Tuesday, October 12, 2010

‘Children’ of Yan and Huang: So what?

President Ma Ying-jeou, the chairman of the party that time and again accused the Democratic Progressive Party of playing the ethnic game uses ... ethnicity to justify closer ties across the Taiwan Strait during his national address on the 99th anniversary of the Republic of China

During the portion of his Double Ten National Day address that focused on cross-strait relations, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) turned to ethnicity to play down the differences between the two countries.

“The people on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are ethnic Chinese — descendants of the legendary emperors Yan and Huang,” Ma said.

While many would dispute this contention, emphasizing ethnicity and ancestry as a means to encourage reconciliation or, conversely, foster alienation misses the point completely. The reason is simple: The longstanding conflict across the Taiwan Strait has nothing to do with ethnicity and lies instead in the political, ideological and imaginary spheres.

History is replete with examples of leaders who used ethnicity to stoke nationalistic fervor, often with devastating consequences. When it comes to Taiwan, this device has two fundamental flaws that make it unsuited as an element of political discourse.

The first is the exclusionary nature of nations built on race or ethnicity. In an increasingly mobile world, genetics have lost relevance in terms of buttressing one’s nationality. Consequently, nationality is no longer predicated on ethnicity, but rather on one’s association to a land or people. That is why the concept of “foreign,” a term often used in Taiwan, has an entirely different, and in many cases irrelevant, connotation in multi-ethnic countries such as the US, Canada or the UK. That is why immigrant societies — and Taiwan is such a society — embrace peoples of all backgrounds as participants in the national experiment. That is why a person of Haitian background, for example, could serve as the representative of Queen Elizabeth in Canada, or why a man with Kenyan ancestry can sit in the White House.

My unsigned editorial, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

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