Fri, Aug 18, 2000 - Page 12 News List

The complexity of the Taiwanese

By Takefumi Hayada

The mentality of the people of Taiwan is quite complex, as the population is divided by generations, social groups and educational backgrounds.

The complexity is best represented in the huge gap between "benshengren" (本省人) -- the people who came to Taiwan before World War II and their offspring -- and "waishengren" (外省人) -- those who came from China with the KMT after the war and their offspring.

Living in Taiwan, I come across this complexity everyday. But recently I discovered that there is a big gap among the Japanese in terms of their understanding of Taiwan. The issue emerged from a column of mine where I made reference to the view that Chen Shui-bien (陳水扁) could be the ROC's last president.

According to the person who made this claim, Taiwan and China will be united due to the pattern of Chinese history and a saying from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms -- "those who are separated for a long time will always be united and those who are united for a long time will always be separated."

What surprised me was that it was not a "waishengren" who had such a deep consciousness of Chinese history, but a "bensheng-ren." Benshengrens, who experienced Japanese colonial rule, usually have strong feelings of resentment against China and are less likely to believe in unification. The person who came up with the idea, however, is a history specialist who believes that history repeats itself. He said that many people, including himself, hope Taiwan stays as it is. Nevertheless, he says the future of Taiwan is gloomy when viewed from the perspective of Chinese history.

A short-term dynasty has always been followed by a long-lived one. Take the case of the short-lived Sui, which was succeeded by the long-reigning Tang Dynasty. Long-term reigns normally last for about 200 years. Therefore, a short term governance of the ROC will be followed by one by the PRC, which will last for more than 200 years.

In its history, Taiwan has experienced a variety of rulers, from Dutch colonization, a refugee government of Cheng Cheng-kung (鄭成功) , governance by the Ching dynasty, Japanese colonization and the refugee ROC government. Following this pattern, the next in line would be rule by the PRC regime. The historian said Taiwan will not be an exception to China's historical pattern.

I expected to receive a lot of criticism for my column, since this idea runs counter to that of the pro-independence group in Taiwan, who became even more influential after the birth of Chen's government. Contrary to my expectations, however, the criticism came from the Japanese. One Japanese resident of Taiwan said "history will not repeat itself" and "the idea of Chen being the last president is impossible." A lively debate ensued.

I found other Japanese who showed interest in the topic and realized as a result of all of this feedback, that Taiwan's future is of substantial concern among the Japanese who are connected to Taiwan in one way or another.

Many Japanese people residing in Taiwan, including myself, receive a lot of help from benshengren , who are fluent in Japanese. We often hear them complain about waishengren and China, while they appear to cherish Japan.

It was inevitable that the Japanese would become sympathetic to the benshengren and unsympathetic to China and the waishengren. We consequently came to a short-sighted conclusion that KMT rule after the war was terrible and Japanese colonization of Taiwan was good.

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