Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Hanging on to Confucius
The other week I blogged about being quoted in the Liberty Times and United Daily, more out of the pride of being able to deliver a decent quote in Chinese and have it printed accurately (meaning that people can actually understand me! Wow!).
What I didn't write about until later was that when I went to buy a copy of the Liberty Times containing my quote, that I had a little run in with a dying breed, a species I hope is slowly going extinct, an ancient throwback. I live in the heart of Da'an (be jealous, mofos), an area that is super-duper deep blue. Most of my neighbors are veterans. Some even fought Communists. As I'm buying my paper at 7-11, which I don't normally do as I read Taipei Times online and practice Chinese with free papers I pick up, some old dude says to me in English, "don't buy that paper. It's lies!" and "We are Chinese! We have 5,000 years of history. You foreigners can't understand."
Edited for clarification: the veterans aren't the "ancient throwbacks" I hope will go extinct. I mean the rude guy and his ilk. Most of my neighbors are very nice people with whom I happen to disagree politically, which is not a big deal - I'd rather have good relationships with them and not talk politics. Few if any of them would say the sorts of things this guy did.
This recent memory was yet again thrust to the forefront of my poor embattled cerebral cortex when someone else I know said that it wasn't that she didn't want Taiwanese independence - she did, someday, not now ("it's not safe now", which I'd agree with even if it makes me angry, because it's the work of Chinese bully politicians), but that she didn't want Taiwan to be called "Taiwan" beyond it being the name of the island. She wasn't interested in a Republic of Taiwan - she wanted independence as The Republic of China.
I should note that this person, while she did vote for Ma Ying-jiu, is not particularly blue and has voted green in the past. She'd said that she actually prefers Tsai to Ma, but that she doesn't like the people Tsai has surrounded herself with. While I'd say that the greater good comes from kicking the KMT out of power and elevating the basic ideals of the modern DPP, I can still see and understand her views. She also feels more disappointed in the DPP - saying they help themselves at the Buffet o' Corruption shamelessly, when they were supposed to have done better (which is true, but sadly not surprising), whereas the KMT has always been known to be corrupt so it's to be expected, even though in the end they've stolen way more over time from Taiwan.
I get that, too, but then I feel that if faced with two corrupt parties, you've just got to go with the one whose policies you agree with.
Why, then, does this name matter so much to her and to many others, in much the same way that "Taiwan" matters so deeply to the other side (the side I'm unabashedly on, if that wasn't clear)?
Her rationale is a common one - despite not wanting to be a part of the PRC, she still felt a cultural connection to China. "I love Confucius and Lao Tzu" - it's part of her heritage, she said, and she didn't want to give that up. She saw no reason why the name "China" should belong to the PRC when it's her heritage, too. She doesn't want to give up the Analects and the Tao Te Ching, the art and the music.
OK, I see that.
I also feel, though, that we "foreigners who can't understand China's 5,000 years of history" (BLLEECCCHHHH) do have something worth contributing to that conversation. Most of us come from immigrant stock. I will only speak for Americans here, but I do think it is more universally valid, to say that this isn't just true for minorities: some or all of us "in the majority" white people are also immigrants from hundreds of years back ("all" if you're talking American, "some" if you're talking British, it gets complicated). In the case of America, it's been a comparable amount of time between when some of our families first settled here - and totally screwed over the Native Americans, something that history loves to repeat on every continent - and when the Hoklo were settling Taiwan from Fujian.
I'm American. I am not British, Armenian, Polish or Swiss by citizenship. My passport says "United States of America" on it. Does that mean I can't still feel a connection to the cultural heritage of the places my ancestors came from? Do I have to be "British" to appreciate Britain's cultural contributions, and recognize that part of my family is from there? Do I have to be "Armenian" to appreciate the strong culinary traditions that still run in my family from that side? Can I not appreciate those things and still be "American"?
I'm not going to say that these things aren't important - they are. Knowing and appreciating where you came from, even if that place is not the country you live in now and doesn't bear the same name, is vital to most of us. I'm not going to say "eh, who cares, let 'em have Confucius", although I have heard people say similar things. Armenians are pretty intense about their heritage, and yet I don't feel shut out just because I don't look Armenian, have an Armenian name or citizenship in a country with the word "Armenia" in its official title.
But then, she was pretty clear that part of her attachment was to the name "China" alone (why let them have it? being part of her reaction), and my resolution to culture vs. citizenship wouldn't satisfy her. Edit: as J said so wisely in the comments, identity is a feeling, and you can't argue that away.
That's why I fall on the side of "this is Taiwan", not "this is the Republic of China". It's true that I have no specific attachment to Chinese culture beyond my expat experience, but it's not impossible to understand that attachment. And yet, as an American, I'm able to get past my own tangled ancestry and appreciate what it's given me without insisting that I need, absolutely need, to hold on to those names. Heck, I feel just as strong an attachment to my Armenian side as my Polish one, and yet I grew up with a Polish surname, not an Armenian one. It is clearly not impossible.
Or maybe I'm just a blundering big nose who "can't understand" "5,000 years" of Chinese history and culture. Who knows.