Tue, Mar 16, 2004 - Page 4 News List

Colonial `myths' under attack in new book

By Joy Su  /  STAFF REPORTER

With the presidential election looming, political commentators yesterday discussed postcolonial nation-building during the launch of the book Shattering the Myths: Taiwanese Identity and the Legacy of KMT Colonialism, asking voters to carefully consider their choice at the ballot box.

"Saturday gives the people of Taiwan a choice. It's a choice both simple and momentous. It is a choice between progress and reaction, light and darkness. And I, as a well-wisher of Taiwan, hope desperately that the right choice gets made," said author Laurence Eyton, Taiwan correspondent for the Economist and associate editor-in-chief of the Taipei Times.

Shattering the Myths is a collection of essays, each presented in Chinese and English, which originally appeared in the Taiwan Daily News between September 2002 and last December.

The book examines the problems and complexities of Taiwanese national identity through international, historical and cultural lenses.

"The theme [of the book] is that Taiwan is both unique and not unique in ways exactly the opposite of those the KMT [Chinese Nationalist Party] claimed during its 50-year hegemony," Eyton said at the launch yesterday.

Eyton identified Taiwan's present national condition as postcolonial and said that the country stood to gain from the experiences of other postcolonial nations.

"The history of Europe in the 1920s and 1930s shows us clearly how [democracy can fail]. And I say: Study this, see how it happens, see how it applies to you," Eyton said.

In the essays, Eyton also encourages his readers to consider the legacy of decades of colonial rule.

"Generations of Taiwanese have been successfully brainwashed about their cultural and historical links with China. This brainwashing is the real shadow of the `one China' policy out of which Taiwanese must walk," Eyton writes in the book.

Though Eyton described his book as a collection of "biweekly ramblings," his work has earned the respect of the likes of veteran democracy activist Peng Ming-min (彭明敏), who spoke at the launch.

"When I first read Eyton's writing in the Taiwan Daily News, I knew that he was a foreigner. I was deeply touched that a foreigner would express such concern for and understanding of Taiwan," Peng said.

Chuang Feng-chia (莊豐嘉), editor-in-chief of the Taiwan Daily News, said that some of the material in the book had been dealt with before but demanded new attention.

"This is probably not the first time these myths have been written about, but Eyton pinpoints exactly how I feel about the topic. It is the first time that the myths have been expressed this way and with such clarity," he said.

Another commentator argued that the book's insistence on a need for a new national identity was informed by a willingness to make a moral choice.

"Eyton makes a choice [with regard to Taiwanese national identity] because he has the moral courage and the principles to assess what is right and wrong and what progress means," said Chin Heng-wei (金恆煒), editor in chief of Contemporary Monthly magazine.

The first copy of the book was given to President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) last week.

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