Book Review by Richard Kagan Ph.D. of "Taiwan, the Search for Identity"
Friday June 27, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.
The title of this book, Taiwan: the Search for Identity, shares its name in whole and/or in part with over 220,000 published works in the Google.com list. If one were to just search for the sub-title, there would be another 4,736 identified publications. The topic of Taiwan's identity is one of the compelling issues of our time. I cannot overstate the fact that the issue of a nation's, culture's or individual's identity IS a global issue. It is much too parochial and narrow-minded to believe that it will be easily resolved or mediated by a simple resolution or formula.
The global problem makes one shudder: 28 million international refugees, and six million internal refugees. There are over a dozen major nations or islands that are divided internationally between two or more sovereign states. Perhaps the island that is most well known historically and in literature and drama is the divided status of Ireland. On the Island of Cyprus there are two contesting nations: Northern Cyprus is a Turkish supported de facto state but is unrecognized by the international community.
These states and nations make claims of empire on enclaves within their borders or islands off their shores. Taiwan is no different. Whether it is England, Argentina, Turkey, or China, there is a political and cultural battle between those who justify the claims of a past ruling colonial power, and those who justify the claims of the people who want some form of self-determination.
- F. Keating, Ph.D. author, professor and consultant has been in Taiwan since 1988. He has become a major public and popular voice for those who want a democratic Taiwan free of interference from China. He rejects the notion that China has ruled Taiwan for thousands or even hundreds of years. The first paragraph of his book sets the basic theme: "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 . . . Taiwan has had its uniqueness."
One of the major features of any authoritarian government is the control of language, especially the publication and expression of history. It is not only in war that history is the first casualty. In establishing the legitimacy of its rule, the State perpetuates andenforces its own view of history and prevents competing views.
Dr. Keating lances the iron-clad bubble of the KMT's past official history of Taiwan. In clear prose (he is a professor of English literature and language); he employs wit, humor, sarcasm, and logic to develop his theme about Taiwan's own identity. His professional training with engineers is marshaled to document mathematically, statistically, and analytically his historical narrative.
Dr. Keating's English-Chinese analysis spends over half of its time on "Debunking the Myths of Chiang Kai-shek." Although many books, articles, and talk shows have discussed this and debated this topic, Keating brings new insights. For instance, he provides a clear and revealing comparison of post-war Germany and Japan's econo/political miracles. He points out that Taiwan's post-war reconstruction was delayed, even debilitated, by the KMT Party State's control and enforcement of anti-democratic and corrupt economic policies. Rather than reveling in Taiwan's economic success, one should look at the price of that success human and otherwise and evaluate it in global terms.
Keating also brings his mathematical and engineering abilities to bear on the curious and unrepresentative election results and the composition of the current Legislative Yuan.
Dr. Keating bewails how the KMT hemorrhaged its ideology and culture onto Taiwan's society and identity. He provides a linguistic account of how the term for "Taiwanese style" changed from a derogatory slang term to a term of respect. This only happened years after the KMT lost its power to force the Taiwanese to believe in its anti-Taiwanese prejudices. However, there is still a strong legacy of the dehumanization of all things Taiwanese that prevents the local citizens from asserting and achieving their own independent identity.
Although the KMT which had lost power regained the presidency on May 20, 2008, Dr. Keating views its continuing presence as a Gothic-like specter hanging over Taiwan. The resulting shadow from the KMT's rule and influence casts a gloom and fear over many Taiwanese. The youth are afraid of becoming politicized, and consequently seek careers in economic success and personal hedonism. But most of all, they consciously ignore or disregard their own history. This is the most concrete effect of the KMT's intentional mystification of Taiwan's identity.
Perhaps the best expression of the KMT's intentional Stalinization of history is the role of Ma Ying-jeou, former Chairman of the KMT and now the President of the Republic of China. During his campaigns for the Presidency, Ma claimed that Kuo Yu-hsin, a strong advocate of democracy had not supported Taiwan's self-determination or independence. However, Keating provides pages of documentation to disprove this misrepresentation and falsification of Kuo's ideas about Taiwan's identity.
It is the duty of the reader to realize that Keating's book is a gift for anyone who wants to understand some of the key issues in Taiwan's search for identity. The argument is not couched in pedantic academic terms. It provides a platform for anyone engaged in critiquing the KMT, or in working for Taiwan's identity. Likewise, several chapters of the book are richly illustrated with kuso drawings to appeal to a younger audience.
But the reader must also apply this knowledge to the international or global context. Without support from the U.N., either the Greeks or the Turks would quickly overrun Cyprus. Without international support for Ireland's freedoms, the violence would have continued well with no end in sight. The basis for solving these problems was to avoid creating an imbalance in the decision-making powers of the two sides.
In other words, to apply this to China, it is wrong to allow an undemocratic and oppressive government in Beijing to decide anything for Taiwan. And for the Taiwanese, there is no way they can vote on their own future if they still have a pro-unification biased KMT-Party State trying to justify and glorify its undemocratic past. Only an intermediary who is committed to the international principles of human rights and law can resolve the issue, one who will see that Taiwan's problem is part of a global problem of failed states, unconcluded civil wars, and the rise of newly educated and globally active citizens.
But for now, "Taiwan: The Search for Identity" should be on every student and family's table. It provides materials for discussion and arguments. And it is the best primer available for discussing this issue in a bilingual approach. J.F. Keating. "Taiwan: The Search for Identity." (In Chinese and English). SMC Publishing Inc. Taipei, Taiwan. 2008. 118 pages with drawings.
Richard C. Kagan Ph.D.
Emeritus Professor of History
Hamline University, St. Paul. 55104