During our school days, many of us read Gulliver’s Travels, a 1726 novel published by Irish writer Jonathan Swift. Through his vivid use of metaphor, Swift mocked the political situation in the UK and its oppression of Ireland. The book has stood the test of time and still enjoys great popularity.
In one section of the book, Gulliver travels to the east and comes into contact with the unusual practice of fumi-e (踏繪), which was common in Japan’s Edo period (1603 to 1868). An examination of this unique method for screening people’s opinions should give Taiwanese cause to think about the nation’s relations with China.
Fumi-e refers to the practice of stepping on a cross or a picture of Jesus Christ or the Virgin Mary, and it had its origins in shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu’s 1612 ban on Christianity in Japan. After persuading the Dutch to transfer their businesses from the Southeast Asia to Japan, he wanted to prevent missionaries and Dutch and Portuguese businesspeople from spreading Christianity in Japan. The government therefore established its fumi-e policy in 1629, demanding that all foreigners who wanted to enter Japan step on the above-mentioned religious symbols. If they were reluctant to do so, they would not be allowed in the country.
The practice was worse than the insult endured by Han Xin (韓信), a Han Dynasty general, who was allegedly forced to crawl through the legs of a bully when he was young. The latter incident involved a loss of personal dignity, but the former concerned spiritual beliefs. For a Christian, such an action would be the equivalent of trampling and destroying their own values.
This ancient practice seems to bear some similarity to the way political and business relations between Taiwan and China are being conducted. President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) government has actively opened Taiwan to China since 2008, while Beijing demands that members of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) figuratively step on the Republic of China’s (ROC) title at every Chinese trading port for direct cross-strait links.
During the rule of former Chinese president Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), who rose from the Communist Youth League of China, the KMT was allowed to save face by adopting the so-called “1992 consensus.” However, the current Chinese President, Xi Jinping (習近平), who rose from the Cultural Revolution, is not as accommodating. With the atmosphere Xi is creating, it may soon not be enough for the KMT to simply step on the ROC’s title. As Xi pledges to “realize the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” the KMT may have to show its willingness to cooperate by smashing the ROC’s title with a “one China framework.”
Xi seems to believe that he is understands Taiwan, and he certainly aware of former Chinese leader Mao Zedong’s (毛澤東) theory of “promoting one gang while oppressing the other.” As a result, he has placed the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) “Taiwan independence clause” at the Beijing Capital International Airport for DPP members to step on.
During Hu’s rule, former DPP chairman Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) tried to curry favor with Beijing by proposing the concept of “one China, two constitutions” following a presidential election defeat. After a series of meetings last year, the DPP further compromised by proposing a “constitutional one China,” which received no response from Beijing. Then last month, DPP caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘), proclaiming himself as a pioneer, suggesting that the party freeze its “Taiwan independence clause” to show it could handle cross-strait affairs.