Thursday, 23 December 2010

"The Taiwanese green onion"

Followed a link from artist and fellow former Nanjing resident David Horton's blog to the last edition of the E-mag Fascicle and was struck by this passage from a poem by Taiwanese writer Chen Li:

"... The teacher taught us music, the teacher taught us Chinese,
the teacher taught us to sing “Counter-attack, counter-attack, counter-attack the Chinese mainland,”
The teacher taught us arithmetic:

“If each national flag contains three colours,
how many colours then do three flags have?”
The class leader said there were nine, the vice-leader said three,
the green onion in my lunch box said one.
“Because,” it said,
“Whether in the soil, in the market, or in the scrambled eggs with dried radish,
I am the green onion,
the Taiwanese green onion.”

(translation by Chen Li's wife, Chang Fen-Ling)

If I had to explain what the Taiwanese identity was, in as much as I understand it, I would point to this poem. It contains all the linguistic and culinary influences on Taiwan which make it such a fascinating place to live - Japanese, Chinese, European - and which are fused in the poem in that way which is particularly Taiwanese.

This does not mean that I necessarily support or do not support Taiwanese independence per se, although certain people are given to hurling accusations of support for "splittism" even at the suggestion that a Taiwanese culture exists. I would also say that Taiwan-based observers often under-estimate the degree to which mainland provinces and regions have their own distinct culture (particularly Sichuan, Guangdong, and the North-East) when they use Taiwan's cultural differences to mainland China alone to justify independence. However, it is foolish to argue that a Taiwanese culture does not exist, and that it cannot be enjoyed for its own sake.

You can read the rest of the poem here.


Michael Turton said...

Good post.

Gilman Grundy said...

@Michael - Don't worry, my usual service of pro-China trollery will resume soon!

TG said...

Taiwanese identity: the toughest phrase to explain. For me it's scooters and food ;)