The complex tale of Taiwanese identity (Global Asia review of ‘Politics and Cultural Nativism in 1970s Taiwan’)

The following book review appeared in the June issue of Global Asia:

References to Taiwan as the first Chinese democracy have justifiably drawn flak in recent years. With almost 90 percent of Taiwan’s population now identifying as Taiwanese and less than 5 percent as Chinese,​ the description is no longer seen as appropriate.

For many, it never was. With its indigenous Austronesian population and separate history of immigration, assimilation and colonization, Taiwan has never simply been Chinese. There is inevitably also a condescendingly culturalist, even Orientalist, hue to such discourse — a smug satisfaction at having seen falsified a supposedly cast-iron hypothesis on the predisposition of Celestials to authoritarianism.

A final rebuttal of the Sinocentric view is that the democracy movement was, in its very essence, an assertion of a distinct Taiwanese identity. The Chinese nationalist narrative bolstered the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) government and its “mainland” faithful; the development of a Taiwanese national consciousness, in turn, served the interests of a “local” majority.

In this ground-breaking work, A-chin Hsiau rejects such an analysis as facile. “I have written this book to argue that it is not that simple,” writes Hsiau in the conclusion to the monograph.

To read the full review, click here. 

About the Author