When Chen Jin-yuan (陳晉源), chief of the Directorate General of Highways, told reporters last month that all new license plates for cars and motorcycles will no longer indicate the areas where the vehicles are registered, his words signaled a new era in Taiwan's evolving history.
For the first time, license plates around the country will no longer state -- above the assigned numerals and in Chinese characters -- that Taiwan is a province of China.
The new policy, which went into effect on New Year's Day, will apply to all new license plates issued in Taiwan, Chen said. He added that all old plates will eventually have to be replaced.
So goodbye "Taiwan Province" on the old license plates and welcome to reality. All new licenses will just display numerals, with cities such as Taipei, Kaohsiung and Taichung also no longer serving as "area" marks for vehicles registered there.
All across the country, the new license plates will usher in a new era of consciousness and symbolism, not so much for the city area marks, but for the "Taiwan Province" mark that always seemed so out of place in the new Taiwan of the 21st century.
News reports say that drivers long questioned the necessity of printing "Taiwan Province" above the numbers on the plates since the Taiwan Provincial Government was officially downsized, or frozen, in 1998.
Basically, the provincial government no longer exists, and the new license plates being issued this month will reflect that reality.
Changes in public consciousness and national feelings of patriotism and identity occur in small steps and this new license plate policy is one of them.
No longer will Taiwanese have to explain to their foreign friends why their cars or scooters bear license plates with a "Taiwan Province" mark on them, since everyone knows there is no Taiwan Province anymore, thanks to former president Lee Teng-hui's (李登輝) progressive initiative when he was in office.
Maybe you have not seen the new license plates yet. They have been printed and are being issued.
The streets of Taiwan will be the same, crowded and noisy and bustling with traffic, but they will have a new look and feel to them, as the remnants of an earlier chapter in this nation's history slowly fades away.
The new plates signal a new era in Taiwan's history and drivers nationwide -- even on Green Island, Kinmen and Matsu -- will have something new to be proud of.
All nations evolve and change in small, incremental steps, from the design of flags to the words of national anthems and license plate slogans.
This month, Taiwan takes a small -- but important -- step in the right direction.
Dan Bloom is a freelance writer based in Taiwan.
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