Earlier this month, former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄) and a KMT delegation met with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) in Beijing.
In a bid to curry favor with Xi, Wu said that “the two sides [of the Taiwan Strait] should promote nationalistic identity, because we cannot choose our ancestors,” a statement that has caused much controversy and discussion in Taiwan.
During his visit, Wu repeated the old cliche about lineage and blood ties, saying that Taiwan and China share the same language and their respective peoples belong to the same race.
Over the past week or so, many people have argued strongly against this view.
As a Taiwanese with free will and Taiwanese awareness, I feel that Wu’s statement was left unfinished.
One cannot choose one’s ancestors, nor can one change the fact that all humans are descendants of the hominids that developed in Eastern Africa.
However, that does not mean that people are not free to pursue an individual and community happiness, autonomously and freely.
In addition to the Aborigines that have lived in Taiwan for thousands of years, the ancestors of many people living in Taiwan today risked their lives crossing the strait from China to this unknown new land.
They did so to escape from war, disaster or hunger, hoping to pursue their happiness and that of their children.
Taiwan is the original homeland of the Austronesian peoples who are dispersed between Chile’s Easter Island in the east and Madagascar in the west.
Thousands of years ago, some brave Austronesians sailed from their Taiwanese homeland on wooden boats and began an ocean adventure stretching beyond the horizon, eventually settling Southeast Asia and Oceania. Those Austronesians did so out of their own free will and in the pursuit of a happy life. Nobody would criticize them as having forgotten their origins and ancestors.
Other peoples who pursued their happiness out of their own free will include those who relocated from British colonies and created the first 13 states of the US in the second half of the 18th century.
They fought the British officials and troops with whom they shared ancestors. Both sides “had no choice” in who their ancestors were.
Still, these early Americans chose to seek their happiness through a bloody revolution against British rule, an unfair tax system and policies.
The experience of this struggle is reflected in the US Declaration of Independence, which states: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
It is self-evident that these rights take precedence over the shackles of the outdated concept of lineage and blood ties.
To complete Wu’s statement: “Although one cannot choose one’s ancestors, everyone can pursue their own happiness.”
Chi Chun-chieh is a professor in the Department of Ethnic Relations and Cultures at National Dong Hwa University.
Translated by Eddy Chang