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Thursday, October 05, 2006


"National identity" or "Visitors' convinience"

Micheal from The view from Taiwan discussed Mark Caltonhill's article "When in Rome, shut up and fit in" showed up in Taiwan Journal. That article talks about the inconsistent English systems applied by different local governments in Taiwan, and criticizes at the disagreements (of Taiwan governemnt's choice of Tong-yong Pingying as the national system) expressed in blogs mainly maintained by foreigners/visitors who love Taiwan (who either visited or lived in Taiwan) .

I shared my point of view as a comment to Michael's post:

When talking about society issues or else, we always hear someone says this:

"It's nothing to do with politics."

Indeed, many things in a normal society are pure society issues and shouldn't be handled with political means or viewes from the political perspective.

In Taiwan, however, things could go to a very different direction. When comparing Taiwan with many western countries I often sighed at the fact that Taiwanese have to spend most of their time and energy on something like "Do I want to be a Taiwanese or a Chinese" (national identity, that is), while many western, democratic countries put their energy to improving the quality of life.

But do we have a choice? I don't think so. For Taiwanese, when "national identity" hasn't been solved, it will remain the first priority for ever. Therefore, every long term decision should and would be considered in that context. We can't afford loosing a grip on anything related to Taiwanese identity and surrender to "pro-china" side. If we do, we will push ourselves one step further to our enemy. In reality we already are losing "grips" on many grounds.

This is even more critical when you read the histories (of china and of Tiawan) and understand how Communists beat KMT. They started the wars not with bullet or even deplomatic approach, but with infutrating into the core of your group, making the mindsets of your people switching closer and closer to them and farther and farther away from local governments. When the red army actually came, a considerably large portion of citizen already have simpathy for them. The victory is determined before the red army actually stepped in. It's so evident that same approaches are actually being applied to Taiwan for some time.

Therefore, people who fight for Taiwanese identity are constantly under such a threat that they might be foreced to become a citizen of a barbarian country and live in a barbarian culture. The anxiety and worries are always there.

Naturally, anything related to China becomes extremely sensitive. You could probably say that, in Taiwan everything is politics. But we really don't have a choice. We can't afford leaving a blind eye to something that might push us away from democracy, even that step looks so harmless at this moment.

I totally understand how frustrated foreigners feel when they (you) got lost and confused by the English system here in Taiwan. Your complaints are reasonable, from the perspective of a foreigners. But, how many of you share the anxiety that some day you (and your kids !!) might be forced to give up the current democracy and become a citizen of barbarian ? How many of you would think about the possibility of future sorry that you wish you could re-live the history in order to adjust everything to go as far away from China as possible?

I can't answer that for all foreign friends. Actually I can't answer that for any single foreigner. I am just trying to share how a Taiwanese looks at this pronounciation issue, which in my personal point of view, is critical to the core as any other cultural war. I believe if it is put under this context, which comes as priority --- "national identity" or "making visitors feel convinient" --- becomes obvious.

P.S. I saw blame or complaint on Taiwan government for not using HP. Do I hear anyone questioning Ma Ying-Jeou for his decision to go against central government's policy? The foreigners' confusion would be largely reduced if such a "violation against his boss" didn't happen, right ?

As a follow-up to the point of the above P.S.:

When you visit a foreign country, will you go complain that the government there didn't choose an international standard, causing you and your fellows to suffer the inconvinience ?

Most probably not. Any country has the right to choose an English system that they think is the best fit to their own culture and need. We would most probably make some effort to learn and get used to it.

The core of the problem of all this dispute is that the English system in Taiwan is "inconsistent", but not "which system it is".


At 10:28 AM, Blogger Taiwan Matters said...

Great -- I was just coming here to post your comments ....

At 7:03 AM, Blogger Mark said...

Two points-

1) Pinyin isn't English. It's a system of romanizing Chinese. Children in the PRC use pinyin while learning characters, just as students in the ROC use zhuyin while learning characters. Sites such as Pinyin.info have a wealth of information about this subject.

2) The only people in Taiwan who need romanization are those who can't read Chinese characters, i.e., foreigners. Locals usually don't care much about romanization schemes since they can just read the characters.

Intentionally using a non-standard system (or worse yet squabbling over a variety of non-standard systems) is self-defeating. Students, business people and even foreign spouses have made it clear that standard hanyu pinyin would best serve their needs, as have both the US and EU economic chambers of commerce. Ultimately, if the Taiwanese want to further separate themselves from the world by ignoring our voices, that's their choice to make. It's not reasonable to expect the people inconvenienced by such a choice to support it, though.

At 2:02 PM, Blogger Shane &Theresa said...

For your information I would indeed complain about other countries not adopting international standards- just as I complain about Taiwan's romanisation system.

And it is not just me.

America's continued use of Fahrenheit and refusal to use the infinitely better metric system deserve the scorn piled on them by so many around the world. The Taiwan government's stupid stubbornness should not be excluded.

Though, if I am not mistaken, President "Mr" Ma has been trying to take some initiative to universalise all the signs in Taiwan. At least he can do one thing right.


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