The revolution of 1911 realistically ended in an abortive standoff, and the only way to get Yuan and his powerful Beiyang army to join the others in ousting the Manchus was with conditions. The main condition was that he and not Sun Yat-sen (孫逸仙) would be president of this supposedly new republic. That was in 1912 and Yuan realized he had to use the claim of Zhonghua minzu if he wanted to control all.
Ironically, and again what is often unsaid is that the ever vagrant KMT tried a “second revolution” against Yuan and they were soundly trounced, forcing Sun to flee to Japan.
At that time (1912), Taiwan was already 17 years into its history with Japan. In its ongoing minzu development of overcoming colonials, it would add 50 years of Japanese colonization and then suffer 40-plus years of Martial Law and White Terror as the KMT again fled China.
In Taiwan’s history and development of its minzu, Taiwan would struggle for and achieve its democracy, which it now enjoys. Therefore, for Taiwanese, Zhonghua minzu has no meaning. Even back when half of the nation had been under Manchu rule, that canard never soaked in. Now of course it all the more means nothing to democratic Taiwanese, just as it means nothing to democratic Mongolians.
Hong Kong has had its own and different, but related experience. It left the Manchu empire circa 1842 when it fell under British rule. Hong Kongers could then watch the abortive 1911 revolution as well as China’s warlord and civil-war developments. It even had a brief moment under Japanese rule before it returned to Britain.
After that, again from the sidelines, Hong Kong watched and accepted all sorts of refugees from China’s civil war.
While it witnessed China’s horrid Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, Hong Kong prospered. Its most recent changing moment came in 1997, when it returned not to the Manchus, but to a mythical gracious motherland with the promise of democracy in 20 years. So Hong Kong’s history is different as well; and having lived for about 150 years with a sense of British justice, law and courts, it does know when a promise is kept and when it is broken.
This is ironically the ultimate revealing upshot of Zhang’s visit to Taiwan. For Taiwanese it more fully exposed how Ma has not lived and does not understand the democratic history and meaning of Taiwanese minzu. Having been brought up in a separate history, Ma, like Zhang, still fantasizes over and wishes for the restoration of a lost Zhonghua minzu.
With ramifications outside Taiwan, Zhang’s visit even did Hong Kong a favor. For as the people there see how Taiwanese understand and apply their history, Hong Kongers can also understand how they too have a different history that they both can and need to defend as well.
Jerome Keating is a commentator in Taipei.