Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Wu Poh-hsiung’s (吳伯雄) attack on Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) Hakka credentials serves as the latest example of the KMT’s failure to own up to its oppressive past.
On Sunday, while stumping at a campaign rally for President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) re-election bid, Wu, who is a heavyweight in the Hakka community, referred to Tsai as a “pseudo-Hakka” because she does not speak the language well.
Wu’s logic seems to work in a funny way: If he could only see the irony of his attack on Tsai.
For years the KMT has accused the DPP of stoking ethnic tensions by delivering campaign speeches in Hoklo (commonly known as Taiwanese), saying it alienates the group of Mainlanders who have lived in Taiwan for decades and yet cannot speak a word of Taiwanese. Now Wu is resorting to exactly the same tactic that the KMT has railed against for years, stereotyping a person based on their ability to speak a certain language or dialect.
If Wu’s logic was consistent, then he would also brand many young Hakka today as “pseudo-Hakka” and young Aborigines as “pseudo-Aborigines” because they cannot speak their ancestors’ languages.
By bashing Tsai because she had only recently begun to speak Hakka, Wu is completely missing the point and is failing all Hakka by not asking why Tsai, like many people of Hakka descent, does not speak the language.
Maybe Wu needs to take a crash course in Taiwan’s history to refresh his memory about the language policy implemented by his very own KMT that resulted in many of today’s young Hakka, Hoklo and Aborigines not being able to fluently speak the languages of their ancestors and which remained in force until the turn of the millennium.
The KMT regime was notorious for the language policy it enforced during the Martial Law era that virtually eradicated languages and dialects other than Mandarin.
Wu needs to be reminded of the “Please Speak Mandarin” policy initiated by the KMT regime in 1966. This policy prohibited students at all levels from speaking any language other than Mandarin on school grounds. Those who let words in other languages slip out were fined and forced to wear placards around their neck that identified them as rule-breakers. Or perhaps Wu needs to be reminded of how the KMT also implemented a policy that Aborigines should adopt Han names and arbitrarily altered local township and street names to Han names.
Just as Ma should not be labeled a “pseudo-Taiwanese” because he does not speak fluent Taiwanese, a Hakka should not be branded a “pseudo-Hakka” for having been prevented from learning their mother tongue.
If anything, Wu’s barrage against Tsai over her lack of Hakka skills only works to dredge up the KMT’s history of oppressing Taiwan’s diverse ethnic groups and cultures and serves as an indictment on the party’s lack of self-insight, reminding us all just how little Wu, and others in the KMT, have seemingly progressed in terms of their views about ethnic diversity and how to build a multicultural society.