Sunday, October 8, 2017

My heart is Taiwanese, not Republic of Chinese


I am not a patriotic person by nature. Even when I was young, with flags in every classroom and prints of portraits of the founding fathers in our history textbooks, the Pledge of Allegiance every morning and the generally rah-rah pro-America conservatism of the town I grew up in, I just wasn't into it. I mouthed the words to the Pledge; pretending to go along was easier then. I applied the same logic to religion: after my parents' shocked reaction when I proclaimed my atheism at a surprisingly young age, and clear disapproval at choosing any belief system that didn't include faith, I pretended there was a God all the way through my confirmation because it was easier than fighting people who had no business telling me what to believe anyway.

Being ex-hippie liberal academics, my parents' attempts to make me into a wholesome young woman who feared God, prayed to Jesus and loved her country were half-hearted but sincere. Their worldview was a constrained liberalism that, while openminded, ultimately colored within the lines. In particular, Mom lamenting that she "didn't do enough" to make me into a good Christian and happy, honor-defending American was an attractive but ultimately specious reasoning for my turning out the way I did. There's nothing she could have done. I decided God didn't exist around the time I figured out Santa Claus wasn't real - I told you I was young when it happened - and I expressed a desire to live abroad as early as junior high school.

What I'm trying to say is, this is a pretty baked-in character trait. I see patriotism as a more Earth-bound form of religion: different faiths and their interpretations are ultimately fake lines drawn in the heavens that mean little beyond how they affect our real-world interactions, and patriotism is the worship of fake lines drawn across the globe delineating arbitrarily-decided "countries" which only matter, again, insofar as they affect how we think and interact (or are allowed to interact) as people. The borders themselves though? They're only real in our minds.

When I was younger, my desire to live abroad was a bit more Machine-approved. I'd always assumed I'd do it through the foreign service, international business or NGO work, academia, that sort of thing. None of them were working out - I hadn't considered in my plans that someone who is at best institution-apathetic would not fit in well at a large organization.

Forget chips on shoulders: I had bricks. Packing up and doing it on my own with a few thousand dollars in savings - and let's be honest, a hefty chunk of white middle-class privilege because I can not entirely escape the benefits of institutions - mortared those bricks right up into something like a moveable fortress. But at least they were off my shoulders.

That was ten years ago. Listen to me now, and I sound like a Taiwan missionary. Spreading the gospel of Taiwan to everyone I meet, and probably being deeply annoying in the process.

Have you accepted Taiwanese democracy into your life?

Here, read this article about Taiwan. It will change your life! I'd be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Did you know that many Taiwanese died for the freedoms we enjoy now, and someday the Republic of Formosa will rise again?

If you are interested, you are welcome to come with me to a protest this Sunday.

Okay, I'm not that bad (usually), but I am a true believer.

So what happened? I'm not a different person - I didn't suddenly decide that loving one's country was great and we should all love our countries and place deep importance on national borders. I didn't become a flag-waving, anthem-singing, crying-eagle-meme-posting patriot. I'm still the same old Jenna who doesn't function well as a cog in a corporate (or government) machine, who thinks God is an interesting fantasy, and who wants to keep her American citizenship as a matter of convenience and who has done her best work without a boss issuing commands.

Yet I do believe. As I've written before, I can really believe in a country that, despite having thousands of missiles pointed at it, wakes up every morning quietly insisting on its continued existence, perseveres, builds and improves itself and refuses to be ground up like so much pork filler in China's world-building sausage-fest and has, against the odds, turned itself into a pretty damn solid first world democracy. I didn't want to be a cog in an organizational machine, and Taiwan refuses to be a casualty of the global realpolitik machine. I feel that. I feel it like some people feel Jesus.

As Double Ten Day approaches - celebrating start of the Xinhai Revolution (in China, not Taiwan) on October 10, 1911 - and as the usual array of "Happy Birthday Taiwan!" nonsense starts appearing, it's given me a moment to reflect on how this came to be. That is, how I managed to be so enamored of Taiwan and yet not a patriot.

I think it's because Taiwan both is and is not a country. It is a sovereign nation in every respect that matters: it is self-governed, has its own military, currency, constitution and international relations and flag. Sort of.

It is also not a country in that the government currently in place here is a foreign one. All of the things it has, which make it fully independent, come from a government neither conceived nor formed in Taiwan, and certainly not by the Taiwanese. That government decided back when Taiwan was a colony of another country that it ought to be theirs - nobody asked the Taiwanese how they felt about this. That government has localized in some ways but not in others, and arguably not in a lot of the ways that matter. (To give one example, the citizenship laws were written in China in the 1920s and have not been meaningfully amended since.) This makes it a colonial government. The Republic of China is a country. Taiwan is still under colonial rule, playing host to its foreign master. It is also independent, a situation which is just as difficult to explain to non-believers as all the contradictions in the Bible are, except in this case it's true.

Imagine if the British government lost its territory in the 1800s and relocated to India, and India today was fully independent under the name and governmental system of Great Britain. Imagine if few recognized this government, opting instead to recognize the People's Republic of Britannia in the British Isles, and nobody recognized that India had a right to not only de jure independence, but to have that independence as India, not Great Britain. It's like that.

Imagine if the day after tomorrow was Magna Carta Day, and all of India would have a public holiday and be expected to celebrate the signing of the Magna Carta, and told all their lives that this was somehow relevant to their own history and land.

I doubt if I were an immigrant in that other-universe version of India that I would care much about "Magna Carta Day", nor about "Great Britain".

Similarly, I don't care much about the Republic of China.

Thinking along these lines, I realized that my love - and missionary zeal - for Taiwan has nothing to do with patriotism. I love Taiwan - the concept, the land, the history, the civic nationalism borne of shared values. I do believe Taiwan deserves statehood and I would happily reside in that state, but I doubt I'd ever be a typical "patriot". I love Taiwan not in the way one is taught to love the arbitrary boundaries defining one's world but which were not chosen: the religion, country and family one was born into (though I do sincerely love my family). I love it the way one love's one's friends or spouse (no, not like that, you know what I mean). As something one chooses because of shared values and other commonalities and compatibilities. I will love Taiwan no matter what happens to its national boundaries, although I wish for it something better than what it has now. After all, I was not born here. My family is not Taiwanese, but my friends are.

I still don't dare say I am Taiwanese - a lot of people get the wrong idea, sure, and also on some level I don't think I deserve the honor. But my heart is here.

The Republic of China? That could disappear tomorrow and I wouldn't care. If it were replaced by the Republic of Taiwan, I'd celebrate. Double Ten Day will come and go this year, as with every other year, and I just won't care.

In short, my heart is Taiwanese, not Republic of Chinese.


Harald Dahl said...

One thing I find interesting about the ROC government is that, although it is certainly not, at its historical roots at least, Taiwanese, it is over time becoming more and more Taiwanese - particularly if your definition of "Taiwanese" includes the descendants of the Chinese people who relocated here in the late '40's and early '50's. The majority, through democratic action (as well as social struggle, yes) has brought about amazing changes since the days of KMT martial law. The fact that the ROC now views itself, if not yet 100% in word but certainly 99% in practice, a government of Taiwan and not of China, and is more and more embracing of a distinct Taiwanese national identity leads me to regard the ROC as an overall good thing for Taiwan - at least for now. It certainly is a governmental system through which the will of the majority can be expressed and put into action , no matter the dusty old KMT skeletons in the closet. The continuous removal of statues of Chiang Kai-Shek from public places is a testament to how far the ROC has come and where it is going.

Also, the ROC may yet have a positive role to play in the future of Mainland China. Imagine if someday the PRC regime were to collapse - unlikely, yes, but not impossible. It could occur with an economic crisis, or simply at the point where enough people in China become fed up with their single-party fascist police state. It's entirely plausible that they might look across the strait and say, "Why can't we have what Taiwan has - and don't give us that bunk about "western" democracy being incompatible with Chinese culture - they're Chinese but they still have freedom and a democracy that works." Imagine that at some point (real) elections were held in China and candidates who advocated the adoption of the ROC constitution in China won. Goodbye, "March of the Volunteers", hello "San Ming Zhu Yi."

Under such a scenario, Taiwan would have a much better chance of finally gaining its de jure independence. I think it's obvious that the current Chinese government will never, ever, under any circumstances, let Taiwan go free. So, the solution to that is to change the Chinese government. The ROC, with its unique legacy as a "Chinese" institution and a pre-packaged alternative to the PRC, is one way that could come to pass.

"You may say I'm a dreamer...."

Jenna Lynn Cody said...

They have Taiwanized in some ways, yes. Remember that democratization did not come from the ROC, it came from the Taiwanese people who essentially forced the ROC to reform. That they did so is evidence of Taiwanization, of course.

But in many ways they have not Taiwanified - I wouldn't put that number at 99%. Within the KMT, which until recently has held most of the power within the ROC, there is still a clear preference for the descendants of the original Chinese elites (I don't use the word "Mainlander" for a reason). The ROC flag still carries the KMT sun, a symbol of a political party that has no place on a national flag. Some laws have been changed - a lot of laws relating to women especially changed in the late 1990s - but plenty have not. I still languish, waiting for a shot at dual nationality, under nationality laws written in the 1920s. The ROC is more than just a name and it's still too "foreign" and "Chinese" to be fully acceptable.

I would love to see a democratic China, but I would not love to see one under the ROC that includes Taiwan. As I see it, Taiwan and China are simply not the same and never will be. I would be fine with the ROC moving back over to China and letting Taiwan go to form its own Republic of Taiwan, however, perhaps with an EU-like arrangement between the two that takes into account that one one huge and the other tiny (such a thing could never be exactly like the EU, it would have to account for regional and local differences between East Asia and Europe).

Shiny Beast said...

Sounds like a case of unrequited love. Or have immigration laws changed enough that you are on a path to citizenship?