Did Taiwan ever belong to China

"Who Owns Taiwan"

Fan Chou, Who Owns Taiwan? (Taiwan shi sheide? 台灣 是 誰 的?) Translated from Chinese by Peter Busch. Bochum: West German University Press (Sinica series, volume 30) 2014
278 pages, ISBN: 978-3899663-90-7, price: 14.90 euros.

Review by Dr. Thomas Weyrauch

When considering Taiwan as a political entity, the interstate relations between the Republic of China and the People's Republic of China are in the foreground, on the other hand the dispute between the two major rivals of the National Party of China, Zhongguo Guomindang, and the Democratic Progressive Party, Minzhu Jinbudang, are in the foreground. Fan Chou, entrepreneur and columnist for a business newspaper, is breaking free from these thought patterns.

If one knows the books written from a Taiwanese nativist point of view, such as “Is Taiwan Chinese?” By Hsueh Hua-yuan and others, one suspects a similar content behind fan titles. However, this is not the case: Beyond the blue and green, i.e. from the whole of China and Taiwanese orientation, Fan sees what is happening on and around the island regardless of party bickering or daily political business. Fan also provokes his readers with other book publications with titles like “Who owns China?” And “Will Taiwan die? Views of a Martian ”.

In “Who Owns Taiwan?” Fan divides his essays into the categories “Who am I?”, “Where do I come from?” And “Where am I now?” And answers as an overview that Taiwan is not identical to the mainland, own a democratic system as well as a civil society and want to determine its own future. Fan also points to the company's predominantly mainland Chinese roots in Taiwan and states that Taiwan has a weak international position, but for some intellectuals with historical expertise from the People's Republic of China it is a blueprint for the development of their country. From this Fan concludes quite immodestly that Taiwan could influence the world in view of the growing importance of China (p. 32 f.).

A lack of historical awareness on the part of both major parties in Taiwan means that its residents are in a cage of intergovernmentalism. This “life-threatening deficiency” is expressed most clearly in the slogan of the Democratic Progressive Party, according to which “Taiwanese are not Chinese” - and in the fact that the National Party does not dare to vigorously contradict this view (p. 231). The author had already broken a lance elsewhere in this context for the Guomindang of earlier years: “When the proponents of Taiwan's independence get excited about the“ dictatorial system of Chiang Kai-shek ”and never say a word about the fact that some intellectuals who even if they came to Taiwan in the wake of the Kuomintang and made substantial contributions and even sacrifices to the local democratic development, then they behave simply hypocritically ”(p. 49, 179 ff.).

Fan Chou also accuses the two leading parties of allowing themselves to be guided by the People's Republic of China: the green camp does not understand that it is being manipulated by Beijing at will in order to keep the people of Taiwan in constant concern, while the Guomindang only play a minor role play and move closer to Beijing under the pressure of this concern. Fans appeal to opposition leader Cai Yingwen and President Ma Yingjiu therefore: "Stop dancing to Beijing's tune, free yourself from the ghost of history, and strive for an apolitical form of existence in your political programs that will bring Taiwan worldwide recognition!" P. 239) With this, Fan means discussions about the status of Taiwan, of which he wrote at the beginning: “Perhaps it is an ironic godsend that Taiwan has such a weak international position. Perhaps the world is just waiting for a country that, in the legal sense, is not one at all, and whose self-image is that it has defined for itself what kind of people it wants to produce ”(p. 22).

The parties are currently unable to convey urgently needed visions for the future to Taiwan. In doing so, they should overcome the dichotomy of union and independence. The narrow perspective only helps to win elections in the short term, but causes irreparable damage to Taiwan in the long term (p. 151). Little did Fan acquire this conviction that he would soon share it with a large part of the population and non-party candidates during the local election campaign in November and beyond.

A vision that Fan offers readers as an alternative is the politics of a Chinese set of values ​​(pp. 165 ff., 193), the characteristics of which are not congruent with terms such as sovereignty, nation and ethnicism. On the contrary: such ideas did not come from the cultural area of ​​Greater China, but from a Europe of the 17th century. With the end of the Thirty Years' War through the Peace of Westphalia, Europe had developed a "Westphalian spirit" from which a "Westphalian system" had outgrown. But the world needs a new paradigm (p. 211 f.). Instead, according to Westphalian logic, Taiwan pulls itself into the “quagmire of“ national sovereignty ”, in which it is forced to choose between unification and independence. Buzzwords like “one country, two systems”, “one China” or “Taiwan's unresolved status” are based on this Westphalian logic, the weaknesses of which are becoming more and more apparent (p. 214, 220). In the case of China, it is not in keeping with tradition. Historically, with the exception of the last 100 years, China has always been a civilization-oriented country and not a territorial state. For this reason, a victory by China over Taiwan is tantamount to a severe defeat for Chinese civilization. The Chinese Communist Party, which is currently ruling alone, must understand that it only plays a certain historical role (p. 223 f.).

After all, what does Taiwan have that you are looking for in vain on the Chinese mainland? Fan finds it in the pingmin wenhua (平民 文化), in the culture of the average citizen of that island, which the translator Peter Busch translates as “human culture” (p. 19). In contrast to the West, the middle class is not predominantly supported by the middle class, even if they have a share in the political process. Although Taiwan's people enjoy free, general elections, they have “the gift of never trusting any form of authority. They are always somewhat reserved towards any government or power, they always hide a part of their private life from the government and the law and thus retain a piece of sovereignty over their fate. ”(P. 244 ff.)

The weaknesses of fans of refreshing work lie in some vague advice for policy makers. The idea that people in Taiwan shouldn't worry about their status is not very specific or helpful. In practice, this would mean creating a vacuum of entitlements and placing all decisions on the future of the island in the hands of the People's Republic of China, which will certainly not abandon this dogma.

Furthermore, although it is easier for the reader to get complex conditions conveyed through simplifications, in some cases it misses the reality of writing about “the” National Party and “the” Democratic Progressive Party, since both dominant parties are involved highly heterogeneous structures with internal disputes. Overall, however, the work can be recommended to the readers without reservation.

In this context, it is the merits of the translator Peter Busch who not only convey semantic subtleties to the German-speaking reader, but also explain terms to him in preliminary remarks and introduce the author. This contributes significantly to the quality of the German edition. The publication of the entire work by the West German University Press is also commendable and gives hope for further texts from the pen of Fan Chou.

(Discussed by Dr. Thomas Weyrauch)