Taiwan’s president and the Chinese heritage
Taiwan’s president Ma often stresses that Taiwanese are ethnic Chinese, even though this cannot be said of all citizens. With his latest quote on the subject, he might cause new controversy.
Ma Ying-jeou recently gave an interview to several reporters working for foreign media. During this interview, he is quoted as having said:
All our efforts in Taiwan have aimed at showing ethnic Chinese societies around the world that the imported concept of democracy can take root, germinate, and grow into a big tree on purely ethnic Chinese soil.
This quote appears identically in at least two reports:
This could either mean that Ma answered in English and was quoted verbatim, but that is unlikely since he refrains from giving English interviews ever since feeling misquoted by AP a few years ago. Or it could mean that he answered in Chinese and both journalists quoted from the official English translation which is usually provided by the Presidential Office staff who record all interviews.
Who do you call Chinese?
It probably goes without saying that President Ma calling Taiwan’s society “purely ethnic Chinese soil” has the potential to be highly controversial. After all, “less than 50 percent of Taiwan’s people recognized themselves as Chinese”, according to a recent CNA news item. At the same time, according to that survey, “80 percent of Taiwan’s people consider themselves as belonging to the Chinese race, even if they don’t consider themselves to be Chinese people.”
Does this strengthen or weaken Ma’s point? After all, he talked about “purely ethnic Chinese soil.”
Over 95 percent of Taiwan’s population is considered to be Han, which can probably be used synonymously for “ethnical Chinese.”
About two percent belong to the group of Indigenous Peoples, or Aborigines.
Then there is the growing group of “new immigrants”, mostly women from Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam marrying Taiwanese husbands.
Taiwan and its diversified ethnic makeup
The last printed edition of the government’s official Republic of China Yearbook, published in 2011, had this to say on the subject:
Since the late 1990s, an increased number of marriages between ROC citizens and foreign nationals has further diversified the nation’s ethnic makeup.
Diversified ethnic makeup? This does not sound like a “purely ethnical Chinese” society to me.
The latest edition of the yearbook is only available online and dropped this passage, possibly because of a different chapter structure. There is this passage, however:
Several waves of settlement and shifts of sovereignty over recent centuries have bequeathed Taiwan a diverse cultural heritage. Such a pluralist culture not only makes Taiwan a hotbed for various art forms which coexist, blend with or influence each other, but also renders it very receptive to different thoughts
Different thoughts indeed.
Taiwanese Aborigines are no ethnic Chinese
Ma using the word “soil” might cause some additional controvery because it can easily be (mis)read to refer not to Taiwan’s society, but to the land.
Of course, noteworthy Chinese immigration to Taiwan did not happen until the 17th century, so during the longest time of China’s alleged 5000 year history, Taiwan certainly did not play any part, and the societies on Taiwan during that time were certainly not ethnical Chinese at all.
I am really curious to know what Taiwan’s Aborigines (原住民, original inhabitants) think about Ma refering to Taiwan’s society as “purely ethnic Chinese soil.” After all, they are the original masters of the land from whom Taiwan was taken in the course of successive waves of immigration. Today they number half a million people. And they are certainly citizens.
I can imagine that Ma will be haunted be much-criticized remarks he made in 2007 when running for President for the first time. Back then, he told an elderly Aborigine: “I will treat you like a person… and I will educate you well and provide you with opportunities.” After being criticized, he later offered an apology.
This video intercuts that statement with a KMT campaign commercial:
What do you think? Did Ma surprise you with this statement, or is it basically the same he has always been saying?
English posts you might want to have a look at: