This week has seen a flurry of debate and controversy over the nation's history and its symbols. Much of this debate is simply obfuscatory. Of course the Cairo Declaration does not formally give the Republic of China (ROC) sovereignty over Taiwan. Only an international treaty can do that and no treaty since 1951 has -- which is the real reason why the status of Taiwan, as far as the US is concerned, (US Secretary of State Colin Powell take note) -- is "still to be determined."
On the other hand, of course the Allies meant to return Taiwan to China. They said so in Cairo and in Potsdam. And the Japanese agreed that this should be so. Only it was never formalized.
The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government in 1945 was therefore not the legitimate sovereign government of Taiwan, it was the legitimate occupying power until sovereignty could be determined. The illegality of the KMT government was not in its occupation of Taiwan but in its assumption that it was sovereign and in its execrable behavior when it arrived. The current controversy is intimately bound up with the kind of society that was established by this government, especially after its transfer to Taiwan in 1949.
What was established was a settler colonialism in which the incoming Mainlanders were the privileged colonial overlords and the Hoklo, Hakka and Aborigines routinely discriminated against. For non-Taiwanese to put this in perspective, think of Taiwan as Ireland, and the Mainlanders as the Protestant ascendency. For the argument over Sun Yat-sen (孫中山) this week you can substitute the argument over the "correct" name of the city of Derry.
The colonial ascendency imposed its symbols, its history, even its language upon the people it colonized and this is the heritage that some among the pan-greens now seek to dismantle. Sun, for instance is no more than the father of Taiwan than Oliver Cromwell was of Ireland. He is a totemic figure of the colonial power. The 1911 revolution has as much relevance to Taiwan as does prime minister Winston Churchill's wartime leadership of Britain to the happy denizens of today's Dublin.
So let us put the recent debates into perspective. In the 1990s Taiwan effectively decolonized. Former president Lee Teng-hui's (李登輝) extraordinarily crafty tactics resulted in Taiwan becoming a democracy under majority rule -- although majoritarianism has yet to sufficiently penetrate a number of key areas in society, including the media, the civil service and the education system.
While Lee was in power he was able, through his power in the KMT -- and his ability to co-opt the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and social groups when the KMT was recalcitrant -- to make this a rather quiet revolution. But since the advent of the DPP government in 2000, the old Mainlander ascendency, along with the considerable number of Taiwanese clients they recruited over the years, has panicked. Some intellectuals have thrown in their lot with the Taiwanese, who up to now have been remarkably inclusive for formerly oppressed peoples. But many Mainlanders simply do not want to accept their diminished status. They do not want to compete on an even playing field with the native Taiwanese.
Their leaders, People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) and the Taiwanese collaborationist KMT Chairman Lien Chan (連戰), even flirted, back in March, with overthrowing democracy through a military coup or inviting a Chinese invasion, in order to retain their privileged position; that is, in order to keep Taiwan a colonial society.