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Apr 1, 2008

Repackaging Taiwanese Nationalism

Lee Li-wei 李立偉,a graduate student in the Institute of Sociology at National Tsing Hua University, has an editorial in today's Taipei Times about the DPP's need to repackage their nationalist message. I found the article very insightful. I selectively quote to highlight some painful realities:

There is no doubt that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is a nationalist party. During the 1990s, the party had two roads to choose from: the social democratic one toward a welfare state, or Taiwanese nationalism. The DPP chose the latter and remains uncertain on the former.
The social democratic factions of the party more or less failed to make a difference. Once the DPP came to power, "business friendly" was the word, and there was little effort to make significant social reforms in welfare or tax policy -- though there was a minor tax hike.
...Over the past eight years, the DPP has used up all the nationalist resources that had accumulated in civil society and academic institutions -- Taiwan first, cultural self-awareness, language equality, historical reconstruction and so on -- by opportunistically applying them toward election campaigns without deepening the nationalist discourse and opening up a more advanced pro-localization path.
To a large degree, this is true. I wouldn't include language equality in the list, though; the DPP has done a lot to promote Hakka, Aboriginal languages and Holo Taiwanese, all without making any dent in the overwhelming preeminence of Mandarin in the education system. And language equality was never a campaign issue.

I'm not sure what the author means when he says the DPP 'used up' its nationalist resources.
After president-elect Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said he would be "Taiwanese to the death," voters were no longer able to tell the difference between the DPP and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). The reason was that the DPP's nationalist language -- love Taiwan, protect Taiwan -- was simplistic and empty, and although it could temporarily arouse the fervor of its supporters, it could not be turned into an agenda for social reform.
Also largely true. Ma was able to deflect this campaign tactic by stripping the DPP of it's flag and wrapping himself in it. And it was a thin flag --
A greater disaster for the DPP, however, has been that apart from its nationalism, it had nothing to say. During the presidential election campaign, we saw how the problem of inferior Chinese products developed from a problem of failing market mechanisms to a nationalist issue, and how the cross-strait common market went from being a conflict over economic positions to a war between Taiwan and China. In this process, the DPP built its attack along nationalistic lines by badmouthing China and instilling fear -- though it is true that the KMT did its fair share of fearmongering with all its talk about "the bad state of the economy."
Spot on, I'd say. The DPP limited it's campaign to a short 8 weeks; six of them were spent talking entirely about the green card, another nationalist issue; and the remaining two were spent on the "One China common market," with slogans meant only to instill fear.
It is not that the DPP lacks good ideas. DPP presidential candidate Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) proposed his "happy economy" concept, which had a distinct flavor of social democracy....
The details of this are interesting, but of course, Hsieh didn't spend any time talking about it.

The election tells us that the nationalist party of the past is dead. The DPP's post-election realignment must include adjustments to its nationalism. As most media outlets are inimical to the party, and since current public sentiment does not seem to be very open to ideological or systemic reform, the DPP must be cautious and pragmatic when it plays the nationalism card and focus it on building social forces rather than on political struggles.

More important, the party must move quickly to clearly explain its position on social fairness and environmental justice. This is the only way voters will be able to differentiate between the DPP and the KMT. If the DPP wants to continue calling itself a progressive party, it should lead its supporters to think about something else than nationalism.

OK, now here's what I've been waiting to talk about. The DPP doesn't seem to understand that for young voters, politically and culturally identifying as Taiwanese is a given.

People 25 and younger were not brainwashed in school into thinking they are Chinese, and so they had no backlash against that education, as elder DPP members did; most younger people have little understanding or interest in how Chiang Kai-shek or Chiang Ching-kuo's reigns affected Taiwan, and they consider it largely irrelevant.

For everyone under 28, Chen has been the only president for their entire political adulthood, and so the context in which the DPP party center considers things is very different from the context young people consider.

This is why so many young people think the DPP is just shouting a few slogans about "loving Taiwan" and "protecting Taiwan" but presenting no obvious social, environmental or economic direction for the country. Because empty sloganeering is exactly what the DPP is doing, since it does not realize the "love Taiwan" battle has basically been won already.

So if you ask me, the DPP needs to present it's nationalism in the one serious remaining point of contention between the parties -- the acceptance or rejection of "One China" (I think that nearly all citizens reject this principal, but enough of them see no harm in letting Ma talk about tourism on a vague platform related to that). Probably, this is the only place left for the nationalist message of the DPP.

Then they need to revisit the other roots of the party -- environmental and social movements.


Taiwan Echo said...

Using "younger generations don't have the experiences that elder Taiwanese had" to explain that "DPP needs to repack the Taiwanese Nationalism" seems a bit weird to me.

Because younger generation, 20-29, is in fact the only generation that Hsieh got over 50% votes.

That fact alone tells us that either DPP didn't over emphasize Taiwanese Nationalism (the younger generation is touched by something other than Taiwanese Nationalism), or the younger generation do recognize the importance of supporting Taiwanese Nationalism. Or maybe both.

Btw, a-gu, how many articles did you wrote yesterday? Geesss ... I came back 12 hr and can hardly find this article... :)

Anonymous said...

Taiwan ROC has some more significant problems than "Taiwanese Nationalism".

Because of decreasing education standards, Taiwan ROC students are no longer superior to modern counterparts in competitive countries like India and China and other countries. Taiwan ROC experienced the technological boom the last couple of decades because the international market saw workers who were clearly superior and worked at a comparatively lower price for that time. Nowadays, Taiwan ROC has gone with the flow in terms of higher wages and education is not what it was. It is slowly losing out to other countries, which effects the economy. Instead of learning useful material, too much time is spent trying to be politically correct and mollify ethnic groups in the language department. While I believe people should be free to speak whatever they want to speak as language is just a communication tool, it is a reality that Taiwanese dialects are the minority in the world. Not many people outside of Taiwan ROC or immigrants from Taiwan ROC speak these languages, and when someone is conducting a trade agreement with other countries, it is still either English or sometimes in Mandarin. That is the reality of the circumstances.

Secondly, while cultural identity is the key/root problem in Taiwan ROC politics and society, the real problem is socio-economic. These differences breed an impression of an even bigger difference in cultural identity. The only real way is to slowly rebuild competitiveness and the economy to help increase the standard of living for everyone in a capitalistic method. Creating Aborigine programs and native programs might help the feel-good factor, but does not help them get out of the cycle of societal alienation and poverty. It can be argued that respect is more important than economic improvements, but at the end of the day, the people creating these programs do not necessarily respect the recipients of these programs anymore than before. They just have a defense against attacks of discrimination now. No, the real way to help is to improve the economy and improve the standard of living across the board.

Lastly, this point is not really related to the previous ones, but just a comment in general. People argue that the KMT is discriminatory, or at least the DPP has for generations. I would argue that everyone is, that every political party or social group is. The DPP was and is just as discriminatory, Hakka clans are, the Aborigines are, and basically every other group is. The thing is that no one can really change these perceptions except time and a common goal, which should be to help Taiwan ROC become more economically involved and prosperous in an effort to solve Taiwan ROC's problems.