Sunday, June 19, 2011

"Half Taiwanese"

I just want to say.

Last week, in class, I wrote something in Taiwanese on the board, partly to make a point without actually speaking anything but English and yes – I admit it! – partly to show off. The students were all “huh?” except for one, who quickly figured out what I’d written – whose brain immediately perceived the need to read it in Taiwanese, not Chinese.

I asked if he was more comfortable in Taiwanese or Chinese – he said:

"Both…I’m half Taiwanese.”



“My mother was born in Taiwan but my father came from China,” he explained.


So I said it. “You were born in Taiwan?”


“So as far as I am concerned you are Taiwanese, not ‘half Taiwanese’.” (I probably shouldn’t say such things in class, but I know from experience with this group that this is a safe class in which to say such things, otherwise I wouldn’t have touched that live wire).

“Thank you!” he replied, and other students nodded.

And that’s just it. I don’t hear it often, but when I do it’s vehement: the idea that if your parents came from China, not Taiwan, then you aren’t Taiwanese…and therefore, something’s wrong with you. The idea that such children of waishengren (外生人 - I don’t hesitate to use the term for people who actually were born in China, because they use it to self-identify) are not and can not be Taiwanese, or do not and can not understand what the “Taiwanese” think - well, I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it.

I figure, not only are “KMT” and “waishengren” not interchangeable – because they absolutely aren’t (I know plenty of people whose parents came from China who vote DPP, and quite a few old-skool Hoklo who vote KMT), but that if you are born in Taiwan, nobody has the right to say you are not Taiwanese. Your opinions may differ and your home life might have been different as a child – not that different, though – but you have the same set of shared cultural experiences as anyone and in my book, that makes you Taiwanese.

I still may not like who you vote for, but who cares. That's my problem, not yours, and it's not like you have to tell me in the first place, and not like I'll ask unless you're a good friend.


Brendan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brendan said...

I hear people complaining about this a lot. It's an attitude that unfortunately is associated a lot with DPP politics, which is too bad because it's hardly something that most or even many DPP politicians say.

I see a parallel with dumb Americans saying you're not American if you don't match their image of what an American is. It would seem like a weak parallel to make; the political situations and cultural contexts are vastly different; except people deemed to be less than fully Taiwanese seem peeved in exactly the same way as people deemed to be less than fully American.

Taiwan Echo said...

Interesting topic. BTW,

waishengren (外生人)

should have been 外省人。

省 = state or province.

Jenna said...

Thanks, Taiwan Echo.

I have actually seen it written the other way, I didn't just make that up...but then I am fairly sure I saw it written the way I wrote it by a non-native speaker so you'd surely know better.

Taiwan Echo said...

Honestly, the first time I saw this term 外生人 is in your blog :)

Two other terms that look close to it :

生人 --- stranger

更生人 --- rehabilitated offenders

where 更 = renew, change, more

John Scott said...

How people self-identify is so fascinating! Of course, one of the explanations for the kind of thinking you describe is the fact that Taiwan is among those countries in which nationality is typically equated (or at least conflated) with notions of race, culture and ethnicity to a very large extent. I have found that I might have to ask a few deeper questions to find out whether the person is describing their nationailty or their cultural, racial, or ethnic identification.

I think one can see that same sort of conflagration of nationality with culture/race/ethnicity in places like Japan, Sweden, Germany, China, among others—places that are still relatively homogenous and do not have a long experience with large-scale immigration and integration. It may be easy for folks from more genuinely multicultural nations like USA and Canada –places which have always been mixed and multi-cultured—to forget that the notion of separating nationality and race/ethnicity/culture is still a very new concept for people in many parts of the world.

I guess China would be more of an example of a nation which is actually pretty diverse, but where there is a very persistent and pervasive notion of what constitutes "national race and culture".