Literature, politics and lurches to the left and right

With Taiwan’s continued nativisation (bentuhua), more and more people tend to claim they are Taiwanese instead of Chinese (or both) if asked about their identity. Similarly, Taiwan’s literary production over the past few decades has demonstrated this identity shift. Compared with the anti-Communist and nostalgia-embedded literature in the early post-war period, literature from Taiwan since the 1970s has exhibited a growing identification with the island’s social reality. Writers of different ethnic backgrounds share a common concern over Taiwan’s multi-layered colonial history and frequently tackle identity issues in their literary works.

The most significant development in literature on Taiwan over the past few decades perhaps lies in its thematic and stylistic diversity. The thematic creativity is shown through writers’ varied ways of representing Taiwan. As a reader, one is blessed with many choices ranging from the native Taiwanese writers’ reconstruction of Taiwan’s history (such as the recent Taiwan trilogy by Shi Shuqing), second-generation mainlander writers such as Zhu Tianxin’s juancun (military compounds for the KMT officials and their dependents) memory, to aboriginal writers’ ocean narratives. The stylistic experiment can be found in writers’ different approaches to the previous taboo topic – the February 28th Incident. Adopting a post-colonial stance, Li Qiao for instance endeavours to call for an autonomous cultural system for the Taiwanese populace. Quite differently, Lin Yaode leans towards the post-modern subversion by replacing the nationalist historiography with his multi-threaded tale full of myths and fantasies.

Unfortunately, when it comes to political elections, candidates’ viewpoints and appeals do not seem to display much creativity or offer enough (good) choices. If we take a look at Ma’s and Tsai’s recent speeches, this becomes clear. Ma Ying-jeou’s mention of a peace agreement with mainland China on October 17, 2011 to cease the hostility is noteworthy. Although Ma stated that this would take place  within 10 years and only after a referendum, such a move of Ma is not only devious but also bewildering. It is an attention-diverting tactic because voters, weary of the independence-unification rhetoric, would like to hear more concrete plans on how to develop Taiwan and to improve Taiwanese people’s livelihood. Moreover, it is dangerous to put Taiwan’s sovereignty on the negotiation table within the current “one China principle” which the KMT accepts. Ma is likely to win more support if he proposed democracy and law on the table of political negotiations with China, or paid more attention to domestic affairs.

The DPP candidate Tsai Ying-wen’s latest campus lecture at Chang Jung Christian University is equally worrying, especially her praise of Margaret Thatcher’s suppression of the miners’ strike in 1984-85. Compared with her centre– left view on housing policies put forward during the campaign for the mayor of New Taipei City (xinbeishi), Tsai’s leaning towards the right has become apparent, and her belief in global competition and elitism seem to have crystallized. It is fine for the KMT and DPP to converge on similar positions. It is also fine for the candidates to change their stance (if they do have a clear stance). Nevertheless, given the limited choices, Taiwanese voters ought to be especially prudent when making their voting decisions!

Lin Pei-Yin is Lecturer in Taiwanese studies at Cambridge University.