Sun, Mar 14, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan has a chance to reject forces that harm it

By James Gardner

On March 20, I stand in support of the native Taiwanese as they exercise their right to demand a free and peaceful Taiwan in the presidential election and concurrent national referendum. After 300 years of oppression, persecution and subjugation, they have earned the right to re-elect President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), a leader who truly listens to the will of his people, and to demand an end to the threat of violence from their Chinese neighbors.

I empathize with the deep desire of the Taiwanese people for self-determination, and sense the growing aversion they feel for the centuries of being treated as second-class citizens. This is because my wife is Taiwanese, my mother and father-in-law are old enough to remember the 1947 massacres and I feel my one-year-old son should grow up understanding the truth about his Taiwanese heritage.

In June 1995 I served as physician for the Stanford University Symphony Orchestra during its summer tour of China. Fondly recalling my interaction with the lovely people there, what stood out was the unease they felt in discussing political matters.

In January I visited Taiwan for the first time. The bustle of enterprise reminded me that the luxury of democracy is often only for those who can afford it. One could argue that the years of heavy-handed Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) rule and living under the constant threat of destruction by China have also contributed to their focus and determination to succeed.

All this may partially explain the observable personality difference across the Taiwan Strait. But it is also clear that the mentality and consciousness of the Taiwanese evolved through the blending of different racial, social and cultural elements over a period of 400 years. As an island people who ventured out to settle a wild country, Formosan life was very different than on the mainland. By necessity, they were more frugal, alert and industrious than the Chinese.

My trip brought the realization that many of the positive attributes I thought were unique to my wife are actually common to the Taiwanese people: the "can-do," "we'll find a way," "no problem" affirmative mindset; the easy laughter at themselves; the humility to do the small things with a sense of dedication and purpose; the common sense when it comes to practical and business matters; the strong belief in fairness and honesty; the enthusiasm for technology; the belief in peaceful resolution of disagreements through private and direct negotiation; the sense of interconnectedness with the world; and the straightforward openness in expressing their views and feelings, which is so refreshing to find in Asia.

This is a description of the modern Taiwanese personality, but it is also the native spirit well documented by foreigners who knew Formosa before it was turned over to Chiang in 1945.

In the last few months the Taiwanese have come together and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have worked together for 60 years in a systematic attempt to destroy this Taiwanese consciousness and convince the Taiwanese natives that they belong to China.

But on March 20, the Taiwanese will have an opportunity to forever reject the forces that have so long denied their right to a peaceful existence.

By the democratic process, the Taiwanese majority hopes to convey to the world their solidarity on the issue of national sovereignty. Re-electing Chen and supporting the referendum will send the strongest possible message to China and the world community.

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