Dan Wang on Mon, 20 Mar 2000 19:50:39 +0100 (CET)

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[Nettime-bold] comments on China and Taiwan

So Chen wins, thanks at least in part to his good buddy-to-be, Zhu 
Rongji. Former big city mayors both, surely they will have much to
talk about.

Over the last several years, my friends from Taiwan have taken to
declaring that they would rather die than re-unify. Let them invade,
and let them kill me, because I would rather die than be Chinese!, one
friend said to me. She's back in Taipei now, and no doubt was in the
streets the other night celebrating not only freedom, not only
victory, but what she probably thought would be her last night on

My friends in China, on the other hand, seem confused. After all, who
wouldn't want to come back to the motherland, to their ancestral home,
their laojia? Aren't we all Chinese? Such resistance to the single
nation identity seems an affront to this group of friends. Why look at
Macau, they couldn't wait for the public security bureau to take
charge, and, hell, the North Koreans love our country so much that
they are literally dying to get across the border into China!

Sadly, most of my Chinese friends don't have any first hand experience
of worlds outside of China, and have taken a firm belief in the
inevitability of Chinese national destiny. "We" (they always include
me and all the other so-called Overseas Chinese in such discussions,
not just graciously, but as a matter of course) will eventually
dominate the world agenda. What that actually means to your average
nationalistic mainlander remains utterly vague, since China has very
little history of colonial expansion by which to imagine future
actions. The only concretely realistic possibility seems to be the
strategy now being exercised in Tibet: simply let the billion-plus Han
Chinese move in. Soon they will overrun the native population, soon
they ("we"!) will be the single largest consumer of--anything, and
because of that, determine how the world goes. And that's about the
extent of the expansionary imagination from the ground level.

But it *is* from the ground level. Even more so than the
leader-in-exile headed Falun Gong, nationalistic sentiment is a
groundswell grassroots leaderless kind of thing these days. After
decades of imposing an ultra-nationalistic sheen on everything from
song to cigarette, the CP now finds itself having to catch up to the
popular tide. Without question, the CP would rather deal with what it
knows best: internal dissent, Party purges, economics-defying five
year plans. But now with a population eager for international
assertion of itself, beginning with a re-taking of Taiwan, what the
hell is the CP leadership to do?

You've got to admit, it might not be a lot to ask but it is hard to
stay in control. When regular purges, personality cults, and strict
media control proved to cultivate a more skeptical populace rather
than a merely docile one, the CP demonstrated its greatest asset:
flexibility. It turned China capitalist, and worked to create some
wealth among those it rules. But it seems people always want more,
always want somthing that they don't have now. So now the people--not
the Party--demands from the Party a China That Can Say No (to the
West, that is--a super popular mainland book from several years ago).

If they were smart, which they are not, the CP would just go the way
of the KMT and throw in the towel. Because soon enough, and to the
expense of Chen's comfort, the KMT will be reminded of just how
pleasurable it can be to act the minority opposition. For all its
turns and somersaults, the CP won't experience a genuine
revitalization until it goes through the same process.

With this election, Taiwan has established itself as the leading
Western-style liberal democracy in East Asia. I just hope that the
people of Taiwan do not apply what confidence they have gained through
their own struggles to perpetually calling China's bluff. My friends
in Taiwan think that if the people of China aspire to be able to Say
No, then it is reasonable for the people of Taiwan to want to be able
to Say No (to China!).

What I would like to remind my friends in China and in Taiwan, then,
is that, well, being able to Say No is kind of overrated. After all
I'm an American, and supposedly we can say no to anybody. But as
anyone from Taiwan or China who's spent some time here could tell you,
there's lots of things wrong here that the cost of being able to Say
No probably makes worse. Or at the very least, once you are able to
Say No, that doesn't mean you stop wanting other things. Since I am
also Chinese, you know that my thinking is credible, and that I have
the interests of Our Nation at heart. I just wish I could read and
write Chinese so I could send this in Mandarin (or any other Chinese

Dan S. Wang

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