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.


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 ;)