Is Chen Chinese or Taiwanese?
李天福 Li Thian-hok◎台灣獨立建國聯盟美國本部國際外交負責人
On April 1, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was quoted in the local newspapers as indicating his desire to visit his hometown in China, the village of Kejiazhuang in Fujian Province（福建省）.
“If there is an opportunity to go to the mainland, I would like to go to my old village in Fujian,” he said.
Since Chen was born in Taiwan, the use of the word “hometown” in the CNN report by Willy Wo-Lap Lam was misleading. What Chen meant was obviously his ancestral village.
In his stopover in New York City last May, Chen hosted a reception and dinner for more than 100 Taiwanese-American community leaders from the mid-Atlantic states at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel and delivered a speech in Mandarin. To the dismay of many in the audience, Chen referred to the assemblage as we Chinese (中國人). A great majority of Taiwanese-Americans （台灣裔美國人、或台美人）have strong emotional attachment to their homeland and actually feel insulted if they are called Chinese-Americans.
In his New Year’s Eve message at the end of 2000, Chen said China and Taiwan share similar history, culture and ethnicity and therefore it is the policy of his administration to strive for cultural and economic integration with China, leading to eventual political integration with the People’s Republic of China. The reasons given for the goal of integration with China betray Chen’s fuzzy and confused thinking about Taiwan-China relations. Taiwan’s history is dissimilar from that of China. Taiwan has been ruled by the Dutch, Koxinga（鄭成功）, the Qing Dynasty (an alien regime which ruled China from 1644 to 1911) and Japan. Taiwan’s history may be characterized as an incessant struggle for liberty against foreign rulers.
Taiwan has also been separated from China through most of its history. In the past 100 years, Taiwan was ruled by a central Chinese government for only four years, from 1945 to 1949.
While it is true much of Taiwan’s culture has its origins in China, Taiwan has also been exposed to the influence of other cultures,Particularly that of Japan during the colonial period and, through education and media exposure, American and European cultures as well. Furthermore, shared culture is merely one factor in the shaping of a common national identity. Korea and Japan, for example, have both adopted many elements of Chinese culture, such as Confucian ethics and Chinese characters. But such cultural influences have not deflected the Koreans or Japanese from their own distinct sense of nationhood.
Race is also overrated as a basis for national consciousness. China has been conquered and ruled by barbarian tribes many times and over long periods in its history. The so-called Han Chinese race（漢族、漢人） is a myth created for political purposes.Besides, Taiwan has several distinct ethnic groups. Today’s dominant Holo（鶴佬）and Hakka（客家）groups are quite different from their counterparts in Southern China because of intermarriage with the Aboriginal inhabitants since the 17th century. In any event, it is futile to equate race with nationality. Regardless of their ethnic origin or time of arrival, all citizens who love Taiwan and pledge allegiance to Taiwan should call themselves Taiwanese. Ethnicity should not be invoked in discussing the independence-unification issue.
So when Chen says Taiwan should integrate with China because we are all Chinese sharing the same history, culture and ethnicity, he is on very flimsy ground. It is also unclear what Chen means by the word “Chinese,” because the context is not defined. He could have meant that he is a Han Chinese, a descendant of the Yellow Emperor. Such belief, however, is an unscientific concept artificially created by political indoctrination. If Chen called himself a Chinese to express his affinity with Chinese culture, this is understandable, but it may also indicate his paucity of knowledge about the unique features of Taiwan’s history, culture and value systems.
In common usage, the word Chinese is frequently used to denote a person’s allegiance to the nation of China, which is now understood by the international community as the People’s Republic of China. This is why it is misleading and self-defeating for anyone who owes allegiance to Taiwan to call himself a Chinese.
Without a clear sense of Taiwanese national identity, it will be difficult for Taiwan to develop a consensus to defend its freedom, to preserve its de facto independence and to develop a viable, self-reliant economy, because businessmen would prefer to develop China’s larger economy instead. It will be difficult to build a robust military force dedicated to the island’s defense because bright youngsters cannot be motivated to join the armed forces. Without patriotism, morale in Taiwan’s military will be low and the officers and troops cannot be sure how firm the political leadership will be in resisting Chinese military aggression when it comes.
Taiwan’s president is not just the chief executive officer of the central government andcommander in chief of the armed forces, he is also the political and spiritual leader who is charged with the responsibility to protect the life, liberty and property of the citizens from outside assault. Chen should refrain from words and actions that will exacerbate the already dangerously confused sense of national identity among Taiwan’s populace. He needs to enhance Taiwanese national consciousness by emphasizing the Taiwanese people’s proud achievement in building a free-market democracy out of the ashes of the KMT autocracy and their common political and economic interests in maintaining a separate existence from the destitute and repressive People’s Republic of China.
Blind fear of China’s growing military might and the pursuit of economic and political integration with Communist China will doom Taiwan to a bleak future of poverty, humiliation and servitude. In his speech to the Japanese Diet on Feb. 19, US President George W. Bush said: “America will remember our commitments to the people on Taiwan.” In his State of the Union speech in January, Bush promised that the US will take the side of brave men and women who advocate democratic values. Taiwan’s future can be bright, although not without sacrifices, only if the government and citizens are brave enough to stand up for their freedom, human rights and dignity. No citizen can pledge allegiance to both Taiwan and the People’s Republic, an adversary which openly threatens to forcefully crush Taiwan’s democracy. So it is legitimate to ask Chen: are you a Chinese or a Taiwanese?