Wednesday, October 10, 2012

, ,

Double Ten Day: Taiwan's Birthday

10/10/2012 Taiwan Explorer
The anniversary of the Wuchang Uprising

The current ROC flag was born in 1917.

Today is Taiwan's birthday, some say, but it's actually the anniversary of the Wuchang Uprising, that lead to the foundation of the historic Republic of China (further ROC) in 1912 by the Kuomintang (further KMT), when Taiwan was under Japanese occupation. The country, who's fetal movements we celebrate today, wasn't founded on Taiwan, but instead as the name indicates: In China. This might seem very confusing to those, who are not familiar with the Chinese and Taiwanese history, but in short: After KMT lost the Chinese Civil War on the Mainland in 1949 against the Chinese Communist Party, they "relocated" the ROC to Taiwan. There is no way I can explain this part of history in short or without upsetting someone, so I won't go further. You can read more on the topic here.

What sparked me to write this post was a discussion thread on Taiwanreporter's Facebook Page, that revolved around the issue some Taiwanese have with celebrating this day as their national day. I can completely understand them and their reasoning, but I would like to share my thoughts on this holiday (something I've already done in the comment section on that thread.) This is what I said:

»I'm more pragmatic on the issue. Questioning ROC's legitimacy on Taiwan and its outlying islands after 67 years won't do any good now (and obviously still divides the nation). A lot of young people have adopted ROC's anniversaries as Taiwan's, the two concepts are somewhat melting into one after the democratization in recent decades and I think this is good, because right now Taiwan is too internally divided for any politician to push through a new constitution with new symbols. Maybe the older generations are more divided and suspicious of everything related to ROC, but young folks (who are now their grandchildren), are much closer in their patriotism and love for the ROC "flavored" Taiwan. Canadians celebrate Canada Day*, which has its origins in the British Empire. The Union Jack is today proudly erected all across UK on every national day, but how many countries were colonialized under the very same flag? Same example could be used for the ROC flag, its symbolism changed through time. A lot of Taiwanese celebrate 十十 and vawe the 国旗 today, but it doesn't mean that they want to be part of China or that they support the KMT government and their policies toward China. Actually, the fact, that Ten Ten Day is called "Taiwan's birthday" is the worst thing, that could happen to the ruling party, who has different interpretations.«

Let me elaborate further. Of course you could argue, that the ROC, Canada and UK are very different countries in terms of how they deal with its own history. There is no doubt, that the latter two are in a very different position than the ROC a.k.a. Taiwan is today internally and globally. My example only wanted to highlight the fact, that symbols change through time. The initial meaning of the ROC flag was good, the three colors of the flag correspond to Sun Yat-sen's Three Principles of the People: »Blue represents nationalism and liberty, white represents democracy and equality, red represents the people's livelihood and fraternity.« The Wuchang Uprising, that lead to the Xinhai Revolution in 1911 was noble and the end of the monarchical rule in China is one of the most important historic events in all of East Asia and it obviosuly influenced Taiwan of then and today. The main problem is what happened under the ROC flag from 1913 on or strictly related to Taiwan, between 1947 and 1987, when the very same party, that was founded on noble principles, ruled over Taiwan with an iron fist, killed a lot of people and accumulated wealth and power, something that's still has a big impact on Taiwan's society today. Nevertheless, something is slowly disappearing in the recent years: KMT's ideology and the interpretation of history doesn't seem to resonate with the majority of young people of today any more and this trend will continue and deepen, unless China gets too heavily involved in the process and stirs things up. A lot of young Taiwanese of today are able to wave the ROC flag, sing the national anthem of the ROC and proudly say: »We are Taiwan, don’t call us Chinese Taipei.« Even though I sympathize with those who want to spoil the party on 十十, because they have legitimate reasons, I believe pushing against today's celebrations and against ROC's (KMT's?) legitimacy on Taiwan is a dead-end street.

By all means, I am not a supporter of KMT (for the record, I am also not a supporter of DPP or any political party in Taiwan), but I believe that we should not look down on those who celebrate 10th October as Taiwan's birthday, even if it factually isn't true. How many things in Taiwan are in complete contraindication with common sense? Too many, but Taiwan still functions well. In all honesty, a lot of national holidays in various countries are based on legends and interpreted in a way to fit a certain patriotic feeling or desired historic view, rather than rooted in a scientific research that would highlight very complex aspects. A good example of this is the upcoming Fiesta Nacional de España or the so called Columbus Day, which celebrates the anniversary of Columbus' landing in the "New World" on October 12, 1492. The same event also lead to the subsequent European colonization of North and South America and the extinction of numerous indigenous peoples. Should Spaniards really be celebrating that? I know too little to give you a good answer.

Today may not be Taiwan's birthday, but young Taiwanese, who travel the free world and observe patriotism in other countries are hungry for opportunities to express their love for the country they call home: Taiwan. They don't have a lot of opportunities to do so outside the waters that surround the island nation, I say let's give them the chance to do so today, if they wish. Let's put heart before reason today and discuss issues some other time. How about before the next elections?


*I heard about this example on J. Michael Cole's excellent post