The presidential and legislative elections are on Jan. 11, and Taiwanese are evaluating who should lead their democracy for the next four years. At such times, the “imagined community” of Taiwan must be reviewed and contrasted with the one that exists for the nation across the Taiwan Strait.
The obvious difference between the two is that Taiwan is a democratic nation, while the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is a one-party state. Taiwan has experience with one-party states, as it was one under the exiled Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regime before becoming a democracy.
However, more insight is needed. Taiwanese must also come to understand the imagined community that the PRC is developing, as it seeks to legitimize its one-party state. Here, some answers are found in Francois Bougon’s biography of Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), titled Inside the Mind of Xi Jinping.
Among this work’s insights, Bougon discusses how Xi perceives China’s history as being divided into four stages.
The first stage is massive, covering China’s long imperial past, the meme-like “5,000 years of history” that culminates in the glories of the Qing Dynasty.
As a matter of course, Xi includes the Mongolian Kingdom (Yuan Dynasty) and the Manchu Kingdom (Qing Dynasty) in this stage, claiming both as part of “China’s history,” but not Mongolia’s or Manchuria’s. This large time frame is brought together and simply summed up as China’s “ancient history.”
The final three stages are shorter, but more revealing.
The second — another meme — is the “century of humiliation,” in which the Manchu Kingdom includes what the Manchus conquered — Tibet, Mongolia, Xinjiang and the western half of Taiwan — but this “China” suffers “humiliation” at the hand of outside powers.
The past “humiliations” that any former iteration of China inflicted on neighboring “tributary states” in the first stage are neglected — humiliation is primarily in the eye of the receiver.
Xi’s final two stages bring China into modern times: The “New China era” is the period of Mao Zedong (毛澤東) and the “era of socialism” extends from Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) to the present.
These two stages are crucial to understanding the imagined community of the one-party state that Xi is shaping in China. Xi must unite Mao’s ideology with China’s present socialist structures to give the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) full legitimacy and the right to rule future generations.
Xi is creating a formula that would grant China’s one-party state claim to dynastic succession. From this, he envisions that the CCP’s 25-member Central Politburo, with him as general secretary, would have complete power over China’s 1.4 billion people — never have so many been controlled by so few.
This is not just an ambitious plan. It presents the imagined community and ruling structure that Xi is championing for the future, and stands in sharp contrast with democratic Taiwan.
Having already suffered under and thrown off a one-party state, Taiwan has a history that contrasts China’s, which is something Taiwanese must consider as they re-examine their imagined community and the democracy that their nation is developing.
Taiwanese must grasp why the KMT lost the Chinese Civil War to the CCP, bringing the KMT diaspora to Taiwan. The loss was precipitated by the KMT leadership abandoning the true sense of democracy embodied in their original goal of “government of the people, by the people and for the people.”
The KMT leaders at that time became caught up with power and prestige, feeling that their high position entitled them to dynastic privilege. This became the KMT’s predominant paradigm and still fills the minds of many KMT turncoat members in exile.
For example, former Taiwan Provincial Government secretary for foreign affairs Kuo Kuan-ying (郭冠英) managed to finagle a generous pension from the government by counting years of KMT membership along with official work years. Kuo has described himself as a “high-class Mainlander” and called Taiwanese taibazi (台巴子, Taiwanese rednecks). Clinging to stereotypes and apparently in the process of changing sides, he wants to monitor the elections as a representative of the former enemy, the CCP.
Former KMT legislator Chiu Yi (邱毅) is one of those coming out of the woodwork to seek profit in next month’s elections, but after being denied a seat on the KMT legislator-at-large list, he switched, becoming the lead candidate on the at-large list of the pro-unification New Party. For such people, personal privilege and entitlement always trump democracy.
The final irony comes with the KMT giving the privileged fourth place on its at-large list to retired lieutenant general Wu Sz-huai (吳斯懷), who hobnobs with the enemy. He appears to be the ultimate sellout and, at No. 4 on the list, is almost guaranteed to obtain a seat in the Legislative Yuan.
Any of these three could accept Xi’s world vision and the imagined community that he has set out for China, because the one-party state gives them power, privilege and entitlement. This demonstrates that many within the KMT still long for a dynastic, one-party state rule — the antithesis of democracy.
Such current affairs also stand in sharp contrast with the KMT of the past: In 1950, then-Zhejiang Province chairman Chen Yi (陳儀) was executed for selling out to the CCP — which has become a standard practice for many of today’s KMT members.
During every election season, the ultimate question is whether candidates, KMT or otherwise, are committed to democracy and Taiwan’s de facto independence.
Democracy must be essential to their imagined community on this side of the Strait and they must be willing to die for it, instead of selling out to some dream of a dynastic China.
This is the context in which Taiwanese must choose a leader.
Of the two main candidates, one is President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), who has kept the nation on an even keel, steered it between the dangerous shoals of the fictitious “1992 consensus” and Xi’s economic enticements.
The other choice is the chameleon, Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜), who tends to seek out the favorable winds — like a windsock — in the crowd.
If people want riches, he promises them riches. If they want world recognition, he promises them that. All along, he never offers concrete plans or reveals the costs.
The specifics of Han’s plans remain a mystery, but — whatever they are — they are oblivious to the imagined community that Xi is shaping for China.
Despite being elected Kaohsiung mayor last year, Han has shown no leadership skills in governing the city. He immediately set off, making bigger and better promises, with his eyes on the presidency.
The imagined community of Taiwan has no room for turncoats, sellouts or pie-in-the-sky dreamers. Instead, Taiwanese must closely examine the historic narrative that Xi is fashioning for China and realize how it completely differs from their own historic narrative of a democratic nation.
If anyone has any doubts, there is the constant reminder of Hong Kong and of how he seeks to rewrite the territory’s history. Xi has already decided not to wait until 2047 to swallow Hong Kong up in China’s imagined community.
Taiwan’s main enemy, China, remains ever-present at the gates. Xi has his own road map for interpreting history. The choice during this election season is clear.
Taiwanese can cast their vote for a proven leader who opposes Xi, or blindly follow a pied piper who makes vague promises but has no substance. One need not say more.
Jerome Keating is a writer based in Taipei.
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