Taiwan: Catalyst for Change in China
I'll leave it to someone with better skills at analysis to comment on the implications and assumptions of this commentary by Fei-ling Wang in the Christian Science Monitor, but these words caught my notice:
Since the time of its first emperor, Qin Shihuang, China had been under centralized, authoritarian rule. But when the ROC was formed in 1912, hopes were high for democratic political change. However, external and internal wars, self-serving warlords, and abysmal ROC leaders tragically retarded China's political progress. In 1949, a peasant rebellion influenced by communist ideology created the PRC and drove the ROC offshore to Taiwan. Mao Zedong, the self-proclaimed new Qin Shihuang, perpetuated and intensified mainland China's despotic political tradition.
Apparently Wang, a professor of international affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology, doesn't recognize the long periods of de-centralization throughout Chinese history. He says that since Qin Shihuang, "China had been under centralized, authoritarian rule." Well, what about the long period of division between the collapse of the Han Dynasty and the Sui/Tang unification? What about the period between the Tang and Song dynasties? What about the various regional rulers (often viewed as rebels) who challenged the authority of the Central State. From a Song Dynasty perspective, the rulers of the first Vietnamese dynasty would have been quite similar to Taiwan's independence advocates.
Now, I have no illusions that the majority of rulers during the "Central State's" inter-dynastic periods were any more democratic-minded than Qin Shihuang, but the idea that all of China was for thousands of years under centralized rule is also an illusion. I am also skeptical about the level of penetration of the Chinese court's authority even at the height of China's dynastic periods, especially in peripheral areas.
And where was Taiwan when Qin Shihuang unified all-under-heaven? What was it? Who lived there? Was it even an asterix in any of the official histories? Was it within the domain of the Chinese worldview, part of the Nine Continents? I am curious how Professor Wang would answer these questions.
The notion of unification--so important to China's official elite--is one that goes back well before the first emperor, probably to the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods, when several states emerged in the midst of the Zhou Kingdom's disintegration, all vying for power. Even then, there were those who advocated (and fought) against unification.
Throughout the entire history of the discourse about unification, where was Taiwan? It didn't factor into discussions, at least in written ones, if anyone in China even new about its existence. It first came within the orbit of the Great Qing State only during the period of Western colonialism. That it is even an issue today is a mere by-product of a civil war that did not involve the people who inhabited this beautiful island. It was then that the new KMT rulers imported the idea, and applied it as a reaction to their loss of the mainland (though I am curious about what people were saying during the Japanese colonial period).
Interestingly, Wang says there is an "an emerging consensus among the Taiwanese elite to make conditional unification with China a firm future choice." I suppose Wang's view of "Taiwanese elite" is blue.