Taiwan Is Celebrating 100 Years of What?

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.

Related Post: Tip-toeing around the Centenary of the Republic of China

8 thoughts on “Taiwan Is Celebrating 100 Years of What?

  • March 22, 2011 at 10:17 pm

    I’m a Taiwanese. I’m not particularly impressed by your article, a distorted one-sided Taiwanese independence crap. We Taiwanese are patriotic to our nation: The Republic of China on Taiwan, which has been independent from Qing dynasty since 1911. What’s more impressive is that it has survived for 100 years till today.

    There is nothing more interesting than celebrating 100 years founding of our nation, in which the ROC regime, due to military defeat in mainland China, retreated to Taiwan, and still survived till today. We stand as the last remnant of true Chinese republican and democratic spirit, and forms the true model for reform in mainland China. We’ve gained considerable amount of Chinese nationalist support from Overseas Chinese. Don’t undercut the Desinicization or Taiwanization of us. We are both as Taiwanese and Chinese at the same time. We’ve embraced both Taiwanese and Chinese identity. Nothing beats the truth of it.

    • July 12, 2011 at 6:05 pm

      Bravo…an excellent response. I could not have phrased it better.

      We are the remnants of the true Chinese democrats. We are ROC, TAIWAN!

    • September 23, 2011 at 3:00 pm

      This discussion is over. I’m sorry Jerome Keating but you’re entire article was overthrown by this single statement alone, “We stand as the last remnant of true Chinese republican and democratic spirit”. The mainland is celebrating the centennial of the 1911 revolution. But how ironic is it that the very government they live in today is nothing less than what was overthrown 100 years ago. A regime that lacks the freedom of speech and freedom of press and run on dictatorship along with corruption. What are we celebrating you ask. We are celebrating our nation, the Republic of China’s 100th birthday and the 100 years of true democracy that came with it

  • February 22, 2011 at 8:40 pm

    This is the most learned and well-thought out response to ROC 100th anniversary celebrations that I’ve come across, and thank you Prof. Keating for your well-researched approach. As an amateur history buff myself, it’s refreshing to read. And in some cases, foreigners I’ve met have been more knowledgeable about Taiwan history than most Taiwanese. I think it’s because Taiwan history was not taught in its own schools until the past decade — only CHINESE MAINLAND history, culture and geography. One of my pupils was shocked when I brought up in class that Taiwan was considered part of Japan for 50 years. “NO!” he kept saying. I just did a pop quiz on Taiwan history on FB. Did Sun Yat-sen, considered the father of the nation in Taiwan, ever set foot in Taiwan? A FOREIGNER was the first to respond, within minutes! Foreigners care very much about this beautiful island. If we’re interested in history that is a good thing — but foreigners understandably don’t like to be told they are stupid and should go home just because there are a few rabidly anti-foreigner people in general. For the most part, the Taiwanese are wonderfully warm and welcoming people, and this is another reason why we dig it here so much.
    Further, the kMT’s Sinicization efforts extended to an iron control over the educational system. Until this most recent generation, Taiwan students were heavily indoctrinated with KMT dogma — they had to recite in essays that Taiwan was a part of the Motherland, China, and that it would some day achieve reunification. To withhold the teaching of Taiwan history helped the KMT administration gain legitimacy as a regime over the local population.

  • February 20, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    This article is very bad. What’s the point of this? Why can’t we Taiwanese celebrate? Because you stupid foreigner think you know better about our history than we do? Because you think you will tell us when and how we celebrate something? The problem is you see all black and white and you want to enforce your views to Taiwanese, you spread propaganda and you try to divide the people. Why? Why Jerome Keating do you write such vicious articles on Taiwan? You surely have no understanding of Taiwan. Do you think we still live in the years 1915 and 1947? Do your people in America still care about what happened in 1919 and 1938 in your daily life? As I read articles of foreigners on Taiwan, I always read the same things about KMT from the past, all the bad stuff. Why do you never mention the good sides? Why don’t you mention the Cold War, the danger of communism, Mao’s crazy ideas and America? As if the KMT rule was all bad in these past 56 years! Were you living here in those times? I’m sure you weren’t. But you are so smart and think you know everything. But in real, you are just writing unbalanced articles and always add your black and white Western views. Taiwanese don’t see things as black and white only. I’m not sure, if you really understand us. I think it would be better for you and Taiwan to move out from here, go home and never write about Taiwan again. We don’t need your lies and distorted views. You clearly have an agenda, but I don’t know what you want. Taiwan will never be USA, so accept us the way we are. It’s easy to point out flaws of a country other than your own, but I suggest you look at the mirror first and ask yourself what is wrong with you, not what is wrong with Taiwan. Clearly you are the problem!

    • February 20, 2011 at 7:16 pm

      Han Peng. Professor Keating is obviously more educated than you. You ask if foreigners know more about Chinese history than you. Some foreigners do, because we have education systems, not indoctrination systems. You claim to speak for the Taiwanese but you write like a mainland spy. Personally, I’ll agree to go home when you recall your people from my country. There are many Chinatowns in my country but no western ghettos in your country. Westerners, in general are open minded and accept foreign visitors and immigrants, along with their opinions and rights to express their ideas. It’s not WE who think in black and white, it’s YOU.

      You claim the writer of the article is stupid, but it is you who is simple-minded. Everyone who reads your comment will realise this.

    • February 22, 2011 at 10:06 am

      Tell me, what’s YOUR agenda? The only agenda we have here is for freedom and democracy on the Taiwanese island. Are you such an apologist for the KMT and One China that you have failed to see anything beyond “GO GO ROC”?! Taiwan’s history before the 1911 revolution was already separate from China’s. We had no reason to celebrate it then and we don’t now. Can’t you deal with THAT?

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