Last Wednesday, Taiwan celebrated its 101st birthday. I’m a second-generation overseas Taiwanese Yalie, and I spent the day posting nationalistic Facebook statuses. I texted my family “Happy 10/10 National Day!” taking great joy and pride in a country from which I traced my roots but have not resided in for any appreciable amount of time.
Whether Taiwan (or the Republic of China, if you’re annoyingly politically correct) is recognized as a sovereign state internationally makes no difference to me. I still shamelessly wave my Taiwanese flag around to celebrate our revolution that overturned the Qing Dynasty in 1912.
But I’m not actually Taiwanese. All four of my grandparents were refugees from Mainland China after the Communist Party took power. Only my parents were born in Taiwan, so I’m what they call a “wài-sheng rén” (Taiwanese person from an outside province). I can identify with neither native Formosans, the term for true natives of the island — who would think it treacherous even if I did — nor with those on the Mainland, but instead only with the ambiguous label of “Taiwanese.”
Cultural identity limbo aside, I nevertheless was fed a fair share of anti-China sentiment as I grew up. It was impossible for my parents, cousins and me to sympathize with a government whose people had once raided my grandparents’ towns, killed their loved ones and eventually forced them from their beloved homeland. These stories were engraved in my own memory, as I witnessed my grandmother’s heartbreaking expressions and heard my grandfather’s experiences in war whenever the old days were brought up.
Thus, I’ve always referred to Chinese people as “those Mainland people” with a slight distain. My distaste with China-made products stems beyond the popular stereotypes; I adamantly write only traditional characters in Chinese class while viewing their simplified counterparts with scorn; I subconsciously treat my Taiwanese friends more favorably.
It wasn’t until this past summer that I began to question my behaviors. At the London Olympics, I found myself cheering along with the Chinese crowd for Ye Shiwen to torpedo past American Elizabeth Beisel over the final leg of the 400m individual medley for gold, and was elated when she also broke the world record.
At first, I just thought it was the heat of the moment. However, as I watched the red-clad Chinese supporters screaming their throats hoarse, I realized we weren’t that different. I looked like them, understood their language and relished with them that the Americans were beaten at their own sport.
I smiled as the Chinese flag was raised and anthem played (I’m sorry, Grandpa).
Attempting to explain this, my dad said I started supporting the Mainlanders only while caught in a sea of Caucasians. But that was only part of the story. Olympic Park was filled with Chinese people, and it was hard to find another reason besides their nationality and Beijing accents to dislike them.
This idea cemented in my mind when I met Taiwanese supporters on the Tube — had it not been for their track jackets and distinctive accents, I wouldn’t have been able to spot them out. What reason besides ignorance did I have to like some strangers more than others?
The Taiwanese have a special label, “chun-kùng,” to describe people, most notably businessmen nowadays, who have ditched Taiwan in favor of China for personal gains. It is not a compliment.
But that’s short-sighted. Politics need to be separated from the people, and the actions of a government so many years ago should not define my sentiments about everyone from the modern-day Mainland.
Don’t get me wrong, though; the anti-China attitude is still a cancer within me that knows no cure. But our ancestors once coexisted peacefully as Chinese people, not as Taiwanese or Mainland Chinese. We are all still Chinese when the sun exits stage west. We can still be family.
After all, to borrow an American phrase, it’s not “divided we stand.”
Ike Lee is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.