What is in a Name? Two Chinas and One Taiwan

Ethan Yang ’20

Contributing Writer

Last week there was an excellent opinion piece written by an anonymous  student who so bravely spoke out on a taboo topic. They affirmed Taiwan’s democratic freedoms and its inclusive values while critiquing aggression from China. However, there is one glaring issue I take with that piece, that mainly being the author’s insistence on using the phrase “Republic of China” and that they do not advocate for “Taiwanese independence since it’s already part of a sovereign state of the Republic of China.” 

Unless we are purely arguing over semantics, Taiwan ought to have its independence affirmed and to be called by its name because that is the proper title of our island and our nation. Further, to suggest that Taiwan is merely an entity that exists within the Republic of China insinuates that there are simply two Chinas, like North and South Korea. That, in essence, invokes a fantasy of Taiwan as a lost sibling of the Chinese family, a relationship that never existed. The author notes that the current Taiwanese constitution proclaims itself to be the Republic of China (ROC). This is because it was originally drafted in China, back when its creators intended to rule the entire Chinese empire. 

The constitution today does not reflect the will of the Taiwanese people, which is why it has undergone multiple revisions. One of the most important revisions is that it no longer claims the entire Chinese mainland, only Taiwan as well as some disputed territory. This is significant because it demonstrates how outdated the current constitution is as well as the popular sentiment that it should be further altered to reflect the new nation which it governs. Some might even advocate for the complete rewriting of the constitution. It would not be surprising to one day see the wording “Republic of China” completely stripped from the constitution. 

Taiwanese history dates back thousands of years. Originally Taiwan was inhabited by indigenous tribes, then settlers from the Chinese mainland came along with various colonial powers. These powers included the Portuguese, the Dutch, the Chinese, and the Japanese. Although the vast majority of Taiwanese people can trace some of their heritage back to China, to say Taiwan is simply a democratic version of China would be historically incorrect. To be Taiwanese doesn’t mean you’re just a Chinese person in denial. Although the Taiwanese celebrate and observe many Chinese customs, saying that makes them Chinese would be like saying I am a European because I study Western ideas. 

The greatest issue with the phrase “Republic of China” is that the ROC was an occupying force. Just like how Taiwan underwent occupation by colonial powers such as Japan, the ROC was yet another foreign invader. The ROC has its name because its original leader, Chiang Kai-Shek, was a Chinese general who had ambitions of ruling all of China. After losing to Mao Zedong and the Communist Chinese, his regime fled to Taiwan. Both in China and in Taiwan, the ROC ruled as a brutal dictatorship. Their policies killed countless people and the regime was even friendly with Hitler and Mussolini. In Taiwan, the ROC governed with an iron grip. It was not that different from Communist China, with the exception of more market based economic policies. If you questioned the regime you could disappear and never be heard from again. 

This brutal treatment by a government that only came to Taiwan in 1949 sparked a democracy movement realized over the course of decades. The main motivating force of this movement was Taiwanese nationalism, creating a Taiwan governed by Taiwanese, for Taiwanese. This is why part of the reforms included allowing native Taiwanese to hold seats in government. Eventually the new democratic regime guided the nation toward becoming what is now one of the freest and most prosperous countries in the world. Effectively this was a peaceful and quiet regime change that allowed people like my grandparents to reclaim their sovereignty from their Chinese oppressors. 

Last week’s article exercised a nuanced understanding of the China-Taiwan feud. They made the case that the Chinese Communist Party should respect the sovereignty of Taiwan, but insisted on calling it the Republic of China. However, to say that the Taiwanese should simply just live under the banner of the Republic of China, a name which few use, is not only contrary to what many Taiwanese want but also ignorant of what the ROC was and is. The current president Tsai Ing Wen campaigned and won on the platform that she was the leader of the nation of Taiwan, not China 2.0. She won the greatest popular landslide in Taiwanese history because she let the world know that Taiwan, a nation oppressed by both Communist and Nationalist Chinese regimes, is unashamed and unafraid to be Taiwanese. 


Brendan W. Clark '21 is the current Editor-in-Chief of the Trinity Tripod, Trinity College's student newspaper.

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