On the last day of my visit to Taipei, I went to the Taipei Guesthouse to pay my respects to late chief of the general staff general Shen Yi-ming (沈一鳴) and seven other military officers who died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 2.
Coincidentally, a campaign rally was going on next door on Ketagalan Boulevard, with participants chanting that they would bring the government down, while that very government was conducting a solemn ceremony to grieve the outstanding individuals the nation had just lost.
Political criticism and opposition have long since become part of everyday life in Taiwan; at the same time, Taiwan has managed to create the worst-ever election culture and produce the lowest-quality candidate ever.
If a politician who uses people who died in service of the nation and the 921 Earthquake for his own purposes succeeds in getting elected, and his political party were reinstalled in government, the next tragedy they would be using for their own purposes could well be your and my future.
Because I like to nitpick, I found quite a few errors in the posters the Ministry of National Defense had made to introduce each of the deceased officers.
According to the text, lieutenant colonel Huang Sheng-hang (黃聖航) was from Miaoli, Taiwan Province — although Taiwan’s provincial status has long been abolished.
This made me wonder: If someone flies from Taipei International Airport (Songshan airport) to Kinmen, would they feel as if they have arrived in Fujian Province? And if they took a boat from Xiamen to Kinmen, would they really think that they are still in the same province where Xiamen is located?
The text also said that Shen was from Yixing (宜興) in China’s Jiangsu Province — although he was Taiwanese through and through, born in what is now Taipei’s Shilin District (士林). So what is his connection to Jiangsu? His long-deceased father was from that province.
Here is the problem: Since 1945, Taiwan has been under the spell of two words — ancestral origin (籍貫). For decades, these two words have been the archenemy of Taiwan’s ethnic integration efforts and national identity.
From childhood to adulthood, we have a nationality, household registration records, school enrolment records, military service records. These records all represent a different status, and statuses change. Development, in a way, is a change in status. However, there is one thing that does not change — the word “origin” in “ancestral origin” is the devil that hides in the details.
Our ancestral origin is unchangeable, because the word “origin” tells us that we follow an unchangeable bloodline and have to carry the weight of our forefathers’ “origin.” This “origin” is not a status, it is a bloodline.
I like to say that only Arabian horses, Belgian pigeons and other animals are judged by their bloodline, and that people are connected to the land where they live, not a bloodline.
Nationalism is humanity’s biggest sin. Sun Yat-sen (孫逸仙) might have been wise and benevolent, but one-third of his theory was wrong, as it stressed nationalism, a mistake that many autocratic politicians have been guilty of.
Calling for the expulsion of barbarians and the restoration of China? Who were these barbarians? Nothing more than Manchurians, from another bloodline. Bloodline is not something we choose. After all, how much nobler are Han people than other people?
If Shen was from Yixing in Jiangsu Province, then Non-Partisan Solidarity Union Legislator May Chin (高金素梅) is from Malaysia; Java, Indonesia; or the Philippines. Call the children or grandchildren of immigrants Vietnamese or Indonesian or any other nationality and I would be surprised if you were not accused of discrimination.
When some obscurantist reactionaries at the ministry wrote that Shen was from Jiangsu, they were disparaging a national hero, equating him to the gang at the People’s Daily who kick you when you are down and pour salt on the wounds, the pilots flying the MIG fighters he fought to protect Taiwan’s territory against and the Chinese tourists who buried used diapers on Boracay beach.
Calling nationalism humanity’s greatest sin is not intended to upset or offend — nationalism was the cause of two world wars and hundreds of millions of deaths.
We all know that former US president George W. Bush is Texan, but he was not born in Texas. He was born in Connecticut, but if we were to follow the crazy logic of “ancestral origin,” we would have to say that he is from Somerset, England.
Put that on his gravestone when that day comes and the Americans are likely to blow you to kingdom come.
When someone asks you where you are from, they want to know where you live, what country, because that is the place where you made your life, that is the country where you pay your taxes, and that is the country that protects you, and accepts your hard work and your contributions.
The idea of ancestral origin is outdated, an invention by dictators and ambitious politicians using nationalism as a way to achieve their own political goals.
Everyone is free to respect their deceased parents and ancestors, but it is something that is best done through a family tree. It is not something to be used as a symbol, and it should not be used to make the sin that is nationalism more palatable.
Remember the days when legislators were not elected? That was because the seats in the legislature were divided based on ancestral origin to achieve the ruler’s political goals.
In the 21st century, when even elementary-school students talk about globalization and the global village, promoting nationalism is the preserve of terrorists. Oh, and that big country on the other side of the Taiwan Strait, of course.
Any slogan or action that praises the virtues of nationalism is backward and reactionary, and can only bring disaster. Can nationalist virtue exist also within unvirtuous nationalities? No. My firm and unchanging belief is that there are no unvirtuous nationalities, and that there is no such thing as nationalist virtue.
Today every global citizen stresses land virtue, or land justice, if you prefer that. We are connected to the land where we live, not a bloodline.
James Chang is general manager of James & Rose Ltd.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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