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Taiwanese identity: Wikis


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The definition of Taiwanese identity has been an ongoing issue for several decades arising from the political rivalry between the Republic of China (ROC) and the People's Republic of China (PRC). Taiwanese are frustrated by the political rivalry which is the cause of confusion both inside and outside Taiwan.

"When we use the term 'Taiwan', mainland China is not happy. They think it means we are moving towards independence. But, on the other hand, they will not let us use the name 'Republic of China' so people are angry." (2002) [1] -- Tuan-Yao Cheng (鄭端耀), Acting Director of the Institute of International Relations at the National Chengchi University in Taiwan.


Identity from a historic perspective


Qing Dynasty

See also: Taiwan under Qing Dynasty rule
See also: Kingdom of Tungning

Of the 23 million people in Taiwan, most are descendants of immigrants from Fujian and identify themselves as Hoklo whilst 15% are descendants of Hakka from Guangdong (Canton) and also Fujian. Periodic migrations started before the 12th century. In addition to the aborigines, it is primarily the descendants of the early Fujianese and Hakka immigrants who identify themselves as Taiwanese and increasingly reject the "Chinese" tag. The ancestors of these people were laborers that crossed the Taiwan Strait to work on plantations for the Dutch. It is believed that these male laborers married aborigine women, creating a new ethnic group of mixed people. In 1683, the Qing Empire, which controlled China, conquered Taiwan. The Qing gave Taiwan to the Japanese in 1895.

Empire of Japan

Japan took control of Taiwan when China, then under the control of the Qing Dynasty since its conquest in 1683, lost the First Sino-Japanese War. The Japanese rule of Taiwan lasted from 1895 until 1945, when Japan was defeated by the allied forces at the end of World War II. Taiwanese perceptions of the Japanese are significantly more favorable than perceptions in other parts of East Asia, partly because during its 50 years (1895–1945) of Japanese rule Japan developed Taiwan's economy and raised the standard of living for most Taiwanese citizens, building up Taiwan as a supply base for the Japanese main islands. Later Taiwanese also adopted Japanese names and practice Shinto, while the schools instilled a sense of "Japanese spirit" in students. By the time of World War II began, many ethnic Taiwanese were proficient in both the Japanese language and Hokkien, while keeping their unique identity. Many Taiwanese were conscripted by the Japanese army to aid in their military campaigns against China. Many Taiwanese units, alongside the regular Japanese army, took part in some of the most noteworthy campaigns of that time against China, including the Nanking Incident.

Towards the last decade of the Japanese rule, the occupation force started a systematic campaign of Kōminka (皇民化 Transformation into Imperial subjects) to instill the "Japanese spirit" (大和魂 Yamato damashī) to assimilate ethnic Taiwanese into imperial subjects of the Japanese empire. This process was stopped when Japan was defeated at the end of World War II, ending efforts on the part of the Japanese forces, to integrate Taiwan, to be known as Okinawa and Hokkaidō, into the Japanese empire. During this last decade, Taiwanese were encouraged to adopt Japanese names. Many older generation Taiwanese have fond memories of the Japanese rule in comparison to the later KMT occupation. Many scholars have attributed this phenomenon to brain washing tactics pervasively used in schools run by the Japanese at the time, which foreshadowed Chinese brain washing tactics pervasively used in schools under KMT occupation. Even the former president Lee Tenghui of Taiwan has a Japanese name 岩里政男 (IWASATO Masao) and has stated on numerous occasions that he is, in fact, Japanese (there are persistent rumors that Lee Tenghui is actually half Japanese; that is, he is the illegitimate son of a Japanese officer, who served in the occupation force, and of Lee's ethnic Taiwanese mother).

Republic of China

After the Republic of China relocated its capital to Taipei in 1949, the intention of Chiang Kai-shek was to eventually go back to Mainland China and retake control of it. In order to make this claim legitimate, the KMT attempted to "sinicize" the Taiwanese people.[2][3][4][5] KMT's Taiwan Garrison Commander Chen Yi stated that, after 50 years of Japanese rule, they intended to "[make] Taiwanese customs, thought, and language gradually return to that of Chinese people".[6] The KMT believed that a centrally controlled curriculum would forge a unified nationalistic sentiment in Taiwan. They also believed education would help build a martial spirit and stimulate enough military, economic, political, and cultural strength not only to survive, but also to recover the mainland.[7] However, the Korean War in 1950, during which the PRC fought United States soldiers, changed this situation. It indeed pushed the US to conclude a mutual security treaty with the ROC since they did not want the Communists to take over the island. Thus protected by the US, the people on Taiwan continued developing their own identity, separate from mainland China.

In 1979, diplomatic relationships between the US and the ROC broke down, and more and more governments started to view the PRC as the sole government of China. Thus the ROC's political focus gradually shifted its attention from mainland China to the island of Taiwan, and most citizens started to consider themselves as part of a nation, separate from mainland China.[8] The first transition of power from the KMT occurred in 2000 when Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party won the presidential elections. He has been making efforts to push for Taiwan independence with statements that there are two nations across the Taiwan Strait; a push for referendum on independence; and the abolishment of the National Unification Council. In recent years, there has been a trend, known as Taiwanization, to emphasize the importance of Taiwan's culture rather than to regard Taiwanese as solely an appendage of China. The movement stems from the continued hostility displayed by the People's Republic of China towards Taiwan independence and the memory of the Chinese-controlled Kuomintang occupation. This involves the teaching of history of Taiwan, geography, and culture from a Taiwan-centric perspective, as well as promoting languages locally established in Taiwan, including Taiwanese, Hakka and aboriginal languages.

The place of the Taiwanese identity (台灣人) in relation to the Chinese identity (華人) has been a matter of intense debate. While pro-unification Taiwanese (海外華人) prefer to think of the Taiwanese identity as a subset of the Chinese national identity, and instead describe the Taiwanese identity as a component of the Chinese diaspora (海外華人 or 華裔). However, pro-independence Taiwanese place the Taiwanese identity outside the Chinese national identity, and instead describe the Taiwanese identity as (海外台灣人 or 台裔).

Originally part of the Taiwan independence movement, its aims are now endorsed by some supporters of Chinese unification on Taiwan. In its rejection of a monolithic officially sponsored Han Chinese identity in favor of one rooted in a unique, Taiwan-centric culture.

Taiwanese opinion

Polls conducted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) in 2001 found that 70% of Taiwanese would support a name change of the country to Taiwan if the island could no longer be referred to as the Republic of China [1].

In recent years, especially after the 1990s, there has been a growth in the number of people identifying themselves as Taiwanese. In polls conducted by the National Chengchi University back in 1991, only 13.6% of respondents identified themselves as Taiwanese. This figure rose to 45.7% in 2004. In contrast, the number of respondents that identified themselves as Chinese was 43.9% in 1991 and fell to just 6.3% in 2004. Half of respondents responded with dual-identity, both Chinese and Taiwanese, and the statistic has remained steady with just a slight decline from 49.7% in 1992 to 45.4% in 2004. [9]

The Academia Sinica conducted a survey between 1992 and 2004 to further explore the identity issue by asking questions such as whether people would support independence if it wouldn't result in war, and whether Taiwan should unite with China if there were no political, economic or social differences between the two sides. Results showed that a third of respondents maintained "double-identities" over the years whilst a similar number of respondents were "Taiwanese nationalists" (those that would never support unification with China even if there were no differences with China). This number doubled as a result of provocation from the PRC in the 1996 missile crisis. There has been a sharp decline in "Chinese nationalist" (those that would support unification with China the social conditions were the same as Taiwan) from 40% to 15%.[10] The opinion of Taiwanese continues to change, reflecting the problem of national identity which is easily affected by political, social and economic circumstances.

In a recent poll dated June 2009, 52.1% of Taiwan's population consider themselves to be only Taiwanese while 39.2% consider themselves to be both Taiwanese and Chinese and 4.4% consider themselves to be Chinese only.[1]

Different perspectives of history

During the period of Martial Law, when the Kuomintang (KMT) was the only authorised party to govern Taiwan, the KMT government has "modified" Taiwan's history from a Greater China perspective and lump the pre-existing Hoklo and Hakka with the Mainlanders as Chinese, who came to Taiwan and forced aboriginal communities into the mountains. The early Hoklo and Hakka who arrived in Taiwan have mixed with lowland aborigines in Taiwan. Also, due to several government factions that ruled Taiwan prior to Japanese rule, many lowland aborigines were forcefully assimilated, and it was in their incentives to pass as Hoklo. There are Taiwanese historians who believe that the Hoklo, especially, are 90%-100% direct descendants of pure lowland aborigines in Taiwan. However, this is politically driven as well by Taiwanese who are extreme in their opposition to the KMT party.


  1. ^ a b Michael Bristow (May 17, 2002). "Taiwan's identity crisis". BBC News.  
  2. ^ Dreyer, June Teufel (July 17, 2003). Wilson International Center for Scholars "Taiwan’s Evolving Identity". Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Wilson International Center for Scholars. Retrieved May 20, 2009. "In order to shore up his government's legitimacy, Chiang set about turning Taiwan’s inhabitants into Chinese. To use Renan’s terminology, Chiang chose to re-define the concept of shared destiny to include the mainland. Streets were re-named; major thoroughfares in Taipei received names associated with the traditional Confucian virtues. The avenue passing in front of the foreign ministry en route to the presidential palace was named chieh-shou (long life), in Chiang’s honor. Students were required to learn Mandarin and speak it exclusively; those who disobeyed and spoke Taiwanese, Hakka, or aboriginal tongues could be fined, slapped, or subjected to other disciplinary actions."  
  3. ^ Myers, Ramon H.; Hsiao-ting Lin. "Starting Anew on Taiwan". Hoover Institution. Retrieved 2009-06-06. "The new KMT concluded that it must "Sinicize" Taiwan if it were ever to unify mainland China. Textbooks were designed to teach young people the dialect of North China as a national language. Pupils also were taught to revere Confucian ethics, to develop Han Chinese nationalism, and to accept Taiwan as a part of China."  
  4. ^ "Cultural, Ethnic, And Political Nationalism In Contemporary Taiwan". Retrieved 2009-06-06. "Among the first things that the Chinese government did after taking over Taiwan was first to "de-Japanize" and then to "Sinicize" Taiwanese culture. The cultural policies of Sinicizing Taiwan in the postwar period intensified when the Chinese Nationalist Party government lost the civil war against the Red Army and retreated to Taiwan in 1949"  
  5. ^ "Searching for the Past". "...efforts of the government of Chiang Kai-shek to resinicize the island"  
  6. ^ "Between assimilation and independence".,M1.  
  7. ^ "Third-Wave Reform". "....The government initiated educational reform in the 1950s to achieve a number of high-priority goals. First, it was done to help root out fifty years of Japanese colonial influence on the island's populace--"resinicizing" them, one might say- -and thereby guarantee their loyalty to the Chinese motherland. Second, the million mainlanders or so who had fled to Taiwan themselves had the age-old tendency of being more loyal to city, county, or province than to China as a nation. They identified themselves as Hunanese, Cantonese, or Sichuanese first, and as Chinese second."  
  8. ^ "New National Identity Emerges in Taiwan". Washington Post. 2004-01-02. Retrieved 2009-05-07.  
  9. ^ Rich Chang (March 12, 2006). "'Taiwan identity' growing". Taipei Times.  
  10. ^

See also


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