Thu, Mar 07, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan — not Zhonghua — minzu

By Jerome Keating

“When I hear the word ‘culture,’ that’s when I reach for my revolver.” So goes the mistranslated and often misattributed line from German playwright Hanna Johst’s Schlageter.

Although Hermann Goering might not have said it, it does fit his character or that of any dedicated, hardline pragmatist wary of being manipulated by “fancy words.”

In parody, therefore, Taiwanese might consider their own adapted version. It could be something like: “When I hear the words ‘Zhonghua minzu (中華民族, Chinese nation),’ that’s when I reach for my revolver.”

If there has ever been in recent times a more manipulative phrase bandied about by those in power or those wanting power, that phrase is “Zhonghua minzu.”

The phrase is used in present-day China to justify the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) one-party state rule over Han Chinese, Tibetans, Mongols, Uighurs, Manchus and many others. However, its roots date back to the Manchus and the Qing Dynasty.

In 1644, once the Manchus were allowed in through the Shanhai Pass to help quell Li Zicheng’s (李自成) rebellion against the Ming Dynasty, they did not stop there. Flush with victory and ambition, they went on to conquer not only China, but also Tibet, Xinjiang and Mongolia.

That was a massive conquest for such a relatively small state and it created a new challenge, namely, how to rule this vast and diverse population, and forge it into a multicultural empire.

Three early Manchu rulers — Kangxi (康熙), Yongzheng (雍正) and Qianlong (乾隆) — were quite skilled not only in warfare, but in organization: from organizing troops under different banners to knowing how to convince others to join their side and rule. So, while they did not use the phrase Zhonghua minzu, they did find a way to bring the five major cultural groups under one nation and one emperor.

During that period, many in the Han majority still cried: “Overthrow the Qing and restore the Ming,” but their goal was directed simply at restoring Han rule in Ming Dynasty’s territory.

Where did Taiwan fit into this?

Emma Jinhua Teng (鄧津華), in Taiwan’s Imagined Geography, traces the changing attitudes on how Taiwan went from being an undesirable “mud ball” outside the pale to eventually becoming a province in 1887, eight years before Taiwan was surrendered to Japan in the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki.

Yet even then, Taiwan’s Aborigines were seen as a separate category to the five “culture blocks” that the Qing were unifying. It was only as the island took on value that the Qing decided to conquer the eastern half, a feat that it never accomplished.

In uniting the “five culture blocks,” the Manchu thinking was pragmatic. When you are a minority ruling a vast majority, you need a unifying way to justify your rule. Still, every male had to wear the Manchu queue.

However, the use of Zhonghua minzu came into being with Qing scholar-journalist Liang Qichao (梁啟超) in 1902, when there was talk of reform and revolution in China. He needed something to unify all, once the Machu rulers were gone.

At this time, Taiwan was part of the Japanese empire and not considered a part of Zhonghua minzu.

As to China, even Sun Yat-sen (孫逸仙) originally thought of just restoring the Han rule with Ming boundaries in the vein of “overthrow the Qing and restore the Ming.”

However, pragmatism again came into play when it was realized that the Manchu borders far exceeded those of the Ming. So, the minorities and their borders were included and Zhonghua minzu took hold.

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