Mon, Feb 23, 2009 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan is in need of a cultural clean break

By Chen Chun-kai 陳君愷

Over eight years of government, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was again and again accused of trying to get rid of Chinese influence — of “de-Sinicization.”

Unfortunately, the DPP government did not dare to meet these criticisms head on. The question should have been — and should be — what is wrong with de-Sinicizing?

The DPP government replaced the word “China” with “Taiwan” in the names of various institutions and companies.

But changing the name of the post office from “Chunghwa [China] Post” to “Taiwan Post,” for example, could hardly be described as de-Sinicization.

On the contrary, such adjustments could be seen as a return to Chinese cultural values.

Confucius (孔子) himself said that “When names are not correct, what is said will not sound reasonable” (名不正則言不順).

Changing the title of the post office and other Taiwanese agencies and companies was, therefore, a return to the fine principles of Confucian philosophy, even if it was a departure from an uglier aspect of Chinese culture — saying one thing but doing another.

Therefore these are hardly grounds for accusing the DPP of de-Sinicization.


From another point of view, however, the DPP government should have proudly accepted the criticisms that were leveled at it, declaring: “Yes, we are de-Sinicizing.”

Think about it.

Is democracy a Chinese invention?

Are human rights a prominent feature of Chinese culture?

The DPP is devoted to promoting democracy and protecting human rights. And given that neither of these concepts originated in China, is upholding them not a form of de-Sinicization?

All in all, insufficiently de-Sinicizing is precisely where the DPP went wrong.

If, when praying to the Kitchen God, Taiwanese say that they must offer him something sweet so that he will put in a good word for them in Heaven, what is that if not a continuation of the Chinese tradition of bribery?

If Taiwanese believe that we have to worship the spirits of the departed lest the ghosts be displeased and make trouble, is that not a lesson in the Chinese tradition of bowing down before bullies and thugs?


If we Taiwanese don’t comb through our culture and get rid of the dregs of Chinese culture that remain in our hearts and minds, how can we possibly hope to emerge as winners in the “total war” between pro-China and pro-Taiwan social forces?

As the English poet John Dunne said of the revolution in scientific thought that emerged in 17th century Europe, “a new philosophy calls all in doubt.”

The New Culture Movement in early 20th century China also called for the “reassessment of all values.” Likewise, we need to develop a new view of the world — a new weltanschauung.

I once compared the New Culture Movement to the cathartic Sturm und Drang movement of 19th century Germany.

Now that Taiwan has achieved the necessary conditions in terms of its nationhood, perhaps what we need is something like the kulturkampf (cultural struggle) by which Bismarck’s Germany fought to shake off the conservative influence of the Catholic Church.

That is what Taiwan needs now — a clean break.

Chen Chun-kai is an adviser to Taiwan Thinktank and a professor of history at Fujen Catholic University.


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