Thu, Aug 05, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Look in the mirror to solve ethnic "conflicts"

By Kuo Li-hsin 郭力昕

Taiwan does not have the kind of unmanageable racial or religious conflicts that are a feature of flashpoints around the world. The great majority of people living here are Han Chinese, differentiated only by language and life experience. Sharing the island with them is an Aboriginal population that poses no threat to Han people in terms of number or economic strength. So all of the so-called ethnic conflicts and accusations of "Greater China consciousness," "Hoklo chauvinism" and other products of electioneering are merely forms of self-hypnosis to encourage a state of mutual enmity. Viewed from the outside, or even from any real understanding of China, these "conflicts" are simply absurd.

This is not to say that ethnic conflict does not exist. The harsh repression the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) employed against the people -- including Mainlanders who were "their own" people -- will not be easily forgotten. Besides, political parties, individual politicians and the media all benefit from controversy, which pours salt on old wounds rather than healing them.

But I believe there is a deeper cause that serves to consolidate ethnic divisions: feelings of superiority (and inferiority) and cultural discrimination (including self-denigration).

Generally speaking, many Mainlanders over a certain age -- many of whom live in Taipei -- feel superior to people from the center and the south of the country and look at the Mandarin spoken by them in the way that an old New Englander might regard the speech of anyone from west of the Appalachians. They feel they have seen the world; they are not "common."

In addition, under 50 years of KMT rule, a policy of ethnic discrimination was maintained, including within the household registration system, to ensure that preference for certain jobs was given to specific groups. Hoklo (commonly known as Taiwanese), Hakka and Aboriginal languages were also suppressed in schools and the media. Through language and "place of birth" data, systemic indoctrination internalized distinctions of superiority and inferiority, sophistication and vulgarity, thus creating a benchmark for discrimination.

Hoklo people are now making a great fuss over re-establishing their own identity and building up their confidence as a polity. After the long years of colonial repression that they endured, this is not difficult to understand. But having freed themselves from being the victims of discrimination, Hoklo are now proceeding to despise the Hakka and the Aborigines.

Through a twisted psychology, the victim is now turning oppressor, and Hoklo are proceeding to reject Mainlander culture wholesale for the sake of self-aggrandizement. But it goes further. All groups of Han people are joining together to despise the Aborigines and develop a system of discrimination against foreign laborers or anyone from a Third World country.

As for Aborigines, they have long been pawns in political battles between various Han groups. Some Aboriginal political leaders have become familiar with the logic of these conflicts such that now, faced with Han political pressure, they launch counter-offensives using the same weapons of empty ideology. In the government agencies dealing with Aboriginal affairs, infighting over resources and the use of discrimination is unrivaled.

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