The threats to the stability of Taiwan and its democracy are many. Everyone knows the obvious threat of the 1,600-plus missiles aimed at it by China, its hegemonic neighbor on the other side of the Taiwan Strait.
A second and less obvious danger comes from the bumbling incompetence of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who seems bent on making Taiwan’s economy totally dependent on China.
However, a third and subtler threat surfaced recently in the re-emergence of a discourse that tries to link certain individuals’ desire to see the union of Taiwan and China with cyclic inevitability.
This discourse is a threat, but it can also be a benefit. By understanding it and the cyclic thinking behind it, the major differences that exist between Taiwanese and Chinese history and identity quickly become clear.
Former premier Hau Pei-tsun (郝柏村) resurrected this discourse when he voiced the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) stock, but defunct, dream that Taiwan and China would not only inevitably be united, but that they would be united under the Republic of China (ROC) government. Like a staunch ex-Confederate in the US, saying: “The South will rise again,” Hau brought back Chiang Kai-shek’s (蔣介石) lost dream.
Making his remark more ironic was that Hau was speaking at a forum “to witness” Taiwan’s democracy funded by the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy. This did not stop him from saying that to use the name “Taiwan” in place of the ROC was “self-deprecating.”
Chou Chieh-min (周傑民), also a former military man, insulted the people of Hualien and Taiwan as a whole with similar sentiments and discourse. However, it was by referencing the classic opening lines to Luo Guanzhong’s (羅貫中) Romance of the Three Kingdoms: “The empire long divided must unite; long united must divide, Thus it has ever been,” that Chou expanded the thought.
Chou was attempting to link the ROC dream of unification with the perpetuation of the mythical Middle Kingdom.
For Chou, his individual identity, as well as Chinese (not Taiwanese) identity depends on this sense of cyclic history, with its return to a past “golden age.” It is no surprise that the Romance was written 1,000 years or more after the period it describes. In effect, Chou’s discourse was a revisiting of the “myth of the eternal return,” a term coined by Romanian historian Mircea Eliade.
Eliade spoke of this myth in a religious framework, one that separates religious and secular, sacred and profane actions. However, in a post-modern age, where people create their own meaning, philosophical and personal myths quickly and easily overlap and replace religious myths.
Within the paradigmatic view of the universe that any individual holds, the paradigm of necessity creates its own sense of sacred and profane. Sacred time and space, and the subsequent divisions and insights that they express, then follow.
James Joyce exemplified this transference by adapting the religious concept of epiphany from his Catholic background to illustrate the new insights into reality that his characters in Dubliners developed.
Thus for China, where Confucianism is not a religion, it functions as one in the Chinese myth. In it, sacred time and space are found. So when China, the mythical “Middle Kingdom,” is reunited, then “Confucian harmony” will supposedly reign. Profane time and space subsequently come into existence when China is divided.