The government has been ballyhooing the 70th anniversary of the “Victory in the War of Resistance Against Japan” that ended in 1945. July 7, 1937, is regarded by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party as the starting date of the war. The name of the celebration sends jitters through people with a different historical memory.
It is certainly not the first time in the more than 50 years since the Republic of China (ROC) settled its state apparatus in Taiwan that the ROC government has presented a historical picture that excludes the history of the land where it found shelter, but the problem is more salient this year, sitting as it does between last year’s Sunflower movement and next year’s presidential election in which the KMT is fielding a candidate who highlights the paradox of the existence of the ROC.
Calling it “the War of Resistance” raises the questions of who did the resisting and who were the enemy. In Taiwan, a Japanese colony during the war, whose inhabitants fought for Japan, the answers make the ROC and the public uneasy. Thus, the state-written history: People absurdly say Japanese jets carried out the Taihoku air raid at the end of World War II and have no idea — or deliberately ignore — that tens of thousands of Taiwanese soldiers died for Japan in a war in which they are told they vanquished Japan.
Democratization helped the liberation of historical interpretation, but not much. It was not until 2006, six years after the KMT lost its grip on power to another political party for the first time since the regime came to Taiwan in 1949, that Taiwanese history appeared in high-school textbooks in one full volume.
Change was slow, but ongoing.
As a pro-unification radio host grudgingly — but correctly — said, the young participants in the Sunflower movement are the first generation of Taiwanese who have been exposed to a Taiwan-centered history curriculum.
In times signified by disenchantment with “mono-Chinese-ness,” the ROC has always remained an institutional backdrop, but one that is better left vague and unelucidated, given its paradoxical status. During the early years of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration, the ROC and Taiwan were championed as one and the same, following the lead of the eight-year Democratic Progressive Party administration.
It later morphed back to the ROC on Taiwan. With “one China, different interpretations” trumpeted by Ma in his second term and the recent KMT presumptive presidential candidate’s “one China, same interpretation,” Taiwan has further receded from the picture, becoming “a partial territory not to be separated from the whole.”
According to Hung Hsiu-chu’s (洪秀柱) theoretical model, the ROC is one of the dual governments under the umbrella of “China,” and it is the ROC that needs to be protected and preserved; it is the ROC that symbolizes democracy and freedom. Taiwan is the vehicle, not the essence.
“The glorious retrocession of Taiwan” in this vein of thought is therefore highlighted in the anniversary celebration to show how Taiwan could be related to and be celebrated with the victory (and the unification) of the ROC. The island’s meaningful history starts from this point in time, it says.
However, the reality is that the ROC, arrogantly uprooting itself, finds itself in a bind: Abandoning the approach of simply identifying itself as Taiwan, it leaves the field open to calls for ROC-free Taiwanese independence — more vociferous among young people than ever after the Sunflower movement — and the Chinese Communist Party’s version of unification, with its own legitimacy dwindling.