Taiwan, Beyond the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China

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This text was written by two cousins who identify as Taiwanese with mixed Han settler ancestry. Szu-Han Ho lives in Tiwa lands (Albuquerque, New Mexico) in the United States. Meng-Yao Chuang lives in Tainan, Taiwan. They offer us a third perspective on the future of Taiwan far from the two Republics of China’s continental claim: one that centers Taiwanese people themselves, in particular the Indigenous peoples of the island.

SZU-HAN: As a person of the Taiwanese diaspora watching the events of Hong Kong over the last several years (the Umbrella Movement in 2014 and the 2019 Uprising) I have been deeply stirred. I have been riveted by the meaning, as well as the aesthetics, of the mass uprising in Hong Kong.

The movement understands and capitalizes on the power of the image, the power of performance. It understands aesthetics and turns everyday objects into tools of resistance. It poses an active resistance to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) government takeover of local politics and its violent crackdown on dissent. For many Taiwanese people watching, it is a foreboding unfolding of events. The Chinese government’s position on Taiwan is clear: its goal is euphemistically known as “re-unification.”

For some of us, watching the events in Hong Kong confirms that closer ties with the PRC will bring a similar fate to Taiwan. Whether this is accomplished through soft power or military occupation, it will translate to the loss of autonomy for the Taiwanese.

The COVID-19 pandemic effectively ended the fight in the streets of Hong Kong, as the region went under lockdown with the rest of China. The PRC has taken advantage of this to impose further draconian controls. Hong Kong activists have fled by boat to Taiwan, and Taiwanese activists have harbored those who have made it to the island.

Taiwan is a self-governing nation with a long and complex history under multiple colonial powers, both European and Asian. Living in the so-called United States and watching from afar, I am fearful. My relatives in Taiwan have lived with the threat of a PRC takeover for their entire adult lives. With the most recent events of the Russian invasion in Ukraine, many people have been asking me directly about the implications for Taiwan. This comes as a surprise because I had assumed most people around me had little to no knowledge of Taiwan or its history; many Taiwanese people might say the same, as the history that they have been taught in schools has been written from the perspective of the Han Chinese and (until recently) from the perspective of the ruling Kuomingtang (KMT) or People’s Nationalist Party.

The Funambulist Taiwan
Brief timeline of Taiwanese history. / Data by Szu-Han Ho and Meng-Yao Chuang. Cartography by Léopold Lambert (2022).