Is Taiwan a ‘nation of immigrants’?

The distance between democratized Taiwan and China, which has turned its back on political reforms to maintain its dictatorship, is becoming ever wider. (The Japan News/ANN)
The distance between democratized Taiwan and China, which has turned its back on political reforms to maintain its dictatorship, is becoming ever wider. (The Japan News/ANN)

TAIPEI (The Japan News/ANN) — The Taiwan presidential election ended on the night of Jan. 11, when Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang party conceded with a phone call to congratulate Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party on her reelection, with Tsai thanking Han at a press conference afterward.

It is understandable that the director of the American Institute in Taiwan’s Taipei office, William Brent Christensen, the de facto U.S. ambassador to Taiwan, described Taiwan’s democracy as a model for the region.

In 1949, the Kuomintang fled to Taiwan after being defeated by the Soviet-influenced Communist Party of China in a civil war on the mainland. For some time after that, Taiwan and China walked a similar path.

The Kuomintang and the Communist Party ruled in dictatorships on each side of the Taiwan Strait. In the 1980s, both sides began to implement reforms in earnest, such as democratization in Taiwan and the reform and open door policy in China.

Today, however, the distance between democratized Taiwan and China, which has turned its back on political reforms to maintain its dictatorship, is becoming ever wider.

What is the fundamental reason that Taiwan has been able to realize democratization, which China has stopped pursuing?

There is more than one answer. It perhaps also depends on who you ask.

It is important that Taiwan was on the side of liberalism as led by the United States during the Cold War. Public education under Japanese rule, which lasted for 50 years until the end of World War II, must have affected generations. It goes without saying that former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui and others who received such an education made great achievements.

In addition, I personally believe that Taiwan’s diversity, which is rooted in a much longer history, and the spirit of tolerance that supports it, may be a factor.

I heard several times in Taiwan that “Taiwan is a ‘nation of immigrants’ like the U.S.”

After the 17th century, the rulers of Taiwan, inhabited by indigenous people and settlers from the mainland, rapidly changed in succession from the Dutch to the Ming dynasty’s surviving retainers, to the Qing dynasty, to Japan, to the Kuomintang. Former immigrants, mainly ethnic Han Chinese, and new immigrants constantly mixed.

In a land like this, if people were ostracized on the grounds of ethnicity or customs, there would be no end to conflict. The majority and minority need to recognize each other and live together based on common rules. The history of this island far away from China’s central administration, seems to have laid the foundations for democracy.

Of course, there is always conflict. In the long run, however, everyone has fallen into a pot called “Taiwan.”

The Dutch were expelled long ago, but a woman I know said with a smile, “I have 1/16 Dutch blood.” People are still familiar with Japan, defeated in World War II.

The antagonism between those who came from the mainland with the Kuomintang and those born in Taiwan has continued to weaken, as most young people begin to think of themselves as “Taiwanese.”

On the Taipei subway, announcements are made in five languages: Mandarin, Taiwanese, Hakka, English and Japanese. I think it’s truly very apt for Taiwan.