National identity & Taiwanese nationalism

Throughout democratization and into the democratic era, questions around national identity, Taiwan’s current and future status, and relations with China have been an inescapable and highly contested feature of the political landscape. Indeed, as the sophisticated study by Wachman 1994 shows, national identity and nationalist themes evolved or co-evolved as the major cleavage in Taiwanese society as democratization processes expanded and deepened with democratization. Another good starting point for investigating the complexities of national identity, particularly in terms of individual understandings, is the collection of Corcuff 2002. This edited volume provides some very strong contributions primarily employing an historical and sociological approach.

Brown 2004 demonstrates the fluidity and constructed nature of identity, even when it is built on supposedly more “solid” foundations such as ethnicity. The study is based on meticulous ethnographic case studies and historical data analysis focusing on the place of indigenous peoples and the competing constructions of their identity in various time periods. Like Brown, Philips 2003 demonstrates how contemporary conflicts over identity are rooted in processes that began much earlier, in Philips’ case during the five year period between the end of Japanese colonialism and the establishment of the KMT regime on Taiwan. This is an important historical study covering the crucial, and often overlooked, period between the end of the Pacific war and the relocation of the KMT regime in Taiwan. China’s claim to Taiwan is rooted in historical arguments, but as Hughes 1997 demonstrates, it is also fluid and subject to interpretations and constructions that are mutable across time.

Jacobs and Liu 2007 is a close study of Lee Teng-hui’s thinking on Taiwanese subjectivity and expressions of Taiwan consciousness. It focuses on the significant role of the former President in the emergence of Taiwanese nationalism and provides a careful account of the complexities of Lee’s legacy as President. In many ways, Lee established the possibility for Chen Shui-bian to pursue his Taiwan nationalism project, which is well covered by Cabestan 2005. The sophisticated analysis developed in Lynch 2004 suggests that Chen had embarked on an attempt to effectively re-imagine the Taiwanese nation.

While Chen’s “nation-building” effort was often interpreted as indicating “Taiwan independence”, the empirical analysis of thousands of Chen’s speeches by Sullivan and Lowe 2010 shows that Chen frequently avoided references to sovereignty in favour of “non-threatening” expressions of Taiwan identity. This article provides a systematic analysis of Chen’s presidential discourse on various themes of Taiwanese nationalism, and argues that interpretations of Chen’s independence seeking were overblown. Furthermore, Chen’s position on Taiwan’s status was actually less far removed from his opponents in the KMT than one might imagine. Indeed, Schubert 2004 argues that the DPP and KMT positions on sovereignty and national status converged through the 1990s essentially coalescing around Lee Teng-hui’s notions about ROC sovereignty. The KMT’s tilt towards China is picked up by some of the chapters in Cabestan and DeLisle 2014.

While much of the literature on national identity in Taiwan reasonably focuses on the national level, local politics have a significant influence on governance and political culture in particular. Chao 1992 looks at the continuities and evolution in local politics before and after democratization began. One of things that Chao notes is the tension between the local and national level. This tension is examined explicitly in an earlier paper, Lerman 1977, which compares the central government elites with their notions of upholding ‘true’ Chinese culture and reminiscence to Confucian gentry, and their earthier local government counterparts. This pioneering article on the conflicting political cultures of KMT elites and local politicians sets the scene for further work on the emergence of the local, i.e. Taiwanese, opposition movement.

The interactions between and among local and national factions are further analysed in Chen 1995, a dense study of the role of political factions in the post-war, authoritarian and democratization periods. Interest, class and sub-ethnic based divisions at the local level, which would emerge with greater force during the later democratization period, were also manifest in the limited elections that were held almost continuously since the 1950s. Chao and Myers 2000 examine the role of these electoral contests as a ‘pressure valve’ that allowed people with grievances against the ruling party to let off steam. They also helped the KMT channel resources to supporters, a key element of local elections. Bibliography here.