Who Are We ? ─The Path for the New Era Taiwanese
In 1789, the French Revolution gave birth to the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen” which set forth in Article I: “Men are born and remain free and equal in rights,” and in Article III: “The principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation.” As everyone knows, this great declaration established human rights and the rule of law as the pillars of modern politics. The roaring wave of French Revolution swept to Formosa in the East two hundred years later. In 1989, Taiwan formally entered the era of democratization, embracing the same ideals of promoting reform and spirit of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen.
As with its previous economic miracle, Taiwan’s democratic reform is a success story that has won the attention of the world. During this process, I led the KMT administration to listen carefully to what the people want and to respect the will of mainstream popular opinion, thereby becoming the main force for promoting reform. At that time, after undergoing determined reform, the authoritarian rule gradually gave way to present democracy with a wide-open avenue. The ethnic tensions created during the 1940’s also dissolved under the reconciliation of democracy. In 2000, Chen Shui-bian, the DPP candidate, won the presidential election. However, the victorious DPP faced a Legislative Yuan controlled by the opposition parties, their government policies often boycotted by the opposition. In addition, The DPP lacked government experience and were not tolerant enough. This has led to great clashes between the political parties and re-ignited ethnic tensions. What is regrettable today is that ethnic tensions under the current political environment combined with China’s divisive moves aggravated internal confusion about national identity. Therefore, I have put forward the “ new era Taiwanese,” an idea based upon democratic spirit to overcome internal disagreements.
In the last decade of the 20th century, the tidal “third wave democratization” that began early in the 1970s swept over Taiwan. We accepted baptism into this third wave democratization through a “quiet revolution” without bloodshed, though with some inevitable social tensions and conflicts. Taiwan’s democratic experience earned the attention of Professor Samuel P. Huntington, a renowned expert on this topic. Nevertheless, as Professor Huntington had noted, some of the countries that were part of the third wave of democratization may not successfully become a democracy. As an example, he cited the “Comparative Survey of Freedom for 1995,” published by the “Freedom House,” which identified 114 countries as being democracies, but also classified 37 countries as being only “partly free.” He concluded that some of the countries included in the third wave of democratization had already begun to face pressures of reorganization and consolidation.
From where do the threats to third wave democracies come? According to Professor Huntington, they come first from the participants in the democratic process, second from the electoral victories of political parties and movements clearly committed to antidemocratic ideals, third from executive arrogation and last, from the governments in new democracies that do not hesitate to limit political rights and civil liberties. This conclusion is general in nature and each country must be analyzed respectively.
Indeed, there are certain political parties in Taiwan that are antidemocratic, relying on ideology rather than the people’s choice. Nevertheless, I am happy to say that such political parties or interests groups did not gain political power. On the contrary, as they lost two presidential elections, the number of believers of their ideologies has also gradually decreased. However, Taiwan’s national predicament varies from the rest of the world. China, across the Taiwan Strait, has always wanted to annex Taiwan and continuously tries to unsettle Taiwan’s independent sovereignty. The interplay of such internal and external factors has led to complexity and confusion of Taiwan’s national identity.
In Asia, leaders of some of the countries deemed as being third wave democracies such as Singapore and Malaysia continue to adhere to the concept of “Asian values.” Asian traditions are not irreplaceable, yet the political arguments of these countries demonstrate that the so-called “Asian values,” hailed as an alternative to democracy, has become a major stumbling block to these countries path to full democracy. Fortunately, for Taiwan, the influence of Confucian traditions is not entrenched enough to create this problem. Currently, the major issue for Taiwan to resolve in its path toward full democracy is the confusion in its national identity.
Various surveys show that more and more Taiwanese people see themselves as being Taiwanese or do not deny that they are Taiwanese. This is proof of the assimilation of different ethnic groups in Taiwanese society under democracy. Regrettably, the political groups that have been rejected by the voters use political maneuvers to fracture social harmony and stir dissensions on national identity. They want to adopt the “Greater China” ideology used in the authoritarian era to amass power to subvert the current nativized and democratic Taiwan. Today, their largest group of abettors is not domestic voters, but the hegemonic arguments of China across the Taiwan Strait, their threats of military force and economic warfare. Undeniably, Chinese national power is growing and using such “bringing Ching soldiers to enter the gate” or Trojan horse tactics to cooperate with the communists to control Taiwan worsens Taiwan’s predicament.
For the Taiwanese to overcome these challenges, they must first strengthen national identity. If we look closely at Taiwan, we find that the Taiwanese people from 50 years ago and the Taiwanese people of fifty years later have undergone a qualitative change. In the past, after being brainwashed by the outside regimes, Taiwanese people had no other choice but to deem themselves as Chinese. Today, more and more people have come to realize that it was unrealistic and a historical fiction. In reality, during the process of democratic reforms in the last decade of the 21st century, we frequently asked ourselves, “Who am I? Who are we?” Professor Huntington also mentions in his new book, Who are We?, that many countries face various national identity issues. Although their forms and substances may differ, the national identity of Taiwan currently is in the midst of dissolution and reconstruction.
Here, I would like to talk about my personal thinking on this matter. From the age of fifteen or sixteen, I pressed to find answers to questions on “self” and “death.” I discovered that it is possible to live a truly affirmative “life” only through “death” of the self. As for what happens to the “self” after “death of the self,” it is elevated to the existence level. From my perspective as a Christian, today, I am no longer my self, but the Lee Teng-hui who has Jesus Christ in him. As Paul said in Galatians, 2:20, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” This is what I mean when I say: “I am no longer my self. I am not Lee Teng-hui’s Lee Teng hui.”
The source of this kind of thinking began with the philosophy books I read in my youth. Nietzsche has said: “The present day man anxiously asks: How can man justify its existence? However, Zarathustra is the only one to ask, “How can man be surpassed?” The philosopher, Martin Heidegger, noted in his study of Nietzsche, “Neitzsche does not see the meaning of life in self existence (competitive existence), but in surpassing the self to discover the true meaning of life. Therefore, to be a criterion or value of life must of necessity be determined as such that carries, promotes and stimulates life to its highest potential.
The French philosopher Sartre has said: “…man being condemned to be free carries the weight of the whole world on its shoulders; he is responsible for the world and himself as a way of being.” He further reminds us: “Imbedded in man’s attempt to surpass himself, transcendence, is the meaning he has been looking for in his life.” If a footnote is necessary, I would say the pursuit of “not being my self,” is putting before myself the possibility of taking life to a higher level.
Speaking of which, I cannot help but think of the philosophical perspective established by Immanuel Kant’s three major critiques. My inspiration from his philosophy is – Humans must understand their own limitations in order to manage self-reliance and motivation so that life is elevated to higher purpose and becomes more worthwhile. If we take the analysis to an absolute level, we find what Kant has said, “that one should never act in a way that one could not also will that this maxim should be a universal law,” is very significant. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1966 undoubtedly represent modern interpretations of this proposition. It is the obligation of the Taiwanese people toward themselves and the world to strive for the realization of the international human rights standards delineated in these covenants.
The “new era Taiwanese” ought to engage in such philosophical analyses and take action to practice them. Starting from “I am not my self” as the launching point, every “new era Taiwanese” should rejuvenate their inner minds to realize the “revaluation of all values” (Umwertung aller werte), to form a blanket spiritual transcendence and cultural renewal. Owing to the combination of free will and civism, it would not be difficult for such an enlightened new era Taiwanese to breakaway from the situation of being shackled by historical fabrications to develop a firm and resolute national identity for democratic Taiwan. Only upon this new foundation can democracy eradicate lingering ethnic conflicts, prevent antidemocratic political forces from stirring unrest for their own self-interests, and keep the political warfare from hegemonic greater China ideology from gaining an inadvertent advantage.
Developing a national identity through the avenue of democracy is the best guarantee for Taiwan’s democracy. Like some of the countries included in the third wave of democracy in recent years, Taiwan also lapsed into a worrisome democratic cadence. This is a situation that cannot be ignored by friends who are concerned with Taiwan’s democratic development. In the future, whether the democratic fruits Taiwan obtained from “the third wave” will be further consolidated or unfortunately take the road backwards will certainly affect the expansion or contraction of global democratic values and deserve everyone’s close monitoring. Nevertheless, I would like to make an optimistic prediction that the threats to Taiwan’s democracy are not fatal as long as we do not lose confidence in democratic values and as long as our democratic functions do not go off track. At some point in the future, democratic Taiwan will march toward the goal of becoming a normal country with firmer footsteps and finally developing into a fully democratic country like your country.