Friday, April 08, 2005

Birth Pains

In "The Cousins' Wars", Kevin Phillips talks about how, over time, struggles like the English Civil War or the American War of Independence develop a simplified narrative - the Americans against the British, or the Puritans against the Anglicans - that doesn't really reflect the reality of what went on. In fact, in both conflicts, there were was a complex tapestry of loyalties, with cross-currents of religious belief, economic considerations and geography, all interacting.

Phillips says, "The disquieting truth is that if history books were to include detailed nationwide maps of internal sympathy or support for the major U.S. conflicts, the state-by-state portrait of which counties, towns, districts, or regions were loyal, disloyal, neutral, or unwilling to contribute or to draft troops would resemble ethnoreligious maps of the modern-day Balkans."

Taiwan's domestic politics, at this time when its identity is so plastic, is similarly complex. I haven't blogged the domestic Taiwanese political situation as much as I would have liked, but a brief run-down of events demonstrates just how complicated and protean things are: the KMT, which put countless people in jail on trumped up charges of pro-communism (including the Vice-President, Lu Xiu Lian, for seven years), is now attempting a rapprochement with the Communists; (James) Soong Chu-yu, who as KMT director of cultural affairs in the 1980's mounted a campaign against opposition media, has met with Chen Shui-bian and explored the possibility of an alliance (Soong finished a close second to Chen in the 2000 Presidential election); Ma Ying-Jeou and Wang Jin-Ping are openly contesting for the chairmanship of the KMT, the primary bone of contention being whether to permit those who haven't paid up their party dues to vote in the primary ,with Ma feeling that he would benefit if only those who had paid their dues were permitted to vote. (Wang, as a native-born Taiwanese from the southern Taiwanese heartland, presents an especially complex figure contending for chairmanship of the KMT); Lee Teng Hui's pro-Taiwanese Independence Taiwan Solidarity Union is visiting the tombs in Japan of Taiwanese soldiers who died fighting for the Japanese in the Second World War. Lee, whose (biological) father was a Japanese soldier, and who learned Japanese before he learned Mandarin, is sincere in his attachment to all things Japanese, but this gesture is also an effective way of expressing contempt for China at a time of rising anti-Japanese sentiment in the mainland.

In both Revolutionary America and present-day Taiwan, about half the people were apolitical, and (understandably) primarily interested in their own affairs and hoping the historical storm would blow over. In Revolutionary America, a slight majority of the remainder was for independence, with the trending over time favoring the pro-independence camp. Roughly the same could be said for Taiwan today. To see the opposition (KMT) party going to the mainland to cut a separate deal with the Communist Party a mere week after a million people marched against the Anti-Secession Law is astonishing - but it's not so unusual in the context of the birth struggles of other countries. Benedict Arnold was a real historical figure who placed a bet on what he considered to be the winning horse. Benjamin Franklin's own son was a Loyalist. It's not pretty- and the outcome is not certain- but this is how countries are born.