Ethan Yang ’20
As the owner of the Taiwanese flag that was recently torn down in the Asian American Student Association (AASA) house, I feel like it is appropriate that I respond to the incident. At the moment, I am currently abroad, but I cannot help but say something. There is so much packed into the incident and a plethora of emotions are running through me as I write this. First of course is rage; nobody likes vandalism, especially ethnic/political vandalism. Another is concern. Trinity has a particular history with flags and banners being torn down, such as the LVL Hispanic Heritage banner, the Dominican flag, as well as the Queer Resource Center’s Pride Flag. I feel frustrated because the politics and history surrounding this incident are incredibly complex, and are not common knowledge. Finally, I feel defiant, because Taiwan has always been the subject of Chinese aggression, yet we stand strong in the face of imperialism. Going forward there should certainly be dialogue and mutual understanding between the various groups involved. However, the main issue isn’t mutual understanding, it’s about the right of a group of people to exist and to live free of oppression.
As long as I can remember, I’ve been questioned about my Taiwanese identity by Chinese international students during my time at Trinity. Most students tend to avoid the topic or even sympathize with me. However, there’s always a few patriotic individuals who come forward with comments ranging from, “I don’t think Taiwan is a country.” all the way to “…one day China will conquer Taiwan.” These are not jokes either-China and Taiwan have long been at odds with one another. The Chinese government has been threatening a military invasion of Taiwan for decades. The Chinese President, Xi JinPing, even made a recent effort to reassert China is willing to take Taiwan by force (South China Morning Post, January 2019). Let that settle in, a military conquest of a thriving democratic nation in the 21st century. That is what China is proposing and that is what some of my Chinese colleagues have been telling me when they talk about “reunification,” “national integrity,” or “honor.”
For those that are unaware, here is a brief history of Taiwan. It is a small island about the size of the state of Maryland, off the coast of China. For much of its history, Taiwan has been inhabited by aboriginal tribes, similar to the various seafaring groups that populated islands across the Pacific Ocean. During the 17th century, Dutch and Spanish trading companies set up forts in order to use the island as an outpost to conduct operations. These European powers were eventually expelled and China formally occupied the island near the end of the 17th century. In 1895, China ceded control of Taiwan to Japan as a result of the Treaty of Shimonoseki which concluded the First Sino-Japanese War. In 1945, Taiwan changed hands yet again as the United States defeated Japan to end World War II. Taiwan was then given to the Kuomintang, a nationalist Chinese regime, which the US supported during the ongoing Chinese Civil War. When the nationalists lost the war in 1949, they retreated to Taiwan and set up the current government while the Communist faction assumed control of China (BBC, February 2019). Over the course of decades, Taiwan underwent a series of political reforms eventually becoming one of the freest and most vibrant democracies in the world (Freedom House, 2018). The Taiwanese cultural and national identity has also become salient as 80% of all people under 30 in Taiwan now identify as Taiwanese, not Chinese, Japanese, or any other ethnicity (Washington Post, January 2017). In short, Taiwan has a long and unique history of its own, a robust democracy, a booming economy, and a proud people consisting of Taiwanese citizens as well as aboriginal tribes.
This is why there can be no middle ground or compromise for any perspective besides those that recognize the dignity and sovereignty of the Taiwanese people. I say this not just about Taiwan, but all groups that live under the thumb of oppression. From African-Americans fighting slavery and segregation to women gaining the right to vote, there are some conflicts that weighing both sides equally isn’t acceptable. That is what we have here. As we progress forward with dialogue about the Taiwanese flag incident along with all acts of aggression on this campus, I hope for fruitful and respectable conversations. However, we must keep in mind that there can never be compromise on the fact that the Taiwanese flag represents a free, independent, and sovereign people. The same goes for every marginalized group on campus, whether it is on the basis of race, gender, class, political affiliation, or religion everybody deserves a level of inalienable liberty and humanity.