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Taiwanese identity

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Taiwanese identity

The definition of Taiwanese identity has been an ongoing issue for several decades arising from the political rivalry between the Republic of China (ROC) and the People's Republic of China (PRC). Taiwanese are frustrated by the political rivalry which is the cause of confusion both inside and outside Taiwan.

"When we use the term 'Taiwan', mainland China is not happy. They think it means we are moving towards independence. But, on the other hand, they will not let us use the name 'Republic of China' so people are angry." (2002)[1]—Tuan-Yao Cheng (鄭端耀), Acting Director of the Institute of International Relations at the National Chengchi University in Taiwan.

Identity from a historic perspective

Qing Dynasty

Of the 23 million people in Taiwan, most are descendants of immigrants from Fujian and identify themselves as Hoklo whilst 15% are descendants of Hakka from Guangdong (Canton) and also Fujian. Periodic migrations started before the 12th century. In addition to the Taiwanese aborigines, it is primarily the descendants of the early immigrants from the province of Fujian in China. The ancestors of these people were laborers that crossed the Taiwan Strait to work on plantations for the Dutch. It is believed that some of these male laborers married aborigine women, creating a new small ethnic group of mixed people. In 1683, the Qing Empire, which controlled China, conquered Taiwan. The Qing ceded Taiwan to the Japanese in 1895.

Empire of Japan

Japan took control of Taiwan when China, then under the control of the Qing Dynasty since its conquest in 1683, lost the First Sino-Japanese War. The Japanese rule of Taiwan lasted from 1895 until 1945, when Japan was defeated by the allied forces at the end of World War II. Taiwanese perceptions of the Japanese are significantly more favorable than perceptions in other parts of East Asia, partly because during its 50 years (1895–1945) of Japanese rule Japan developed Taiwan's economy and raised the standard of living for most Taiwanese citizens, building up Taiwan as a supply base for the Japanese main islands. Later Taiwanese also adopted Japanese names and practice Shinto, while the schools instilled a sense of "Japanese spirit" in students. By the time of World War II began, many ethnic Taiwanese were proficient in both the Japanese language and Hokkien, while keeping their unique identity. Many Taiwanese were conscripted by the Japanese army to aid in their military campaigns against China. Many Taiwanese units, alongside the regular Japanese army, took part in some of the most noteworthy campaigns of that time against China, including the Nanking Massacre.

Towards the last decade of the Japanese rule, the occupation force started a systematic campaign of Kōminka (皇民化 Transformation into Imperial subjects) to instill the "Japanese spirit" (大和魂 Yamato damashii) to assimilate ethnic Taiwanese into imperial subjects of the Japanese empire. This process was stopped when Japan was defeated at the end of World War II, ending efforts on the part of the Japanese forces, to integrate Taiwan, as with Okinawa and Hokkaidō, into the Japanese empire. During this last decade, Taiwanese were encouraged to adopt Japanese names. Many older generation Taiwanese have fond memories of the Japanese rule in comparison to the later KMT occupation. Many scholars have attributed this phenomenon to brain-washing tactics pervasively used in schools run by the Japanese at the time, to which education during KMT rule has been unfavorably compared to. Even the former president of Taiwan Lee Tenghui had a Japanese name Iwasato Masao (岩里政男).

Republic of China

Non-Kuomintang Taiwanese politician Wu San-lian (2L) celebrated his landslide victory (65.5%) in the first-time Taipei city mayoral election in January 1951 with his supporters. Taipei is the capital of the Republic of China (Taiwan) since December 1949.

After the Republic of China relocated its capital to [7] However, the Korean War in 1950, during which the PRC fought United States soldiers, changed this situation. It indeed pushed the US to conclude a mutual security treaty with the ROC since they did not want the Communists to take over the island. Thus protected by the US, the people on Taiwan continued developing their own identity, separate from mainland China.

In 1979, diplomatic relationships between the US and the ROC broke down, and more and more governments started to view the PRC as the sole government of China. Thus, the ROC's political focus gradually shifted its attention from mainland China to the island of Taiwan, and many citizens started to consider themselves as part of a nation, separate from mainland China.[8] The first transition of power from the KMT occurred in 2000 when Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party won the presidential election. He has been making efforts to push for Taiwan independence with statements that there are two nations across the Taiwan Strait; a push for referendum on independence; and the abolishment of the National Unification Council. In recent years, there has been a trend, known as Taiwanization, to emphasize the importance of Taiwan's culture rather than to regard Taiwanese as solely an appendage of China. The movement stems from the continued hostility displayed by the People's Republic of China towards Taiwan independence and the memory of the Chinese-controlled Kuomintang occupation. This involves the teaching of history of Taiwan, geography, and culture from a Taiwan-centric perspective, as well as promoting languages locally established in Taiwan, including Taiwanese, Hakka and aboriginal languages.

The place of Taiwanese identity (台灣人) in relation to the Chinese identity (華人) has been a matter of intense debate. While pro-unification Taiwanese (海外華人) prefer to think of the Taiwanese identity as a subset of the Chinese national identity, and instead describe the Taiwanese identity as a component of the Chinese diaspora (海外華人 or 華裔), pro-independence Taiwanese place the Taiwanese identity outside the Chinese national identity, and instead describe the Taiwanese identity as (海外台灣人 or 台裔).

While the concept of Taiwanese identity was originally limited of the Taiwan independence movement, it is now endorsed by some supporters of Cross-Strait unification on Taiwan in a rejection of a monolithic officially sponsored Han Chinese identity in favor of one rooted in a unique, Taiwan-centric culture.

A new term, known as "Republic of China People" (中華民國人), has appeared on the internet since 2010,[9] to resolve the national identity crisis (pertaining to the diverse ethnic groups living in Taiwan, as well as the Penghu, Kinmen and other minor islands, as well as overseas Taiwanese/Chinese who are still holding the Republic of China nationality). It appeared particularly during the 2011 celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the founding of the Republic of China.

Taiwanese opinion

Polls conducted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) in 2001 found that 70% of Taiwanese would support a name change of the country to Taiwan if the island could no longer be referred to as the Republic of China.[1]

In recent years, especially after the 1990s, there has been a growth in the number of people identifying themselves as Taiwanese. In polls conducted by the National Chengchi University back in 1991, only 13.6% of respondents identified themselves as Taiwanese. This figure rose to 45.7% in 2004. In contrast, the number of respondents that identified themselves as Chinese was 43.9% in 1991 and fell to just 6.3% in 2004. Half of respondents responded with dual-identity, both Chinese and Taiwanese, and the statistic has remained steady with just a slight decline from 49.7% in 1992 to 45.4% in 2004.[10]

The Academia Sinica conducted a survey between 1992 and 2004 to further explore the identity issue by asking questions such as whether people would support independence if it wouldn't result in war, and whether Taiwan should unite with China if there were no political, economic or social differences between the two sides. Results showed that a third of respondents maintained "double-identities" over the years whilst a similar number of respondents were "Taiwanese nationalists" (those that would never support unification with China even if there were no differences with China). This number doubled as a result of provocation from the PRC in the 1996 missile crisis. There has been a sharp decline in "Chinese nationalist" (those that would support unification with China if the social conditions were the same as Taiwan) from 40% to 15%.[11] The opinion of Taiwanese continues to change, reflecting the problem of national identity which is easily affected by political, social and economic circumstances.

In a poll dated June 2009, 52.1% of Taiwan's population consider themselves to be only Taiwanese while 39.2% consider themselves to be both Taiwanese and Chinese and 4.4% consider themselves to be Chinese only,[1] but a more recent poll in 2013 showed a reversal in public opinion with the majority, 90.4% of respondents, recognizing themselves as Chinese and 61% considering themselves Taiwanese and Chinese.

Different perspectives of history

During the period of Martial Law, when the Kuomintang (KMT) was the only authorised party to govern Taiwan, the KMT government has "modified" Taiwan's history from a Greater China perspective and lump the pre-existing Hoklo and Hakka with the Mainlanders as Chinese, who came to Taiwan and forced aboriginal communities into the mountains. The early Hoklo and Hakka who arrived in Taiwan have intermarried with lowland aborigines in Taiwan. Also, due to several government factions that ruled Taiwan prior to Japanese rule, many lowland aborigines were forcefully assimilated, and it was in their incentives to pass as Hoklo. There are Taiwanese historians who believe that the Hoklo, especially, are 90%-100% direct descendants of pure lowland aborigines in Taiwan.

Relationship between Taiwanese identity and Chinese identity

Supporters of Taiwan Independence recognize themselves to be Taiwanese only and reject the designation "Zhongguoren 中國人" (Chinese national or Chinese). In particular, they have emphasized that, politically and legally, they are not Chinese. A portion of Taiwanese feel that the country's official name Republic of China has legally imposed upon them the identity of Chinese national, and therefore are discontent to a certain degree, thus wishing to seek Taiwan Independence. However, the majority of the supporters of Taiwan Independence do not deny themselves as "huaren 華人" (ethnic Chinese) or "huayi 華裔" (person of Chinese descent), meaning that they seek more of a political and legal separation from the Chinese national identity, rather than one based on a cultural or ancestral separation. This forms part of the Taiwanese nationalism ideology.

Before the 1990s, more than half of Taiwanese population recognized themselves as "Zhongguoren 中國人' (Chinese national or Chinese) or "both Taiwanese and Chinese". However, with the increasing exchange of information between mainland China and Taiwan, particularly with the rise of the Chinese internet, which has inclined more in favor of the People's Republic of China, the Taiwanese have strengthened the Taiwan localization movement as a response and rejection of the unification propaganda war from the People's Republic of China. Thus, by 2008, the proportion identifying themselves as Chinese has dropped while the proportion identifying as "Taiwanese but not Chinese" has increased.

Since the term "China" has become identified with the People's Republic of China and, thus, Taiwanese who hate Chinese nationalism do not recognize themselves as Chinese nationals. The negative image of the Fenqing (angry youth) from the People's Republic of China on the internet who have pursued aggressive Chinese nationalism, and their threats to freedom, human rights, and democracy in Taiwan are the main reasons many Taiwanese do not identify themselves as Chinese nationals or Chinese. In response, Taiwanese Fenqing or angry youth have resorted to pursuing aggressive Taiwanese nationalism in retaliation against the Fenqing from the PRC on the internet.[12]

In a 2009 Global Views Monthly(遠見雜誌) poll, Taiwanese who recognized themselves as "Chinese national" (Zhongguoren 中國人) constitute 46%, "Huaren 華人" (ethnic Chinese) or "Zhonghua minzu" (中華民族; Chinese race) constitute 70%. In a poll conducted by TVBS in 2008, given the choice of only one between the two identities (and not both), "Taiwanese" or "Chinese", 68% chose Taiwanese, while only 18% chose Chinese.[12]

Some Taiwanese wish to change the state's official name from Republic of China to Republic of Taiwan, in order to separate the identity and conceptual link between the two sides of the strait. However, this viewpoint has been strongly opposed by some supporters of Chinese nationalism from the Pan-Blue Coalition in Taiwan, with the majority of the people in the ROC supporting the current status quo.


  1. ^ a b Michael Bristow (May 17, 2002). "Taiwan's identity crisis". BBC News. 
  2. ^ Dreyer, June Teufel (July 17, 2003). Wilson International Center for Scholars "Taiwan’s Evolving Identity". Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Retrieved May 20, 2009. In order to shore up his government's legitimacy, Chiang set about turning Taiwan’s inhabitants into Chinese. To use Renan’s terminology, Chiang chose to re-define the concept of shared destiny to include the mainland. Streets were re-named; major thoroughfares in Taipei received names associated with the traditional Confucian virtues. The avenue passing in front of the foreign ministry en route to the presidential palace was named chieh-shou (long life), in Chiang’s honor. Students were required to learn Mandarin and speak it exclusively; those who disobeyed and spoke Taiwanese, Hakka, or aboriginal tongues could be fined, slapped, or subjected to other disciplinary actions. 
  3. ^ Myers, Ramon H.; Hsiao-ting Lin. "Starting Anew on Taiwan". Hoover Institution. Retrieved 2009-06-06. The new KMT concluded that it must "Sinicize" Taiwan if it were ever to unify mainland China. Textbooks were designed to teach young people the dialect of North China as a national language. Pupils also were taught to revere Confucian ethics, to develop Han Chinese nationalism, and to accept Taiwan as a part of China. 
  4. ^ "Cultural, Ethnic, And Political Nationalism In Contemporary Taiwan". Retrieved 2009-06-06. Among the first things that the Chinese government did after taking over Taiwan was first to "de-Japanize" and then to "Sinicize" Taiwanese culture. The cultural policies of Sinicizing Taiwan in the postwar period intensified when the Chinese Nationalist Party government lost the civil war against the Red Army and retreated to Taiwan in 1949 
  5. ^ "Searching for the Past". ...efforts of the government of Chiang Kai-shek to resinicize the island 
  6. ^ Between assimilation and independence. 
  7. ^ "Third-Wave Reform". ....The government initiated educational reform in the 1950s to achieve a number of high-priority goals. First, it was done to help root out fifty years of Japanese colonial influence on the island's populace--"resinicizing" them, one might say- -and thereby guarantee their loyalty to the Chinese motherland. Second, the million mainlanders or so who had fled to Taiwan themselves had the age-old tendency of being more loyal to city, county, or province than to China as a nation. They identified themselves as Hunanese, Cantonese, or Sichuanese first, and as Chinese second. 
  8. ^ "New National Identity Emerges in Taiwan". Washington Post. 2004-01-02. Retrieved 2009-05-07. 
  9. ^ Category:中華民國人
  10. ^ Rich Chang (March 12, 2006). Taiwan identity' growing"'". Taipei Times. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ a b TVBS民意調查中心, polls from TVBS

See also

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