[lg policy] Taiwan and China: A battle for sovereignty or diversity?

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Tue Jun 12 10:21:50 EDT 2018

 Taiwan and China: A battle for sovereignty or diversity?
[image: Chris Taylor] <http://www.atimes.com/author/chris-taylor/> By Chris
Taylor <http://www.atimes.com/author/chris-taylor/> June 12, 2018 12:26 PM

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The China-Taiwan story has long been defined by China’s sovereign claims on
the island. This “renegade province” story is a legacy of the Chinese civil
war of 1927 to 1950 fought by the Kuomintang (KMT) and the Communist Party
of China (CPC), and which drove the KMT to Taiwan.

But today the war is about far more than the CPC’s continued sovereign
claims on the island. In fact, the sovereignty issue may have far less to
do with China’s Taiwan bellicosity than most of us realize.

When journalists write about Taiwan, they generally evoke its vibrant
and hard-earned democracy, which is obviously a subject that Beijing’s
autocrats would prefer was never discussed.

But the byproducts of Taiwan’s democratic evolution are also anathema to
Beijing because they make a mockery of the CPC’s much-touted claims of
having evolved a magical rule-all model for governance based on – of all
things – Marxism.

As China’s president Xi Jinping continues to push his Marxist-based China
model, Taiwan stays on course with experiments in diversity that have no
place in the CPC’s China. Obvious examples include the Constitutional Court
ruling in 2017 that the current civil-code definition of marriage as being
only between a man and woman is unconstitutional, setting a two-year time
frame for the legalization of same-sex marriage.

China only legalized homosexuality in 1997
and the Health Ministry only delisted it as a “mental disorder” in 2001.
Meanwhile, a 2016 Peking University report found that only 15% of Chinese
gay respondents had “come out” to their families and more than half said
they had suffered discrimination as a result.

Another area of divergence between Taiwan and China is freedom of the
press. The latest World Press Freedom Index, which ranks 180 countries
to <https://rsf.org/en/world-press-freedom-index> “an evaluation of
pluralism, independence of the media, quality of legislative framework and
safety of journalists” by Paris-based NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF),
placed Taiwan 42nd out of 180 countries. This made it the highest-ranking
country in East Asia. China was placed 176th, putting it close to the very
bottom of the list, ahead of Syria, Turkmenistan, Eritrea and North Korea.

But perhaps most telling of all in this tale of two political entities is
attitudes towards language policy. Take the mass rapid transit in Taipei,
and you will hear announcements in English, Mandarin, Minnan (the dialect
of Fujian Province known in English as Hokkien and locally as Taiwanese)
and Hakka, the language of China’s most diasporic ethnic group and spoken
by approximately 7 percent of Taiwanese. Hakka was designated as a national
<http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2017/12/30/2003684894> by
legislators in December of last year.

The 42 dialects of Taiwan’s 16 officially indigenous languages were
recognized <https://taiwantoday.tw/news.php?unit=2&post=116946> in June of
the same year, requiring that the government allow them to be used for
legislative and legal affairs, and that the government establishes a
foundation to support the languages with the development of writing systems
and dictionaries.

This leaves the vexing question of Taiwanese, which is believed to be
spoken by more than 80% of the population. Under KMT rule, the language was
effectively banned and students were punished for using it at school. Today
its use is mandatory for public transport public announcements, but a draft
bill promoting national languages, which will require that Taiwanese is
included in school curriculums, is expected to be passed
<https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/3424192> very soon.

This will put Taiwanese on an equal footing with Mandarin as a national
language. The reason this move has been so long in the making is fear that
making Taiwanese part of Taiwan’s mandatory 12-year educational curriculum
will be viewed by Beijing as yet another step in the direction
of formalizing Taiwan’s functional independence.

It is provocative precisely because China’s national language policy is
focused on Mandarin – and to the extent that many of the country’s
estimated 298 languages <https://www.ethnologue.com/country/CN/languages> are
considered to be under threat. In a report on the Phonemica Project
<http://www.phonemica.net/> by *The Atlantic
2013, Phnonemica co-founder Kelly Parker said: “In many … places, the
generation after today’s children won’t be able to speak the local language.

“These aren’t small languages either; we’re looking at languages that have
tens of millions of speakers … More and more people are consciously using
Mandarin at home,” she added.

This is particularly the case in regions of China that Beijing perceives as
problematic, such as Tibet and Xinjiang, where the government appears to be
set on erasing the non-Sinitic languages of Tibetan and Uyghur.

 In short, the challenge for China in dealing with Taiwan is that the rise
of Taiwanese identity is a threat not only to China’s claims on the
island, but that Taiwan is speaking non-CPC endorsed languages, and
protests, such as the Sunflower movement
against China and Taiwanese China-aligned politicians, are often carried
out in Taiwanese, not Mandarin

The threat also is that Taiwan is evolving its own model for governance
based on values that are not merely inclusive but also make “universal”
sense – unlike the mind-bending intellectual acrobatics required to
understand Xi’s interpretation of Marxism as a guiding light for global

This might be simply summed up as a standoff over whether dissent is
defined as inimical to state interests or whether it has a role to play in
advancing inclusive national creativity.

It is not a debate that China tolerates, but Taiwan is pressing ahead with
it all the same – simply because it has allowed its citizens to become part
of an argument about how they define themselves and how they own their
future – assuming that China decides it is not militarily ready to stop
them from doing so.


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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