1999 / 10月
Laura Li /tr. by Christopher MacDonald
While both sides of the Taiwan Strait were preparing to take stock of the last 50 years, the founder of the Hong Kong magazine Newsdom, Pu Shao-fu, said: "In the mainland, the last 50 years can be summed up with one Chinese character: 'gao'[push, muck about with], as in 'push revolution, class struggle, and economics.' What has happened in Taiwan during the same period can also be summed up in one character: 'pin'[desperately bid], as in 'a desperate bid to survive and succeed.' While gao is pro-active, pin signals a response to circumstances." It is a distinction which effectively covers all there is to say about the cross-strait grappling of the past half-century.
In the fine month of October, while the PRC stages huge celebrations to mark "the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the country," the ROC is somberly observing its own National Day-the 50th such occasion since the government moved to Taiwan, but this year overshadowed by September's terrible earthquake.
National Day passes quietly this year, but looking back over 50 years since the arrival in Taiwan of the Nationalist government, we see that the island has undergone transformations on a scale unlike any other in Chinese history.
The guiding principle of the ROC, ever since its founding, has been to rescue China from destruction and ensure its survival. And for the past 50 years, the proximity of a powerful enemy has spurred the government to go flat out in pursuit of national prosperity.
Taiwan has not had the luxury of being able to pause and take stock. For the past half-century, economic and defense considerations have been paramount, and concerns about the wider environment in which Taiwan exists have remained as an ever-present nightmare.
When the government first relocated to Taiwan it declared martial law and adopted an "emergency" political system, both of which were subsequently extended for the following 40 years. The national constitution, framed for the 36 provinces of Greater China and supplemented accordingly with "Temporary Provisions," was little suited to the practical requirements of Taiwan itself. Meanwhile, fears of Communist infiltration kept alive the "white terror" in people's minds.
From the "August 23 shelling campaign" of 1958, through to the severing of diplomatic relations with the US in 1979 and the alarm about a lunar intercalary month in 1995, and even to the present day, Taiwan has witnessed a continuous outflow of emigrants. Nowhere else in the world is there a country as affluent and modern as Taiwan that hemorrhages so many people because of the fear of war.
In spite of its political predicament, Taiwan found an outlet for its energies in the tussles of the free market. People threw everything into building up their own businesses, and of the nearly one million registered firms in Taiwan, over 95% are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)-since everyone wants to be their own boss. The public's enthusiasm for making money, combined with the government's assiduous management of the economy, have brought rapid economic growth and made Taiwan a land of plenty. And while the Taiwan experience serves as an inspiration for other developing nations, it has also provided the island with its best guarantee against ever being made communist.
However, an industrial structure built around SMEs lacks sufficient capital, manpower and long-term planning capability. It also encourages economic short-termism and creates a sense of political insecurity. Industry therefore still needs to sink deeper roots in Taiwan.
Along with profound fears about the future, a further feature of life in Taiwan during the last 50 years has been the rapid pace of change .
From today's perspective we see that although the government has maintained a continuous, unbroken hold on Taiwan, it long since underwent significant changes: from the tight control over the country in the early years, when the national leader was supreme, to the no-holds-barred democracy of today; from a reverential attachment to Confucian orthodoxy and the complete rejection of any notion that the leadership could content itself with ruling just a small fragment of the original country, to today's chaotic national identity. Taiwan's governing ideology has been almost completely overhauled during this time.
On the economics front, Taiwan achieved average growth of over 8% for much of the post-war period, catapulting it from conditions of stark poverty to sudden wealth. With the exception of the city states of Hong Kong and Singapore, which do not share Taiwan's agricultural background, Taiwan grew wealthy quicker than anywhere else in the world.
Taiwan also tops the tables for population aging, divorce and abortions, and even for falling birth rate. Society has changed very rapidly, but while schools still teach the virtues of being "gentle, kind, respectable, thrifty and yielding," the tune being sung throughout the rest of society is that "you've got to go for broke if you want to win." News that screams out at us from the headlines one day may have vanished three days later. Conflicting sets of values, and the phenomenon of "social amnesia," are problems that both spring from the fact that people nowadays don't have the patience for reflection or for letting things develop gradually.
The political context has been democratized during the 50 years since the government moved to Taiwan, but much still needs to be done with regard to law and order. The economy may be flourishing, but in terms of environmental protection we completely fail to make the grade. Educational levels have jumped and society is buzzing with activity, yet some of the old qualities of generosity and forbearance have been sacrificed, and we are yet to attain the innate understanding and self-awareness of a mature society.
Despite the continuing apprehension about cross-strait relations, despite the bewildering jumble of social values, and despite the destruction wrought by the September 21 earthquake, Taiwan is still on its feet. And in the wake of the earthquake, everyone is giving money and time to help victims of the disaster piece their lives together again.
It is said that "nations grow strong in response to disaster and aggression." Looking back at the road traveled by Taiwan during the past 50 years, we may ask: How is Taiwan to maintain its impetus for economic growth? How can it break the cross-strait deadlock and create a more positive political environment for the next half-century? Such are the issues facing us today.