Dear Taiwan (#1): Who Are You Exactly? Are You The Republic of China or Something Else?

Dear Taiwan,

I thank you for your warm welcome. Your territory is well-kept, beautiful, and people are kind. To be honest, I didn’t know anything about you on the day we met, which was February 4th. I understood that the People’s Republic of China had some sort of influence on you, but assumed that you were sort of like Hong Kong or Macau. But I was wrong, wasn’t I? I arrived in Taiwan and learned that there were deeper things involved, attached with a complex history. I spoke to a local who was born in Taiwan; probably around her mid 40’s, and she gave me an interesting perspective:

Older Lady: “You know, China and Taiwan are no different. We are all Chinese and come from the same place, at the end, we’re all Chinese.”

What she said made sense, but I felt there was much more to the story. The Taiwanese friends I made in Japan had expressed that there was a clear difference between the Chinese and Taiwanese people. Yet, this lady seemed to have a different opinion. This puzzled me, as I presumed that most Taiwanese would have a similar mindset to the friends I met.

Taiwan, you were beginning to showcase your complexity, weren’t you? I researched further and discovered that, technically, there are two China’s. The People’s Republic of China claimed to be the legitimate China, and the Republic of China, operated under the Kuomintang, fled to Taiwan and claimed to be the original China that sought to take back the mainland (thus the name, mainland China).

This baffled me. Two China’s? And their both trying to prove that their the legitimate China? As I walked the streets of Taipei, I saw how different the people were compared to the people I met in Shanghai and Hong Kong, which weren’t as friendly. I began to wonder, “If the ROC won the civil war, would the people of mainland China have the same mannerisms and lifestyle as the Taiwanese? After all, the ROC does claim Taiwan to be the original China, so is this how mainland China would’ve been?”

I haven’t received an answer just yet. However, I spoke to a young lady about the topic, which dug up another hole:

Young Lady: “When I was younger, I thought I was Chinese. The government tells us that we are Chinese, but we are not. During the civil war in China, the Kuomintang (the political party for the Republic of China) fled to Taiwan after losing to the PRC. However, the ROC occupied Taiwan. They banned us from speaking our own language and forced everyone to speak Chinese. The Kuomintang claims Taiwan to be the real China, but the people of Taiwan don’t agree. This is why you will hear Taiwanese people say they’re not Chinese, because they’re not.”

Occupied? I didn’t even consider that. I understand that the region had been occupied throughout history, from the Portuguese to the Spanish, and the Chinese to the Japanese, which has had a lot of influence. But Taiwan, are you simply trying to get the independence you’ve always sought and stand as a nation or are you part of another nation, but refuse to accept it?

“I read how the aboriginal people consist of only 2% in Taiwan. So wouldn’t that 2% be Taiwanese, while the other 98%, or majority, be predominately Chinese due to them arriving in Taiwan throughout time? Thus, making you Chinese?” I asked the young lady.

Young Lady: “I believe it’s similar to America. If we look back towards history, I can say that you’re not American but instead European. But you would argue that you’re American.”

While I personally don’t care what ethnicity I am, she brought up an interesting up. As an example, let’s say that 90% of the individuals who populated America were from Spain. Even with the passage of time, most Americans will still be Hispanic, ethnically, even though they’re American. They’ll be Hispanic-American (one indicating their heritage, the other indicating their nationality). Thus, wouldn’t that be the same with the Taiwanese if a large percentage of the inhabitants are from China? I still haven’t discovered an answer for that yet. However, I also spoke to a young man about the topic.

Young Man: “China and Taiwan are like the United States and Puerto Rico. But unfortunately, we don’t have the U.S. over us. I rather us be under the U.S. or Japan rather than China”

This also got me thinking, but after some time being here, it’s still a bit of a confusing situation. An important question I’d like an answer for is: When the Taiwanese claim to not be Chinese, are they stating that their not Chinese ethnically or that they’re not a Chinese national? And, if the Chinese from the mainland had the same mannerisms, lifestyle, and mentality as the Taiwanese, would the Taiwanese say they’re the same, ethnically?

Essentially, I want to know if the Taiwanese people are separating themselves from China because they are truly a distinctive ethnic group or if they are Chinese, but don’t want to be associated with the mainland people/ government of PRC since their perspectives of life are completely different.

Sometime next week I’ll be going to the National Palace Museum with a Taiwanese friend to ask more questions and to see what the Museum has to say for itself.