Is Taiwan Next? – The New York Times
It was indeed confusing. ROC is generally referred to internationally as Taiwan; it is not generally recognized as a country and is instead referred to by many media, including this one, as an “autonomous democracy”. But the archipelago, of which Taiwan is the largest island, has a constitution, a president and a legislature. Its citizens have voted for their representatives in free and fair elections since 1992, the year before Nancy was born. They serve in their own armed forces and carry a green ROC passport when traveling, although in 2003, after complaining about being mistaken for Communist China, the government changed the passport to say both “Republic of China” and “Taiwan. ”
This Gordian knot of identity is the product of a contested history. For centuries, Taiwan has been subject to the whims of colonizers, settlers, warlords and dictators. As early as 1544, when a Portuguese ship passed by the island and a passenger exclaimed “Ilha Formosa” – beautiful island – foreigners had even decided on its name. It was originally populated by native Austronesians, but Han migration from China increased with the arrival of European traders, including the Dutch East India Company. The Qing Empire took control in 1683, but after a humiliating defeat against the Japanese in 1895, it ceded Formosa to the victors. The Japanese made the island their model colony to prove they could compete with the white European imperial powers, creating Japanese schools and much of the island’s infrastructure.
The Republic of China, meanwhile, was established far away in Nanjing in 1912 after revolutionaries overthrew the Qing Empire, but it was quickly torn apart by the Japanese invasion and internal strife between the ruling nationalist Kuomintang ( KMT) and the Communists. After Japan lost World War II, Formosa was ceded to the Republic of China by decree of the Allied Powers. Locals were not consulted, but after 50 years of Japanese control, many have shown genuine enthusiasm for their Chinese liberators. Their hopes of speaking their own language, practicing their own culture, and electing their own leaders soon faded. The KMT ruled Taiwan with an iron fist, viewing the locals as Japanese collaborators and plundering the island’s resources for the ongoing civil war on the mainland.
In 1949, the Communists defeated the Nationalists and established the People’s Republic of China. The remnants of the ROC, led by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, fled to Taiwan. Each government has proclaimed itself the rightful ruler of all of China. The tsunami of around 1.5 million exiles who accompanied Chiang to Taiwan produced two castes: benshengren – people from this province – and waishengren – people from outside this province. Nancy’s paternal grandmother grew up under Japanese rule and saw newcomers take the best jobs and resources. She later married one of these newcomers, but he ran up gambling debts and then ran back to the mainland, letting her settle her bill. She sold their house and moved the family to Taipei, supporting Nancy’s father and her three siblings by selling sliced fruit and crushed ice, a traditional dessert, on the street.
The KMT embarked on a campaign of forced sinization – Mandarin became the official government language instead of Hokkien, which Nancy’s grandmother spoke with a large majority of the six million inhabitants. The streets of Taipei were renamed after Chinese cities, and textbooks taught mainland geography and the history of the Republic of China. the benshengren have been erased from their own existence. Chiang’s secret police made sure no one stepped out of the line.
In 1987, under pressure at home and abroad, Chiang’s son and successor, Chiang Ching-kuo, lifted martial law. It had been in effect for 38 years. In previous decades, Taiwan’s economy has soared, driven by petrochemicals, light manufacturing, and an increasing focus on technology. After the death of young Chiang in 1988, the first benshengren President Lee Teng-hui became the head of government and accelerated Taiwan’s transition to democracy. In 1992, Taiwan held its first direct election to Parliament; the first presidential election was held in 1996. Lee touted a new national identity in an attempt to unify the country: people were neither waishengren or benshengren but “New Taiwanese” instead.
By the time Nancy was born, her grandmother had invested in small lots which she transformed into parking lots. She bought three apartments, including the one Nancy lived in with her parents, older sister and younger brother. Her grandmother had sent all her children to school, including, unconventionally for the time, her daughters. Nancy adored her as a feminist model, and her grandmother favored her in return. Nancy went to her grandmother’s apartment every day after school.
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