Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Is Taiwan Chinese?

Michael has a great post that asks what it means to be Chinese?

Anyone who has been around Taiwan for any length of time knows that the claim that "Taiwan preserves Chinese culture better than the mainland" is an old KMT propaganda chestnut. Such claims of "preserved" cultures that view traditional culture as both identifiable and unchanging are romantic fantasies of the western colonial era, but more fundamentally, they beg the question of what is meant by "Chinese culture."

Looking at Taiwan, what does one see? Taiwan has a democratic government -- there is nothing else like it in Chinese history, and a growing awareness and appreciation for democracy -- also a rarity in Chinese history. The educational system and police structure are European filtered through Japanese colonialism and postwar authoritarianism. Japanese influence is enormous, from food and fashion to technology. The business culture is an ecletic blend of imported ideas like double entry bookkeeping and local ideas like guanxi networks. For breakfast I can get a "western" breakfast of a layer sandwich that is entirely a local cuisine, or I can eat a Chinese breakfast consisted of foods updated by modern technology and altered thereby, whose ancestral dishes stem from the continent next door. I drive on western-style roads, in western-style cars....well, I could go on forever. Just what's "Chinese" about Taiwan? (Purely as an aside -- why does technology always disappear when we talk about culture? None of the tech now used on Taiwan is of recent Chinese vintage. The major shaping influences are all western).

Well, on the other hand, just about everything, one could answer. The local languages are all Chinese languages, except for the aboriginal tongues. Cultural ideals about women, the family, child-raising, male and female relations, politics, sex, religion, power -- many deriving from "Chinese culture," (again, except for aborigines) but as for actual culture practices? Your mileage may vary. What people say about themselves, and how they actually behave, are very different things.

The only reason anyone even raises the "Is Taiwan Chinese" issue is because Taiwan's alleged "Chineseness" is a claim that is part of the package of assertions that Beijing makes about Taiwan to support its drive to annex the island. Definitions like "Is Taiwan Chinese?" are a matter of values, not facts, only worth arguing about over beer -- unless some predatory power decides to base a foreign policy on them. It's a shame that an academic who says he knows better has nevertheless chosen to use a highly debateable title that is so useful to Beijing.


Blogger John Hessey said...

Very informative post to read about the Taiwan and China. As you mention that the people of Taiwan adopt the Chinese culture more than the homeland. If we keep in mind the culture then no doubt Taiwan are Chinese and on the other hand, the boundary of Taiwan is not with China means that China and Taiwan are two different countries. Your post is very great for this regard. Beijing travel

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