Sun Yat-sen and Ma Ying-jeou in Taiwan 2012

Celebrations of the Xinhai Revolution, that is, the uprising against Manchu rule that occurred in China over 100 years ago, have been taking place on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. ForBeijing, the Republic of China expired in 1949 and is therefore history but inTaiwan, the question of whether the ROC still exists on the island is still a topic of intense debate for the diverse political camps. Against this background, in view of the approaching presidential elections, it is hardly surprising that the ROC centennial celebrations have once more drawn attention to the island’s national identity problems.

For the Kuomintang, the Republic of China is still alive and flourishing although the KMT has acknowledged in some ways that the ROC today consists of Taiwan and some small islands: “the ROC is our country, and Taiwan is our home” was the proud announcement of the current president, Ma Ying-jeou.

The centennial celebrations provided Ma Ying-jeou and the KMT, now returned to power, with the opportunity to reclaim legitimacy with a smoothly polished version of the historical events of 1911-1912 that dovetails neatly with the current political discourse on the modernization ofTaiwan. This, linked with the democratic achievements after 1987, can be used to legitimize the rule of the KMT, today and in the past. In addition, attacks on the so-called de-sinification and Taiwanization movement promoted by the DPP can also be found within this discourse. Examples of this new legitimization discousrecan be found not only on the President’s website but also in almost all the publications issued by the pan-blue camp (including political parties such as the KMT, PFP, NP and media such as the United Daily New China Times, TVBS).

The difficulties inherent in formulating an argument against any 100 year celebration of anything meant that both the oppositional camp and the presidential candidate, Tsai Ing-wen were reluctant to challenge the celebrations. Some DPP-inclined academics, of course, emphasized the fact that the ROC government in Taiwan is a “regime in exile” and criticized any attempt to link the Wuchang uprising, that took place, when Taiwan was a Japanese colony, to the current democratic achievements in Taiwan. In contrast to the KMT, which sees Taiwan’s democratization as the fulfillment of Sun Yat-sen’s heritage, these critics regard these democratic achievements as having been fought for by the people of Taiwan against the authoritarian rule of the KMT, and as leading to the lifting of Martial Law in 1987, the direct election of a President in 1996 and the changeover of power to the DPP in 2000. For them, democracy has been achieved by attacking the legitimacy of the ROC and not by adhering to Sun Yat-sen’s ideology of the Three Principles of The People. Nevertheless, in order to win the support of the median voters, Tsai Ing-wen, the DPP’s presidential candidate who, in the past, avoided taking part in any centennial celebrations and was known for her avoidance of the words “Republic of China/ROC” has recently softened her stance: last month, she made a statement “Taiwan is the ROC, the ROC is Taiwan,” thus allowing for comparisons to be drawn with statements made by the former President, Chen Shuibian.

In state sponsored publications (such as Bainian Fenghua) today, Ma Ying-jeou seems to be regarded as the President of the ROC who has finally fulfilled the dream of Sun Yat-sen, the “Father of The Republic”, (a title that Sun was only given in 1940). For the pan-blue camp, the thoughts of Sun Yat-sen paved the way for the evolutionary development of democracy (tutelage) and also helped to develop the economic system (the ‘economic miracle’ in Taiwan). Furthermore, as a respected figure in all Chinese regions (probably with the exception of broad areas of Taiwan), Sun Yat-sen can lend legitimacy to the KMT’s representation of all Chinese worldwide.

How will this KMT disocurse be accepted within Taiwanese society? Unlike Chiang Kai-shek, who is portrayed as the cruel ruler who implemented the White Terror of the early ROC rule over Taiwan, Sun Yat-sen is not considered to be of any importance for Taiwanfrom the perspective of the pan-green camp. They emphasize the fact that Taiwanwas a Japanese colony in 1911 and 1912 and that Taiwanwas spared the chaos of the Warlord Period following the Xinhai Revolution. In addition, after 1949, the Three Principles of the People were misused: the frequent references to the Three Principles formed part of the policy of the authoritarian regime and for this reason, they are no longer taught in Taiwanschools and do not form part of the university entrance system. Even in the context of democratization, Sun Yat-sen did not play any role in Taiwan: the earlier attempts of liberals such as Lei Zhen (Lei Chen) and Yin Haiguang failed to establish democratic structures in Taiwan, in contrast to the successful indigenous democratic movement after the late 1970s.

It remains to be seen whether the recent focus on the 100 years of the ROC will continue to exert an influence in the long-term, considering the many inherent contradictions and the obvious attempts to create a coherent history which does not have any foundation in fact.

Dr. Jens Damm is currently on sabbatical from the Institute of East Asian Studies at Freie Universität Berlin and is serving as Assistant Professor at the Graduate Institute of Taiwan Studies, Chang Jung Christian University.