Republic of China Centennial

Thunder Tiger

As a companion to my earlier post on the PRC’s celebration of National Day, today Taiwan is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of China. As part of the festivities for “double ten” day (i.e., tenth day of the tenth month), the parade in Taipei showcased Taiwan’s military forces, including a flight demonstration by the Thunder Tiger Aerobatics Team.

Unlike the PRC where people with legal training are only beginning to make inroads into the top leadership, Taiwan’s 2012 presidential race is between two lawyers: incumbent Ma Ying-jeou (Kuomintang Party) and challenger Tsai Ing-wen (Democratic Progressive Party). Indeed, both are also U.S.-trained: Ma at NYU & Harvard, and Tsai at Cornell.

Not only are Taiwan’s politicians influenced by American law, so is Taiwan’s legal system. Since the end of martial law in the late 1980s, Taiwan has incorporated American adversarial-leaning reforms into what has traditionally been a system that more closely resembles those seen in Japan and Continental Europe. Reforming the criminal justice system remains a work in progress, as I wrote about in a 2009 article. If the fascinating legal-transplant/translation story isn’t enough reason to visit Taiwan, the mangoes certainly are. I highly recommend planning visits to coincide with the summer mango season.

Although tensions ebb and flow across the Taiwan Strait, it is impressive that the PRC and Taiwan have avoided a large-scale military conflict, and hopefully level heads will continue to prevail on both sides. Further impressive is the durability of the meticulously crafted language of the 1972 Shanghai Communiqué. In his recent book On China, Henry Kissinger retells the story of its drafting:

Principle and pragmatism thus existing in ambiguous equilibrium, Qiao Guanhua and I drafted the last remaining section of the Shanghai Communiqué. The key passage was only one paragraph, but it took two nearly all-night sessions to produce. It read:

The U.S. side declared: The United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China. The United States Government does not challenge that position. It reaffirms its interest in a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves. . . .

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3 Responses

  1. A.J. Sutter says:

    BBC World Service had a sound bite on 10/10 to the effect that there was some pushback even in Taiwan against celebrating the ROC anniversary, since of course many on Taiwan still resent the 1949 relocation of the ROC government/KMT to the island. Are you aware of any discord about the anniversary?

    Also, it used to be (late ’90s/early’00s) that the DPP campaign songs had melodies based on Japanese enka, rather than more “Chinese” melodies, in a clear attempt to differentiate themselves from those favoring closer ties to the mainland. (Although Taiwan had been a Japanese colony for 50 years, ties between Taiwanese strictu sensu, at least, and Japanese remain friendly and strong.) Do these or other new sorts of cultural differentiators with political overtones persist today?

  2. Margaret Lewis says:

    Taiwan is a vibrant, and at times rambunctious, democracy (see, e.g., members of the legislature punching each other). There is still a palpable distinction between “benshengren”(pre-1949 Taiwanese) and “waishengren” (Mainlanders), but the tension has diminished dramatically over recent years. Nonetheless, it does not surprise me at all that there is some discord, and I take it as a positive sign of free speech.

    As for the view of Japan, my sense is that people in Taiwan have a generally positive view of the Japanese. Japanese food, cartoon characters, and brands are common. Taiwan also openly looks to Japan’s legal system for ideas, most recently with respect to layperson participation in trials. My understanding is that Japan was a fairly benign colonial ruler, especially when compared with the harsh repression of Chiang Kai-shek. This relatively rosy view of Japan is in stark contrast to the view in the Mainland where people suffered terribly during WWII (known there as the War Against Japanese Aggression).

  3. A.J. Sutter says:

    Before Korean dramas swept this part of the world, at least, (and before, not coincidentally, TV networks here in Japan ran out of money to produce more of their own dramas), Japanese dramas were very popular on Taiwan television. There were also more people alive who had been educated under the Japanese occupation and could speak the language fluently.

    Former ROC President Lee Teng-hui, although heading the KMT, was Hakka and benshengren — and a graduate of Kyoto University, one of the most prestigious in Japan. He has often expressed enthusiasm for this country. The feeling is reciprocated: many people here still admire him for his guts in standing up to China as well as for his warm feelings. A frequent trope on social media is that this country would be better off with him as its leader than with any of the recent or likely future mediocrities to parade through the PM’s office.

    This relationship between Japan and its former colony is quite unique. Aside from Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yew, who credits the occupation with teaching him lessons in authoritarianism that he applied during his own administration, for many in East Asian countries the memory (now more taught than experienced) of Japanese occupation remains bitter — and a convenient tool to be exploited by leaders who want to distract their populaces from their own shortcomings. Those leaders get some help toward that end: despite many official apologies from Japan, large amounts of overseas development assistance (BTW Japan is still giving ODA to China, despite having a smaller GDP), and many grass-roots level outreaches from private Japanese citizens on such issues as sex slavery, Japanese politicians have not lost their knack for undermining international confidence in their sincerity.