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Thursday, January 18, 2007


Su the 'Pragmatist'?

It's fairly common to hear in the international press and here in Taiwan that Su Tseng-chang is a 'pragmatist' on cross-straits relations. What I think people are going to increasingly discover about Su if he wins the DPP presidential nomination is that Su is actually very similar to Chen Shui-bian in that he would be happy to improve relations with China as long as Taiwan's sovereignty is not compromised. Read his remarks on the recent recognition of Taiwan's 13th Aboriginal people the Sakiraya as reported in today's Taipei Times:

We learn from history books that the Sakiraya have existed since the 17th century. They hid themselves among the Amis people because of war," Su said. "Today, they have finally got their name back, but we still need to work hard to have our name back for this country -- Taiwan.

What the Taipei Times article fails to mention is that the official name of the tea party for the Sakiraya--the Tea Party to Restore Names (正名茶會). The policy of restoring or changing names (zhengming) is central to the project of building a Taiwanese identity that according to official DPP ideology is the prerequisite of the nation building project that will culminate with the founding of the Republic of Taiwan.

Sometimes translated rather woodenly as 'rectification of names', the restoration of names can mean changing names as it did when Su changed the name of Chiang Kai-shek International Airport to Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport (this was actually half a restoration since the airport was originally supposed to be the Taoyuan International Airport) or restoring a lost name like Banka for Wanhua or ending the subsuming of the Sakiraya into the Amis. Of course the ultimate zhengming will occur when Taiwan becomes the nation's official name.

I find it fascinating how difficult it is to render zhengming into English--the reduction of it to the traditional Confucian idea of restoring ritual order by calling things by their proper Zhou dynasty names obscures the real nature of the DPP's zhengming project with a misleading and reductionist classical reference. Though at the same time, the linkage between justice and calling something by its right name does have some connection to the ancient Confucian idea.

One interpretation of course is that Su is simply throwing symbolic red meat to deep green supporters and that he will morph into a pragmatist if he becomes president. Very similar things were once said about Chen Shui-bian, who was once believed to represent a moderate brand of DPP reformism. I suspect Su will turn out to be much the same.


At 11:55 PM, Anonymous SharenWang said...

This article is so interesting. Saw the blog report on Taipei Times, You're doing some wonderful work here! Looking forward to read more in the future. I like the part about the real essence of changing names. I've never seen it from that perspective before.


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