Thu, Mar 22, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Fear not the cross-strait culture war

By J. Michael Cole 寇謐將

At no time, though, did such influences, or my liking Americans, alter or somehow undermine my self-identification as a Quebecer and Canadian. In fact, the reverse is probably truer, with exposure bringing into sharper contrast the differences, however small, which existed between us.

The same applies to Quebec’s “special ties” with France, a former colonial presence, which reached their height (or low, depending on who you’re asking) when former French president Charles de Gaulle made his famous “Vive le Quebec libre!” remark from a balcony in Montreal in 1967. To this day, many French will refer to people in Quebec as les petits cousins (the young cousins) in a way that manages to summon both friendliness and condescension (this nevertheless is a major improvement on references to Canadians by US pundits in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 as “retarded cousins”).

All this is to say that shared languages and cultural elements, or even periods of colonization, will not alter a people’s sense of identity, however hard governments try to turn back the clock. Young Canadians today can dote all they want on Harry Potter or Brad Pitt or Justin Timberlake, and Quebecers can share a certain affinity with La Peste, Bardot or Hallyday, but this in no way changes who they are. Unless one looks at Taiwanese from the pedestal of superiority, the same applies to the 23 million inhabitants of the nation.

As with many other aspects of the relationship, time is on Taiwan’s side, and China, debilitated as it is from increasingly untenable systemic contradictions, will likely collapse, or democratize, or become embroiled in a regional war, well before cultural engineering can be imposed on enough generations of Taiwanese to convince them that they are Chinese.

Just look at how well served the Chinese (not to mention their colonial subjects) have been by more than half a century of imposed Sinicization in Tibet. As the Chinese author Wang Lixiong (王力雄) showed us in his reporting, even those Tibetans who are “fortunate” enough to be sent to Beijing to receive an education (or re-education) and be taught, one may suppose, everything about the greatness of Chinese culture, will more often than not return to their homeland even more convinced of their own distinct cultures than they were prior to making the journey.

What ought to make us pause amid efforts by bigoted Chinese and Taiwanese officials to conjure up an all-encompassing “Chinese culture” is Chinese investment in the cultural sector in Taiwan. The more dependent Taiwan becomes on Chinese money, the narrower will its margin to maneuver become in terms of its ability to explore and say certain things, either as the result of direct intervention by the Chinese side, or from self-censorship on this side. Creative freedom, rather than identity, is what’s at risk.

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