Mon, Jul 25, 2016 - Page 6 News List

Taiwan’s Aboriginal past, identity

By Jerome Keating

On Aug. 1, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) is to make a formal apology to Taiwan’s Aborigines for the past mistreatment, loss of land and lack of transitional justice they have suffered in Taiwan. This apology is a long time coming and it is well and good that it be done.

Certainly, it is not the first time Taiwanese have witnessed an apology made by a president. Back on Feb. 28, 1995, then-president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) apologized for the tragedy inflicted on the nation by the 228 Massacre and its aftermath of White Terror, and it is from that apology that guiding lessons can be learned.

First is that while an apology is needed, it is only the first step. Actions will have to follow. That two decades after Lee’s apology, the nation is still working on full transparency, full disclosure and full transitional justice from the 228 Massacre and the White Terror period shows that words are not enough.

Next in importance is the context and wording of this apology and how it should express a national consciousness. The wording must bring together both historical accuracy and identification with Taiwan’s present-day nation and people.

The apology must be done on behalf of Taiwanese, but what does that mean? Certainly, all Taiwanese must be included in the address, since the injustice still remains. And further, Tsai’s apology needs to show that, as president, she is apologizing on behalf of Taiwanese; she is not placing this in the context that is Chinese. There is an important difference here both in history and ethnicity.

Tsai would be saying: “We Taiwanese apologize,” and not “we Chinese,” although some, especially those who try to subvert Taiwan’s national identity, might mistakenly want to imply this. Clearly, as regards Taiwan’s democracy, it was Taiwanese who achieved that democracy as they overcame Taiwan’s most recent Chinese diaspora. So the apology must also involve all Taiwanese, and this means delving into the consciousness of how Taiwan’s varied colonial history and multiple past genetic contributions have made it what it is.

The variety of Taiwan’s past is a litany that Taiwanese need to regularly and constantly recite with the changes and many contributions that make it up. Depending on any one historical period, Taiwanese might be tempted to say: “We Dutch,” “we Spanish,” “we fleeing Ming,” “we Manchus,” “we Japanese” and even “we losers of China’s Civil War who came as diaspora.”

However, for Tsai, the only correct answer here is “we Taiwanese;” that is, the “we” who fought for and won Taiwan’s democracy. They are the ones who can understand the complexity of the role of the Aborigines as part of Taiwan’s past. And only they can understand how they must be part of the Taiwan minzu.

In Taiwan, it has been traditional for candidates of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) to say: “We Taiwanese “when an election is coming up, but they quickly switch their discourse to “we Chinese” when elections are finished or they have to talk to those on the other side of the Taiwan Strait. It is those same people who dredge up and promote a Zhonghua minzu (“Chinese ethnic group,” 中華民族) concept in Taiwan in their efforts to mute Taiwan’s own unique identity and its democracy.

Hong Kongers have been through and understand the manipulation used in the term Zhonghua minzu. They understand false and broken promises and how the “one country, two systems” slogan is just a facade for “do what we tell you and don’t ask questions.” Hong Kongers stopped saying: “We Chinese” some time ago despite a predominance of Chinese roots.

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