Most visitors to Taiwan leave with good impressions. They say Taiwanese are friendly, helpful, kind and so on. In business, Taiwanese have proven themselves to be hardworking, adaptive and entrepreneurial.
So why, then, do these same congenial people have trouble working together in politics? Why can’t they develop, expand and solidify the freedom and democracy that they and their ancestors took so long to win and sacrificed so much to achieve? Why do Taiwanese, particularly in their nation’s identity and sovereignty, become their own worst enemy?
Their own worst enemy? Yes.
In the more than 20 years that I have been in Taiwan, I have watched a nation come of age and begin to find its identity. In 1987 I watched it finally break free of the decades of Martial Law that had been imposed, sanctioned and perpetuated by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). In 1996, Taiwanese were finally able to freely elect their own president.
Nevertheless, of all the colonial powers that visited Taiwan, if there was one that fits the role of the beggar who takes over the temple, it was the KMT.
I have watched this nation finally break free from a system of privileges that so many of the beggar’s children enjoyed in Taiwan after 1947. I speak of the seats in the Legislative Yuan and the National Assembly, but also include the numerous administrative and support positions that went with them.
They achieved democracy, but the Taiwanese never finished the job. They never got rid of all the beggar’s children — those who still longed for China rather than Taiwan.
The fact that poisonous people like Government Information Office staffer Kuo Kuan-ying (郭冠英) still held prominent positions in the government service is ample proof that the beggar’s children are still around. The fact that people like Diane Lee (李慶安) — a favorite of the beggar’s children — could keep a seat in the legislature yet be ready to escape to the US if trouble ever came is a measure of the loyalty that the beggar’s children have for Taiwan. I am surprised that Lee did not also have a passport for the People’s Republic of China.
In any other country, Kuo and Lee’s actions could be considered treasonous, yet they walk the streets, free as birds, enjoying their profits at the public’s expense. Why? Because the beggar’s children still control the legislature and the presidency.
In addition to having short memories, the kindness of Taiwanese has prevented them from recognizing charlatans.
Now, under President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), the nation is once again on the verge of losing everything that it fought and died for.
Taiwanese are distracted and fight over the wrong things. They remind me of people whose house is on fire. As they enter their home to put out the fire, one of them looks at the clock on the wall and notices it does not have the same time as his watch. He calls to the others: “Wait, we need to change the hands of the clock on the wall, the time is not correct.” Another disagrees: “It’s fast, but that’s OK because it helps us get going earlier.” A third counters: “We should make it exact.” A fourth disagrees: “The clock is correct; it’s your watches that are wrong.” And so they argue while the house burns down.
To be sure, Taiwan faces many immediate practical problems, but its overriding problem and priority should be to establish a national identity: an identity based on Taiwanese consciousness, one that will defend this island nation.
Instead, they are distracted by the seemingly fraudulent obfuscations of Ma, who said: “We declared our sovereignty and independence in 1912; therefore we don’t need to declare it again.”
Independence and sovereignty in 1912? In 1912, China was just beginning a continuous Civil War that would end when the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) finally sent the KMT packing in 1949 to become the beggar in Taiwan’s temple. In 1912, all of Taiwan was, for the first time in its history, united as one nation — but that union was part of Japan. Only a charlatan of the first order would try to fabricate a link between the identity of present-day Taiwan and make it dependent on and begin with what happened in China in 1912.
To establish a national identity, Taiwanese must get rid of the Constitution of the Republic of China. Anomalies abound in that Constitution, and it has nothing to do with Taiwan; it was brought here by the beggar’s children. It didn’t exist in China in 1912, and it only made a brief appearance there from 1947 to 1949 before the CCP sent the KMT beggar packing.
Yet Ma wants to continue imposing it on Taiwan and use it as a norm. This Constitution claims that Mongolia and Tibet belong to the Republic of China. If Ma wants to make such grandiose claims and perpetuate such illusions, then let him do so, but he shouldn’t involve Taiwan in these fabrications. Ma lives in a dream world of yesteryear, one that has nothing to do with Taiwanese identity.
Some Taiwanese still suffer from Stockholm Syndrome, seeking to make excuses for their colonizers and their behavior. They believe the beggar’s children when they tell them that they are better suited to handle Taiwan’s affairs and economy instead of the Taiwanese themselves. They believe the beggar’s children when they say they can best determine Taiwan’s identity. They have even agreed to rename National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall to Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall after the autocrat who led the beggar’s children to Taiwan.
Ma claims that Taiwan will be left out in the cold if he is not given carte blanche in establishing his non-transparent economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China.
Left out in the cold? Taiwan is already one of China’s biggest investors. Taiwan’s economy is already deeply linked to China’s. What is at stake is not being left out in the cold, but Taiwan’s identity. A bigger beggar of 1.3 billion people sits outside the door of Taiwan’s temple.
Taiwanese had little choice after World War II when the first beggar came to their land. Yet now that they have finally won democracy from that beggar, he says they should invite his 1.3 billion relatives into their home.
I do not mean to say that all KMT members or supporters are beggar’s children. Some have found a new home and are loyal to Taiwan. They have jettisoned their past and taken on a Taiwanese identity. They are for Taiwan.
But Taiwan still has plenty of examples of people like Kuo and Lee. Taiwanese need to closely examine anyone whose primary identity and source of profit involve links with China. They must insist on a bedrock agreement of “Taiwan first” and “Taiwan for Taiwanese.” This must be in actions, not just words.
When Cato the Elder ended his speeches in the Roman Senate, no matter what his topic, he closed with Carthago delenda est. Carthage — the main enemy of Rome — must be destroyed. Taiwanese should end their speeches with a similar phrase. “The beggar’s children must be sent packing. Let Taiwan be Taiwan.”
Jerome Keating is a writer based in Taipei.