Tue, May 10, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Don't throw our progress away

By Ku Er-teh 顧爾德

I know of a certain social science professor who admitted to having serious reservations about any rush to unification. This professor is Taiwanese, but has lectured in China on many occasions, and has many students on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. He bears no bias or animosity to the people of China. The reason for his sense of disquiet is a concern that the society, culture and assets that the Taiwanese have put so much work into building over the last half a century or so will be jeopardized.

He also worries that the next generation who will be caught up in the changes that occur will be sacrificed wholesale. These fears are in no way based on a sense of superiority to China, nor on the possibility that the contributions he has made to this society, or his years of hard work will be negated by a change in the system of government. He is anxious only for the next generation.

One of the most symbolic actions performed by people like Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and Vice Chairman Chiang Pin-kun (江丙坤) on their visits to China was their going to Sun Yat-sen's (孫中山) tomb in Nanjing to pay their respects. This served to demonstrate the close historical ties between the KMT and the land of China.

Meanwhile, those individuals who object to unification and advocate independence have been trying to find evidence to show Taiwan has never belonged to China, that Taiwan has been moving consistently toward independence and autonomy for the past four centuries and that there has been an unbroken thread of Taiwanese nationalism.

It's difficult to make the case that Taiwan has had a single, continuous history over the last 400 years: its experience has rather been a collection of fragmented histories. The immigrants who came from China to cultivate the land centuries back went through periods of conflict, exchange and integration with the indigenous inhabitants.

In fact, enough years have gone past for Taiwan to have become a nation state, but its proximity to China and the fact that it is surrounded by the sea has meant successive intervention and governance by foreign powers.

With the introduction of each new power, the social and cultural systems were affected, and the new government destroyed the social order of the time. The new social elite and benefactors replaced the old, and the new culture obliterated the old.

One example would be the Lin family of Wufeng who went from having little to being among the biggest landowners in Taiwan due to their loyalty to the Qing court in helping it deal with uprisings in Taiwan. Or there's the case of the Tsai Yuan-shun business in Chingshui near Taichung port, which did very well for itself through trade with China. When the Japanese took control, the culture of the East Pacific came to replace that of China, and they prevented Taiwan from transforming its agriculture-based economy into an industrial-based one. Now cross-strait trade has replaced the old "Go South policy." . In fact, this was one of the factors behind people such as Lin Hsien-tang's (林獻堂) and Tsai Hui-ru's (蔡惠如) opposition to Japan.

Following the war, people such as Lien Chan's father, Lien Chen-tung (連震東) would have replaced the Japanese elite even without the 228 Incident. Enterprises that moved over from China kept down local businesses, and once again the culture of the Central Plains was king. Time after time the current regime was changed for another, and it was not only the powerful elite that felt the effects of all this: society, culture, the economic system were all disassembled only to be put back together again, leaving the entire generation with a feeling of despair and aimless drifting.

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