It has been a month since President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) was inaugurated and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) continues its downward tailspin. The party faces an increasing twofold challenge: first its identity problem vis-a-vis Taiwan and because of that identity problem, its inability to function in a democracy.
To understand this identity issue, one must trace the threads of the party’s history, its inability to separate itself from China’s dynastic and Confucian belief that only the elite should rule, and the fact that the KMT lost the Chinese Civil War.
In 1911, while Taiwan was part of the Japanese Empire, China began its emergence. It went from the Qing Dynasty to Yuan Shikai’s (袁世凱) emperor-like wishes to other warlords to a civil war. Through this the KMT considered itself the heir of Sun Yat-sen (孫逸仙) and maintained a belief that because China was “not ready” for democracy, it should be under the KMT’s elite “tutelage.”
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) naturally contested this. It fought and emerged victorious in the civil war. However, throughout this struggle, neither the KMT nor the CCP really supported democracy; both supported a dynastic one-party state. Such exists in China today with the CCP in charge, leaving the KMT with the losers’ dilemma.
There are four questions that the KMT must resolve. First, though the KMT lost the civil war, how can it maintain that it did not because it believes in “one China” as the CCP does? Is their perceived difference just a matter of who rules?
Second, how can the KMT find a way to worm its way back into China even though it was driven into exile as diaspora after losing the war?
Third, how can it maintain its belief in a “one China” platform and pretend to balance this with a free and democratic Taiwan?
Fourth, how can it maintain its belief that the KMT, as the real “high-class Mainlanders” of Confucian tradition should still be the rulers?
The KMT was able to function as Taiwan became democratic as long as it remained the majority party and could claim high-class leadership and privilege, but now that the party has been voted out, its real troubles have begun and many members do not know how to react.
In this loser’s dilemma, how can the party preserve a shred of “high-class dignity,” when to others it is more like high-class thieves?
After losing China to the CCP, the KMT took the National Palace Museum treasures, as well as a good portion of China’s gold reserves. The museum’s treasures are still in Taiwan, but as for the gold reserves, a clear, transparent account has never been given.
Driven out as beggars, the KMT must also find a way to worm their way back into China. One answer could be to give back some of what they stole. In this they face a paradigmatic divide. The issue of “theft” is also one of the issues of transitional justice in Taiwan.
However it is resolved, it does explain why, in the minds of many KMT members, Taiwanese can never be “high-class rulers”: they are tainted by Japanese rule and intermarriage with the indigenous peoples, they are second-class citizens, or taibazi (台巴子, Taiwanese rednecks), unfit even to rule their own nation. Therefore, having been voted out, all that the “dispossessed KMT” now know is how to lash out and try to stymie the progress of the nation.
KMT Central Policy Committee director Alex Tsai (蔡正元) is a good example of one such lost soul who, having lost his “high-class Mainlander” status, now grasps at straws to criticize the new regime.
In one breath, he can post media personality Liu Yi-hung’s (劉益宏) article that supports unification of China under the CCP. If his antics were not so laughable, some would suggest that he be tried for treason. Alex Tsai promotes the “historic mission” to unify China as a way of justifying what the KMT did to denude Taiwan, and yet in the next breath, he criticizes Tsai Ing-wen as being like the CCP in her rule.
It seems he is hoping to play both ends against the middle and search for some solid ground for the KMT. The KMT fails to realize that never in China’s history was there a cry to “overthrow the CCP and restore the KMT.”
Of course, not all KMT members possess the “high-class Mainlander” sense of entitlement; many have adapted in Taiwan and striven to build a party to support the nation. However, for those that have the “one China” attitude, a better example of what the party has become is that of former Taiwan governor Chen Yi (陳儀).
Chen had no qualms about doing Chiang Kai-shek’s (蔣介石) dirty work when he was governor and head of the Taiwan Garrison Command; he could play both sides to his advantage.
He killed thousands of Taiwanese while suppressing the unrest he created and he was rewarded with the governorship of Zhejiang Province. There he started to bargain with the CCP. When discovered, he was executed not for what he did in Taiwan, but for being a traitor to Chiang, not China. That is the irony of the current KMT.
The old KMT tried to claim Chiang Kai-shek and Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) as leaders, but now, as they bargain with China, their model is Chen Yi; they will sell out to the highest bidder.
For young people in the KMT, these facts present tremendous obstacles that they must overcome understand their identity. Or do many of them still see themselves as high-class Mainlanders?
In the loser’s dilemma, some KMT might seek to return to China as prodigal sons. However, the CCP is too clever to believe them. The CCP is already taking advantage of Taiwanese businesses that have invested in China and making it difficult to take money out of the country.
This is where their Chen Yi’s background fits the KMT, even though it would eventually mean a twisting of loyalty to Chiang Ching-kuo. In this dilemma, if returning KMT members can be given honorary second-class status and still pretend that they are high-class elite, they might be satisfied.
Jerome Keating is a writer based in Taipei.
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