Lee Teng-hui Administration and Taiwanese Nationalism

Dr. Yoshiyuki OGASAWARA
Tokyo University of Foreign Studies

December 15, 1998
Presented at the Australian National University

Today I will make a brief explanation on Taiwanese Politics with particular emphasis on the Lee Teng-hui administration and Taiwanese nationalism and also I will comment on the latest election results in Taiwan. First I would like to clarify some of the terms that I will use in this paper. People in Taiwan consists of four groups:

Aborigines, Fukkiens(Hokkiens), Hakkas, and Mainlanders.

Mainlanders are those who came to Taiwan after 1945. Those Fukkien and Hakka who settled in Taiwan before the Japanese occupation are usually called Taiwanese or native Taiwanese. Fukkien are the biggest group among them. Exactly speaking, these Fukkien were mostly from the south of Fujian province which is called Min-nan. So it often happens that the term "Taiwanese" simply means Fukkien descendants and the Taiwanese language means the Min-nan language. The Taiwanese language is considered as one of many dialects in China But the difference between Taiwanese and Mandarin is as big as that of English and German. Let me give you an example;

Goa jit-ma kong tai-gi, ta-ke tia u bo? (Taiwanese)
Wo xianzai shuo taiyu, dajia ting de dong ma? (Mandarin)

Next I would like to introduce main political parties in Taiwan;
The Kuomingdang(KMT): The nationalist party which was established in mainland China and fled to Taiwan in 1949 after being defeated by the communist party.
The Democratic Progressive Party(DPP): The main opposition party which was established in 1986.
The New Party(NP): A splinter group formed in 1993 by hardline right-wing KMT politicians who were pro-unification and anti-independence. They were displeased by the President Lee's taiwanisation policy. It mobilised the uneasiness of the second and third generations of Mainlanders. It also has the characteristics of the urban middle class party. It criticises the KMT's local interests connections.

Now I would like to discuss about Taiwanese nationalism. Taiwanese nationalism is a movement and sentiment to seek to establish a new nation state, probably an independent Republic of Taiwan. It involves three elements:

1. Against Mainlander: putting emphasis on taiwanisation.
2. Against the KMT: putting emphasis on democratisation.
3. Against China: putting emphasis on independence.

Roughly speaking, there was no nationalism in Taiwan before the Japanese occupation. During the Japanese occupation there was no room for Chinese nationalism to grow up in Taiwan. Chinese nationalism was brought into Taiwan by the KMT after the Second World War and it dominated Taiwan since then. Taiwanese nationalism gradually took shape in opposition to Chinese nationalism in the late 1980s. It was closely related to the DPP.

There was a ground where Taiwanese nationalism began to explode. About 80 percent of the population were native Taiwanese, and they were suppressed by the KMT-Mainlander hegemony. Before the democratisation, the Taiwanese language was regarded as being inferior to Mandarin and schoolchildren were fined if they spoke the Taiwanese language in school. To talk about independence was punished heavily, sometimes with death. Many intellectuals were arrested and sent to the prison island. After the lifting of martial law in 1987, it became possible to advocate independence openly. The DPP issued a manifesto in 1991 which embodied Taiwanese nationalism by rejecting Mainlander's superiority, the KMT's monopoly of power and its "One China" policy and by advocating independence.

Just around the end of the cold war, former Soviet Union and some eastern European countries went through democratisation and the ruling parties lost power. It looked as though Taiwan might follow these precedents, but the KMT did not lose power. The KMT radically reconstructed itself from a Mainlander's party to a native Taiwanese party and succeeded to re-establish itself with the image of the natural party of government. President Lee has been the driving force for this transformation. The most important factor is that he shared some elements of Taiwanese nationalism.

His thought was most clearly revealed in the talk with a Japanese author of history, Sima Ryotaro in 1994, in which President Lee said that Taiwan had been ruled by alien administrations and the KMT was one of them. This was the boldest remark ever made by a KMT leader. He also launched so called "pragmatic foreign policy". This was a distinctive departure from the previous KMT line which was stuck to "One China" policy. Although the president of the ROC being critical against communist China was nothing new, President Lee clearly differed in that his criticism was based on the sentiment of a Taiwanese leader not on the sentiment of a hypothetical Chinese leader.

President Lee himself is a native Taiwanese and speak the Taiwanese language as his mother tongue. His Mandarin is not particularly good. His expression of Taiwanese-ness carried the supports of many native Taiwanese. His fight against the Mainlander elite in the power struggle of the KMT created the strong sense of attachment to President Lee among native Taiwanese people. The leadership of President Lee made it possible for the KMT to steal DPP's clothes. Therefore the Lee factor was quite important in bringing up the cause of Taiwanese nationalism on the one hand and defusing the explosiveness of Taiwanese nationalism on the other. He played the decisive role to reduce the tension within the Taiwanese society.

In 1990 Thomas Gold observed the situation in Taiwan and pointed out the challenge for the KMT as follows:
With the increased complexity of Taiwan's society, it became necessary to find a new set of values to integrate diverse groups and to express the "collective national-popular will". [...] The traditional values of the KMT seemed terribly obsolete and irrelevant to new middle classes. The claim that Taiwan was just a part of China had little resonance among the growing millions who had no experience of the mainland or even much sense of it. With many talented people flocking to the opposition movement, it made more sense to find a new political form to incorporate their activity and talents and built a new consensus to enable Taiwan to face the rapidly changing external environment. (Thomas Gold, "Civil Society and Taiwan's Quest for Identity") This hard task was led by President Lee.

Up to this point, I have presented the ordinary interpretation of Taiwanese nationalism. Usually Taiwanese nationalism is regarded as a single form of nationalism, but the different natures within Taiwanese nationalism need to be paid more attention. Today I will propose to divide Taiwanese nationalism into two concepts.

1. Taiwanese ethnic nationalism
2. Taiwanese civic nationalism

Although these two are closely connected, I think it would be more revealing to divide into the separate concepts.

We notice the deepness of the antagonism between native Taiwanese and Mainlanders. After martial law and some other suppressive measures were lifted, the Taiwanese sentiments which has long been contained began to explode. To some extent it would be natural for native Taiwanese to emphasise the sense of Taiwanese identity(in fact Min-nan identity) and the Taiwanese language(the Min-nan language), in contrast to Chinese identity and Mandarin which were brought into Taiwan by the KMT. It would also be natural for them to try to restore their equal position in the political society in Taiwan which was successively denied under the Japanese and the KMT.

From the viewpoint of Taiwan's international isolation, it was obviously clear that this situation was unsatisfactory. It was understandable that the idea of independence had some appeal to native Taiwanese as a solution to present difficulties and uncertainty. On the other hand, the crisis of the national identity is much deeper and the pressure from mainland China is much stronger than usually supposed from outside.

It is true that the majority of the people in Taiwan is native Taiwanese but to emphasise its ethnicity too much is to create the sense of uncertainty and illfeeling within the society. For example, some Hakkas are unhappy about the fact that the Min-nan language is regarded as the Taiwanese language while the Hakka language is not. For many people in heterogeneous Taiwan, it is not quite clear whether he/she is a Taiwanese or Chinese or both or neither.

Advocating of Taiwan independence also created a huge cleavage within the society. Because of the strong warning from mainland China, people feel that the move toward independence may risk their lives. In these conditions, the matter of rational policy-making was turned into the emotional issue of trust or distrust. The surgence of Taiwanese ethnic nationalism had reached a critical point where it could not expect to carry further support.

In the actual politics, I would like to argue that Taiwanese ethnic nationalism was most obvious in DPP's election campaign for the Governor of Taiwan in 1994. In this election campaign, the DPP's candidate Chen Ding-nan adapted the ethnicity card, called the native Taiwanese electorate to vote for native Taiwanese candidate. His campaign was full of anti-Mainlander, anti-KMT, anti-China, pro-independence voices and almost all campaign speeches were made in the Taiwanese language . But the percentage of the vote he got was only 38.7%, while the KMT candidate Song Chu-yu gained 56.2%.

It was for the first time that whole Taiwan area (except Taipei and Kaoshiong) to chose the Governor. This election was a watershed for Taiwanese ethnic nationalism, because Mr. Song is a Mainlander and played important role in the Chiang Jing-kuo's authoritarian administration. But after Lee became president, Mr. Song as the secretary-general of the KMT made every effort to support Lee and to push forward democratisation. During this election campaign President Lee developed a new concept of "new Taiwanese-ness". He said, it does not matter when they came to Taiwan or which group they belong to, all people who live in Taiwan and who work for Taiwan are Taiwanese. This concept played an important roll in electing Mr. Song in the background where more than eighty percent of the electorate was native Taiwanese.

After all, in Taiwan , this relatively small island consists of various ethnic groups, it would be impossible to achieve social peace if one ethnicity tries to present itself to be the one "true" ethnicity. "New Taiwanese-ness" is a core concept for the development of Taiwanese civic nationalism. Why should I still regard this as nationalism? Should not we consider the equal treatment of the different groups as a concept of civic right, rather than as a concept of nationalism? The reason is that the motivation of "New Taiwanese-ness" relates to the desire to establish a new national identity and new nationhood, and not a mere confirmation of civic legal rights.

To face the threat from mainland China, Taiwan needs to have "collective national will" to preserve the freedom and prosperity achieved in Taiwan. Different reactions by different groups would be fatal to Taiwan. Therefore, what is needed is a civic-oriented concept rather than a blood-based one, and at the same time it must be more national-oriented than a general civic right concept.

Although President Lee's pro-independence stance was curtailed by the missile crises in 1995 and 1996, this does not mean the giving up of the desire for a new nation state. Lee is not a person who would submit his life to a political cause. During the authoritarian period, he had experienced a terrible life. His close friends were arrested and even sentenced to death. It is believed that he himself was under investigation by the secret police. He kept his silence. It was only after having got the presidency that he began to reveal his thoughts. He is a man of endurance. So his philosophy is that when the tide is against him, he must endure in the belief that the day will come when his idea will be proven to be right.

When he realised that Taiwan independence is too risky for the present, he decided not to push further ahead and to wait for the future. When he talks about unification, it is no more than a lip-service to Mainlanders and to Chinese leaders. To preserve the status quo became common platform for the mainstream of the KMT and moderate faction of the DPP.

But still we should be careful about the difference between the "R.O.C." and the "R.O.C. in Taiwan". President Lee, high officials of the KMT and even the moderate factions of the DPP emphasise the fact that the "R.O.C. in Taiwan" is already an independent political entity, so there is no need to declare independence. Although they keep the same name of the "R.O.C.", the Lee administration managed to revise the constitution to make clear the area of sovereignty and to establish the legitimacy of the government of the "R.O.C. in Taiwan" to govern Taiwan. A quiet revolution is going on. What is lacking is just an international recognition.

A stage of Taiwanese ethnic nationalism reached its peak in 1994 and came to a standstill thereafter. A new phase of Taiwanese civic nationalism started in 1994 and came to occupy the centre ground of Taiwanese politics. This trend was confirmed during the Presidential election in 1996 in which Lee gained comfortable 54% of the votes while the DPP candidate Peng Ming-min who was a guru of Taiwanese nationalism gained only 21%. The DPP has been trying to modify its image of being a party of Min-nan ethnicity and a party of independence. But it has not yet succeeded to change its image enough to make a breakthrough. The DPP is rather good at local elections where the issues of national identity and unification/independence are less important. [see grapf]

The DPP showed a remarkable performance at the governors/mayors elections of prefectures/cities last year (1997). For the first time in history the DPP's percentage of total votes surpassed that of the KMT. And the DPP gained 12 posts of governors/mayors out of 23 posts while the KMT gained only 8 posts. At this moment it looked as if the KMT would fail to get the majority in the coming Legislature election in December this year. But in the Legislature election which was held on 5 December, the KMT gained majority while the DPP scored less than expected. At the national level election the KMT still showed strength. [see grapf] [There are many local factors in deciding the election results.]

The election of the mayor of Taipei was different. Although it was technically a local election, it drew national attention and was regarded as a preliminary for the Presidential election in March 2000. Here the ethnicity issue played an important role. Taipei has a concentration of Mainlanders. They usually support the New Party. At the Legislature election in Taipei constituency and the Taipei City Councillors election which were held on the same day, the New Party gained 17.3% and 18.6% respectively, but the New Party Mayor candidate Wang Chien-shien gained only 3%. [see graph]

This difference means that the voters for the New Party, most of whom are Mainlanders, abandoned the party candidate and voted for the KMT candidate Ma Ying-jeou who is a Mainlander too. The motive behind this move was their dislike of the DPP candidate Chen Shui-bian, the incumbent Mayor. Chen Shui-bian, a native Taiwanese, is a man of energy, a lifelong fighter for democracy and his achievements in the Taipei City Government for the past four years is widely regarded high. Opinion polls were constantly showing that the satisfactory rate toward his city administration was as high as 70%.

But many Mainlanders were determined to prevent Chen from being re-elected by transferring their votes, because he is a DPP candidate and he is considered to be the toughest challenger in the coming Presidential election. It is true that Chen Shui-bian was defeated by the voting tactics of Mainlanders. But if the DPP drew a simple lesson, its future development will be limited. President Lee intervened in the election campaign at the final stage. Again he brought up "new Taiwanese-ness" to assure native Taiwanese electorates that both they and Ma Ying-jeou are New Taiwanese and belong to the same community.

One of the reason why it is difficult for Mainlanders to acknowledge the DPP is that during the election campaign the DPP candidates speak the Taiwanese language. Although it is true that they have a good reason to speak the Taiwanese language because it is their mother language and it was oppressed by the KMT/Mainlander regime, at the same time it is also true to say that it makes Mainlanders feel alienated.

On the other hand, it would be expected that the voting behaviour of Mainlanders would become more diversified. A voting attitude which evaluates a candidate on his/her merits regardless of his/her origin will help to cultivate a common sense of nationhood.

The gap is still wide and it will take many years for them to reconcile each other. This fact strengthens, not reduces, the importance of "new Taiwanese-ness". This is a flexible concept which is able to include Chinese-ness, and is frank enough to admit the heritages and contributions of the Chinese culture. Taiwanese civic nationalism is a cautious line of policy to try to avoid the hostility of mainland China. Taiwanese politics will be developing along the line of "new Taiwanese-ness". So I would say the concept of Taiwanese civic nationalism will be helpful in consolidating the democratisation in Taiwan and it will help Taiwan to survive as a quasi-nation state in the 21st century.

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