The issue of identity in Taiwan

Taiwanese have different opinions about who they are.

Some Taiwanese say “I am Taiwanese”.

Some say “I am Taiwanese but am also Chinese”.

Some even just say “I am Chinese”.

And some put more emphasis on Chinese and say “I am Chinese and Taiwanese”.

Whoever they are, they seem to be unified by one thing-they do not agree who they are.

To be clear, the way Taiwanese describe themselves in terms of being Chinese doesn’t mean “those of Chinese descent” such as depicted in the words 華人 huaren. Instead, they actually say 中國人 zhongguoren, meaning those of the nationality of China.

There are many reasons why Taiwanese describe themselves the way they do. For starters, some Taiwanese feel that the “real” China belongs to the Republic of China government that was established by Sun Yat-sen in China and then later moved to Taiwan under Chiang Kai-shek. These Taiwanese believe the two men represent China in the way that it should have been today-a democratic society under a nationalist party-and believe that Taiwan houses Chinese that have since fled the Mainland after the civil war in China in 1949 to foster the so-called “real” political party that will take over the Mainland in the future. Such Taiwanese fall under the “I am Chinese and Taiwanese” category for the most part.

However, some Taiwanese don’t even consider the political side of things and believe that all huaren fall under the guise of Chinese, both culturally and somehow politically/socially. For them, Taiwan is a part of China and being Taiwanese is no more special of a name then someone living in Guangzhou who is referred to as a Cantonese. Such Taiwanese fall under the “I am Chinese” group.

In terms of the “I am Taiwanese but am also Chinese” group, these people generally believe that Taiwan and Taiwanese have assimilated into their own unique culture but still have roots in China that have shaped their lives, making it hard for them to completely cut off ties with anything China related (especially if they are older and/or still have family in China, which is often the case). Because there is dilemma of whether or not someone has family in the Mainland, it makes it hard for Taiwanese to agree on the extent of how much they are Chinese, so they take the easy route and refer to themselves as being both names. Also, and while this may seem like an overestimation, most of these Taiwanese voted for the Kuomintang-the Nationalist party of Taiwan-believe in closer ties with China, and are more likely to identify with Chinese either historically or socially. Whether or not that will change once older relatives there pass away and there is less direct connection in family ties is hard to determine.

As for the “I am Taiwanese” group, they want nothing to do with China and genuinely believe the Mainland doesn’t represent them culturally, politically or socially. A lot of these people tend to vote for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in Taiwan, which focuses more on Taiwan as an independent nation and less reliance on China, prefer the Taiwanese dialect over Mandarin and have no plans to travel to the Mainland, according to the surveys I have conducted (and by that I mean secretly over hot pot). They also tend to take the attitude that like most Americans, they immigrated to a new place and assimilated to a different lifestyle, making it silly to think that they still belong to another cultural group or country in which they weren’t born in. “You have ancestors from Europe, but do you consider yourself European?” said one Taiwanese.

That man made a good point; however, Americans are considered US citizens and are recognized under the United Nations as a country whereas Taiwan is not. Also, remember that Taiwan still has “China” in its official name-Republic of China-if not to make things more complicated and even somewhat comical. Even if he claims he is completely Taiwanese and Taiwan were to be recognized as an independent country, what would be said about the fact that the island still has the name “China” in it? Would Taiwan still seek to be the “real” China in the future, in which case it would not even be representing itself as an independent nation, but rather, one that is waiting to fill in the shoes of communist China? Such questions can’t be answered unanimously in Taiwan.

This is a very short overview of this complicated and unique situation in Taiwan. In short, identity issues are not only imbedded into political ideology there, but so are social and family reasons, which makes it difficult for Taiwanese to agree on as to whether they are anything related to China or being Chinese.

What’s interesting to note though, if you were to ask someone of Chinese descent living in Malaysia or Singapore what their connection to Chinese culture is, they inevitably refer to themselves as huaren and not zhongguoren.

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