Whither Taiwan?


If you were wondering how different the new Ma government in Taiwan would be from the DPP government it is replacing you should go read Michael Turton’s analysis of Ma’s inauguration speech. (Given in Chinese (I assume Mandarin) with an English translation displayed at the same time)

Ma spends a good deal of time taking digs at his predecessors and promising vague but wonderful things for the future, as is typical is speeches like this. He also refers to the people of Taiwan as part of the 中華民族, rather than 国民 or citizens. How to translate 中華民族? I suppose the most literal way would be “Chinese race” although “Chinese ethnicity” probably sounds better. Both in Taiwan (at least under the KMT) and on the Mainland governments would claim that this “Chinese race” includes ethnic minorities. And, as some of Michael’s commenters point out there are more explicitly Han chauvinist terms he could have used, like 漢族. Still, it is hard to disagree with Michael or with the KMT aboriginal legislator who walked out of of the speech that this term is a lot less welcoming to non-Chinese that the 国民 that the DPP preferred. I also found it sort of interesting that he explicitly outed himself as a mainlander. “Taiwan is not my birthplace, but it is where I was raised and the resting place of my family. I am forever grateful to society for accepting and nurturing this post-war immigrant.” 英九雖然不是在台灣出生,但台灣是我成長的故鄉,是我親人埋骨的所在。我尤其感念台灣社會對我這樣一個戰後新移民的包容之義、栽培之恩與擁抱之情 I thought this was sort of weird. Yes, he is a mainlander, but it seems odd to bring it up,1 unless he is trying to tie himself more firmly to China. If he pisses off the aborigines that might create trouble. If he goes so far as to piss off the non-mainlanders (whom I guess I would define as people who speak Tai-yu first) he could have real trouble.2

He clearly -is- trying to butter up ‘China’, although it is not clear how much this will involve throwing ‘Taiwan’ under the bus. Maybe a lot. “In resolving cross-strait issues, what matters is not sovereignty but core values and way of life” This is actually pretty scary, in that the Taiwan government seems to be at least downplaying and perhaps abandoning entirely the ROC’s claims to sovereignty, and looking to a common ‘Confucian’ culture. At least for Ma Taiwan seems much more part of Greater China than it was before.

  1. even though he does say he was an immigrant, thus sort of implying that Taiwan is not the same as China. Maybe this is an olive branch to the less China-y types out there 

  2. I studied in Taiwan ages ago when the old Taiwanese-Mainlander split was fading rapidly, and I find it hard to imagine he is trying to revive it 


  1. As mentioned in Wikipedia, Ma was actually born in Hong Kong (Kwong Wah Hospital in Kowloon). In Hong Kong, rumour has it that his name Ying 英 Jeou 九 attests to his place of birth: British Kowloon. (So you can say that he is a HongKonger (and eligible to run for the CE post in HK?)

    Ma said his name has nothing to do with his place of birth. But he joked about this in the recent election, saying although he was born in HK, he was made in Taiwan.

  2. Ma brings up the the point about him not being born here, but being raised here because everyone knows it and it is a big deal to some people (older generations of pan-greens still have grudges against the mainlanders… in fact I just ran into one today).

    I think although the mainlander/taiwanese is fading more and more, this is more of a generational thing. older people (on both sides) still carry grudges, from what I’ve observed.

  3. The most important points about “zhonghua minzu“ are (a) no matter whether it refers to Han or a vague “sinitic“ ethnicity, it is a term that definitely elevates ethnic or even racialist concepts of “nationhood“ over citizenship (kuomin) and is thus a huge step backward from even the Lee Teng-hui era back into the era when “nationality“ was legally defined in terms of being “Chinese“ (zhongguo ren) and not, as it is now, in terms of citizenship into the ROC by birth or naturalization regardless of ethnicity or race; (b) the statement that “the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to the Chinese nation (race, whatever)“ (which was deceptively translated into English as “sharing a common Chinese heritage“) is nothing more or less than a top-down imposition of the KMT`s own monist ideological definition of the Taiwan people as “Chinese“ without any appreciation for ideological or identity pluralism and is thus a transgression of the democratic and human rights of the Taiwan people and is naturally most felt by people who are (a) not ethnically Han and (b) do not see their national identity as “Chinese“ or determined by ethnicity but as a political definition as Taiwan (or even ROC – ROC equaling Taiwan) citizens. The blindness shown by Ma to the fact that Taiwan is no longer ideologically monist and that there are pluralistic ideologies and concepts of identity in Taiwan after 20 years of a democratization process is truly alarming.

  4. Alright, I don’t know how it’s seen on Taiwan, but I always took 中华民族 to mean the “peoples of China” in a clearly plural sense- all 56 officially recognised by the PRC ethnic groups plus all the others who insist they’re really their own ethnicity, or the ROC equivalent of that. Sure, I can see how it would irk those of the green persuasion, but still, I do have to wonder about your interpretation.

  5. I have to agree more with the “peoples of China” or “peoples with a Chinese heritage” translation for 中華民族. It may be as good a political obfuscation as there can be. Think of the alternatives. 中國人 may connote being of PRC citizenship, while 國民 may be read as too independent leaning. 中華民族 can possibly include the different ethnic groups on the Mainland and Taiwan, some sort of “Chinese nationality”, as well as even people who trace their ancestry to some part of “China”. In short, the very discussion over the term above suggests that 中華民族 is a term that sufficiently ambiguous to paper over a number of differences for now.

  6. I actually think the term 中華民族 is a pretty good political obfuscation, going along the interpretation of the previous post (“peoples of China” or even “peoples of Chinese heritage”). It appears to be able to include everything from a person from the PRC to the different ethnic groups that exist in some entity called “China” to migrant groups that trace their origins to some part of “China.” Broad enough to cover everything so as to really say nothing. Possible alternatives, such as 中國人 may connote Chinese (even PRC) citizenship too strongly, while just 國民 maybe read as too independence-leaning (or non-Chinese) as to be possibly provocative. The very discussion above suggests the ambiguity of the term.

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