Monday, 28 October 2013

Taiwan Is Not China - Or Is It?

There is a lot of confusion in the media about the status of Taiwan and its relationship with mainland China. Some people say that Taiwan is not part of China. Others - chiefly mainlanders, but also Taiwanese, most notably Guomindang supporters - argue that Taiwan is part of China.

The confusion comes from the fact that people don't understand that there are two different political ideologies that compete with each other: Chinese nationalism and Taiwanese nationalism. Many observers explain the China-Taiwan issue according to their political stance: either pro-Chinese or pro-Taiwanese. I think that this should be avoided. Both Chinese and Taiwanese nationalism should be regarded as legitimate ideologies. 

Chinese Nationalism

The birth of modern Chinese nationalism was triggered by China's defeats at the hands of Western powers and Japan at the end of the 19th century (see Zhao 2004, p. 37-46).

Chinese reformer Liang Qichao (1873 – 1929) reflected a feeling widespread among late Qing intellectuals when he wrote

Europe has evolved and the world has progressed since the sixteenth century for no reason other than the enormous power of nationalism ... [I]n today's situation if we want to counteract the national imperialism of all those world powers [the West and Japan] so as to save the country from total catastrophe, we must develop a nationalism of our own (ibid., p. 49).

The champion of Chinese nationalism during the late Qing period was Sun Yat-sen, the 'Father of Modern China'. He shared Liang Qichao's feeling of urgency in achieving China's salvation from foreign oppression. He believed that China had to create a new state and that one of the core principles of this state should be nationalism.

Although Sun Yat-sen wanted to overthrow the monarchy and establish a new republican state, he drew on the tradition of the Manchu Empire. In fact, he argued that the borders of the new China should be the same as the Qing Empire's, comprising all the ethnic groups that had been ruled by the Manchu Emperors. For Sun and all nationalists after him, China is a civilisation, an idea, which exists regardless of the individual's will.

In order to understand this point, we must first of all make a distinction between nation and state. A nation can be defined as a "self-conscious and self-differentiating ethnic or cultural group of people, bound together by such ties as kinship, language, custom, or shared myths."  A state, on the other hand, is a "sovereign political entity possessing tangible territorial, demographic, and governmental attributes regardless of ethnic and cultural divisions" (ibid., p. 60).

Contrary to what nationalist ideologies suggest, a nation is not an objectively definable entity. A situation in which every single individual shares the same identity and in which a 100% agreement on the characteristics of the nation is reached, is virtually impossible. Nations and individuals constantly redefine their identity.

The vagueness of the principle of national statehood is shown by the following points:

1) different states can have ethnically, linguistically and historically similar populations (Austria-Germany, Australia-New Zealand, Ireland-Northern Ireland);

2) the integrity of many states is questioned by the existence of independence movements (Catalonia in Spain, Northern Italy, Scotland in the UK etc.);

3) a large number of states have 'ethnic minorities' (Slovenians, Germans and French in Italy, Basques in Spain, Turks in Greece, Tibetans in China etc.);

4) many countries have more or less large migrant populations, and their status within the framework of 'national statehood' doesn't fit into the ideal of a homogeneous national community.

These points show that most of the time the assumption that a nation is a homogeneous community of individuals and that every nation should have its own state is ambiguous and often impracticable.

When modern Chinese nationalism first became popular at the end of the 19th century, the Chinese Empire was ethnically fragmented. The Han majority was ruled by the Manchus, who were an ethnic minority. And there were numerous non-Han ethnic groups, the most important of whom were the Tibetans and the Uighurs. Paradoxically, it was the hated Qing minority that, thanks to their military prowess, added vast areas of the current national territory of China to the empire. When the Qing established their dynasty, they ruled over merely 40% of the territory of modern China. Subsequently they conquered Tibet, Xinjiang, and other regions that are now considered integral parts of China (see ibid., p. 61).

Some modern Chinese scholars justify the principle of 'one China' with different ethnic groups through mainly three arguments: 1) the Han have been the core ethnic group; 2) many ethnic groups have merged in the course of Chinese history; 3) contemporary China was created by the joint efforts of various ethnicities (ibid.).

Taiwan and China

Taiwan became part of the Qing Empire in 1684. For a long time it was merely a prefecture of Fujian Province in mainland China. It gained the status of a province only in 1885 (Huang / Li 2010, p. 11). Chinese immigration to Taiwan, however, had already begun in the 14th century. The waves of immigration intensified around the end of the Ming Dynasty in 1644, and before the Qing conquest, it is estimated that the Han population of Taiwan may have been around 150,000 and 200,000 (Davison 2003, chapter 3). 

Han Chinese were the main ethnic group in Taiwan, while the aborigines who had inhabited it since immemorial times were either assimilated through intermarriage or driven to mountainous regions. By the 1890s, Taiwan's population had increased 20 times, exceeding 2,500,000 (ibid., chapter 4).

For over 200 years, the people of Taiwan were Qing subjects. Although Qing rule was relatively weak on the island, the immigrants saw themselves as Chinese, in the sense that they identified with the culture, customs, religion, and traditions of Chinese civilisation. A real identity issue did not emerge at that time (Hao 2010, pp. 27-28).

Following the Sino-Japanese War in 1894-95, Taiwan was ceded to Japan and it was cut off from the mainland for 55 years. Those decades were extremely important for Taiwan. Its people were practically isolated from the momentous events that deeply changed Chinese history: the overthrow of the Manchu, the establishment of the Republic of China (1911), warlordism, civil war, and Japanese aggression (the Japanese were much more brutal in mainland China than they ever were in Taiwan) (see Huang / Li 2010, p. 11).

In December 1943, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Chiang Kai-shek declared in the Cairo Conference that all the territories that Japan had annexed from the Qing Empire would be restored to China (ibid., pp. 11-12). From 1945 to 1949, mainland China and Taiwan belonged to the same state, the Republic of China founded in 1912 and governed by the Chinese Nationalist Party, or Guomindang.

In 1949, however, the Guomindang was defeated by the Communists after a long civil strife. Chiang Kai-shek retreated to Taiwan, which was the last province of the Republic of China that he and his government controlled.  

Taiwan and Chinese Nationalism

From the point of view of Chinese nationalism, Taiwan is a province of China. Both the Communist Party and the Guomindang agree on this point. However, they disagree on which government is the legitimate government of China. In order to show this point of view, I will quote here a few interesting statements made by Chiang Kai-shek, Zhou Enlai, and Yip Kwok-wah.

1- Chiang Kai-shek was a Chinese nationalist, and he never saw himself as the President of Taiwan, but as the President of the Republic of China which he regarded as the legitimate government of the whole of China. In February 1955, he stated:

The territory of the Republic of China is not to be carved up. Although the Chinese mainland has been stolen [by the CCP] ... it is still a part of the territory of the Republic of China, which the people and Government of the Republic of China are determined to recover ... The [two-Chinas] proposal [put forward by the UN] is absurd. The four-thousand-year-old Chinese history shows that ... the Chinese nation always has been a unified State ... This has always been accepted by all Chinese as a basic concept of loyalty toward the country (Huang / Li 2010, p. 33).

2- Between 1956 and 1957, Beijing and Taipei tried to find common ground for eventual reunification. Chiang Kai-shek and his son and successor Chiang Ching-kuo sent secret emissaries to the mainland. One of them was Hong Kong journalist Cao Juren (1900-1972). In July 1956, he went to Beijing. Zhou Enlai explained to him:

The KMT [Guomindang] and the CCP had cooperated twice in the past, which led first to the success of the Nationalist Army's Northern Expedition and then to the success of the Sino-Japanese War. These are the facts. Why can't we cooperate for the third time? The Taiwan issue is China's internal affair and all patriots belong to one and the same family. So why can't we cooperate in reconstructing China? We are not asking Taiwan to capitulate but asking for consultations between each other. So long as [China's] government is unified, everything else is negotiable (ibid., p. 40).

3-  In his book The Uniqueness of China's Development Model, Hong Kong Professor Yip Kwok-wah tells an interesting episode that reveals the core ideal of Chinese nationalism. Mr Yip is the Founder and Chairman of Hong Kong Policy Research Institute and he served as Special Advisor to the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (1997-2002).

In British Hong Kong, both the CCP and the Guomindang were politically active to gain the support of the Hong Kong Chinese people. There were even some exclusively 'Guomindang areas' in the city, like Tiu Keng Leng. As Mr Yip recounts, in his school Guomindang influence was very strong. Every Monday there was a flag hoisting ceremony in which the Guomindang flag was raised and the national anthem of the Republic of China was sung.

"San Min Chu I. Our aim shall be to found a free land. World peace be our stand. Lead on, comrades, vanguards ye are. Hold fast your aim, by sun and star. Be earnest and brave, your country to save. One heart, one soul, one mind, one goal!"

The anthem was first sung at the opening ceremony of the Whampoa Academy on 16 June 1924. At that time, Sun Yat-sen was still alive and Chiang Kai-shek was in charge of the Academy.

On 10 October 1997 Mr Yip was invited to attend the Double Ten Day celebrations in Hong Kong. He took a picture under the flag of the Blue Sky with a White Sun (the Guomindang flag). Some of his friends, who were mainland Chinese officials stationed in Hong Kong, were annoyed by that and said they would never have taken a photograph with that flag. Mr Yip replied:

If we do not admit the existence of this flag, we cannot talk about 'One China'. If one day they raise the 'green island flag' (of Taiwan's pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party), I will not take any photos. But I do not see any problem related to political principle in hoisting the flag of the Blue Sky with a White Sun, especially in Hong Kong (Yip 2012, p. 8).

Nevertheless, he was publicly criticised for showing his closeness to the former enemy of the CCP. Ten days later, however, Taiwan's Koo Chen-fu visited Beijing. When then-President Jiang Zemin met Mr. Koo, he sang "San Min Chu I. Our aim shall be...", saying that when he was young, his understanding of the mother country began with that song and that flag. Afterwards, no one criticised Mr Yip any longer (ibid.).

These three statements show that the CCP and the Guomindang both share the view that there is only one China, that the Taiwan issue is China's internal affair, and that the two governments of Beijing and Taipei should seek reunification.

However, Chinese nationalism is not an unchallenged ideology. Already in the 1940s, when Taiwan became part of the Republic of China, the Taiwanese population expressed discontent with Guomindang rule. The 're-encounter' of Taiwan with the mainland after decades of Japanese rule was marked by conflicts and misunderstandings. The Cold War widened the distance between the PRC and the ROC. A strong Taiwanese nationalism emerged, which questions the claim of Chinese nationalism that there is only one China. Taiwanese nationalism will be the subject of a future post.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Qing Dynasty Anthem (1911-12) - China's First Anthem

On October 4, 1911, the Qing Empire issued China's first national anthem, known as Gong Jin Ou (Chinese: 鞏金甌; pinyin: gǒng jīn'ōu, literally "Cup of Solid Gold"). It was the 3rd year of the reign of 5-year-old Emperor Xuantong (better known as Puyi).

Because the Qing Empire was not a state in the modern sense, it had never had a national anthem before. Zeng Jize (1839 – April 12, 1890, traditional Chinese: 曾紀澤), one of China's first diplomats stationed in the West, observed that Western nations performed national anthems on official occasions. In 1883 he composed a song in honour of the Qing Empire ("普天樂") and sent it to the Qing court, but the song was never officially used. 

In the following years several songs were produced in succession, which were used as semi-official hymns from time to time. One of them was Praise the Dragon Flag ("頌龍旗"). The song was composed in 1906, when the Board of War and the Bureau of Military Reorganisation were merged to form the Ministry of War (陸軍部). This became the unofficial anthem of the Empire, used on official occasions whenever it was needed.

In 1911 the Ministry of Rites (禮部衙門) drew up an official directive on how to write a national anthem. Several anthems from other nations were taken into consideration. The British and Japanese anthems were used as blueprints, probably because they emphasised the role of the monarchy. 

The anthem was written by scholars Yan Fu (嚴復; pinyin: Yán Fù) and Pu Dong (溥侗, pinyin: Pǔ Dòng). Since it didn't have a title it became known simply as Gong Jin'ou (鞏金甌), from the first verse of the song. 

The anthem, which praised the Qing Dynasty and was supposed to be propitious, had a tragic history. Only six days after it had been officially adopted, the Wuchang Uprising broke out. The revolt led to the swift and irreversible collapse of the Qing Empire and the subsequent proclamation of the Republic of China. With the disintegration of the unpopular Qing rule, the first anthem of China fell into oblivion.

Here is the text of the anthem:

Firm and stable be the golden cup [the Empire] domed by the Celestial concave.  
In it men and things happily prosper. Glad are we who live in the time of Purity.  
May Heaven protect and secure us from enemies and help us to reach the truly golden age.
The blue firmament is infinitely high and the seas flow everlastingly.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Why Chinese Women Are Obsessed With Men's Height

One day I was talking with a Chinese friend of mine about relationships. At one point she said something that struck me: "It doesn't matter if a guy is ugly as long as he's tall." I was quite surprised by these words, but I didn't pay much attention to them. 

As I met more and more Chinese, it became clear to me that "height" was a recurrent theme when Chinese women talked about a suitable partner. Many of my female friends mentioned men's height: "He's good-looking; what a pity he's so short!" "I like tall men" "A guy liked me, but I didn't want to date him. He was short", etc. etc. 

In her book about factory girls in China, Leslie T. Chang describes this phenomenon:

Height was a universal Chinese obsession. In a country that had experienced malnutrition and even famine in living memory, height signaled fortune, and it functioned as a proxy for class.

Height was also an advantage for women, though. The taller they were, the better they performed on the job market:

For women, height requirements were attached to the more glamorous trades. “If I were only ten centimeters taller,” a young woman who worked in a hair salon told me once, “I could sell cars.”
Being less than 160 centimeters tall, or about five feet three inches, guaranteed a frustrating day at the talent market.

Leslie Chang does not discuss the topic in length. She simply suggests that the importance of height is linked to the memory of malnutrition and poverty that were widespread in China before Deng Xiaoping's reform era. 

However, I heard very similar statements regarding height both from mainland Chinese and from Taiwanese women. This points to the fact that the importance of height could have deeper cultural roots. In Taiwan, which was virtually cut off from mainland China for around a hundred years, the obsession with height cannot be explained by referring to the memory of famines. Young Taiwanese people have never experienced food shortage and extreme poverty; they are children of a wealthy society. But you will find that among many young Taiwanese women height remains an important criterion of mate-selection.

Let me first say that the importance of height is not exclusively a Chinese phenomenon. In the West, too, parents wish their children to become tall, because height is seen as a sign of health and strength. Generally speaking, men are supposed to have girlfriends who are shorter than them. And many studies suggest that taller people are more successful than shorter people. There are many examples of successful people who are not very tall (Tom Cruise, Michael J. Fox, Rupert Murdoch, Nicolas Sarkozy, only to name a few), but on average, taller men seem to be more successful. Perhaps because height signals power or self-confidence. 

However, in China and Taiwan height seems to be - as Leslie Chang says - a real obsession. Even though I spent already some time in Asia, I still haven't clearly understood why.

One possible explanation is the importance of gender roles and social criteria in Chinese culture. As I have explained in several posts, mate-selection and marriage in Chinese culture are not based primarily on love, but on considerations such as status, filial piety, financial security, and the fulfillment of social roles (read my posts about familymarriage, and filial piety in Chinese culture). People look for partners who can fulfill a social role best. 

Many women accept such social roles and actively promote them. For example, I have met many women that want a husband who earns more than them, who is taller than them, who can 'repair the house' if something is broken, and so on. This means that women have a certain idea of the role of a husband and want to find someone who fits these categories. Height appears to be one of these criteria, according to which a person's 'value' and 'suitability' are measured. A man should fulfill his social role as a husband by being the one who takes care of the family, and height signals the superiority of the man in this particular area of family life.  

Friday, 18 October 2013

Taiwan's Economy and the Myth of Free Market

In a world dominated by neoliberal mainstream economic thinking, the wealth of nations is often explained in culturalist terms. A country is rich because its people are hard-working and enjoy the freedom to pursue profitable economic activities. A country is poor if its people are lazy and / or its politicians corrupt and inefficient.

I talked with several Taiwanese as well as with Western expatriates in Taiwan who seem to endorse this view. Taiwan's success is seen primarily as the result of the industrious and entrepreneurial spirit of its citizens. However, this interpretation is highly misleading. I am in no way questioning the diligence of the Taiwanese, but it would be wrong to underestimate the role that the government's economic policy has had on the development of the island's economy.

The symbol of Taiwan's economic prowess: Taipei 101

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Jumbo Floating Restaurant in Hong Kong

Yesterday I went with my language partner to the Jumbo Floating Restaurant, part of the so-called Jumbo Kingdom, in Aberdeen Harbour. 

The floating restaurant is a gigantic boat built in the style of a Chinese imperial palace, with the addition of modern elements. It offers Cantonese food and, most importantly, yum cha. Yum cha (simplified Chinese: 饮茶; traditional Chinese: 飲茶), literally means 'drink tea'. The name is deceptive, because yum cha actually refers to a Chinese-style lunch or early afternoon meal served with tea. The meals consists of dim sum, a word that comprises a wide range of small dishes: steamed buns, dumplings, siu mai, rice noodle rolls, vegetables, roasted meats, congee porridge, soups etc. 

Usually, the dishes are put on carts, and then waiters push them around the restaurant. When a customer wants something, he calls the waiter and takes one of the baskets or boxes from the cart.

Unfortunately, I and my language partner were very late, because the yum cha ends at 3 pm. But what we ate was basically very similar.

It was a really sunny and hot day; hard to believe that it's already October! Aberdeen Harbour was once a fishermen village. Little is left from those days, and now the whole harbour is surrounded by gigantic buildings. Some people may find them ugly or boring, but I love the impressive view of the sea, the skyscrapers, the boats, and the mountains in the background. 

Compared with other yum cha restaurants, the food in the Jumbo Kingdom is more expensive. But it's delicious, and this restaurant is certainly something unique that's worth visiting. 

Unfortunately, I can't post many pictures on blogger due to visualisation problems. If you want to see more, visit my Facebook page

How To Get To The Jumbo Kingdom

We first went to Exchange Square, and then took the bus number 70. The last stop of the bus is Aberdeen. From the bus stop you follow the indications and in a few minutes you will reach Aberdeen Promenade, which is basically the waterfront. However, to reach the restaurant you need to take a free shuttle boat.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Hong Kong Past and Present - Old and Modern Photos of the Dragon City

Hong Kong is one of the most exciting cities in the world, and part of its charm lies in its modernity. Dubbed 'the most vertical city in the world', Hong Kong captivates visitors with its futuristic architecture. But Hong Kong was not always like this. For more than a century, what one saw were monumental European colonial buildings. Chinese architecture and quarters were relegated in the less central areas of the city. 

The European-style city has disappeared almost completely. With the economic take-off starting in the 1960s, Hong Kong embarked on an era of modernisation. Colonial buildings were demolished one after another. Only the most representative ones have survived. The past didn't matter. People relentlessly marched toward the future. 

Hong Kong was thus the first Chinese city to have transformed itself into a modern megacity, long before mainland Chinese cities created their own aesthetic modernisation. 

I prepared a short video that shows some of the changes that have taken place in Hong Kong between the early 1900s and the 2000s.