Tuesday, July 31, 2012

China and Taiwan: The Olympics and Really Understanding Taiwanese Thoughts about Not Having a Country

For foreigners it is not always easy to gauge Taiwanese feelings about not having their own country.
We know the China and Taiwan situation (this is a rough guide for the people who are not familiar with Taiwan): Taiwan exists in a state of de facto independence with its own army, currency, government and passport, but in reality has only relations with a few tiny countries and no nation-level representation in any international organizations because China doesn't allow it to be a country. When SARs happened it is said the WHO guys were scared to come to Taiwan without asking China, and then refused to take Taiwan off the list until China came off the list of SARs affected countries. However, as Taiwan pretty much functions as a country, you really only notice when you are applying for a Taiwan visa; searching Google for Taiwan embassy, and finally work out there is no embassy, just a trade office.
Of course there is a political party that stands for independence – or used to – and if you go down south the people are more vocal in their desire for a country. And, during the fifties, sixties, and seventies 10,000s were imprisoned or killed fighting for democracy. However, looking at now: the people managed to elect the party in favor of unification twice, about a million or more Taiwanese live in China, an awful lot of guys will do all they can to avoid military service – and the Taiwanese keep a healthy sense of humor about it all based pretty much on the practical knowledge it is a lost cause (It is 23 million against 1.4 billion). And that comes back to the Army thing again: the Americans were apparently surprised when they found the Taiwanese army wasn’t like the Israeli, but Israel has a chance of winning whereas Taiwan doesn’t against China. Apart from in stupid movies people don’t fight to the last man in lost causes; in much fairer fights than this one, plenty of countries have given up early when odds turn against them (as my father would say about a certain neighbor across the water who apparently just wanted to protect their architecture).
Often people stupidly cite surveys where Taiwanese answer that they support the status quo not a declaration of independence, as proof they don’t want independence. They are answering the question practically not in a dream land, ie, the status quo means they won’t get bombed, then they reluctantly choose it. If they asked the question, ‘would you like independence?’ (forget China invading) of course they will resoundingly answer yes.
They can appear apathetic, but then when the Olympics comes round it kind of reveals their true feeling. Or in fact any sporting occasion or sign of success overseas:
1) Jeremy Lin – A Taiwanese American did well in the NBA and now is a national hero in Taiwan even though he is in fact really an American.
2) Wang Jien Ming – A genuine home grown baseball pitcher who a few years ago played for the New York Yankees. When he was playing they erected screens in public places all around the country and the normally hardworking Taiwanese all stopped to watch.
The incident that most sticks in my mind is the Olympics in Greece back in 2004. Taiwan won 2 Golds in Taekwondo. When the Taiwanese went up to the podium to receive their gold every channel had been changed to broadcast from children’s TV to stocks to news. As they raised the shitty Chinese Taipei flag and broadcast some weird national anthem that nobody knew their wasn’t a dry eye in the studios. Presenters who had covered wars, seen the results of terrorist attacks and lost family and friends could not control the tears from raining down.


Anonymous said...

wonder if the athletes are advised by politicians how to act or what to say during the awards ceremonies...

Anonymous said...

It seems you are not really informed. That "weird national anthem that nobody knows" is in fact very well know to all Taiwan people. It is the National Flag Anthem and played when raising and lowering the ROC flag on such occasions as January 1 at the Presidential Office or many schools every morning.

Ironically the DPP prefers this anthem as it does not have any KMT references.

But sure, go on to make fun about those who believe the status quo is really what the Taiwan people want.

Dan Chapman said...

Thanks for posting.

I didn't know that about the anthem.

On your last point it is clear i don't think the status quo is what people want.