Thu, Jan 27, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Taiwanese identity arises from unique past

By Jerome Keating

In these troubled times, Taiwanese know they are different, but they might not always be able to verbalize how different they are. From the Japanese colonial era on, Taiwanese began to gain a unified sense of their difference.

At that time, unlike under the Qing Dynasty’s rule, the Hoklo, Hakka and Aboriginal people realized that they should not let outside rulers play one group against the other. They became united in forging an identity.

Thus, as Taiwan now distances itself from the Martial Law era, propaganda and attempted indoctrination by the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) one-party state, its citizens feel more free to claim their true identity — Taiwanese. For process, Taiwanese should examine three terms: creolism, syncretism and hybridization.

Taiwan has emerged from the bonds of what some call the forced learning and Stockholm syndrome of its one-party state to become a democracy. Ironically, however, after gaining its present democracy, Taiwan now hears new dissonant controlling overtures from a different nation on the other side of the Taiwan Strait.

Taiwanese hear phrases such as, “We are all Chinese. We are brothers,” from China.

Of course, they are not, and those overtures are always made over gun barrels and missiles. Taiwanese should instead first begin to examine the term “creole states.” Professor and author Benedict Anderson applied this term to people who might share a common language and common descent from another country, but who will fight any oppressors of their country for their freedom.

Those willing to examine history closely will see that Taiwan’s history is full of such experiences and is very different from China’s history. Taiwan’s identity is different from China’s, and Taiwan’s mentality, particularly with its newly achieved democracy, is far different from China’s.

Second, the term creolization was first associated with the field of linguistics, but in the past decades academics have taken it far beyond liguistics and applied it to numerous other fields, including culture and identity. “Creole” is applied to cultures of intrinsically mixed origins, as in the US state of Louisiana or the Caribbean. In this regard, Taiwan, with its indigenous cultures that mixed with Dutch, Spanish, Ming loyalists, Manchu Qing, Japanese and finally the fleeing KMT, fits this bill.

Next, syncretism is often associated with and compared with the usage of creolism. It is used to describe the reconciliation of different systems, such as of religious belief or language, where there are heterogeneous or partial results. One can view Taiwan in much the same way, since it has reconciled the many cultural and religious systems left by its past colonial forces.

The third term, hybrid, is also applied to mixed origins, including those of genetic or language backgrounds. While this term has been used from grains to livestock to automobile engines, I prefer it because it carries the aspect of “hybrid vigor” where there is a resultant increased vigor and/or other superior qualities as a result of the interbreeding. Those who know the resiliency and adaptability of Taiwanese can relate to this.

Whether creole, syncretic or hybrid, Taiwan’s experience and its identity are its own. They are of a land that has seen successive waves of colonization and immigration coming to its shores. The colonist and immigrants have all mixed with its Aboriginal culture to make Taiwan, Taiwan.

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