Part II, Deconstructing Taiwan's Past in Search of its Identity

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Saturday June 26, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

When a colonizing nation approaches an imagined geography and seeks to impose its imagined community on that geography/colony, a natural Hegelian dialectic develops. The colonizer imposes its sense of imagined community; the colonized already possessing their own sense of imagined community (if even subconsciously) resist in a dynamic process. The result is a hybrid or different identity. One can ask, why should present twenty-first century Taiwanese be concerned with this continuous process dating back to its Dutch, Spanish, Koxinga and later Manchu periods? The importance lies in the fact that this dialectic has been continuously there from the start. It is part and parcel of Taiwan's ongoing history and has thus helped form the unique identity of what it means to be Taiwanese. The roots of Taiwan's identity and future imagined community are the continuous result of dialectical resistance and development. It is in realizing this dialectic with its economic role that Taiwanese begin to see scope and uniqueness of how their history is not China's history, and how China's history is not Taiwan's history.

By 1644 after the Dutch had expelled the Spanish, other things were happening on the continent that would affect Taiwan. The Manchu Empire was expanding and taking over China. As they conquered province after province, one loyalist Zheng Cheng-gong (Koxinga) tried to make a stand in Fujian. His armies even laid siege to Nanking in an attempt to take it (1659). Zheng may have been a good sea captain, but on land, he failed and was subsequently pushed back to Amoy (Xiamen). With the hand writing on the wall, he sought a place of escape. Though there was a strong Chinese community in Manila; Zheng chose to go to Taiwan. His coming was different from that of the Dutch and Spanish; they had come to improve their desired economies; he came foremost on the run for survival. After a nine month siege of Fort Zeelandia, he forced the Dutch to leave (1662). After achieving that goal, he faced another problem, how to support the large influx of his army and followers while he hoped to retake China. In this he continued the agricultural system of the Dutch and used their established form of taxation to this. As a result, he soon found himself as unpopular as the Dutch had been. He died before the year was out, and his son Zheng Jing inherited his problem of sustaining the 25,000 plus troops. In trying to develop the economy, the latter Zheng sought to return to the past trade that the Dutch had built up. He also brought additional refugee Ming loyalists to build up his forces on Taiwan.

Enter at this point the English who were eager to develop trade with China. To avoid the Portuguese dominance at Macau, the English tried to help out the Zheng forces. They built a trade factory on Taiwan (1670) and began trading with Zheng Jing's forces in Amoy (Xiamen), hoping of course that Zheng would be able to hold out against the Manchus. England did not look on Taiwan as a desired geography; it was only viewed as a part of their China trade strategy. Shepherd references this (Chapter 4), but Morse's "The Chronicles of the East India Company Trading to China, 1635--1834" provides greater detail on Taiwan's role for England. To their dismay, they backed the wrong horse. Zheng Jing's forces would be isolated on Taiwan and later capitulate to the Manchus. During this time as payback, the Dutch assisted the Manchus in defeating Zheng's ships in a sea battle off of Amoy; they also re-captured Keelung and defended it from Zheng's forces. "The (English) factory at Amoy was now in a state of suspended animation, while that at Taiwan was again restored to life; but the time of the factory at Taiwan was occupied chiefly in paying bribes to Shi Lang (called in the records Sego and Secoe) and his officers, in resisting the exactions of the Manchu soldiers, in trying vainly to recover their outstanding debts, and in seeking for the permission of the Manchu officials to withdraw the factory." (Morse pp. 48-49)

After the Manchu Qing prevailed over the Ming in Taiwan, the English had found the tariffs of Shi Lang, the Qing overseer, were too high and they were forced to go back to trading with China through the Portuguese in Macau. Much later in the 1840s, the English would overcome the problem of the Portuguese monopolistic influence by their importing of opium into China and creating the Opium Wars. This would in turn give them the reason to establish themselves in Hong Kong; it would become their desired territory and a major colony. The second Opium War would later affect Taiwan with the opening of treaty ports not only in China but also on Taiwan where tea was becoming a sought after commodity. The British afterwards returned to Taiwan and established a consul there in 1860, but it was in Hong Kong that they imposed their imagined community.

Taiwan had lost its role as a desired geography for the Dutch by the late 17th century. In consolation they kept their control of trade with Japan as a middleman through the port city of Nagasaki. Their position was similar to that of the Portuguese in Macau. The Dutch would maintain this Japanese advantage until other Japanese ports were forced open by Admiral Perry and the newcomer Americans in 1854.

Back on Taiwan, the victorious Manchus (1683) immediately began repatriating the Ming loyalists back to China. Qing garrisons would hold key cities on Taiwan's west coast for the next 200 years. Their initial motivation was simply to keep any Ming forces from occupying the island as a base but Taiwan would later develop as a part of a desired economy more specifically for Fujian Province. The Qing attitude and desire toward Taiwan would gradually change over the next 200 years, and the Qing Emperor would eventually see it as a desired geography worth colonizing and conquering. This is well portrayed in Teng's book. That change was hastened in response to Japanese and other countries ambitions for Taiwan in the latter 19th century but it was too late. The Japanese would replace the Manchu Qing as the next occupiers of Taiwan (1895). Since they would be the first to control the whole island of Taiwan, and impose their imagined community on it, they would unite all groups present in a dialectical resistance. I posit that this is the starting point of the development of a homebred Taiwanese identity and sense of a united imagined community, a point I made in my paper on the "Yellow Tiger Flag" (NATSA conference 2007). Taiwan's history is not China's history, and China's history is not Taiwan's.

Japan made no bones about how all of Taiwan was a desired geography and why they sought to impose their imagined community on it. It was to be their model colony. This is best expressed perhaps in Takekeoshi's Japanese Rule in Formosa. "Western nations have long believed that on their shoulders alone rested the responsibility of colonizing the yet unopened portions of the globe, and extending to the inhabitants the benefits of civilization; but now we Japanese...wish as a nation to take part in this great and glorious work." (Takekeoshi, vii) Taiwan was desired now both for its economic advantage but also as a symbolic step in the Japan's coming of age in the world community. Davidson's The Island of Formosa, Past and Present gives ample chapter space on Taiwan's economic contributions in commodities such as tea, camphor, sugar, coal, sulphur, salt and even tobacco and economical plants to Japan as early as 1903.

During this time, Taiwan reacted in dialectical resistance, and the desire for home rule and representation grew. Ironically Taiwan's representation in the Japanese Diet would finally come in 1945 when Japan lost the war and a new "colonial power" the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) arrived with the wish to impose its imagined community. Nevertheless, the Japanese influence did have its effect. Today, many elderly Taiwanese still speak Japanese and have a strong attachment to that language and country. Peng Ming-min who ran for president in 1996, related personally to this author that he is most at home in the Japanese language. Lee Teng-hui, Taiwan's first popularly elected president is well known for his liking of Japan. But after World War II, Taiwan again faced one more attempt of outsiders to impose an imagined identity on the island. This combination of rump state (on Kinmen and Matsu) and government in exile (on Taiwan) was colonial in nature.

World War II ended in 1945, but before the Treaty of San Francisco (1952) the KMT forces of Chiang Kai-shek had well occupied the island. It was first a desired territory for them because it could contribute materials and manpower to Chiang's war effort against the Communists in China. They denuded the island. Then when they lost the Civil War in China (1949), they had no where else to go but Taiwan. It now became a desired geography out of necessity. Despite this, the San Francisco Treaty did not grant Taiwan to the ROC.

Like the Japanese, the colonial KMT forces came to the island and treated the Taiwanese as 2nd class citizens. They sought to impose their imagined community upon the people. Taiwanese language was banned in school; a steady indoctrination program was begun. However, the same dialectic that had gone on continuously between successive invaders and those on the island continued. Now as Taiwan emerges from that period, Taiwanese must realize that an important and final step in the dialectic is to break free of the brain-washing and influence of what can be called the KMT Stockholm Syndrome, where some Taiwanese still sympathize with their immediate past overlords. Taiwan's problem in this regard is that it has never satisfactorily dealt with transitional justice nor had an honest assessment of the stolen state assets, two major cans of worms that still remain to be honestly dealt with.

Those who do not understand their past are condemned to repeat it. Leading up to the present, Taiwanese must see how their island has always filled the role of a desired economy and desired geography for outsiders who then saw it as an imagined geography. For the Dutch, the Spanish and the Japanese, Taiwan was seen as a desired geography in line with their desired economies. For the Ming loyalists and later the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Taiwan was desired first as a needed place to escape to; economic attachment developed afterwards once these forces realized they had no place else to go. This is the hard truth of the ROC rump state/government in exile. All this is important, because now with the "Consensus of 1996," Taiwanese for the first time in history can freely elect their president; further the people are able not only to elect their leaders but also to make their economy their own and to forge their own imagined community.

What makes a national identity? Ernest Renan simply defined a nation as the desire of a people to live together. Their living together can be because they have done great things together and/or because they wish to do more or greater things together. As Taiwanese examine their history, in addition to their constant resistance to imposed imagined communities, one of the greatest things that the Taiwanese have done together is to establish a democracy. Whether they are blue or green, Hoklo, Hakka, aborigines, waishengren, benshengren etc. the Consensus of 1996 is one item that does clearly unite them.

After having created its democracy, Taiwanese must see they have more great things ahead of them. They can influence and control their economy and their way of life. The president must answer to the people; he can be replaced if he does not take the country where it wants to go. This is why the current ECFA agreement has attracted such attention on Taiwan where the president ignores the demands of the people for transparency, for discussion and for even a referendum.

With the 1996 consensus, Taiwanese have the first real sense of an imagined community within the boundaries of their island nation. I personally find it very strange that president Ma Ying-jeou repeatedly clings to the desired fantasy of the outmoded Constitution of 1947. This constitution gives Taiwan the implied directive to rule China. In this Ma resembles the late Chiang Kai-shek who clung to the dream that he would go back to China and win the Civil War. Lee Teng-hui as President gave up that dream in 1991, but Ma has revived it. Further, President Ma with the use of phrases like "zhonghua minzu," and advocating "Chinese wisdom" to solve Taiwan's cross-strait problems plays up only one part of what contributes to Taiwan's imagined community.

Taiwan is at an important juncture in its destiny. Taiwan's future and its economy are for the first time in its history in the hands of its citizens; it can continue to create and control a clear Taiwanese imagined community. At the same time however, Taiwan must also acknowledge that there is another dangerous enemy at the gates. China sees Taiwan both as a desired economy and as a desired geography. Further, Taiwan's strategic position provides many hegemonic benefits to China including the needed access to Blue Water for China's navy.

There are many reasons why China would like to impose its imagined community on Taiwan. Some within Taiwan may even wish to aid and abet China in that endeavor, but Taiwanese hopefully are beginning to realize that their island nation and the defining of their identity and imagined community are their choice. Taiwan has always had its dialectic of resistance to outsiders. Taiwan's history is not China's history; and China's history is not Taiwan's history. Taiwan's shame is not China's shame and China's shame is not Taiwan's shame. Taiwan's goals are not China's goals and China's goals are not Taiwan's goals. If Taiwanese can keep this focus, they will be able to control their economy, resist any future colonialism and create their own imagined community.

Works Cited:

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities, London: Verso, 1991.

Brown, Melissa J. Is Taiwan Chinese? Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 2004.

Campbell, W.M., Formosa Under the Dutch, Taipei: SMC Publishing Inc., 2001 (reprint of 1903 original)

Corcuff, Stephane ed. Memories of the Future, Armonk New York: M.E. Sharpe, 2002.

Davidson, James W. The Island of Formosa Past and Present, Taipei: SMC Publishing Inc., 1992. (reprint of 1903 original)

De Beauclair, Inez ed. Neglected Formosa, Chinese Materials Center Inc. San Francisco, 1975

Keating, Jerome F. Taiwan, the Search for Identity, Taipei: SMC Publishing Inc., 2008.

Mateo, Jose Eugenio Borao. The Spanish Experience in Taiwan, 1626 - 1642, Hong Kong University Press, 2009,

Morse, H. B. The Chronicles of the East India Company Trading to China, 1635==1834 Vol. I-V. London: Oxford Clarendon Press, 1926.

Said, Edward. Orientalism, New York: Vintage, 1979.

Shepherd, John Robert, Statecraft and Political Economy on the Taiwan Frontier, 1600--1800, Taipei: SMC Publishing Inc. 2005.

Takekoshi, Yosaburo. Japanese Rule in Formosa, (trans. George Braithwaite), Taipei: SMC Publishing Inc. 1996. (reprint of 1907 original).

Teng, Emma Jinhua. Taiwan's Imagined Geography, Taipei: SMC Publishing Inc., 2004.