Taiwan: Where National Identity Is Never Straight Forward
In response to the DPP’s Tsai Ing-wen declaration that she is Taiwanese (and New Party Chairman Yok Mu-ming (郁慕明) ‘coming out’ as Chinese), President Ma Ying-jeou had the following to say:
“I am a descendant of the Yellow Emperor in blood and I identify with Taiwan in terms of my identity. I fight for Taiwan and I am Taiwanese,” Ma wrote. “In nationality, I am an ROC citizen and I am the president of the ROC.”
One of the signature rhetorical devices employed by Ma since being elected in 2008 has been his constant reiteration of the alleged blood link between all Taiwanese and China’s Yellow Emperor. This device has been employed to reignite within Taiwanese a sense of patriotic identification with their Chinese roots, and by extension acted as a prop for the reviving and reification of the Republic of China (a long declining and almost defunct polity largely unrecognised by most nations who sensibly tend to regard the PRC as the real China).
What strikes me about Ma’s comments above is how he tries to link his identity to Taiwan whilst avoiding any inference that his Taiwanese identity is his national identity. Hence the convoluted use of ‘identify’ and ‘identity’ in his first sentence followed up by a clarifying second sentence in which Ma makes clear that he is Chinese by nationality. However, rather than say ‘My nationality is Chinese’, likely to upset many Taiwanese and be easily misinterpreted or used against him in his election campaign, Ma hedges by using ‘ROC’, thereby avoiding the contentious phrase 我是中國人 (I am Chinese) or 我是中華民國人 (I am a Republic of China Chinese). His choice of 我是中華民國公民 (I am a citizen of the Republic of China) is illustrative of Ma’s modus operandi as a constitutional literalist, the key mechanism by which he has built relations with China and sought to undermine and unravel the population’s increasing adoption of a new Taiwanese national identity following Taiwan’s democratisation in 1987.
What I do know is that Ma’s clarification on his identity, as a means to counter Tsai’s election campaign gambit of resorting to identity politics (a traditional DPP election meme), is not likely to earn him many more votes in the long run.