What started out looking like any other simple interview blew up into something that touched some controversial past history. Last month Hung Su-Chu (洪素珠), a contributor to the People Post citizen journalist platform, was shown on a video chasing an elderly man at the 228 Memorial Park in the southern city of Kaohsiung. She questioned him on why he came to Taiwan, in which he responded that he came with his parents in 1950. She started yelling at him, telling him to go back to China.
His response was that he lives in Taiwan and has “an identification card of the Republic of China.” He added, “I work here, and have contributed to this land…why would I go back?” Hung screamed, “I do not want you Chinese people in Taiwan.”
There is lots of heat brewing here now. The “Taiwanese” and “Chinese” in Taiwan clash in an ever moving identity crisis in Taiwan, but what did she mean? It sounded like some kind of statement pulled from an old dirty bag of tricks.
I do not want you Chinese people in Taiwan.
Who is the “Chinese” that she is referring to? The Chinese that arrived here when the ROC moved its location, or the general ethnic group of Han Chinese? Is he actually a citizen of Taiwan, or is it the Republic of China? These are all questions any person will contemplate, but has ties to the current political game between the two administrations across the Taiwan Strait. This political game has been the subject of debates and countless legal, civic, economic, and security arguments over the last 70 years. That point in history brought forth the question of sovereignty which in turn spurned other questions such as nationality and identity that all relates back to this political game.
Taiwan has changed a lot since the ROC’s arrival to Taiwan during the late 1940s. There is a growing view that people that reside in the island of Taiwan say that they identify as “Taiwanese” and not “Chinese”. A recent study done by the National Chengchi University (NCCU) shows that approximately 60% of people identify themselves as solely “Taiwanese”, compared to 32% of people who identify as both “Taiwanese” and “Chinese”. Meanwhile only 3% of people who identify as solely “Chinese”. These numbers have changed drastically over the last 20+ years, compared to just 18% that identified as solely Taiwanese in 1992. The study shows the overall change in identification of the people in Taiwan and relates to another concept, citizen. Identifying yourself as “Taiwanese” and saying I’m a “citizen of Taiwan” are not synonymous, and this is where the gray area becomes more obvious. Merriam-Webster defines “citizen” as:
Citizen- (n) a native or naturalized person who owes allegiance to a government and is entitled to protection from it.
In this case, a Taiwanese citizen would have allegiance with the government representing Taiwan. The elderly man did exactly that, and the reporter criticized him for being a “Mainlander.” Although the reporter’s position was harsh and disrespectful, she did bring up an interesting question: Can migrants from China, or the “Mainland”, that traveled to Taiwan over the past 70 years be considered Taiwanese?? Are there real distinctions between the people of China and the people of Taiwan?
General sentiment today has shown the difference of what it means to be Taiwanese versus what it means to be Chinese. The divergence from the “One China” view from the majority of people in Taiwan differs from the common view 70 years ago when the ROC government was still recognized as the government controlling China. According to the previously mentioned NCCU study, there’s been a steady increase in the percentage of people that want to declare immediate independence for Taiwan and a steady decrease in the percentage of people in favor of uniting with China. This shows that more Taiwanese people think of themselves as having their own identity and sovereignty.
Since then, this incident has shed controversy over the “racist” reporter. The “racist” reporter was seen as one who had beliefs that the “Taiwanese” remain superior to those of the “Chinese” in Taiwan. While the reporter’s actions and words brought controversy and outrage in Taiwan, the label “racist” introduces more questions about her motives.
Hung Su-Chu is affiliated with the Taiwan Civil Government (TCG), an organization that believes that Taiwan should belong to the United States. They believe that there was precedent for a Military Government to be set in place at the end of World War II. They have put great efforts to achieve their goal such bringing the United States to court in Lin v. United States of America in 2009 and 2015. While the court cases were closed without a resolution, it shed light on the United States’ position in the Taiwan identity, which does not formally recognize the ROC.
China has taken advantage of this display in Taiwan and exploited this incident as an example of abuse and discrimination of “Chinese” people. China has taken the position of a “One China” identity of Taiwan, establishing that all Taiwanese are Chinese since Taiwan is part of China, and therefore makes this position about discrimination of its people. Using this as the placard to show independence-minded individuals as “dangerous” or the ones causing tension, pro-unification minded Chinese would be eager to use this example as a justification to “recover” Taiwan. Notably, commentators on China’s web forum Weibo picked up on this story calling it as the prime example of harassment and discrimination against our “compatriots across the Strait”.
On the other hand, however, the other viewpoint sees this elderly man not as Chinese but Taiwanese. He grew up in Taiwan, contributed to society in Taiwan, and maintains a distinct separation of identity from the land where his family came from. As far as the video showed, the man was not embarking on an agenda of hatred but instead just living his life as a inhabitant of the island. In other words, being Taiwanese was as natural to him as to breathing and walking.
What can we take from all of this? The big elephant remains and is increasingly being made visible. The people of Taiwan are in a sticky position and are having to ask: what do they view of themselves as? Who do the people of Taiwan identify with? The lack of consensus on Taiwan’s status opens paths for potential conflict. Recent events over the Taiwan Strait, like the 2009 cross-strait talks and the resulting bilateral visits to one another’s lands, has brought ripples in that area of the world. One only needs to be directed at the series of protests against China’s encroachment on Taiwan’s space to see this.
The incident between the reporter and the elderly in the meantime brings heat to the ongoing “identity crisis”. The future of Taiwan still remains uncertain- and the current sentiment and action of ignoring the big problem only grooms tensions in the Taiwan Strait. The “racist” journalist and the citizenship question may have brought light on old history, but the views of today will determine our future.