Taiwan: National Identity and Democratization

Taiwan: National Identity and Democratization

Taiwan: National Identity and Democratization

Taiwan: National Identity and Democratization

Synopsis

At a moment when clashing forces of nationalism and heightened demands for political reform dominate the political life of many states, the democratization of Taiwan is a drama worthy of study. Since 1987, Taiwan has experienced a sequence of political changes that few thought possible and which standing theories of democratization assert could not happen. At issue is the persistent uncertainty about the national identity of Taiwan. This reflects the stark clash of nationalist visions: the Chinese nationalism manifested by the Mainlander elite in the ruling Nationalist Party (KMT), and the Taiwanese nationalism manifested by those who advocate that Taiwan be an independent state. By any measure, Taiwan has become a democracy despite the inability of the political elite to reach consensus about what is the national identity of the state. This study examines the history of the democratization in Taiwan from the perspective of the national identity problem. Based on interviews with leading figures in the KMT and opposition parties, it elucidates the nature of the conflict among political elites about identity since the Nationalists came to Taiwan in 1947, describes how the conflict about identity has affected the course of democratization since the onset of reform in 1987, and explains why the political science theories about nationalism and democratization do not account for what has happened in Taiwan. The author has written to reach a broad readership and has not burdened the text with excessive jargon that would limit its accessibility. The historical discussion is interwoven with quotations from contemporary notables as well as commentary about conceptual matters pertaining to theprocess of democratization. This results in a work that will appeal to both the Taiwan specialist as well as those interested in national identity and the process of democratization per se.

Excerpt

Just before the start of the Chinese New Year celebration, I sat in one of Taipei's ubiquitous Pizza Hut outlets trying to read as I ate my lunch. My concentration was disrupted by the frenzy of animated chatter and the festivity of excited laughter. Now and then as I looked up from the page, I noticed that the restaurant was bustling with young families and clusters of youths stylishly coifed and garbed in fashionable dress that any American raised on bargain basement wear would find lavish. The scene prompted me to reflect on all the ways Taiwan has changed since my first stay began in 1980.

At that time, there were no Pizza Huts on Taiwan, nor other Western food franchises for that matter. The prevailing wisdom then was that Chinese did not like cheese. Beyond that, people were not accustomed to spending what one must spend now for a side order of neon glitter with one's meal. At that time, there was nothing chic about the way people dressed. Adults often wore traditional blouses or jackets with high, stiff collars and knotted cloth buttons. Professional men tended to wear Chung Shan--style leisure suits and women wore frilly frocks with a hefty dose of lace. Students were perpetually seen in monotonous khaki, olive, black, or blue school uniforms. Unfortunate hatchet-job haircuts limited girls' tresses to the depth of the earlobe and kept all the boys in military stubble.

Indeed, in the eyes of a newly arrived American teacher, a severe and Spartan militarism pervaded daily life on Taiwan. Smartly marching military police with gleaming white helmets and automatic weapons strutted mechanically down city streets. Mail from abroad was intercepted and screened. Foreign magazines arrived with missing pages or offending paragraphs clumsily blacked out with the censor's magic marker. Local newspapers printed self-congratulatory pabulum.

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