The Chinese have their islands — Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan. But are these islands China, any more than Australia or New Zealand, say, are England?
Having lived 14 years in central Taiwan, I, of course, have my opinion on this question, which is essentially the same opinion everybody else down in this part of Taiwan has.
On a recent short trip to Hong Kong, my first visit ever to that territory, I met a great man at the University of Hong Kong who broadened my thinking on this point.
He was an older man, soon to retire, and I was struck by the great pride with which he showed off the campus of his university. He had attended a high school near the main gate. His son was married in the church across from that high school. I could see how this man loved Hong Kong. The neighborhood around the university seemed to contain his whole life.
I asked what he thought about the foiled “Umbrella movement’s” call for independence from China. His answer was completely unexpected. He said he identified himself as Chinese and that his hope was that by unifying with China, Hong Kong might improve China and teach it a better way.
I felt it was a beautiful answer and I deeply respected him for saying it.
However, privately I wondered how that could ever happen with China grabbing all the levers of power and systematically eliminating from Hong Kong what made it special and what it had to teach China.
China does not want to learn. Being bigger and having the power to do so, it would rather bully its way into being the teacher.
What is happening in Hong Kong is what Taiwan can expect should it ever become a part of China.
Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan — these islands are Chinese, yes. There is no disputing that. However, neither is there any denying that they are not properly part of China.
All three are islands offshore that have evolved in a different way than the mainland. This is unfortunate for China, for it cannot help but shine some unwanted light on the biggest lie of modern or ancient times — biggest in terms of the number of people who have fallen victim to it — the lie of “one China.”
There is no such thing as a “one China” and there never has been. From the beginning, islands of separate and different Chinese cultures and languages were splayed across the vast mainland.
In the same way that there are many Europes — Spain is not France and England is not Sweden — and many Americas — Mexico is not Chile and Trinidad is not Brazil — there are and always have been many Chinas, many Chinese cuisines and many Chinese languages. My visit to Hong Kong drove this point home to me.
I am regrettably lousy at Mandarin, but living in Taiwan these 14 years and loving the people and the place more with each passing day, I manage to communicate in the most rudimentary way when necessary.
The day I arrived in Hong Kong I was taken aback when in one of the few perfect Mandarin sentences I have mastered, I asked someone selling something on the street, duoshao (how much, 多少) — the vendor gave me a blank stare.
I figured she did not hear, so asked again. She shot back in gibberish.
It dawned on me then — I was on a Chinese island, yes, like I am back home in Taiwan, but this was a different Chinese island and here there was a different Chinese language.
Hong Kong will not teach China anything because China has the muscle and the thug mentality to bully it into submission.
By trying to grab what is special about Hong Kong for itself, China will make Hong Kong not special anymore — a tragedy for the world and for the Chinese.
What is special about Taiwan is that it is independent from China. In the distant past there were countless independent Chinese islands splayed across Eastern Asia.
Taiwan is the only remaining one, the only Chinese place that has not been ruined by an inferior ideology imported from the West — communism.
Only by staying separate from China can Taiwan hope to do for China what my enlightened friend at the University of Hong Kong mistakenly hopes Hong Kong might do.
Taiwan serves China best by maintaining its independence. It is by far the smaller of the two Chinas in landmass, but by far the larger of the two in freedom of spirit and creative potential. It can show China the way.
William Stimson is an adjunct assistant professor at National Chi Nan and Tunghai universities.
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