Sat, Jul 25, 2015 - Page 8 News List

Twilight of China-centric primacy

By Noah Buchan

However, the narrative has shifted to reflect a reality that has been ignored for far too long. The high-school students protesting the MOE reflect this. The university students protesting a trade pact reflect this. And crucially, both these groups have co-opted traditional forms of propaganda — the assumption of reasonableness — used by the China-centric group to get their point across, though cloaked in a progressive narrative that today appeals to the majority of Taiwanese. It is similar to the “status quo” argot of international diplomacy adopted by Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) — one Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱), in her platform of not admitting to the existence of a country she hopes to lead, has failed to understand.

There are, after all, political fictions that people can live with. The so-called “1992 consensus” is arguably one of them; stating that you want to rule over a country that you do not think exists, is not.

The MOE and its political masters have lost the perception game. Any association with China is perceived as being coercive and political — not geographical, economic or historical. And those under 40 might soon start to question why they are paying the pensions of retired military personnel and politicians who do not view Taiwan as their homeland. Stating that it is about the Constitution, as though the Constitution is an antiquarian’s specimen that cannot be changed, is simply code for “we don’t have any legitimate arguments to make based on reality.”

Sure, there was once a shared cultural vocabulary in Taiwan, but it was uttered facing the barrel of a gun. Today it is different. Though coercion remains, as the curriculum changes demonstrate, times have changed and people are expecting their political leaders to act as though Taiwan is their country. It has to start at home before it, Taiwan, the country, can earn any legitimacy on the international stage.


This is not a zero-sum game. This is not about identity or ethnicity, as much of the politics and media coverage of Taiwan’s culture war has previously played out: waishengren (外省人), or those who fled China with the KMT in 1949 due to the civil war, versus bendiren (本地人), everyone else — a ridiculously shallow dichotomy seen through the violent lens of ethnicity, and, let us admit it, race. Consider the legal system (Germany via Japan), industry and technology (US), popular religion (China), Taiwan’s first settlers (Austronesians), to see that the nation is an agglomeration of many different entities that go beyond one particular group.

Following the tradition of Liu and Hirsch, I propose the creation of a list, a narrative of ideas and values, people groups, places and dates, that are based on the reality of Taiwan as it is today, and has been for the past few decades, while taking into consideration the nation’s history. It should not be related to or sentimentalize any one group, but reflect this place, this land, this nation called Taiwan. What would be on your list?

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