HISTORY BOOK

March 31, 2016 § Leave a comment

Book review: Taiwan’s struggles as seen by Taiwanese

Former president Lee Teng-hui and democracy pioneer Peng Ming-min are among the 23 academics, politicians and professionals who examine the rise of a Taiwanese identity

By Jerome Keating  /  Contributing reporter

Taiwan’s Struggle, Voices of the Taiwanese,edited by Shyu-tu Lee
and Jack Williams

The status of Taiwan has been one of contention since the end of World War II. Though Japan surrendered sovereignty over Taiwan in the San Francisco Peace Treaty (1952), it never specified to whom Taiwan should then belong. This opened the door for numerous claims and opinions, and yet ironically, in the resultant hubbub of those conflicting claims, no one has ever asked the Taiwanese for their thoughts or opinions. This book, Taiwan’s Struggle, Voices of the Taiwanese, aims to rectify that.

The 23 writers who contribute are all Taiwanese and do not hold back in their opinions. As politicians, academics and professionals, most live in Taiwan, but some remain “diaspora,” having been forced abroad during the harshness of Taiwan’s White Terror era. However, wherever they are, in writing about the topics of Taiwan’s identity, international status, international relations and economic issues, they leave no doubt that they consider Taiwan their motherland.

PROMINENT THINKERS

On the political side, readers will recognize several prominent contributors. Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), president of Taiwan from 1988 to 2000, starts things off. In “Establishing a Taiwan-Centered Identity,” he traces both his own journey of freedom from the myth of “Asian values,” and how he guided Taiwan into its present state of democracy.

Peng Ming-min (彭明敏), Lee’s opponent in Taiwan’s first direct presidential election, argues in “The International Status of the Taiwanese People” that Taiwanese remain locked in “political-legal limbo” despite the nation’s de facto independence. China’s irredentist claims to Taiwan are the main culprit.

Annette Lu (呂秀蓮), vice president from 2000 to 2008 and Wong Ming-shien (翁明賢), a senior advisor to the National Security Council, (2006 to 2008) go into greater detail about China’s many-pronged strategy to silently annex Taiwan in successive periods and under various Chinese leaders. Throughout this process, Taiwan has faced challenges in the military, cultural, political, economic and social arenas.

Publication Notes

Taiwan’s Struggle, Voices of the Taiwanese

Edited by Shyu-tu Lee and Jack Williams

304 pages

Rowan & Littlefied, New York

US: Hardback

A different perspective is brought out in Joseph Kuo’s (郭正昭), “The ‘Black Hole’ and the ‘Mystery Force.’” The metaphoric black hole reference to China is obvious as it seeks to suck in Taiwanese businesses and absorb Taiwan. However, the “mystery force” of the US may surprise some; here Kuo presents situations where the US selectively interferes with Taiwan’s democracy if it jeopardizes the US’ pursuit of economic gain from China.

Interspersed in this work are essays on the development of Taiwan’s democracy such as George Sung’s (宋朝昇) “Democratization in Taiwan: Lifting the Blacklist,” and Strong Chuang’s (莊秋雄) touching “Memoir” on how he found courage from others to risk defying that blacklist. The blacklist of “undesirable Taiwanese who support democracy and self-rule” was finally removed in 1992.

Also present are testimonies such as Aquia Tsay’s (蔡丁貴) account of his personal epiphany when he, like many others, overcame the “brainwashing” of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government while working on his doctorate in the US. Aquia can often be found in the front lines of protest including that of assisting the Sunflower movement’s takeover of the legislature by distracting the police.

The book is a treasure trove of diverse topics. The rise of nationalism is traced as well as the shaping of culture by history; then there is the matter of the diversity of Taiwan’s DNA, the development of human rights; it all ends in how Taiwan’s history is clearly separate from that of China.

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