Tue, Oct 17, 2006 - Page 8 News List

For the sake of identity -Taiwanese and Chinese

By Donald Shengduen Shih

Democratic Progressive Party Chairman Yu Shyi-kun recently coined the term Chinese Taiwanese, to describe himself and others in Taiwan. In addition, Insight City Guide: Taipei, a tour book published by a German company in May, but partially sponsored by the Taipei City Government, claimed that the term "Taiwanese" made some Mainlanders feel uncomfortable.

These incidents stirred up a lot of opposition. It is clear that identity is important to people in Taiwan in terms of both political gains and self worth. Samuel Huntington of Harvard University summarized in his 2004 book Who Are We? that there are six primary sources of identity: one, Ascriptive, Cultural, Territorial, Political, Economic and Social.

Moreover, in 2004 Melissa Brown of Stanford University described in her book Is Taiwan Chinese? The impact of Culture, Power, and Migration on Changing Identities that several assumptions and concepts about Han () ethnic and Chinese national identity that have been instituted in China and in Taiwan (at least between 1947-1987) need to be carefully examined:

One, Han ethnic identity is linked to Chinese national identity.

Two, Chinese national identity is linked to Han culture.

Three, Chinese national identity has a clear border, and a person or a group is located on one side or the other. This border separates Chinese from non-Chinese, Han from non-Han. All of these assumptions and concepts, some derived from Confucian "culturalist" principles, have serious problems in "stamping" others' identity. However, based on her excellent field work in Taiwan and in China, Brown theorized and successfully demonstrated that the following points were true:

One, identity is based on social experience, not cultural ideas or ancestry. Two, cultural meanings and social power constitute two distinct -- though interacting -- systems that affect human behavior and societies differently. Three, demographic forces such as migration affect human behavior and society in other ways.

I am an active board member in the St. Louis chapters of both the Taiwanese Association of America and the North America Taiwanese Engineers' Association. In these organizations, we call ourselves Taiwanese and Taiwanese Americans.

However, because of this, the organizations and its members were often labeled by Chinese Americans as "Taiwan Independence groups" and "exclusive."

They sometimes prescribe a remedy that asks us to be "inclusive." This kind of characterization is not only overly simplistic, but also mean-spirited. The root cause I think for this mischaracterization is their premeditated bias and agenda.

The term "Chinese" in English means "Zhongguo ren (中國人)", "Hua ren (華人)" or "Han ren (漢人)." Both "Hua ren" and "Han ren" are ascriptive and to me both are feudal.

However, the meaning of "Zhongguo ren (中國人)" has taken the de facto definition, especially in English. It is basically an individual right to decide his or her own identity: Taiwanese, American, Chinese, or otherwise.

But, on the other hand, I often wonder what the problems are for those who were born in Taiwan, grew up in Taiwan and were educated in Taiwan that make them so fearful or uncomfortable to be identified as Taiwanese or Taiwanese Americans?

Instead, they are most comfortable calling themselves and others "Zhongguo ren" -- people of China, a country that is authoritarian, barbaric and most of all, extremely hostile to Taiwan.

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