First Question [Lofthouse]: Since 1949, Taiwan and mainland China have followed significantly different paths. While Taiwan held onto the old culture, the mainland went through a painful metamorphosis to rise from the ashes of the Civil War (1926 – 1949) as if it were a phoenix to be reborn.
One example of these differences may be found in the written language. While Taiwan held onto the old style of writing Mandarin, which goes back thousands of years, Mao simplified the language and instead of writing vertically from bottom right in columns toward the top left, the written language on the mainland was simplified with fewer strokes and is written from the top in horizontal lines from left to right ending in the lower right corner as Western writing does.
In addition, Mao saw Confucianism as a weakness that led to China’s decline in the 19th century as the world’s wealthiest and most technologically advanced nation on the earth — a position it held for about two thousand years. To rid Communist China of this weakness, Mao declared war on Confucius.
However, piety, which is a result of Confucian ethics and morals since the Han Dynasty, remains strong in both cultures. Since you lived in Taiwan and taught ESL for ten years and then traveled as a tourist through mainland China, how would you describe the differences you observed between how piety is practiced in mainland China and Taiwan?
First, as the term pertains to Taiwan, there is no such thing as mainland China. There is China, and there is Taiwan. The word ‘mainland’ denotes a connection, but there isn’t one and never really has been. The Dutch, not the Chinese, were the first to establish controls over Taiwan. When the Dutch arrived, there were a few thousand Fujianese farming families living on the Western plains (they had fled China despite a Qing ban on emigration) and aboriginals living in the mountains. The Dutch were eventually sent packing by the Ming loyalist, Koxinga, who in turn was toppled by the Qing. The Qing asked the Dutch if they wanted Taiwan back. They didn’t, so, mainly to prevent the island from falling into other foreign hands, it was annexed in 1885. The Qing, remember, were Manchus, considered foreign rulers by the Han Chinese.
Even today, the Chinese commemorate their demise. The Manchus admitted they held no jurisdiction over half of Taiwan. The other half they ruled badly.
In 1895, Taiwan was ceded to Japan, and though the Japanese exploited it, living standards exceeded any province in China.
In Cairo, in 1943, Chiang Kai-shek argued that Taiwan had been stolen by the Japanese and ought to be returned.
Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin agreed, hence the mainland myth, perpetuated to this day by the Communists and the Nationalists. Approximately 90 percent of Taiwanese want nothing to do with China, and why would they?
In addition to retaining some of the finer aspects of traditional Chinese culture, such as complex characters, Taiwan has liberalized through democratization and represents a major step forward for Chinese civilization.
As for the Confucian concept of piety, it is a core cultural component, virtually identical in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Macau. This is unfortunate because Confucianism is dogma. “The plague of heterodox theories can be eliminated by fierce attack,” says the Analects of Confucius. Until people realize the Analects represents only stone-age logic and dictums posing as wisdom, they will remain slaves to tyranny and history.
In China, I was no mere tourist.
The history of Taiwan is interesting.
However, if history decides who rules a territory, the US would not exist, and Hawaii’s native population would still rule an independent country instead of being the 50th state.
Taiwan’s fate was decided by Chiang Kai-shek (a Han Chinese) when he ordered KMT troops to slaughter Taiwanese natives. He ruled Taiwan as a dictator before and after he lost China’s Civil War.
As for democratization, America’s Founding Fathers despised democracy and saw it as a path to mob rule.
Regarding Confucianism, — under Mao, it was seen as a weakness and a brutal war was waged on the philosophy during the Cultural Revolution.
In addition, the Mandate of Heaven plays an important role that often cancels out the negative aspects of Confucianism.
Final Word [Parfitt]:
Taiwan’s history has been irrevocably altered by Chiang Kai-shek, but its fate regarding China has not been decided.
Face is a puerile concept, a license to behave however one pleases.
Guanxi is important in all societies. It only seems more prevalent in China because people discuss it.
Confucianism, Legalism, and Taoism are enlightened philosophies to those who’ve never read them. The essence of Confucianism is obedience. Legalism is Machiavellian. “A weak people means a strong state…” says The Book of Lord Shang. The Tao Te Ching urges rulers to eradicate knowledge and desire. The strains of despotism in these native ideologies speak to communism’s appeal.
Nowhere in Jonathan Spence’s Mao does it say Mao’s Cultural Revolution had to do with waging war on Confucianism. Spence notes Mao “never wrote a single comprehensive analysis of what he intended to achieve by the Cultural Revolution, or… how he expected it to proceed.”
Continued on November 29, 2011 in Discussion with Troy Parfitt, the author of “Why China Will Never Rule the World – Travels in the Two Chinas” – Part 3 or return to Part 1.
Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.
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