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November 29, 2003

Taiwan, the Errant Son


by Sascha Matuszak

Except for maybe Sichuanese and (Inner) Mongolians, Chinese aren't really the fist fighting type. Of course a fight breaks out every second in a country of 1.3 billion, but relatively speaking, most Chinese will yell and point and have the neighbors gather before they let fly with the fists and low-cut black dress shoes.

But if you would like to see Chinese fight, use "Taiwan" and "independent" in the same sentence. It will not fail.

With elections coming up next March and a referendum on the name of "the place" slotted as task number one if the incumbents take it, there has been a lot of grumbling on the Mainland side and a lot of speculation throughout the journalistic world as to whether or not the General's comments or reason will prevail in Beijing.

Even with the Democratic Progressive Party's defeat in the legislature this week, Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian and his supporters, if victorious in March, will most likely continue to aggravate Beijing to the dismay of a preoccupied USA and the whole Asia-Pacific region in general.

Mainlanders have no patience for discussion on the issue of Taiwan. Taiwan is a part of China, with or without the blessings of history and modern Superpowers and all non-believers will be met with violence.

For an American, choice and the will of the people seem to be the rational course of action concerning Taiwan regardless of what happens on our home front, Americans project a sunny value system onto other countries from our perch on high. A friend and successful businessman with extensive dealings with Taiwanese explained it to me this way:

"We Chinese have a history of 5000 years. For Americans, with only a history of 200 years, it may be difficult to understand our mindset. In America, a son is encouraged to leave the home early and lead an independent life away from the family. Not so in China, a son must respect the wishes of his family."

And so the errant son with his new buddies on the other side of the tracks (or ocean) will eventually have to return home and reconcile himself with his parents. This view may represent the view of many Mainlanders.

So, as a good American, I bring up the issue of freedom and how the ruling Nationalist Party was corrupt and oppressive and how the new government in Hong Kong incited the biggest demonstration in Hong Kong in years with its heavy-handed approach to national security. And only friendship and tolerance for the deluded laowai keep me from getting jumped by a group of forty-something Chinese and their wives.

There may be no response to that argument, as China still is quite oppressive in many areas, except for the patented flip: "There is corruption everywhere, even in your America" or perhaps the "China is a developing country, we are in transition." Transition is used to explain away dysfunctional road lights, blind and sadistic drivers, rampant gambling and prostitution, corruption, hot water and electricity failures and so on. And can one put such heavy demands on a nation with a 5000-year old tradition of Emperors and the cronies that served them. Chinese respect power and with a country this big and this populous, a symbolic and powerful ruler helps to maintain order.

In the same vein, the first Emperor of China is remembered as clearly as this afternoon's noodles. The recent epic Hero depicts the self-sacrifice of an assassin from a doomed country in the name of Tian Xia all under heaven. This concept is as old as China and just as resilient. In modern times, all under heaven encompasses Taiwan and Chinese will sacrifice all in the name of reunification. And every emperor from Qin Shi Huang to Hu Jintao has made it his primary objective to unite all of China under one banner.

Thus the threats in words and deeds which, by the way, had as much to do with Japanese indiscretions in Xian and Zhuhai as with Taiwanese politics.
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  • Sascha Matuszak is a freelance writer living in Chengdu.

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