Tue, Jun 19, 2007 - Page 8 News List

The myth of the big happy family

By J. Michael Cole 寇謐將

Interestingly, only Taiwanese entrepreneurs are subject to this treatment by local officials -- so much so, in fact, that our source, who happens to be half-Japanese, has now adopted the strategy of identifying himself as Japanese and speaking Japanese whenever he is in public. This ploy has borne fruit and all his problems with the authorities have disappeared. It is therefore better for this businessman -- and likely many others like him -- to be perceived as someone to be feared, or loathed, given the painful history of Sino-Japanese relations, than to be himself and celebrate his identity as a Taiwanese.

China says it welcomes Taiwanese business and in fact gains from the heavy investments Taiwanese companies have made there. Unfortunately, it also expresses its appreciation by sucking more money out of Taiwanese.

This man's brush with discrimination is reminiscent of that experienced by Hu Taiming, the protagonist in Wu Zhuoliu's novel Orphan of Asia (or Ko Ta-mei, its original title in Japanese) which has often been described as one of the defining works of Taiwanese identity.

From his studies in Japan to his hopes of building a successful life in China, Taiming runs into problems for refusing to mask his identity as a Taiwanese. He is ostracized, discriminated against, spied on and expelled. Set in the period prior to and during World War II, Wu's novel finds its echo today in the treatment reserved for Taiwanese businesspeople operating in China.

More than this, however, it demonstrates that irrespective of the direction the Taiwan Strait conflict goes, Taiwanese will continue to be discriminated against for being who they are. As such, whether the Democratic Progressive Party remains in power or is succeeded by the KMT, this dynamic is unlikely to change.

In light of the above, it would appear that Taiwanese who have pinned their hopes of a brighter future on further business engagement with China are investing in an illusion. For despite Beijing's oft-used reference to Taiwanese as their "cousins," the latter will never be fully accepted as members of the so-called family, no matter how much business they do together.

Taiwanese are who they are, a product of their history and geography. No one has a right to treat them in such a way as to make them feel they need to conceal their identity to be accepted, or to do business.

It is with head held high and in full cognizance of the cold realities lived by the above source and countless others that Taiwanese should venture into the world and make a place for themselves. Never as impersonators or in mockery of their true selves.

J. Michael Cole is a writer based in Taipei.

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