[Marxism] Taiwan

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Apr 28 07:46:50 MDT 2005

(Apologies if this was posted already.)

New Left Review 32, March-April 2005

As tensions are ratcheted up across the Taiwan Strait, Wang Chaohua 
analyses the distinctive trajectory of national consciousness on the 
island. Contradictions of identity, as the legacies of KMT and Cold War 
confront local particularities and democratic impulses, and possibilities 
for an exit from the impasses of geography and history.



The recent joint American–Japanese declaration of common concern over 
‘security’ in the Taiwan Strait, marking the resolve of Tokyo to return to 
the scene of former colonial operations in the South China Sea, has drawn 
international attention to the future of Taiwan once again. Many fear that 
a major military conflict between China and the United States—perhaps now 
joined by Japan—may break out over this issue in the coming years. 
Political developments within the island itself have attracted much less 
discussion, though last year’s presidential and legislative elections were 
followed more closely than such contests in the past. The presidential poll 
saw a narrow victory by the incumbent leader from the Democratic 
Progressive Party, Chen Shui-bian, for the Green camp; in the subsequent 
legislative elections, the Blue camp of the old Chinese Nationalist Party, 
the Kuomintang and its allies, prevailed. The recent round-table in nlr, in 
which distinguished Taiwanese artists and intellectuals reflected 
critically on the current scene, [1] is a hopeful sign that the rich 
debates within Taiwan may become more widely known abroad, where 
perceptions have tended to be shaped mainly by commentaries centred on the 
positions of the us and China, not the island itself.

Moving in the other direction, foreign scholars and their ideas have begun 
to play a part in local discussions about the past and future of Taiwan. A 
notable example has been Benedict Anderson’s address—given in Taipei in 
2000, and published in nlr the following year—which offered a broad 
comparative framework for understanding the rise of Taiwanese nationalism. 
Developing out of his famous work Imagined Communities, this was an 
analysis that raised the question of whether the Taiwanese should be 
regarded as a classic ‘creole’ community. [2] The forthcoming work on the 
historical origins of Taiwanese nationalism under Japanese imperial rule by 
Rwei-Ren Wu, a landmark in the field, is a major response, also set in a 
comparative perspective that includes Korea, Okinawa and the Kuriles, as 
well as East European experiences. [3]

In these debates, mainland scholars have hitherto played little part. 
Political conditions there have made independent contributions to thinking 
about Taiwan scarcely audible amid the high-pitched volume of official 
ideology, though eventually serious interlocutors are likely to emerge, as 
they have done on Tibet. [4] The sooner this happens, the better for the 
communities on both sides of the Strait. In England an attempt to look at 
the problem of Taiwan in bi-focal fashion, taking considerations in both 
Beijing and Taipei into account, was made by Perry Anderson in an article 
written soon after the controversy over the results of the presidential 
election last year. [5] Since then, however, the politics of the island 
have moved on. The year-end legislative elections saw, alongside the 
retention by the Blue camp of its parliamentary majority, a sharp drop in 
voter turnout, from slightly above 80 per cent in March to under 60 per 
cent in December: a low-water mark in Taiwan’s short history of democracy, 
indicating a measure of disillusionment with the quality of domestic 
politics. But the tide of Taiwanese nationalism shows no sign of ebbing. [6]

How should we view these historical phenomena? A good starting-point is 
Benedict Anderson’s address on Asian nationalism. In it he argues that 
Taiwanese nationalism can be viewed as a contemporary manifestation of a 
familiar form of overseas settler nationalism, which nurtures a distinctive 
self-identity and seeks separation from the metropolitan empire, as the 
Thirteen Colonies did from England in the eighteenth century, the Latin 
American nations from Spain and Portugal in the early nineteenth century, 
and the Dominions from Britain in the late nineteenth century. The 
legitimacy of this kind of nationalism, he argues, did not in the past 
require any claims of ethnic or linguistic difference, and need not do so 
today. If Taiwanese identity is a late twentieth-century variant of the 
same pattern, what then of Chinese nationalism? From the time of Sun 
Yat-sen onwards, he suggests, it combined the impulses of a ‘popular 
nationalism’, resisting Western and Japanese penetration of the mainland, 
with strands of an ‘official nationalism’ derived from the claims of the 
Qing state, itself an inland empire. The former emerged within a set of 
worldwide anti-imperialist movements that fought to liberate subjugated 
peoples, inspiring them to create a vision of their own independent future. 
The latter aimed at control of territory and restoration of power in the 
name of pre-modern traditions and past conquests, like the Young Turks in 
the Ottoman Empire. [7] In the history of the twentieth century, he points 
out, these two forms of nationalism have often overlapped and coexisted 
within a single nation, but he believes it essential to be vigilant and not 
to confuse them.

full: http://www.newleftreview.net/NLR26603.shtml



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