Why don’t people of Taiwan identify with “China” NOW? — Taiwanese Perspective

This is an article written by a Taiwanese, targeted towards people of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) 中華人民共和國 (please bear this in mind as you read through the article), and it strives to let everyone understand why we Taiwanese don’t identify with “Chinese” or don’t want to be associated with the Chinese identity. I thought the article, despite its daunting length, is fair in many perspectives, and is very helpful in explaining the relationship between Taiwan and China and how Taiwanese people feel about China, not just in the political context. So here I translated the Chinese version into English. If you find any mistakes, feel like some part could be translated better, or are confused about something, feel free to leave a comment. The original text in Chinese does not contain any external links, I added them here because not everyone is familiar with all the event and incidents mentioned in the article. View original Chinese text.

Just to clarify some of the abbreviations and terms used in this translation:

PRC = People’s Republic of China 中華人民共和國, Mainlanders = citizens of PRC

ROC = Republic of China 中華民國, people of Taiwan =  citizens of ROC

(For more information on the differences between PRC and ROC, please read Taiwan the Complicated.)

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Written by Keng-Wei Chang 張耕維   Edited by Ko-Ching Chiang 蔣可竟

“Why is it that whenever we are interacting with Taiwanese people, we always feel like they don’t think they are Chinese?”

“Why do Taiwanese people get angry when we say that they are also Chinese?”

“Why do Taiwanese people dislike China so much?”

These are probably the most common reactions mainland Chinese people have when they interact with someone from Taiwan, and they are always confused: why don’t Taiwanese think they are also Chinese? This is different from what they learned in school, where it is written in the textbooks that “we [Chinese] are connected to our Taiwanese brothers and sisters by blood.” Why is it that people of Taiwan don’t identify with “China” NOW, even though just two decades ago most Taiwanese still considered themselves to be Chinese?  This article will try to explain the reasons of the dramatic change occurred to the identity of Taiwanese people. However, it is important to recognize the important yet confusing concept of that this change in identity is not the same as supporting the so-called “Taiwan Independence, they are two completely separate issues.

Introduction: The Original Taiwanese Identity

Anyone who went to elementary schools in Taiwan during the authoritarian rule of KMT (1945 – late 1980s, martial law enforced) will remember those standardized workbooks/notebooks. It’s hard to forget about them after using them for six years. But to use the modern aesthetic standard, the workbooks could at most be considered as vulgar. Children being children, they don’t really have an idea of just how ugly these workbooks are. On the back of each of these workbooks, were two sentences: “Be a student who is active and lively, be a Chinese who is open and aboveboard.

Translator Note: This is the front and back cover of a math workbook/notebook from back in the days. This one has two different sentences in the back: “Treasure every single bit of time, remember every lessons learned [from mistakes].”
To satisfy certain political goals, the KMT government was keen on using education as a propaganda system to propagate the political message that “people of Taiwan are Chinese”.

During that period of authoritarian rule, everyone followed the order of the ruling regime. Nobody questioned why “I” am “Chinese”. Instead, people believed that a person who is open and aboveboard is a Chinese person, therefore everyone should strive to become a Chinese with noble characters. Similarly, the education system under the authoritarian rule taught everyone that the brothers and sisters in Mainland China are living lives of deep distress. Thus, it is our responsibility and duty to reclaim Mainland China and save our brothers and sisters in living hell. But no one questioned why people of Mainland China were “our brothers and sisters”. Instead, the belief was that people living in Taiwan are Chinese, and people living in Mainland China are Chinese too. Our lives under the great President Chiang are prosperous and filled with happiness, while people in Mainland China are being poisoned by the evil Communists. Therefore, because of the “love among siblings”, we need to liberate the people of Mainland China.

Because of this, identity was never an issue in Taiwan. Most people considered themselves to be Chinese, and learned about Mainland China through the governmental media instead of personal experiences. In addition, because of the Cold War that was going on during this period, the “China” recognized internationally and represented the entire geographic region of modern-day China and Taiwan was still the Republic of China 中華民國. The idea of people living in Taiwan were indeed Chinese became rooted deeply in many people’s mind. (Translator note: ROC was one of the founding members and a permanent member in the Security Council of the UN since its establishment in 1945. However, in 1971, the UN General Assembly recognized PRC instead to represent “China”, the territory of which was left unspecified. Read more in Taiwan the Complicated.)

But this was in the martial law period. As Taiwan underwent democratization and the first cross-strait interactions were initiated in late-1980s, the identity of people of Taiwan also underwent significant changes.

TaiwanChinese
Percentage of Taiwan’s population that identify with Taiwanese and/or Chinese (from National Chengchi University Election Study Center’s database).

Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council has asked the Election Study Center at National Chengchi University to survey the identity people of Taiwan identify with, a process that has been going on for nearly two decades. The information is thought to be one of the most authoritative survey of the public opinion on the identity issue. The graph above suggests a very surprising change: since 1992, “the proportion of Taiwan’s population that only identify themselves as Chinese (blue line) have decreased from 25.5% in 1992 to 4.1% in 2011, less than one-fifth of the original. The proportion of Taiwan’s population that only identify themselves as Taiwanese (green line) have increased from 27.6% in 1992 to 52.2% in 2011, double the original. Half of Taiwan’s population thinks they are Taiwanese, while the proportion of people who think they are both Taiwanese and Chinese (pink line) have been decreasing annually.”

Some people argue that after 1990s, the government of Taiwan was headed by Lee Tung-hui and then Chen Shui-bian, two presdients that stressed desinicization in the education system, which causes the identity change. The argument is relatively invalid because the proportion change in identity is far more than just people who were educated after 1990s, meaning a lot of people who went through the education to “be a Chinese who is open and aboveboard” also changed the identity they associate with as well. The idea of being a Chinese is rooted so deeply that it is unlikely to be changed by a simple desinicization policy.

For each effect there is a cause, so here we provide some observations to answer the question: Why don’t people of Taiwan identify with China?

1. The change of what “China” meant and the (un)reality of politics

In the 1970s, the United States gradually altered its policy in the Cold War, and cooperated with PRC  to contain the Soviet Union. This caused the more isolated PRC to slowly step onto the center of the world stage. The ROC was becoming less and less recognized, both as the name of the state and as a nation. Under the atmosphere where “China = People’s Republic of China”, a concept recognized by most nations, the PRC used massive propaganda to propagate that ROC no longer exists, that only PRC represents China, and that ROC can no longer be present on the world stage. This attitude of not recognizing Taiwan is also China (ROC) led to the conclusion that Taiwanese are not citizens of the ROC. For many this led to a question: “If Chinese = being citizen of PRC (and that Chinese ≠ citizen of ROC), and I am not a citizen of PRC, am I still Chinese?

Under this logic, people of Taiwan felt that “China” is taken by mainlanders of PRC. Thus when being questioned by a citizenl of PRC, “are you Chinese?” people of Taiwan naturally assume the “Chinese” mainlanders referring to is a citizen of PRC. Since people of Taiwan do not hold PRC passports, the most natural answer is of course “I am not Chinese.”

Long story short, to avoid being confused with PRC, ROC on Taiwan has to separate itself from PRC. Thus “Taiwan” becomes the branding for ROC, just like “China” is the branding for PRC.

PRC’s political attitude on not recognizing the fact that ROC actually exists directly rejects the sense of existence of people of Taiwan. Forcing the categorization of  people of Taiwan as part of people of PRC is extremely disrespectful and offensive, which led to the resentment toward the PRC government among people of Taiwan, and thus influencing how people of Taiwan identify themselves.

2. Chinese not seeing Taiwanese as Chinese: string of incidents and policies Taiwanese are entirely against

Other than the change of what “China” meant and PRC’s political attitude, there were incidents throughout history that decreased Taiwan’s favorable impression toward PRC. This also influenced the Taiwanese identity. In chronological order:

《Permitting ROC citizens to visit to PRC for tourism purpose》

As people of Taiwan resisted against the authoritarian rule of the Chiangs, the political environment in late-1980s was gradually being loosened. In 1987, the ROC government started to allow ROC citizens to visit Mainland China for family visiting purposes. This was the change from learning about Mainland China through the government to being able to personally experience Mainland China. But having been separated for four decades with nearly no interactions, the two sides of the Taiwan Strait had differed significantly. As few people could actually visit PRC for tourism purposes, the effect wasn’t entirely obvious. But as cross-strait exchange becomes more and more frequent, the more people of Taiwan learn about Mainland China, the less they associate their identity with the Mainland.

《What happened that year》
(Translator note: referring to the Tiananmen Square protest of 1989.)

During the disturbance in the spring and summer of 1989, PRC’s policy planted the seed of “we are different from Chinese” among people of Taiwan. As small as the seed might be, what grew out of it was gigantic. Six months later, practically the identical incident happened in Taiwan, where the students of Taiwan congregated in front of Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall demanding political reform. But in contrast to Mainland China, President Lee Tung-hui accepted the students’ demands, and began a series of reform and democratization, essentially banishing the authoritarian rule. Taiwan and China took opposite paths at the beginning of 1990s, and that path influenced Taiwan’s social culture and way of living, substantially changed Taiwan.

So in the eyes of people of Taiwan, Taiwan had followed the trend of ending the Cold War, but what about the Mainland?

We could use the following analogy to understand the Taiwanese perspective:

When Chinese look at North Koreans today, they think that North Korea is still in the period of Cultural Revolution, and are surprised and sympathetic toward the North Koreans, who despite the lack of material things and famine, still live on full of spirit. Similarly, when Taiwanese look at Chinese, they think that Chinese people still live in the authoritarian period Taiwan used to have, and are surprised and sympathetic toward the Chinese, who tolerate unfairness and violence, even though they don’t lack anything materially.

Chinese people think North Korean people are different from who they are; similarly, Taiwanese people also think Chinese people are different from who they are.

《Qiandao Lake Incident》

1994 was the first year where people of Taiwan identified themselves more as Taiwanese than Chinese, because of the Qiandao Lake Incident.

To give a scope of what Qiandao Lake Incident is, let’s consider an analogy. In July 2011, two trains crashed into each other near Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, PRC. The official report was that 40 people died, with widely divided opinions on the reason of incident. The way the government handled the accident left many people speechless. For example: roads were cleared immediately after the accident for covering up the trains even without verifying whether there were survivors; immediate compensation for those who were hurt, suggesting the government’s attitude to cover up the whole accident; the official report was hardly convincing, while the remark of the spokesperson of the Ministry of Railways “whether you believe it or not, I believe it” angered many people.

If you are Chinese, would you agree with how the government handled the accidents? If you feel angry about this incident, then you can understand why Qiandao Lake Incident had such a big impact on the identity of people of Taiwan.

Simply put, Qiandao Lake Incident concerned a group of tourists from Taiwan, who traveled to Qiandao Lake, Zhejiang Province, PRC. Nobody knew what happened to them, but the boat disappeared, and when found, was burnt. All passengers and crew on board were dead.

In the beginning the official statement was that there was a fire on board. However, the family members of the victims saw the corpses and discovered that only the upper half of their bodies were carbonated, while no obvious burns were found on the lower half of the bodies. In addition, the body of boat was full of bullet marks, while all the luggage of the victims had disappeared. Serious doubt was cast on the official statement.

However, what happened next triggered much anger. The Zhejiang Provincial Government prohibited family members of the victims and Taiwanese media to go on board and take pictures, while at the same time restricted movement of the family members through the travel agency. In a meeting between the Zhejiang Vice Governor and the family members, the vice governor pretty much ignored the demand to bring the bodies back to Taiwan, and acted as if talking with the family members was an insult to his personal character, to the point that he said “I cannot talk with you people any longer.” Later the Zhejiang Provincial Government realized that using fire as the reason could not quiet Taiwan’s doubt, and thus arrested three people, charged them as robbers of the boat, and executed them after a speedy trial. Even though another official statement was released, nobody really believed it, nobody knew the truth.

For people living in Taiwan with fast-changing political environment, PRC officials’ aggressiveness and acted as if whatever they said is truth were at a completely different level from the ROC officials. The incident became the first exposure people of Taiwan had to the way PRC government handled things after media freedom was granted in Taiwan. Compare that to Taiwan, the latter was like a heaven. If you are a Taiwanese, would you agree and identify with the PRC that represented China?

《Missiles Crisis》
(Translator note: referring to the 1995-1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis.)

If the US declares a no-fly zone for missiles tests 50 km out the seas of Shanghai and Guangzhou and prohibits any passing of ships because of something Chinese people believe is inconsequential, and CNN plays video showing military exercises everyday as if the US is declaring war against China. As a Chinese, would you take offense at the showing-off of the Americans?

Because in 1995 when Taiwan’s President Lee Tung-hui visited the US and in 1996 planned the first ever direct election of the ROC President and Vice President, the PRC considered these events to be acts for Taiwan-independence. PRC thus tried to interfere with the election by holding missile tests in 1995 and 1996. The missiles landed near the two largest ports of Taiwan, Keelung and Kaohsiung. At the same time, the People’s Liberation Army held numerous military exercises as part of the scheme to intimidate the Taiwanese electorate. China Central Television (CCTV) broadcasted segments of the military exercises daily to build the scene as if war against Taiwan was going to start.

The ROC Military had entered combat mode during that time, while many countries were prepared to evacuate their nationals from Taiwan. For people of Taiwan, we were just electing a President, and PRC responded so aggressively. This sent a message: PRC is an invader.

Among the PRC propaganda, one sentence that frequently appears is “Chinese don’t fight against Chinese.” But what was demonstrated in 1995 and 1996 by the PRC military showed that PRC didn’t really see people of Taiwan as brothers and sisters, or “Chinese”. It was because we were not Chinese, so the PRC government reacted this way.

Because of the action of PRC, people of Taiwan were united against the PRC, which significantly facilitated the identity shift. Lee also won the election that year by a clear majority.

《921 Earthquake》

In 1999, one of the deadliest earthquake struck Taiwan, killing more than 2,000 people and destroying and damaging more than 100,000 buildings. It was the largest natural disaster in recent Taiwanese history. While the international community extended their hands to help, the Beijing government claimed that all aids or donations needed to be managed by the Beijing government, and that foreign rescue teams needed to seek permission from Beijing to enter Taiwan. PRC delayed multiple foreign rescue teams’ arrival in Taiwan, while at the same time sent appreciations on Taiwan’s behalf as if Taiwan was a part of PRC. All these only increased Taiwan’s resentment against PRC.

《SARS Epidemic》

SARS outbreak occurred in 2003, when PRC tried to cover the epidemic situation in Guangdong  and apologized only after it spread to other countries. As the outbreak spread globally, Taiwan also became an infected area. Because Taiwan was not a member of the World Health Organization (WHO), we were unable to receive up-to-date information regarding prevention and control of SARS. Taiwan thus applied to join WHO, which received strong opposition from PRC. The then-PRC Vice Premier Wu Yi spoke to the World Health Assembly: “[to invite Taiwan to join WHO] is inconsistent with law, not logical in reason, inapplicable in this situation.” After WHA, Taiwan’s media asked the PRC Delegation: “Have you heard the needs of the twenty-three million people of Taiwan?” PRC Official Sha Zukang responded: “[Taiwan] should have been rejected a long time ago,” and further continued to say, “who cares about you?”

“WHO CARES ABOUT YOU?”

SARS was a national crisis in Taiwan. Yet the PRC government exhibited serious malfunction, to the point that it didn’t even treat people of Taiwan as “human”. Whenever this news was broadcasted in Taiwan, it hurt the feelings of the people, which contributed significantly to the Taiwan identity.

Many people in Taiwan often say that the best campaign aid to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is the Chinese Communist Party, which opposed the pro-independence DPP the most.

Other than this, many PRC policies aimed towards Taiwanese in the Mainland give Taiwanese the feeling that they are foreigners in PRC. For example, before 2003, amusement parks in PRC charged different rates for tickets to Chinese and foreigners, with foreigners paying multiple folds of what Chinese pay. Taiwanese have to buy foreigner ticket, and would be asked to repurchase a foreigner ticket if holding a Chinese ticket.

Then there’s the regulation for foreigners to enter Tibet. For foreigners to enter Tibet, the application for permission to enter Tibet needs to be approved. ROC citizens are required to apply like any other non-PRC passport holders. It should be noted that Hong Kong SAR and Macau SAR passports holders do not need to apply for permission.

From my personal experience, once I attended a group gathering in Beijing. The event was held at the All Sages Bookstore on Cheng Fu Road. One of the people who also came was a Taiwanese student studying at the China University of Political Science and Law. As it was getting very late, there was no chance for him to return to his dormitory because of curfew. The hosting organization thus booked a room for him at a inn next to the bookstore. Since the event went on after midnight, there are regulations that stated everyone have to register their PRC Resident Identity Card for lodging. Because people from Taiwan living in PRC don’t have the PRC Resident Identity Card, the student tried to use his Mainland Travel Permit for Taiwan Residents to register. (Translator note: PRC government does not recognize the ROC passport as valid travel document, thus any ROC citizen wishing to work, live, or travel to PRC have to apply for this specific permit to serve as their travel document in PRC. ROC has similar policies towards PRC citizens.) However, the hotel staff, upon seeing the travel permit, made it clear that they could not allow foreigners to check-in and stay in their hotel after midnight. The staff from the hosting organization was not happy with this and tried to argue with reasons such as no such regulation exists, Taiwan is a part of China, etc. The hotel staff only had one thing to say: “Taiwanese are foreigners, go ask the Beijing Public Safety Bureau, it’s their regulation, we can not take in foreigners after midnight.” The hotel staff then proceeded to ask us to leave.

One of the Chinese students sighed and said, no wonder people say that when people of Taiwan come to Mainland China, “blue turns green, green turns dark green.” (Translator note: in Taiwan, political parties fall into two informal groups: the Pan-Blue Coalition 泛藍 and the Pan-Green Coalition 泛綠. The Pan-Blue is consists of KMT and other parties that prefer the identity of Chinese nationalists and promote greater economic linkage with PRC. The Pan-Green is consists of DPP and other parties that favor Taiwan-independence over unification with PRC. Blue and green are often viewed as the two ends of Taiwan’s political spectrum.)

So even under the roof of PRC, Taiwanese get the clear message that “Taiwanese are not Chinese”. Even 40 years of brainwash by the KMT regime is removed completely. And this is one impressive achievement of the Chinese Communist Party.

The proportion of people identifying themselves as Taiwanese did not increase significantly during the Chen Shui-bian government (2000-2008), mostly because of the antipathy people felt towards Chen’s painstaking effort to build his version of Taiwan-based identity. But after 2008, with Ma Ying-jeou being the President with pro-China policies, the trend of identifying oneself as “Taiwanese” became a ship that sailed far and beyond. No matter how hard Ma tried, there’s no stopping from people of Taiwan identifying themselves as Taiwanese.

The PRC Government actually has a hand in this by claiming that ROC does not exist, and that Taiwan is a province of PRC. To people of Taiwan, this is an obvious lie from the PRC government. At the same time, PRC’s policy against Taiwan is to destroy the ROC regime and the lives of Taiwanese people. Under these doubts and anxiety, why would Taiwanese feel any affinity towards “China”?

I think there must be people asking, why aren’t I mentioning any benefits Taiwan receive from PRC? Because it is human nature to remember the wrongdoing of others instead of the benefits. Just like when most Chinese people mention the US or Japan, the first thing that comes to mind would be American imperialism and the Japanese invasion of China during WWII. They won’t think of the aid China received from the US after WWII with inventions of modern technology, or the loans and other gratuitous assistance Japan provided China after WWII.

Imagine this: you are a boy, and you are trying to win the heart of a wonderful girl. You try to please her in every way possible, while at the same time impose violence upon her. Do you think you will ever win her heart?

PRC often sternly requests other nations to not “hurt the feelings of Chinese people.” If China still thinks that Taiwanese people are Chinese, can China stop hurting the feelings of its own people first? (Translator note: view the map of nations that have hurt the feelings of Chinese people.)

3. Taiwanese could not find a cultural identity to associate with

To make Taiwanese feel that Taiwanese culture is a part of Chinese culture and to identify themselves as Chinese: the easiest way to achieve this is to let Taiwanese feel that the culture in Taiwan now is the same as that in Mainland China. But due to the six decades of separation, people on different side of the Taiwan Strait have lived under different social system and climate. Thus the evolution of culture on the two sides and their attitudes toward traditional cultures have also varied significantly. It is this difference that makes Taiwanese feel the difference between Taiwan and China.

In terms of cultural evolution, the two sides of the Taiwan Strait have been through different political systems and their own historical events since 1949. This caused cultures in Taiwan and China, both originally part of the Sinosphere, to diverge. For example, the use of traditional and simplified written Chinese made the dictionaries of the two sides completely different. It is very likely that one day the difference in vocabulary between Taiwan and China will be more varied than the difference between British and American English.

Not to mention that people of Taiwan and China seldom have the same feeling or reaction toward the same event. For example, when Liu Xiang won the gold medal in the Olympics, Chinese people felt proud as ever while Taiwanese people felt nothing. On the other hand, when Chien-Ming Wang won in the MLB, Taiwanese people felt happier than ever while Chinese people had no idea who he is. The difference is even more obvious toward political events, for example when President Lee Tung-hui visited the US in 1995, Chinese and Taiwanese people had completely opposite reactions.

In terms of preservation of traditional cultures, significant difference exists between the two sides. Because of the “breaking down the four olds, setting up the fours news” and related activities in the Cultural Revolution, the Mainland China was not friendly towards the traditional cultures. This was one main reason where cultures in Taiwan and China diverged.

For example in the folk religions of Taiwan, our Buddhism and Taoism both have their roots traced to Mainland China. Mazu in Taiwan could be traced to Meizhou, Putian, Fujian. Sanshanguowang (literally “god of the three mountains”, an important deity for the Hakka people) could be traced to Chaozhou, Guangdong. But because of the Cultural Revolution, significant number of temples in Mainland China were damaged or destroyed, for example, the Mazu Temple in Meizhou and the Sanshanguowang Temple in Chaozhou. Statues in temples were destroyed, the building of the temples themselves were teared down, worship ceremonies were halted, while religious staff had to undergo struggle sessions and other prosecutions. Even though after reform many temples received assistance from their counterparts in Taiwan, the feelings of coming from the same origin are very much lost.

Moreover, as PRC promotes materialism and is officially an atheist state, religious activities are discouraged. The religious activities such as incense-offering and pilgrimage often seen in Taiwan ceased to exist in Mainland China. What originally was part of the traditional Chinese daily life grew deep roots in Taiwan instead. In the eyes of Taiwanese people, the so-called religious ceremonies and traditional activities in China have more value in performance than in the actual religious ideas. In Taiwan, they are part of the daily life.

And because the Chinese Communist Party has strict restriction towards religions, the CCP organization is a deep part of of any religious organizations, creating many religious staff who often do not follow the teaching of the religions they are supposed to be serving. Buddhist monks often do not behave like monks, while daoshi (Taoism monks/priests) don’t behave like daoshi. The head of the Shaolin Temple on Songshan, Henan is given the title “CEO of Shaolin Temple”, commercializing the temple and made it lose the solemnity it is supposed to have.

On the other hand, Taiwan is an obvious contrast. The attitude towards folk religion and traditional cultures are completely different in Taiwan. Every town in Taiwan grows around the local central temple. The temple serves as a gathering place in farming villages for all sorts of different functions. Sometimes the temple even becomes where street food stands gather, creating night markets.

To worship the gods is a part of Taiwanese people’s lives (except for atheists and people believing in other religions). People go to the temples to ask for help when encountering any types of difficulties. From a modern perspective this might seen unscientific and superstitious, but people still follow the habits of their ancestors to ask for help from the gods. You can find couples asking for love from the Old Man under the Moon; students preparing for important exams asking for a smooth exam-taking from Wenchang Dijun (god of culture and literature); and wedded women asking for a healthy child from the the Maiden who brings Children. All these could be seen in temples around the island at any given point of time. While people relate their problems and hope to the gods in a faithful manner, what they are actually doing for the most part is showing their appreciations for the gods.

So in the Taiwanese religions, you will find people’s attitudes toward anything un-materialistic are sincerity, honesty, and respect. This spirit of sincerity, honesty, and respect is what symbolizes the Chinese culture, but these traditional values just don’t seem to exist in the hearts of Chinese people anymore.

Thus in terms of preserving traditional values, China has truly disappointed Taiwanese people. This with separate cultural evolution after 1949 made Taiwan feel the obvious differences that exist between itself and China.

Taiwanese consider themselves to be people living in the modern Chinese culture. They like Chinese culture and identify with Chinese culture. But to make one thing very clear: the Chinese culture Taiwanese people identify with is not the same Chinese culture in modern Mainland China.

4. China’s reputation around the world: PRC has made “China” unpopular

Even though PRC claims that it has restored its glory as a world power and is the second largest economy in the world, the difference in national values and materialistic society have led to people with hollow spiritual views and collapse of social morality. Foreigners could only describe what they saw in the Chinese society as “shocking”.

A while ago in Foshan, Guangdong, a cargo truck ran over a two-year old girl and fled the scene, a sad story. But what was more shocking was that the 18 people who walked by didn’t seem to care enough to help the injured girl. It wasn’t until she was ran over by a second cargo truck when a junkman, considered to be at the bottom social class, tried to help. But at that point it was already too late, and the girl passed away in a hospital.

This was definitely not a special case. Different incidents that suggest the collapse of social morality in Mainland China were discovered very frequently. Having one or more concubine(s), taking public instruments for private use, being sued for helping a fallen old man, illegal cooking oil, melamine contamination in protein adulteration,  lean meat powder are all examples that we heard of frequently.

Chinese economy took off and develops vigorously after the reform in 1978, making China a power not to be neglected in the world. However, while PRC does have an admiring economic growth, there is no comparable comprehensive social welfare system or culture and values that aspire others. Thus PRC lost its way in constructing its own cultural ideology and doesn’t know where to go.

No one takes traffic lights seriously; standing in line is a luxury while cutting in is more common; people disregard other people and clamour in public; “eight honors and eight shames” are literally empty words; everyone fends for themselves is the norm. Trying to beat everyone in everything, as if being one second late to other people means being at a disadvantage, seems to be the label for Chinese people. There are too many negative examples similar to these. Of course there are people in China that persist in civilized lives, but because of the far greater number of people who are not, the image of Chinese people is said to have traveled a thousand miles and is never coming back.

In terms of national image, foreigners with different values could hardly have any understanding toward PRC. They don’t understand why PRC is so unyielding on policies towards Tibet and Xinjiang; they don’t understand why when the visibility in Beijing is less than 100 meters, it is still just considered to be “slightly polluted”; they are scared by population control through abortion; they are confused on why the government closed down the elementary school for children of farmers and laborers in Beijing, while at the same time put RMB$1,000,000,000 into Project Hope to help with education in Africa; they don’t understand why the names of school-aged children who died in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake are considered classified. They don’t understand why while millions of people live below the poverty threshold, the government is spending money on all sorts of  extravagant and wasteful activities. They don’t understand why after the Wenzhou train collision, the decision PRC made was to disassemble the trains and bury them instead of halting train operation and find out the cause for the collision. So much “don’t understand” toward PRC, that they cast a shadow over the glorious image of PRC as the second largest economy in the world.

To the Taiwanese people, these are still rather distant. Yet since policy change has made it possible for PRC citizen to visit Taiwan for tourism purposes, ordinary people in Taiwan began to have the chance to interact with Mainlanders. We saw the National Palace Museum being turned into a night market because of all the noise from Chinese tourists; we saw many Chinese tourists disregard the “No Smoking” signs and take out their cigarettes;  we even saw that the famous Queen’s Head in Yehliu had “Zhao Gen-Da from Changzhou, China was here” carved onto it; to top them all off, we saw two Mainland China tourist groups literally fight for seats on the station platform prior to boarding the trains of Alishan Forest Railway. All these uncivilized behaviors directly affected how Taiwanese people perceive “China”.

So part of the reason that Taiwanese decrease their affiliation with “China” is because that PRC has ruined the reputation of “China”.

5. A choice for a way of living

Instead of saying that Taiwanese people identify with Taiwan, it might be more correct to say that they identify with the life in Taiwan – one that combines a democractic system with a civil society.

The education one receives teaches him/her how to be a citizen, instead of having a teacher teaching him/her “the red scarf, is one edge of the national flag, and is dyed with the blood of the revolutionaries.” Children are supposed to learn in a fun environment, they shouldn’t have to bear this kind of burden, nor should they have to read political textbooks that he/she doesn’t even believe in.

After one graduates, he/she could find employment all over Taiwan and lives wherever his/her heart desires. He/she doesn’t have to worry about applying for a temporary resident permit in one’s own country. Changing one’s household registration is as simple as going to the convenience store, because the only effect the registration has is the different candidates that would be printed on his/her local election ballot. Even in the national college entrance examination, the household registration has no effect whatsoever on which school he/she could be accepted into.

Even if one is sick, he/she won’t have to worry about taking on heavy financial burden, because he/she knows that Taiwan’s National Health Insurance will help pay for his/her bills. He/she might not know that of the top 200 hospitals in the world, 14 of them are in Taiwan, third most after the US and Germany. All he/she knows is that he/she won’t have to bribe the doctor and only has to pay a small fee to enjoy high quality healthcare.

The government’s doors will always be open. The security guard at the door will ask you if you need any help with a smile on his/her face instead of checking your ID. In handling any governmental procedures, he/she will first get a cup of hot tea from a volunteer, who will proceed to tell him/her to take a number. Then he/she can relax on the sofa nearby, read papers, and wait for his/her turn. No one will cut in front of him/her. When it is his/her turn, the agency officer won’t pull a long face, but will instead finish what he/she needs with efficiency and care.

If one would like to travel abroad, he/she doesn’t have to worry about all the documentation needed, all he/she needs is a passport. He/she doesn’t have to worry about paying high amount of fees to get rejected for a visa, because Taiwan’s passport allows its citizens to travel to more than one hundred countries without visa.

One doesn’t have to worry about writing too aggressively or criticizing the government harshly on a blog and have his/her blog entry deleted. In Taiwan his/her freedom of speech is protected. One won’t have to worry about what would happen to his/her property after 70 years, because of permanent ownership, he/she could even pass on the property with the land to his/her descendants. He/she won’t have to worry about his/her house being taken apart by force, because everything he/she owns is protected by law.

If one is treated unjustly, he/she could go public by finding a reporter, or complain through his/her legislator to the public, instead of swallowing his/her tears. Even though the news he/she could see in Taiwan suggests an inharmonious society, he/she knows that these news will push Taiwan to improve itself. One is used to seeing governmental officials being chased by the media because of scandals or wrongdoings. He/she knows that with responsible media, his/her ballot holds more power.

Even though his/her food might contain plasticizer or other toxic chemical, his/her governmental officials’ attitude in handling such incidents can let him/her believe that similar incidents won’t happen again. His/her governmental official will apologize, move out of official residence, and rent with his/her own money, solely because of media coverage  on the high energy uses of the official residence. There won’t be any governmental official shouting aggressively to the media saying that “don’t use law as a shield.” Because he/she knows that he/she could vote for someone else after four years.

One is taught to be polite since a young age, so he/she is used to saying “thank you” and naturally receiving a “you’re welcome”. “Please” and “I’m sorry/excuse me” are all frequently in his/her vocabulary. When he/she takes the escalator for the MRT, he/she will automatically aligned to the right. He/she is also used to waiting for something in line.

He/she is used to living in a place where communication with the government and society is completely obstacle-free and accessible. When he/she is dissatisfied with the government, he/she could walk out to the streets to protest, and the government will respond kindly. He/she learns to tolerate other people’s thoughts. Even though he/she may not be part of the GLBT community, he/she will still take part in Taiwan Pride to support the cause.

He/she could read whatever he/she wants, and will not be reading any censored editions. He/she could publish his/her works would having to worry about authority inspection. He/she could go to any website he/she wants without seeing “Error 404 file not found”, or encounter “Based on related laws and policies, part of the search results could not be displayed” when searching for information.

HE/SHE IS USED TO LIVING LIKE THIS.

Of course, we definitely can list everything “bad” about the Taiwanese society, for example the democracy in Taiwan carries quite some populism, the quality of Taiwan’s news media could be improved a lot, the Taiwanese society still has a long way to goal to be the same as any other civilized societies in the world. But Taiwanese people know this well: under a democratic system, a civil society has the ability to adjust and improve itself. We all believe that as long as there is no external influence trying to forcibly change us, Taiwan’s society could only be better.

So rather saying that Taiwanese don’t identify themselves as Chinese, we should say that Taiwanese don’t identify with life in China. They are used to the way of living in Taiwan, and are in love with this way of living. This is why Taiwanese identify themselves as Taiwanese.

Of course, they all wish people living across the Taiwan Strait could also enjoy the same kind of prosperous lives they have.

After all these, have your doubts been answered?

Author note: Due to the limit of my knowledge and education, the last section of this article is meant to parallel part of “The Taiwan you might not know about” by Lung Ying-tai. You can also email to yanyandei@gmail.com with subject titled 索取文章, and I will send the newest copy of this file to you.

15 thoughts on “Why don’t people of Taiwan identify with “China” NOW? — Taiwanese Perspective”

  1. Despite your lengthy article, Chinese still see Taiwanese as Chinese people living on an island named Taiwan. Cultural and political differences surely will disappear after Taiwan returns to China’s control in near future.

    1. Frankly I really don’t think what Chinese think matters, since they are not the ones living on the island named Taiwan. If anything, the will and thoughts of Taiwanese people would matter a whole lot more.

  2. “They (Foreigners”) don’t understand why PRC is so unyielding on policies towards Tibet and Xinjiang.”

    Simple. That’s because the land of and resource in Tibet and Xinjiang have nothing to do with their benefits and livelihood. Tibet and Xinjiang would never ever become their land anyway.

    Also, they would not understand why PRC is so unyielding to policies towards Taiwan. Actually, no Chinese people in mainland would approve any yielding policies toward Taiwan (that is, let Taiwan become an ‘independent’ country). That’s quite a different issue than air pollution or fake products which few Chinese in PRC would approve.

  3. I think it is better to use “Third Taiwan Strait Crisis” instead of “Missiles Crisis”. “Third Taiwan Strait Crisis” is the term that I found on Wikipedia. People would confuse the “Missiles Crisis” with the Cuban missile crisis.

  4. Taiwanese are not Chinese originally except for the ones that colonize their land in 1950’s.But since taiwanese doesn’t textbook like they did back then i don’t know why most of taiwanese still using chinese surname like liu,wang,lin and so on.

  5. Reblogged this on China From Afar and commented:
    A very lengthy but nonetheless insightful article on why Taiwanese people do not identify with Mainlanders. It comes down to indifference and sometimes outright disdain exhibited by the Communist, wildly divergent lifestyles, and unwillingness to be associated with the negative press the PRC deals with in Western Media. While I personally find some of the points contentious, I appreciate somebody from the point of view of Taiwan taking the time to write such a well thought out and well rounded explanation on why they believe themselves to be different.

  6. thanks for the wonderful article: very knowledgeable, very human, and it feels like many historical facts are portrayed accurately without becoming a grind to read. it really is a great perspective because, though some of my best friends are from taiwan, this is certainly a sensitive issue that we dont normally bring up in our conversations.

    i am born and raised in hong kong, have lived there for one third of my life, and although hong kong is no taiwan in any respect, i can share so many of your sentimentalities and feelings toward the “chinese” tag. in many respects i am grateful for taiwan, because the historical (i’m going to be extra careful with my choice of words here), the historical chinese culture and values are much better preserved over there. i feel that hong kong used to be able to do this too even though we were under british rule before 97, but has deteriorated drastically ever since the hand over, so much so that it is now devolving rapidly into something perhaps worse than the frequently ridiculed mainland chinese society. there is almost certainly no “chinese”ness left in our daily lives, and society seems to be ruled by nothing but the amount of money in your bank account. the every man for himself mentality is the predominant way of life. worse of all, we are afraid to act against authority, and we bow our heads down to the PRC officials and policies even though they are going to send us on a one way street to hell.

    as a child, i was quite happy to tell people i was chinese (even though i grew up in an expat environment that would make me the odd one out). now in my late twenties, i seriously differentiate myself from the (mainland) chinese. and who cares about whats printed on my passport. the Qing chinese didnt give a rat’s ass about us in the first place, which was why we got owned by the british, who played their cards right and were generally popular amongst the older generation, but still they didn’t truly give a crap about us, and lastly, the chinese PRC in charge of us now surely, most surely, give the least of all above us.

    oh i love ranting about this sort of stuff, perhaps i should start a similar blog just like yours, with the title “why dont people of hong kong identify with china now”. deep down inside of one of my fantasies, i would wish to see the ROC liberate us from the PRC rascals who are running the show right now.

  7. I think few will respond in the negative when asked,「你是不是中華民國國民?」(Are you a citizen of the ROC). The real issue lies when the identification of “China” with the PRC; in most formal occasions, people avoid referring to the PRC as “China” (中國), for fear that others may interpret this as a political statement (denying that the ROC is China). And indeed the use of「中國」to mean the PRC is very much a political statement, even without passing comment about the PRC.

    On the other hand, the Chinese individual recognizes several related but separate identities — ancestral home (祖籍), residence (戶籍), and nationality (國籍). In terms of the first, since Chinese people tend to be connected to his family’s origin and history, most people living in Taiwan can consider their ancestral home to be somewhere in China, the Aboriginal peoples excepted; the second denotes the permanent personal residence, and many citizens who live abroad don’t have 戶籍; the third is more contentious as some don’t think of the PRC as a country, others don’t think of the ROC as a country, and still others think Formosa is still legally Imperial Japanese territory or under US occupation. The first two identities generally don’t arouse as much attention because both are understood to be within China, after all…

    A: 「先生祖籍何處?」
    B: 「中國。」
    A: 「中國何處?」
    B: 「中國。」
    …ad infinitum…

    And there’s also the issue of clusivity. A person from Canton is understood to be from China as well — because Canton is in China physically, politically, and culturally, for the past two millennia. If two Chinese-looking person meet, they oft do not restate that they are from China, but state with more precision their origins, such as Taichung, or Nanking.

  8. I’m Taiwanese, my ancestors are from Okinawa, who adopted Chinese name since China Nationalist Party wanted to expel the Japanese. My grandfather was forced to use Chinese name, while my grandmother is of the Taiwanese aboriginal Amis race…. so I’m Chinese too?

    Do you know Vivian Hsu, Jerry Yan, and Vic Chou ? They all are Atayal race Taiwanese aboriginal….

  9. Taiwanese are not that different from Chinese, there are a lot of fake and hazardous products found in Taiwan in recent years, and those products are local made. The idea of “Taiwanese are superior” is only lies in their head.

  10. Taiwan belongs to Taiwan’s Aborigines. The Portuguese were the first people who found Taiwan, that is why Taiwan also called “Formosa” in the old days. Then there were Dutch and Spanish people lived there. Then the Chinese took over Taiwan. Soon after that The Japanese occupied Taiwan for 50 years, and there were mix marriage of Taiwanese and Japanese couples. How can people say Taiwan is part of China or called Taiwanese is Chinese ??? Taiwanese is Taiwanese, Chinese is Chinese. They don’t mix.

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