Tuesday, 1 May 2018

The rise and (slight) fall of the "Taiwanese Only" identity

Kharis Templeman, of the Stanford Taiwan Democracy & Security Project, has been pointing out some interesting developments in recent years in Taiwanese attitude surveys. The most striking of these can be seen in the below graph:
Any follower of Taiwanese affairs will be familiar with the decline of the Chinese-only identity in Taiwan since the democratic era began. Whilst possibly it was a minority position even long before this survey began, it fell rapidly during the first decade of Taiwanese democracy until it became the position of only a few percent of the population. At the same time both an exclusively Taiwanese and a mixed Taiwanese and Chinese identity began to be steadily adopted in Taiwan. Until recently the receive wisdom amongst at least part of the expat comentariat was that this mixed position was just a way-station on the road to becoming exclusively Taiwanese, and this found proof in the declining number of people identifying as mixed. However, as the graph shows, this trend has partially reversed over the last four years. What could explain this?

One guess is that increased exposure to mainlanders in Taiwan following the influx of tourists has changed some minds there. My own personal feeling was that, culturally speaking if perhaps not politically speaking, Taiwanese and mainland Chinese were only as different as (depending on how you want to look at it) English and Scottish people, or the people of the UK and the Republic of Ireland, and that increased exposure might highlight these similarities. Whether there is any truth to this is impossible to say without more data.

What there is data to show is that, as Templeman points out, concurrent with the above-described trend, pro-independence sentiment has fallen back a bit, and that pro-pan-green support has also seen a bit of a dip, with both these trends becoming apparent after the DPP's electoral win in 2016. I suppose it is inevitable that the hopes of DPP supporters during the Ma Yingjiu years might take a bit of a knock once the reality of an actual DPP government came about, but I am slightly doubtful that this could be the cause of a change in something so fundamental as how people see their own national identity. There may also be a growing realisation that few of the problems that face Taiwan are actually solved by Taiwanese independence or the development of an exclusively Taiwanese identity.


justrecently said...

It's probably impossible to guess how many respondents, when asserting that they are Taiwanese only, and not Chinese, are merely or mainly motivated by their dislike for China's political system. The issue of Chineseness is politically charged on both sides, of course, as shown in articles as this one.

But there can be no sustainable sovereignty without some openness to the facts. Taiwan is probably at its best when it acknowledges and cherishes its complex cultural heritage, Chinese, Polynesian, and everything else.

And of course, souvereignty depends on peoples' preparedness to defend their country. You don't maintain sovereignty by renaming postal offices (like Chen Shui-bian did).

Gilman Grundy said...

Wow, that Chinaplus article is, ummm, somewhat one-sided in its interpretation of this study.

And yeah, the one thing I find a big turn-off about the Taiwanese independence movement (at least amongst its expat devotees) is its focus on policing language (so no saying "mainland" even though that's what most Taiwanese call the mainland) and culture-warring over symbols rather than any matters of substance. It's tiresome. It achieves nothing. It's the one small area in which Taiwanese independence is just a mirror-image of Chinese nationalism. It wouldn't surprise me if increasing numbers of Taiwanese feel the same.

"Taiwanese and Chinese" is a nice place to be, it fits the status quo, it doesn't require a rejection of a particular identity. It also doesn't mean that the people who identify that way are necessarily any more sympathetic to the CCP's annexationist goals than anyone else.

Ji Xiang said...

I once got into an argument on Facebook with a bunch of politicized Westerners living in Taiwan about whether the Taiwanese cultural identity could be said to be "Chinese" or not. When I argued that in many ways it could, someone accused me of being a paid "wu mao". This was in spite of the fact that I had stated clearly that the Taiwanese have every right to decide for themselves whether they should be a sovereign country or not.

The people I argued with all displayed a certain degree of closed-mindedness and dogmatism. I was told that the Taiwanese language is in no way a variant of Chinese, because it includes Japanese loanwords you see, even though it is still entirely understandable to speakers of Minnan from Fujian province. I was also told that when I went to Taiwan the locals who told me their views on Taiwanese identity were just humouring me, because they knew that I live in Beijing and thus I must have acquired hopelessly Sinocentric views. I was told that Taiwanese culture is obviously nothing to do with Chinese culture, because it includes aboriginal influences (which are really very weak).

I got the feeling I was talking to people who had become fanatics on the topic of Taiwanese identity, and were no longer able to accept any dissenting views. It is curious how many Westerners who live in Taiwan seem to go down this path.

Gilman Grundy said...

"I got the feeling I was talking to people who had become fanatics on the topic of Taiwanese identity, and were no longer able to accept any dissenting views. It is curious how many Westerners who live in Taiwan seem to go down this path."

I've never met even a single Taiwan expat who supported the KMT. Imagine never meeting a foreigner living in the UK who supported or was even sympathetic to the Conservatives?

I think the answer as to why boils down to a few factors:

1) The KMT and the pan-blues in general are pretty unsympathetic subjects. Seen from a certain angle they're the inheritors of the dictatorship of the Chiangs (including their "Black Gold") and there is a still a dinosaur contingent that thinks it's a pity that Taiwan ever democratised. I think it is unfair to talk about them only in these terms and to ignore the changes of the last two decades, but it's still there, no doubt.

2) Most expats have their view of Taiwanese politics shaped by English-language media when they arrive. I myself used to be a regular reader of the Taipei Times during my time in Taiwan which is pretty solidly pan-green, and I would say more pro-independence than the DPP and closer to the TSU. Even with the decline of print media this persists in online media.

3) Particularly Americans are given to sympathising with political movements that have "independence" as their goal as they see parallels with their own national history.

4) The pan-greens are better at reaching out to foreigners as they understand that they need allies. Pan-blues are more focused on relations with the mainland and their is a racial element to their ideology that some still ascribe to.

The problem with this is seeing the KMT and pan-blues as almost demonically malevolent can lead to preposterous analysis. Look at some of the stuff that was posted some on the Taiwan expat blog scene back in 2009 - they were literally predicting a possible invasion facilitated by the KMT. Similarly some just seemed incapable of accepting the results of Taiwanese elections (particularly those where the pan-greens lost) as free and fair, as it is always assumed - based on no real evidence at all - that the KMT is rigging the elections somehow.

Trashing one entire half of Taiwan's democratic debat can only have the effect of delegitimising Taiwan's democratic system as a whole, yet this does not seem to bother these people in the slightest.

Gilman Grundy said...

PS - for a sample of some of the truly delusional stuff that was circulating back in '09, see this piece comparing Taiwan to Iran, and this piece (particularly the comments) making excuses for discriminating against mainlanders in Taiwan. Oh, and this piece banging on about how the trade deal between Taiwan and the mainland signed by the Ma government was basically part of a secret KMT-CCP plot to annex Taiwan. FYI the deal was signed and the DPP shows no sign of quitting it.

It was all the result of demonising the KMT to the extent that their winning a free and fair election was seen as the end of the world.

Ji Xiang said...

Thanks! You seem to have got the links mixed up, when I click on the link to the piece on discriminating against Mainlanders, I still get the post on Iran and Taiwan.

To be fair, I am sure there are a lot of expats in Taiwan who don't really care and are apolitical. The fanatics are probably a minority. I am aware of one German in Taiwan who supports the KMT.

Gilman Grundy said...



And if there is someone in the Taiwan expat community who actively supports the KMT, they don't blog.