(Click to enlarge) Like people in South Korea or (I imagine) Israel or like commuters and office workers in Manhattan, the people of Taiwan lead rich, full lives and relatively seldom think about the overarching conflict/danger that is all that outsiders know about them. No one I talked to in Taiwan spoke once of the China issue, despite their having
been several recent developments on that front.
(Click to enlarge)
One big China-related news story, however, literally stared me in the face, since I watched it unfold on live TV. Lien Chan, the chairman of the KMT - now narrowly the opposition party in Taiwan - decided it would be a good idea to take a trip to China, in defiance of President Chen, whom he refuses to even call by his appropriate job title. A very, very rough equivalent in US politics would be Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi going off to conduct foreign policy without President Bush's blessing. On the day Lien left both supporters and detractors were there to greet him at the airport. The pictures at left are an attempt to convey the melée that ensued. Hooligans for both sides and for no side showed up and there were quite a few injuries. The worst incident - according to a report in the Taiwan News for which I have the dead-tree version but can't find online - was when some young punks attacked a man in his 60s who was a supporter of the pro-Independence DPP "pan-greens" with nunchaku, leaving him face down and bleeding.
Needless to say, both sides blamed the other for how out of hand things got. Everyone also blamed the police, who did seem to be totally ineffectual. The second picture down is of Wang Shih-Chen, a DPP (pro-independence) legislator who showed up at the airport even though his party begged him not to. Supposedly, he encouraged his pan-green homies to throw eggs at the pro-China (KMT) people. Probably not a smart move for a politician, but I find the idea of a country where it's acceptable on any level to throw eggs at commie accomodationists rather appealing.
The violence by both sides was unacceptable, but it's probably a good thing that the pan-greens showed up to demonstrate their displeasure with Lien. Initially, he seemed to be saying he might just go to China and unilaterally negotiate for Taiwan. Ultimately, the trip became more symbolic and involved simply going to shrines etc.
What insight I got on the Taiwan/China question came from watching this incident unfold and seeing the commentary about it. One interesting fact is that, contrary to what an outsider might think, it is the Nationalists (KMT) who came to Taiwan after losing to the communists on the mainland who are actually more accomodationist towards China. Despite the fact that they and their forefathers fought against the same PRC that still rules China, they still think of themselves more as Chinese. Parties like the DPP are composed of people who have roots in Taiwan dating back 400 or 500 years. They think of themselves more as Taiwanese than as Chinese. In fact, they have preserved their own language, Taiwanese, despite attempts to stamp it out by both the Japanese and the KMT, which tried to force everyone to switch to "Mandarin" Chinese during their dictatorship which lasted from the end of World War II until May 2000 at varying levels of brutality.
Despite the differences between those who trace their roots back to the coming of Chiang-Kai-Shek and the Nationalists and those who trace their Taiwanese roots back further, their appears to be general agreement that no one wants significantly less sovereignty than they have now. According to the Taiwan News editorial about the airport incident, "A poll of 1,075 Taiwanese adults released by the Taiwan Thinktank Monday showed that . . .67 percent opposed any peace agreement that would accept the PRC's 'one-China' principle and downgrade Taiwan into a 'local government' or a special region under Beijing's 'one country, two systems' formula . . .A telling fact that these views crossed party barriers and included majorities of identified supporters of both the KMT and PFP."
I read elsewhere that majorities also say they don't want outright independence. It appears that a majority of Taiwanese like the ambiguous status quo.