Who needs a `father of the nation' anyway?

By Cheng Wei-chun鄭維鈞  / 

Mon, Nov 22, 2004 - Page 8

Examination Yuan member Lin Yu-ti's (林玉体) comments about there being "more than one father of the nation," and that the idea of the "nation's father" should simply be abolished struck many people as shocking.

After all, in our school textbooks, documents, films, portraits, money, celebrations, monuments and countless other parts of our daily life, Sun Yat-sen (孫中山) is revered as our nation's founding father. He attempted revolution on ten occasions and finally succeeded on the eleventh attempt, when he created the Republic of China. Now, his legacy has been caught up in the debate over the nation's identity -- and his position as the "nation's father" is now embarrassingly uncertain.

Even as ruling party and opposition legislators started trading barbs over the issue, I finally got the chance to see footage of Lin being questioned on the issue of whether the "nation's father" should be abolished. His answer was that: "It would be best to abolish it, for these days, we shouldn't have patriarchal ideas."

Now that was really a shock. I had always thought of Lin as an avuncular local type with a strong sense of Taiwanese identity. I never thought that he brought such advanced feminist ideas to the concept of patriarchal social structures.

It comes as no surprise that living in this patriarchal society, we are used to patriarchal values. Friedrich Engels, in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, published in 1884, pointed out the men and women were originally equal, but that after the concept of private property was developed, with the resultant emergence of nation and class, women's status became that of chattel.

Through this process of development, the legal status of women was repressed and their freedom and ability to participate in the community constrained. Virginia Woolf lamented that "As a woman, I have no country. As a woman I want no country."

What Lin has done is to point out the patriarchal development that has taken place within our historical and political education. Why indeed should we have a "father of the nation?" Why does our history follow a line of male rulers all the way down to Sun Yat-sen in a patriarchal line?

What is without doubt is that the concept of "father of the nation" is used to constrain thought within a framework of national rule, affirming national legitimacy and consolidating diverse social and ethnic groups with the aim of acquiring the highest degree of political power.

But does anyone remember the "mother of the country?" That was Soong Ching-ling (宋慶齡), the woman who accused the KMT of diverging from the political ideology laid down by Sun. She rejected the KMT early on, and pursued an ideal of establishing a "People's Republic of China."

Of course she knew that her husband was the founder of the Republic of China, but she also understood that the "father of the nation" is nothing more than a political symbol and it is "the people" who constitute the body of the nation. Therefore, while embracing the thought of Sun Yat-sen, she threw herself into another revolution, one that sought to overthrow the Republic of China -- not caring at all that Sun was supposedly the father of the Republic of China.

As the people constitute the body of the nation, sexual equality and equal rule by both sexes is the goal we wish to achieve. This equality should be incorporated into our thinking on government policy and education.

Who is the father of our country and do we want such a father? Well, we should go ask the nation's mother.

Cheng Wei-chun is a masters candidate in the Graduate School for Social Transformation Studies at Shih Hsin University.

Translated by Ian Bartholomew