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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Boycott ROC Centennial Cycling Events

This coming year we, as cyclists, and as residents of Taiwan, will be asked to participate in a number of cycling and other events as part of the centennial celebrations for the founding of the Republic of China by Sun Yat-sen in 1911.

Taiwan's government has already planned a number of events to coincide with this celebration and organizers are more eager than ever to promote these events with an eye on the centenary.

I would like to call on all cyclists in Taiwan to use this opportunity to conscientiously BOYCOTT these events.

Although the ROC's 100th birthday has given us a wonderful excuse to participate in some very attractive events, I also feel it is in our mutual interests to stand up for Taiwan as our mutual social and cultural commons and resist these events which, among other things, serve to further the political goals of an ideology that seeks to marginalize Taiwan in favor of a Chinese nationalist center that is located far away from our lives and only accessible to a few.

You may ask why you should care about this dispute or feel this is an issue of simple partisan politics in the often monochrome world seen through the lenses of either "green" or "blue".

The answer is simple.

Taiwan is the center of our lives. We live here. We work here. We raise our families here. We build meaningful relationships with our family, our neighbors, our friends, and our environment. As long as we consider Taiwan to be our shared center from which we all stand equidistant, then we shall all be able to enjoy a sense of equality with no single group's culture, ethnicity, class, political affiliation or religion taking precedent over anyone else's.

The Republic of China and its ideology of Chinese nationalism has been the sole possession of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) 73 of the past 100 years, as the KMT and the ROC were indelibly linked as a one-party state under martial law until internal and external forces pressured the KMT to begin a process of reluctant liberalization in 1988.

The Republic of China was founded when Taiwan was a Japanese colony and Taiwanese did not choose the Republic of China as their government. In fact, they rejected it in 1947.

Taiwanese who opposed its rule were either imprisoned or executed.

For most Taiwanese, the ROC starts in 1988 when martial law was lifted and for the first time Taiwanese were free to discuss and interpret their world and their identities.

Still, many people will call this ancient history and may even suggest that I am stirring the sediments of ethnic strife.

I disagree as any person of any ethnic background should support equality. Some people simply do not want to forfeit their advantage.

What I find even more repugnant about this whole ROC centennial business is that the ideals and ideology of the ROC were created to be a highly centralized state culture to be known as "Chinese culture". This construction, which I have continued to expound upon on this blog, has created and maintained an imbalance in Taiwan, in which those who identify closer with KMT party ideology are more equal. These values are reinforced through various points of contact with the state including; schools, government offices, farmers and fisherman's unions and other public spaces. Identification with this ideology has been deployed by some members of society to limit the social mobility of others and to ensure that access to power was limited to an ethnic and ideological elite with the intent to maintain power and protect and expand their personal fortunes.

More importantly, the goal of the Republic of China is, and has been, transformative in nature. It was constructed with the purpose in mind to transform a diverse and pluralistic population into a mono-culture, which was idealized as being ethnic Han. By conflating Han into Chinese and Chinese into "modern", the Chinese nationalists in both Taiwan and China initiated a civilizing project that has wrecked havoc on local cultures and led to greater strife.

The ROC was, and still is, a colonial project.

As long as the ROC continues to seek the establishment of a culture, as enshrined in its constitution, it is a threat to the rights of everyone on Taiwan. In many Taiwanese families the culture of one parent will be promoted over the other. Some Taiwanese will be more equal than others, while some people's culture and ethnicity will be degraded by a systemic partiality that weakens us all and locates our center in a land most of us have had little or no experience. Even if we did believe the myth that Taiwanese ancestors came from China, Taiwan has a growing number of children with one foreign born parent. There is no cultural space for these families. And then there are the indigenous peoples who are pressured to conform to these ROC ideals for greater social mobility.

I also feel that with such a close affiliation with the KMT, any event that seeks to promote the glories of the ROC in China will only serve to support the KMT by proxy in seeking an imaginary parity with China.

The KMT and its leaders are and have been focused on power and greed. They are also closely affiliated with the scourge of organized crime that has been hurting Taiwan for decades. These are the people who have become rich and powerful and thus are seeking to protect their fortunes and interests. These political elites and their patrons are the ones who seek to prevent all Taiwanese from standing up with strength.

As athletes, as residents, as families, as people... we have a moral obligation to boycott these events until the ROC either retreats to a position where all people are equal... or is totally abandoned for something better, inclusive and freely chosen by the people who live here and love this land.

We must not let ourselves be used as pawns to lend any endorsement to this party and this ROC state structure which makes our Taiwanese children fight a daily battle for their authenticity.

Boycott ROC 100!

Don't be naive and think your enthusiasm for cycling will not be portrayed by political actors as enthusiasm for their ROC and a Chinese Taiwan.

Here is a message I received that really prompted me to speak out on this issue:

100 years? Who says? This kind of event doesn't make me feel very enthusiastic. It actually makes me very upset. It makes me feel like we, as athletes, are being used to support Chinese nationalist ideology that only serves to marginalize us even more as proud Taiwanese.

I will be very wary of these "100 year anniversary" activities and how they will be used politically.

There wasn't a single Taiwanese to sign the ROC constitution. Not even in 1947. We didn't taste democratic freedom until 1988... and they want us to rally for the anniversary of a nation / constitution we were not allowed to know until very recently? For most of the ROC experience on Taiwan, beginning in 1945, only a few people could enjoy the privilege of being close to the ROC. To the rest of us, it was a promise that was never kept. Many of those in the seats of power right now worked very hard to keep us at arms length and maintain their privilege.

I am sure there are critics out there who will tell me not to think too much, that I am taking it too seriously, and that this is just about an athletic event. I would disagree. This is a very political exercise with a very political goal.

Before jumping into these events I will have to consult my conscience.

100年? 誰說的? 「建國百年單車活動」並沒有讓我感覺非常熱血。事實上,這項活動讓我非常生氣。它讓我覺得,政府在利用身為運動員的我們,灌輸中國民族主義的意識型態,而刻意淡化了我們以身為台灣人而感到驕傲的事實。






To better understand some of the ideological racialism and essentialism at play, check Ma Ying-jiu's New Year speech. Michael Turton does a wonderful job with his analysis. Here

With this frame I highly recommend looking back over my article on CommonWealth Magazine's piece on cycling and tourism with an eye on Ma's rhetoric. Here

I would also like to suggest a few sources for learning more about Taiwan's problematic post-cloniality along with the methods and ideology used by the KMT to maintain a society of ethnic strife with the aim of transforming Taiwanese into Chinese.

1) Stevan Harrell from the University of Washington sets the table in the introduction of Cultural Encounters on China's Ethnic Frontiers. By using Edward Said's framework for understanding the processes of coloniality, Harrell shifts the focus to Chinese nationalism.

2) In Rescuing History from The Nation: Questioning Narratives of Modern China, Presenjit Duara shows very clearly how ideas such as "history" and "culture" were constructed by Chinese nationalists to serve their political goals.

3) One of my favorite scholars is Frank Dikotter, who has several wonderful works on the topics of race and gender in China. Dikotter demonstrates how Chinese nationalism piggy-backed upon other popular movements at the time that favored social darwinism. Many of the early Nazi beliefs in a "master race" and biological determinism are still extant in Chinese nationalist ideology. Here is The Construction of Racial Identities in China and Japan.

4) Steven Phillips from Stanford has a marvelous book on the earliest contact between Chinese nationalists and Taiwanese. Between Assimilation and Independence is a gem in its ability to cut to the core of how Taiwanese were perceived by the ROC, and how the KMT injected ethnicity into the relationship between the citizen and the state.

Maybe I am being naive myself, but I think these book offer some valuable insight into understanding the incongruity of the ROC in Taiwan.

Update 2:
Associated Press Article on the problematic ROC.