Taiwan's Identity: the Whole is Greater than the Sum of its Parts

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Wednesday January 30, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

As Taiwan searches for its identity, it must remember, The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This is the principle of emergence and the principle by which the identity of Taiwan should be understood. It is the proper way to perceive Taiwan's past and what makes Taiwanese to be Taiwanese. From ancient times of over 5000 years ago, when thriving aboriginal civilizations quarried jade and did a burgeoning sea-faring trade with Southeast Asia, Taiwan has had its uniqueness. It later had the influx, influence, and contributions from the Dutch, the Spanish, the Hoklo and Hakka seeking freedom, pirates, Ming loyalists, Qing conquerors; you name it and Taiwan received it. Each contributed a part, but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

In the past century however, Taiwan had two great colonizers that wanted to make the island conform to their rule and their identity. The Japanese, the first to control the whole island; imposed their rule and their language and tried to give the Taiwanese their dream of a model colony. After Japan, the fleeing Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) came and imposed their rule and their language; they promoted a different dream, the false dream of retaking what the KMT had lost. The Japanese were a majority that wanted to impose their identity on the minority Taiwanese. The KMT on the other hand were a minority that strove to impose their identity on the majority Taiwanese. In either case, the KMT and Japan have both been a part of Taiwan's past, but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

With the achievement of democracy, Taiwan is now free to look back at all the past rulers it has had and the dreams and identities that they wanted to impose. With democracy, Taiwan now has the freedom to make its own dream. While some deep blue KMT still want to impose their identity and their lost dream on Taiwan, others are beginning to recognize the importance of localization and consider changing the KMT party name to Taiwanese Nationalist Party. For Taiwan to thrive and prosper, its people must make their own dream; they must remember the distinctness of their identity and that the whole is greater than the sum (and certainly any one) of its parts.