Taiwan and China (the PRC), Pt. 1

Clyde Davenport (clyde@BUS.HIROSHIMA-PU.AC.JP)
Fri, 15 Mar 1996 13:55:44 +0900

Part I

I must say that I, too, am flattered that John McCreery has
taken the trouble to reply at length to what in part was a
reply to him (my attempt to sketch a rough outline of how
advertising developed connecting it to both TV and the overall
process of commodification). And I wish to address the points
he made in regard to what I said about this topic. However, we
have become sidetracked in the issue of the relation between
China and Taiwan, and since he insinuates that I am a racist I
find that I must make a response. First, though, let me quote
the relevant passages from his writings.

Thu, 14 Mar 1996 (abridged)

(3) The world is full of horrors. [So it has ever been. What is
remarkable is not that some many live lives of utter misery, but
the sheer existence of places like North America, Western
Europe, Japan, and, yes, Taiwan, where the general standard of
living has reached unprecedented heights. A world in which
90% of the population live in misery has made some progress
over one in which the comparable figure was 99%. (The numbers
are metaphorical) It is still a dangerous, largely awful and ugly
world. It is also one with a glimmer of hope that I, for one, will

This last is another reason why I feel so strongly about Taiwan,
besides my personal connections there. The ability to write on
the one hand that China is a mess and likely to get worse and on
the other to blandly say that we have to respect Chinese views
toward people who've made something visibly better...regardless
of what they might feel...strikes me as little better than "They're
only chinks. Fuck 'em." In short, simply despicable.

But there I go over the top again.

Wed, 13 Mar 1996 (abridged)

I am, perhaps, most disturbed by your treatment of the business
of China vs. Taiwan. What, pray tell, are your grounds for
characterizing the U.S. involvement as a sudden response to the
end of the Cold War instead of the continuation of a
commitment of nearly 50 years standing? Why, aside from a
trendy neo-Fascist culturalism should we give more credit to the
claims ot aging dictators in Peking than to the equally human
opinions of 20 million people who may wish to say "No thank
you." Mind you, if a freely elected Taiwanese government
decides that reunification is the best choice for its people and
those people support that decision, I will applaud that choice. In
the meantime, I cannot discard my own cultural baggage
sufficiently to say that people whose ancestors settled Taiwan at
the same time that mine were coming to North America should
be turned over to the place those ancestors fled, when they have
achieved something very like democracy and politics on the
mainland are still shadowed by Tienanmen. If the Taiwanese
resist an attempt to settle the situation by force and my country
does not come to their aid, I will be ashamed. Your history may
have ended. Some ideological commitments are still very much
alive in me.

My Response:

I would like to contextualize the whole situation between
Taiwan and the PRC. First, the U.S. government despite advice
to the contrary from the China hands in the State Department
backed the losing Koumintang led by Chiang Kai-shek rather than
the communists under Mao. [I don't have a source for this, since
I don't have a nice library with a lot of English materials at hand,
but I remember this quite clearly from my studies at college.
The fact that the U.S. government went against the advise of
people in the know in the State Department in supporting the
Kuomintang is not mentioned in the one book I have at hand
_East Asia, Tradition and Transformation_, John K. Fairbank,
Edwin O. Reischauer, Albert M. Craig, Houghton Mifflin Company,
1989, but this only says something about the limitations of
history books for general reference: they leave out all the
controversial details that make the study of history interesting.]
With the victory of the communists in 1949, the U.S. instead of
being able to recognize the mainland diplomatically as a nation
chose to maintain the fiction that it was Taiwan, and not the PRC,
which was the legitimate government of China. This fiction
continued until Nixon visited China (the PRC) in 1972, with
official liason offices being established in the following year
in both Peking and Washington. Thus, for over 20 years we
(meaning us Americans, as well as other countries like Japan
which joined us--or were forced to join us) had no diplomatic
relations with the most populous nation on earth. This was,
I feel, a monumental blunder, and it is my fear of the U.S.
is committing (or is going to commit) another monumental
blunder in its involvement in the relation between China
(i.e., the PRC) and Taiwan that motivates me "to blandly say
that we have to respect Chinese views toward people who've
made something visibly better."

When Nixon went to Shanghai in 1972 he signed with
Chou En-lai a joint comminique. Let's {and this "Let's"
can be interpreted in either of two ways, one as an
invitation for the reader to join me and the other as
a manipulative strategy to build a false consensus--but
then again there is always this kind of tension between
the communicative and the strategic in our use of
language} look at the substance of this comminque:

"The Shanghai communique also defined the status of
Taiwan when the American side acknowledged 'that all
Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain
that there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part
of China.' The United States sought 'a peaceful settlement
of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves.'
Accordingly, it would reduce American forces on Taiwan
with the ultimate object of their complete withdrawal."
(_East Asia_, p. 973)

My point of view is that we should continue this same
policy that Nixon began in 1971. It is the safest one, I
believe. However, recently Clinton allowed the Taiwanese
president to visit the U.S. I am not sure of his motives in
doing this, but I think one plausible interpretation is that
he fears the economic might of China (the PRC) and so
wants to be able to play Taiwan off against the PRC. The
Chinese (the government of the PRC) were understandably
irritated at this move because it violated an unwritten
diplomatic convention that our two governments had agreed
upon, and interpreted it as an agressive, provocative move
on our part ("our" means "our" government, the U.S. government,
but is it really "ours"?). Then, when the Chinese are worried
about the possibility of a "native" Taiwanese being elected
president of Taiwan (because "native" Taiwanese consider
the possibility of Taiwan being independent from China
while the ruling KMT (Kuomintang) always maintain that
Taiwan and mainland China are one nation), and lob a few
dud missles into the sea off Taiwan to remind their errant
brothers and sisters in Taiwan that China and Taiwan are
the same country, the U.S. goes into a huff and interprets
it as a aggressive and provacative action, and for its own
part engages in its own macho show of military force.

Well, who's right and whose wrong? Let us look at the
history of Taiwan before we rush to any easy decisions.

"Almost two-thirds covered by mountains, the island was
named Ilha Formosa, the 'beautiful island,' by Portuguese
traders in the 16th century. . . . Taiwan was populated
for most of its history by Malayo-Polynesian aborigines,
who numbered 120,000 in 1895. It began to be settled
by Chinese traders, bandits, and peasants, in the late
16th century, though most immigrants came later. The
island was brought under Manchu rule in 1683 as a
prefecture of Fukien province. Despite a network of
military garrisons, Taiwan was plagued by social
unrest . . . . In, 1885 Taiwan was made a province. By
this time it had a population of 3 million, virtually all
immigrants from Fukien or Kwangtung, or their descendents.
Its society was dominated by a landlord gentry who lived
in towns. Most of its land was worked by tenants, a much
higher percentage than on the mainland." (p. 897)

Japan gained control of Taiwan in 1895 as a result of
its victory over Imperial China in the same year (the Sino-
Japanese War). The Japanese instituted land reform,
improved the educational system (particularly at the
lower levels, although they also made the learning of
Japanese mandatory), and helped improve the country's
infrastructure and industry. Although Japan was a
colonial power, anti-Japanese feeling was relatively
mild. "The 1920's brought repeated petitions for
representative government, the organization of cultural
and youth groups and some abortive Communist activity.
Japan responded with limited concessions during the era
of 'civil rule' from 1919 to 1936 but then turned to
intensified police repression and forced assimilation
after the outbreak of war in China in 1937.
Comparatively few anti-Japanese incidents erupted
before Japan departed in 1945." (p. 900) This account
of the colonial period gleaned from the historical tome,
_East Asia_, is more or less accurate I feel. Even today
some Taiwanese people look on the colonial period as
being basically positive for Taiwan (swallowing their
pride and admitting that the Japanese did some good things
for Taiwan in terms of its economic development).

The next period in Taiwan's history begins with the
end of WW II. Taiwan again became a province of China.
"Rejoicing at their liberation from colonialism, the
Taiwanese welcomed officials sent from the mainland.
The Kuomintang officials, however, viewed the Taiwanese
as tainted by a half century of Japanese rule and treated
the island almost as a conquered territory. Moving in like
carpetbaggers, corrupt and exploitive as they had been in
Shanghai, the mainland administrators siphoned off
resources until, in February and March of 1947, the
Taiwanese rose up against them. In suppressing the
demonstrations, the Kuomintang authorities killed
thousands, and then in May, bringing in more troops,
they murdered several thousand more, including
Taiwanese prominent in the local leadership. In 1949,
defeated by the Communist armies, the Kuomintang
government and almost 2 million soldiers and civilians
fled to Taiwan. Chiang Kai-shek's eldest son, Chiang
Ching-kuo, became chief of the provincial KMT and
ruthlessly suppressed all opposition. In the process,
more thousands were killed and the Taiwanese thoroughly
cowed. The kind of vigorous opposition movement that
was accepted as a normal part of political life in South
Korea would not appear in Taiwan until decades later.
Thus the initial Taiwanese experience of KMT rule was
of a dictatorship far harsher and more exploitive than
that of colonial times." (pp. 900-901)

Things, though, gradually changed. The recent arrivals
from the mainland and the "native" Taiwanese were after
all both Chinese (although speaking two different dialects).
There was intermarriage, social exchange, business life,
etc. which brought the two peoples closer together. Also,
the KMT gradually opened its membership up to Taiwanese,
with by 1973 80% of the party's members consisting of
Taiwanese (albeit with the mainlanders, the Mandarin
speakers, still monopolizing the higher positions).
Recently in Taiwan new political parties have formed
outside the KMT. This is where the problem has arisen.
The KMT, like the Communist Party in China, maintains
the fiction that Taiwan is still a part of China, and in the
future Taiwan will be reunified with China (albeit the
Chinese tend to take a rather long view of historical time,
which though can work to their advantage as can be seen
in their negotiations with the British concerning the fate
of Hong Kong). Which ever side wins in the end will be the
side that is right, that has the best socio-political system.
However, in the meantime, because neither side has won,
both can maintain the fiction that their system is best
without necessarily imposing a loss of face on the other.
This has assured political stability in the relationship
between the two countries (despite all the military
posturing on both sides). What has happened now is that
the opposition parties are advancing the idea that Taiwan
should be independent. This position, though, destroys the
fiction upon which the harmony between Taiwan and China
is based (as well as questioning the legitamacy of the KMT
which still is a rather hegemonic organization despite its
reforms: it owns most of the radio and TV stations, etc.).
Theoretically (and personally), I side more with the
opposition than with either the KMT or the Communist
Party, but at a practical level I wonder if the opposition
party will be able to improve things (will not their victory
turn the Chinese bluff of invasion into an actual threat?
But then again intentions are hard to judge, particularly
when you are dealing with a culture that is radically
different from your own). It is for this reason that I think
it better that "our" government not get involved in this
political mess. I fear that through our misplaced Yankee
do-good-ism we'll only make things worse. And anyways
I think our position is hyocritical: Clinton backed off from
linking the human rights issue concerning China with trade
(because there's too much money involved) despite his rhetoric
to the contrary before he was elected Prez. So why the big
show of moral righteousness now? (And what about the serious
human rights problems we have in "our" own country, like the huge
prison population of which young black males arrested on drug
charges make up if not the majority at least an exceedingly high percentage).

Here, though, let's shift to an anthropological perspective
(and here in this rhetorical ploy of "let's" I am implying that
I am including everyone else--in this anthro-list net, mostly
American, mostly middle or upper-middle class, although with
its definite fringe elements--*but* a certain JM who I exclude
not necessarily only because I disagree with him, but because
he seems unwilling to allow "our" discussion to be a "discussion,"
that is a kind of "talk" where we both agree that the "other"
has worthwhile things to say and leave it to the audience to
make the decision about who is right or wrong, who is "despicable"
or not):

"Four churches for a village of about 100 permanent
residents, and everyone tells me theirs is the best. Typical,
I thought, of the fragmentation of the native minorities.
After the Koumintang took over Taiwan for its millions of
mainland refugees in 1949, missionaries of all stripes were
encouraged to work among the remote tribes, where they made
a far higher proportion of converts than among the Chinese
majority. The government eventually forced the Rukai and
other groups to leave their scattered tiny communities along
footpaths high in the mountains, for concrete-block villages
along the roads in the plains. Today there are 300,000
descendants of the tribes, among 20 million ethnic Chinese
with roots on the mainland or in Taiwan. Half or more of
the ethnic minorities are in the cities and there is little
political or community linkage among them or even among
villages of the same group.
"'What attracted you the Rukai to Christianity?,' I asked my
friend as we ate. 'The Japanese left in 1945, and you were on
your own for a few years before the Koumintang arrived. You
could have restored your old ways. . . .'
"'The Japanese were here for a long time,' replied Kaynoan,
speaking to me in the language that he had learned during the
half-century of colonial rule [i.e. Japanese]. 'We were
confused and uprooted when they left. They destroyed our
original belief system, calling almost everything we did an
ignorant superstition. A lot of our men went to war for Japan,
and not many came back healthy. But we did learn a lot from
them, hygiene, health care, farming, machinery. Some of it
worked for us, some did not. The Japanese officers made us
move our pigs out of our houses. They made us stop burying
our family members under the floor of the house, and carry
them to a graveyard. Maybe this was the right thing to do,
regarding those bacteria. And they thought our slate houses
were too low and too dark, but when we built them higher
with more windows, the typhoons damaged them badly.

(quotation continues in Pt. II)