AN inaugural speech tells us the most about a president’s policy ideals and attitude. A New Year speech is merely a ceremonial form of greeting and the vast majority are usually written in flashy language while being devoid of meaning.
However, this year’s New Year speech delivered by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was significant for a different reason. This year is the 100th anniversary of the Republic of China (ROC), and because of a culture that attaches great significance to numbers, our leaders are spending lots of time and money organizing celebrations.
As a result, this New Year’s speech revealed more about Ma’s thoughts than similar speeches in the past. By looking at the speech in a bit more detail, the public can gain a better understanding of where the government wants to take the nation. Now that the partying is over and we have welcomed in the New Year, it is important to analyze what Ma said in his speech because this provides us with a glimpse of what the government plans to do.
First, while Ma’s New Year speech did contain a few references to Taiwan’s history, like Chiang Wei-shui (蔣渭水) and how he emphasized the need for, and power of, unity among Taiwanese during the Japanese colonial era, such references were liberally interspersed with a great deal of Greater China ideology.
Thus, the first of Ma’s wishes for the next 100 years was that Taiwan would become a leader in Chinese culture.
Second, Ma said that in the next 100 years, he wants the ROC to become the standard by which democracy is measured in the Chinese world.
However, in the 400 years of Taiwan’s history, the ROC has existed on Taiwan for 66 years, only 16 years longer than Japan spent ruling Taiwan. Why doesn’t Ma focus on improving Taiwan’s culture and democratic values so we can become a world leader in culture and democracy?
Why does he want to limit Taiwan to being a model for China only?
Almost nothing good that Taiwan has learned through its history has had anything to do with Chinese culture. For example, during the Japanese era, while Taiwan served as a stepping stone for Japan to further attack and invade Southeast Asia, this was also the time when the modernization of Taiwan started. This launched a process including things like the planning and building of infrastructure, the improvement of education and public health, the promotion of the rule of law and the introduction of modern thought.
These are all things that China, which at the time was wrecked by war, could never have even come close to equaling.
Although Taiwan’s democratization and the cultural innovation that followed did occur under the ROC government, these developments were essentially based on Western democratic thought.
Not only did Chinese culture not bring anything positive, traditional ideas derived from Chinese culture, such as the power of family ties and loyalty to the monarch, were used by the two late dictators, Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and his son Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國), as the moral pillars on which they built their authoritarian rule over Taiwan.
In other words, Taiwan would do well to keep a respectful distance from Chinese culture if it wants to become a democratically and culturally advanced nation. If Taiwan cannot extract itself from Chinese culture, it will weigh down democracy, freedom and human rights and current achievements will be rolled back.