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Jul 9, 2007

Political identity != ethnic identity

Ethnicity in Taiwanese politics is sadly important. Many people raise issues of race when talking about identity. Just because of their political stance on unification or independence, some people here in Taiwan ignore (or, exclusively embrace) any common points between Taiwanese and Chinese.

But the problem is that Taiwan and China could be identical or opposite in every other way, but one thing is unchanged: Taiwan and China are politically two countries [though historically, many Chinese states exiting side by side did not change most Chinese people's thinking that there was only one China, and that was mostly due to cultural unity].

Not nearly enough green politicians -- and I'm not talking about racists because they make so much trouble anyway -- are emphasizing the right of Taiwanese self-determination through referendum. Take comments made at a round table discussion about the Taiwanese People's Party’s 80th anniversary (that was Taiwan’s first political party). Panel members included KMT presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou and his DPP counterpart Frank Hsieh:


Ma Ying-jeou pointed out that Chiang Wei-shui (蔣渭水) had announced to an international court that “We [Taiwanese] are ethnic Chinese people (中華民族), someting that will never change,” and that people now should study Chiang’s solidarity and ethnic integrity. Frank Hsieh retorted that Chiang Wei-shui was opposed to colonial authority [more directly translated as ‘political authority coming from outside [Taiwan]], and that the KMT government – when it was un-elected by the Taiwanese people -- was fundamentally illegitimate.

Now obviously, both candidates are trying to take Chiang Wei-shui and the TPP’s mantle here to strengthen their own legitimacy. Let’s use the wikipedia entry to learn a little about this party and it’s leaders.

The party grew out of the conflict within the Taiwanese Cultural Association. By the late 1920s that organization had become largely socialist-dominated. A group of its founders met during the first half of 1927 to plan an alternative, more moderate organization. After several of their proposals had been rejected by the Japanese authorities, they finally settled on "Taiwanese People's Party" and a much diluted, vaguely worded party program. Specifically the new party officially disavowed any ambition to promote "national struggle" and declared its intention to use legal means to "affirm democratic politics", establish "reasonable economic organization" and reform "defects in the social institutions". In terms of policy it advocated the rights of Taiwanese to publish newspapers, the need to teach Taiwanese in public schools, abolition of a system of informers known as "Baojia Zhidu", removal of the need for passport when traveling to China, and reform of the farmers' associations and government monopolies.

During the party's short existence its internal politics was dominated by the struggle between the left-wing, led by Chiang Weishui (
蔣渭水), and the right-wing, represented by Peng Huaying (彭華英), to define the party's core values, particularly its position on "the class question". Whereas Chiang's faction sought to define the party as representing the interests of workers and peasants, Peng's faction took the moderate position of "working to improve their quality of life". After Chiang set up the Taiwanese Workers' Alliance as a party affiliate in February 1928, Peng resigned in protest. By early 1930 a number of conservatives had left the party (see Taiwanese Alliance for Home Rule).

By the third party congress later that year Chiang had won control of the executive committee. His proposal for a revision of the party charter was passed the following year. It admonished "bourgeoise" and "reactionary" members for not heeding the international climate, which had "strengthened the consciousness of struggle within the island's masses". The revised charter characterized the party as one to work toward the political freedom and interests of workers, peasants, the urban proletariat, and all similarly oppressed. Chiang believed that the time was ripe for a strategy that combined class and national (anti-colonial) movements.

For the most part the party was not effective in achieving its goals. On July 7, 1927 it put forward a "Statement of Recommendations", given to Prime Minister Hamaguchi Osachi, that demanded local autonomy for the island and urged freedom of speech. The following year it demanded that the colonial governor institute popular, proportionally representative ballot for some councils. Its singular triumph was in forcing the authorities to set aside budget for establishing treatment centers for opium addicts. The party successfully created international pressure by filing complaints to the League of Nations (of which Japan remained a member until the early 1930s), which then sent a representative to investigate.

So you can get a taste for this guy. He’s not really a nationalist at all, though he obviously feels Taiwan is ethnically Chinese, not Japanese, and he is not at all concerned about Taiwanese independence, much less unification with China. For him, class struggle is the most important issue while his party also supported all sorts of workers’ rights and personal freedoms (points KMT would suppress a short time later).

That leads me to my concluding attack on both Ma and Hsieh’s statements:

For Ma: Chiang Wei-shui might have felt he was ethnically Chinese, but he understood that doesn’t make him politically Chinese. Instead, he advocated rule of Taiwan by Taiwanese. And what is “ethnic integrity,” anyway?

For Hsieh: you’re basically on the mark, but not making things clear enough and doing what most people here would call "looking to the past." Chiang wasn’t just opposed to outside rule-- he was for Taiwanese self-rule. You should be arguing that no matter what a person in Taiwan feels about their ethnicity, they should support political autonomy and self-determination for Taiwan.

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