China's Heroes are not Taiwan's
Friday March 10, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.
As Taiwanese look across the Strait and compare notes, problems and differences with their neighbor China, they also find alternative perceptions of heroism.
To borrow a line from the 17th century French mathematician, Blaise Pascal, "What is true on one side of the Pyrenees (read Taiwan Strait), may not be true on the other."
Here, two complex individuals are at the heart of the matter.
The first is Sun Yat-sen, who after many failed coup attempts is known for his role in the 1911 overthrow of the Manchu Qing Dynasty. Because of that he is considered the founder of modern China.
The second person is Mao Zedong. Mao, also known as the "great helmsman," is seen as the founding father of the 1949 People's Republic of China (PRC).
The reverence for Sun in China creates a doubly ironic position for him in Taiwan where he is certainly not seen as the father of modern Taiwan. Here, he is honored instead by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), as the founding father of the Republic of China (ROC), a government that the KMT brought with it and imposed on Taiwan as a one-party state after it was driven from China. The ROC, has of course remained as the official name of the hard-won democracy of Taiwan.
Sun is known for championing the sanminzhuyi, the three principles of the people, namely, minzu, government of the people or nationalism, minquan, by the people or democracy and minsheng, for the people or livelihood.
While Taiwan has produced its own democratic version of the three principles, Sun is not considered a part of the national narrative.
In China, where they do revere Sun, a century has ironically passed since the Xinhai Revolution of 1911, and the PRC is no closer to his ideals of government by the people than when it started. The PRC does have government of the people, nationalism, but it falls short on the other two.
Instead of a democratic government by the people, the PRC has government by the Standing Committee of the Politburo; and instead of its socialist government for the people; China has changed course and run into problems there as well. This has become one of President Xi Jinping's challenges as an oligarchy is now gaining preference in the PRC.
As far as wealth goes, China ranks second among world nations as a country with the most billionaires and millionaires. Unfortunately its wealth gap is widening and it also ranks high with nearly a billion "poorer" people. Sun would turn in his grave with that realization.
However, Sun's complexity is nothing when compared to China's competing reverence for Mao and its inability to come to terms with all of his past.
Sun's doctrine of democracy does present a contrasting way of judging Mao.
Mao's portrait is boldly portrayed in Tiananmen Square, and he has long been a part of China's historical struggle to become what it is now. He led the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to survival in its "Long March," he fought the Japanese and he helped drive Chiang Kai-shek and the KMT into exile. He is clearly linked to China's strong nationalism.
Nonetheless, Mao falls short when it comes to developing government by the people and here his complexity grows. Further, because of poor judgment and his desire to maintain power he failed in developing government for the people and caused their deaths.
In forging China, Mao has been both directly and indirectly responsible for the deaths of millions upon millions of Chinese; this is a part of Mao's past that the CCP downplays if not denies. Not only was he responsible for those innumerable deaths but also he seemed all too willing to accept this collateral damage to achieve his ends. In short, for him, the end justified the means. Taiwan therefore sees him as a ruthless dictator.
One of Mao's great fiascos was his belief that China could be made great again in the Great Leap Forward of 1958 to 1963. As the country focused on second-rate steel production instead of agriculture, the great famine of 1959 to 1961 arose. If such had been engineered by Japan it would be another of their unforgivable sins but Mao is given a pass.
The people of China also do not want to revisit a second Mao fiasco, the Cultural Revolution of 1966 to 1976. This turned into a deadly nationalistic purge engineered by Mao when he was losing power.
Stating that too much bourgeois capitalism was creeping into China, Mao declared it could only be solved by a purge of customs, culture, habits and ideas. The number that suffered and died or had their lives ruined in that decade is again in the millions.
Suffice it to say that a capitalist direction was reinstated on Mao's death.
While Mao supported a strong China for the proletariat, he also wanted to live like an Emperor among them with his rule to be unquestioned.
This horrendous past with all its millions of deaths is still swept under the rug in China and is not open for discussion. The only current grudging acknowledgement that Mao was involved in so many millions of deaths is the admission that he was perhaps 30 percent wrong.
What then keeps China from facing the truth of Mao? Since there are no elections by the people, the Politburo's Standing Committee needs him there to legitimize and guarantee their right to succession. In this, the Standing Committee ironically relies on the cultural Confucian tradition of not questioning the hierarchical order, a tradition that Mao used against others, but relied on to maintain his position.
In Taiwan, Sun Yat-sen is not part of its national narrative, though his principles of government of the people by the people and for the people hold sway. Sun represents a different era and a different country brought over by the KMT. Taiwanese see their democracy as won from the KMT one-party state with their blood and sacrifice.
As for Mao, there is little respect at all; even the old guard KMT who might be happy with the nationalism he developed in China, are more prone to see him as a past opponent and the man who drove them out of China.
Taiwan continues to develop its democracy, while the chances of the PRC achieving Sun's ideals of a democratic government are close to zero. It could be another century if ever. Hong Kong continues expose to this.
As for nationalism, Taiwan has its own and has no need for Mao.