Thursday, January 5, 2012

Of Sympathy

Some background for those who don't know: the folks where I live are mostly veterans or veterans' family members, and those who aren't would have bought or rented their apartments from someone who was in the military. Before this complex was built this area was a community where only people who'd served in various branches of the military could live, and after the apartments were built on that site, only they could  get them (I'm not sure if they had to buy them, if there were subsidies or if it was a part of their pension). You can imagine that a community  still largely made up of veterans of the army of the Republic of China would be super deep blue. Once a person had an apartment he could sell it, let a family member live there, rent it out, whatever. That's how I ended up living here. Our landlady is a Buddhist nun. I don't know how she got the apartment  -  either she bought it from a retired officer before she became a nun, or she inherited it from a family member who had been in the military, or something. Now she lives in a monastery in Tainan, and the rent on this place (which is extremely reasonable for 25-30 pings in Da'an - everyone, rent from nuns!) is basically her income. 

Anyway. So y'all know that I would like to see an independent Taiwan. Someday, at least. I wouldn't be opposed to an independent ROC made up of what is now Taiwan and its various outlying islands, but my preferred outcome - not that I get a say in the matter! - would actually be an independent, democratic Taiwan completely divorced from any notions of being a part of China - like how people view the USA today.

My neighbors all fought for something very different in their youth. You could go so far as to say that they devoted their lives to their country, and by extension, their beliefs about what that country should be - which more or less correspond to the KMT's beliefs about what the ROC should be.

As my student said - when you meet someone like that, who literally devoted his entire life and livelihood to his country and beliefs, and you in four short words tell them that they're just plain wrong, that's not something they're going to take lightly. 

Even if you do believe they are wrong.

And I do believe it - I don't feel that there's One China, or rather I do feel that there's One China and it's the PRC, which will hopefully become something else - like a country that's not totally fucked up - someday, and that Taiwan is a different country altogether. I do not believe that the ROC "is" China - even if it "was" China, at least in some sense, for however short a period -  is a part of China, should rule Mainland China or any of that. I don't mind its continued existence, but it's not "China". Neither is Taiwan. This is why I wouldn't have celebrated the 100th anniversary of the ROC. It wasn't Taiwan's birthday. Nothing happened in Taiwan on October 10th, 1911. Well, maybe Old Chen bought a chicken. Or Miss Lin caught the local shopkeeper's eye. But that's about it. Certainly no country was born in Taiwan on that day. The ROC didn't even rule it at the time - the Japanese did.

 For this, I do have some sympathy. No, I don't think they've got a point - although they have just as much a right to their beliefs as the other side does - and no, I don't think they're right, but I can understand how it would feel to make your entire career about building, then saving, then rebuilding, something you believe in, and then having someone casually say that "nope, you're wrong, everything you've given your life for is wrong. Sorry you screwed that one up, Grandpa. Welcome to The Republic of Taiwan!"

Of course, Grandpa's not going to change his beliefs, but  I do understand the sting of "so this person really thinks I wasted my life?" Because that's what it implies.

This is why, while I won't  deny or lie about my beliefs - and I have some leeway being a foreigner and all - I tend to be more gentle about them where I live now. For a lot of them, it's more than just a few opinions.

It goes both ways, of course. People - people I agree with and sympathize with more - spent much of their adult lives in prison and many died for Taiwanese democracy and identity. It would be just as offensive to them to be told "nope, you're wrong". This is easier for me to accept, because I agree with them.

It's just good to remember that it's not always so easy as deciding the other guy is nuts.

I don't really have an American equivalent -  the wars we've fought in living memory can be debated, but  none of them deal with the actual provenance of the country. It's not quite the same: arguing US politics and foreign policy with a soldier returned from Iraq who genuinely believed he was "fighting terror", while testy and full of land mines (terrible pun, sorry), is not the same as telling a soldier of the ROC that he's just plain wrong, or telling an independence activist who spent her best years in jail and whose family was killed in the White Terror that she's wrong and that the KMT has "changed" so she should accept it.

1 comment:

B.Y. said...

It's natural to think like green or lean-green because of their more idealistic and passionate view of things - e.g. "Republic of Taiwan" being admitted to the UN and accepted in the international community as a sovereign state. Make no mistake that it's not that the Taiwanese people as a whole don't want to be an independent country but it's just that the international community simply doesn't accept it as such. Interestingly, on an individual basis, most foreigners will approve of Taiwan as a sovereign nation (whether it be called Taiwan or the ROC) but it is obviously not the case on the basis of sovereign nations. As an example, when one looks at the list of signatories to most international treaties, one will be shocked that Taiwan is regularly missing from such list. So, clinging to (or adopting) the skin (not necessarily the substance) of the ROC is pretty much out of the need to survive; on the other hand, scrapping it will not necessarily give birth to the ideal, new nation successfully (i.e. with a tailored constitutional law, a more appropriate name/flag and the much needed international recognition). Whether there is any substance of the early republic left to this day is in my view irrelevant. I believe that the recent re-election of Ma has lesser to do with his being KMT but the recognition by the people of the importance of a pragmatic and realistic approach to things. Many believe Taiwan has been a positive force in moving China toward a market economy, and further believe market economy will lead to political reform. As China becomes a more civilized, modern nation, this problem could be a lot easier to solve.