Every morning as I make breakfast, I listen to my Mandarin lesson. This morning, the sentence I learned was, "Taiwan is about the same size as Holland."
It struck me that there wasn't just a Chinese lesson in this for me. Here was also a Chinese lesson for China. Not just in size is Taiwan comparable to the Netherlands.
The people, culture and language of Taiwan are Chinese. Those of the Netherlands are Germanic.
Somehow, however, the Netherlands didn't get absorbed into greater Germany, as did so many comparable areas with their distinctive local cultures and ways of speaking. It got to pursue a different course of development and came to play a unique and important role in history. Europe would be poorer without the little Netherlands, and so would the world.
Asia, and the world, would similarly be poorer without little Taiwan.
In ways that were unique and different from any other country, Taiwan -- its business community that is -- was able to make the early move into China and set in motion developments that later made China into a great economic power.
Nowadays, the economy of big China eclipses that of little Taiwan, but Taiwan's usefulness to its big neighbor is far from ended. Taiwan will again play a unique role in what promises to be China's next big crisis and perhaps most difficult transition.
Should it come as any surprise that freedom can sometimes happen in a small place easier than in a large one? When the US became free it was little and England was big. However, now that the US has become a big superpower, it is losing what was always most special about it. Being big isn't as important as being free. Hence the importance of the small.
The Hindu elephant god Ganesha represents, among other things, what is big and powerful. However, a little mouse can always be seen at Ganesha's feet.
Thus, it can be seen that the Hindu religion recognizes that the power of the big is connected with the power of the small.
Taiwan is the little mouse at China's feet. The reason Taiwan is so important to China is because it is small, independent and free.
In the history of Europe and the world, small independent states have often played a role out of proportion to their size. Why is it proving so hard for Beijing to grasp that Taiwan's value to China is in its independence from China and that it serves China better if it remains the way it is?
The answer is simple. Just as a small bird will grab whatever is at hand to weave its nest, even bits of trash, so China, in its frantic scramble to reinvent its identity, has snatched up an inappropriate aspect of its past and woven it into the nation's new self-concept.
The notion of a so-called "one China" that Beijing has wielded to bully Taiwan has to finally be seen for what it is -- a euphemism for the brutal central dictatorship that for too long now has crippled so many prosperous and promising regions of China and forced them into a misguided cultural and economic stagnation.
The "one China" notion needs to be uprooted and discarded before it does more damage than it already has.
Taiwan's politicians admittedly often don't act like a bunch of circus clowns. And that's all they would be -- were they not inventing from within Chinese culture a form of democracy that is as uniquely Chinese as the economic miracle their fathers invented before them, and then passed on to China.
Small Taiwan hasn't stopped cooking. It's just got something else on the stove right now. It's more useful to big China and the world than ever. It would be a tragedy if China grew too big and too full of its new wealth and power to grasp this.
As the example of the US illustrates today, big, arrogant and proud countries can be the slowest to learn -- which is all the more reason why the small, independent and free ones are so useful to have around.
William Stimson is a writer based in Taiwan.
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