If you’ve visited the observatory on the 89th floor of the Taipei 101 building recently, you’ll notice that in order to go down again, you have to walk through an entire floor of shops selling jewelry, coral, jade and so on. All this wasn’t there until about a year ago, when large groups of Chinese tourists started arriving in Taiwan.
One item that features prominently in those stores is the terrestrial globes, which come in different sizes and materials. The globes are, admittedly, quite beautiful, which is reflected in their price. Take a close look, however, and you might reconsider buying one as a souvenir — at least if you share my political persuasions when it comes to Taiwan.
Not only is Taiwan the same color as China, but the font is the same as that used for Hainan Island. And it doesn’t read Taiwan, but “Tai-wan dao,” or “Taiwan island,” which no matter how you look at it makes Taiwan equal to Hainan and therefore part of China.
Now, merchants (at least in a democracy) have a right to sell whatever they want as long as it isn’t injurious to another party or incites hatred or violence. In that regard, and given the fact that many Chinese tourists visit Taipei 101, one could rationalize the decision. But looked at from a different angle, it has the smell of prostitution about it, as if Taiwanese vendors had to denigrate their identity so that Chinese tourists will buy their wares. It’s as if Palestinian vendors — of their own volition — chose to sell atlases, or terrestrial globes, that eradicated the Palestinian Territories in favor of a Greater Israel. Would this be acceptable in Palestine? Probably not; it would be shameless. So why should it be otherwise in Taiwan?
The more I look at it, the more I think that if Taiwan is eventually annexed by China, it won’t be through force or political coercion, but simply greed. If Taiwanese can’t even stand their own and be confident enough to sell Chinese tourists terrestrial globes that clearly identity Taiwan as the sovereign identity that it is, then all is lost. I cannot but be reminded of that cab driver in Kaohsiung a couple of months ago who, discussing Chinese tourists, said “we don’t like them, but we like their money.” What a dangerous, near-sighted thing to say, now that I think of it.
The presence of Chinese on Taiwanese soil presents Taiwanese with an exceptional opportunity to show Chinese a side of history that they never had access to while in China. If they choose to meet the challenge, it’s also a great chance to reaffirm their identity and to display their willingness to defend their nation.
The will to fight starts with little things. But if Taiwanese merchants can’t even do this, then why should we expect the military to defend the nation in its hour of need?