Saturday, December 05, 2009

Why she hated Chen Shui-bian

Among the many reasons why the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) didn’t perform well in the 2008 presidential election is the fact that its use of the “ethnic” card — benshengren, or Taiwanese, versus waishengren, or “mainlander” — backfired. Use of that construct intensified during then-president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) election campaign in 2004, where, as some have argued, he was forced to appeal to a more fundamentalist faction within the DPP to secure his support base. As a result, mentions of “real” Taiwanese versus “fake” ones became more frequent, and while the ploy may have won over some deep-greens, it is also apparent that it alienated not only waishengren, but also many otherwise greens who, through marriage, became involved with mainlanders from 1945 on.

Allen Chun, of the Institute of Ethnology at Academia Sinica, has an interesting paper on the subject, and makes many good points about the role of culture, language and geography in the consolidation of ethnicity, while convincingly deconstructing the strictly genetic approach adopted by some.

A discussion I recently had with a Taiwanese friend highlighted the case:

“I have nothing against the DPP and I come from a predominantly green part of Taiwan,” she said. “But I hate Chen Shui-bian.”

Why do you hate him?

“Well, first, he come to office promising to clean up the government, and we believed him. But now he proved he’s as much a crook as the others,” she said.

“But that’s not the main reason why I hate him. During his campaign [in 2004], he often referred to waishengren versus benshengren, you know, to appeal to some people. My dad was a soldier in the Nationalist army and fled to Taiwan in 1949. He married my mother, who was born in Taiwan. When Chen said these things about ‘real’ Taiwanese against ‘fake’ ones, how was I supposed to react? All of a sudden, I was nothing.”

“My dad passed away when I was six, so of course he didn’t vote [in 2008]. But my mother did — and she voted for the Chinese Nationalist Party,” she said. “So did I.”

Would she have voted the same way had Chen not played the “ethnic” card from 2004 on?

“Perhaps. I just resented the fact that he was negating me, my origins, and who I was.”

For a few years, my friend refused to pay taxes and paid the fines for her act, a means to express her disapproval of what Chen and others in the DPP were saying about ethnicity in Taiwan.

Many of my Taiwanese friends have similar circumstances at home. While they, born in Taiwan, may identify as Taiwanese first and Chinese second — a growing trend, as many polls have shown — the impact of a policy that discriminates against loves ones (spouses, parents, friends) cannot be a good one when it comes to winning votes. If the DPP is to secure a solid supporter base in 2012, it will have to reach out and embrace every person in Taiwan, regardless of where he or she comes from, who cares about this place. After all, as Chun argues, “ethnicity” in a case like Taiwan is far more a product of the social environment and of geography than genes. Aborigines, Hakka, Taiwanese and Mainlanders — all, if they identify with the place they call home, are Taiwanese, a concept of ethnicity that is achieved, to varying success, in multiethnic countries like Canada, the US and the UK.

What the DPP simply cannot afford, and what it must avoid at all cost, is to alienate voters who, were it not for its discourse on ethnicity, would support it over the KMT. Not only is discrimination morally reprehensible, but it’s not a vote winner.


Anonymous said...

There are two major conflicts in Taiwan: nationalism (Taiwanese nationalism vs Chinese nationalism) and class. Chen Shubian's "crime" was he committed these two major offences: not only he came from a poor family, he advocated Taiwanese independence. Those people hated him because of what he is, not because of what he has done or what he has not done. I don't care much for his style and wording, but I don't hate him. And I have never had an impression that Chen or DPP emphasizes benshenren vs weishenren divide. They are just trying to right a historial wrongs of discrimination and instituiional injustice.

To me, ethnic issues in Taiwan is not such a big deal. It will resolve over times as Shibutani said in his book "Ethnic Stratification", no matter how different people are, they all will be convinced that they are from the same ancestors after a certain period of time. I do believe Taiwanese nationalism advocates equality for all people live in Taiwan no matter what their origins are. It is after all, an immigrant society.

On the other hand, I believe Chinese nationalism (Zhonhua minzu) is not a nationalism in a modern sense but the Great Han Chauvisnism in disguise. If there are nationalisms in China, China will break up just like Europe in the 18th century given their similarity in the complexity of cultures, languages and ethnonationalisms. During Japan's invasion of China, CCP organized peasants to resits Japanese army and it was coined "peasant nationalism" by Chalmers Johsnon, definitely not a bourgeois nationalism. CCP and KMT both agree on Chinese nationalism and that why/how they cooperate on that principle. Both claim Tibet, Xinjiang and all the minories dwelled areas and the inalienable part of China - Taiwan, though that not what Mao Zedong said when he was interviwed by Edgar Snow. Mao said he supported Korean and Taiwanes nationalistic liberation from Japanese empire. Why the change? Great Han Chauvinism.


Άλισον said...

May I ask about the image in this post? Was it by any chance related to your friend's relative or totally unrelated to this post?

Corruption happens everywhere in the world even in western countries, the seriousness has to be measured in terms of relativity.

CSB's case is focused more and blown-up further because he is a target for China's media propaganda war, CSB is hated because he supported the Taiwanese independence movement, a thorn for the CCP, and a trouble for the American foreign policy.

The earlier-settler Taiwanese do want to accept the post 1949 immigrants if the latter want to assimilate and truly identify with the land, the people, and the fate of Taiwan.

But the post 1949 immigrants to Taiwan and their offspring's attitude, being the rulers for decades, plus seeing Taiwan as an island of temporary refuge and a place for exploitation, is the real obstacle to racial harmony.

The ECFA comic was a vivid example of how earlier settlers were perceived or mocked by the "superior mainlanders".

Ma is a good example of playing the racial card, before 2008 presidential election, he would identify himself as "I am a Taiwanese even if I am burned up into bone ash", this kind of temporary allegiance to win votes from Taiwan's earlier-settlers is not a sincere way to assimilate into the existing society.

From the recent opinion polls, we can see that many post 1949 immigrants and their offspring are in a state of confused or "double" identity now and as time goes by, they may sort out their identity crisis and become truly Taiwanese or follow some KMTs back to their "motherland".

The Observer said...


Thanks for the comments. The image is not related to my friend. This post, of course, only tells one side of the story — and this is what I wanted to explore. There is no doubt that many “mainlanders” do not fully identify as Taiwanese (though younger generations may be doing so increasingly), or that China and the KMT have also played the ethnic card, especially when it comes to the Han Chinese construct and the sense of superiority that comes with it. This being said, I don’t think the DPP gains much by falling into that trap. From a PD perspective, stating clearly that its “ethnic” policy is one that embraces everybody, regardless of “ethnicity,” is the best possible option. Are mainlanders specially targeting Chen over his “ethnic” card and because of his pro-independence policies? Quite likely. But still, if the DPP is to come back, it must do everything it can to avoid the other side using that as ammunition against it.

David said...

I feel that what is really happening here is much more complex than just the DPP exploiting the waishengren vs benshengren (I hate those two words) issue. The key point is that both major parties use and exploit ethnic divisions in Taiwanese society in various ways. To merely say that it a result of Chen Shui-bian's presidency is to miss the point and to fall into the KMT's trap. It is a complex interplay resulting from the past 60 years of Taiwan's history.

Also the mainstream position of both parties currently is to be inclusive of all people in Taiwan, albeit within the scope of their differing Chinese and Taiwanese nationalisms. There maybe elements and individuals who disregard this and seek to exploit ethnic divisions, but this is definitely not a directive coming out of either party's headquarters.

I also don't like to say that foreigners can't understand Taiwan. I am one and spending some time studying anything leads to good knowledge of it. However, it is probably difficult for foreigners to truly grasp all the subtleties of this issue unless they have an excellent understanding of both Mandarin and Hoklo and have been through the ROC education system.

Anonymous said...

I don't like CSB that much neither, but for a totally different reason. I think the lady you interviewed with did not get CSB's message well.

Personally I think when CSB refer to 'real' Taiwanese he meant Taiwanese loyal to the land and its people. In other words, its nationalistic based, not ethnically. When he said "fake" he meant those that constantly doing deal with China and CCP, in the expense of Taiwan. It does not matter what your background is, if you say "i love Taiwan" in Taiwanese, but at the same time sell Taiwan out, that is "fake" Taiwanese.

And on the hindsight, this idea that some people are selling Taiwan out is not out of thin air. Lien, Seuong, Ma and a lot of other Taiwanese all seem to betray Taiwan for their own personal gain. Lien even kiss the ground during election, remember? And afterward, what did he do? Can you not call it "fake"?

So I am not sure how she can hate him based on that? I think she misunderstood.

Carlos said...

It's a tough situation, because "Taiwanese" is often interpreted as "Hoklo" even if the person using the word is trying to use the term inclusively.

But overall I agree. My fiancee's family is all waishengren, and she's blue to the core. But despite her commitment to the KMT, her position is the mainstream one - ROC=Taiwan. When an American asks her where she's from, she says she's Taiwanese. She also thinks of herself as Chinese (fair enough), but the notion of being rejected as Taiwanese hurts her.

In the US we're seeing the same thing with Republicans and their "real, small-town America" mentality. It doesn't get you anywhere.

That said, she doesn't seem to understand that I dislike the "Chinese" label being thrust upon me as much as she dislikes the "Taiwanese" label being withdrawn from her.

Islander said...

So true! Taiwanese are all who love Taiwan and want to protect her regardless of ethnicity.