‘A Unique Society Among the Chinese’ - National Identity Formation in Taiwan
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Within Taiwan, two pathways to a national identity seem feasible: to a Taiwanese national identity and to a Greater Chinese national identity. Party politics and the propagation of a nationalist project are closely related, with each of the two existing political wings, Pan Blue and Pan Green, primarily promoting itself by adhering to either of these views on national belonging. The way in which a national identity is being recreated by individuals amidst this ideological struggle is the central concern of this thesis. The research focussed on students, with one of the reasons for this being their ability to speak in English about this abstract topic. A further element in this study pertains to the idea that a study period abroad in critically different countries could cause the students who went there to have ‘amassed numerous similar or common path elements’, and this could cause the students to recite their national identity in critically different ways. In order to analyse this, I have devised three different samples: students who participated in an exchange program to the United States of America (USA), the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and those who had studied in Taiwan only. Through the central research problem I studied both these ideas: How do Taiwanese students construct their national identity in the face of two competing paths to a national consciousness, and to what extend and in what way does an international experience influence the re-performing of their national identity? In considering this question, I emphasized a national identity as an endless process of becoming, following Judith Butler’s notion of performativity. Thus, it is the thoughts and acts of individuals that constitute the existence and content of any national identity. Through the use of language, symbols, rituals and the performing of simple everyday practices, an individual shapes an identity, while being shaped by these factors at the same time. This reasoning, in tandem with Smith’s (1986:7) quote that ‘phenomena like ethnicity or national sentiment are so largely bound up with expressions of attitude, perception and feeling, that purely structural approaches will inevitably seem remote from the objects of their explanations, even when they do not seriously mislead’, caused me to research the topic through qualitative, in-depth interviewing. As I felt that quantitative comparisons are useful in capturing general trends, I issued a questionnaire as well. Together, these two methodological approaches were useful in giving a personal, detailed and freely formulated view on ideas about a Taiwanese identity, while also providing a more aggregated outlook. Upon analysis of the quantative data gathered within this format, it can be concluded that there is no question of the three populations I meant to sample, but from one population only: Taiwanese students. The qualitative data confirmed this representation, but provided more detailed information as well. Shared daily life experiences in a community governed through democratic routines seems to be instrumental in consolidating confidence in the existence of Taiwan and a Taiwanese national identity. Furthermore, the insecure relations in the international community and political influences by the PRC create a stronger linkage with the survival unit – the de facto independent Taiwan. The students did not consider themselves part of the formerly advocated ‘Greater China’, but instead felt repressed by the PRC: the Mainland has thus been clipped from the in-group. This is also caused by the fact that the existence of this ‘Greater China’ is not being repeated in education, media or daily encounters anymore, so that this category has lost its former resonance. The political discourses, focussing on the ever-lasting reality of a Greater China or on the existence of an independent, Taiwanese national identity are being reinterpreted in a more flexible manner than 20 years ago, when the ‘Green’ and ‘Blue’ visions on the future were mutually exclusive. Resistance to election strategies referring to these oppositions is growing. Though a Chinese identity is generally dismissed as a national identity, students described it as their cultural identity; thus assimilating these two apparently irreconcilable opposites into a single but ever developing ‘unique society among the Chinese’.