Taiwan's identity crisis

Taiwan's identity crisis

Taiwan's identity crisis has been an ongoing issue for several decades arising from the political rivalry between the Republic of China (ROC) and the People's Republic of China (PRC). Taiwanese are frustrated by the political rivalry which is the cause of confusion both inside and outside Taiwan.

"When we use the term 'Taiwan', mainland China is not happy. They think it means we are moving towards independence. But, on the other hand, they will not let us use the name 'Republic of China' so people are angry." (2002) cite web | url = http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/1993608.stm | title = Taiwan's identity crisis | publisher = BBC News | author = Michael Bristow | date = May 17, 2002] -- Tuan-Yao Cheng (鄭端耀), Acting Director of the Institute of International Relations at the National Chengchi University in Taiwan.



Of the 23 million people in Taiwan, most are descendants of immigrants from Fujian and identify themselves as Hoklo whilst 15% are descendants of Hakka from Guangdong (Canton) and also Fujian. Periodic migrations started before the 12th century. In addition to the aborigines, it is primarily the descendants of the early Fujianese and Hakka immigrants who identify themselves as Taiwanese and increasingly reject the "Chinese" tag. The ancestors of these people were laborers that crossed the Taiwan Strait to work on plantations for the Dutch. It is believed that these male laborers married aborigine women, creating a new ethnic group of mixed people. In 1683, the Qing Empire, which controlled China, conquered Taiwan. The Qing gave Taiwan to the Japanese in 1895. The Chinese Kuomintang (KMT) were given administrative duties over Taiwan following World War II. The harsh rule over Taiwan that followed was lifted in 1988 and a new era in Taiwanese history began when Lee Tenghui, a Taiwanese, became president. The first transition of power from the KMT occurred in 2000 when Taiwanese Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party won the presidential elections. He has been making efforts to push for Taiwan independence with statements that there are two nations across the Taiwan Strait; a push for referendum on independence; and the abolishment of the National Unification Council.


Japan took control of Taiwan when China, then under the control of the Qing Dynasty since its conquest in 1683, lost the First Sino-Japanese War. The Japanese rule of Taiwan lasted from 1895 until 1945, when Japan was defeated by the allied forces at the end of World War II. Taiwanese perceptions of the Japanese are significantly more favorable than perceptions in other parts of East Asia, partly because during its 50 years (1895–1945) of Japanese rule Japan developed Taiwan's economy and raised the standard of living for most Taiwanese citizens, building up Taiwan as a supply base for the Japanese main islands. Later Taiwanese also adopted Japanese names and practice Shinto, while the schools instilled a sense of "Japanese spirit" in students. By the time of World War II began, many ethnic Taiwanese were proficient in both the Japanese language and Taiwanese language, while keeping their unique identity. Many Taiwanese also joined the Japanese army to aid in their military campaigns against China. Many Taiwanese units, alongside the regular Japanese army, took part in some of the most noteworthy campaigns of that time against China, including the Rape of Nanking.

Towards the last decade of the Japanese rule, the occupation force started a systematic campaign of Kōminka (皇民化 Transformation into Imperial subjects) to instill the "Japanese spirit" (大和魂 Yamato damashī) to assimilate ethnic Taiwanese into imperial subjects of the Japanese empire. This process was stopped when Japan was defeated at the end of World War II, ending efforts on the part of the Japanese forces, to integrate Taiwan, to be known as Okinawa and Hokkaidō, into the Japanese empire. During this last decade, Taiwanese were encouraged to adopt Japanese names. Many older generation Taiwanese have fond memories of the Japanese rule in comparison to the later KMT occupation. Many scholars have attributed this phenomenon to brain washing tactics pervasively used in schools run by the Japanese at the time, which foreshadowed Chinese brain washing tactics pervasively used in schools under KMT occupation. Even the former president Lee Tenghui of Taiwan has a Japanese name 岩里政男 (IWASATO Masao) and has stated on numerous occasions that he is, in fact, Japanese (there are persistent rumors that Lee Tenghui is actually half Japanese; that is, he is the illegitimate son of a Japanese officer, who served in the occupation force, and of Lee's ethnic Taiwanese mother).


In recent years, there has been a trend, known as Taiwanization, to emphasize the importance of Taiwan's culture rather than to regard Taiwanese as solely an appendage of China. The movement stems from the continued hostility displayed by the People's Republic of China towards Taiwan independence and the memory of the Chinese-controlled Kuomintang occupation. This involves the teaching of history of Taiwan, geography, and culture from a Taiwan-centric perspective, as well as promoting languages locally established in Taiwan, including Taiwanese, Hakka and aboriginal languages.

The place of the Taiwanese identity (台灣人) in relation to the Chinese identity (中華人) has been a matter of intense debate. While pro-unification Taiwanese (海外華人) prefer to think of the Taiwanese identity as a subset of the Chinese national identity, and instead describe the Taiwanese identity as a component of the Chinese diaspora (海外華人 or 華裔). However, pro-independence Taiwanese place the Taiwanese identity outside the Chinese national identity, and instead describe the Taiwanese identity as (海外台灣人 or 台裔).

Originally part of the Taiwan independence movement, its aims are now endorsed by some supporters of Chinese unification on Taiwan. In its rejection of a monolithic officially sponsored Han Chinese identity in favor of one rooted in a unique, Taiwan-centric culture.

Taiwanese opinion

Polls conducted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) in 2001 found that 70% of Taiwanese would support a name change of the country to Taiwan if the island could no longer be referred to as the Republic of China cite web | url = http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/1993608.stm | title = Taiwan's identity crisis | publisher = BBC News | author = Michael Bristow | date = May 17, 2002] .

In recent years, especially after the 1990s, there has been a growth in the number of people identifying themselves as Taiwanese. In polls conducted by the National Chengchi University back in 1991, only 13.6% of respondents identified themselves as Taiwanese. This figure rose to 45.7% in 2004. In contrast, the number of respondents that identified as Chinese was 43.9% in 1991 and fell to just 6.3% in 2004. Half of respondents responded with dual-identity, both Chinese and Taiwanese, and the statistic has remained steady with just a slight decline from 49.7% in 1992 to 45.4% in 2004. [cite web | url = http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2006/03/12/2003296948 | title = 'Taiwan identity' growing | publisher = Taipei Times | author = Rich Chang | date = March 12, 2006]

The Academia Sinica conducted a survey between 1992 and 2004 to further explore the identity issue by asking questions such as whether people would support independence if it wouldn't result in war, and whether Taiwan should unite with China if there were no political, economic or social differences between the two sides. Results showed that a third of respondents maintained "double-identities" over the years whilst a similar number of respondents were "Taiwanese nationalists" (those that would never support unification with China even if there were no differences with China). This number doubled as a result of provocation from the PRC in the 1996 missile crisis. There has been a sharp decline in "Chinese nationalist" (those that would support unification with China the social conditions were the same as Taiwan) from 40% to 15%. [http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2006/03/12/2003296948] The opinion of Taiwanese continues to change, reflecting the problem of national identity which is easily affected by political, social and economic circumstances.

In a recent poll dated November 2006, over 60% of Taiwan's population consider themselves to be Taiwanese while only 34% consider themselves to be both Taiwanese and Chinese. Approximately 62% favored independence for Taiwan. [http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/front/archives/2006/11/29/2003338355]

Different perspectives of history

During the period of Martial Law, where the Kuomintang (KMT) government was the sole party who governed Taiwan. The KMT government has "modified" Taiwan's history from a Greater China perspective and lump the pre-existing Hoklo and Hakka with the Mainlanders as "Chinese", who came to Taiwan and pushed aboriginal communities into the mountains. This is a fallacy, because as mentioned earlier, the early Hoklo and Hakka who arrived in Taiwan have mixed with lowland aborigines in Taiwan. Also, due to several government factions that ruled Taiwan prior to Japanese rule, many lowland aborigines were forcefully assimilated, and it was in their incentives to "pass" as Hoklo. There are Taiwanese historians who believe that the Hoklo, especially, are 90%-100% direct descendants of pure lowland aborigines in Taiwan. However, this is politically driven as well by Taiwanese who are extreme in their opposition to the KMT party.


See also

* Taiwanese people
* Demographics of Taiwan
* Republic of China
* Taiwanese nationalism
* Chinese Taipei
* Political status of Taiwan
* Legal status of Taiwan

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