Editorial: A unificationist in Aboriginal garb

Thu, Jun 16, 2005 - Page 8

The Sino-Japanese relationship has deteriorated lately as a result of Japanese textbooks -- which critics say whitewash its war record last century -- and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine. Now, the resulting Chinese nationalism has also infected unification proponents in Taiwan. Afraid of antagonizing China, Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has decided to postpone a visit by Tokyo Mayor Shintaro Ishihara that was meant to promote Japanese tourist visits to Taipei.

Ma is not the only one influenced by Chinese nationalism. It has now affected independent Legislator May Chin (高金素梅) as well. The difference is that Chin opposes both Japan and Taiwanese independence under the cover of her Aboriginal status. She has now led a group of descendants of Aboriginal soldiers who served in the Japanese army to Japan to demand that the names of Aboriginal soldiers be removed from the Yasukuni Shrine.

By the terms of the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki, these Taiwanese soldiers -- as well as their fellow Han servicemen -- became Japanese. They died on the battlefield for Japan, and the Japanese government, treating them as the emperor's warriors, included them in the reverence paid at the shrine. There is nothing wrong with that.

Chin's appeals are also understandable. Since Taiwan already has become an independent country, these Taiwanese soldiers in the Japanese army are no longer second-rate colonial citizens of the Japanese empire. Their souls already have a motherland. If their descendants demand that the Japanese government remove their names from the Yasukuni Shrine and return them to their old homeland, the Japanese should not put up obstacles, but help them achieve their wishes.

May Chin's visit to Japan is controversial in Taiwan because everyone here knows that she is simply a pro-unification politician who often hides beneath the cloak of her Aboriginal status. It was director Ang Lee's film The Wedding Banquet that raised her to stardom. The daughter of an Aboriginal mother and Mainlander father, she had always been unwilling to reveal that she was half Aboriginal, and few people knew her background. That changed after the government relaxed the conditions for recognition of Aboriginal decent, allowing it to flow either from the maternal or the paternal line. She took her mother's maiden name to create a double-barreled surname, entered a campaign for the legislature as a recognized Aborigine and got elected with a large majority.

Since May Chin's father is a Mainlander, it's not surprising that she never fails to echo the pan-blue camp's political arguments, but she does this as though she is representing the Aboriginal community. Of course, it's not politically correct to interpret May Chin's actions based on her ethnic background. But in Taiwan, this can often prove quite a objective standard. The question is whether May Chin is qualified to speak for the Aboriginal community.

The absurdity of the situation is that many Aborigines are unaware that their ethnic identity is in danger of being usurped. For example, the Paiwan and Rukai tribes in Pingtung take the hundred-pace snake as their totem. The offspring of Mainlander veterans and Paiwan and Rukai women often opt for Aboriginal status, but when they return home for tribal festivals, the hundred-pace snake has been replaced by the Chinese dragon in their ceremonial regalia.

It is worrying to see that the totem of the Aboriginal people is being replaced by a Chinese symbol. This makes us think of Hong Kong movie star Jackie Chan's recent remark that Shanghai women should marry foreigners to help spread Chinese culture around the world. That Chinese are able to advocate interracial marriage as a tool of cultural conquest is really quite frightening.