Western Standard

The Shotgun Blog

« A Sad Day | Main | Bones bounced »

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Taiwanese, Hakka and the kowtow

Vancouver Sun: Taiwanese stars take the stage

I love this headline. Why? Because according to Beijing's barbarians in business suits--the Chinese Communist Party--there is no such thing as a "Taiwanese." So the Sun has either purposefully or inadvertently committed a very political act in defense of democracy by using "Taiwanese." From Chapter 2 of Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan by Jonathan Manthorpe;

Mainland China's rulers like to consider their "Taiwan compatriots," as they are usually called in the Beijing-controlled official media, as merely wayward sons and daughters of China, cast into the wilderness by a quirk of history and now misguided and deceived by nefarious, self-seeking rulers. There is therefore no such thing as "Taiwanese" in Beijing's view.

The Sun story talks about the ethnic Hakka.

[The Hakka] worked very hard -- especially the women, says Wu, gaining a reputation and spirit of "hard-neckedness" and earned a foothold in the economy. But their culture almost disappeared under martial law, only kept alive in private homes by people like Lo's grandmother.

In the same chapter [2] of Forbidden Nation, there is a good paragraph on the Hakka, which should fill in a few of the gaps for you.

The Hakka, whose name means "guests" and who were treated as an untouchable caste, came originally from northern Henan province. They were driven south in a pogrom around 419 A.D., and sought temporary sanctuary in the mountains of Fujian and Guangdong provinces. But they were forbidden to own land and their sons were prohibited from taking the imperial examinations that were the route to advancement for other Chinese families. It is understandable, then, that the Hakka were in the forefront of the substantial overseas Chinese migration in Southeast Asia during the period of civil chaos and famine in the twelfth century. The Hakka’s second class status—evident in China and on Taiwan to this day—has created a fiercely independent and ambitious community. Some mainstream Han Chinese note ruefully that in the early 1990s the three predominantly ethnic Chinese states—China, Taiwan and Singapore—were all led by Hakka. There was Deng Xiaoping, the paramount leader of China, Le K’uan Yew, the founding father and in retirement the hidden guiding hand of Singapore; and Lee Teng-hui, the president of Taiwan.

And approximately two pages later in Forbidden Nation, there is another paragraph which I consider a good description of the "kowtow," which Canada still performs today by accepting the One China policy, though it is slightly less enthusiastically performed by the Harper government than it was by the Liberals under Chretien and Martin;

Some historians argue that the vassal state system was profoundly different from the aggressive imperialism then beginning to reach out from Europe. Rather it was an expression of Chinese cultural certainty. In order to benefit from the patronage of the Middle Kingdom, foreign potentates had to accept and acknowledge the universal supremacy of the emperor of China. Vassals were required to pay tribute and perform the kowtow—kneeling three times and prostrating themselves nine times before the emperor or his empty throne—in order to receive the blessings of trade and diplomatic relations. Today, Communist Party cadres in tailored suits have superceded mandarins in costumes of imperial silk, and the ceremonies of supplication have moved from the Forbidden City across the road to Mao Zedong’s Great Hall of the People, but little else has changed. The foreign diplomats, investors, merchants, bankers, and opportunistic carpetbaggers  who now flock to Beijing are presented with the same choice. Accept China’s terms or be frozen out of its market and future potential. Now, of course, an essential tribute to Beijing exacts concerns Taiwan. Diplomatic relations with Beijing, and all they promise, will not be accepted from any nation that maintains formal ties with Taiwan. Over the last half-century few nations and no internationally significant ones have balked at making that kowtow.

Vancouver Sun, no kowtow. Kewl.

Posted by Kevin Steel on August 23, 2007 in International Affairs | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Taiwanese, Hakka and the kowtow:


Talk about making mountians out of molehills!!! Even Xinhua, the official Chinese news service uses the words "Taiwan" and "Taiwanese" in its reporting. To think the Sun is making a political stand - inadvertent or otherwise - is just DUMB!

Proof: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2007-08/14/content_6531649.htm

Posted by: Laughing Atcha | 2007-08-23 12:48:30 PM

Thanks for pointing this out LA. I didn't actually check the news services to verify Manthorpe's paragraph. If the mainland Chinese recognize that there is a distinct "Taiwanese" I'm glad and happy to accept this criticism. No doubt they are ready to accept the reality as well, that Taiwan is an independent democratic country, and will therefore move the 1000 missiles aimed at them somewhere else. Also, Canada and every other nation can recognize Taiwan diplomatically and invite them to join the UN.

Posted by: Kevin Steel | 2007-08-23 3:31:05 PM

Kevin? You are aware that "Taiwan", whether or not it is the name of a country, is the name of an Island? So to talk about Taiwan and talk about the Taiwanese is no different than talking about Cape Breton and Cape Bretoners. To use those words is not to take a position at all on whether Taiwan (or Cape Breton) is an independent nation. That's why the Chinese have no problem using those terms.

Now stop posting about this before you embarrass yourself any further. Please.

Posted by: Errrr | 2007-08-23 8:21:55 PM

What about Australia & errr. . . Australia?

Posted by: obc | 2007-08-23 8:25:31 PM


I'm not embarrassed in the slightest. Seven days ago I spent a week in Taiwan and much of the discussion I heard, in seminars and informally, centred around the question of whether the Taiwanese believed themselves to be Taiwanese or Chinese. One seminar dealt indepth with recent public opinion surveys on this very question. It's quite a sensitive topic over there and your comparison with Cape Breton betrays what I believe to be a misunderstanding of the importance of the issue over there.

Those who know a little bit about this, and I confess I only know a little myself, will understand how I tried to use Laughing AtCha's observation to twist the knife. If the Chinese are using "Taiwanese", at least in English, that is a very good sign.

Posted by: Kevin Steel | 2007-08-24 7:45:52 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.