If Taiwan’s KMT Wants To Survive, It Will Have To Become More Taiwanese

Michael Turton , August 11, 2016 11:37am

Interesting news for the KMT today. First, the political warfare military instructors are going to be phased out of educational institutions across the nation by 2020. In the old days they were responsible for following and reporting on the political views of students, and also for school discipline and punishment. Students viewed them with terror. Generally they were pro-KMT and enforced party ideologies and historical theology. Remnants of that attitude remain, as this video from Feb shows. But on the whole they have changed with democratization. Getting rid of the KMT’s political presence in the government is one thing; rooting out its institutional presence is another, and more difficult. It will be another generation before that is gone…

Bigger news for the KMT is that the local factions are signalling they want evolution, if not revolution: they want local chapter heads to be elected by local chapters, not appointed by the Party center. This is a direct threat to the mainlander elites who really run things, since they’ve been accustomed to managing the patronage networks from above… from the KMT news organ:

According to Yao Chiang-lin (姚江臨), a member of KMT’s Central Standing Committee, former President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who was concurrently KMT chairman, had included direct election of local chapter directors as one of his party chairmanship election campaign planks. However, he did not fulfill his promise, nor did the following chairpersons, Wu Po-hsiung (吳伯雄), Eric Chu (朱立倫), and Hung Hsiu-chu.

As everyone has noted since the 1970s, if the KMT wants to survive, it will have to Taiwanize. This would be an important first step. Hung, backed by the mainlander old soldiers, is temporizing. Readers may recall back in February then Chairman Eric Chu appointed a bunch of retreads and old men to the Party Chapter Chair positions, signaling that there would be no “reform” on his watch.

A friend of mine put it:

More noise….. I wonder if this will be like the time the party majorly reformed following its big election losses in 2000, 2004, 2014….

Turning to the outside world…

Like far too many China scholars who seem unable to approach Taiwan except through a China frame, Australian scholar and uber-commentator Kerry Brown expends billions of pixels trying to subsume Taiwan into China, and thus, utterly failing to understand Taiwan. His latest so-does-not-get-it effort in the Diplomat is how Tsai’s Apology Strengthens Taiwan’s Place at Front of Chinese Modernity

This issue is a huge one. Han Chinese treatment of smaller ethnic communities in modern Chinese history has been one of the darkest and most taboo issues. Mongolians in the Inner Mongolian region during the Cultural Revolution, starting in 1966, endured terrible treatment, with official figures released a decade later admitting that over 20,000 had died. Chinese Muslims were forced to eat pork, and Tibetan monasteries were closed down, with many destroyed. Up to today, similar patterns of exclusion and poverty exist in China’s 55 recognized ethnic minority groups. Attempts to hold the government to account on these issues run the risk of being painted as politically motivated, separatist attacks. The idea of Beijing issuing an apology along the lines that Tsai has for its ethnic communities and the treatment they have received in the last decades, let alone centuries, is currently unimaginable.

Tsai’s apology will no doubt not be widely reported across the Strait.But it does stand as a major historic movement with relevance for all Chinese, not just those in Taiwan. It shows how a Han Chinese-dominated community can start to look at its behavior and record in relations between ethnic groups over the decades and admit to some hard truths. In this, Tsai has possibly been inspired by the actions of leaders like Kevin Rudd in Australia. Rudd’s groundbreaking decision when elected prime minister in 2008 to issue a formal apology to the country’s aborigines was a courageous act, and ranks as perhaps his most important achievement in power.

The framework for understanding Tsai’s action is not “Chinese modernity”. It can never be “Chinese modernity” because modernity in China is a Han-chauvinist, colonialist, and imperialist modernity, a modernity imposed on China by Han elites, a modernity stamping out local differences and local cultures and languages as fast as possible and replacing them with Han language, history, and values, because China is an empire that is attempting to cover itself with the hard candy shell of a state. Thus, the use of “ethnic groups” in the media and academia to describe Tibetans or Uighurs is a good example of China’s soft power at work — its deployment as a descriptor obscures the imperial nature of Chinese rule. China is an empire, its variegated peoples are occupied peoples, not “ethnic groups” as if they somehow were serendipitously found to be living in China (gosh, how did that happen?) and were not the subjects of imperial conquest.

When the PLA comes over, the destruction of Taiwan’s culture and political independence will be just another example of Chinese colonialist modernity at work. Just as it was the first time the KMT imposed Chinese modernity on Taiwan in 1945…

Tsai’s apology was not “Chinese” but Taiwanese. Her actions, as I noted in the long post below, are not a further development of “Chinese modernity” but the offering of an inclusive Taiwanese democratic alternative that is based on resistance to Han-centered Chinese modernity. Her apology was made possible by a Taiwan-centered modernity with Taiwan independence at its core, and itself is an act furthering independence.

Even Brown himself recognizes that no Han in China could apologize to those “ethnic groups”. Hmmm, wonder why…

Note to KBrown: the people in Taiwan are Taiwanese, not Chinese. I am pretty sure you don’t regard Kevin Rudd’s apology as a beacon to British people everywhere. Tsai’s apology to Taiwan’s aborigines is similarly not a beacon to Chinese people everywhere. If Chinese people choose to be inspired by it, that would be awesome, but I don’t hold out much hope…
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Michael Turton

A long time expat in Taiwan.