Fri, Sep 16, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan, China share little culture

By Chen Ching-chih 陳清池

Early last month, a legislator asked a group of Taiwanese-American professors how best to address a question posed by some US Congressional aides: Why won't the Taiwanese, who have a shared culture and ethnic origin with the Chinese, simply accept Beijing's claim that Taiwan is part of China?

It is most unfortunate that even Congressional aides have been misinformed and, worse yet, manipulated by China's propaganda machine. Before addressing the question, it is essential that we understand how the argument of "shared culture and shared ethnic origin" has been exploited for political purposes and that we explain that the Chinese and the Taiwanese really share few cultural and ethnic origins.

First of all, not all people who have a shared culture and shared ethnic origin must belong to one nation-state. For example, the British and their descendants over the centuries have founded several colonies that subsequently became independent countries, including the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Likewise, the German-speaking people have established two German-speaking nation-states: Germany and Austria. Arabs most certainly have more than a dozen Arab-speaking countries.

Second, using the pretext of "tung-wen tung-chung," or "same script, same race," the Chinese have repeatedly demanded that the Taiwanese accept China's annexation of Taiwan. Of course, the use of the idea "same script, same race" or any of its equivalents is neither unique nor unusual in modern world history.

In 1910, employing the "same script, same race" argument, Imperial Japan manipulated Korea into accepting the Annexation Treaty and subsequently made it a Japanese colony. Using more or less similar arguments, such as the idea of "Asia for Asians," Japan in 1940 set up its "Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere" to create a bloc of Asian nations, including occupied China, Manchuria and the Russian Maritime Province, under the leadership of Japan to supposedly free Asia from Western colonial rule, as well as to expand Japanese power. Japan was not alone in exploiting the pretext of shared culture and ethnic origin.

Nazi Germany employed the same excuse to forcibly annex Austria in 1938. Fortunately, in all such cases annexation or occupation did not last. In 1945, having defeated Germany and Japan, the Allied forces liberated Korea, China, Austria and others.

Now, let's examine the Chinese use of the term and concept "same script, same race." The Chinese have been indoctrinated to believe in the origin of a single Han Chinese race in the area of the Yellow River. They will thus say that all Han Chinese have descended from the Yellow Emperor of the ancient times. In addition, they also believe that the Han Chinese culture was so splendid that non-Chinese came to China to learn and even stay to be assimilated and absorbed into the Han Chinese Empire.

In The New Chinese Empire published in 2003, Ross Terrill refers to this phenomenon as imperial China's "one China myth." The effect of the Chinese efforts to sustain the myth is such that, "The idea and ideal of one China are deeply embedded in the Chinese mind," as Singapore's Foreign Minister George Yeo said.

In reality, archeological findings and population geneticists' studies have established that the Han Chinese race is a diverse collection of peoples with a variety of origins, traditions and spoken languages. Today, within the Han Chinese population there are at least eight distinct languages spoken. It is evident that it is the Chinese political and cultural tradition, and practice, to compel all peoples within the empire to accept the Han Chinese identity.

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