Tue, Sep 18, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Deconstructing the Taiwan memes

By Jerome Keating

Nineteenth-Century American journalist Ambrose Bierce was a prolific writer, but he is best known for The Devil’s Dictionary, where with wit and sardonic satire he regularly panned the idiosyncrasies and foibles of the human condition and perspective.

Bierce’s humorous work includes such entries at the individual level as: “Imposter” — “a rival aspirant for public honors” and “egotist” — “a person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me.”

It also has gems at a wider national scale, such as: “Harbor” — “a place where ships taking shelter from storms are exposed to the fury of customs,” and “peace” — “a period of cheating between two periods of fighting.”

In the spirit of this work, Taiwan needs to create its own dictionary, a dictionary that explains Taiwan’s reality, and challenges the rhetorical memes and sayings that China pours out against it.

Here are some samples, beginning in 1895:

“The Treaty of Shimonoseki”: A treaty by which the Manchu Qing Empire gave to Japan “in perpetuity” something which it never entirely controlled and therefore was not its to give, namely the island of Taiwan.

“The Century of Humiliation”: A puzzling phrase, as Han Chinese still feel more embarrassed at the treatment of the Manchu Empire by outside powers as they forced “China” to trade with them than their having to wear the Manchu queue.

“Vassal and tributary states”: The euphemistic Chinese flipside of the “century of humiliation.” These are “honorary titles,” allegedly meant to hide the centuries of humiliations imposed by China on neighboring states when it “allowed” them to trade and pay tribute at the same time.

“Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)”: A party founded in 1912 and dedicated to democracy, as long as democracy meant that it would win. Otherwise the party follows money, power and the highest bidder.

“Republic of China (ROC)”: A still-born nationalist, democratic ideal, established in 1912 when the Manchu Empire splintered and subsequently descended into its War Lord Period and Chinese Civil War. The KMT finally forged an ROC Constitution in 1947 just before it lost the civil war. All this happened while Taiwan was a colony of Japan.

“Chinese Civil War”: A war begun in the 1920s and interrupted by World War II. In it, two Leninist parties, the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), fought to control the splintered Manchu Empire. The CCP won in 1949 and established the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Driven into exile on Taiwan, the KMT has never admitted defeat. By a convoluted logic it still claims that the ROC represents China with it as the deserving ruling party.

“San Francisco Peace Treaty”: A 1952 treaty signed by 48 nations ending World War II. By it, Japan surrendered its colony of Taiwan without specifying a recipient. Two main non-signatories, the ROC and the PRC, therefore claimed that their absence entitled them to possess Taiwan. Taiwanese preferred the UN’s right to self-determination.

“One China”: A problematic meme not because of China having only one government, but because of the problem of who determines what is or is not included within the boundaries of that “one China.” The “one China” policy / “one China” principle dichotomy follows from it.

“One China” policy versus “one China” principle: A “one China” policy means that China has only one government, the PRC. The “one China” principle means that Taiwan belongs under that PRC government. By constantly repeating “one China” in varying forms and guises, the CCP attempts to create a shell game whereby mystified listeners will assume that “policy” and “principle” mean the same thing and Taiwan belongs to the PRC.

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