[Marxism] Is the struggle to unify China an expression of "Great Han chauvinism" today?

Richard Fidler rfidler at cyberus.ca
Sat Mar 5 15:42:49 MST 2005

Fred Feldman:

>>I am pleased that Michael has dropped his earlier assertion that the 
>>China-Cuba relationship is sinister as a whole. I' glad he didn't mean 
>>to say it, although he did say it, and therefore it was appropriate 
>>for me to think he had said it, even if it meant irritating Richard 

Fred, you still don’t get it. What "irritates" me is that you take a 
discussion on one list (GLW) and start responding to it on another list 
(Marxmail) without indicating what the context is, what you are 
responding to, or where you claim to have gotten your information – and 
then you proceed to critique a position that you wrongly attribute to 
me, and that (as the above statement indicates) you still continue to 

Michael Karadjis made clear, in his original post and in reply to you, 
that he was NOT characterizing the China-Cuba relationship as "sinister 
as a whole". Are you simply too proud to acknowledge your breach of 

Now, to the substance.


>>I am also pleased to hear from Richard that noone in this debate is 
>>treating China as "some kind of fearsome enemy power" or as an 
>>emerging rival imperialist state, but I am not completely reassured by 

You say you are not "completely reassured" that I don’t meet your high 
standards of principled revolutionary correctness because of... my 
suggestion that perhaps China should drop its longstanding claim to 
sovereignty over Taiwan.

Why did Taiwan come up? Because it was really the only evidence you 
offered to back your claim that China’s socialist revolution, initiated 
in 1949, continues to go forward — that is, that Taiwan’s existence 
apart from China proves that China is not unified, that the unification 
of China continues to be a task of the Chinese revolution (whether 
bourgeois or socialist) and that Beijing’s attempt to unify China is 
proof of some lingering revolutionary anti-imperialist dynamic in the 
regime. (I put aside your claim that China’s trading relationships are 
an expression of "solidarity" with the colonial revolution, a position 
that I don’t consider sustainable in either fact or theory.)

By referring to Han chauvinism, I meant to indicate that Beijing’s 
claims to Taiwan might be motivated by factors other than a 
revolutionary desire to free an oppressed nation from the clutches of 
imperialism. As you know, there is an internal national question within 
China — in fact, more than one national question — the most notorious 
being that of Tibet. Beijing has not been particularly successful at 
overcoming that national oppression. Revolutionary nationalists in those 
oppressed nations within China believe that great Han chauvinism (their 
term) is part of the problem. Is it inconceivable that this might be a 
factor in Beijing’s motivation vis-a-vis the Taiwanese question?

More importantly, I suggested that some consideration should be given to 
how the inhabitants of Taiwan today approach this question. In 2000, the 
Democratic Progressive Party, a party advocating Taiwanese independence, 
won a plural majority of votes (37%) in the presidential election, 
defeating the Independent and and Kuomintang parties. The DPP favours a 
peace agreement with China and "independent sovereignty" for Taiwan, and 
rejects the "one country, two systems" formula favoured by Beijing (the 
formula used for the Hong Kong and Macau processes of reincorporation 
into the Chinese republic). An article in the Harvard Asia Quarterly 

"Overall, the mood among the independentists ranks is dominated by the 
perception that the break down of the KMT hegemony is also the beginning 
of the end of the historical Chinese links, and of the near-absolute 
dependence on the American connection. There is a widespread feeling 
that the time has come for furthering the Taiwanization of the political 
system of the island, and for taking more distance with respect to 
Chinese identity issues. The precise policy stance of the plural 
pro-independence forces which are going to dominate Taiwan’s politics 
remains to be determined, but an air of realignments and constitutional 
reforms aimed at the establishment of sovereign statehood is pervasive." 
(Full: http://www.taiwandocuments.org/haq1.htm)

The Encyclopedia Britannica tells us:

"The great majority of the population—those now called Taiwanese—are 
descendants of the original immigrants from the Chinese provinces of 
Fukien and Kwangtung. The Hokkien from southern Fukien constitute the 
largest of the immigrant groups; their dialect of Chinese is often 
called the Taiwanese dialect. The Hakka, originally from northern 
Kwangtung, also have a distinct dialect.

"The most recent addition to Taiwan's population are the predominantly 
Mandarin-speaking Nationalist adherents, who came to Taiwan from all 
parts of China in the late 1940s. These "mainlanders" still compose 
about 15 percent of the population. Because of their prominence in the 
Nationalist government, Mandarin has become the principal language of 

So while the population of both China and Taiwan is overwhelmingly 
ethnic Chinese, it appears that a distinct Taiwanese identity has 
emerged over the years and is pressing increasingly for a sovereign 
existence independent of China and possibly from American imperialism. 
In these circumstances, I wonder how valid it is to continue referencing 
the Taiwan question as fundamentally one of completion of China’s 
national independence, or (as Fred puts it) the "unification of China". 
But I readily admit that I have not really studied the question.

Prima facie, however, I do not find Fred’s argument compelling. The 
Chinese claim to Taiwan goes back at most a few hundred years (a 
relatively short period in China’s history), to when Chinese immigrants 
began to arrive on the island around the 16th century A.D. Japan invaded 
and occupied Taiwan from 1895 to 1945. Five years later, it became the 
surviving beachhead for the KMT retreating in the face of the victorious 
Chinese CP forces on the mainland, and both the KMT and the Chinese CP 
claim sovereignty over a China that embraces both mainland and Taiwan. 
China rightly fears the imperialist U.S. military presence and buildup 
on Taiwan, which for decades has cited Beijing’s claims to the island as 
a pretext for its alliance with Washington. But I wonder whether a 
Chinese renunciation of claims to Taiwan might help bolster the position 
of those in Taiwan who see Taiwanese independence as an answer to both 
Chinese and American domination. A Taiwan increasingly less dependent on 
the imperialist powers would be a great boost to anti-imperialist forces 
within China, whether in or out of the government.

And I don’t think my position on this will depend on whether China is a 
workers state (as Fred maintains) or a capitalist state. Fred suggests 
that my argument that the Taiwan question should not be considered 
simply from the perspective of unifying China and overcoming its 
oppression by imperialism hinges on a prior conclusion that China is now 
a capitalist power. Not so. Even if China were a workers state there may 
well be a strong strategic argument in favour of renouncing claims to 
Taiwan; in fact, the argument may well be stronger in the case of a 
workers state, since it might be an impressive demonstration of 
adherence to the Leninist concept of national self-determination of 
minority peoples as a key component of revolutionary strategy.

In any event, I don’t think Fred is right to hold that the Taiwan 
question is reducible to completion of China’s national revolution. Like 
many national questions, it is somewhat more complex than that. As we 
saw in the case of East Timor independence of Indonesia, there can be 
national questions within the national question. An example in Canada (I 
am not trying to confuse the issue, honestly!) is the relationship 
between aboriginal peoples’ sovereignty claims within Quebec, a question 
pro-independence Québécois are only now grappling with as they attempt 
to resolve the various land claims issues.

If there is a case for Taiwan’s independence irrespective of whether 
China is a workers or a bourgeois state, support of Taiwanese 
independence does not necessarily imply that China’s claims are 
imperialist in nature. However, if China has in fact reverted to 
capitalism, there is no Chinese wall (if I can use that expression) 
between being a strong capitalist power and becoming an "emerging... 
imperialist state". The latter question is an important one and well 
worth reflection, but I think the Taiwan question can be considered 
independently of it. If my reference to "great Han chauvinism" confused 
these issues, as Fred argues, then let’s put it aside and look at the 
Taiwan question on its own merits in terms of revolutionary strategy.

However, I will say that there are features in China’s current evolution 
that do suggest an emerging imperialism. David Walters, in a post 
prompted by this exchange, says "The Chinese state nor neo-bourgeoisie 
is not exporting capital...." Tell that to Canadian workers: China is 
now in the process of purchasing the largest single mining company in 
this country, Noranda, to add to some other firms it already owns in 
Canada. So it may all depend on how you define imperialism – by colonies 
(Fred) or by export of capital (David). But of course, this is not just 
a matter of what constitutes imperialism (and there is no Marxist 
consensus on that); there is also a question of scale and 
proportionality. China’s capitalist counter-revolution is still in its 
initial stages, in my view, although it is more advanced than many of us 
seem to think.

Richard Fidler

P.S. We’d better get up to speed soon on this question of Taiwan. I just 
noticed that today’s newspapers report that China’s National Assembly, 
in a session that opened today, will be adopting a law to block any 
formal independence for Taiwan. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao told the 
Assembly, in his opening speech, that the law reflects the "strong 
determination of the Chinese people to... never allow secessionist 
forces working for ‘Taiwan independence’ to separate Taiwan from China." 
(Ottawa Citizen)

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