"Taike" is the spirit of Taiwan, the spirit of people that once were belittled and looked down upon by outsiders, foreigners and colonialists. Taike in the past, had been linked to images of betel-nut chewing, sandal-shod, palm-leaf hat wearing low-class farmers and ill-dressed gangsters, but now it is being extended past that and past the latest hip fashion. It is being examined and embraced as the true spirit and heart of Taiwanese.
Taike is the spirit of men and women unafraid of their identity. It is the spirit of those who have forged their own freedom, found their own way and are unafraid to approach the future by themselves.
Freedom is a definite part of Taiwanese identity. The spirit of Taiwan is the spirit of past courageous people who risked the treacherous waters of the Taiwan Strait for opportunity. They came not to establish the glory of the Qing or any other dynasty; they came not to spread a culture, but for the unencumbered opportunity available in Taiwan. They came for themselves and a better life. They came for freedom.
The people in Taiwan have experienced many colonial periods in their past. Through each experience of outside rule, they have gained a clearer concept of themselves, their striving and how they differ from their colonizers. Each experience under outside rule added a new aspect to taike, and in each period Taiwan adapted and came closer to sensing what it really wanted.
Taiwan's identity has been formed by its past. As it broke free from each successive outside ruler it realized that it must never look to the outside for answers, nor should it seek to return to or imitate any dynasty, golden age or dream that outsiders have conjured up for it. Taiwan's identity lies in its own freedom, in its roots and in its own way.
As a result of these experiences, the Taiwanese and their government respect each person's right to pursue his or her own spiritual journey.
Many cultures make up the mix of Taiwan's identity, from the previously trampled on but now reborn Aboriginal cultures to all successive waves and races that came afterward. To be Taiwanese is to honor one's ancestors.
Taiwan has never had a Cultural Revolution; it never needed one. Taiwanese know how to balance respect for the past with growth for the future. While Taiwanese respect their ancestors they know it does not mean to be slaves to them. Many say if you want to see Chinese culture at its best, come to Taiwan. Taiwanese embrace their roots and add to them the many other experiences of their past. They embrace and adapt.
One past ruler of Taiwan was Japan, under which the nation suffered the constraints and humiliations of second-class colonial citizenship. However, Taiwan has made this, too, a part of its identity and moved on. It does not now bear a fanatical hatred of Japan as do others mired in the past. It does not need to foster that hatred to distract it from any present chains. Taiwan broke free of its colonization by Japan as it did from the colonization of those who came before and by those who came after. Taiwan has forged its own way.
The taike spirit is what was behind the "Kaohsiung Incident." At that time, the Taiwan Miracle was in full force and the country was secure. Kaohsiung was not about economics. At that time, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), bolstered by martial law and a one-party state, thought it could snuff out all opposition, suppress all protest and crush this indigenous taike spirit once and for all. Further, it could do it in a way that would seem to demonstrate to the world how democratic the KMT was.
In the months immediately following the incident, almost all of the opposition leaders were caught, put on trial and sentenced to years in prison. As if that was not enough, several high profile murders were subsequently committed to intimidate any others thinking of freedom. Yet just when the hard-core KMT thought that it was over and their rule was secure, the tide was beginning to turn.
Taiwan has learned to value the creativity and options that come with freedom. This is why, when given a chance, its people can shine in diverse fields and distant lands. Ang Lee (
In business, Taiwan has brand names such as Acer, BenQ, and Giant. These sons and daughters of Taiwan value their past and the diversity of options available in the free present.
It is actually in the arts (a field where Taiwanese diversity puts its own stamp) that one also sees how the derogatory can gain distinction when embraced for its uniqueness.
The beauty of Impressionism, first seen only as an "impression" of light and reflection, was looked down on as unfinished and low-class because it was not in the classical tradition. Later expressionist artists were derisorily referred to as "Fauves" (wild beasts) because they chose their own way, but their vibrant energy is now appreciated.
Likewise, the tango with its spirited passion is now Argentina's contribution to international ballroom dancing, though its roots were in the lower classes and their bordellos. So, the energy and rebelliousness of taike need not be a source of shame.
Currently, Taiwan is experiencing taike chic. The look has become fashionable, just as the country and western look became popular after the movie Urban Cowboy.
Taiwan, of course, is prone to fads and fashions. Egg tarts were once in, South Korean soap operas are now popular. The 7-Eleven's boost sales by handing out Hello Kitty pins and magnets. However, there is more to it than this. When fads pass, country and western is still country and western (the voice of the people) and taike is still taike.
By embracing the fad, the young have also realized how to separate the name taike from the original intended insult. They have learned the freedom of the Fauves, who took glory in being called wild beasts and turned insult into celebration of identity.
Taiwan is not perfect; it has its corruption, but corruption is a part of any system whether it be capitalist, communist, democratic, socialist, fascist etc.
For those who know Taiwan's history, corruption and exploitation has surfaced in all its periods, though a lack of free press in the past made it less visible. Even now, many of its state assets are still in the hands of its last colonists, the KMT. Ironically, those that presently complain the most about corruption are those that profited most from it in the past, and as they complain, they still keep those past profits.
The more Taiwanese study their history, the more they see the common thread of striving that permeates their past. They begin to realize that by looking beyond the peasant farmer and country bumpkin insult leveled by outsiders they can find the true taike spirit. They begin to see that this common past of striving is what unites them. Taike is not about pandas; taike is not about good-for-nothing legislators posturing in the Legislative Yuan; taike is about freedom.
Jerome Keating is a writer based in Taiwan.
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