The Battle for Taiwan’s Past

Even the question, “Is Taiwan Chinese?,” is deceptive. Does Chinese mean 中国, part of China, or 中华, culturally Chinese?  Recently I noted how the Olympics has dealt with the question. The question is debated in Taiwan, too.


Michael Turton (an anti-KMT, anti-CCP blogger) has two posts which addresses some of the ways the question is coming up nowadays. First, he has a post on The 2/28 Incident, part of the so-called White Terror. According to Taiwanese Nationalists, the 2/28 and the White Terror were part of an invasion of Taiwan by a foreign country at the beginning of the Cold War — an invasion which was then frozen for sixty years. According to the KMT, however, it was a regrettable, sad, but necessary effort to route out Communists and Communist-sympathizers from the last free province of China.  The CCP itself would criticize the KMT for attacking Communists, but note that the KMT’s defense of a  “government of the people” (民族主義) was as patriotic to the Chinese people as the American Civil War was patriotic to the American people.

Likewise, Turton descries naming controversy of the Chiang Kaishek Memorial Hall. Was Chiang a foreigner who grabbed an island occupied by Japan after America liberated it, a hero who kept China’s traditional of Constitutional government alive against impossible odds, or a misguided patriot whose heroic efforts to fight warlordism was undermined by his own paranoia and the corruption of those around him?

These days, the latter two questions both feed into a Chinese nationalist narrative that serves the interests of the KMT (a right-wing, corrupt, pro-market, authoritarian party that rules Taiwan democratically) and the CCP (a right-wing, corrupt, pro-market, authoritarian party that rules China through a collective dictatorship).

2 thoughts on “The Battle for Taiwan’s Past”

  1. 中国, or Zhongguo, sounds something like “Jong-gwa.” It litterally means “Middle Kingdom,” but is commonly translated as “China”

    中华, or Zhonghua, sounds something like “Jong-hwa.” It literally means “Middle Flowery,” but is commonly translated as “Chinese”

    After the agreement was reached to refer to Taiwan as “Chinese Taipei” for the purposes of the Olympics,” China at first used 中国, while Taiwan used 中华. There are occasions in China where 中国 is used to call something “Chinese ___” instead of “___ of China,” but by itself 中国 definitely means “China.”

    Compounding the issue is that Chinese is both poetic and telegraphic. The term for America is 美国, or Meiguo, meaning “Beautiful Country.” However, 中美 means Sino-American and 美华 means American Chinese.

    Ironically, while Beijing translates her name as “People’s Republic of China,” and Taipei hers as the “Republic of China,” in Chinese they are 中华人民共和国 (Chinese People’s Republic) 中华民国 (Chinese Repblic). Indeed, both governments wants used these more accurate translations! I think the form changed when Beijing wanted to avoid the Soviet “Ethnicitiy SSR” model of name, and Taipei went from a European style (Nationalitiy Republic) to a US-client style (Republic of Country) model of name.

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