Originally published in the Taipei Times, “Not all 100 years warrant revelry”, Jan. 8, 2011, with permission to reprint here. Photo by Trista di Genova
By Jerome Keating
This year has been designated a centennial year for Taiwan, but as the nation gears up for celebrations, Taiwanese need to examine more closely just what is it they are being asked to celebrate 100 years of.
Certainly, 1911 marked the year the Manchu Empire (aka the Qing Dynasty) and dynastic rule in China began its final descent in the Xinhai Revolution. From that, the Republic of China (ROC) was born and on Jan. 1, 1912, Sun Yat-sen (孫逸仙) was inaugurated as provisional president of the new republic.
However, that was short-lived — it could be called a still birth or an abortion, since not all provinces agreed with the revolution. The following month, the dictatorial Yuan shih-kai (袁世凱) forced the abdication of the Emperor Puyi (溥儀) in a brokered deal.
Yuan forced the abdication on the condition that he replace Sun as president. He then proceeded to steamroll any semblance of democracy and by 1915 had himself declared emperor. During those years, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) attempted a second revolution for the Republic of China and it failed miserably. So what of the republic was left?
Yuan died in 1916 and the ROC then dissolved into a period of warlords where everyone, including Sun, had their supporting warlords.
Not too much to celebrate 100 years of thus far, but more to the point, where actually was Taiwan in all of this?
Taiwan was not part of any of it. One half of Taiwan was taken over by the Manchu Qing in 1682, but that half was given to Japan by those same Qing officials in 1895. By 1911, Taiwan was already developing nicely as part of the Japanese Empire.
Maybe Taiwan should celebrate being spared the chaos?
During the warlord period in China, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was formed and Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), in true democratic fashion, eliminated the other warlords. He then sought to massacre and destroy the CCP and other parties; not quite a government of the people, by the people, for the people.
The KMT wanted a one-party state and it wanted to be that paternalistic one party. The CCP had its own one-party state vision; it resisted and thus began the Chinese Civil War.
World War II then came along, ending with the defeat of Japan, and after the war the KMT and CCP went back to their civil war. It was then that the KMT fled to Taiwan. From 1945 to 1949, the KMT denuded Taiwan of its resources in its war effort and imposed martial law.
On the continent, the KMT was too corrupt to win the people over to its side. In that war of one-party state advocates, the CCP won out and in 1949 formed the People’s Republic of China (PRC). In the meantime, on Taiwan after the 228 Incident, the KMT selectively killed off Taiwan’s elite, the well-educated and anyone else capable of creating a government to rival the KMT.
This is not the stuff that centennial celebrations are made of.
Taiwan continued to suffer. As the ROC, it lost its seat in the UN because of the stubbornness of Chiang. The Martial Law era ended in 1987 and the allowance of a dual party system, coupled with the disbanding of the Garrison Command in 1992, finally brought Taiwan’s suffering under the White Terror era to an end.
The 100 years since 1911 have too much baggage to give -Taiwanese a reason to celebrate or feel sincere about it. -Democracy came to Taiwan not because it was a gift of the KMT or its ROC, but because many Taiwanese were willing to go to jail and shed their blood for it.
That is what should be celebrated. The only thing that survives from the aborted revolution of 1911 is the name, ROC, and it is an anomaly. Taiwan may be a republic, but it is not China.
Do any Taiwanese really believe or want to celebrate the Constitution of 1947, which says their country owns China, Mongolia, Tibet and East Turkestan? I would not think so.
What year should Taiwan celebrate? If Taiwan were to choose a year it would do better to select a year like 1979, when the Kaohsiung Incident marked its protest for human rights, or 1987 when the Martial Law era ended, or 1992, when the “iron rice bowl” KMT legislators and National Assembly members selected in 1947 were forced to retire. However, best of all would be 1996, when Taiwan finally became a true democracy.
Those are the centennials that Taiwanese should look forward to.
Jerome Keating is a writer based in Taiwan. Read more of his writings here on his blog.
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