For, as a recent paper based on an extensive survey by US academics Shelley Rigger, Lev Nachman, Chit Wai John Mok, Nathan Kar Ming Chan has brought out, research consistently throws up two findings relevant for politics in that country. First, how people identify ~ as Taiwanese, Chinese, or both – is of paramount importance to understand the Taiwanese notion of their nation and the profound impact it has on voting behaviour.
Statesman News Service | Kolkata |
representational image (iStock photo)
The conflation of the cultural identity of a nation and the nature of the state whose writ runs within a delineated geographical boundary is perhaps one of the most problematic trends in contemporary public discourse. It is in this context that an examination of one of the “most dangerous places on earth”, Taiwan, given China’s aggressive moves against it, needs to begin.
For, as a recent paper based on an extensive survey by US academics Shelley Rigger, Lev Nachman, Chit Wai John Mok, Nathan Kar Ming Chan has brought out, research consistently throws up two findings relevant for politics in that country. First, how people identify ~ as Taiwanese, Chinese, or both – is of paramount importance to understand the Taiwanese notion of their nation and the profound impact it has on voting behaviour.
Secondly, citizens’ preference for independence, unification with the People’s Republic of China (PRC), or the status quo is the most crucial political question for voters. Consistent polling data shows that the Taiwanese people overwhelmingly reject unification with the PRC, and a majority do not support immediate, formal independence. At the same time, the number who identify as exclusively Taiwanese, not Chinese, continues to rise.
So, what does it mean to have a Taiwanese, not Chinese, national identity? Conventional wisdom holds that a central element of Taiwanese identity is the idea that Taiwanese culture is distinct from Chinese culture. But Rigger and her colleagues assert that their survey results show what unites Taiwanese people is not a rejection of Chinese culture but that of the Chinese state as established under the aegis of the PRC’s political system. A majority of those surveyed by the academics said Taiwanese culture was similar to Chinese culture.
The finding that Taiwan’s people recognise the cultural affinity between Taiwan and China challenges the idea that they reject unification because they feel culturally different from Chinese. Indeed, it obfuscates the most important driver of Taiwanese resistance to unification, which is a deep-rooted antipathy toward the communist state. The problem with this postulation, however, is that it may not fully take into account the impact over 70 years of a totalitarian state apparatus in China may have had on the inter-generational mass psyche even when it comes to the cultural ethos of the nation.
As things stand, though, the singular disservice being done to the cause of reunification of the Chinese nation by its proponents on the mainland is brought home by the finding that 63 per cent of Taiwanese respondents had a negative view of the PRC while only eight per cent held a positive view. While the rejection of the PRC was higher among younger people, there was no age group that saw the Chinese state apparatus in a positive light. This trumps, rather decisively, the cultural affinity felt by the Taiwanese people with the civilisational heritage which informs the idea of the Chinese nation.



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