Taiwan, China share little culture
By Chen Ching-chih 陳清池
Friday, Sep 16, 2005,Page 8
Early last month, a legislator asked a group of Taiwanese-American professors how best to address a question posed by some US Congressional aides: Why won't the Taiwanese, who have a shared culture and ethnic origin with the Chinese, simply accept Beijing's claim that Taiwan is part of China?
It is most unfortunate that even Congressional aides have been misinformed and, worse yet, manipulated by China's propaganda machine. Before addressing the question, it is essential that we understand how the argument of "shared culture and shared ethnic origin" has been exploited for political purposes and that we explain that the Chinese and the Taiwanese really share few cultural and ethnic origins.
First of all, not all people who have a shared culture and shared ethnic origin must belong to one nation-state. For example, the British and their descendants over the centuries have founded several colonies that subsequently became independent countries, including the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Likewise, the German-speaking people have established two German-speaking nation-states: Germany and Austria. Arabs most certainly have more than a dozen Arab-speaking countries.
Second, using the pretext of "tung-wen tung-chung," or "same script, same race," the Chinese have repeatedly demanded that the Taiwanese accept China's annexation of Taiwan. Of course, the use of the idea "same script, same race" or any of its equivalents is neither unique nor unusual in modern world history.
In 1910, employing the "same script, same race" argument, Imperial Japan manipulated Korea into accepting the Annexation Treaty and subsequently made it a Japanese colony. Using more or less similar arguments, such as the idea of "Asia for Asians," Japan in 1940 set up its "Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere" to create a bloc of Asian nations, including occupied China, Manchuria and the Russian Maritime Province, under the leadership of Japan to supposedly free Asia from Western colonial rule, as well as to expand Japanese power. Japan was not alone in exploiting the pretext of shared culture and ethnic origin.
Nazi Germany employed the same excuse to forcibly annex Austria in 1938. Fortunately, in all such cases annexation or occupation did not last. In 1945, having defeated Germany and Japan, the Allied forces liberated Korea, China, Austria and others.
Now, let's examine the Chinese use of the term and concept "same script, same race." The Chinese have been indoctrinated to believe in the origin of a single Han Chinese race in the area of the Yellow River. They will thus say that all Han Chinese have descended from the Yellow Emperor of the ancient times. In addition, they also believe that the Han Chinese culture was so splendid that non-Chinese came to China to learn and even stay to be assimilated and absorbed into the Han Chinese Empire.
In The New Chinese Empire published in 2003, Ross Terrill refers to this phenomenon as imperial China's "one China myth." The effect of the Chinese efforts to sustain the myth is such that, "The idea and ideal of one China are deeply embedded in the Chinese mind," as Singapore's Foreign Minister George Yeo said.
In reality, archeological findings and population geneticists' studies have established that the Han Chinese race is a diverse collection of peoples with a variety of origins, traditions and spoken languages. Today, within the Han Chinese population there are at least eight distinct languages spoken. It is evident that it is the Chinese political and cultural tradition, and practice, to compel all peoples within the empire to accept the Han Chinese identity.
Next, let's focus on the case of Taiwan. Until the early 17th century, Taiwan was home to the indigenous people of Austronesian descent. It was only when the Dutch set foot on the island and claimed southwest Taiwan as their colony in 1624 that the Dutch authorities began to recruit immigrants from southeastern China to settle and farm in Taiwan.
After the Manchu Qing Dynasty annexed Taiwan in 1683, the Manchu court forbade immigration. Immigrants from the other side of the Taiwan Strait however continued to arrive illegally on the island. Once the initial Manchu prohibition was lifted in the mid-18th century, even more immigrants landed on the island.
In any case, most of the immigrants in Taiwan during the first century of Manchu rule were bachelors, and consequently there was a very high number of unions between male immigrants and Taiwan's indigenous women.
In addition, population geneticists, such as Marie Lin of Taiwan's Mackay Hospital, have confirmed through genetic studies that the immigrants from Qing Empire's southeast coast were close kin of the Vietnamese. The descendants of the intermarriage between the immigrants and the indigenous people are genetically rather different from the Han Chinese, particularly those of North China who are in turn mostly descendants of unions between Han Chinese and non-Han herders and nomads.
After having lost the Chinese Civil War in 1949, the Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石)-led government found itself in exile in Taiwan. The Nationalist Chinese have since claimed that 98 percent of the inhabitants of Taiwan are of Chinese descent while the Aborigines constitute only the remaining 2 percent.
It is evident that such an extremist view of the ethnic composition is clearly a remnant of the Chinese imperial mode of viewing ethnic minorities as having been assimilated or absorbed by the Han Chinese as soon as they had adopted Han names. China's claim of shared ethnic origin between the Taiwanese and the Chinese is consequently weak at best.
As for shared culture, due to its separate historical development from China, particularly after Taiwan was ceded to Imperial Japan as a result of the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki, Taiwanese culture is essentially a mixture of Japanese, Western (particularly American), Aboriginal and Chinese cultures.
In the post-World War II era, Taiwan has been on a course of development, socio-political as well as economic, that is totally different from that taken by China under the rule of Mao Zedong (毛澤東). Economic differences might have lessened after China started on the course of economic reform in 1979. However, socio-political development on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait continues to differ greatly. The difference is particularly striking in the area of political culture. In addition to adapting a Leninist party, the Chinese have strengthened the authoritarian characteristics of the imperial past.
Taiwan, on the other hand, supports and practices a liberal democracy, as a result of lessons learned from the West, particularly the US. Today, rule of law (ie, freedom and justice) prevails in Taiwan while in China it is still essentially rule by men (ie, tyranny). Suffice to say there is little shared culture, except in terms of the Chinese written script, between Taiwan and China.
In addition to utilizing modern technology and methods such as wire-tapping and policing the Internet, Beijing has repeatedly looked back to China's imperial past to falsely legitimize the Chinese Communist Party's continued appropriation of power. There is clearly little shared culture or shared ethnic origins between the forward-looking Taiwanese and the Chinese, who prefer to remain true to their perceived past.
Judging from the fact that the overwhelming majority of the people of Taiwan have rejected Beijing's "one China" principle and its equivalents, such as "one country, two systems," we can be sure that the Taiwanese are determined to be free and determined to maintain Taiwan's status as a sovereign and independent nation.
In short, the answer to the question raised at the top of this essay is: There is no reason for the freedom-loving Taiwanese to agree to China's design to annex Taiwan.
Chen Ching-chih is a researcher with the Los Angeles-based Institute for Taiwanese Studies.