Perhaps no ethnic group in China's history has wandered more or has more frequently experienced second-class citizenship than the Hakka people. Displaced by wars and rejection, they have migrated from place to place so often that they are sometimes called the "Jews of the East." The name "Hakka" in Mandarin means "guest" -- unfortunately, more often than not the connotation suggests "unwelcome guest." This history of marginalization along with the recent formation of the Taiwan Society Hakka makes these people the most appropriate candidates to lead the way in achieving a unified Taiwanese identity.
Recovering the solidarity of national identity it once had is what Taiwan needs now more than ever. This common identity first showed itself back in the days of the Taiwan Republic of 1895 when the people defended their homes against the Japanese long after the loyal Qing bureaucrats fled back to the comfort of China. This identity was greatly damaged when Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) retreated to Taiwan with his privileged one-party state. But now that democracy is firmly established, a common Taiwanese identity must also be achieved.
Taiwan Society Hakka suggests this goal by stating that Taiwan is the only place that they can call home. Here in Taiwan, they are masters -- not "guests" -- not because they are in sole possession of the land, but because they, like everyone else, participate in Taiwan's democracy. Support for democracy becomes the true litmus test of being Taiwanese.
This may come as a revelation to some, but the "it-was-the fake-assassination-that-cost-us the election" mentality has long been overplayed by the pan-blue media. Even the foreign media still jumps on this bandwagon. And all still accuse President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and the pan-green alliance of playing the ethnic card to avoid facing what is really going on at the democratic grassroots level in Taiwan.
This does not mean that prejudice does not exist in Taiwan; it has been here for a long time on both sides of the political aisle (pan-blue and pan-green), but there is more going on at a much deeper level. Like the cry-wolf independence hullabaloo that has continually been dragged out for the past seven years, the ethnic blame card is also used as a dodge and excuse.
Why question this excuse? The pan-blue media polls that predicted the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) would win the Kaohsiung mayorship by 20 percent alone should have confirmed the continued suspicions of mistrust. Just think back, in 2004, the trusted Pan-blue polls said that they would win the presidential election by 3 percent to 5 percent. They are still crying over that. Over the years their polls have gotten much worse at reading the public mind, not better. Yet they claim that the polls justify their right to rule.
Democracy is the real issue to be faced in Taiwan. It is by democracy that one shows loyalty to Taiwan -- not by ethnicity. Deep down, the people are beginning to understand this and vote accordingly.
The people are also beginning to recognize that this loyalty to democracy is something the hard-core pan-blue have never shown. Democracy is their unutterable word.
There are minor quislings and then there are major ones. Minor quislings are people like Wang You-theng (王又曾), the fugitive chairman of Rebar Asia Pacific Group. He made off with billions of dollars from the country and harmed it to provide for his own comfort and gain. The country though damaged remains intact. A major quisling however is one who sells out the country so that he can rule. Such a person will never stand by democracy.
The word "quisling" -- derived from the name of a famous Nazi collaborator -- is of course used beyond its origin in Norway. But perhaps Taiwan could use its own regional metaphor instead of "quisling" -- the word "pu-yi." Pu Yi (
Unfortunately for Taiwan, there appear to be some "pu-yis" in the hard core pan-blue camp. They would rather be puppets with privilege under the People's Republic of China than commit to defending Taiwan's democracy.
Consider the identity the KMT tried to sell Taiwan. Their identity was only to be found in being subservient to their one-party state. They stood for a mythical "One China" with the KMT, of course, at the helm. If ethnic minorities were to participate, they would have to fit in with this scheme. Taiwan's democracy changed this, so now -- like Pu Yi in search of a kingdom -- some of their leaders have traipsed across the Taiwan Strait.
Even now, many in the pan-blue camp avoid making statements that indicate a complete commitment to democracy.
If you want to see Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) do his famous shuffle, ask him specifically if Taiwan's democracy is non-negotiable in his proposed dealings with the PRC. He will dance; he will utter platitudes; he will sit on both sides of the fence, he will do all he can to avoid being pinned down, but he will not commit.
Why? It is the control freaks on the other side of the Taiwan Strait who don't want this commitment. They fear democracy and -- like the early KMT one-party state in Taiwan -- they will only insist that all must answer to their call.
Amazingly as Taiwan's democracy progresses, the political contrast between Taiwan and the PRC becomes more and more evident even in simple things. The Falun Gong has never been an issue in democratic Taiwan or a threat to Taiwanese identity. Likewise, the Taiwan government has never had to insist on the control of people's spiritual thought or to demand the right to appoint religious leaders whether they be Roman Catholic bishops or Buddhist high lamas.
Then of course there is Hong Kong. It has been ten years since the Hong Kong people were told that they could govern themselves. Yet the Hong Kong legislature is loaded with Pu Yi puppets.
This is what the Taiwan Society Hakka highlights and why it is important. Its purpose is to defend Taiwan's national sovereignty, consolidate democracy and the rule of law and enhance harmony among ethnic groups.
The Hakka have a long history of settlement in Taiwan. They know that they have found a home here and that there is no return for them. They also know that their identity can only be kept in the political equality of a democracy. Otherwise, they will always be second class citizens.
Whether the Taiwan Society Hakka will be up to this challenge, whether it will be able to sustain itself and rally Taiwan to establish a Taiwanese identity remains to be seen. What the Taiwan Society Hakka has done however is to put the true issue out in the open.
Jerome Keating is a Taiwan-based writer.
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