Excerpts from "A Taiwan that Awaits Defining" by Professor Wan-yao Chou

Professor Wan-yao Chou (周婉窈), of Department of History, National Taiwan University, expresses her reaffirmations of Taiwan's pursuit of democracy and freedom and the efforts to understand its past, and her refusal of a superimposed historical narrative, in a commemorative article written for the 28th anniversary of Dr. Chen Wen-cheng's death. Dr. Chen is believed to be a political victim of Taiwan's Martial Law government, but his case has never been seriously investigated even as of today.

The full text of Professor Chou's article, in Mandarin Chinese, can be found here. Here is a tentative English translation of the ending paragraphs:


Democracy, freedom and human rights. Do these have a chance to become Taiwan's core values, values that become a house built on a rock? For over a year now, the democratic institutions and the freedoms in Taiwan are eroded. At the same time, since March 14, 2008, the Chinese government has been continuing its oppressions in Tibet. A lot of demonstrations, sit-in's and hunger strikes against such oppressions have taken place in Taiwan. I do think that, every time we stand by these human rights campaigns in Tibet, China, Burma and many other places in the world, we reaffirm what we value, and we strengthen our determination to defend these values.


Taiwan is an odd place, as if star-crossed. I'm a researcher of history, my knowledge has its limits, but so far I don't see another place that has similar history. The island, situated in sea south-east of China and seen as a "minuscule, negligible island", was never involved in the Sino-Japanese War, but was "perpetually ceded to Japan" by the Qing government. Many Taiwanese didn't accept such fate. They sacrificed to defend their land, but to no avail because they didn't have any outside support. They couldn't but accept the fate. Then, after half a century of the Japanese rule, after the complex historical process of modernization and colonization, just as hardly anyone was prepared for that, Taiwan was handed again to China by the Allies. It might have turned out better if the China to which Taiwan was handed had been a unified China—for which Taiwanese would know what the Kuomintang (KMT)-Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Struggle was really about? How would Han intellectuals and youths in Taiwan during the early post-war days know that? Let alone the indigenous people. They didn't anticipate that Kuomintang was defeated by the Communists, and "temporarily moved the government to Taiwan". They didn't anticipate that Kuomintang would dominate Taiwan with a military, political and intelligence apparatus designed for ruling one big country. They didn't anticipate that Taiwan became involved in the KMT-CCP Struggle whose central theme was a "split country". And they didn't anticipate Taiwan became the "Resurgence Base" in the anti-Communist and anti-USSR front. Just as when our generation, growing up under such a party-state education system, finally learns the truth about the KMT-CCP Struggle, how shocked we are now to learn that the two parties, archrivals of the past, are now hand-in-hand flirting with each other! It seems History likes mocking us Taiwanese.


Taiwan at this moment awaits defining. No, more precisely, Taiwan is facing a crisis of coerced redefinition. It could be probable that the diversity and the freedom of thought, things which we finally manage to enjoy, would once again become homogenized. It could be also probable that our posterity would read loudly in class: "Taiwan is an inseparable part of China's territory since antiquity. And so is Tibet. And so is Xinjiang." It could be probable that the Grand Historical View that was outside of Taiwan's historical process would come back and once again determine how we think and see our land's past. The truth about Dr. Chen's death at 31, needless to say, would then become an impossibility. His involuntarily shortened life would also become meaningless. The light that was shed on the long, dark road of the Martial Law years would turn out to be an illusion, a dream, a morning dew, a short lightening in the sky.


If we don't want to see those "probables" become real, we must then insist that we define what Taiwan is. Internally, we can disagree, we can challenge each other, we can fight the dirty fights. But we must resist the redefinition of Taiwan by any external force (or any external force plus internally fomented factions). Myself being a researcher of Taiwanese History, I refuse to see that a historical narrative outside of Taiwan dictates how we research our own history. It's not that our forebears had not resisted the Japanese (armed or not). But Japan's colonized rule in Taiwan can only be evaluated by the people living here, with rigorous methodologies and studies. The past could be bittersweet, love-hate, full of ambivalences and contradictions. We could argue and debate. But we will not allow anyone that dictates to us how we should see our history. More than sixty years of the post-war history has profound influences over today's Taiwan, and we are just at the beginning of understanding it. We must not let anyone dictate to us that all our sufferings, all our dispossessions, are merely necessary sacrifices to form a part of a "Great Chinese Nation."


Taiwan awaits defining. But I will not let anyone dictate to me that, Taiwan deserves no choice and should accept redefinition by a superimposed force.