Taiwan’s battle for individuality
By Kacey Deamer
Who am I? Where do I belong? These are common questions we face as college students working through what we want to do with our lives. However, for us, the question is abstract.
For students in Taiwan, these questions are real. Am I Taiwanese or Chinese? To which do I belong?
Taiwan has a long history of undecided ownership, being passed from one country to the next. According to an article by Emerson M. F. Jou, Polynesian tribes have inhabited the island for more than 5,000 years. The Mongol Empire seized control in 1360, after which Taiwan was passed to the Dutch temporarily, then the Spanish, until finally in 1683 the Ching dynasty “took” Taiwan. In the late 1800s, Japan controlled Taiwan during a war with China over control of Korea. However, after WWII the Chinese “took” Taiwan back and “have occupied Taiwan and stayed illegally ever since,” wrote Jou.
“It’s about territory and state power,” said Kelly Dietz, assistant professor of politics at Ithaca College, of the reasoning behind China’s steadfast desire to maintain control over Taiwan. She explained that keeping Taiwan under the hand of China is about preserving the territorial integrity of the state.
China is determined to maintain control over Taiwan for strategy as well. A report by Hisahiko Okazaki, “The Strategic Value of Taiwan,” explained that China lacks deep waters on its East China Sea coastline, where their important naval bases are stationed. This forces Chinese submarines to sail on the surface until they can function underwater in the Pacific. However, the eastern coast of Taiwan faces the deepest water in the Pacific. In the report, Okazaki pointed out, “If China controlled Taiwan, China could utilize Taiwanese ports for submarines to operate freely throughout the Western Pacific.”
He went on to explain that complete control of Taiwan by China could result in “the revival of the worldwide Chinese Empire.” While this may appear to be an extreme concern, it is taken from the Japanese point-of-view. However, Chinese control of the Western Pacific is a valid fear.
Since the Nixon administration, the Unites States has supported a “one China” idea. Dietz said that current movements to change this stance have not been passed because most House members “see the status quo as the best way for the U.S. to maintain its power in the region, including through its massive military presence.”
China desperately wants to maintain its grasp on the island, and for the time being the U.S. is supportive.
Chialun “Cara” Chen, a freshman at the National Changhua University of Education in Taiwan, said that she is Taiwanese without question. She explained that Taiwan is Taiwan, and not a division of China. “I live in Taiwan, and China to me is just a foreign country like [the] USA,” she said.
It is apparent that Cara grew up with the idea of Taiwan being a separate country from China. Cara’s father is Taiwanese businessman, Henry Chen. Henry said that all of his family is from Taiwan; they didn’t come and go from China. Therefore, he said, “I am from Taiwan, I am Taiwanese.”
Cara shared a story about an experience one of her classmates had with a Chinese student:
“When we were high school students, my classmate love[d] to chat with unknown foreigners. One day she told me that she [was] angry, because she met a Chinese [student]. At first, she wanted to chat with him just like friends. However, the message she got from him was [that] he considered Taiwan as just a part of China with an arrogant attitude.”
She explained that not all interactions between the Chinese and Taiwanese people are like this, but there is some hostility. Cara explained that if China would treat Taiwan as a separate country, she feels they could have a good relationship.
Throughout her childhood, Cara felt Chinese influence mostly in her education. In history class, there was a heavy focus on China, she said. “Maybe the history of Taiwan is too short or something,” Cara explained. “Basically, our history class almost can [be] considered a China history class.” While she doesn’t see China’s influence in her day-to-day life in Taiwan, there is a presence.
Henry said that when he was in school, there was a large focus on China in his studies. “China history was 90 percent, and Taiwan history only 10 percent,” he explained. However, in recent years the curriculum has been modified by the Taiwanese government (schools in Taiwan are government sanctioned) so that there is a better balance between the two countries, Henry said.
Another presence of China in Taiwan can be seen during the Olympic Games, during which there is no country that competes as the independent nation “Taiwan.” Roy Barnes, a blogger for the Web site Associated Content, wrote “Chinese Taipei, what Americans call Taiwan, marched out into BC Place [a Vancouver stadium]… during the 2010 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremonies Parade of Nations.” He blogged of his confusion that “Chinese Taipei marched out between Switzerland and Tajikistan… even though their Olympics name begins with ‘C,’ they marched in the Parade of Nations as if they were Taiwan.”
Henry believes that a name is just a name, and the title of Chinese Taipei is unimportant. During the Olympics there should be no talk of politics, “only support our team,” he said. There should only be pride for the team, and no other concerns.
Cara feels differently than her father on this subject. She feels the inability to participate under the name Taiwan is hurtful to the Taiwanese people and is a slap to their identity and feelings of nationalism.
Cara said that there are protests for the distinction of Taiwan instead of Chinese Taipei before every international occasion Taiwan is to take part in. Every time the final response is what she describes as “terrible rejection.”
Taiwan has successfully won some battles in their fight for distinction as a separate entity from China. Prior to the 2008 Olympic Games held in Beijing, China, there was an uproar in Taiwan over the Chinese planned route for the torch relay. BBC News reported that “some [Taiwanese] fear that if the route directly links the island with China it would appear to endorse Beijing’s view that Taiwan is part of its territory.”
The route proposed by the Beijing organizers took the torch from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam to Taipei and then on to Hong Kong. An article by The New York Times stated that that “Taiwan said the torch should go on to another country rather than Chinese territory.” Prime Minister Su Tseng-chang said the route would possibly “dwarf” Taiwan.
For fear of losing Taiwan’s participation in the games, Beijing conceded to the demands and the torch was re-routed.
Cara said she was proud of the attitude displayed by the Taiwanese during the 2008 Olympics. “Strong and reasonable protestation is the best way to prove how much we want to be treat[ed]. Just like a separate country instead of part of China.”
Kacey Deamer is a freshman journalism and environmental studies major that wants to unify the world with hugs. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.