Zuguo (motherland, 祖國) is one word that China loves hearing and using. It is the basis of its assertion of sovereignty over Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Macau. It frequently mouths the word in its haughty insistence that Taiwan is an inseparable part of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) — “one of its provinces that must be reunified with the Chinese motherland.” It even employs the word in its attempts to appeal to the emotions of US-based Taiwanese expatriates, telling them every so often not to forget that their “zuguo is the PRC.”
Beijing’s attempts to lure Taiwan back to what it says is its motherland is malicious to say the least, because by stating that the PRC is the zuguo of people in Taiwan, it is in essence negating the existence of the Republic of China (ROC).
It is little wonder then that Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin’s (郝龍斌) recent comment about Taiwan being “abandoned by its motherland” drew criticism from pan-green and pan-blue politicians alike, who said the remarks were inappropriate.
Speaking to reporters in Beijing on Sunday, Hau said: “Taiwan had been abandoned by its motherland” and it felt hurt and wanted emotional distance.
As Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lo Shu-lei (羅淑蕾) rightly put it, Hau must have been confused.
“The Qing Dynasty is not our motherland. We overthrew the Qing Dynasty. Taiwan is an independent nation and no longer has feelings of being abandoned,” Lo said.
Taiwan and the Penghu islands were ceded to Japan by the Qing Empire in 1895 under the Treaty of Shimonoseki after its defeat in the First Sino-
Japanese War. At the time, Qing official Lee Hongzhang (李鴻章) told Empress Dowager Cixi (慈禧太后) that Taiwan was a “backward territory, where the birds do not sing, the flowers are not fragrant, the women are heartless and the men are callous.”
To be fair, when Taiwan was ceded to Japan, there must have been a number of people in Taiwan who felt that they had been abandoned by what they regarded as their zuguo.
However, was it a view shared by most Taiwanese at the time? Most likely not, based on government records at the time.
In accordance with the treaty, Japan gave Qing subjects in Taiwan two years to decide whether they wanted to return to Qing-governed territory or stay in Taiwan. Article 5 of the treaty states that those who decided to stay would automatically obtain Japanese citizenship, while those who chose to leave could sell their property tax free.
Official records showed that when the two-year deadline was up, a total of 6,456 people chose to leave Taiwan, or 0.23 to 0.25 percent of the island’s population at the time. In other words, there were very few people who felt they were abandoned by zuguo.
Even after the collapse of the Qing Dynasty and the founding of the ROC in 1912, the Japanese government in Taiwan did not prohibit Taiwanese from relocating to China. As an example, historian Lien Heng (連橫) — the grandfather of former vice president Lien Chan (連戰) — took his family and left for Shanghai after being ostracized by the Taiwanese gentry for publishing an article in 1930 extolling the colonial government’s opium policy.
In short, Hau’s talk of Taiwan being “abandoned by its motherland” is an insult to Taiwanese because, as historical accounts show, Taiwanese were the ones who chose to abandon China and decided against being Chinese. Those who did identify with China as their zuguo have long since moved back to China.