The phrase Stockholm syndrome is often used to identify various situations where people who have been physically and/or psychologically held captive by others can come to take on many of the values and beliefs of their captors. This happens both to individuals and groups. Taiwan as an island nation — now a democracy — has certainly seen its share of such captive colonial situations in the past.
From the Dutch and Spanish periods on through Cheng Cheng-kung’s (鄭成功), known as Koxinga, fleeing Ming, the Manchu Qing, the Japanese and finally a last fleeing group, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), different generations of Taiwanese have suffered under various forms of “colonial captivity.” Yet despite that, it is remarkable that the Taiwanese have proved resilient not only in eventually shaking each off, but also in finally achieving both a unique Taiwanese identity and a vibrant democracy. The recent Sunflower movement has proven to be the final step in that process.
How do the Sunflowers represent the end of Taiwan’s Stockholm syndrome? Examine recent developments. Though the KMT’s one-party state was technically abandoned in 1987, Taiwan only got its first full taste of realistic democracy in 1992, when the KMT legislators who had had an unchallenged iron rice bowl since 1947 were finally forced to retire and the people could freely elect their replacements. That was the first step in the beginning of the end.
The next step came in 1996 when the public were given the right to elect their president. From then on things began to develop rapidly and due to a split in the KMT ranks, an opposition candidate was elected president in 2000. One might have thought at that time that the Taiwanese had finally thrown off the Stockholm syndrome caused by those who had inflicted 40 years of White Terror and Martial Law, but it was not to be. Elements, myths and vestiges of the syndrome remained.
One lingering myth was that the KMT was the only party that could handle the economic situation in Taiwan, so in 2008 when Taiwan’s economy was faltering, Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was easily elected with his infamous “6-3-3” campaign pledge.
The myth that only the KMT had the necessary economic savvy had some basis in fact. First the KMT had killed off or imprisoned many of the educated Taiwanese leadership starting from the 228 Massacre onward and second they used “stolen state assets” to educate many of their own party cohorts abroad promising guaranteed government positions on return. This gave them the distinct advantage in education and experience. Look through the ranks of current KMT stalwarts and you will see that most got their doctorates pre-1992 and with state support.
Another distinct advantage for the KMT was that it ran a one-party state; they controlled the media and education systems so could bolster their ideas and image. With this control, they could easily hide the mistakes and miscalculations of the past and embellish accomplishments. Hearing only one interpretation of the story, many “captive” Taiwanese came to have positive feelings toward the people who had put them through 40 years of pain and torture and began to accept some of their values.
Another element of Stockholm syndrome is the erroneous “equation that a lack of present abuse is seen as an act of kindness instead of something normal opposed to something that should never have happened in the past.”