The Joseon Tongsinsa were missions sent to Japan by the Great Joseon, the dynastic kingdom of Korea before it was replaced by the Korean Empire in 1897.
Japan’s Edo period (1603-1867) witnessed the heyday of such Korean-Japanese diplomatic exchanges. The Joseon Dynasty intended to enhance its communication with Japan, while Japan wanted to mitigate problems resulting from its seclusion policy by trading with the Joseon.
At that time, Japan had not yet become a sea power, despite its status as an island nation. Taiwan experienced a similar situation during the Manchu Qing Dynasty (1644-1912).
Also at that time, island nations in the Far East had a similar mindset, which was to maintain relations with the Asian continent.
Under Qing rule, Taiwan received Chinese officials who could be viewed as envoys. The major difference between the Qing-Taiwan exchange and the Joseon-Japan exchange was the trading relationships on which these exchanges were arranged.
The Qing Dynasty and Taiwan had a much closer trading partnership. The Qing needed Taiwan to supply rice, and in turn, the majority of Taiwan’s rice exports went to China.
Considering the missions and envoys of the past, the exchange between Taiwan and China today seems more dubious. Taipei Mayor Chiang Wan-an (蔣萬安) welcomed Shanghai’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) Deputy Director Li Xiaodong (李驍東), allowing a Chinese delegation to directly enter Taiwan’s capital.
Moreover, the Taipei City Government had been secretive about the whole event. Local media were not even permitted to interview the visiting Chinese officials.
Such a diplomatic exchange was more mysterious than it was during Japan’s Edo period and during the Qing rule of Taiwan. When the Joseon Tongsinsa were sent to Japan, a magnificent fanfare would be made as if the great kingdom of Joseon itself were being welcomed. Likewise, when Qing officials traveled to Taiwan, they were required to report to Taiwan’s governor and begin their visit at Taiwan’s government office in present-day Tainan.
When the Shanghai TAO officials visited Taiwan a few days ago, they only showed their faces at the airport while keeping their itinerary secret.
The public had no idea where they were and what they did during their stay. When former Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) received Chinese officials, he made their itinerary transparent.
Chiang, on the other hand, blatantly concealed all information about the arrival of Chinese agents who conduct China’s “united front” efforts.
Former president Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), who had nothing but contempt for the Chinese Communist Party, would be turning in his grave were he actually buried and aware of what his purported descendant was up to.
Fortunately, after more than 200 years, Taiwan has become a democratic republic, and Taiwanese can think on their own. Today’s Taiwan is drastically different from the Taiwan under Qing rule. Taiwan has long since emerged from the feudal era, and it is now free from the authoritarian Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regime and the martial law era it oversaw.
Now, Taiwan is confronted by an empire on the Asian continent, an empire much more totalitarian than the Qing. As the party in control of Taipei City Hall, the KMT has degraded itself to a status lower than Taiwan’s government office under the Qing. Chiang allowed Taipei to become a resort for Chinese officials and their “united front” tactics.
Meanwhile, the pro-KMT media gave primacy to political ideology and economic interests, and expressed no criticism while the communists and the KMT slapped each other on the back. It is most regrettable that any media organization could have fallen so far from grace.
This state of affairs makes one wonder whether Taiwan’s democracy is progressing or regressing.
Wang Wen-sheng is a retired political operations officer and is enrolled in a doctoral program at Jindal University in India.
Translated by Liu Yi-hung
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