Today, Taiwan celebrates its national day. This year the theme is “Taiwan Forward,” a reference to the importance of a national day as an occasion to focus on the future trajectory of the country. The celebrations will include performances by new immigrants, in addition to Republic of China (ROC) citizens. This is to accentuate the government’s aspiration toward further inclusiveness and diversity.
A country’s national day is not only about the future; it is also an opportunity for the nation to come together, focus on a shared narrative, take stock of the present and reflect on its past.
Taiwan’s present situation and the foundations of its diversity have very much been shaped by its past, in particular, its unique story over the past few centuries. This story has seen colonial masters come and go, and many regard the ROC regime, brought over in 1949 by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), as the most recent in that long sequence. With every transition, Taiwan’s story has unfolded and taken new turns.
As in previous years, the day will be filled with parades and fireworks. It will also include speeches and soundbites by politicians, and these will be riddled with the usual platitudes and agendas, for that is what politicians do.
However, it is also an occasion for serious reflection on what this country’s national day means, for the very notion carries with it an inherent contradiction.
It is called Double Ten National Day because it is the commemoration of the Wuchang Uprising that began on the 10th day of the 10th month in 1911 in China’s Hubei Province. This uprising led directly to the founding of the ROC.
The contradiction is of a country celebrating its national day as an entity birthed in another land.
This would not be problematic in itself, but there is still much disagreement within the nation about what Taiwan and the ROC actually mean. This is the core issue that fundamentally divides politics in Taiwan as it relates to national identity, and splits the electorate right down the middle.
The KMT assigns great significance to national day. KMT Chairman Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) on Oct. 10 last year said in a speech how ROC founder Sun Yat-sen (孫逸仙) had led the KMT to overthrow China’s last dynasty and “ensured the recovery of Taiwan” from the Japanese to use as its base.
Former KMT chairwoman Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) added: “We should all remember that unification [with China] is our ultimate goal.”
Ironically, unification with China would lead to the demise of the ROC. Like the KMT, Hung wants to celebrate the ROC’s founding, even though she does not seem to mind its extinction.
The contradiction comes into further relief considering the founding of the ROC as the starting point of this nation ignores the diverse and vibrant immigrant community that existed in Taiwan prior to 1949, nor does it include the Aborigines who had lived here for centuries before those waves of migration.
There is an argument to be made that using the commemoration of the ROC to mark the national day is, in itself divisive and not inclusive.
Changing the date of the national day, or commuting the Double Ten to a commemoration of the ROC’s founding, would be — in the current circumstances — politically impossible, and such a move might not have the support of a significant percentage of the public.
This is a shame, because exploring the possibility of an alternate event or founding story that is not divisive, and around which there might be more consensus, would be a recognition of the reality of the historical evolution the nation has gone through, and go some way to resolving the inherent contradiction.
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