Is Taiwan Part of China?

A crash course on modern Taiwanese history. Illustration by Ahmara Smith.

In my last post, I pondered whether Taiwanese people are ethnically Chinese. The answer to that is complicated and requires a crash course on Taiwanese history.

Taiwan is an island off the east coast of mainland China. Historically, it was part of the Middle Kingdom territory up until the Qing dynasty. My ancestors and many other people immigrated to Taiwan in the 1700’s, mostly from the provinces of Fujian and Guangdong.  Most likely, they intermarried with the aboriginal peoples of Taiwan, who are a part of the Austronesian ethnic family, which are related to the peoples of the Philippines, Malaysia, and other South East Asian countries.

In 1895, the Middle Kingdom lost the First Sino-Japanese War. The Japanese Empire demanded control of Taiwan as a part of the peace negotiation. As a result, the Japanese occupied Taiwan for the next 50 years, under the Treaty of Shimonoseki.

The Japanese made huge impacts on the Taiwanese psyche during their occupation. They modernized Taiwan by developing its infrastructure,  building roads, government buildings, hospitals, and schools. Furthermore, their language and culture also permeated Taiwanese culture–many Japanese words were absorbed into Hokkien, which was one of the main languages of Taiwan.

Meanwhile, in China, Sun Yat-Sen overthrew the Qing Dynasty in 1911 and established the Republic of China (ROC). His political party, Kuomintang (KMT) became the official ruler of the new Republic.

The world turned up-side-down for many nations in East Asia in 1945. The Japanese Empire fell when they lost World War II. They lost all their colonies and returned the control of Taiwan to the Republic of China. At the time, Chiang Kai-Shek was in charge of the KMT in mainland China. He set up a provisional government in Taipei, in order to gain control of the island and its populace.

The KMT eventually set up the official government of the ROC in 1949, when they were defeated by the People’s Communist Party (CPC), led by Mao Zedong. The Taiwanese suffered greatly during the transitional period between the end of Japanese occupation in 1945 and when the KMT officially took control of the island.

The transition between Japanese colonialism and KMT rule was bloody. The KMT government enforced martial law in 1947 after Taiwanese people rebelled against inflation. This is the start of what is known as the White Terror– the KMT government arrested, imprisoned and executed dissents who opposed them.

Many Taiwanese people who opposed the KMT government were arrested. This image is from Hou Hsiao-hsien’s film A City of Sadness, in which Tony Leung’s character was imprisoned due to his friends’ political activities. .

The martial law was finally lifted in 1987. A couple of years later, my parents moved back to Taiwan from Japan. I was six, and my brother Davis was four.

My family history is intertwined with Taiwan’s.  My ancestors moved from Fujian Province in the 1700’s. Also, we are a product of Japanese colonialism: Both sets of my grandparents spoke Japanese fluently; my parents and many of their siblings were educated in Japan; I was born in Japan.

Taiwan’s history is complicated and this is why there are so many debates about whether Taiwan is part of the PRC. Depending on who you ask, you will get a different answer.

To answer my own question, I suppose I am mostly ethnically Chinese (my ancestors may have intermarried with the aboriginal people of Taiwan), but I am Taiwanese through and through.

However, the more interesting question is whether or not the Chinese ethnicity is one ethnicity. That’s one more complicated question for another time.

Illustration by Ahmara Smith.

 

Tying The Knot On All Hallows’ Eve

With the rustling of fallen leaves under my feet and the smell of roasted pumpkin in the air, I have always anticipated Halloween: the candies, the parties, and most of all, the costumes. Dressing up was always my favorite part. I’d spend months planning the perfect costume. Two years ago, I decided to blend my two loves by marrying the man of my dreams on Halloween.

Baz Luhrman’s film, The Great Gatsby, made me dream in art deco: the flowy frocks, the bling-bling headdresses, and the never-ending party. I fell in love with the romantic-yet-somber aesthetics of leather driving gloves, and matte vintage flasks in Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive. I adored the idea of neurotic vampires, Adam and Eve, who collected ancient books and expensive guitars. The star-crossed lovers traveled around the world to be with each other, despite their undead circumstances.

My heritage inspired my wedding, too. As a Taiwanese Canadian woman, I always wanted a Chinese-style wedding dress, slim-fitting silk qipao with a Mandarin collar.

The Art deco style wedding party.

Janet Wong, a SCAD alumna, seamlessly assembled my ideas and eclectic sensibilities. She created the perfect dress for my three flower girls and myself.

“It’s black!” Mom gasped on my wedding day when she saw the dress. Well, it’s not quite black—it’s a shimmery, silvery black. A full-length dress with a Mandarin collar that cinches at the waist, embellished with delicate silver and black sequins in a zigzag pattern.

I commissioned a headpiece from Debbi Harrison Bond, an accessory designer. She used vintage glass rhinestones to craft my Daisy Buchanan-inspired sparkler. My nails were shellacked black dusted with gold glitter at the tips. To my art deco sapphire and diamond engagement ring, we added a simple white gold wedding band.

Art deco style headdress.

My three flower girls, the adorable sisters, were dressed in the innocent, timeless aesthetic of The Great Gatsby. They had ivory silk tops embroidered with traditional Chinese patterns of fish, Phoenix, and dragons. To complement my dress, their ensembles featured Mandarin collars. Each dress had a different gauzy, sweet, vanilla tutu. They wore little flower hairbands and golden ballerina flats.

My adorable flower girls.

My talented husband created my wedding bouquet of white tiger lilies and cheerful orange daisies wrapped in regal black-silk ribbon. I wore my mom’s double-strand pearls, matching earrings and glistening dark-grey shoes given to me by my friend, the mother of the flower girls.

My love and I.

After the ceremony, it was time for the costume party. Even my mom had a good time. Once the sheer top layer of my dress was removed, a knee-length dress was revealed underneath. Traditionally, Chinese brides change into three outfits during the wedding reception, but I didn’t want that for myself. My shorter dress gave me the freedom to move about, socialize and dance. My groom and I were vampires, joined together by eternity against all the odds.

Photography by Nikki Li and Ann Chih

This article originally appeared in The Manor.

Why now? Why me?

On March 20th, Xi Jinping made a speech at the closing of the 2018 National People’s Congress. It was a nationalistic speech in which “he warned against challenges to China over Taiwan, Hong Kong or other regions where Beijing’s claims to sovereignty are contested”.

Xi Jinping

“All maneuvers and tricks to split the motherland are sure to fail,” Mr. Xi said. “Not one inch of the territory of the great motherland can be carved off from China.”

Some might say this is nothing new. China has always been sensitive about Taiwan and considers it one of its wayward provinces. Taiwan’s reunification with its “motherland” is integral to the “One China” policy. However, many people in Taiwan, my family included, have been in Taiwan for many generations and consider ourselves Taiwanese. This is a problem for China.

The dear leader claims that we are all Chinese.  Well sure, there are overlaps between Taiwanese and Chinese cultures; my ancestors came from a town near Xiamen, Fujian province in the 1700’s. Having said that, Taiwan had since been colonized by Japan and it’s populace absorbed some aspects of its language and customs into their culture. Also, our resentment towards “the motherland”, also make us uniquely Taiwanese. My point is, many people in Taiwan don’t consider themselves Chinese.  But… do we consider ourselves ethnically Chinese? That’s the tricky part. I don’t know what to think about that.

Mr. Xi’s speech spurred some anxiety with me, not only because I am Taiwanese, but also because I live in Hong Kong. In the same speech, Mr. Xi  “vowed to strengthen the national identity and patriotism of the people of Hong Kong and Macau.”

Map of South China, including Taiwan, Xiamen, and Hong Kong. Courtesy of http://www.johomaps.com/as/china/chinasouth.html

Hong Kong had been a British colony until 1997. Upon its return to China, Beijing guaranteed that the city, as a special administrative region, will have a high degree of autonomy, and China’s socialist systems will not be implemented until 2047. However, incidents such as the disappearances of Hong Kong booksellers, and the imprisonment Joshua Wong, a young activist who was one of the leaders of the umbrella revolution in 2014, are indications that civil liberties are going away fast in Hong Kong.

So yeah. Mr. Xi’s speech posed a double whammy for me. He made me uncomfortable about who I and where I am.

 

Dive-chic bars in Wan Chai

In this great city of Hong Kong, there are endless options of brunches during the weekend, great deals during happy hour, and amazing new restaurants opening all the time. However, if you want to have a nibble and a drink somewhere low-key, and at the same time, friendly to your wallet, check out the following dive-chic bars in Wan Chai and Causeway Bay:

Tai Lung Fung
Surrounded by old movie posters and vintage toys from the 60’s, walking into this dimly lit, red-hued bar is like travelling back in time. With a tasty cocktail made by one of the many lovely bar staff, you will feel nostalgic for the romantic yesteryear of old Hong Kong. It’s the perfect place to hang out with some friends over skewers and drinks.

Tai Lung Fung, 5 Hing Wan Street, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, p. 25720055, 灣仔慶雲街5號

Thaiwan
This up-and-coming favourite on the calmer side of Ship Street looks like a hip Taipei bar with its exposed concrete walls and a corrugated sheet metal bar painted in a brilliant red. The delightful décor displaying Taiwanese and Thai traditional ornaments reflect the quirky sensibilities of Erik, from Taiwan and Debbie, from Thailand. This husband-and-wife team along with their brother Alex, run this casual and cozy bar. They have a well-curated beer selection that you can enjoy with the best Taiwanese sausages and Thai snacks in town.

Thaiwan, Shop 3, G/F, Greatmany Centre, 31 Ship Street, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, p. 37096595, 灣仔船街31號智群商業中心地下3號舖

Shack Tapazaka
An exposed, black-iron clad exterior gives Shack Tapazaka a cool vibe. They have a nice selection of gins, whiskies and sake that you can sample with some edamame, grilled chicken skewers and other Japanese snacks. If you are worried about having bad breath on a date, do not panic. This bar offers mouthwash in the loo to ensure that you are always minty fresh.

Shack Tapazaka, G/F, 1-1A Yiu Wa Street, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, p. 25556058, 銅鑼灣耀華街1-1A號地下

Moonshine & the Po’Boys
Illuminated by lamps made from colourful mason jars and accented by eclectic Mardis Gras beads, Moonshine & the Po’Boys is tucked away on Sun Street. Try their mouth-watering delicacies from New Orleans, such as swamp gator nuggets and shrimp & grits, and wash them down with a feisty cocktail made with bacon flavoured bourbon.

Moonshine & the Po’Boys, G/F, 4 Sun Street, Wan Chai, Hong Kong,  p. 27762668, 灣仔日街4號地下

Cinta-J Restaurant & Lounge
Near the heart of Lockhart Road, Cinta-J is special like no other. The tables, booths, and the seating style is reminiscent of an American style diner. However, with kitschy paintings collected from different parts of Asia gracing its walls, the place looks a Denny’s that has gone rogue. At night, the stage lights up the whole place and their house band plays dancey tunes. In addition to their standard selection of drinks, they serve a diverse selection of delicious snacks from different parts of Asia, which is the perfect way to cap off an evening of fun.

Cinta-J Restaurant & Lounge, Shop G-4, Malaysia Bldg, 69 Jaffe Rd., Wan Chai, Hong Kong, p. 25296622 / 25294183, 灣仔謝斐道69號馬來西亞大廈地下

Wan Chai is only one of the many neighbourhoods in Hong Kong. Check out awesome places to hang out in Sheung Wan and Mong Kok.

About “In the Shadow of the Middle Kingdom”

In the recent years, China has become more economically and politically powerful. Taiwan and Hong Kong are both feeling the pressure as China, also known as the Middle Kingdom, forces the world to kowtow to the One China Policy. My blog, In the Shadow of the Middle Kingdom, explores Chinese culture in this volatile climate—there is a real possibility that Taiwan and Hong Kong as we know may not exist in the next decade, if not sooner. This uncertainty has prompted me to explore my heritage. As a third culture kid—individuals raised in cultures that are different than their parents’—I grew up in Canada and returned to Asia as an adult. Through this blog, I will share my experiences in “re-learning” Taiwanese customs and rituals in the context of current events and my personal experience as a Taiwanese Canadian living in Hong Kong.