Thu, Nov 21, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Maritime identity rebuffs high tide

By Richard Kagan

Taiwan faces threats both internal and external from its neighbor across the Taiwan Strait. There is an aggressive tug-of-war between it and China that is being waged through military threats, economic pressures and cultural wars.

The cultural challenges of national identity serve as an argument for Beijing’s claim that Taiwan is part of China’s own traditional heritage, and therefore a part of China itself, while Taiwanese claim that it is not part of China either historically or geographically.

The propaganda from China that claims it has ownership of Taiwan is based on the dogma that there is only “one China.”

Taiwan has rejected this claim, but it has not shown a strong counter identity to obtain the loyalty and emotional support of its population, although most Taiwanese do not consider themselves Chinese.

There is, however, an argument that a non-Chinese identity could be used to distance Taiwan further from China, and create an attachment with the nation’s history, incorporating a strong identity for Taiwanese.

There is a Taiwanese identity that is separate from the continental centrifuge of Chinese history. As long as Taiwanese consider themselves part of China or a subset of Chinese culture, it would be difficult to argue for a separate independent status for the nation.

The issues of loyalty to tradition, to the family homestead and respect for ancestors would create a strong magnet for keeping Taiwan anchored to China.

The immediate political consequence of this energy has resulted in the lack of a strongly expressed feeling by Taiwanese that they are willing to fight for their government or homeland.

The economic pull of China is evident in the more than 10 percent of Taiwanese who do business in or reside there.

There is also a significant population that has settled abroad in the US, Canada, Europe, Australia and even Japan. These demographics further erode an attachment to Taiwan.

The first long-term program needed to develop a Taiwanese national identity would be within the education system. Lesson plans for kindergarten through high school should create a graduated program of knowledge in the study of the nature of a maritime state.

This study should introduce a range of topics, as well as field trips, experiential learning, research, documentation, and skills in engineering, wave physics, sailing, oceanic biology, and botany, and the ocean as a food and energy source.

Specifically, these lessons should use Taiwan as a model of how it fits into the definition and nature of a maritime civilization. An early expression of this was the carpet in former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) office that was designed to represent the waves of the ocean. Chen sat on the waves that were destined to arrive on the shores of Taiwan — and from the east, not the west.

Taiwanese youth must become emotionally attached to the nation’s marine existence. It is true that Taiwanese have an almost innate love for its mountains, forests, animals, rivers and seascapes. However, there is not an equally deep appreciation, and certainty not a sense of enchantment, with its oceanic history.

Taiwanese should be just as enthused and active about the sake of their ocean heritage as they were in the 1970s and 1980s with their commitments to democracy, environmentalism, civil rights and the nation’s history.

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