It has been almost six years since a chairman of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) journeyed to Beijing to meet the secretary general of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), now President Xi Jinping. This recent meeting in Beijing with Chu in the Great Hall of the People displayed graphic evidence telling of the gap that exists between the two societies – China and Taiwan.
The KMT Chairman Chu spoke eloquently, without referring to his notes, and looked directly at Xi and other members of the Chinese group, smiling while Xi, made little eye contact. Chu exuded confidence; Xi, detachment.
There was a complete absence of any substantive talking points during the meeting, where Xi and Chu restated the same old platitudes with Chu emphasizing “one China” too much for comfort, only highlighting the word-game interplay. So does this difference in style mean that the gap that exists between the two societies continues due to their irreconcilably different political systems, or what?
In fact, it’s not just different political systems that’s on display here. Just as in Hong Kong an increasing number of locals, particularly the younger generation, want to speak of themselves as Hong Kongers, or if you push them Hong Kong Chinese, likewise in Taiwan, they want to be seen as Taiwanese – just as with Singaporeans who no longer have to qualify themselves as Chinese, which additional information can be seen as surplus. Though there are the Malays, the Indians etc who might object.
Now would this meeting between these heads be different if a non-KMT leader was in the dialogue? After all, the kuomingtang has an awful, more like it disgraceful record, not only in China but also in Taiwan. This begs a backward glance into Taiwan and the Taiwanese.
Taking Formosa Betrayed as reference, by George Kerr, a knowledgeable writer on Formosan affairs, it can be learned that: “A seesaw conflict between this island and the continent has been in evidence for at least two thousand years. The earliest Chinese notices of Formosa indicate that it was sparsely settled by fierce non-Chinese barbarians long before the Chinese themselves pushed southward from their homeland in the Yellow River basin to settle along the Fukien coast.”
The Japanese were more familiar with the island and had a small settlement there near today’s Tainan which they named Takasago. It was the Europeans that made the first major impression thereabouts though, with the Spanish forts that by 1626 were in in Keelung and Tamsui on the northern tip. Later, it was the Dutch which nation set-up on the Pescadores – then populated by Chinese fishermen – from whence they could raid the Portugese and Spanish traders.
The Japanese presence faded with Japan’s Seclusion policies forbidding Japanese to travel overseas. Then the Dutch Protestants ousted the Catholic Portugese and took over. As the Dutch organised affairs very well a local economy arose and Formosa started to attract immigrants and China at that time which was uproariously dis-harmonious became a generous if unwitting source. Warlordism and injustices were rife and this drove ordinary Chinese as farmers, tradesmen and artisans to leave the tumult and despite edicts disallowing it, emigrated to the island – also to other destination all across South Asia.
“These ‘outlaws’ were the ancestors of the majority of people living on Formosa today. They were hardy pioneers, bold and adventurous.” “The aborigines contested every advance into the hills and the Chinese newcomers, on their part, considered the savages to be sub-human, or ‘non-people’ who should be driven back into the highest mountains if they could not be exterminated in the foothills.”
The Europeans were hard masters so when Koxinga (Cheng Cheng-kung) arrived on the scene the Chinese residents gave him full support in his battle against the Dutch, who were driven out by 1662. Thus, Formosa (Tung-tu) became his base to fight the invading Manchu and restore the Chinese Ming court.
In the decades that followed, a grandson of Koxinga negotiated a peace settlement and retired from that heady commitment. This resulted in Peking sending a garrison and administrators to the island but unfortunately for all concerned the authorities episodic exploits over two centuries only brought resentment and hostility to and by the locals, which gave rise to the saying in China, referring to the island: “Every three years an uprising; every five years a rebellion.”
Over the ensuing years the island was notorious for its anarchistic character of violent clannish behaviour and was out of control and it was not until Japan, having defeated China in war in 1895, took over that order was restored and piracy suppressed.
Of course the Japanese effected that control with a very strong stick but once they had showed who was boss a lawful state was imposed – though Mr Kerr admits the law was mor lawful for some than for others but in general a capable society was developed and the Formosans lived in their way among the Japanese rulers and made a life for themselves.
George Kerr came on the scene personally with the US forces in the early 1940s and observed how the Chinese once again let their own side down, this time under Chiang Kai-shek and the KMT party – totally corrupted – which gang plundered all and sundry to their own final demise, and brought their disrepute to bear on Taiwan, nee, Formosa.
That’s the strange situation of Taiwan today. China sees it as Chinese territory but the Taiwanese abhor that given their past experiences of mainland rule. Now its an economic invasion under the tutelage of a reborn Communist Party that has its Communist side watered down and its Chinese Characteristic side blooming with an effervescent materialism-cum capitalism. Mainly though, China does not want a ‘Cuba’ on its doorstep and cries for independence freeze the Chinese leadership into attention.
Under this circumstance observers have to try and understand the dilemma that while the locals have to seek what’s seen as best for them – and everyone loves independence – certain quarters seek independence for wrong motives. They do not seek it to provide better for the people but for their own interests and power-wealth-grabbing propensities.
Anyway, seeing the different stances of Mr Xi and Mr Chu at this recent meeting the complexity of the matter should not be underestimated! On hindsight a more apt title for Mr Kerr’s writing would be China Betrayed.