Addressing the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) on Wednesday, Jia Qinglin (賈慶林), the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) No. 4 official and chairman of the CPPCC national committee, reaffirmed his government’s commitment to the “peaceful” development of cross-strait relations.
“We will constantly increase contacts with political parties, organizations, social groups, influential figures from all walks of life and the general public in Taiwan,” he told the more than 2,000 delegates at the Great Hall of the People.
Then came a comment that should make us pause both for the strategy that it highlights as for the lack of understanding of Taiwan that it elicits: “All this [growing exchanges] greatly enhanced the acceptance of the Chinese nation and Chinese culture by our Taiwan[ese] compatriots.”
Chinese officials have made no secret of the fact that they see Chinese culture as a weapon by which to persuade Taiwanese to agree to annexation. After many years of seeing Taiwan allegedly “drift” from its Chinese cultural heritage — efforts that accelerated during the administration of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) — Beijing is now seizing the opportunity created by the presidency of Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to impose a Chinese cultural template on Taiwan. Given the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) acquiescence in this endeavor, and Ma’s repeated references to Chinese culture, the situation is somewhat reminiscent of Taiwan during the era of White Terror, when symbols of Taiwaneseness, including the language, were barred from the media and Chinese — as opposed to Taiwanese — history was taught in the nation’s schools.
As contact between the two sides accelerates and the creative industries cross-pollinate (this will likely be mostly one way, given China’s greater financial resources and censorship at home), the assault on Taiwanese consciousness through cultural means will only intensify. By dint of repetition and subtle changes here and there (on television, in schoolbooks and academic forums), the Chinese plan could succeed in eroding Taiwanese cultural identity — at least to a certain extent.
Other countries with a powerful neighbor, such as Canada vis-a-vis the US, have often raised the specter of a culture threat, mostly through the flooding of their domestic markets by films, music, literature and McDonald’s. Under such circumstances, however, if there is a threat, it is an indirect one in that no conscious effort is being made by Washington to shape minds through cultural bombardment.
In Taiwan’s case, however, it has become rather clear that cultural influence is no mere collateral — it is, in fact, the tip of a missile aimed straight at the heart.
This effort at cultural transformation to achieve political objectives, however, is of limited effectiveness and will be less likely to achieve its ultimate aims if the strategy becomes too transparent (external factors, such as the Chinese military threat, will also undermine such a strategy).
Comments such as those by Jia, to the effect that cross-strait exchanges highlight “the acceptance of the Chinese nation and Chinese culture by ... Taiwan[ese] compatriots,” underscore the political elements of China’s cultural strategy and are an example of the transparency that could throw Beijing’s plans off track. That is so because of the false assumptions that buttress those efforts.
The willingness of Taiwanese to engage in more discussions with Chinese, to watch Chinese movies, attend Chinese art expositions (or gaze at pandas) is simply natural curiosity. By no means does this signify, however, that by doing so Taiwanese accept the so-called Chinese nation — by which Beijing means “one China” — or see it as their culture. Quebecers, for example, may show a great deal of interest in a French troupe performing in Quebec City (or Hollywood movies, for that matter), but this does not mean that they “accept” France, or the US, as the seat of their culture.
A better analogy, perhaps, would be that of a Palestinian interested in learning more about Israelis living across the fence by attending discussion groups involving the two people. However high his interest might be, it remains purely academic and under no circumstances would it imply the acceptance that Palestinian land belongs to some Greater Israel.
If Beijing subscribes to the belief that interest in seeing things Chinese means acceptance of its dominion over Taiwan, it is in for a very unpleasant surprise.
Slips like that made by Jia on Wednesday are not infrequent and should serve as a warning to Taiwanese that for Beijing, nothing is sacred, or off limit, in its pursuit of unification.
J. Michael Cole is an editor at the Taipei Times.
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) founder Morris Chang (張忠謀) has repeatedly voiced concern over the weakening cost competitiveness of its US fabs and challenged the US’ “on-shore” policy of building domestic semiconductor capacity. Yet not once has the government said anything, even though the economy is highly dependent on the chip industry. In the US, the cost of operating a semiconductor factory is at least twice the amount required to operate one in Taiwan, rather than the 50 percent he had previously calculated, Chang said on Thursday last week at a forum arranged by CommonWealth Magazine. He said that he had
The Twenty-Four Histories (中國廿四史) is a collection of official Chinese dynastic histories from Records of the Grand Historian (史記) to the History of the Ming Dynasty (明史) that cover the time from the legendary Yellow Emperor (黃帝) to the Chongzhen Emperor (崇禎), the last Ming emperor. History is written by the victors. These histories are not merely records of the rise and fall of emperors, they also demonstrate the ways in which conquerors embellished their own achievements while deriding those of the conquered. The history written by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is no exception. The PRC presents its
In August 2013, Reuters reported that Beijing had been gaining soft power with investment commitments and trade with countries in Latin America. However, instead of jumping on the chance to make new allies, China stalled requests to establish diplomatic relations with the countries to avoid galling Taiwanese voters. Beijing was also courting then-president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), and the tactic left China with a trump card if cross-strait relations turned cool. China had rebuffed at least five countries’ requests to switch diplomatic recognition to Beijing, the report said, quoting a China analyst. Honduras could become the ninth diplomatic ally, and also the fifth
The International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant issued on Friday last week for Russian President Vladimir Putin delighted Uighurs, as Putin’s today signals Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) tomorrow. The crimes committed by Xi are many times more serious than what Putin has been accused of. Putin has caused more than 8 million people to flee Ukraine. By imprisoning more than 3 million Uighurs in concentration camps and restricting the movement of more than 10 million Uighurs, Xi has not only denied them the opportunity to live humanely, but also the opportunity to escape oppression. The 8 million Ukrainians who fled