Chinese cultural influence is not harmful

Recently, it seems that the government has purposely implemented a program of “desinicization” in the nation’s education system in the hope of making Taiwan and China two separate cultural entities. Intentionally or not, this action denigrates the value of Chinese culture. I cannot help but wonder if “Chinese culture” deserves to be looked on with such disdain.
If we define “unification” as a conditional and future hope of unification (to happen when the political and economic systems of the two sides are compatible), I would be happy to be categorized as pro-unification. Despite this, I still regard the political advocacy of Taiwan independence with sympathy. There is no absolute right and wrong between unification or independence, for these are sentiments that are best thought about in terms of which might be better — given the risk of a war in the Taiwan Strait — rather than which one is correct.
I am, however, unable to acknowledge using “desinicization” as a means by some politicians to realize the goal of Taiwan’s independence. This is because Taiwan’s independence does not need to and should not be based on a separation from Chinese culture. Even if Chinese culture is not a source of pride for politicians overly conscious of their superior Taiwanese identity, would what is left after cutting away Chinese culture truly be Taiwanese culture?
Taiwan’s folklore and religious beliefs mostly originated from Chinese legends. Although some politicians have made meticulous calculations to claim that Taiwanese have long since ceased to have very much Chinese blood in their veins, can we return Chinese surnames such as Chen, Wang, Chang, Wu and others, back to China? Would it be possible to stop using “Chinese” characters and create our own new script? Should we cease using the Hoklo dialect (which originated in the Min-nan region of China) and rather create a whole new language for ourselves?
If the answers are no, what is the reason? Because culture itself is an inseparable “historical result.” Taiwan has its inheritance of Chinese history and culture, and also its own unique history and culture derived locally; the characteristics of these two cultures have long been merged.
Taking out Chinese culture as a way to search for a separate Taiwanese culture is just as absurd as telling a person to remove the genetic inheritance of one parent to isolate the genetic inheritance of the other. I would go so far as to say that this method would destroy Taiwanese culture, for the Chinese culture which gave birth to it is intrinsic to it, and any attempt to remove it would undermine the foundations of Taiwan’s culture.
It cannot be denied that, in the short term, the manipulation of “desinicization” will create and feed disdain and even enmity toward Chinese culture. As it puts up barriers between the people of Taiwan and China, desinicization might be seen as a way of facilitating the pursuit of Taiwan’s independence.
But another result would be to push Taiwan’s people into a cultural void. Speaking from a utilitarian perspective, because the impact of Chinese culture in Asia and around the world is positively associated with the rising power of China, separating Taiwanese culture from Chinese culture is tantamount to abandoning the advantages of our cultural inheritance.
Finally, even if we want to pursue political independence for Taiwan, we should not distort the origin of Taiwan’s history. Chinese culture is a part of Taiwan’s culture, so shouldn’t embracing this cultural inheritance simply be a way of displaying the broad tolerance of Taiwanese culture?
C.V. Chen is a senior partner at the law firm Lee and Li.

中文版〈什麼是中國? 政治獨立不應與文化歷史混淆〉,自由時報, 2004/11/18

【2004/12/02  Taipei Times 931202】



原文刊於華爾街日報專欄,並納入美國會記錄。專欄作者 Dr. Arthur Waldron 教授任教美國賓大國際關係系,並為美國防部顧問及美國中情局美中防禦審議委員會成立委員。

Mr. C.V. Chen 指理律法律事務所執行合夥人陳長文博士 (Managing Partner and CEO, Lee and Li Attorneys-at-Law );Chinese Vice Premier Wu Xueqian 則為中華人民共和國國務院副總理吳學謙。

Taiwan – Congressional Record


[Page: S10166]

  • [Begin insert]

Mr. SIMON. Mr. President, Arthur Waldron, an author who deals with the subject of China, had a column in the Wall Street Journal some weeks ago that said `The major powers should move to upgrade their relations with Taipei. They should support Taipei’s entrance into the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. They should involve Taipei in international economic and security consultations.’

The column was written some weeks ago but makes as much sense today as it did when it first appeared.

I urge my colleagues to read the Arthur Waldron column, and I ask that it be printed in the Record at this point.

The column follows:


One China Gets MFN, the Other Deserves GATT


Earlier this month a young lawyer from Taiwan named C.V. Chen met in Beijing with the elderly Chinese Vice Premier Wu Xueqian. It was an unprecedented encounter, signaling changes in the relationship between Taipei and Beijing that may prove as important for Asia as the end of the Berlin Wall was for Europe.

Mr. Chen and 13 colleagues represented a new body called the Straits Exchange Foundation that Taipei has created to deal `unofficially’ with Beijing, just as its Coordination Council for North American Affairs deals `unofficially’ with Washington. For Taipei, this is a promising move.

It is essential that the U.S. watch these developments closely and do all it can to foster their peaceful progress. For the possibility of conflict in the Taiwan Strait remains real, and could even increase if the cautious reconciliation between Taipei and Beijing fails. That reconciliation will proceed more smoothly if both China and Taiwan are full-fledged members of the international community. President Bush’s decision this week to extend, with restrictions, China’s most favored nation trading status is important in furthering that end. What is now needed are steps to end Taiwan’s isolation.

That Taipei cannot handle its key relationships with Washington and Beijing through regular diplomatic channels is a measure of just how severe its diplomatic setbacks have been over the past 20 years, as nation after nation has derecognized it. Mr. Chen’s visit, however, suggests that this process of marginalization is being reversed. The envoy from Taipei represents a government whose leverage and confidence are increasing. The government of his Chinese host is watching its once formidable international clout dwindle.

From this changing balance of power comes both promise and risk. The promise is that Taiwan–wealthy, militarily strong and increasingly democratic–will find the confidence to compromise with China. The risk is that the government of the People’s Republic, beleaguered at home and increasingly ignored internationally, will be unwilling to accept Taiwan’s best offer, and instead try for the whole cake.

The risk is intensified by the fact that competition between Taiwan and the mainland is not just between governments, but between two kinds of Chinese societies. The meeting between C.V. Chen and Wu Xueqian suggests how much the psychological equation between the two Chinas has shifted. On the vexing issue of whether Beijing is the `central’ government and Taipei a `local’ one, Mr. Chen said the issue is not one of territorial size or population but of system. The choice, he said, has to be made by the Chinese people.

A decade ago most observers would have argued that the Chinese people had already made their choice–communism. But the democracy movement of 1989 showed that is not the case, and the Tiananmen massacre showed how far the Chinese government was willing to go to hold on to power. Talks between Taiwan and China present a diplomatic version of the same set of issues.

Policy toward Taiwan (and also Hong Kong) is a bone of contention in internal Chinese politics. For hard-liners, the incorporation of both territories into the People’s Republic on Beijing’s terms is part of the old time religion of communism. Hence increasing intervention in Hong Kong’s affairs and the unwillingness to drop the threat of force against Taiwan. For reformers, Taiwan (and Hong Kong) are sources of capital, ideas and leverage. The reformers welcome contacts, in the hope that they will push the mainland forward, and are not particular about points concerning the status of governments, flags, etc. that regularly hang up negotiations.

The strength of this second group in China is cause for long-term optimism. But as long as it is stalemated by hard-liners, no decisive breakthrough in Taiwan-China negotiations is likely. The longer the situation remains unresolved, however, the greater the risk that things will go sour.

Thus there is a danger that frustration in negotiations will strengthen extremists on both sides of the strait in ways that could lead to confrontation. It is not hard to evision nightmare scenarios. Suppose that Beijing, troubled by unrest at home, decided that some saber-rattling (say, a blockade) to `liberate’ Taiwan was just the patriotic tonic China needed? Or that elections in Taiwan produced a government that gave up on China and decided instead to declare the island independent? Under such circumstances Beijing has promised to respond with force.

No such scenario offers much comfort. Unlike Iraq, China is a nuclear power; unlike Kuwait, Taiwan can resist. The U.S. and Japan would become involved.

These are not pleasant prospects, and enough people understand them well enough that they will probably be avoided. But they serve to remind us that what happens between China and Taiwan is not simply an Asian curiosity: It is something in which the world has a stake.

Is there anything constructive the world powers can do? The key variable is internal politics on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, and in each case the threat comes from extreme or uncompromising positions. China is difficult to influence, but at a minimum we must strive to maintain contacts and confidence–such as MFN status. In Taiwan, the danger is that a Taiwan isolated from the world community and unable to be Chinese except on Beijing’s terms will opt for independence.

Avoiding this means bringing Taiwan back into the world community. The major powers should move to upgrade their relations with Taipei. They should support Taipei’s entrance into the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. They should involve Taipei in international economic and security consultations.

China is hostile to this approach. So are hard-liners in Taiwan. But it’s the only way to strengthen the moderates on both sides and help the world avoid some very real perils.

  • [End insert]

[Page: S10167]


註: Dr. Waldron oversees IASC’s Asia and Strategy Programs.  He trained as an Asian specialist at Harvard (A.B. 1971, Ph.D. 1981) is the Lauder Professor of International Relations at the University of Pennsylvania where he also heads the Indo-US Forum and is member of the Institute for Strategic Threat Analysis and Response.

Previously he served as Professor of Strategy and Policy at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, and taught at Brown and Princeton Universities.  A former Director of Asian Studies for the American Enterprise Institute, Dr. Waldron is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, serves on the boards of Freedom House and the Jamestown Foundation, is a regular consultant to the Department of Defense, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and to intelligence agencies, and often testifies before Congress.

Dr. Waldron was a member of the commission led by General John Tilelli that reviewed the CIA China operations, and also served as a founding member of the Congressionally-mandated US-China Security Review Commission. He also has Russian language skills and area expertise and has served on Track Two delegations to Russia and China.