Exploring All of One's Roots: Taiwan and its Lapita Heritage

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Sunday November 14, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

Taiwanese will often wonder how and why after nearly a half a century of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) indoctrination and brainwashing, they still think differently, act differently and even have different sets of values than the post World War II carpetbaggers that fled to Taiwan from China (1945 to 1949). They may further wonder why they find their thinking is even more than miles apart from that of a different brainwashed set, the sheep on the other side of the Taiwan Strait. Those sheep are no closer to a democracy than they were 100 years ago when Sun Yat-sen proposed a government of the people, by the people and for the people. Why is this so? Why did democracy take root in Taiwan and not China? Surprisingly, the answer can be found in Taiwans history and one word, Lapita.

Lapita is the name of a location on the island of New Caledonia; it is the location place of the first site where remnants of a vast Oceanic culture were discovered by archaeologists. Other sites throughout the islands of the Pacific would follow and prove to be linked to that site. Current research further points to the fact that this vast Oceanic culture had its origins in Taiwan thousands and thousands of years previous. When, why and how much of this culture came from Taiwan continues to be a hot topic of debate and exploration. Herein lies part of the difference between Taiwanese and others including the KMT colonialism. It is a purpose of a current exhibition now being shown at the Quai Branly Museum of Tribal Arts in Paris.

To quote an old Irish proverb, "whats bred in the bone, will out." Whats bred in Taiwanese bones will out; its role in the thousands and thousands of years of its past will out. Taiwan is an island nation and island people think differently than continental people. That thinking is bred in their bones. Why are Taiwanese more entrepreneurial and willing to venture into new areas of business etc.? Why are Taiwanese more adaptive? Why have Taiwanese always seen themselves as different no matter what past colonial and continental rulers they have experienced? Why is Taiwan linked to the vast Oceanic culture and why were Taiwanese able to fight for democracy and overcome the one-party state of the KMT? Explore their Lapitian roots.

When the KMT began their process of brainwashing Taiwanese after WWII, they tried to Sinicize them. At first, they thought that they were simply getting rid of the influence of fifty years of Japanese culture and colonial rule. The answer, however, proved much deeper and more fundamental than that. When the KMT began to realize this, they saw that the only effective way to counter the true total heritage of the Taiwanese was to denigrate any part of it that was not Han Chinese. This denigration had a two-fold aim.

The first is to try to shame the Taiwanese from acknowledging this large non-Han part of their past. If they can achieve this, the KMT could make the Taiwanese feel they are unworthy 2nd class citizens and unable to rule themselves. They therefore should let the allegedly benevolent and exploitative KMT rule them. The second part of this aim is to not only prevent the Taiwanese from taking pride in themselves and rejecting their most recent colonial carpetbaggers, the KMT, but also to place the Taiwanese in a state of perpetual subordination. Because of their different histories, the KMT will always be more "authentic" Han; Taiwanese will always be "other" in their own land.

Taiwan is an island nation; its people think like island nation people. Taiwan's history is different from China's history. Taiwanese must cross this bridge to realize the fullness of their identity and defend their hard-won democracy. Others including the sheep and their spoiled self-appointed leaders (reread "Animal Farm") on the other side of the Taiwan Strait will want them to forget the reality of their past and their links to the vast and independent Oceanic culture of the Pacific. They should not; rather they should take pride in being Taiwanese.