Toward a new 21st century Taiwan
the Aborigines’ themselves ought to be nurtured so as to enable them
to hold their own cultural traditions in esteem and be proud of being Taiwan’s original peoples.
As the consequence of Taiwan’s 2000 presidential election, the Kuomintang political party was obliged to finally relinquish power after nearly half century of rule, and the victorious Democratic Progressive Party won its first chance to prove its worthiness as Taiwan’s ruling party. This constitutes an unparalleled creative turning point in Taiwan’s history since, more than being a matter of change of ruling parties and opening of a new chapter in the development of democracy, it marks the beginning of a brand new historical and cultural era, in which the Taiwan people will gradually leave behind there historical legacy of sorrow and with new confidence become their own masters and form a nation of their own making. The transition of ruling parties, however, only offers an opportune moment for historical development. Heretofore, the country’s constitutional system has long been manipulated by an autocratic regime as a tool of repression, and education and social culture has been enveloped in a miasma of “Big China" consciousness posing a variety of difficulties on its road to creation of a democratic nation with respect to adjustment of its internal social consciousness, structuring of its polity, and its sovereign, independent status. For this week’s Window on Taiwan, the Taiwan News has invited Chang Yen-hsien, Curator of the National Museum of History, to examine the recognition of historical facts with which the people of Taiwan must be equipped at this momentous turning point in its historical development as well as the ideals and confidence they must possess as they move forward and grapple with all manner of difficulties and dangers.
Taiwanese fatalism under the oppression of alien rule
Throughout nearly all of Taiwan’s recorded history, its people have constantly lived under the domination of alien powers. Expressions of opposition have met with brutal suppression, the more severe expressions of which have been executions and even extinguishing of entire family and clan lineages, more lenient expressions being imprisonment and blacklisting, rendering victims unable to establish themselves as viable members of society. Despite the reasonableness of their opposition, the fate of protesters has been loss of life or material well-being. Having learned such bloody lessons and having felt the cruelty of politics and the heartlessness of the world over a protracted period of time, the people of Taiwan have understandably come to have a pervasive society-wide sense of pessimism and helplessness, daring not to stand upright, move bravely forward, and speak out for social justice, opting instead to mind their personal businesses and let the world go its way. They have become strong in forbearance but weak in taking bold action. This character of Taiwan’s people is clearly reflected in the deep sorrow evoked by much of their literature and musical works.
This sense of fatalism nurtured by impotence in the face of historical developments until recently had nearly become the Taiwan people’s golden rule rationalization of their inadequacies. When they have voiced their dissatisfactions, it has been only to put the blame for troubles on the ruling party; and when they have behave in unprincipled ways, they have placed the blame on the years of terror which they have had to undergo — “It’s not my fault but that of the Kuomintang (KMT)." This escapist mentality has become a stumbling block in the Taiwan people’s search for the courage to face reality and become masters of their own destiny.
Transition of ruling parties: a historic opportunity
Given this mindset of resignation, although there have indeed been those who have dared to stand up and resist the injustices of the former KMT regime, they have until recent times always constituted the minority. While the Taiwan people have wished for a change of governors and looked forward to the KMT’s removal from power, very few had faith in the possibility of actually realizing such aspirations. The 2000 presidential election, therefore, was particularly momentous, for it changed that sense of “mission impossible:" the KMT did in fact lose its leadership position to be supplanted by a home-grown political party. Now that their sorrowful historical fatalism has thus come to a turning point, and events have demonstrated that positive opposition can indeed change history, there is a need for a reappraisal and new understanding of the Taiwan people’s past history.
The genuine meaning of “nativisation"
The 2000 transition of ruling parties was a concrete realization of the ideals of “nativisation" and “democratization" espoused by [ex-President] Lee Teng-hui. The democracy movement, equated by the former KMT regime as rebellion which had to be suppressed, has now won positive affirmation and has been recognized as an imperative; and democracy movement activists and their actions have now become formal history, subject to critical analysis and evaluation. As the consequence of this momentous change of affairs, Taiwan history is now developing in the direction of greater pluralism and the concept of the people as rulers — a dramatic reshuffling of the deck of history and a chance for the once oppressed to arise. “Nativisation" by rights ought to be a matter-of-fact thing in Taiwan yet for a long time has been vilified, characterized as advocacy of a narrow, rejectionist, anti-China mentality; whereas in fact, what would truly be bizarre is a Taiwan without its own defining character.
The essential meaning of “nativisation" is the establishment of one’s own homeland’s unique characteristics. Therefore, nativisation should be understood as development of Taiwan’s cultural identity, reconstruction of its historical lineage, and realization of the dreams and aspirations of its people.
In truth, the fondest hope of the Taiwan people is to build their homeland into a place where they can live in spiritual and physical peace and security, no longer having to live in uncertainty and terror; to form a nation of their own choosing, in which they are truly their own masters and everyone is animated by a desire to devote themselves to the commonweal.
The sprouting and maturation of Taiwan independence advocacy
During the Japanese colonial era, the Taiwan people underwent a baptism of modern [Western] thought, giving rise to a polarization of progressive vs. conservative forces in politics and society. Although advocacy of self-sufficiency, self-determination and independence met with suppression by Japan and could not develop widely in the society, its spirit nevertheless survived into and throughout the period of KMT rule and, in the wake of the painful lesson of the February 28 Incident, manifested a society-jolting energy encouraging the building of an independent Taiwan nation. Despite the KMT’s swift action aimed at suppressing that spirit, it steadily grew in strength nonetheless, winning the support of the people and becoming the primary motive force animating Taiwan society. The fast-pace growth of Taiwan democratization and nativisation which occurred in the mid-to-late 1980s is the product of that spiritual force’s shaking-up of Taiwan society and its disintegration of the myth of the [legitimacy of] KMT rule — a spirit which lives on even now as the greatest force driving the transformation and reformation of Taiwan.
As of 2000, Taiwan had completed a number of partial missions — the transition of ruling parties, creation of an open and pluralistic society, securing the freedoms of speech and press, and building economic prosperity — but the failure thus far to coalesce a firm sense of national identity, and the vagueness and uncertainty of Taiwan’s international status, still trouble the spirit of its people. Hence, the as yet incomplete mission of nation-building left over from the 20th century will continue to exert its animating force in the 21st century, constituting the society’s prime objective and social issue.
Educational reform: nurturing love of Taiwan in children
Given that goal of giving form to a Taiwan nation, education in Taiwan must undergo comprehensive reconsideration and revision. Education in Taiwan ought to take Taiwan as its point of departure, gradually expanding in scope to encompass the whole world. It should introduce to Taiwan’s new generation the distinguishing characteristics of its particular history and the outstanding beauty of its culture, in addition to which it should enable them to absorb new knowledge from the rest of the world, incorporate it into Taiwan culture, and generate new culture. Only if this is taken as the standard for editing textbooks and becomes the actual content of education will the young people produced by the educational process have affection for Taiwan, treasure Taiwan, and work hard for Taiwan.
It is with respect to transformation of educational content wherein resides the primary spirit of education. Only as the result of educational reform can ways of thinking change, contemplation of the world from the vantage point of Taiwan being the foundation of Taiwan identity. Once Taiwan has become as the prime reference point for thought, Taiwan’s every blade of grass and every tree seen in that light will naturally evoke a heart-felt will to preserve Taiwan’s ecology and protect it’s environmental cleanliness. With such intent, people cannot bear to damage the land but on the contrary will cherish it, enabling its beautiful natural environment to be eternally preserved for posterity.
When one cares for the land, one naturally cares for its people. Besides the need for Taiwan’s aboriginal cultures to receive respect, the Aborigines’ themselves ought to be nurtured so as to enable them to hold their own cultural traditions in esteem and be proud of being Taiwan’s original peoples. Further, we must reexamine Taiwan’s [recorded] history and expunge from it its Han-chauvinist slant, rewriting it from an equalitarian historical perspective which not only respects the rights and interests of its aboriginal peoples but gives equal attention to other minority groups and to problems relating to sexual equality. Taiwan’s [Han] people immigrated here in waves from different regions and in different eras, and the historical experiences of every group ought to be incorporated into Taiwan history and become the shared historical, cultural heritage of all Taiwan’s people. In this way, through reexamination of the scars left by the February 28 Incident, clashes between various groups and class consciousness in a new spirit of mutual forgiveness and understanding of each other’s sentiments, we will be enabled to develop a shared sense of accomplishment, gradually easing the aches in our hearts, and, with a common consciousness which cherishes Taiwan’s historical and cultural legacy, empowered to show our love for Taiwan.
Constitutional reform and the clash between unificationist and independence mentalities
In addition to adjustment of cultural consciousness, revision of our Constitution to fit Taiwan’s needs, and building of a government predicated upon the principles of “small is beautiful," a high degree of efficiency and service to the people are also directions in which we must labor mightily. Although the Constitution was amended 6 times during the 1990s, there remain significant disparities between the Constitution on the one hand and practical reality and ideals on the other. Thus, establishment of a Constitution which conforms with Taiwan has become a matter of urgent importance. Although this will provoke debate over the question of national identity, if we fail to carry out reformation in this respect, how shall we be able to meet the future and face challenges in the international arena?
It is Taiwan’s internal problems which are after all most critical. The KMT’s long years of rule and propagandizing of a Big China identity made it impossible for a native Taiwan spirit to shine forth, creating discord with respect to social consciousness — a discord which has even been manipulated by some as a basis for interchange and considerations regarding political interest, thereby compromising possibilities for Taiwan’s continued existence. Although solutions to this problem will engender contention, resigned forbearance of an uneasiness rooted in psychic pain can be of no benefit in resolving fundamental problems. Of course, the scope of the problem encompasses the relationship between Taiwan and China, and question of whether we are to be absorbed as a part of China or to build an independent nation is one which the Taiwan’s future development must confront, in addition to its being the most influential frame of considerations in drawing up a blueprint for our future.
Building a Taiwan nation; assuming our place in the international community
Internal reform and cultivation of a distinct national identity will be reflected in our foreign relations, emphasizing the principle of Taiwan’s independent status, readmittance of Taiwan into the United Nations, assumption of Taiwan’s rightful place in the international community, and establishment of Taiwan-China relations on a foundation of equality and mutual benefit. While these problems may not be resolvable in the immediate future, the deepening and broadening of consciousness of our shared destiny as one people and the nurturing of esteem for Taiwan as a nation will be the objective tirelessly pursued by the people of Taiwan in this 21st century.
The Taiwan of the 21st century will indeed be confronted by challenges relating to consciousness adjustment, nation building, sovereignty and independence. Nevertheless, striving toward the establishment of a new nation constitutes not only the aspiration and objective of Taiwan’s people over the past century but the ongoing driving force behind its historical evolution. Although under the influence of this formative power, there must inevitably arise discord and uneasiness, our evolutionary process will nonetheless serve as a shining example of a vigorous and proud nation worthy of the world’s emulation and esteem.
Compiled and edited by Tina Lee/Translated by James Decker