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Sunday, December 26, 2010

On the ROCs

What you see pictured above is a…um…well, I’m not sure what exactly it is. It looks like one of those long scarves that you see English fans waving at Premier League soccer games. Only this one isn’t for Manchester United or Arsenal, it’s been created to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Republic of China 中華民國, which falls on October 10 next year, a century after the Wuchang Uprising. The administration of President Ma Ying-jeou 馬英九 is planning a long series of events to commemorate this momentous occasion, but I’m wondering how many people on this island will actually care about this. Other than my wife, of course, who ordered a whole boxful of these scarves to give away to her family, friends and our daughter. I’m a little leery about having Amber receiving one of these, as I don’t know if she would generate any negative reactions from others should Pamela make her wear such a scarf in public. I’m also concerned about the none-too-subtle political influencing that would be affecting 波ちゃん’s subconscious. The recent special municipality election campaign found me having to explain to my child that “green people” were not necessarily all “bad” - no surprises as to where she would get such notions, as my wife is as “blue” as they come. My father-in-law is one of those unfortunate KMT veterans who found themselves alone in Taiwan, with family left behind in China, when the Chinese Civil War ended disastrously for Chiang Kai-shek 蔣中正 and his flunkies. Pamela grew up in a “patriotic” household, in the process becoming a true believer in the ideology/mythology that underpinned the authoritarian Kuomintang 中國國民黨 regime for so many decades. For her, 2011 is something to get excited about.

Naturally, the ironies visible on the scarf are lost on my significant other. For as you can see in the photo, most of the images woven into the material display things more associated with “Taiwan” than with “China”. There’s the baseball player, of course, playing a game that was introduced by the Japanese when they ruled Taiwan from 1895 to 1945. Note also the representation of the Taiwanese aboriginal 台灣原住民族, symbolizing a group of people who are not Han Chinese 漢族, but whose ancestors came from Austronesia instead. No doubt a lot of people are going to be talking about “Taiwan’s 100th birthday” in the days and months ahead, but this celebration has about as much to do with Taiwan as the October 10th “Double Ten Day” 國慶日national holiday. When the R.O.C. was established on January 1, 1912, Taiwan wasn’t even a part of the Chinese empire, having been ceded to Japan in 1895 under the terms of the Treaty of Shimonoseki 下関条約. The island of Taiwan, of course, has been around much longer than the Republic of China, the KMT or even the Chinese empire itself. The original inhabitants have been here for at least 8000 (and perhaps as long as 30,000) years. Chinese settlers started moving to Taiwan from Fujian beginning in the 13th century. The first organized political regime on this island was set up by the Dutch in Tainan 台南 in 1624. Taiwan had been a part of the Republic of China for all of four years (4!) when the Nationalists were forced to flee here with tails firmly between their legs, and dreaming their quixotic dreams of “retaking the mainland”. What happened in October 1911, and the individuals involved, such as Sun Yat-sen, all occurred far away – geographically, politically, and, perhaps, emotionally – from Taiwan and most Taiwanese.

What exactly, then, is there worth celebrating? A “country” that is just a fraction of its former self in terms of size, and one that can count only 23 nations that still grant it diplomatic recognition? A corrupt one-party regime that imposed martial law for four decades, and imprisoned and executed tens of thousands of its own citizens? A “state” that can’t use it’s official title, or even the name that would naturally fit, “Taiwan”, in international settings because of pressure from the Chinese? “Happy Birthday Chinese Taipei” just doesn’t sound very celebratory, does it?

One other irony at play here is that the very government that will be going all out to celebrate the R.O.C. has shown itself to be less than proud of its identity since assuming office in 2008. How else to explain the many incidents where national flags were removed (sometimes forcibly) so as not to “offend” visiting Chinese dignitaries? Or of a government that seems quite content to be called “Chinese Taipei” 中華台北 in forums such as the WTO? At the same time 100 years of gangster-affiliated political thuggery will be celebrated, the Taiwanese economy will be more closely tied into that of China’s, to the eventual point that economic dependency will act as a brake on any aspirations of political independence from the “One China” 一個中國原則 albatross.

It’s Christmas (and, coincidentally, Constitution Day 行憲紀念日) so I should step back and let those who want to enjoy the upcoming festivities do so. It’s just too bad that Taiwan doesn’t have its own day. It would be great if a holiday could be created to celebrate this island, its culture and its people. It would have to be a day that isn't tinged with sadness (such as 228 二二八事件), or dates with political implications, like October 25 (Retrocession Day 台灣光復節) or September 8 (台灣國運動). Why not pick a day out of a hat, say July 1, for example (when students begin their summer vacations)? Call it “Formosa Day” so as not to enrage suspicious Communists in Beijing, and ask everyone to leave any flags at home. Just a day to let the people feel good about themselves and all they have accomplished, regardless of whether they are “blue” or “green”, or somewhere in between. Is that too much to ask for on this particular holiday?

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