Taiwan is Finally Free from the Curse of Provincial Origin
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
April 1, 2008
Despite endless bickering on the Republic of China's road to democracy, the public on Taiwan has learned and grown. This time ROC citizens have elected a mainlander as their president. This proves that the Chinese people on Taiwan have passed a difficult test. They have gotten past the issue of provincial origin. This is a tremendous achievement, and further proof of a maturing democracy.
Prejudicial distinctions made on the basis of blood origin, place of birth, and ethnicity are common among all peoples. They are among the easiest to make, and the hardest to eliminate. In many countries around the world, it is nearly impossible for ethnic minorities to be elected head of state. A high degree of openness and tolerance is required to overcome such prejudices. This is true even in advanced nations such as the United States. African American presidential candidate Barak Obama's campaign momentum is impressive. But whether he can actually break through centuries-old racial barriers remains to be seen.
For years, prejudices over provincial origin have hamstrung the Republic of China's political development. To cover up its poor record, the Chen Shui-bian regime incited so-called "ethnic antagonisms," more accurately characterized as "provincial origin antagonisms," in order to consolidate his core political support. If truth be told, this ploy was once highly effective. Society was deeply polarized and mired in endless hostility. Under this narrow-minded, barbaric value system, "Loving Taiwan" became a magic incantation in an insane witch-hunt, a Pied Piper's magic pipe that could induce mobs to march robotically to a demagogue's tune. Rational debate was drowned out by the anti-intellectual, primitive logic of petty tribal hatred. Right and wrong no longer mattered. All that mattered was which side you were on.
For an individual or society, past traumas and future anxieties are difficult to overcome. It is often impossible to remain rational and make wise decisions. Taiwan has been hamstrung by past traumas and future anxieties. Authoritarian mainlander rule and Beijing's diplomatic blockade have left scars. Beijing's military threats have left ROC citizens fearful. These two factors have hampered the ROC's democratic evolution. No matter how poor the DPP's political record, the DPP would always retort that their critics "don't love Taiwan" or "colluded with China" or "will turn the clock back on democracy" if they replace the DPP. The DPP could then count on diehard "Nativist" support against its "common enemy."
Fortunately the Chinese people on Taiwan have learned. Although we had no experience with democracy, we staggered onward. Despite frustrations and disappointments, we found our way. We got up again each time we fell. Each time we were duped, we learned a lesson. Each time we made a mistake, we become a little smarter, a little more mature.
At first we knew only that we wanted a "Taiwanese" to be our leader. Later we learned that under a democracy other criterion were more important than having "one of our own" be president. We learned that just because the ruling regime was a "Native" regime, that it must not be allowed to wallow in corruption and to abuse its authority. We learned that a "Native" regime must not be given a blank check to act irresponsibly or immoraly. The people must be masters, not hostages. Democracy must not be so shallow, so cheap. After the DPP repeatedly played the "Nativist" card, we came to realize that "Nativism" was nothing but a political tool, and involved absolutely no love for Taiwan whatsoever.
The DPP has repeatedly played the "ethnicity" card. It has deliberately and repeatedly spread this virus throughout society. Society has been repeatedly infected and suffered fevers and chills. Eventually however, the Body Politic began developing antibodies. It began to understand the damage done to it by "ethnic" demagoguery. It began to realize the negative consequences of such demagoguery. It began to realize what kind of future Taiwan needed.
Chen Shui-bian's cynical manipulations inadvertently brought to the surface deeply-buried toxins, and created an immunity. The process has been painful, nearly depleting society's vitality. But it has also enable society to confront the most sensitive issues and deal with them, think about them, and eventually let go of them. When a majority of the people finally see through the myth of provincial identity, when they finally decide to reject "ethnic" demagoguery, when they are willing to work for a common future, they will no longer be hostages to the provincial identity issue.
The true value of democracy is that people can rely on themselves. They can find strength within themselves. They need not feel impotent or panicky, fearful that their fates will be decided by others. So-called "Nativism" is no longer important to ROC voters. Everyone finally understands that within a democratic system, all elected authorities are "native" authorities. It makes no difference whether the president is a "ben shen ren" or "person from this province." The Republic of China's democracy is not the exclusive franchise of any one political party. The Republic of China's democracy belongs to 23 million ROC citizens on Taiwan. They are the masters of Taiwan's destiny.
The Chinese people on Taiwan are gradually learning to heal their wounds, overcome their fears, and transcend their "ethnic" prejudices. They are learning to think rationally, unconstrained by considerations of "ethnic" origin or ideological dogma. They are rediscovering each others' humanity. They see that real life is more important than hypocritical sloganeering, that their children's futures are more important than the baggage of history. Different "ethnic" groups once lived in harmony. But after enduring a living hell, the Chinese people on Taiwan have made a conscious decision. They have decided we are all one big family.
Even the KMT knows Ma Ying-jeou was elected not because the KMT was so wonderful, but because Chen Shui-bian and the DPP were so awful. ROC voters threw the DPP out. But it also warned all politicians not to underestimate the wisdom of ROC citizens.