A personal view of Taiwan 2012 from China

I reached out to several China-based scholars who do work about Taiwan with a mind to having a ‘view from China’-type post. Unfortunately these attempts have not produced any results. I can’t tell whether this is because Taiwan’s elections are too ‘sensitive’, or whether there is simply not a lot to say about them. So, changing track, I asked a couple of former students from China to give me a ground level view, maybe talk about what they’ve heard or their own opinions. What follows here was written by a former grad student, who wishes to remain anonymous. This student has done research on cross-Strait relations and is currently pursuing doctoral studies in China. I found this personal view very interesting; I hope you do to. Jon

“In 2008 after Ma Ying-Jeou won the election, my American friend Bob, Taiwanese friend Neil, and I were chatting happily in Bob’s living room. “So, how do you think about relations between China and Taiwan?” Bob asked Neil and I. “Oh, we are like a family” I answered. “No, we are enemies” Neil retorted. Bob burst into laughter. “You were diplomatic”, said Bob to me, “but you were telling the truth”, he said to Neil.

I can still recall how shocked I felt at that moment. First of all, I was not trying to be diplomatic. Instead, I sincerely meant what I said. I had been grown up in that belief, because everybody told me that Taiwan is part of China, including my Taiwanese friends who were doing business on the Chinese Mainland. I did often read from the media that there were a group of people in Taiwan who had been actively pushing Taiwan towards de jure independence, and that they had a lot of supporters who were called the “pan-greens”. However, I genuinely thought that there were at least half of Taiwanese, if not the majority, who believed that Taiwan and the Mainland should be a family, and did not want Taiwan to be separated from China permanently. Secondly, despite the fact that Neil was a “deep-green”, we were very good friends. Both of us agreed that political differences could be put aside and that people from both sides of the Strait should be able to be friends if they harbor good will towards each other. Thus, I did not expect that Neil, as an ordinary Taiwanese, was in fact so hostile towards China.

That incident four years ago made me start to really look at the history of Taiwan as well as cross-Strait relations. Also thanks to my Taiwanese friends from different political backgrounds and with different political views, I have developed a better understanding on the mentality of Taiwan people. To a certain extent, I even have sympathy towards the pan-greens because I can understand the historical trauma behind such a mindset. Thus, I share the expectations of those color-blind voters inTaiwanwho care more about which party can provide Taiwan people with a better life rather than the simple ideological division between the blue camp and green camp. By the same token, I believe that there should be a more conciliatory solution between China’s takeover of Taiwan—the handover of a democracy to an authoritarian state as some scholars suggest (personally I think scholars who suggest such possibility are doing so out of sarcasm or ignorance), and formal declaration of independence of Taiwan as Taiwan Republic or whatever, because the biggest concern for people of the both sides is peace and prosperity.

I might prefer Ma as most of the mainlanders do, because I think it would be easier for KMT and the CPC government to reach mutual understanding which would better facilitate a peaceful and prosper co-existence between both sides of the Strait (some of my fellows might even prefer Soong, because according to the mass media on the Mainland, the PFP is more prone to unification, though not all of them understand that Taiwan’s concept of unification is entirely different from that of the Mainland). Yet it would also be interesting to observe whether and how the Mainland and Taiwan could learn to better cope with each other in a more flexible and pragmatic way if Tsai got elected—a lesson CCP and DPP will have to learn sooner or later.

As a Mainlander I also believe that there is such thing as the Chinese nation, because the ethnical, lingual and cultural linkage between people from the Mainland and Taiwan is simply undeniable. Taiwan exceeds the Mainland in terms of economic and social development. Thus,Taiwan’s toady could be China’s tomorrow. And there are always things to learn and reflect on from each other’s experience.

Furthermore, though PRC claims the “sole representative of China”, it is Taiwan which has best inherited Chinese culture and tradition, and even the tinder for the rejuvenation of Chinese nation. During the late 19th and early 20th century, China was witnessing one of the most abysmal situations in the history, with its territory occupied or colonized, people slaughtered and humiliated, endless anti-invasion and civil wars, and political oppressions (Taiwan was separated from the Mainland under such a background). During that period, the pioneer of modern Chinese thinkers has identified two essential elements–science and democracy for China to grow out of this pathetic situation. After almost 100 years, while the merit of science has been widely recognized, democracy remains ill-defined, under-nurtured and frequently questioned on the Mainland.

To me, democracy does not simply equal vote, though the latter is a necessary part of the former. The ideal of democracy is a more grandeur institution that can liberate each individual from the fetish of collectivism that has made an authoritarian political system possible, so that everybody has the opportunity to live his fullest potential. When democracy on the Mainland has only been “uninstitutionalized” at its best, it has been taking roots and bearing fruit in Taiwan. It is far from perfect, of course. Yet as Lung Ying-Tai, one of the most famous writers on Taiwan has said, Taiwan proves that democracy is workable in the Chinese community. If it is workable in Taiwan, it is bound to be workable elsewhere among Chinese people. It might take time for a breaking point. It might sound too idealistic to say that Taiwan is a beacon of democracy, but Taiwan definitely would be a model that people on the Mainland keenly observe and draw the best lesson from.”

Mail me at jonathan.sullivan@nottingham.ac.uk, follow me on Twitter @jonlsullivan, or access my papers at http://jonlsullivan.com