Mon, Feb 21, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Time to put Taiwan's history first

Taipei's Huashan Culture and Art Center on Saturday hosted an event in honor of Black History Month, which was certainly an eyeopener to those who only know about this activity from reading the Boondocks comic strip. One Web site which narrates the history of Black History Month points out that when the event was first created in the 1920s as Negro History Week, black history as such was barely recognized as a subject of study. There is no doubt that the lack of interest in the academic community at that time in black history in the US -- the history of a large community that had been present since colonial times -- was simply a result of exclusionary attitudes towards black people. Since they were seen as inferior and their society marginal, what history of significance, scholars asked, could they possibly have?

Such attitudes are long dismissed from campuses in the US today, and the struggle to raise the consciousness of black communities and, once raised, to step forth and demand civil rights scandalously denied in a modern democracy, is a historical story of not just American but international significance, being hugely influential in the wholesale reevaluation of attitudes towards minorities that has been a feature of late 20th century Western societies. Just as Gandhi's picking up a handful of salt was the iconic image of the struggle against Western colonialism, Rosa Parks' refusal to leave her bus seat has a direct link to the fights within those Western countries against bigotries of all kinds. Just to remember how bad it was, and how recently, it is worth pointing out that as late as the 1970s no aspiring Britisher working for one of the banks or the big hongs could marry a Chinese wife without it destroying his career.

But that people celebrate Black History Month in Taiwan brigs us to an interesting question: When is anyone going to celebrate Taiwanese History Month? Of course some might say that since Taiwanese represent the majority culture, the idea of a special month of celebration is absurd. Historical events are celebrated all the time whenever an important anniversary arises.

If only that were so. Most of Taiwan's traditional historical commemorations involve things that happened in a foreign country (Double Ten National Day, Constitution Day), to people who had nothing to do with Taiwan (Sun Yat-sen (孫中山) ) or whose influence was entirely malign (Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石)) or events which never really happened (Retrocession Day). The only authentically Taiwanese commemoration is 228 Peace Memorial Day, and that is marred by its message where hoping for peace overrules considerations of justice.

The Californian academic Sande Cohen has called Taiwan an "ahistorical society" and so it is. For example, December saw the 90th anniversary of the foundation of, and events surrounding, the Assimilation Society (同化會). This movement, led by Lin Hsien-tang (林獻堂), was the first major political movement in Taiwan. It was formed to try to redress the second-class citizenship of the Taiwanese under colonial Japanese rule by demanding the equality under the Meiji constitution that Taiwanese, as Japanese nationals, were constitutionally entitled too. The movement's leaders were castigated by other Taiwanese for using the idea of assimilation, but as they candidly explained, it was the only platform that could get support in Japan. The story of the movement is replete with so many of what seem like traditional motifs of Taiwanese nationalism: Confused demands, insecure identities, internal dissent over a "soft" approach, an external power it is impossible to fight.

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