Thu, Jun 12, 2008 - Page 8 News List

Understanding the word ‘Chinese’

By Lee Hsiao-Feng 李筱峰

Genetic research by Marie Lin (林媽利), director of the Transfusion Medicine Laboratory at Mackay Memorial Hospital in Taiwan, has documented the differences between the Han Chinese of north and south China. In addition to the Han Chinese, Beijing recognizes more than 50 minority ethnicities within China’s borders.

Is it logical for the many peoples of China to be grouped into one term — the “Chinese”?

This fabricated term was designed to uphold a hegemony. In China, anyone who mentions the words “autonomy” or “independence” or questions the logic of the word “Chinese” as applied to, say, Tibetans, is labeled a splittist. The peoples of East Turkestan, which is called Xinjiang by the Chinese government, are largely Turkic. They have a distinct ancestry, language, writing system, religion and culture. Yet they are trapped by the meaningless phrase “Chinese.” Anyone who supports the distinct identities of Xinjiang or Tibet and who believes they deserve independence is considered a traitor in China.

About 80 percent of the people in Taiwan have a mixed ancestry. They are the descendents of people from Fujian or Guangdong in China and the Austronesian Aborigines of Taiwan. What does the term “Chinese” mean to the Taiwanese?

Taiwan is luckier than Tibet and Xinjiang in that it is not ruled by the People’s Republic of China. If we don’t do our best to defend Taiwan’s independence and sovereignty, however, and if we don’t protect our democracy and freedom but rather allow an imperialist Chinese ideology to guide our future, we will be making a horrible mistake.

Lee Hsiao-feng is a professor in the Graduate School of Taiwanese Culture at National Taipei University of Education.

Translated by Anna Stiggelbout

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