Showing posts with label taiwanese_history. Show all posts
Showing posts with label taiwanese_history. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Book Review: Sanmao's Stories of the Sahara

 

I haven't done a book review in awhile. This was in part because of the dissertation (do you want a book review about intercultural communication in Taiwanese university language classes? Yeah, I thought not). But it was also partially because I read a series of novels, including Chiu Miaojin's Notes of a Crocodile and Last Testament from Montmartre and I had trouble getting started with reviewing those; I finally decided that I probably wasn't in a good position to do so. (If you're curious, I liked the former quite a bit, and the latter a great deal less.) 

But I was excited to pick up Stories of the Sahara, which is as far as I know the first English translation of a writer who is a major name in Chinese literary circles, yet hardly known in the West.

Reading her work, it becomes clear how unfair that is. 

The notes at the end say that Sanmao was asked to write about her experiences living in El Aaiún, the capital of the Spanish Sahara, toward the end of that era of colonial rule, and the first batch of writings made up Stories of the Sahara. As such, it somewhat non-chronologically covers her move to the area, her marriage to husband José, and toward the end, the end of Spanish rule of the area, civil unrest and claims by Morocco. Morocco claims it still, but the local Sahrawi wanted and continue to want sovereingty and it remains a disputed territory. It is a little hard to read, however, knowing that a few years after the events of these stories took place, José died in a car crash (a previous fiancé who had also died was not mentioned.) 

The first thing that struck me about her work wasn't just the 'confessional' tone some reviewers have noted, though I agree. It was how different it was to both Chinese and Taiwanese literature I have read, which tends to be darkly ambiguous, highly metaphorical, and to be honest, quite meandering. Contrasted against this tendency, Sanmao comes across as crisp and dry, a strong but fizzy prosecco among a sea of murky stout. Her prose isn't just confessional, it's straightforward and engaging. Sentences don't wander, allusions don't meander. Her references are clear and contemporary to her work. This tone strengthens the content of her work, giving one a first-person, street-level view of life in the Sahara that carries both Sanmao's unique voice as well as rich -- but never mushy or sappy -- description of her surroundings. Typically in short story anthologies, not every piece holds my attention, but I found Sanmao's pieces more or less equally engaging.

It's easy to see why readers in Taiwan, especially adventurous young women, would read her work and dream of traveling -- and being -- like her. I get the impression that the 1970s was a time when some women were free to travel the world, especially women with parents as supportive as Sanmao's clearly were, but constraints on them were greater than those for men. That must have also been true in Taiwan, if not especially so given not just gender roles mired in conservative nonsense, but also the general lack of freedom from the government. (If I seem like I'm coming down hard on Taiwan, remember that this was also the era of Roe vs. Wade and American women winning the right to, say, have credit lines in their own name.) If I were a young woman in 1970s America and read a book by a woman traveling the world written in her own clarion voice, I'd be bewitched as well. 

That's not to say I loved everything about the book. 

The translator's note that Sanmao might come across as condescending or racist towards her Sahrawi neighbors in today's world rings true, though it's tempered somewhat by the instances in the book where she befriended them rather than judging them, and to an extent far greater than many non-locals in El Aaiún at the time. Some of her actions might be seen now as blatant cultural appropriation, but I doubt they would have been seen that way in the 1970s.

It's also interesting to me that, for a woman who upended gender expectations to leave Taiwan and live in northern Africa, she bowed to some pretty retrograde gender norms, as well. When José insisted that he would be the breadwinner, she settled with little complaint into a housewife's life. This was how she managed to get to the Sahara in the first place (though I'm not sure how she would have done it otherwise). In the story My Great Mother-in-Law, she speaks of her husband's mother as a being to wage war against, but that war seems to consist mostly of her, the daughter-in-law, subjugating and exhausting herself until the elder woman is pleased, while her husband enjoys a relaxing family holiday.  To some extent, she relates this to Chinese cultural norms. 

That sounds horrible, regardless of culture. Big fat no thanks on that one, Sanmao. 

Although I had expected more day-to-day feminism from a feminist icon like her rather than some shockingly regressive ideas about how marriage works, I suppose uplifting women's voices doesn't always mean the things other women say are ideas everyone is going to agree with. I can't insist that Sanmao be the 70s bra-burner I want her to be (though bra burning was largely a myth) when the whole point is listening to her authentic voice, not my feelings about what she ought to say.

Finally, although I have absolutely no right to complain strongly about this, it was my hope that reading this book by a woman who grew up in Taiwan that international readers would, well, gain a deeper understanding of Taiwan as a distinct entity. 

They won't. Sections that mention Taiwan or Sanmao's background always bring it back to China. Someone who didn't know a lot about Taiwan reading this would assume, from her writing, that Taiwan was just a part of China and culturally Chinese, because Sanmao names her home as Taiwan and talks about herself as Chinese.

I'm aware that this is a tad unfair. Sanmao was indeed born in China, it was the 1970s when Taiwan had no way of expressing any desires they may have had not to be considered part of China, and much of her work was published in the KMT-backing United Daily News. Generally speaking she didn't seem particularly interested in politics, instead focusing her gaze on people, culture and daily life. Given the era and her family background, it's no surprise that she'd take these beliefs as implicit truths. Regardless, it's hard to see how this could be handled differently, if the aim is to preserve Sanmao's words as accurately as possible in translation. 

However, these are flaws worth overlooking for the curious reader. Stories of the Sahara is an engaging and worthwhile book with a prose style that diverges a great deal from other Taiwanese literature I have read. I do hope that Bloomsbury or another publisher put out more of her works in English in the future. 

Friday, October 23, 2020

Not Just The Tip: Visiting Shezi Island

Untitled

The Li Hexing Mansion on Shezi Island


I've been on Shezi (which is really a peninsula) twice, but never wrote about it as both times I was either pushing to get my dissertation proposal or actual dissertation handed in. So, now's the time! 

I'm no expert on Shezi history or anything like that, so this is more of a wanderer's blog than a deep dive, in the hope of showing that Shezi is more interesting than just its scenic bike path (though that is great, too). So far, it seems most explorations of Shezi begin and end at its periphery, which includes the scenic park at the very tip. That's certainly worth a visit, but I have more to say.


There are several buses to Shezi, though none of them run particularly frequently. The 2, 215, 536 and R10 will take you up there, from various yellow or red line MRT stations. These buses originate at or pass by Yuanshan, Taipei Main, the Jiancheng circle on the Chongqing stop near Zhongshan, Jiantan and Daqiaotou, for example. The R7 from Jiantan will also get you in the general area of some of the old buildings and a good cafe popular with cyclists.

Quick bit of advice: wear or bring mosquito repellent if you're heading up here. The entire area is lowland and between two rivers, with rural or light industrial stretches. You will get bitten if you don't prepare, and cases of dengue fever are rare but not unknown.

The most efficient taxi ride would probably be from Qili'an or Qiyan stations further north as you'll ultimately be heading to Yanping North Road Sections 8 and 9. The peninsula is huge -- far larger than one would imagine for what is often considered a remote area of Taipei -- with its base somewhere around the Yanping-Dunhuang Road intersection and its tip so far north that you can see Guandu in the distance, with Yangming Mountain on one side and Guanyin Mountain on the other. Needless to say, the bus takes awhile. 

Here's a photo I snapped along the way:

 

Before heading up, I do suggest stopping off at the Chen Yueji Ancestral Mansion (陳悅記祖宅) at #231, Yanping Road Section 4. Most of the buses coming up from the south will stop by there (but probably not the ones that originate at Jiantan). It was built in 1807 and renovated in 1859, when one of the members of the Chen family became an imperial officer, had a great deal to do with arts and education in the Dalongdong area, and was the master of the Xuehai Academy (another old building in Wanhua that's worth a visit). 

After that, it's a long slog up Yanping Road, although you will pass some funky old houses from a variety of eras, several weird store signs and a Statue of Liberty that I haven't quite figured out the purpose of yet. Yanping skirts the river for awhile before turning inland.





If you're on the bus, get off first at Jian'an New Village (健安新村). On bike that's Lane 157, Yanping North Road Section 8. From the bus stop turn into the aforementioned lane (heading south, so north if you're coming from the bike path). What you're looking for is a house somewhere in the vicinity of #s 11, 15 and 19, Lane 133, Yanping North Road Section 8 (延平北路八段133巷19號) which involves turning left into Lane 133 if coming from the bus stop, which is a right if coming north from the bike path - Google Maps says this is Alley 6 but I'm not sure if that's accurate. 

Down one of the dead-ends along this lane, you'll see an old two-story brick house. This is the Li Family Mansion, which one descendant of the sprawling Li family (the Li Hexing branch) on Shezi still takes care of. Nobody from this particular set of Li descendants was around when we came by, so we couldn't ask to see the inside. Another Li family member lives nearby; though he's not authorized to let you in the house, he did invite us into his home.


Untitled



Mr. Li told us that much of the island, or at least the part of it with these old houses, is inhabited by various branches of the Li family, who settled here in the Qing dynasty to take advantage of the farming opportunities in these low wetlands. That said, he also complained about the frequent flooding, and noted that the government hadn't done much about it, telling stories about his younger years when, during floods, his family would gather in the upper loft of the house as the ground level flooded. Once, he said, the water actually made it to the upper loft and they had to break a hole in the ceiling to stand on the roof until the water subsided. From the Formosa News link a few paragraphs down, it seems likely that this was the massive Typhoon Gloria in 1963.

More information is provided by a helpful Chinese-language blog, which names other prominent families on Shezi, including the Wang and Hsieh families, and notes that the name Shezi actually has indigenous roots: a branch of the Ketagalan tribe had lived here at one point, and called it "Shezai", which later became "Shezi". 

According to that blog, Shezi indeed used to be an island, which gives us an origin story for its odd name: it's called 'Shezi Island" but it's a peninsula). Apparently, an earthquake in the 18th century caused a sandbar to come up, resulting in a spit of reclaimed land that connected Shezi to what is now Dalongdong (in Datong district). That was also about the time Han settlers began inhabiting it, often moving in from nearby Luzhou or the area between Danshui and Jinshan. 

The sandbar was still somewhat cut off from Dalongdong by a waterway until 1975, when the Chongqing Road Intersection filled it in.

Showing just how integrated the history of this area of northern Taipei is, there are two interesting related trips you can take: to one side of Shezi, the F108 bus from Danshui will take you to the Li Yanlou ancestral shrine (Li Yanlou was one of the original Li family members to migrate to Shezi). On the opposite side of Shezi, the Li Family Ancestral Mansion in Luzhou (which I swear I will blog about someday; I did go, and never wrote about it). Li Yanlou's actual house can be found at  #2 Yanping North Road Section 7 Lane 63 Alley 12 (延平北路七段63巷12弄2號), near the Fu'an Village bus stop.

The Chinese-language blog linked above offers lots of other photos of old houses on Shezi, many of which we also managed to find. Addresses are included, or you can refer to this list of historic Shezi buildings. Some are clearly Qing era, others have a strong Japanese influence notable from their use of wood. Some sections of Yanping Road Section 8 also include some interesting post-war/mid-century architecture, though there's nothing that you can't see in other parts of Taipei.

I'll include pictures below, but my recommendation is to bring along these addresses for reference, and stop by the ones that are convenient on your wanderings. Li Hexing's mansion is the real must-see if you stop by this area. 



Being a tight-knit, difficult-to-reach part of Taipei that feels isolated from the city despite its centrality, you can probably imagine that there is also a tightly-knit political scene here too. Local political figures I've never heard of play up Shezi community spirit and generally run on platforms of getting Taipei city to pay more attention (and shower more funding) on the area. This generic legislative candidate poster comes with a less formal notice of a community meeting to discuss local issues.

It's a bit of a difficult situation. Many Shezi residents want development, and it's quite fair to be angry over a lack of investment in things like safe building, flood safety and drainage. But some residents want more, citing the"tall buildings" in the rest of Taipei, but not Shezi, and the broken promises of a series of Taipei mayors who say they want to develop it (Hau Lung-pin wanted to turn it into "Taipei's Manhattan" and successive mayors have touted that line, which led to failed mayoral candidate Sean Lien (princeling son of absolute cheesemold Lien Chan) apparently calling it an "island" when it's a peninsula, demonstrating his lack of knowledge about basic Taipei geography. Ko Wen-je has also picked up the issue with the "Shezi Development Project" (no good sources in English, sorry), which appears to be ill-defined and controversial.

Some say that in order to force the issue, some landowners salted land previously zoned as agricultural in order to make farming impossible, though this report notes that the widening of the Danshui river at Guandu, undertaken after the 1963 typhoon to prevent that kind of flooding from happening again, has also let seawater flow downriver, causing a decrease in arability. The latter is certainly true, but the former is still quite possible.

But the fact remains that Shezi is a partial sandbar in a flood plain, period. I'm no urban planner, but my best guess is that it's unlikely to ever be safe to turn Shezi into a concrete jungle. Instead of planning and carrying out a sustainable investment and development plan that suits the geographical limitations of the peninsula, a succession of mayors have made insane promises of a 'Manhattan' that they know they can't deliver, and now it's hard to scale back expectations.

The area surely deserves more investment, but I'm not sure that some residents' higher-reaching skyscraper dreams could ever feasibly come true. It's hard to say whether some sort of compromise can be reached  that involves sufficient infrastructure funding and loosened restrictions on, say, rebuilding decrepit buildings but that doesn't dangerously overdevelop a flood-prone area.


Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled



Untitled



Untitled



Untitled





A longish walk from the biggest concentration of historic buildings will take you to Lili Koko Coffee (延平北路八段2巷200弄101號 -- #101 Yanping North Road Section 8 Lane 2 Alley 200) which is along the northern section of the bike path near the Shezi Wetlands, and therefore popular with cyclists. It has big windows and a nice view as well as decent coffee and light food. 


Untitled

This isn't the only cafe one can find on Shezi, however. There's another one right at the tip of the peninsula with equally great views. It's not walkable from the old houses, so you'll need to get back on the bus on Yanping Road and take it all the way to the end (the last stop is Fuzhou Village 富洲里) and walk the last minute or so.

Untitled 


Untitled


Up here you'll find An Coast Cafe, which also has coffee and light food, and panoramic windows with a view of Guandu. The park at the very end is a short walk from here, and is worth a quick stop. If the wind is blowing just right you'll even catch something like an ocean breeze coming off the Danshui River, as it meets the coast not far from here. 




Also up here is an interesting (though somewhat overpriced) antique shop called 56 Deco, but they keep very limited hours. Of course, it's pricey because it's not really meant as a browsing space for the general public (though you can go there and look around), but more like a design studio for people looking to outfit their commercial space in a funky antique style.

There's also a fun rechao 熱炒 spot up here called Shezi Island Head Riverside Gourmet (my translation for 社子島頭河岸美食). I haven't eaten there yet but after dark it looks like that's where the party's at. 

All of this is enough to make Shezi a worthwhile day trip in Taipei. I haven't yet managed to see everything I want to on the peninsula, however. I've only stopped by the old houses near the Li Hexing mansion, but not the ones that are further away. There is a clutch of secondhand 'junk shops' further south on Shezhong Street (社中街) that I've found by perusing Google Maps but haven't visited yet (they're difficult to get to by public transit). I love junk shops so I'll have to go someday. 

All in all, whether you want coffee with nice views, a visit to some lesser-known historic houses or to trawl secondhand stores and junk shops, Shezi isn't a dead end, and it contains far more than just its scenic bike path.

Anyway, I mentioned funny business signs, so here you go!


Untitled

Untitled

Sunday, October 11, 2020

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

29342453_10156257130006202_799312513505165312_n

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, October 10, 2020

Chiang Kai-shek did not save Taiwan from the CCP: Part 1 - the origins of CCP interest in Taiwan

IMG_3458

I took this photo years ago and it seemed appropriate to finally use it here.


I had thought I'd written about this before, but couldn't find an appropriate post. So, because it seems like I address this opinion frequently and I'm sick of repeating myself, it's time to write it all out here so I can link it next time someone comes out with a wacky historical interpretation of what actually happened after the Chinese Civil War. 

Also, Dictatorship Day is tomorrow (that's 10/10 for those of you who are still sleeping), so this feels like a good time to write such a post. 

So, what am I on about? Every few weeks, either wild-caught or while I'm talking about one of my favorite subjects (what an absolute sack of wankers the KMT is), someone seems to pop into one of my feeds with a comment along the lines of "yes but without Chiang Kai-shek/the KMT/the ROC army Taiwan would be a part of Communist China now".

These include comments by good people -- it's not personal. I've been wrong about history too. It's okay. But we need to deal with it.

This needs to be tackled in a few parts, in fact. First, I think it's important to clarify what exactly the KMT and CCP each thought of Taiwan in the years leading up to the Taiwan conflict. Only then do I think we'll have a good basis for discussing the degree to which Chiang and the KMT are not responsible for keeping Taiwan CCP free.

So first, let me make the case that Chiang Kai-shek is to blame for the CCP's interest in Taiwan in the first place. 

You read that right. It's all his (and the KMT's) fault that this is a problem to begin with.

I don't have many links for you because my biggest source is one of my favorite books, 
Accidental State by Hsiao-ting Lin, but I will link where I can. 

In 1924, Sun Yat-sen did include Taiwan in his Three Principles of the People, and it's likely Chiang got the idea to include Taiwan in the territories claimed by the Nationalists at the summit in Cairo in 1943 from this, according to Lin. Here's the thing though: Sun also included all sorts of places that no reasonable person believes "China" should control, including parts of Korea, Burma, Vietnam, Nepal, Bhutan etc. It also is not clear from Sun's other writing that when visiting Taiwan (he visited twice, I believe) he considered it to be anything other than Japanese territory.

What does matter is this: it was not clear until right before the meeting at Cairo that Taiwan would be included in Nationalist territorial claims the way, say, Manchuria certainly would be, as Taiwan had been ceded legally under the Treaty of Shimonoseki whereas the Nationalists had never accepted Japan's conquest of Manchuria. Before that, the ROC, its officials and Chiang himself had more or less treated Taiwan as a part of Japan, including opening a consular office in Taipei "under the jurisdiction of its legation in Tokyo". Chiang even spoke to Japanese politicians about how ending colonial rule in Taiwan and Korea could help bolster relations between China and Japan! To say the least, before 1941, Nationalist views of Taiwan and clear ideas about what Taiwan should be were, to use Lin's words, "murky", "cautious", uncertain" and "undetermined". 

The change in rhetoric to seriously consider claiming Taiwan happened after Pearl Harbor, when the ROC more or less saw an opportunity and decided to grab it. It was around that time that a definition of what constituted "lost" territories to be recovered was created by Chiang, and the top concerns regarding what should be included and what shouldn't were more geo-strategic than ideological.

In fact, according to Lin, the decision to include Taiwan as a claimed territory wasn't even finalized until after Chiang had received the invitation to Cairo! Until then it had been a matter of debate and exactly which "lost" territories ought to be "recovered" was very much a matter of debate.

George Kerr also notes in Formosa Betrayed that Allied attempts to gain intelligence on Taiwan from their Chinese allies showed how little interest the Nationalists actually had in Taiwan, as most of it was lazily thrown together at best, or outright fabricated at worst (to be fair, Lin finds Kerr's accounts to be generally exaggerated). 

The inclusion of Taiwan didn't start gaining truly serious ROC domestic or international traction until the Allies signed onto it at Cairo, and even then, to quote Kerr, the only reason the West was willing to prop up Chiang's claims was to help him save face as the self-proclaimed greatest leader and bringer of "democracy" to Asia (again, to be fair, no-one else in Asia at that time could reasonably claim the title of supreme democratic reformer, either). They knew perfectly well that his regime would require massive support from the West.

(It's worth taking a brief side-note here to point out that the result of Cairo was a declaration, not a treaty. The actual series of treaties that followed the Japanese surrender do not clarify to whom Taiwan was ceded nor what its status is.)

At the same time, the Communists seemed to hold a very different view of Taiwan. Mao's rhetoric on the topic somewhat implied that Taiwan had the right to some, if not total, sovereignty, and the CCP listed "Taiwanese" among the "minority nationalities" that had "equal rights" in "Soviet China", but were considered to be a distinct group or race from Chinese with their own homeland. 

I'm going to quote from the link above at length, because unlike Accidental State and Formosa Betrayed, two books you absolutely should spend your money on, this is a journal article and not everyone will have access. I've emphasized important points:

This position of the Sixth Congress was reiterated in the same year by the Fifth National Congress of the Chinese Communist Youth League, which in its regulations noted that the "minority na- tionalities" in China included "Mongols, Koreans, Taiwanese, Annamese, etc.," and urged that local organs form national minority committes.5 Two years later in Kiangsi, the "Draft Constitution of the China Soviet Republic," adopted by the First All-China Soviet Congress (November 7, 1931), extended constitutional rights to these same minority nationalities.6 According to Item 4 of this document, all races, that is the "Han, Manchu, Mongol, Mohammedan, Tibetan, Miao, Li and also the Taiwanese, Koreans, and Annamese who reside in China, are equal under the laws of Soviet China [emphasis added]." Taiwanese were seen not as Han but as a different "nationality" and even "race," who like the Koreans and the Annamese, but unlike the other minorities, came from a homeland separate from China.8 This view is strengthened by the fact that the CCP never referred to the Taiwanese as "brethren" (dixiong), or "the offspring of the Yellow Emperor," or "compatriots" (tongbao), who would de facto belong to the Han after they return to China. Indeed, a 1928 Central Committee Notice, while calling for the recovery from Japan of sovereignty over Shantung and Manchuria, failed to mention a similar goal for Taiwan in its seventeen "general goals of the present mass movement."9 Since the ideological perspectives of the early Chinese Communist elite were heavily influenced by an anti-Japanese (as well as an anti-Western) nationalism born out of the May Fourth Movement, this exclusion of Taiwan from recoverable sovereign territory of China is revealing.

 



(Yes, that is one long paragraph.)

It gets better, though: 


Mao Tse-tung's earliest comments on the Taiwanese came in his January 1934 "Report of the China Soviet Republic Central Executive Committee and the People's Committee to the Second All-China Soviet Congress." Commenting on various provisions in the 1931 Constitution, he said: Item 15 of the Draft Constitution of Soviet China has the following statement: 

To every nationality in China who is persecuted because of revolutionary acts and to the revolutionary warriors of the whole world, the Chinese Soviet Government grants the right of their being protected in Soviet areas, and assists them in renewing their struggle until a total victory of the revolutionary movement for their nationality and nation has been achieved. In the Soviet areas, many revolutionary comrades from Korea, Taiwan, and Annam are residing. In the First All-China Soviet Congress, representatives of Korea had attended. In the present Congress, there are a few representatives from Korea, Taiwan, and Annam. This proves that this Declaration of the Soviet is a correct one.’


Mao not only reaffirmed the Chinese Communist position that Taiwanese residing outside Taiwan and in China were a "minority nationality," but also implied CCP recognition and support of an independent Taiwan national liberation movement, which would be united in a joint effort with the Chinese movement, but with a different purpose, i.e., the establishment of an independent state similar to other Japanese colonies, such as Korea. 

A year later, Mao and P'eng Teh-huai manifestly dissociated Taiwan's political movement from China by incorporating it into the anti-imperialist revolution led by the Japanese Communist Party. According to the "Resolution on the Current Political Situation and the Party's Responsibility," passed at a meeting of the CCP Central Political Bureau on 25 December, 1935, and signed by P'eng and Mao: 

Under the powerful leadership of the Japanese Communist Party, the Japanese workers and peasants and the oppressed nationalities (Korea, Taiwan) are preparing great efforts in struggling to defeat Japanese Imperialism and to establish a Soviet Japan. This is to unite the Chinese revolution and Japanese revolution on the basis of the common targets of "defeating Japanese imperialism." The Japanese revolutionary people are a powerful helper of the Chinese revolutionary people." 


Here Taiwanese were not considered an integral part of the "Chinese revolutionary people," but were treated as a people whose natural political role was to fight alongside the "Japanese workers and peasants" in establishing a Soviet Japan. Whether Mao and P'eng expected the Taiwanese (and Koreans) formally to join a newly-created Soviet Japan is unclear from this resolution. But nowhere in this or other documents examined by the authors did CCP leaders suggest that the Taiwanese should fight to return to their "motherland" and join Soviet China - a point they would not make until after 1943.


That's my underline, so let me reiterate:

...a point they would not make until after 1943.

What changed between when these statements were made and 1943?

Oh yeah! All that stuff the Nationalists did, under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek, to change China's perspective on Taiwan toward claiming it as an integral territory and 'lost' province. 

It is not unreasonable to assert that the CCP changed its stance on Taiwan because the Nationalists had done so first

Guess what - it gets even better. Please enjoy:

As to explicit CCP support for an independent state on Taiwan, the most notable documentary evidence is Mao's personal statement made to Edgar Snow on July 16, 1936. Responding to Snow's question, "Is it the immediate task of the Chinese people to regain all the territories lost to Japanese imperialism, or only to drive Japan from North China, and all Chinese territory above the Great Wall?," Mao answered: 

It is the immediate task of China to regain all our lost territories, not merely to defend our sovereignty below the Great Wall. This means that Manchuria must be regained. We do not, however, include Korea, formerly a Chinese colony, but when we have re-established the independence of the lost territories of China, and if the Koreans wish to break away from the chains of Japanese imperialism, we will extend them our enthusiastic help in their struggle for independence. The same thing applies for Formosa. As for Inner Mongolia, which is populated by both Chinese and Mongolians, we will struggle to drive Japan from there and help Inner Mongolia to establish an autonomous State. 

The support for independence of Korea and Taiwan, both of which were formerly linked to China, is clearly stated.


There is some solid analysis in this otherwise older source about why the CCP policy was able to shift, and an interesting discussion of what constitutes "Chineseness" in the eyes of the CCP -- at least, the best possible analysis of it in 1979.

The authors also go on to provide more source material for Lin's analysis of the shifting Nationalist position on Taiwan pre-1943, pointing out that Taiwan was of minor importance before Cairo, belying the massive importance placed on it by the Nationalists after the conference. They go on to posit that Chiang's original goal was quite possibly very similar to the CCP's: to "liberate" Korea and Taiwan so as to create buffer states between China and Japan! 

Because I believe in free access to academic work, here's another quote:

What is important here is that Chiang, like Sun, was more concerned with "restoring" (hufifu) the independence and freedom of Taiwan and Korea so as to create buffer states against Japan, while China would assume traditional protection, but not necessarily sovereignty, over Taiwan and Korea. Moreover, throughout Chiang's pre-1942 collected works and speeches nowhere does he make a claim to “recover" (shoufu, guangfu or shouhut) Taiwan. The island was mentioned occasionally, along with Korea, but only in the sense that both nations were enslaved by the Japanese. No mention of the Taiwanese appeared in such strong nationalist tracts as "Prepare For Victory," nor in his message on "Resistance in the Enemy's Rear."


Although the ability of the CCP to shift so easily to a "Taiwan is an inseparable part of China" stance is of interest, the reason why they chose to do so at all is of more interest to me. Again, it all points back to Cairo, and we have Chiang Kai-shek and his minions to thank for that.

Hsiao and Sullivan (the heroes of this heavily-quoted article) reached the same (hedged) conclusion in 1979:

This tentatively suggests that the Chinese Communist position on the Taiwan question became most politically expedient after the 1943 Cairo Declaration when, still out of power, and in a subordinate position vis-a-vis the KMT, the CCP dropped its support for Taiwan's independent status and embraced Chiang Kai-shek's then very recent policy of full political reintegration of Taiwan into the Chinese polity.


!!!

I emphasized that in three different ways to draw your attention to it. It's analysis, not fact, but I happen to think it's right on the money. 

In other words, Chiang didn't "save" Taiwan from the Communists. He led them right into claiming Taiwan as a territory. If Chiang and the Nationalists had never fed that fire, it's entirely possible (though far from assured, to be fair yet again) that the CCP would have never become as interested in Taiwan as an integral part of China as they did. They might have had designs on it, after all they got involved in conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, but note that Korea and Vietnam don't suffer from the lack of diplomatic recognition or the same territorial claims by China (or at least, in Vietnam's case, not to the same extent) that Taiwan does.

And yet, there are still people who believe that Chiang deserves some sort of credit for keeping the Communists away from Taiwan. I would ask -- why? He's responsible for their claims on Taiwan in the first place!

At this point we veer into speculative history: if the Nationalists had never decided to claim Taiwan, would they have occupied Taiwan at the behest of the Allies in 1945, for convenience's sake? I don't know, as occupying Taiwan as a proxy of the Allies is not the same as occupying it as a claimed territory, but it seems at least somewhat less likely. In any case, it is less likely to have become the location of their retreat upon losing the civil war a few years later. This means that perhaps (?) the Nationalists might have been wiped out completely -- not a bad outcome, in my estimation, though the CCP disappearing would be even better.

If the KMT had not retreated to Taiwan, would the CCP have ever set its sights on the island? Possibly. There would have been so-called "justification" for it in Sun's writing, and they certainly were (and are) expansionist.

But their own writings indicate that it might not have rolled out that way, and Taiwan would have gained its independence in the same era as many other former colonies across Asia: Korea, most of Southeast Asia, India and more. 

Some of those former colonies have struggled (the Philippines, Myanmar, India, Indonesia), in part due to local issues and in part thanks to everything that was stolen from them or forced upon them by their colonizers. Others (Korea, Singapore) eventually succeeded -- if we take democracy and freedom as important markers of success, Korea even more than Singapore. As a relatively prosperous colony under the Japanese with much of its infrastructure already built (and built well), how might Taiwan have fared? We'll never know, but it's not a given that it would have been worse than under KMT rule. 

Importantly, if this is how it had played out, there might not have been any question now of whether Taiwan was a 'part of China', any more than that question is being asked of those other countries. All the missiles, all the threats, all the fighter jets -- none of it would be dangled over our heads by an angry CCP. 

All because they slobbered after the Nationalists and that led their sights right to Taiwan.

Blame the CCP, yes, but also...blame the KMT. They literally created this mess. They literally wrote the paper on how to screw Taiwan.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Guest Post: The aftermath of colonial education in Taiwan

IMG_1786

The hiatus continues, but so does my experiment in guest posting. While I wrap up my dissertation, I've been trying to open up this platform to other voices - especially Taiwanese voices. This is re-posted with permission from Annie Lim, lightly edited from her Twitter thread. You can read the ThreadReader version here and on Twitter (where you can also follow Annie) here. I think this is an important story to share because while it's a personal family story on one level, on another it tells the story of the psychological scars of a generation, and how it affects their relationships with their descendants.

- Jenna

The aftermath of colonial education and decolonizing is really tough, especially for families. My parents grew up having the entirety of Japanese era ripped out from text book and only learnt about ROC and China. 228 is a huge taboo to them, talking about it means causing conflict. 


We took a family trip to Tainan and me being a history geek made everyone visit a bunch of museums. The thing about Tainan is that unlike Taipei, people really put their heart and money into saving history (in Taipei many evidence of the past were intentionally whipped out by KMT).

Bits and pieces of colonial past (including the White Terror) are EVERYWHERE in Tainan. And my parents can usually appreciate the beauty of the structures. However, I can see them visibly flinch when anything about the KMT's wrongdoing is mentioned. Even when we are in an art museum admiring Tan Ting-pho's painting...the exhibition has a timeline matching artworks with his life. And in the end it's just, "killed in front of Chiayi station in 228". My parents immediately turned and left the room with me standing there feeling heartbroken.

My parents love us deeply, and they feel a strong sense of regret on how they "failed" to protect their children from the influence of the evil DPP. They are not KMT supporters, but will always choose KMT over any other parties bc anything KMT does looked justified.

Yes, they know KMT massacred people. But they will also argue that its all in the past and DPP is obviously worse than KMT (when we aren't even talking about DPP at all). They don't wish to argue with me, so they choose to leave the scene even when we are just looking at art. 

And here's the thing - everything is politics. Art, history, language, food, music, buildings...everything. Just because Tainan isn't hiding it's past, doesn't mean they are "too political". But, even stating the truth (such as this person was wrongfully killed) is too much. When we are reading about something built in 1930, my mom commented: "Oh! It's from 民國29年" [Republic of China Year 29] and was visibly upset when my sister corrected her saying that 1930 was before "retrocession" so it shouldn't be read in ROC years.

Our family has been in TW for centuries, but here we are, restraining ourselves from latching into fights, because someone taught our parents that this is a land with no history, and killed off anyone who could have taught them otherwise. 


They do not understand why I am so fixated on figuring out WHAT it is that I have been missing.

This kind of behavior can be seen in many people growing up under heavy censorship. Knowledge like this could have brought them physical harm so they will actively stay away from anything that could've make them feel "rebellious". Staying silent and obeying is how they stayed safe. This is the scary part about censorship: the danger isn't always exterior. In order to stay alive, people will actively build the "safe narrative" into their system and stay away from anything that tells otherwise.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Officially on hiatus - enjoy some links!

IMG_2235


I've been clear on Lao Ren Cha's Facebook page that I'm unable to update regularly as I clear the home stretch of dissertation writing, but never really made it official here.

So, it's official. Expect very little (if anything) from me until the dissertation is behind me. At the latest that will be September, but I might find time for a few posts while I'm waiting for draft feedback or as I finish up final edits.

Until then, here are some links to work by others that I have enjoyed. I've already linked much of it on the Facebook page, but not here as I don't do weekly links. Some of it is recent, some less recent but of lasting value. If you're plugged in to news and commentary about Taiwan, you've probably come across much of it before, but consider this a shout-out to some of my favorite work on Taiwan. 



Taipei's homeless are few but desperate - Cindy Chang

Can Tsai Ing-wen avoid the second-term curse? - Kharis Templeman


Recent changes in national identity - Nathan Batto

Why Taiwan continues to fear an invasion (the title isn't great but the article is good) -  Fang-Yu Chen, Austin Wang, Charles K.S. Wu and Yao-Yuan Yeh

It's time for Taiwan to confront its ethnic discrimination issues - Hilton Yip

Metalhead Politics - a new podcast by Emily Y. Wu and Freddy Lim (new episode out July 1)

Island Utopia - Catherine Chou

Knit Together  (this is an older post but one I think about frequently as I consider what it's like to live far away from my own family, and the ongoing process of working through losing my mom in late 2014) - Katherine Alexander 

Taiwan's status is a geopolitical absurdity - Chris Horton

The Island the Left Neglected - Jeffrey Ngo (now outside the paywall on Dissent Magazine)

The Status Quo is Independence - Michael Turton (not new, but makes some key points)


The WHO Ignores Taiwan. The World Pays the Price. - Wilfred Chan

Taiwan's human rights miracle does not extend to its Southeast Asian foreign workers - Nick Aspinwall (also not new, but I keep it on hand)


Oh yes, and if you're still wondering about the KMT soap opera that helped Han Kuo-yu rise and fall (I mean other than his having been bought by the PRC at some point), of all the Taiwan Report podcasts, this is the one to listen to. - Donovan Smith


This is an old piece about local radio stations in southern Taiwan being co-opted by pro-China entities, but something about the story being told here sticks in my head. It's a small, personal story that has some truly ominous portent. - Voicettank

This is very old, but I like to keep a copy on hand every time someone insists that the flurry of treaties and declaration during and after WWII settled the status of Taiwan as a 'part of China'. They did not, and Chai Bhoon Kheng explains why.

* * *

Alright, that's it from me. I have a few drafts that I may or may not publish (one needs a clearer focus and the other is quite personal, so I'm holding off on both). Hopefully, however, by the time you hear from me again in any meaningful way, I'll have successfully completed graduate school.

Catch you on the other side! 


Thursday, April 16, 2020

When My Worlds Collide: The Chinese Aid/Mount Ararat Dispute

IMG_1806
Looking like a dork on my visit to Khor Virap in 2017


I was going to write about the way the WHO and China have both been slithering among political figures, begging bowls in hand, asking for statements of support for their handling of the CCP Virus. And I will - tomorrow, perhaps.

Today, something else caught my eye.

This is sort of a collision of my worlds: an American of Armenian heritage, whose ancestors fled Turkey, and who has visited both Turkey and Armenia while living in Taiwan and keeping an eye on China.

With that in mind, about a week ago, a tiny diplomatic snafu went unnoticed by most people. It seems that China sent medical supplies and equipment to Armenia, and this was written on the boxes:

高山之巔,長江之濱May Our Friendship Higher Than Mountain Ararat and Longer than Yangtze River

EVGKuItXkAEpnGh
These are the boxes in question

You'll note that the Chinese and English do not quite match. The actual translation of that phrase is "A High Mountain Peak, The Shores of The Yangtze" which sounds like a Chinese idiom but if so, I'm not familiar with it. (Readers?)


This caused a lot of consternation in Turkey, which demanded an explanation for why a mountain which is technically in Turkey, and called Mount Ağrı (Ara), was printed on aid sent to Armenia. IS CHINA DISRESPECTING THE TERRITORIAL SOVEREIGNTY OF TURKEY??!! ...is what I assume they screamed.


IMG_2008
Even on polluted days, you can see the peak of Ararat from Yerevan

China quickly clarified that the packages came from a provincial government in China - Chongqing - and that the Chinese phrasing made no reference to Ararat (which is true). They then said the "English translation was added later", implying that it might have been done by the private company which delivered the aid (which is probably not true, but who knows) - and that China respects Turkey's territorial integrity. As an Armenian, allow me to provide some background, both political and cultural.


IMG_2149
Also I will tell you about brandy
Mount Ararat is highly culturally important to Armenia. It's visible from both Yerevan - the capital, and also just a cool, funky city that you absolutely should visit - and much of the Armenian plain (the monastery of Khor Virap is an excellent place to get a closer look at it). Like Olympus in Greek history, pre-Christian Armenian mythology considered Ararat the home of the gods. One might think this mythology is 'lost', but just as Athens is still named for Athena, plenty of Armenian names derive from these pre-Christian mythological names. For example, Mihran (my great-grandfather's name) is from Mihr, the god of smithing. Getting on the Jesus train didn't change this much: believed to be the landing site of Noah's Ark by those inclined to such beliefs, Armenians essentially transferred Ararat's pagan sacredness to Christianity. Since the Armenian genocide, it has also become a symbol of everything Armenians lost when they were exterminated from lands they had inhabited for centuries. Not just the land, but the culture - I could list several examples of eastern Anatolian cultural touchstones that are claimed by Turkey but may in fact be Armenian in origin, but I'll just point out one - carpets. There is evidence to suggest that "Turkish rugs" are culturally Armenian. And yes, Ararat has been a symbol of Armenian irredentist beliefs. I am unable to speak objectively on this so I won't belabor the point, but much of what is now eastern "Turkey" was heavily populated by Armenians until the genocide. The Treaty of Sevrès gave that land to Armenia, and then the USSR, for purely political reasons, turned around and handed it to Turkey - including Ararat.



IMG_2096
Not joking about the brandy - Winston Churchill apparently drank it
Ararat is on the coat of arms of Armenia. In Yerevan, the statue of "Mother Armenia" faces it (and is surrounded by military accoutrements). Armenia's most famous brandy is named for it. Pins purchased by pilgrims to the various well-known monasteries across Armenia generally depict it. When I visited Armenia and caught my first sight of Ararat, despite knowing how silly it was to have an emotional attachment to a geographical location I had only a tenuous ancestral connection to - my ancestors having lived along the Mediterranean, not near the mountain - I got misty-eyed anyway. I don't know how else to express how important Ararat is to the Armenian people.
0
Armenian pilgrimage pins from my personal collection
(not my pilgrimages - I inherited these from my mom, who collected them despite ever going herself)
So, I can tell you that from an Armenian perspective, referencing Ararat in a gesture of friendship really has very little to do with borders. Yeah, Armenia wants that mountain back. Sure. Won't deny it. But even with the borders as they are, without even expressing an overt wish to change those borders, it is entirely culturally appropriate to reference Ararat in an Armenian context. From that perspective, for Turkey to get mad about it feels a bit like China getting butthurt whenever someone calls Taiwan "Taiwan" or expresses support for Hong Kong.

Imagine having a thing on your country's coat of arms, purposely building your museum to the Armenian Genocide within sight of it, naming your brandy after it, and believing in its religious significance several layers and millenia down, and having another country get all pissy for acknowledging it's important to you, because it's within their borders due to some Soviet political maneuvering. Sounds like that'd feel like crap, right? Well, it does.
IMG_2006
The view of Ararat from the Armenian Genocide museum
Perhaps Taiwanese can understand this. Although the two situations are not exactly parallel, I can only imagine how it must feel to want to claim some aspect of that part of Taiwanese cultural heritage which does have roots in China, only to be told that doing so makes you Chinese by nationality. So you're stuck with either constantly trying to explain your heart, or distancing yourself from that heritage. (This rock and hard place were both intentionally created by China). Imagine being told that huge segments of your history and cultural heritage are wrong. That this thing and that place are actually Turkish and the things you say happened to your ancestors...didn't. Of course, Taiwanese don't have to imagine.

The problem, of course, isn't with emotional attachments to geographical locations. It's with the rabid anger and perpetual glass-hearted offense created by nationalism, abetted by national borders.


IMG_2035
Mother Armenia ain't playin' games
If you've ever wondered why I came to care so much about Taiwan after moving here, despite having no Taiwanese ancestry, it's this: what my ancestors went through and what the ancestors of my Taiwanese friends went through were different, but surely you can see how these conflicts are, in great part, variations on the same old themes of dominance, marginalization and nationalism? And I'm as sick as they are of being told that my heritage isn't allowed to be what I know it is?
IMG_2111
Really not joking about that brandy

I've long thought of Turkish political views as running on a parallel discourse with Chinese perspectives. Both are countries I have enjoyed visiting, meeting absolutely wonderful people and seeing some truly spectacular places. But politically, in Turkey they've convinced themselves that Armenia is the 'bad guy' and the Armenian genocide never happened (false), which is not that different from Chinese views that Taiwanese are the 'splittist' aggressors and Taiwan is their sovereign territory (again, false). I have lamented that these views are baked into the education that Turks and Chinese receive, and acknowledge that it is very difficult to overcome the failings of one's political upbringing.
Now, imagine that there a place which is key to your identity, perhaps even sacred in a quasi-religious sense. It occupies a central place in your cultural consciousness. Imagine being told by another country that not only is it theirs, not yours, but that it's not even particularly important to them. Taiwan, as a part of China, would be...just another province. Geostrategically important, perhaps, but honestly, I could see many Chinese viewing it as just a backwater, a nowhere. That's what it was under the Qing, after all. By Chinese standards, Taipei isn't even that big. I suspect most Taiwanese know this in their bones: Taiwan is everything to them. It's central to their history, identity and culture. To China, it's just hicksville. Yet they dare to pitch a fit whenever Taiwan points out that it's better off on its own. That's Ararat to Turkey. They don't care about it. It's so far east that I suspect Turks generally don't think about it much. It's a nowhere, a backwater. It is not central to their nation or identity the way it is to Armenians. And yet they have the temerity to throw a tantrum when any other nation references that cultural significance to Armenia. If you've gotten this far, you're probably shaking your head thinking "is Lao Ren Cha really saying that China did nothing wrong here?"
IMG_2041
Another view of Ararat from Yerevan
You'll be shocked to hear that Istanbullus don't care much about this mountain, but Yerevanis do. 
Well, I suppose...yes. But even when China is right, of course it's also wrong. Bullying Turkey out of supporting the Uighurs is wrong. And Armenia has quietly become a key node in China's Belt and Road Initiative, which sort of mimics its status as a border state between "east" and "west" (which the Romans and Persians would interfere with in order to snipe at each other from time to time) and stop on the Silk Road. But the BRI is no Silk Road - instead of bandits, there are debt traps. Even if the countries involved don't end up as serfs to China, they'll find themselves at the other end of threats to cut off this or that source of funds - closing a highway, cutting off international students, re-routing shipping, tourism, whatever - if they become to dependent on China. Again, variations on the same old themes.
IMG_2107
I really can't emphasize enough about the brandy