Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Considering Taiwan's Identity - Brian Benedictus


Why China and Taiwan Are Divided, Really
Click here for Chinese translation
by Brian Benedictus | Aug 31, 2014


"And this is where the root of the Taiwan and China antagonism lies. While China and the CCP continues to march down the road of national unity, ethnic sameness, and ever-invasive claims to rule over their “historical territories,” there appears to be an inexorable shift within Taiwan’s society that continues to pull the population as a whole towards a lasting and permanent identity separate from one that is Chinese-centric, regardless of the pleas coming from the People’s Republic. For as America did in its infancy, Taiwan is becoming confident and finding its voice. Perhaps one day in the near future, there could even be a family in Ohio that hosts a student from Taiwan, and that student will say without reservation, “I am Taiwanese”. Period. And all the controversy and debate surrounding Taiwan’s ethnic and national make-up and identity can be passed somewhere else in the world where it is needed. China, maybe."

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I am an American. Just like my mother and father, I was born and raised in Northeast Ohio (and as a result have the curse of being a perpetually heart-broken Cleveland sports fan), grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons, and fighting with my brothers over who got the last of the Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal. I raked leaves in the fall, and enjoyed snowball fights in the winter. I loved trading baseball cards, playing soccer and video games (I’m still convinced that blowing into the game cartridges made them work), and upon reaching adolescence I adhered to the usual teenager rebellion tactics of wanting to pick out my own school clothes and pleading with my parents for an extended curfew; consistently going to battle with them with the logical ammunition argument of proclaiming “but all my friends can stay out later!” I lived what one could call a typical middle-class American upbringing, and have never questioned my own nationality. Why would I? Nobody else ever has.
My ethnicity, like many Americans however, cannot be hammered down into a simple definition. Years ago, with the help of a grandmother from my father’s side, and a grandfather and great grandmother on my mother’s side, I attempted to retrace the development of my family lines back as far as I could. I was amazed that the further I was able to delve back into history, the more ethnically diverse my family became. I had family who owned small vineyards in Naples, Italy; others who had deep roots in Bavaria, Germany; and I also am a descendant of a long blood line which resided in a small village outside the city of Zagreb, Croatia for well over a century before some of them made the trek to the United States in the early 20th century.
If you are still reading, perhaps you are wondering a) Why this author compelled to spend two paragraphs sharing mundane details about his nationality and ethnicity and b) What does this have to do with Taiwan and China? In a word: everything.
China prefers to view Taiwan through a special prism which sees Taiwan an inherent part of China going back to “ancient times” (the same moniker used when describing Tibet, East Turkestan, the Senkaku Islands, the Paracel and Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, and any other territory that it may find appealing), as well as a place where actual “Chinese” reside. It doesn’t take much digging to find speeches from Mao all the way down to Xi that seek to appeal to a “shared Chinese identity” or a “blood is thicker than water” approach, in which China equates ethnicity with political fate.
In other words, the Chinese conception of ethnicity and nationality is one and the same. To me, one’s nationality is the legal relationship between a person and a state, whereas a person’s ethnicity is an identity with or membership in a specific racial, national, or cultural group, and observance of said group’s customs, beliefs, and language.
Of course, neither nationality nor ethnicity is created in a vacuum—both are cultivated and defined by external factors that over the course of time help create them. And both hold levels of meaning and importance to people that, without exception, will change over time. In the case of China, the rulers have done much to cultivate and define nationality and ethnicity within their borders to their advantage. Any archaeologist or ethnographer could easily dispel the myth that China is “the world’s oldest continuous civilization.”
In its latest iteration, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has since 1949 sought to clobber together a single all-encompassing definition of being “Chinese,” confusing ethnic and national identities into something that could be liberally applied in order to fulfill its social and political objectives. Since its ascension to power, the CCP has recognized 55 ethnic minority groups within its borders in addition to the overwhelming Han ethnicity, whose numbers comprise about 90-92% of its total population. While the government acknowledges these groups as ethnic minorities, it places a far greater importance on the concept of a ‘harmonious society’ in which all citizens are expected to label themselves “Chinese” before any other identity.
While there is nothing unusual about expecting citizens to buy into a national identity, the government of the People’s Republic often takes liberties as to what it believes “Chinese” should be—it’s not just a national identity that centers around the people’s ownership of the state (the people don’t own the state), but an ethnic identity that centers around ethnic groups coming together under the assimilation by the Han majority.
Regardless of the fact that areas within China’s current borders have been conquered and ruled by Mongols, Manchu, Turks, Koreans, Russians, Kazaks, and the Naxi, among other ethnic groups, the CCP has often placed a premium on the here and now: If these ethnic groups reside within our borders now, then they are ‘Chinese’ in a national sense of the word.
Taking it a step further, the CCP often uses the historical borders of such groups when making territorial claims, often attempting to make what I consider outlandish links over the course of history. One example of this is with China’s current border dispute with the tiny Kingdom of Bhutan. Throughout the 1970s, China claimed that since the people of Bhutan were ethnically related to Tibetans (the Bhutanese are believed to have settled into what is now Bhutan in the 7th or 8th century) that
“Bhutanese, Sikkimese and Ladakhis form a united family in Tibet. They have always been subject to Tibet and to the great motherland of China. They must once again be united and taught the communist doctrine.”
Huh?
For those keeping score:
Bhutanese, Sikkimese, and Ladakhis all are ethnically Tibetan +
Tibet is now a part of the People’s Republic of China =
_______________________________________________
All of these ethnicities are really “Chinese” and there their land is Chinese territory.
Confused yet?
What’s more, being Chinese in reality means assimilation into the Han majority. Ethnic groups other than the Han are regarded as having lower social status. Otherwise, the Communist Party would not be incentivizing marriages that involve female brides of ethnic minority backgrounds to wed ethnic Han males by offering vacations, prizes, and monetary gifts, and yes, special reproductive rights to the new couples under the guise of ‘ethnic unity’—unions that have become increasingly common in the “Self-Autonomous Regions” of Tibet and Xinjiang (both with ethnic minority populations that outnumber the Han). There would also be far fewer cases of social unrest in Xinjiang, a province that has the highest rate of GDP growth outside the rich coastal Provinces of the Southeast—if the Uyghur majority were able to share in the economic spoils.
Which brings us to Taiwan—A place and a people that seldom fit neatly into any definition. It is not news that China claims sovereignty over Taiwan. It does so by claiming that the Republic of China government in Taiwan is a renegade holdover from the Chinese Civil War from 1945 to 1949, but it further claims that the people living in Taiwan are “Chinese”—and as we have seen earlier, that means the territory belongs to China too. But how do the Taiwanese people see their own national and ethnic identities?
When it comes to the issue of ethnic identity in Taiwan, it’s a challenging enough topic for those with at least some familiarity of Taiwan and its history, but for those who lack such acumen, it can be a never-ending source of confusion and frustration. This author can share two such experiences that highlight this point.
During my junior year of high school, our family hosted an exchange student over the summer from Taiwan. While I had an interest about China and Japan that went back as far as I could remember, Taiwan was never on my radar. Over the course of the summer, I would probe our guest with questions about nearly everything imaginable:
“What’s the red stamp on your I.D. mean?”
“It says if you have drug, the police can kill you.” (He always laughed when saying this but never did say if he was joking)”
“What does your father do in Taiwan?”
“He is a businessman.”
“Why do you say that you are Chinese?”
“I am Chinese.”
“But you live in Taiwan. So wouldn’t that make you Taiwanese?”
“No, we live in Taiwan, but we are Chinese.”
Needless to say this didn’t ease my lack of confusion about why he called himself Chinese. After all, my family lived in the United States, I knew where my grandparents came from in Europe, and I could say I was “Croatian, German, or Italian”, but of course it always came down to me saying I was an American. The idea that someone could be born in a country, yet identify their ethnicity and nationality something else was really head-scratching for me at the time.
The other example took place years later, a few days following my initial arrival in Taiwan in 2008. While feeling that I had at least a better than average grasp on “the basics” of Taiwan before leaving the United States, all it took was a random glance into a Lonely Planet guidebook that was published in the early 90s that made me feel like I was back into the same conversation with my family’s guest from Taiwan.
When speaking to people in Taiwan, do not call them “Taiwanese”. You will find that most people prefer to be identified as “Chinese”. The issue remains a sensitive topic among many people in Taiwan.
What? Why?
Over the course of the next three years, I sometimes posed the question, “Do you consider yourselves Chinese or Taiwanese?” And of course I received answers that in most cases did not fit neatly into a single category. “Taiwanese”, “Chinese”, “I speak Chinese but I consider myself Taiwanese”, “The only people who are really Taiwanese are the aborigines”, “My family is Chinese but I am Taiwanese”, “I’m Chinese and Taiwanese”.
It wasn’t until towards the end of my time living in Taiwan did it occur to me that there wasn’t going to be a simple answer. Taiwanese society was only twenty some years removed from a 46 year-long martial law period during which anything other than Chinese identity was oppressed. Prior to that there were 50 years of Japanese colonial rule. A Taiwanese identity, while young and fragile, was in the process of evolving and shaping itself into something tangible. While many people in Taiwan considered themselves ethnically Chinese, a half century of separation between China and Taiwan allowed for nearly every facet of both societies to become altered from each other due to the different experiences felt by both sides. Perhaps the most sagacious explanation of what ‘Taiwanese’ meant in their eyes came from Michael Fonte, the Democratic Progressive Party Liaison in Washington D.C. described it to me as: “Something that while having aspects and traits of Chinese culture within it, is also molded and shaped by Taiwan’s experiences with its own indigenous cultures, as well being influenced by Japanese, Western, South Asian, and Polynesian experiences as well—All rolled up into a new culture that is unique to Taiwan.”

  Continued reading...in Ketagalan Media

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Resurgence of Suppressed Languages and Separate Identitites in Europe

Skip ahead to the 12 minute mark if you want to avoid Chomsky's pro-communist hobbyhorse about Cuba and Russia. At minute 13 he starts talking about language.

"The prestigious American linguist, Noam Chomsky, uses Catalonia’s efforts to revive a threatened language as an example of the struggle of a people against state imperialism. Chomsky made the point last month in a "Talk to Google" conversation at Google's offices in Cambridge, MA, in which he pointed out that Catalonia will hold a referendum in order to decide between autonomy and independence. The conversation had slipped under the radar until the daily Ara reported on it today.
"There's a referendum coming up in Catalonia, another one in Scotland, asking about autonomy or independence. That's dissolving the European state system, something that has just been going on for a while, and reconstructing the languages.

"I visited Barcelona in the late seventies. You couldn't hear a word of Catalan. It was spoken, but in secret, because under the dictatorship, which the US backed, it was barred. Ten years later, if you go to Catalonia, all you hear is Catalan. It revived. The Basque language has revived. Other regional languages are reviving. If you walk around Wales, kids that are walking out of school are talking Welsh. Things like this are happening. The ?? achievement was unique. But it's kind of a natural development, I think that should be stimulated myself.

"We should recognize that there is enormous loss when the cultural wealth of a society disappears and that's encapsulated crucially in its language."

Read more... 
(Src: VilaWeb - News from Catalonia)

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Growing Taiwanese Identity expressed in a Flash Mob at Taipei Main Station

The following video is of a flash mob in Taipei Main Station.  They are performing the theme song from the Taiwan Sunflower Movement which is in Taiwanese, not Mandarin. Everyone knows the words no matter how well they know and speak Taiwanese in their daily lives. The speaker at the end is an Austronesian Taiwanese from Orchid Island.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Article by Ben Goren exposes the attitudes that have developed towards non-Mandarin languages in Taiwan


LANGUAGE STEREOTYPES IN CONTEMPORARY TAIWAN


- Ben Goren

Long-term foreign residents of Taiwan who have a certain level of linguistic fluency in the nation’s official language of Mandarin, will likely at some point have found themselves stymied by conversations which are suddenly interspersed with words, idioms, and vernacular derived from some of Taiwan’s other languages. It is at this moment that they are faced with the reality of Taiwan as a multi-lingual society, the linguistic diversity of which being a result of contingent historical and political forces that have shaped who speaks what, when, and to whom. From personal experience of living in Southern Taiwan, I can attest that while Mandarin is a basic and necessary communication tool, speaking even a little Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese) is a key to forging closer relationships and friendships. Yet, this is not the case in every part of Taiwan and cannot be regarded as a steadfast rule. Indeed, there are occasions when speaking Hoklo rather than Mandarin can be counterproductive and even make a poor impression on the speaker’s audience. Much like a northern accent in the UK can have negative associational impacts when living in the southern Home Counties, language stereotypes in Taiwan can act as barriers and filters that incite and invoke subconscious and culturally embedded prejudices that divide according to class and political identities.
An examination of these linguistically embedded stereotypes was the subject of a recent experimental study by Chang Yu-tzung and Lu Jie. [1] The authors sought to demonstrate, using a bi-lingual comparison between Mandarin and Hoklo, the language stereotypes that exist in Taiwan and to draw out the implications for Taiwanese public opinion and democratic politics. What they found was that language divisions were not just proxies of Taiwan’s regional divisions, but that Taiwanese cognitively differentiate between the political and socio-economic implications of the spoken languages.
If our eyes are regarded as ‘windows to the soul’, then the language we speak, and how we speak it, is surely a window to our culture, education, socialisation, the location of our upbringing, and an indicator of how we wish others to perceive us. It also signifies how we perceive the world, and by extension, is a clue to the ideological matrix we employ to derive meaning and construct strategies for managing relationships and our position in society. Chang and Lu’s paper fills a gap in academic discussion of how substantively meaningful cues are attached to spoken languages in Taiwan, cues which are then decoded and activated during socio-economic and political interactions, in the process shaping the formation of attitudes and behaviour. Importantly, they provide a concise and extremely useful overview of how the retreating Republic of China polity sought to ‘Sinocize’ Taiwan after arriving as exiles in the country. While there has been substantial analysis of the Japanese policies of cultural assimilation, also known as the ‘Kominka Movement’ (皇民化運動) less effort has focused on how the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) carried out exactly the same kind of policies with the intention of installing Mandarin and Chinese culture as the dominant ‘currency’.
According to mainstream ROC narratives, post-war Taiwan was an impoverished island whose subjects were dangerously close to losing touch with their Chinese heritage and identity. Such was the level of oppression and indoctrination that occurred under the Japanese ‘occupation’ most Taiwanese had come to a ‘mindless accommodation’ with speaking and writing Japanese, and Japanese was the normalised and ubiquitous language of education, administration, and business. To a KMT that had suffered heavily at the hands of the Japanese, this was an unacceptable manifestation of Japanese influence that had to be erased. The narrative that claimed Taiwan had ‘retroceded’ to China could only maintained if the physical legacies of the Japanese Colonial Period were ‘cleansed’ from the landscape, and if the lingua franca of Taiwan became Mandarin – in all forms and in all spaces. Chang and Lu’s observation that “language use or language choice is not naturally produced, but the result of political engineering“ is therefore a critical component in understanding how the policies of the colonial ROC regime changed the linguistic landscape in Taiwan to serve as a foundation for both the ideological and economic legitimacy and authority of the ROC, the KMT, and the new immigrant ruling class.  The paper reminds the reader that the significance of  linguistic cleavages for political mobilisation in Taiwan cannot be overlooked, “…given that Taiwan’s linguistic cleavages reinforce, rather than crosscuts, existing cleavages among its ethnic groups.”
Between 1946 and 1987, the KMT instituted language polices that banned the publication of magazines and newspapers in Japanese and relegated Hoklo to a local dialect in the hope that it would eventually die out. It banned use of Hoklo in schools and public places, restricted Government positions to people who could or would speak Mandarin only, banned bibles written in Roman alphabets, and prohibited the use of Hoklo subtitles in film and TV. The net effect of these policies was to institutionalise discrimination based on language use, which in turn excluded Taiwanese from full participation in their own political economy and “planted the seed for future eruption of negative sentiment against Mandarin among Taiwanese-speakers.” By the time Taiwan democratised, Mandarin was spoken and written by 90% of the population. Not only did these language policies harm and possibly permanently undermine the sustainability of the Hoklo language, they also seriously eroded the cultural bases and identities of Aboriginal and Hakka communities, preventing their transmission of cultural experience and knowledge. The KMT’s Mandarin policies have arguably been more severe and more destructive than equivalent Japanese attempts at colonial assimilation. Both the Japanese and KMT language programmes were designed to achieve a kind of ethnic linguistic cleansing and both had the effect of creating clear socio-economic and political cleavages based on education, language, occupation, class, and political affiliation (though the KMT policies by virtue of being instituted via bloody Martial Law led to a clearer political divide based on language than had existed during the Japanese Colonial Period). Chang and Lu succinctly note the depth and impact of the language policies:
“In summary, before Taiwan’s democratization, local languages and culture (e.g., Taiwanese and Hakka folk songs and traditional opera) were deliberately discriminated against and denigrated by the KMT regime as “inferior.”At the same time, the regime established and implemented an efficient reward/punishment system (with penalties as the main element) to promote the use of Mandarin and discourage the use of any local dialects including Taiwanese. Moreover, complementary to its Mandarin Promotion Policy, the KMT government also established a variety of socioeconomic, bureaucratic, and political institutions that intentionally and systematically discriminated against Taiwanese speakers in economic activities, bureaucratic recruitment and promotion, and political participation.”




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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Lessons on Taiwanese Identity from the Sunflower Movement

Read the article here .

An excerpt:

"... A popular video on YouTube, ‘Island Sunrise’ (島嶼天光) sung by students from The National Taipei University of Arts has lyrics saying that the dawn’s rays will soon ‘shine upon everyone on the island’ while before long it will be ‘time to come home,’ home referring to, of course, Taiwan. The song is sung in Tâi-gí with accompanying Chinese subtitles. This shows the emergence of an identity which is not linked to ethnicity or linguistic factors, but instead unifies all those who live on the island Taiwan and who share the notion that their identity and interests are linked to a separate territory. The name itself ‘Island Sunrise’ illustrates how this new identity is moving away from previous identity constructions which were shaped around dividing characteristics and are now based instead on the island, an inclusive concept which all people who identify with the island are able to share. The use of characters is also indicative of the emergent identity, as they do not uniquely translate the meaning of the Taiwanese lyrics, but also indicate the phonetic sounds of the Taiwanese lyrics. For instance, the word for ‘we’ traditionally written as 我們, pronounced women in Mandarin, is instead written as 阮們, pronounced ruan in Mandarin, a character meaning a traditional Chinese instrument, but much more closer to the Taiwanese phonetic sound of ‘we.’ Whilst using Chinese characters to express Taiwanese sounds, Taiwanese people upon seeing this would not view this as written Chinese, but merely borrowing Chinese characters to express the Taiwanese language.

These lyrics are accompanied by images of the protest which resonate on a sentimental level as they represent the non-politicised aspects of the protest and draws viewers into the shared experiences of the protest. These range from the students working together to collect garbage, doctors donating their time and resources, rail workers giving out lunchbox meals, all interspersed with images of the various faces of those taking part in the protest from primary school students to seniors. This video serves to show the humane side of the protest, whilst cultivating a sense of national sentiment. The fact it is sung in Tâi-gí only heightens this feeling as it suggests that the Taiwanese language is something that belongs to everyone who identifies with the island Taiwan and who want what is best for the island.

Through promoting these songs in video format on the internet and promoted via social media, anyone who identifies as Taiwanese is able to watch and learn the songs and in so doing are able to express their identification with the movement and their acceptance of the new identity which is emerging.

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