For the Aborigines that have lived in Taiwan for thousands of years, the celebrations for the Republic of China’s (ROC) 100th anniversary are entirely meaningless.
When the ROC was founded in China 100 years ago, the Aborigines in Taiwan were still at the beginning stages of a five-decades-long Japanese colonial rule. The Xinhai Revolution that was taking place in China across the Taiwan Strait in 1911 had absolutely no connection whatsoever with Aborigines in Taiwan.
It was not until the Japanese were defeated at the end of World War II and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) took over Taiwan that Taiwan’s Aborigines, for the first time, came into contact with the ROC. As far as the Aborigines were concerned, the ROC government was just one more colonizer forcing them to accept colonial rule, and this is precisely why some Aboriginal groups are currently staging protests to oppose the centennial celebrations, in the same way Native Americans protest the celebration of Columbus Day in mainstream US society.
However, there are also a lot of official government-sanctioned Aboriginal events to “celebrate” the ROC’s centennial. Some of these events are huge opera productions, music and dance performances, history exhibits, academic conferences and concerts — all of which basically boil down to the colonized helping the colonizer celebrate their nation’s centennial. It makes one wonder how on earth this could happen.
In his celebrated book Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson mentions something that hits home for us in Taiwan. In 1913, when the Dutch were celebrating the 100th anniversary of their independence from French rule, the Dutch colonial government organized centennial celebrations in Batavia — present day Jakarta — the capital of the Dutch East Indies. In doing so, they required the colonized people there to participate in their celebrations and provide manpower and resources.
In an article with the title “If I were a Netherlander” that an Indonesian nationalist named Suwardi Suryaningrat published in a local newspaper, one part stood out from the rest: “If I were a Netherlander, I would not celebrate the commemoration of independence in a country where we refuse to give people their freedom.”
Now, almost 100 years later, it is just as absurd that the Aborigines of Taiwan continue to be invited to celebrate the ROC’s centennial by a colonial government and a president who says that he “treat[s] Aborigines as human beings.”
If the ROC regime on Taiwan truly adheres to their Constitution, and the nation really is as culturally diverse as it claims, then the best way to celebrate its centennial would be to start by offering a sincere apology for its mistakes, for stealing land from Aborigines and for forcing them to assimilate, which amounts to a long line of destructive colonial policies on its part. It should also work to help restore traditional Aboriginal land as well as Aboriginal languages, cultures and dignity.
Chi Chun-chieh is a professor at National Dong Hwa University’s Institute of Ethnic Relations.
Translated by Kyle Jeffcoat
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