Thu, Oct 27, 2005 - Page 2 News List

China-based Taiwanese split over identity


In an upscale Beijing restaurant, a youthful real estate developer from Taipei muses ruefully over the possibility of union between China's communist colossus and his home country.

"When I first came here 18 months ago I thought that if China takes over Taiwan it's OK," says Chang Chieh, 24. "But now I think that the Taiwan government cannot allow such a thing to happen. It would be a terrible thing for our people."

Beijing has been working to convince Taiwanese that "common" language, culture and ethnicity make integration into China an inevitability, and a national duty.

But interviews with Chang and others among the around 300,000 Taiwanese professionals who have come to live in China as a result of thawing relations suggest the gap between the two sides is substantial, going beyond China's one-party rule and Taiwan's democracy.

"Taiwanese people think differently from people on the mainland," Chang says. "In China it's been a real struggle to survive. So people are a lot tougher here. If you put a Taiwanese child down in China, he'll be eaten up alive."

Opinion polls in Taiwan say only about 10 percent of its 23 million people want immediate reunification with China. About 15 percent support formal independence, while the remainder favor maintaining the status quo.

Conversations with Taiwanese in China suggest that 56 years of separation have taken a toll on whatever once existed of a common identity.

Shen Zhi-xing, 35, an architect who came from Taiwan early last year, says a key divergence was the 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution that convulsed China.

She says Taiwan's insulation from the event meant it preserved its "Chinese culture" while China was destroying its own.

"I don't even think of myself as Chinese," she says. "When I return to Taiwan I feel like I have come to a completely different place. The gap is very substantial."

Vincent Yang, 42, a Taiwanese businessman now based in Shanghai, is also disdainful of talk of a common national identity.

"We really feel that China and Taiwan are different places," he says. "I don't see any reason why we should unify."

Not all Taiwanese here agree.

Liu Jie, a 46-year-old businessman who has lived in China since 2001, thinks the cultural similarities are significant and argues that there can be a successful union between Taiwan and China -- although he doesn't think that can happen soon.

"These things take time," he said.

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