Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Of surrender, identity and one big happy family

As is always the case, it is only when one sits down and listens to people's testimonies and experiences that he or she can come closest to truly understanding a people and its history. No amount of history books — which usually focus on politics and economics while giving social aspects short shrift — can compare with a Taiwanese man, say, telling of his experiences of discrimination while working in China. Only novels, I have found, can approximate this intimacy with history. One that does that very well for the Taiwanese experience is Wu Zhuoliu's Orphan of Asia.

It was with this in mind and after having had such an encounter with living personal history that I set out to write an article on the espionage and discrimination that Taiwanese living in China are subjected to, a problem that in fact goes back well before 1949, when the Nationalist forces "lost" China to the communists and fled to Taiwan, giving rise to the cross-Strait conflict we see today.

As a colonial people with a geography and a history all their own, Taiwanese have never really belonged — despite what the Chinese say — to anyone who has put a claim on them. In reality, Taiwanese are neither Japanese nor Chinese; they are Taiwanese. True, the generation of Chinese that came to Taiwan with the retreating Nationalists still has an attachment, or an emotional link, to the Mainland, but the children born to that generation were born in Taiwan, as were all the generations born since the first Chinese came to Taiwan hundreds of years ago. Orphan of Asia, itself written by a Taiwanese living under Japanese colonialism (the book was originally written in Japanese), does an apt job portraying this sense of not belonging anywhere, a condition that is exacerbated by how Chinese and Japanese react to the Taiwan reality and how this forces Taiwanese, then as today, to hide their true identity.

If they were one big happy family, or "cousins," as Beijing refers to Taiwanese, then why must Taiwanese be treated with contempt whenever they are in China, entrepreneurs facing extortion, racism, threats and spying, not only in time of conflict, as today, but as Wu's novel shows us, well before that as well?

Readers can access the full article, titled "The myth of the big happy family," by clicking here.

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