On May 4, Council of Indigenous Peoples Minister Sun Ta-chuan (孫大川) presented a report to the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) Central Standing Committee on ethnic development and autonomy for Aborigines. Saying that Aborigines had interbred with other ethnic groups, Liao Wan-lung (廖萬隆), a member of the committee, wondered whether it would be possible to discourage intermarriage between Aborigines and other ethnicities to ensure the preservation of Aborigines’ cultural heritage.
When Liao finished, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who is also the KMT chairman, replied that individuals were free to make their own decisions about whom they fell in love with and married, adding: “I am sorry, but I cannot comply.”
It goes without saying that Liao’s proposal incensed Aborigines, but so did Ma’s reply. Anyone hearing such blatant racial prejudice would be angry, and would have reprimanded Liao for his bigoted comments right on the spot. Even though Ma did not support Liao’s suggestion, such a tepid response simply did not go far enough.
Liao isn’t qualified to sit on the KMT Central Standing Committee. Ma should have slapped him down there and then or immediately referred him to the disciplinary committee. How could Ma justify dismissing the notion simply with some vague platitude about individual freedoms?
While people are allowed to express themselves freely within the committee, Liao’s words not only run counter to common sense, the Constitutional right of racial equality and the laws protecting the rights of Aborigines, they also managed, in one fell swoop, to bring the KMT’s policy on Aborigines crashing down at their feet.
The failure to adequately deal with Liao shows a lack of will within the KMT to shun overt racism. Perhaps this is because Liao’s comments represent what many within the KMT really think. Perhaps, deep down, the KMT regards blood and DNA as central to its legitimacy and governance over the hoi polloi.
Taiwan is a nation of migrants. The majority of Taiwanese are from families that moved to Taiwan, at some point or other, from various places. Taiwanese have also moved in the opposite direction, emigrating to various countries. Interracial propagation is a long-term process that happens in migratory societies.
The first waves of immigrants to Taiwan from China vied for space with the Aborigines living in the lowland areas and mountainous regions when they arrived, followed by farmers from Fujian Province and Hakka groups mixing with the Aborigines. Later, Taiwanese would struggle with their Japanese colonial masters and then, after the end of World War II, the KMT forces arrived from China. Each wave of immigration involved the spilling of blood, before the struggle between clashing ethnic groups calmed down and Taiwan slowly moved toward a state of racial harmony. Liao’s words, and his presumption of racial superiority, have reopened many of these old wounds. It was an unforgivable error.
Liao was forced to make a public apology after his comments were reported by the media and were met with strong protests by Aboriginal groups. Nevertheless, judging by the way both Liao and the KMT reacted, it’s clear that they remain unaware of what they did wrong and have merely relented in the face of external pressure to contain the fallout. They will be keeping their heads low until everything has blown over, but they will be back to their old ways.