Showing posts with label roc. Show all posts
Showing posts with label roc. Show all posts

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Chiang Kai-shek did not save Taiwan from the CCP: Part 2 - what did stop China from taking Taiwan?

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This is from a post for some movie I've long forgotten the title of.


This is Part 2 of a longer post. For Part 1, which discusses the ways in which Chiang Kai-shek is actually to blame for CCP interest in Taiwan, click here

Because it explores historical factors that I don't think many people are aware of, that post didn't address the core of the bad argument I keep hearing -- that sure the KMT wasn't great, but it's thanks to them that Taiwan isn't a part of the People's Republic of China! 

The belief here actually comes from something else: an interpretation of historical events between approximately 1949 and 1955, which places the ROC as the main bulwark against CCP designs on Taiwan. There's even a pretty terrible News Lens op-ed from a few years ago -- it's so bad that I won't link to it, but I did respond at the time -- that called Chiang "the greatest single fighter of the Chinese Communist Party, bar none", which is funny to me, because they thoroughly defeated him, and in order to hold Taiwan against them, he needed US assistance. 

My main source, once again, is Hsiao-Ting Lin's Accidental State, but I'll also be drawing on other sources, including this article from the Journal of Northeast Asian Studies. I'll try to quote frequently from it for those who don't have access.

I also want to say here that anyone who really knows Taiwanese history is likely already aware of everything I'm about to say; nothing here will surprise you. Instead, this is a sort of self-service: instead of writing the same reply to such comments over and over again, I'm putting it all in one handy blog post that I (and you!) can just link to whenever it inevitably comes up. Again

Here's the summary: despite some victories by the Nationalists, we don't have Chiang or his government to thank for Taiwan being saved from incorporation into the People's Republic of China. In fact, it was mostly the US's efforts to contain the CCP that led to Taiwan staying out of PRC hands. This had nothing to do with any sort of sincere care for the ROC on the part of the US, and certainly had nothing at all to do with any sort of goodwill toward Taiwan. Although the Nationalists did score some victories toward the end of the civil war, the lasting repellent that kept the PRC out of Taiwan was (somewhat grudging) American assistance to the ROC, due to a US desire to secure a defense perimeter around the PRC and renewed desire to include Taiwan in that defensive corridor due to the outbreak of the Korean War. 

From the link (all emphasis mine):

If there had not been a Korean War, the Chinese Communists would probably have invaded Taiwan in 1950. After the outbreak of the Korean War, the United States began to reverse its hands-off policy toward the Chinese Nationalists on Taiwan. The Korean War first compelled the United States to grant military aid to Taiwan and then put the island under U.S. protection. The war forestalled the deterioration of the ROC' s international status, but the legal status of Taiwan became undetermined in the eyes of U.S. policymakers....

Both attacks compelled the United States to go to war, and on both occasions this simultaneously saved the Kuomintang (KMT) from total defeat. One high-ranking KMT official even described the Korean War as the Sian incident in reverse - an unexpected twist of fate that saved the KMT from total annihilation. 2 Before the outbreak of the Korean War, KMT-controlled Taiwan (then called Formosa) fell outside the U.S. defense perimeter, and the Truman administration had assumed the final defeat of the KMT to be only a matter of time. Immediately after the outbreak of the war, President Harry S. Truman decided to neutralize Taiwan, both to protect it from communist invasion and to prevent the KMT from using it as a base to mount an assault on the mainland. The Korean War also forced President Truman and Secretary of State Dean Acheson to resume their entanglement with the KMT. 


The details of how all this happened are a bit muddier. Accidental State asserts that the Allies considered many options at different points, including simply allowing the PRC to take Taiwan, a United Nations trusteeship that would help Taiwan transition from Japanese colonial rule and backing of Formosan home rule groups; in other words, post-war US support for the ROC was far shakier and more ambivalent than people seem to believe. Lin (Accidental State) agrees with Lin (article quoted above) that there was a period when Communist takeover of Taiwan was considered "inevitable", and the US was, for a time, prepared to just let that happen. Around 1949-1950, the US made it clear that it would not interfere in the Chinese civil war and that it considered Taiwan to be a part of China. To me, it seems US support was more ambivalent rather than outright dismissive in those years, an ambivalence which remained through 1952, but that might be a topic for a later post.

In Untying the Knot, Richard Bush dismisses this idea that the US ever seriously considered a "trusteeship": 

FDR had his own plans for the island, and allowing international trusteeship of the island and a plebiscite to elicit the wishes of its people was not one of them. In his vision for postwar peace and security, "four policemen" -- the United Sates, Britain, the Soviet Union and China -- would insist on disarmament by most other countries and enforce it through a system of military bases. 

In fact, the idea of UN trusteeship, while it was never of interest to FDR, was of great interest to others, including several Senators and Dean Rusk (who would eventually become Secretary of State) recommended removing Chiang and UN trusteeship for Taiwan to then-Secretary of State Dean Acheson. Acheson seems to have completely ignored Rusk's letter, and was planning to enlist Sun Liren in a plot to remove Chiang and put Taiwan under new administration, but it never came to be. By 1950 it was considered a bad idea to support an independent Taiwan for a variety of reasons that I mostly disagree with, including a lack of US control over the outcome. 

That whole thing makes the pro-democracy, pro-self-determination, anti-war, anti-Big Power military-enforced imperialism liberal in me want to barf, but hey, that's history for you. It also clarifies that the US has never, at any point, held a sincere interest in the wishes and best interests of the people of Taiwan. It was always about power. The only way in which I can sign onto that as acceptable is my belief that the PRC did need to be stopped, and still needs to be stopped today, and wagged fingers and disapproving looks were never (and are never) going to accomplish that. Sometimes that entails accepting realities that I really wish weren't...real. 

On everything else, though, he agrees with Lin and Lin: 

In the Truman administration in 1949, there was a consensus that a Communist takeover was both likely -- again because of the Nationalists' political and military ineptitude -- and detrimental to U.S. security interests....

North Korea's invasion of South Korea in June 1950 saved Taiwan and the ROC. Washington -- afraid that the invasion of South Korea was part of a larger campaign by the communists to extend their control and wanting to end the ROC's continuing minor attacks against the mainland -- deployed the 7th fleet to the Taiwan Strait to prevent the PRC and ROC from attacking each other. The net effect, however, was to ensure Chiang's survival. The ROC is was able to retain its seat in the United Nations and diplomatic relations with a majority of the world's countries 
[for the time being]. The Truman administration justified its policy reversal by saying that because there had been no peace treaty with Japan to dispose of "ownership" of Taiwan, its legal status (whether it was indeed part of China) had not been determined; thus its security was an international issue, not a purely domestic one.


You don't actually care about Taiwan for Taiwan's sake just as you've never cared about any other country for its own sake, and you never did, but Taiwan still needed the PRC stopped. So thanks, America! 

But also no thanks, because your previous ambivalence and lack of interest in home rule or international trusteeship is what precipitated the KMT occupation and subsequent military dictatorship and campaign of mass murder in the following decades. Yet you seemed fine with that. Yikes, America! 

Some might use that information to argue that for the brief period that it lacked strong US support, that the ROC did, in fact, "save" Taiwan by staving off the Communists without US help. 

And I can't deny that they won a few victories (Guningtou being the most prominent one that I'm aware of) in that time period. They were, according to Accidental State, "at least able to stop and search ships flying the flags of either Nationalist China or the PRC in the territorial waters surrounding Taiwan and the other Nationals-controlled isles to prevent military supplies from reaching Communist-held ports" and they had a "weak but still-functional naval capacity". (Why they would also search ships flying the Nationalist flag is unclear to me, but also irrelevant here.) 

But, the Communists were exhausted -- I can't find the source but I've read somewhere that the PRC attack on Guningtou was carried out by a rather ragtag group of falling-apart junks, they had insufficient supplies, and the main reason the ROC won was because one of their ships was in Kinmen awaiting a delivery of foodstuffs that they were going to smuggle to China. Indeed, they were still putting down "bandits" across China, and not only is the Taiwan Strait in fact ridiculously hard to navigate but also Taiwan itself is difficult to land on as an invading force. So, sure, we can give some credit where it's due, but there was a lot of luck involved, too. 

Let's not forget, however, that not only did the ROC's claim to Taiwan precipitate the Communists' interest in the first place, but their landing here also likely redoubled CCP desire to take Taiwan. From Bush:

Ever since the Cairo Declaration of December 1943, Mao Zedong and his revolutionary colleagues had set their sights on seizing the island as well as the mainland, and Taiwan became part of their mission of national recovery and unification. That their civil war rivals, whom they termed the "Chiang Kai-shek reactionary clique" planned to mount a last ditch stand on Taiwan was all the more reason to take the island. 


In fact, those years when one might argue that the KMT bravely and successfully fought off the PRC looked very different from the perspective of Chiang and his minions. Accidental State describes Chiang's attitude at this time as: 

so disheartened that, at one point in early June [1950], he seemed to truly believe it was no longer possible for him to find a living space in this world. In his personal diary around this time, Chiang, despite a despairing situation, still hoped against hope to fight against the "dark forces" for his very survival to the last...Adopting the posture of apparent self-abegnation that he had taken with President Truman, on June 15 Chiang passed the following message to MacArthur..."The Generalissimo, aware of teh danger of his position, is agreeable to accept American high command in every category and hopes to interest General MacArthur to accept this responsibility...soliciting his advice, guidance and direction."


Ha ha.

Sorry, I just hate Chiang Kai-shek so much that any despair of his, no matter how far in the past and even though he's dead and rotting at Cihu, gives me great joy.

Given that, what honestly matters more from a historical perspective is what forces helped keep the PRC away long-term. And, again, the answer to that is US strategic interests, not any sort of military genius or salvation by the ROC.

Lin goes on to call Chiang's solicitation of a mutual defense treaty with the US in the early 1950s as "desperate", and discusses in detail how Taipei anticipated that the outbreak of war in Korea would need to a US need to engage with them more proactively, and might even give them the necessary "in" to get the US involved in their desire to re-take China. They wanted nothing more than to be included in the US defense perimeter, their initial exclusion evoking the terror in Chiang outlined above. In 1950, Chiang even offered to send 33,000 troops to the Korean war effort, which the US rejected. From the linked article: 

President Truman objected to MacArthur's suggestion of a "military policy of aggression" and he had deliberately rejected President Chiang Kaishek's offer to send 33,000 Nationalist troops to assist South Korea because "it would be a little inconsistent to spend American money to protect an island while its natural defenders were somewhere else."


They did eventually get their wish: 

The People's Republic of China's (PRC) intervention in the Korean War struck the U.S. Eighth Army and X Corps a heavy blow in November 1950, and the JCS [Joint Chiefs of Staff] began to question President Truman's military neutralization of Formosa. On November 20, 1950, the JCS sent the Department of Defense a memorandum, to which acting Secretary of Defense Robert Lovett concurred....

The JCS then emphasized "the strategic importance of Formosa" and suggested that "it would be desirable to have port facilities and airfield on Formosa available to the United States," if a full-scale war should develop against Communist China and the Soviet Union. The new Secretary of Defense George C. Marshall, who was not as supportive of the KMT as his predecessor Louis Johnson, argued that Taiwan was "of no particular strategic importance" in U.S. hands, but it "would be of disastrous importance if it were held by an enemy."  In December 1950, Truman indicated to British Prime Minister Clement Attlee that Chiang Kai-shek intended to get the United States involved militarily on the Chinese mainland. Under pressure from the U.S. Senate, Truman stated the United States would not allow Formosa to fall into Communist hands. 

By January 1951, Taiwan had received military hardware worth US $29 million....Later that same month, the State Department instructed the U.S. embassy in Taipei to exchange notes with the ROC Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which led to a Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement (MDAA) between the two governments.  The MDAA was designed to legitimize the use of incoming U.S. military aid to Formosa for the island's internal security and self-defense.


The Korean War was so central to the continued existence of Taiwan that its end was considered a potential problem by the ROC:

If the Korean War was the salvation of the ROC, an armistice in Korea could naturally complicate the U.S.-Taiwan security relationship. On March 19, 1953, ROC Ambassador Wellington Koo explored the question of a U.S.- ROC mutual security pact, but received a cold response from Secretary of State Dulles. 4n In June 1953, Chiang Kai-shek wrote at least two letters to President Eisenhower probing the possibility of U.S.-initiated Asian multilateral mutual security pacts. 45 Although Eisenhower believed that a mutual security arrangement must come from the Asian nations themselves, by August 1953 the United States had concluded mutual defense treaties with Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, and New Zealand. 

The ROC government took the initiative and handed a draft U.S.-ROC mutual security pact to U.S. Ambassador Rankin on December 18, 1953. 


And if it wasn't clear that US aid to Taiwan at that time was aimed at helping the Nationalists defend an island they honestly could not hold on their own: 

On October 7, 1954, President Eisenhower revealed to Dulles that he had decided to conclude a security treaty with the ROC provided that Generalissimo Chiang was prepared to assume a defensive posture on Taiwan....

In January 1955 when the Mutual Defense Treaty between the United States and the ROC was pending ratification by the U.S. Congress, PRC forces attacked some small offshore positions, including the I-chiang and Tachen islands. At a NSC meeting on January 20, Dulles suggested the United States grant logistical support to the ROC to evaluate the Ta-chen islands and that President Eisenhower be authorized by Congress to use forces in the Taiwan Strait if necessary. On January 29, Congress voted favorably on the so-called Formosa Resolution authorizing Eisenhower to "employ the Armed Forces of the United States for protecting the security of Formosa, the Pescadores and related positions and territories of that area." The Formosa Resolution implicitly granted protection to Quemoy and Matsu.  


I reiterate: without US help, the Communists would have taken Taiwan -- and sooner rather than later -- an interest the CCP only cultivated in the first place because the ROC claimed it and then retreated there. Chiang Kai-shek was desperate and despondent.

He is not the hero of staving off the Communists that you think he is. He is not the hero of anything unless you think mass murder is great. 

This is also the situation which led to Taiwan's status being undetermined rather than agreed-upon as a part of China, a topic that also deserves its own post. It's worth remembering that even then-foreign minister to the ROC George Kung-chao Yeh knew that. The KMT later playing at Taiwan's status being clear in an attempt to close the door to independence is an absolute joke at odds with their own history.

In these and the following years, US aid to Taiwan spiked dramatically. Jacoby (U.S. Aid to Taiwan) first says military assistance between 1952 and 1965 reached a total of US$2.5 billion, but his later chart says $368 million. Though I'm not sure where the first number comes from, the exact number is less important than the fact that it was a lot. From Lin (the article, not the Accidental State author):

 

Without U.S. economic assistance in the early 1950s, Taiwan's economy might possibly have collapsed. In 1950 alone, retail prices in Taiwan rose 58 percent, from mid-1949 to 1951 wholesale prices rose 400 percent, and by early 1951, ROC-held gold and foreign exchange reserves were nearly exhausted....Approximately 80 percent of the national budget went to the military, so the island's economy could be sustained only with external assistance. An NSC report pointed out that "had it not been for increased MSA [Mutual Security Agency] aid during the fiscal years 1951 and 1952, a serious inflationary situation would have developed which might have well led to complete economic collapse.”


All of this aid was not meant just to bolster Taiwan's defense capability, but also to make the island more self-sufficient, a goal which was eventually reached.

Also -- oops, it looks like I just made an argument that US strategic interests, not brilliant economic planning on the part of the KMT, is what kickstarted the Taiwan Miracle. 

Let's not forget, however, that 1952-1965 more or less correlated with the White Terror years. So...thanks, America. But also yikes, America! 

I'm not trying to convince you here that the US is Taiwan's good friend. It's not -- yet again, a topic for an entirely different post. What I am trying to convince you of is simple: 

Like them, hate them or grudgingly tolerate them as the devil we can make a deal with because they're not the ones pointing missiles at us, the US had more to do with repelling a PRC takeover of this country than Chiang Kai-shek and his merry band of murderers ever did. 

Saturday, November 30, 2019

The anti-infiltration bill doesn't go far enough (plus, the KMT trying to be tricky and failing!)

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Please enjoy this sculpture of a pig cavorting with a rat.
You know why.


So, there's a lot to talk about in politics this week. Everyone's talking about the anti-infiltration bill that was unveiled on Friday, so I guess we'll start there.

A few things pop out at me about this bill. First, the punishments for 'infiltration', which include using foreign sources or following foreign directives to donate to a political party, "influencing elections" (surely the bill is more detailed than that vague category) and other actions, are quite low. A fine which isn't that high considering the sums of money probably involved in actually attempting to interfere in Taiwanese democracy, or (not and) a prison sentence of "up to seven years".

As a few people have pointed out, it's a lot lower than the sentences for much more minor fraud and crimes that don't do nearly as much to undermine Taiwan's democratic system. For example, if you have a meth lab in your apartment or sell weed on the side, in theory you could be sent to jail for a minimum of seven years, and (not or!) a fine of up to twenty million NT dollars. Possession carries prison sentences that vary, but may go up to ten years and include a fine - more than you'd get for trying to implode democracy! Apparently smoking a little weed is worse than trying to up-end an entire political system.

This is a good time to refresh everyone's memory that the punishments for espionage - a somewhat-related but fundamentally different, and more serious, crime - are also quite low, though they were strengthened in 2019 in response to a string of espionage cases. In the past, civil servants (including career military) convicted of espionage would be removed from their post, but did not necessarily lose their government pensions or have to pay back any pension money they'd already received (that has since changed). Even now, a minimum sentence of 7 years seems light, seeing as it's about the same as the sentence for transporting or selling drugs. Security, training and background checking don't seem to have improved much, though.

As for why Taiwan hasn't upped its game, and is even now falling short, it's all politics. Back when it had power, the KMT didn't want to do much about it because the people doing the infiltrating (or the spying) were doing so within KMT-loyal organizations, such as the military or, in the case of infiltration, KMT-friendly media outlets and political organizations. Of course even now they don't want to admit there's a problem with some media outlets in Taiwan, with proof of foreign influence that goes well beyond the recent allegations of self-proclaimed spy 'Wang Liqiang' - those outlets are working hard to get them back into power, why would they want to hinder their ability to do so?

So why is the DPP's bill so weak on punishments? It was inevitable that the KMT would paint the push to pass an anti-infiltration bill as mere spectacle, a political move to "manipulate the 2020 elections", and it seems to me that the DPP wants to get something done, while trying to signal that they're not using the bill as a political tool.

I'm not sure it was a good decision, though. To me, the bill just looks weak. 


At the same time, the KMT proposed their own tricky-sticky "anti-annexation" bill. To quote the Taipei Times:


At a news conference at the Legislative Yuan, the KMT caucus — which had unanimously boycotted the legislative meeting — unveiled a bill against annexing the Republic of China (ROC), which it said was meant to replace the anti-infiltration bill.... 
The anti-annexation bill says that no civil servant of the ROC may advocate actions that would sabotage the nation’s political system, or change its official title or territory.
They must not make remarks that advocate decimating, absorbing or replacing the ROC, the bill states. 
Civil servants — including the president — found to have contravened the bill would face a prison term of up to seven years, it states. 
The anti-annexation bill is a more comprehensive bill than the DPP’s, as it would not only bar attempts to unify Taiwan with China, but would also prohibit attempts to make Taiwan a US state or part of Japan, as these are all actions that would eliminate the ROC, KMT Legislator Lin Wei-chou (林為洲) said. 

I don't know much about this bill because it's probably not going anywhere, but from what it says here, it's an attempt to shoehorn in legislation that would make it much harder for a pro-independence government to actually do anything about the ROC colonial government construct, or even say anything to that effect. In theory, even statements President Tsai and other DPP members have made in the past, for example, "the Taiwan Consensus", or "Taiwan is a country where..." could, in theory, be violations of this proposed law. It would limit freedom of expression by putting a muzzle on anyone in power to even discuss Taiwanese independence or a unique Taiwanese identity outside of a Chinese (that is, ROC) framework.

Of course, their own rhetoric about the 1992 Consensus, which positions Taiwan's fate as ultimately Chinese, would be entirely permissible under such a law. Since active KMT civil servants never come out and actually say they support unification (even though they often do), it wouldn't be hard for them to avoid violations. All they have to do is insist that by "China" and "One China" that they mean "the ROC" or "the 1992 Consensus", not "unification" while undermining any attempt to take a road that doesn't lead to unification, right up until they've sold Taiwan piece-by-piece to China and annexation becomes inevitable.

And they're doing it to look as though they are trying to pass a more 'neutral' and 'comprehensive' legislation, while attempting to dodge accusations that they as a party are implicated in Chinese infiltration (the same reason why they won't vote against the DPP bill - they know whose faces that egg is on). They are failing on both counts, but will surely have supporters who insist otherwise. Expect all those Chinese-influenced media outlets to parrot the idea that the DPP's bill is "Green Terror" and tout the reasonability of the KMT one. 


This has made me go back to the apparently bipartisan strengthening of anti-espionage legislation earlier in 2019 (Asia Times being the only outlet that called it bipartisan, and I'm not sure how much to trust them), after years of the KMT doing very little about it. If your party is in bed with China both in terms of spies and other forms of infiltration - just different ways of playing for the other team - why would you help pass, or at least allow to pass without comment, an anti-espionage amendment that you were once so loath to do much about, earlier in the same year? Especially when this more recent bill carries fairly weak punishments?

Is it election politics? Or is it that the KMT knows it's far more directly implicated in the latter issue than the former? Is it because they're aware that every single media outlet that is caught up in this scandal is one that supports their candidate?

If the KMT themselves were innocent, and the media outlets involved not necessarily geared towards helping a particular party get elected, wouldn't they just support this fairly mild bill as they did the anti-espionage bill?

Makes ya think.

Actually, no it doesn't. The answer is pretty obvious. 

Friday, March 22, 2019

You can't force patriotism, so stop blaming Taiwanese for not caring enough about the ROC

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The National Interest has some of the best journalism on Taiwan out there (among media sources not dedicated to Taiwan, that is). So as expected, this piece on the questionable capabilities of the Taiwanese military to fend off a Chinese invasion was quite strong - mostly.

I absolutely believe Minnick's concerns are founded, even though for my own sanity I must also believe President Tsai when she says that Taiwan can fend off the first wave of attack, a belief which is widely held. I also have to believe that aid would come after this point (though of course I can't say this with confidence) - again for my own sanity. Not just for the country that is my home, but because my own life as I know it would be over. 


But this point struck me, and I can't let it go without saying something: 


Public lethargy and a lack of confidence in the military has drained the armed forces of manpower and morale. And it is this lethargy, along with the unwillingness of Taiwan’s political elites to communicate this imminent threat to the public, that must be addressed.

Taiwan’s military wants to procure big-ticket items from the United States, but at the same time it has been forced to reduce conscription and training due to funding issues and an apathetic civilian population....

Part of the problem is conscription and a decline in patriotism.

This isn't the first time I've heard that Taiwan is facing a military recruitment problem because of a lack of "patriotism." Concerns that neither training nor pay are particularly good, pensions have been cut, that it's widely seen as a difficult working environment and that military service obligations are to be borne with annoyance if they can't be outright avoided are all valid.

But kvetching about a lack of patriotism?

Dudes, you did this to yourselves. 


I don't mean the Taiwanese in general. I don't even necessarily mean the military specifically. I mean all you people who whine about how Taiwan shouldn't change its name unilaterally, and be very cautious about altering or scrapping juridicial documents like the constitution and symbols like its flag and national anthem (both of which are very China/ROC/KMT-oriented). And all of you who say these symbols are "small differences" and to harp on them is "narcissism". You may be Western or Taiwanese, based in Taiwan or abroad, but all of you and the government you have convinced to retain the name and general governmental structure of the "Republic of China" can look squarely at your own damn selves if you want to know why Taiwanese don't feel particularly patriotic.

Those names and symbols do actually matter, and it shows in how little they inspire the Taiwanese populace.

Why should the average Taiwanese person feel great love for the Republic of China? Especially if that person lived through the worst years of the horrors that uninvited colonial government inflicted on Taiwan, how could there be any great welling of pride when seeing that white sun on a blue sky, that party symbol of the KMT on the national flag? How could the eyes of most Taiwanese well up when they hear their national anthem which references their "party" (the KMT) and is therefore an explicit callback to the era of dictatorship and mass murder? And what kind of dummy do you have to be to expect otherwise?

At best, you'll get deep ambivalence - after all, if the ROC flag is the one people know abroad and it differentiates them from the PRC, that's something - and you should be grateful for even that.  It's hardly deserved. F
eeling some form of conflicted happiness to see that flag or the name "Republic of China" used by international organizations is a kindness - a generous offering. Calling it paltry or insufficient is an insult.

Telling Taiwanese that they ought to feel patriotic fervor for the government that once oppressed them, and its symbols, because they can't realistically get rid of them right now? The same symbols that were (and are) used to try to erase their own Taiwanese identity? When members of the party that introduced those symbols (and that oppression) call disagreement "separatism", threaten people who disagree with death, and seem to care more about China than Taiwan? That's messed up.

Even for those who don't hate the ROC and its symbols, it's a confusing message. We have to fight for Taiwan - or, err, the ROC - um, which claims to be China, but we have to fight against China as the ROC for the future of Taiwan...uh, here, look at this flag that has one political party's symbol on it, which is from China and seeks to supplant your sense of Taiwaneseness, which we're preparing for war against...as China...for your country, Taiwan. 

Yeah, okay. That'll win those youth over!


The ROC is a system on life support. It's around because of the threat of war if Taiwan were to dismantle it, and perhaps a small (but rich and influential) class of people who still think it is a government worth keeping around. It's around because the allies Taiwan hopes for in the event of war tell Taiwan it has to be this way so as not to "anger China".

That's a recipe for declining patriotism; who, beyond that core of diehard ROC fans, could summon up much more feeling for it than one feels for their annual gynecological exam? (Or for the guys, whatever it is you get examined every year that is important to do but uncomfortable.) Necessary for continued health, but not exactly inspirational. 


Like an ice-cold speculum, the white sun on a blue field and everything it stands for just does not engender the sort of emotional connection to a place, system governance and set of social values that underlie an urge to join the military.

So for the military to be pushing that same old "ROC! ROC! Let's fight for the ROC!" patriotic blargle...yeah, it's not going to work. They could try harder, they could make it swisher, they could give their recruitment drives higher production values. They could just plain offer better pay, benefits and working conditions. But if the population is not too keen on the ROC, all but the latter is just not going to work.

Or, worse than an ice-cold speculum, it is about as inspirational as this, um, "song" trying appeal to supporters of Wu Dun-yih.

Please don't come in at this point blaming the Taiwan independence activists for this state of affairs. Yes, it's true that in social conditions where most people think of themselves as "Taiwanese" and the country they live in as "Taiwan", to say that "Taiwan can never be 'free' with the ROC around" makes it more difficult for people who love Taiwan to feel great patriotism when Taiwan is called the ROC. 


But...

a.) They're right, even if that truth is neither convenient nor realistic (and deeply confusing to people who don't know Taiwan well, so please stop saying it to them - just stick to the digestible "Taiwan is already independent and they just want to stay that way" and let's not air our dirty laundry in front of the white people, 'kay?)

b.) The average Taiwanese person thinks the hardcore independence activists are a bit nutty, even if they fundamentally agree with the message. From my experience, your average person who doesn't follow politics too deeply does want Taiwan to maintain its autonomy but they think the folks to take to the streets all the time are...going overboard. So their message probably isn't the reason for the greater societal apathy.

c.) This outcome was inevitable. Anyone with eyes and ears can see that the ROC is waning, it's propped-up, it's nothing to feel great emotion for (and was frankly never that great, even when it was the government of China). It's just natural not to feel particularly moved by symbols that are pushed on you and disconnected with how you actually feel about your country and society. 


If the Taiwanese military wants to build a sense of patriotism that will lead to wider recruitment, Minnick is right that it first needs to communicate the true depth and nature of the threat to the public. Folks calling for better careers in the military are likewise correct.

But they also have to quit pretending that the old ROC rah-rah can work. It can't. It's dead.

I know most of the military leans blue and that the ROC's name can't be safely officially changed right now, but the youth are Taiwanese, not Republic of Chinese. Naturally independent. They'd probably fight for that, but you have to couch the message in terms of the country and society they know, not what the government is forced to say at the higher levels.

That is, appeal to the desire to fight for Taiwan, and stop leaning on symbols that, if they don't inspire bitterness and emnity over the ROC's dictatorial and murderous past, are simply dead. 

Monday, May 28, 2018

Book review: Women's Movements in Twentieth-Century Taiwan

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When talking about Taiwanese history, it's quite common to come across a belief that modern Taiwanese beliefs have their roots in the 1970s, and did not really exist before that. From "there was no real sense of Taiwanese identity or a Taiwanese identity movement before the 1970s/the Kaohsiung Incident" to "there is no history of feminism in Taiwan before the 1970s/before the end of the Chiang Kai-shek era" and more, it surprises me how many people truly think this is the case.

Of course, when it comes to Taiwanese identity, this is manifestly false. There are records of autonomous rule movements as early as the late 1800s, and several sources reference similar autonomous movements in the Japanese colonial era. When it comes to women's movements, the same applies. While several feminist pioneers did bring ideas of gender equality to the mainstream in the 1970s, the first stirrings of modern autonomous (that is, not connected to, supported or funded by the government) women's movements in Taiwan have their roots in the Japanese era, although there's no evidence to suggest that the 1970s feminists were directly influenced by them.

It seems to me that misrepresenting both of these movements as originating in the 1970s rather than several decades earlier is an intellectual sleight-of-hand meant to create the idea that both are new, "Western" notions that have no natural roots in Taiwanese culture or history (therefore creating a platform from which to criticize modern Taiwanese identity and feminism). In both cases, such notions are disingenuous.

This is just one of the many things I learned from Women's Movements in Twentieth-Century Taiwan, a slim volume (for an academic book) by Doris Chang. And, for an academic title, it reads surprisingly smoothly.

As an individualist feminist, I appreciated being challenged on the different notions of what feminism could be. I am not a relational feminist - I don't believe my equal place in society comes from the fulfilling of my different but complementary duties vis-a-vis a family or collective society - but as Chang makes clear, this is indeed a form of feminism, and one of two strands that continues to exist in Taiwan (and, arguably, the one that can strike the best compromise with traditional notions of role, duty and family in Taiwan). Chang further clarifies, however, that this is not the only strand of feminist thought present in Taiwan, as many would believe: radical feminism, woman-identified, X-centric and individual feminism also exist.

If I took one thing from this book, it's a reminder that Taiwanese society is not so simply categorized as traditional/collective/Confucian/whatever adjective you want to describe your idea about ~*~The Mystic East~*~. It's far more complex than that, and there is a place in public discourse for ideas that don't fit neatly into this narrative.

Chang makes other important points as well: for example, until fairly recently, the story of women's movements in Taiwan was once controlled by a China-centered narrative which began not in Taiwan, but with the founding of the Republic of China in, well, China. Taiwan only enters this narrative after 1945 (you can guess why), with women's history under Japanese rule being erased: non-existent, foreign or irrelevant to the story that the Sinicizers want to push.

Hmm, that sounds similar to Taiwanese national history as a whole, doesn't it? Not so different from teaching schoolchildren that their country was founded in 1911 (nevermind that that happened in China, and nothing important happened in Taiwan on that day) and then erasing Japanese era history in Taiwan to cover the Republic of China's Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 instead, no?

Chang also provides short histories of notable women in the early and mid-twentieth century, and devotes entire chapters to scions of the movement such as Annette Lu and Lee Yuan-chen, showing that the only reason we believe history to be full of notable male characters but few notable women is because we've constructed it that way, not because it always happened that way.

She also discusses the ways in which autonomous women's movements differed from government-affiliated ones. You won't be surprised to learn that the Japanese and ROC-affiliated women's movements promoted not feminism, but the fulfillment of traditional gender roles (shocking, I know.) She covers Soong Mei-ling's use of women's organizations mid-century to work toward national goals with very little concern for the actual issues facing middle-class and poor Taiwanese women.

I was interested to learn about the origin of those "Model Mother Awards" as well (you won't be shocked to learn they began in the worst years of the ROC dictatorship, because doling them out supported national goals), and her touching on the ways in which women's labor helped catalyze the Taiwan Miracle, although I think she could have made that point more forcefully than she did.

And, of course, she covers the ins and outs of elitism in women's movements, the relationship of women's movements to democracy/pro-Taiwan movements, Awakening and the Taipei Women's Rescue Foundation, the cooperation and rift between liberal feminists and lesbians, domestic abuse hotlines and more, finishing up with the ways in which the pioneers of the 1970s were able to really flourish (as well as separate into different groups) with the lifting of Martial Law, and the bevy of women's rights laws that were passed between the mid-1980s and the end of the 20th century.

I have one abiding criticism of Women's Movements in Twentieth-Century Taiwan, which is that it follows a bluer narrative than you would expect. That is not to say it doesn't criticize the KMT, the Republic of China or its leaders (it absolutely does, often viciously and entirely rightly), but that it includes certain problematic historical constructions that if anything are surprising. Here is just a taste (underlined emphasis points are mine):


In 1987, the Kuomintang lifted martial law and ushered in Taiwan's democratization. 

(No, the Kuomintang was forced by the Taiwanese to do that.)


The Dutch colonized the island....the government of the Qing dynasty incorporated Taiwan into the Chinese Empire.

(
You already know how I feel about this.)



With the defeat of Japan in World War II, the Allies transferred the governance of Taiwan to the Kuomintang government.

(Nope. And the KMT knew this - scroll down).


The Taiwanese duality of both sameness and with difference from mainland China has contributed to the Taiwanese people's unresolved national identity since the 1940s. 

(While identity has absolutely been a core question in Taiwan, the origin of ambiguity in Taiwan's national identity comes from colonial regimes from China - first the Qing, now the ROC - who insist on promoting a Chinese-centered national identity. If they had not pushed that point from their foreign perspectives so forcefully, Taiwanese national identity would not be in question. In fact, these days the question is mostly resolved, but the book was published in 2009 so I can forgive this.)


There are a few more examples, including many jarring uses of that horrible word "mainland", implying a territorial connection that simply isn't there - the current PRC government of China has never ruled Taiwan - but you get the point.

In any case, it was a worthwhile book if you can look beyond the odd blueness of the language used - as engaging as an academic text can be (though a bit heavy on the 'thesis statements' as though someone is grading it), full of lots of knowledge drops. Despite one or two confusing narrations of timeline (I'm still not sure when and why the New Life movement moved away from May Fourth Movement ideals and toward more traditional precepts, and the section on that did not clarify), I learned a lot and am happy I read it.

If you are not already knowledgeable about women's history in Taiwan, I recommend you do, too.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Rectification of Colonial Names

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This is talked about in Chinese, but not so much in English. 

Everyone agrees that the Japanese era was a colonial one and nobody disputes that the Dutch era was colonial, as well. This is true in all languages: English, Mandarin, Taiwanese, Hakka, any given indigenous language.

It's not new in political discussions in Chinese and Taiwanese to label the Qing era and the ROC era as "colonial", as well. It happens occasionally in English too: see here and here. Yet I've noticed that in English, such references still seem quite rare. The more nonfiction I read about Taiwan in English the more I notice this: the Dutch and the Japanese are "colonial", but the Qing and the ROC are rarely referred to as such. The way we talk about them lends these regimes legitimacy, a sense of being less "foreign", or a sense that if the colonizers come from China, they are somehow not just as colonial as any other invading force. They are simply "the Qing" or "the Qing era" or "the ROC on Taiwan" - as though they belong here, or it is their destiny, or Taiwan is somehow conceptually a part of China and that somehow makes it acceptable.

Calling the two Chinese regimes in Taiwan "colonial", however, is an idea I agree with. The Qing and the ROC came and extracted what they wanted from Taiwan rather than attempting to rule it as an integral part of their territory. The Qing used it as a place from which to take resources rather than a place to develop by pouring resources in - exactly what a colonial power does. At their best, they treated it as a mere defensive perimeter, a "ball of mud beyond the pale of civilization" (海外泥丸,不足為中國加廣) that they controlled simply to keep other invaders who might cause trouble for China out, not a part of China itself (only in the last decade or so of their rule over Taiwan was Taiwan upgraded to individual province).

The Qing had to be convinced it was worth taking, and the whole notion that China could rule lands beyond its natural borders (mountains, desert and sea) is actually quite modern. The Ming and everyone before them believed China's borders ended at the sea, and therefore that 'Island of Women' populated by 'savages' was simply not Chinese.

The argument put forward to the Qing by Shi Lang was not "hey this should be a part of China" but "you can use this island to cultivate sugar, rice and wood and hunt deer and it's a good defensive barrier." You know, a colonial argument. They didn't even bother taking over the whole island or to map the eastern half until some other colonial power (Japan) showed a stronger interest in it. Or, in other words, they treated it like a colony.


So why don't we call it that? Why not the Qing Colonial Era in English? Hell, why isn't it more common in Chinese?

This treatment of Taiwan hurts us even today. When it comes to the ROC, the main argument against the idea that they too are a colonial power is a historical one: Taiwan used to be a part of China under the Qing, and therefore it can't be considered 'colonial' in the same way as the two were 'historically' united.

Otherwise, the only difference between Japan or the Dutch and the ROC is that the ROC comes from the same country as the ancestors of many Taiwanese. Even if this were definitively true (with many Taiwanese children born to a foreign parent these days - looking for a clear source on that - and Taiwan's genetic makeup being more similar to Southeast Asia than China, I doubt it is), it doesn't matter. If your only argument for being a legitimate government is "we're the same ethnicity" (whatever that means - ethnicity is a cultural construct, not a scientific grouping based on genetics), you simply do not have an argument. Ethnicity doesn't determine political destiny. We figured that out in the 20th century and it's time to apply a more modern understanding of what it means to be a nation to Taiwan.

I mean, what do we call a foreign government that takes over a piece of land and declares itself the sole legitimate government of that land without the consent of the local population? We call it colonialism.

That same power extracted resources from the land it rules - as the ROC did by gobbling up resources, putting its own in charge of large state monopolies under a command economy, expropriating land (much of which was taken for their own benefit), and using revenue from Taiwan - at one point over 90% of it - to fund the building of a military that could accomplish its real goal: "retaking the Mainland". At no point was it concerned with ruling Taiwan for its own sake. You can see that legacy in the haphazard and "who cares this is just a backwater" infrastructure development - if you could call the crumbling craphouses they built even that - that still plagues Taiwanese skylines. As Taiwan took a generation to recover from the economic double-blow of World War II and the KMT invasion, the KMT itself grew rich. As they hunted down and murdered a generation of local Taiwanese leaders and intellectuals, they themselves grew in stature and power.

What do we call such a system? Colonialism.

This is doubly true when the people are at no point allowed to vote or exercise self-determination as to whether they'd like to keep that government (even if elections are held within its framework - that's not the same as voting on the fate of the system as a whole). That it came from China makes no difference. It's still colonialism.

So why aren't we, English-speaking supporters of Taiwan, calling the ROC era, the era in which we live, the "ROC Colonial Era"? Why are we not calling it what it is?

These two ideas are intertwined: if we call the Qing era by what it really was we strike a blow against the 'historical' argument for the ROC not being 'colonial' as well. If the only other time China held Taiwan was also colonial, there is no basis for a non-colonial Chinese government in Taiwan.

In short, why aren't we more commonly telling the truth about Taiwan: that since the 1600s it has, with almost total continuity, been a colonial territory of three countries: the Netherlands, Japan and China (twice)?

I know I've got a tough hill to climb on this one: I'm still riding people's butts about not calling China "Mainland China" or the "Mainland", even among people who are pro-Taiwan. We are ceding semantic ground we really ought not to be ceding to the CCP and to annexationism in general (related: can we please stop calling it 'reunification' or even 'unification'? It's annexation. Make your names for things reflect reality). The fewer linguistic footholds we give for justification of annexation by China, the better.

But if we can't even kick that ridiculous 'Mainland' habit, I wonder how long it will be before we start using English to make reality plain.

China's designs on Taiwan are just as colonial as anyone else's. The only non-colonial government of Taiwan can come from Taiwanese self-determination, which entails voting not just within an "ROC" system Taiwan didn't choose, but voting on the fate of that system.

Until then, we live in a colonial state. 

Monday, March 19, 2018

Carry On, My Wayward Sun

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Took me awhile to realize this: the choice of a light sea green for many pieces of pro-Taiwan merchandise wasn't made for merely aesthetic reasons. It was chosen because the color is associated with the old window and door frames as well as Datong electric fans that were once common in Taiwan and can still be seen occasionally today. The color has a deeper association with Taiwan than many people realize. 


The other day, I walked to the nearby general store to replace my dying external battery. I didn't know external batteries could just stop working like that - turns out, much like American democracy, they can. Many of the choices were already decorated, but I noticed the only ones with Taiwan-themed covers were slathered in the Republic of China flag. This of course means they all prominently featured the KMT 'white sun on a blue field'. Many also had "I love Taiwan!" or "Taiwan" printed on them.

There was no option to buy a Taiwan-themed battery that had any other design on it. It was the ROC flag or nothing. I bought a plain battery.

As I thought more about this, it didn't bug me that as a consumer, I couldn't get a pro-Taiwan design that I liked, or made sense to me, or was even pro-Taiwan to begin with (there is nothing pro-Taiwan about the KMT's history, and nothing pro-Taiwan about allowing one party's symbol to dominate the national flag of a country whose official name doesn't even contain the word 'Taiwan'.) It bugged me that the ROC flag, in many instances, is still the default symbol of Taiwanese identity.

When we complain that Taiwan can't even show its national flag at certain events, we are not complaining about the "Taiwanese" flag. That doesn't officially exist, although concepts abound. We are complaining about not being able to wave the Republic of China flag, which I have already written about. When a pop star is abused by Chinese trolls for waving her country's flag, they're not mad about a Taiwanese flag, they're mad about a Chinese flag that they don't like.

The problem here is that when waving the ROC flag is the default show of support, it pushes the idea of waving any other, more pro-Taiwan flag (really any one of the designs will do) into the realm of what some would call "extremism". When it's "sensitive", causes a kerfuffle or is an open act of protest to wave that sun - although still within the bounds of moderate discourse - you suddenly become a crazy extremist nutbag for saying "hey that flag actually sucks", and are left to choose from an array of not-quite-national-symbol designs, which further cement your status as a nutbag. In this worldview, nutbags reject officially approved symbols of "protest" - the ROC flag - and design their own (more extreme) symbols instead.

When the international media writes about people like Chou Tzuyu getting in trouble for waving the ROC flag, imagine what they'd write if she'd been abused for waving a flag that was actually Taiwanese.

This annoys me to the point that I can't even make a good meme about it without feeling all sorts of angst over my choices. Do I go with what's clear to international audiences, or do I get rid of that damn glaring sun the way I want to?


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HOW TO EVEN MEME??

Further to that, when international discourse mainly recognizes two narratives - the CCP one and the KMT one, as evidenced by the dueling flags - to say both of them are riddled with problems becomes an 'extreme' position. Perhaps not in Taiwan so much anymore, but certainly on an international scale. At Exeter last year, I felt that arguing a pro-Taiwan position as 'not a part of China' was taking something of a controversial stance, without even getting into the ROC compared to Taiwan. Going further and arguing that not only was Taiwan not a part of China, it was not in fact Chinese (that is, that not even the ROC was legitimate) felt like arguing an extreme view.

Like, oh, you support the ROC? Hold up there bucko, that's a sensitive issue! Okay, but just remember, it's a sensitive and complex situation...

...wait, what? You support the Republic of Taiwan? You don't even think Taiwan is fundamentally Chinese? You don't even want to wave the ROC flag - that's not enough for you? That doesn't fit in with the framework I've adopted, which was written for me by the CCP, the KMT and media reporting on the issue! Therefore it must be extreme! 


This is especially troubling, as being pro-ROC at least in the US is (usually) a conservative stance. Being sympathetic to China is generally a liberal one. Moving beyond the ROC to support Taiwan, then, must be an extreme conservative view - even though in Taiwan it is very much a view espoused by most (though not all) of the left. Not even the extreme left. These days, just the normal, albeit young, left.

Nevermind of course that these days being pro-ROC is at least being nominally pro-democracy if you don't really understand the history of the ROC, and being sympathetic to China is being pro-dictatorship, when in the West the right-wingers are the ones who have a more authoritarian bent. The left assuages its guilt for being sympathetic to a brutal dictatorship by reassuring itself that "well they do things differently in other countries and we have to respect that, so we can't hold it against them or criticize them for not giving their people the basic human rights we demand for ourselves. Democracy is great for us but they don't need or want it because they're...Asian or something."

This bothers me because arguing a pro-Taiwan stance is not an extreme position. It's actually quite moderate. It's reasonable.

It's the position that reflects a desire to recognize what is already true.

It is a stance that recognizes the full breadth of Taiwanese history, simply from having read it. It is the stance that respects the will of 23.5 million people who are already self-governing in a liberal democratic system. It is the stance that understands the nature of the ROC's coming to Taiwan, their past crimes here, and how the label of being "Chinese" has been externally imposed rather than organically grown. It is the stance that understands how little support the last, wheezing scions of the old ROC order have as they face the short march to their inevitable sunset. It is the stance that is pro-democracy and understands that the ROC is a formerly authoritarian government which is only now democratic because the people of Taiwan insisted on it. It is the stance of someone who actually believes in liberal democratic values and is willing to apply that to global situations. It is the stance of understanding that doing so is not cultural imperialism when the people you are applying it to agree with you.

In a post-Sunflower world, it is the stance that reflects reality.

I don't even think it's terribly extreme to say that Dead Dictator Memorial Hall should go. Certainly the grounds are pretty and we can preserve them (without the dead dictator), but it's not insane to want to burn the whole thing to the ground. After all, it rhapsodizes the murderous rule of a horrible foreign dictator, turning him into a personality cult icon. Why shouldn't it go? How does this not make sense?

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"Masquerading as a man with a reason
My charade is the event of the season
And if I claim to be a wise man,
it surely means that I don't know"


In fact, I'd say being sympathetic to China is the extreme position, being pro-ROC is only slightly less extreme, and being pro-Taiwan is the normal choice. I can't even begin to assign 'right' or 'left' labels to this, though, because the original framework has been so skewed that it doesn't make sense in this dimension. It doesn't fit in with our laws of nature.

And yet the rest of the world only knows Taiwan's story through the media they consume. The vast majority have never been here and never will. The media reports the CCP and KMT narratives, and when they bother to include pro-Taiwan narratives, marginalize them so much that they're easily dismissed as the ramblings of a group of crazy ethno-nationalists who won't face the reality that Taiwan is fundamentally Chinese, or that it "shouldn't matter". Why "shouldn't it matter"? Because the left especially has grown so anti-nationalist/separatist that any attempt to assert sovereignty, even sovereignty a group already has, is seen as "extreme". The media isn't reflecting reality, it is helping to create reality. What scares me is I'm not even sure they realize it.

I'll leave you with this: when I was at Exeter, if the topic came up, I would argue a pro-Taiwan stance. I do not suffer the foolishness of the ROC. People listened, certainly they were too thoughtful to dismiss it out of hand. And yet more than once, a comment slipped out among my professors and cohort that made it clear that they still saw Taiwan as fundamentally Chinese (e.g. "Taiwan and the rest of China", or "we have a few Chinese students" when in fact we had only one, from Macau. The other identifies as Taiwanese.)

If that was their default, what did they make of my pro-Taiwan views?

Do they take for 'extreme' what I see as - what I know to be - merely normal?

In other words, get out of here, wayward sun.
There will be peace when you are done

Sunday, February 25, 2018

A review of Wandering in a Garden, Waking from a Dream: Tales of Taipei Characters

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Every Saturday I tutor the younger daughter in a family I've known for many years. We get along well and I mostly facilitate extensive reading and writing, so not a lot of traditional grammar exercises (though in her own time she works through a huge grammar book and I'll check her work - her idea, not mine.) But, I noticed one day that she was struggling with use of various passive and past perfect forms, so I said I was going to check her knowledge of Taiwanese history using passive-heavy questions.

I wrote down a few questions along these lines, for her to render correctly before answering. Things like this:

Who __________ (live) in Taiwan when it ____________ (colonize) by the Dutch?
Who had been living in Taiwan when it was colonized by the Dutch?

She looked at them and back and me and said, "Can we change the topic to the history of China?"

"Why?" I asked. "Is that what you're learning in school?"

"Yes! So I know that! I don't know Taiwan's history so well!"

"Well...no. No we can't. That's another country - "

"Mm!" she agreed.

" - and while it's useful to know about the history of other countries, especially ones with some relationship to your country, it's also important to know your own history. So we're doing Taiwan."

Despite her protests, she basically got the questions right. Even the one about how 鄭成功 managed to sneak past the Dutch patrols and fortifications.

* * *

I took the bus home - it takes longer but it's direct. I realized I'd never listened to Timeless Sentence, Chthonic's acoustic album in its entirety, and it has occurred to me after meeting Chthonic frontman and super-cute legislator Freddy Lim recently that I should, so I thought that'd be a good way to pass the time riding through the streets of Xinbei and Taipei.

 
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Super Cute Legislator Freddy Lim and *me*

Every song on that album - culled from their black metal work and arranged acoustically - explores some aspect of Taiwanese history. Freddy, and the band as a whole, are unapologetic Taiwan independence advocates. Some of the historical issues they sing (well, scream) about are obvious ("Republic born of PAIN!") and some are less so ("Who now stands before me like a ghost within a dream? When did come the day when things became not what they seem?")

As these songs played, the bus crossed Fuhe bridge into Taipei. The sun was out; I leaned against the window and watched as the green median spokes were overtaken - some half-eclipsed, some fully - by the shadow of the bus. I was sitting at the back, so just as the darkened green pillars reached me, sunlight broke out again and drove out the dark.

As I watched this, I thought to myself that when I got home, before I started work on a paper that was coming due, I should read one more story in Wandering in a Garden, Waking from a Dream. I'd been reading one a day as a break from academic work, and figured I could finish the whole collection fairly quickly.

I wasn't sure how I felt about it, though.

My main issue with Timeless Sentence is that Freddy is at heart a black metal singer. He is clearly going to some effort to re-modulate his 'voice' and 'style', and the layouts of the songs themselves, to fit an acoustic format. Sometimes it translates beautifully, sometimes less so.

I too felt I was having to reconfigure my mentality to read Wandering in a Garden, Waking from a Dream. I am used to reading about Taiwanese history from a Taiwanese perspective. I had to reformulate and remodulate in order to read without judgement stories of fictional members of the Nationalist diaspora in the 1940s.

* * *

The foreword makes it clear: although the original title of this anthology of character studies was Taipei People (台北人), the people in it are not from Taipei. They live there, but every last one was a refugee from China in the Nationalist diaspora of the 1940s. Most of them didn't seem to really consider Taipei home and every last one identified with China, not Taiwan. The newer translation, then, is perhaps more accurate: Taipei Characters. 

Each of them confronts - or refuses to confront - memories of their life in China and squares them with their new lives in Taiwan. Some do better (Verdancy Chu in "A Touch of Green"), some worse (Yu Chin-lei in "Winter Night"). Some describe the pleasant, idyllic, even luxurious lives these characters led in China (Yin Hsue-yen in "The Eternal Snow Beauty"), others discuss the horrors they encountered in the Chinese Civil War (Lai Ming-sheng in New Year's Eve ). Each one is searching for their own version of peace. Although it is not directly stated, few find it.

The foreword also makes clear that these character studies are meant to do just that: study characters. Think of it as the ROC version of Dubliners (which I haven't read - I struggle a bit with Joyce). Not draw conclusions about the good or evil of the Republic of China or its effect on Taiwan. It makes these refugees human and shows them trying to rebuild some semblance of a normal life in their new home.

The arrangement of the stories is important: it starts with young (or young-seeming) beauties, one of whom seems hardly to age, who is associated with the color white (a white sun on a blue field perhaps?). As the tales continue, the characters grow older, grayer. They get weaker. They grasp at what they've lost, making the same noodles except "not as good", coloring their hair or losing everything trying to bring back loved ones (the proprietress and Mr. Lu in "Glory's by Blossom Bridge"). They start dying, some sooner than others. The first three and last three stories drive it home: starting with imagery of fresh bright snow and then spring green, followed by tales of great battles fought by people who are now older and weaker, and ending with autumnal scenes of faded glory propped up by wealth, the onset of a cold, cruel winter and finally, a funeral, they echo both the rise and fall of the Republic of China and the creeping realization that the Nationalists' current, dilapidated state is permanent and will only further decay. This also echoes Dubliners, or so I am told.

I have a deep well of empathy for such situations: my own family was driven out of Turkey and then Greece - refugees twice over. For most of my life, these experiences were recounted by ancestors who held them living memory. Everyone has the right to leave dangerous, even life-threatening conditions and seek a safe existence elsewhere, to prosper and, if they wish, come to identify with their new home, as my grandfather came to identify as American. Similarly, although these characters are not real, their pain very much is.

And yet, I note that almost every time these characters interact with someone Taiwanese, they are snobbish and dismissive. Everything about Taiwan is inferior - the silks are coarser, the people more provincial, the weather worse, the food never quite as good. They treat Taiwan like a pigsty that they, high and low-class both, are forced to live in. They don't seem to realize that the people who are already here are people too, no less worthy of respect, and this island (this country) is their home, and it is beautiful if you'll just look. They don't see it, and they don't seem to be aware of exactly how their beloved Nationalist government treats the locals (as well as some of their own, although this is not mentioned in the book).

For every shadow cast on their lives, some of these "Taipei characters" cast shadows on the lives of others, and they don't even realize it. They keep to their own communities, denigrating Taiwan and yet acting as if they own the place - I can't help but wonder, if you hate this beautiful island so much, why do you insist it's a part of your country? - and as someone who loves Taiwan, it is hard to read.

This snotty condescension, this dismissiveness of Taiwan - I have trouble with this. My empathy shrivels a little, although not entirely. If the Nationalist diaspora wonders why it is not always fully welcomed in Taiwan, perhaps this attitude - which I have no doubt was very much real - is a part of why.

There are exceptions: the narrator in "Love's Lone Flower", who spends much of her time with two Taiwanese characters, Peach Blossom (with whom it is implied she has a relationship) and Third-son Lin, and does not appear to judge them in this way. In fact, the most empathetic of the Taipei characters are the lower-class ones: the taxi dancers (although Taipan Chin in "The Last Night of Taipan Chin" is dismissive of Taiwanese taxi dancer Phoenix, in the end she helps her as best she can), the winehouse girls. They seem to make local connections that the former high-and-mighty do not. I can't expect they would have necessarily known about the white terror their white sun government was inflicting on Taiwan. They're just doing the best they can, and they too have scars. My empathy grows.

The army veterans, the generals, though, perhaps the wives of those generals - they must have known. Some of them, if they were real people, would have been a part of it. My empathy shrivels. Let them break down and die. They consider themselves Chinese, so why should we let them have governance of Taiwan? Why should the Taiwanese have to live under a foreign government they never consented to? Don't we call that "colonialism"?

That said, every last one came to Taiwan's shores and built a life here, some more successfully than others. Although my circumstances were different - I'm no refugee - I did this as well. How can I - someone who would like to be the newest of the New Taiwanese - make any sort of judgements about who is and is not Taiwanese? This beautiful country has made it possible for me to call it home, and Taiwan is a settler state - who am I to say which settlers get to call themselves local? As far as I'm concerned, if you live here and identify with Taiwan, you are Taiwanese. These Taipei characters did not consider themselves Taiwanese, but many if not most of their descendants would. Maybe their grandparents weren't really "Taipei People", but they are.

That said, how many of the real-life people these characters are inspired by turned away when they knew what was happening? How many reported a neighbor or disavowed a friend? How many to this day remain pro-authoritarian, stalling Taiwan's reckoning with its history?

But then, how many might themselves have been victims of that same regime's purges of "Communists" in their own ranks? How many would have grandchildren who grew up supporting movements like the Wild Strawberries and the Sunflowers?

The key difference between my ancestors and the "Taipei characters" is that the latter dream about their lives in China lost, and are often disdainful of the island they now call home. My ancestors missed the home they lost, but never used that as an excuse to denigrate their new country.

* * *
I say all this, but I haven't even gotten into the historical and literary allusions strewn liberally throughout these stories. I have avoided writing about this, because I don't understand every reference. I write this review as a layperson.

In order to give this book the best review I could, I read as much about the book as I could find (unfortunately, the best source is incomplete - and the complete book is obscenely expensive). There is a lot to say about the title story, Wandering in a Garden, Waking from a Dream, in which the narrator, after literally wandering in a garden, watches her old acquaintances enjoy a party in a mansion decorated with luxuries old and new, some having aged and faded and some seeming young and growing more vivacious, but still clinging, like a dream, to their lives in China. The narrator, a widowed general's wife whose stage name as an opera singer had been Bluefield Jade, is as faded as her dark jade-green qipao. The host's little sister, who helps trigger a drunken memory to her own younger sister, is more vigorous than ever. There are young lovers torn asunder by beautiful younger sisters, a snow-cave like dining room trimmed with vermilion table decorations (the ice-box where the KMT's dreams lie frozen in time, splashed with blood?) and allusions to three separate operas: The Nymph of the River Luo, The Drunken Concubine and Peony Pavilion (especially Wandering in a Garden, Waking from a Dream from that story).

I don't know if I can even begin to break all of this down, and am not sure I should in what is meant to be a book review, so here are three quick takes:

The Nymph of the River Luo alludes to a young man's tryst not just with a goddess, but, by extension, the wife of the Emperor of China. There is also a strong implication that Madame Qian, the narrator and general's wife, either had an affair with one of her husband's subordinates, or wanted to (personally, I think they did), until her younger sister stole him away. Something similar also happens at the party taking place in the story's present.

The Drunken Concubine is about how favored concubine Yang Guifei prepared a feast for the emperor, only to find he'd visited another concubine instead. In jealousy she drinks herself into a stupor. Madame Qian, jealous, is also drunk - but feels it is her younger sister in the past (and her party friends in the present) who are responsible.

Wandering in a Garden, Waking from a Dream involves a young woman falling asleep in a beautiful garden and dreaming of a sexual romantic encounter with a young imperial examination candidate. Waking up suddenly, she is so overcome with sadness that it was a dream that she dies (but is later resurrected...well, there's a lot going on here regarding old traditions and new thinking and the sadness of realizing the evanescence of life that I won't get into). Madame Qian literally wanders in a garden before being put in a dreamlike drunken state that invokes her own dream lover, and then "waking" to the reality of life wasted and happiness lost. The dream in the original opera takes place in spring - and Madame Qian's affair took place when she was young - but the party where she remembers it is in autumn, when she is much older. Her awakening echoes the awakening of the old Republic of China guard to their new, and rapidly declining, situation.

All of this is quite fascinating, and I read this particular story several times.

But what really struck me was what Andrew Stuckley, in the link above, said about a story earlier in the collection, The Dirge of Liang Fu. 

The two couplets in the study of General Pu seem innocuous enough, but call to mind an ancient story in which a leader needed to dispose of three great warriors who posed a threat to him. To do that, he offered two peaches, to be taken by the two best of them (there is an allusion there to the peaches of immortality). Of course, to take a peace was to show impertinence, but to not take a peach was also a great shame. All three killed themselves and the scheme worked.

In The Dirge of Liang Fu, the "peaches" are - according to Stuckley - communism (in China) and Westernization (from America). Each promises immortality, but each ends up killing you. To not take a peach is to fade into irrelevance, as General Pu has done.

"Hm," I thought as I read this. "I hadn't known that and I hadn't paid that much attention to the story the first time around. I definitely need to deepen my knowledge of Chinese history and literature."
But...

I live in Taiwan, not China. I spend my free time learning about Taiwan - Taiwanese history, Taiwanese literature. China is a different country. And yet, Taipei Characters is a work of Taiwanese literature.

I considered the Taiwanese students who regularly protest the "Sinicization" of history classes in Taiwan, prioritizing Chinese history - and implying that Taiwanese and Chinese history are the same - and demanding that more of Taiwan's own local history be included...

...oh.

In that moment, I realized how difficult everything really is.

How many of these Taipei characters - if they were real and you could ask them - would think Taiwanese history is Chinese history and would insist that the dichotomy my student and I perceive is false? How many would listen to Chthonic's Takao or Broken Jade, songs about the Takasago Volunteers (one small aspect of Taiwan's Japanese history which is not at all Chinese), and insist that it was the same history as that of a Republic that fought Japan as a mortal enemy? A Republic that still insists that it fought with the Allies to defeat Japan while governing an island that, right or wrong, fought on the other side? Who among them would insist that everything Chthonic sings about is both Chinese history and not as important as Chinese history, all in one ignorant breath?

* * *

Then, I thought back to one of the lyrics crooned in English on Timeless Sentence:

Let me stand up like a Taiwanese, only justice will bring you peace.

The Taipei characters were not at peace in part because there was no justice, in the end, for the wrongs done to them. But they seem blind to the injustices, like shadows, that their own government inflicted on the Taiwanese, as well.

I then recalled a minor sub-plot in Green Island, where the protagonist's father, after ten years' of brutal incarceration at the hands of the KMT for something that wasn't a crime in even the pettiest sense, can't help but suspect that his older daughter's husband - an ROC veteran from China - was reporting on him to the government. He wasn't - the spy in his home was his own son, and Dr. Tsai's son-in-law from China has suffered his own injustices and was just trying to do the best he could.

I know this story in my history too: the person who reported on my great grandfather to the Turkish government was another Armenian. The leader of the group sent to apprehend him saw who he was ordered to take into custody, recognized my great grandfather as his old schoolmate and they embraced as friends. He was never arrested - the captain was Turkish. Things are not always so cut-and-dried, the good or evil of a group is not so easily transferred to individuals.

Of course, Pai Hsien-yung understood all of this - and he was not uncritical of the "dreaming backwards" of his Taipei characters, their ignorance of Taiwan and their slow decay under a veneer of wealth. I mean, the collection ends with a winter night passed by two threadbare academics, and then a funeral. He took his own stabs at the white sun on a blue field. He knew that they not only were dreaming, but that it was time to wake up. I can't believe he wasn't also aware of the way their isolated, dream-like state affected the island they had fled to.

I didn't feel entirely comfortable reading Wandering in a Garden, Waking from a Dream, but I will say this: it is excellent, a masterpiece, and I am happy I read it.