonghua Minzu"; but their counter part in Inner Mongolia are definitely included in "Zhonghua Minzu" (what they think is another matter). However it is not as simple as saying that "Zhonghua Minzu" means "the people living in China" because all the Hans who live in other countries still belong to "Zhonghua Minzu".

In short, "Zhonghua Minzu" is a fussy phrase created at the before time. It doesn't have a good definition, especially for non-Hans who don't live in China or do not want to be part of it. People tend to use it loosely without any deep thinking. And politicians like to use it for its ambiguity.

N said...

I am Taiwanese as well, but I was a young girl when my family and I left the island. All I have to say that I am Taiwanese, not Chinese. The fact that Wu used that term is to be careful, yet I found it offending because we recognize ourselves as Taiwanese. I long for the day that Taiwan will be officially recognized by other nations and that we can claim our independence.

I hate when people call me Chinese or say Taiwan belongs to China. In my opinion, people who are not born or live in Taiwan, should not have any opinion of my country. I often say this to my co-workers but they still bug me about Taiwan politics.

Anonymous said...

@Bluefish -

Excellent post.