Wed, Jul 10, 2013 - Page 8 News List

Democracy is Taiwan’s salvation

By Jerome Keating

This is what Hau and Chou are saying: The idea and belief that Taiwan does not have a “sacred” identity and history without being linked to China. It is the same argument and denigration vis-a-vis Taiwan that was expressed a century earlier by former vice president Lien Chan’s (連戰) grandfather, Lien Heng (連橫), in The General History of Taiwan when he stated that: “Taiwan’s sorrow is that it has no history.”

Put another way, Taiwan’s history is only “real” if it is tied to the Middle Kingdom. The elder Lien knew nothing and probably cared nothing of Taiwan’s early history as it did not fit the paradigm through which he viewed the world.

He would not know how most recent research illustrates that Austronesian language and culture spread outward from Taiwan to Madagascar in the west, Easter Island in the east and as far south as New Zealand. This all happened long before the Yellow Emperor began the China myth.

This discourse of inevitability is antithetical to Taiwan. Taiwan’s history and identity rely more on linear thinking. Taiwan has no aspirations to be part of a mythic Middle Kingdom and Taiwanese do not need size to identify with or have a sense of glory.

They can find the concept of homeland or motherland within the confines of their small island. This is something that even Chinese dissidents who strive for a Taiwan-style democracy in China have difficulty grasping. If there was any nostalgic thinking of a glorious past in Taiwan, it certainly would not rest with the KMT, the nation’s last colonial ruler. Instead, for the older generation at least, it would more ironically be their time spent as part of the Japanese Empire, which is spoken of as “harsh, but fair.”

Taiwan’s democracy is linear, not cyclical. It reflects a linear emergence of the nation overcoming a variety of colonial governments until democracy was finally won. Taiwan’s glory is in this hard-won democracy and its future. The harmony the nation seeks is not a harmony by suppression, as found in China today. Taiwanese harmony must be achieved with the checks and balances of a democratic system where diverse elements must work together and where leadership must constantly rely on serving the electorate and not holding a hierarchical position to retain power.

Contrary to the discourse of inevitability espoused by Hau, Chou and others, Taiwan can move forward, developing its democracy, maintaining its independence and strengthening its identity. That is a discourse and vision worth promoting.

Jerome Keating is a commentator in Taipei.

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