January 24, 2007

China and Taiwan

Matt Sinclair has posted an interesting argument about China and Taiwan. I don't want to take on the main focus on his argument but from the perspective of having been to Taiwan want to discuss something else- Taiwan's history as I understand it and what that means for Chinese Taiwanese relations.

Taiwanese history is easily summed up though any broad summation is going to include vast inaccuracies for which I apologise. For centuries Taiwan was an area claimed but not governed by successive Chinese governments. Normally it was a refuge for pirates and a place where a fairly tribal society flourished with little if any contact with Beijing. The Dutch invasion in the 17th Century exported Chinese workers into Taiwan and used the island as a naval base to maintain relations with China and after that the island was exchanged between China and Japan. In 1945 following the end of the second world war and the expulsion of the Japanese from Taiwan, Taiwan was awarded to China. However after the end of the Chinese civil war in 1948, the Nationalists (KMT) led by their leader Chiang Kai Shek were expelled from the mainland and fled to and invaded Taiwan. Approximately 1.3 million Chinese fled with the KMT to the island and from 1949 until the 1990s a nationalist dictatorship ruled Taiwan in the interest of the emigres. There were clashes between the local population and the emigres- especially in the 1960s- but it was only in the 1990s that democracy was conceded and in 2000 that the majority indigenous population were given the chance to elect an indigenous President.

The ethnic divide feeds into politics- the Democratic Party and their allies represent largely the Taiwanese who were there in 1949 and the KMT and its allies represent the new elites who invaded- is also a divide in attitudes to China. The successors of Chiang Kai Shek interestingly were the first Taiwanese politicians to meet their Chinese Communist counterparts in 2005 and the status quo suits them because it holds out the prospect of eventual unification with China under either the one country, two systems model or even a democratic reunification. The Democratic Party on the other hand never want to unify with China- but want Taiwan to become an independent state. They have gained in support over the last twenty years and given the democratic nature of Taiwan's system, their interests will have to be represented if any eventual settlement of the issue is to be just.

Focusing as Matt does on the greater issues of relations between the West and China is a worthwhile exercise- though its also worth reminding ourselves that there are many Taiwanese- the majority probably- who don't consider themselves Chinese at all but think of themselves as Taiwanese.

(I have to say that much of the evidence for this article is stuff I gathered from my visits there and discussions with Taiwanese friends and I recognise that I've actually been highly inaccurate here, skating over vast issues and vast periods of time in paragraphs so I apologise for that.)


Wanli.Yang said...

Great profile of Taiwan.
You mention a lot of Taiwanese consider themself as "Taiwanese" but not "Chinese."
a Probably, the 228 event contributes one part of these phenomena, but the whole society still keep restoring and merging.
If interset what the 228 eventis, the following website provide some backgrond information.

Anonymous said...

it's nothing to do with me either taiwan becomes part of or china or not. but there's an interesting thing since many people from taiwan claims themselves "taiwanese" in English but "we chinese" (Women Zhongguoren) in Chinese.

your ideas are not new but show your own opinion on that island and the mainland.

Gracchi said...

Wanli Yang- thanks very much yes I agree Taiwan is a society which is forever evolving it will be interesting to see how it changes.

Anonymous- no I don't think my ideas on Taiwan are new or original at all- I really don't know very much and this is as much a pitch for information as it is a post. Having said that the British opinion of Taiwan isn't very informed so by British standards this is a fairly novel argument though by Asian its been around for a long time.

I take your point about the different terms- though I would say this is an impression I've got from actually asking people who are Taiwanese whether they consider themselves Chinese and the people I know react very badly if you ask them if they are Chinese- they assert Taiwan is independent and not Chinese.

james higham said...

You have it right from the horses' mouths here, Tiberius. I'd like to know what the current Chinese think about the Kuomintang.

Gracchi said...

Yes it would be interesting- I suppose granite studio is the lad to ask that to- I really don't know.

花崗齋之愚公 said...

For all things Taiwan, I usually read Michael Turton's "View from Taiwan" blog. Michael's got a definite point of view on the subject of Taiwan independence, but it's still a fascinating read.

As for history, Taiwan came under administrative control of Beijing only in 1683 following the defeat of the Ming loyalist Zheng Chenggong, known to westerners as Koxinga. Of course that government in Beijing was the Qing, which was a multi-ethnic administration controlled by Manchu conquerors.

The question, as has been argued back and forth on my blog a few times, is to what extent the PRC can claim to be the heirs to the Qing empire. It's a complicated question. From a chronological point of view, Taiwan has been a part of "China" longer than California has been part of the "United States." But I'm not sure that's the best slope to trod upon...

I myself tend to believe in national self-determination. Maybe it's because I grew up in one of the original 13 colonies. But of course even the whiff of a referendum on the island makes Bejing quite twitchy.

Others know more about this than I do, but I feel the PRC right now actually tends to favor the KMT as being slightly less radical and more "loyal" to a a united China than the DPP. They are at least "the devil they know" as opposed to Chen whom they have less of a read on. But I defer to more dedicated Taibei-watchers on this issue.

Gracchi said...

As soon as I posted this I knew that I'd get your comment as you can see I am very ignorant the point about the 17th Century is well made- Tonio Andrade's article on the brief period of Dutch colonisation is also very interesting. I wonder actually if Erik Ringmar from Forget the Footnotes has a point of view as well.

Like you I tend to be in favour of self determination. My post was really there to correct the view that its a simple KMT, Communist division- the Taiwanese angle makes it a lot more complicated.

CityUnslicker said...

Very interesting to learn more about some history of which I knew little.