Xinhai Revolution at 100: One anniversary, three interpretations

October 10th, 2011 marked the 100th anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution which led to the demise of China’s last dynasty and the subsequent birth of the Republic of China (ROC). Known as Double Ten Day, this date is celebrated as the National Day in Taiwan. However, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) does not recognise this date; rather, it celebrates its own National Day on 1 October.

The ROC’s centennial has given politicians in Taiwan and mainland China another chance to express their political stances on the sovereignty of Taiwan, and from these expressions, three broad voices representing the blue, red, and green camps can be discerned.

The blue camp’s voice was reflected in Taiwanese president Ma Ying-Jeou’s National Day speech, in which he asserted that mainland China needs to recognise the existence of the ROC. Ma is also the blue camp’s candidate for the 2012 presidential election.

Maintaining the red camp’s stance, during a talk on the 100th anniversary of the fall of China’s last dynasty, Hu Jintao downplayed the existence of the ROC. Twenty-three times in Hu’s speech, he noted “the revival of the great Chinese people” as a result of the Xinhai Revolution and that it should continuously be pursued in our time, but he did not mention the ROC even once.

Lastly, the green camp, headed by Taiwan’s candidate for the 2012 presidential election, Tsai Ing-Wen, noted that the ROC is Taiwan, and Taiwan is the ROC.

These assertions reaffirm the three parties’ old schism over the existence of the ROC.

As usual, the red completely ignores the existence of the ROC, and repeatedly stresses that Taiwan should be reunited with China in due course. For the blue camp, the Kuomintang’s defeat in the Chinese Civil War led the ROC to temporarily relocate and re-establish itself in Taiwan; thus, the ROC does exist. Ma has avoided using the term ‘unification’, which the red camp enjoys advocating, but has stressed the necessity to institutionalise a peaceful relationship with mainland China. Although the blue and red camps have tackled the existence of the ROC and the question of unification differently, they share a similar tendency to situate Taiwan in the broader Chinese historical context.

On the other hand, the green camp has been known for its staunch stance on Taiwan’s unique identity and statehood. It views Taiwan’s history as more nuanced, such that it also encompasses the history of various indigenous people residing on the island. The green opposes the sole narration of Taiwan’s history and existence as a part of the greater Chinese history. Tsai’s abovementioned statement indicates that it is Taiwan that allows the ROC to exist. Therefore, while Taiwan’s history might include part of the history of the ROC, one cannot equate Taiwan’s history with that of the ROC.

It is worth noting that Tsai actually stirred debates last year when she contended that the ROC is a government-in-exile. However, by stating this year that the ROC is Taiwan and Taiwan is the ROC, Tsai made her stance more moderate. One can inevitably relate this to her effort to appease more voters in the middle (i.e., not too green, not too blue) in the upcoming presidential election.

Julie Yu-Wen Chen is an Assistant Research Fellow at the Institute of Political Science at Academia Sinica in Taiwan and an Honorary Research Fellow at the Institute of Human Security at La Trobe University in Australia.