Lan takes the train every month, from Shanghai to the provincial capital where her mother lives, in a nursing home. The high speed train dongche gets to her destination in a few hours, unlike the "fast train" kuaiche that took more than twice as much time. It is sparkling clean and orderly, compared to before when people used to play cards noisily and eat sunflower seeds spitting out the shells in order to kill time. All around her, travelers are listening to their earphones, playing with their cellphones, or reading their magazines. She has slight motion sickness, which prevents her from reading, but has enough on her mind to keep busy. Last time when she called, the nurse told her that mother had been upset because she could not find her mother.
- Your mom - my grandma, died a long time ago, remember? Lan explained patiently over the phone.
- Is that so? Mom answered meekly and sadly.
Lan felt sorry for her. Mom was not always this soft. She had a sharp mind and a sharp tongue. Lan used to be afraid of her. Dad tried to keep peace.
- Your mom's tongue can be as sharp as a knife, but her heart is as soft as tofu.
That is a well-known Chinese expression, almost a cliché. Mother's heart did not need to be quite as soft as tofu, but they would all have been better off if her tongue weren't as sharp as a knife. Mother's condition did not become noticeable to Lan and her big brother until after their father's death three years ago. Poor dad had always acted like a buffer between mom and the children. The doctor diagnosed early onset of Alzheimer's disease, which has progressed rather quickly due to her diabetes.
At first, Lan's brother, who lived in the same city, took her in. But mom became increasingly difficult: she refused to take her medications, accused sister-in-law of stealing her money, and ran away several times. Humiliated, sister-in-law refused to be alone with her, and caregivers they hired would quit after a few days. Although Mom had always found something to complain about during each of her previous visits, Lan proposed to get her to live in Shanghai with her. She had bought a better apartment with a spacious guestroom. She would find a capable caregiver. Mom was thrilled to go back to Shanghai, her hometown. Her happiness lasted less than 12 hours. In the middle of the night, she started to scream and demanded to go home.
- Ma, this is your home, your own daughter's home.
- No, it is a hospital! I want to go home!
After a sleepless night, Mom was energetic and wanted to go see her older sister. Relieved, Lan left her there and went to work. Before lunch break, her cousin called. Mom and auntie had a huge fight and would not talk to each other anymore. They were both crying.
- What for?
- About how their big brother died, and whose fault it was.
Mom's big brother died during the 1937 Japanese bombing of Shanghai. Lan never knew exactly how. When grandma died, Lan saw him on an old picture in a keepsake box. It was a black and white family photo that had turned partly yellow. He looked about ten years old, and wore a dark suit like grandpa. No one was smiling. People did not use to smile on photos. Mother wore a little qipao dress and clang to grandma. Lan had a hard time picturing grandma running away from bombing with three children.
Lan picked up her mother from her auntie's home. Mom insisted on finding the home at Hongkou where grandma used to live. The entire neighborhood was demolished.
- This is not Shanghai! You are deceiving me!
Mom yelled loudly. People walked by, some stared at them frankly as if they were nobody, while others casted them their annoyed side glance. Lan hailed a taxi and took mom to the Old City God Temple and the Yu Garden, in order to prove that they were, in fact, in Shanghai. They had some raw-fried buns with ground meat filling (shengjian bao), and mom was in a spirited mood again.
Three days later, Lan was on the brink of exhaustion and the neighbors were complaining. Brother came to get mom. He had found an upscale nursing home for her.
At the beginning, mom cried and fought with the nurses, and then she gradually calmed down. Lan was not sure if it was due to her medications, or because her deteriorating condition made her humble. Last month, Lan was too busy to make her visit. When mom complained about having not seen her for a long time, Lan just muddled through:
- I was there last week, don't you remember?
- Oh, really?
Lan felt guilty, but somehow she enjoys talking with mom more, now that she is no longer afraid of her. She even plays with her over the phone, as if she were a little girl.
- Who am I?
- You are my daughter.
- What is my name?
- Oh, of course I know your name. Stop testing me.
Sometimes mom would try to show off her memory, or what is left of it.
- I know you have two husbands. Don't worry. I will not tell anybody else.
She laughed mischievously. Lan smiled sheepishly. There is no point reminding her mother that she does not have two husbands at the same time. But mother seems to be obsessed with Lan's husbands. Despite her promise, she keeps telling Lan's brother:
- Poor Lan. She has to cook for two husbands after work.
It feels wonderful that your mother is on your side, complicit, no matter how badly you mess up. It did not use to be that way.
Lan was in fact raised by her grandma, her mother's mother, who lived in Shanghai. Lan's mother followed her dad when he was assigned to work in the provincial capital. When Lan was about five, her parents decided to let her live with grandma, who was then widowed. Since they both "voluntarily" gave up their Shanghai resident cards (hukou) to support an "interior city", a (temporary) policy allowed them to leave one child in Shanghai, provided there was a relative as a guardian. Of course they did not tell her that right away. Instead, grandma came for a visit, and took Lan with her when she went back.
- You want to visit Shanghai with grandma? Asked dad.
Of course she did. Lan always liked grandma. She was the best-looking old lady she had ever seen, always impeccably dressed and put together. Best of all, she never yelled at Lan, unlike her mother. Lan went to the train station with grandma and dad.
- Are you going to miss us? Asked dad.
She brought her best "friend", a doll with a blue dress and big dark eyes that she always went to sleep with. She did not start to miss her parents and brother until weeks later, when she was told that she was to live in Shanghai for good. She cried for a while, but with a lot of "big white rabbit" candies, a five-year-old got over things. It proved to be a brilliant decision: Lan got a more and more coveted Shanghai hukou, and her older brother, who graduated from high school in 1976, did not have to go to the countryside, as the only child living with his parents. It was meant to be: Lan bore a closer resemblance to grandma than to either of her parents.
When Lan was in college, majoring in English, she watched Sophie's Choice. She cried and cried, and in the most unfair way, identified herself with the daughter that Sophie had to sacrifice for the sake of her son. She knew she was being ridiculous and a little hypocritical, because she would not have wanted to give up all the privileges that come with a Shanghai hukou, She never asked why her parents sent her away instead of her big brother though. It was obvious: a son is a son.
Lan's parents came to Shanghai every year for their Chinese New Year break, until grandma passed away when Lan was in college. After that Lan took the train every year to visit them during her winter break. The rest of the time, dad wrote letters. Only once, right after Lan's divorce, Mom added a few lines at the end of the letter:
"Do not come back for the New Year. Now is not the right time. Divorce is such a shame for us; none of our ancestors has ever done it. Now that you are no longer young, almost thirty, you need to find a suitable husband quickly, before it is too late. You need to be realistic. Older man is better, but no more than ten years older. Divorced man is ok as well, but with no children.
That Winter Break, Lan spent her endless free time listening to an Elvis Presley Christmas CD offered by an American visitor. Her favorite song was "I will be home for Christmas". The more Elvis repeated himself, the more she had a hunch that he would not be home on Christmas, not even in his dream, because you do not get to order your dream. There should be some sad songs for Chinese New Year as well. How could a billion people all feel happy on the same day?
Lan did not go visit her parents until three years later, husband in tow and a baby girl in her arms. Her brother had a son, so her parents were ecstatic with a granddaughter. She apparently did better than her mother's commands: her husband was four years older. She never told her that he had a son from a previous marriage, who lived in Singapore with his ex-wife. Life finally smiled to Lan who, strangely enough, started to have a recurring nightmare.
She was with a panic crowd running away from some invading soldiers with guns, holding her baby girl in her arm. When they arrived at one side of the village, another group of soldiers were running towards them. The crowd screamed and ran in all directions...
Sometimes her husband would wake her up. She would be panting heavily and soaked in sweat. The nightmare kept returning, as her baby grew heavier.
-Next time you have your nightmare, make sure I am in it. At least I can carry our baby for you, her husband teased her.
Lan also felt it strange that her husband was never in the dream and stopped telling him about it. Luckily, the nightmare stopped when her baby was about five, quite difficult to be carried.
The train stops at the final destination. Lan steps into the station, the same one where she left for Shanghai when she was five, but completely renovated. Train station. Mom now thinks all the time that she is in a train station and insists on going everywhere with some clothes wrapped in a big scarf. Mirrors had to be removed from her room because she got upset whenever she saw "an old woman" there.
Lan arrives at the "Red Sunset Nursing Home" in late afternoon. People are doing Taiji with an instructor, and a few are taking a stroll. Her mother is standing alone under a banyan tree, a cloth wrap clutched in her hand. She gazes into the distance and does not see Lan until she walks near her.
Lan is startled. Her mom throws her arms around Lan, tears running down her wrinkled cheeks.
- Mommy! What took you so long? I have been waiting and waiting...
Drawing by Bendu
Photos from the Sunflower Movement in Taipei, which has seen the Legislative Yuan occupied since March 18 and has seen street protests in and around the main protest site. Here are some of the more colorful satirical posters and artwork featured at the protest. Photos by Gaelle Dieudonne.
The sign to the left says "Go Maca'rong, I choose you!'" surrounded by pokeballs with Ash from the Pokemon series in the top right corner. Along with a picture on the right that portrays Ma as half deer/half dog. The deer references comes from what the highly educated elite that are internet users see as an unforgivable lack of common sense from President Ma Ying-jeou: he thought that the term "lurong", which are young deer antlers used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, referred to the fine hairs inside a deer's ear... (心虛). The second character "rong" is then combined with Ma (the president's name) into a word that sounds like Macaroon (which are for some reason ridiculously popular in Taiwan) - and which evidently sounds like a pokemon name to Chinese ears. Go figure... Ma Ying-jeou is portrayed as a dog, because they think he's being led by Xi Jinping like a dog led by his owner.
The sign at the bottom center says "Being polite to a dictator, is being cruel to yourself".
After seemingly being mistaken for a protest registration counter (perhaps an indicator of the almost anal precision with which protesters have organized themselves - complete with recycling bins) the media tent was forced to post this notice: "Media area, not protest organizers".
Some posters featuring common slogans from the protest, among which are: "non-violence!", "Don't cry, Taiwan!" "Go Peace and Love!", "Reject the opaqueness of the trade-in-services pact!" (the last one is catchier in Chinese).
The poster to the left appears to be a mock up of a fake magazine cover entitled "New News", the headline runs: "oppressive crackdown to protect trade-in-services pact " along with a photo of a bleeding protester. This I assume is an attack on the way some media outlets have covered the protests - accused by protesters of being "fake news" if they disagree with anything the media outlets print. The newspaper article in the centre is real, with an sign on the side of it which declares "People and the Gods should both be angry" To the right above a sign which says "Brutal police are killers" (though no deaths have actually been reported), is a caricature of pro-pact leaders including Ma Ying-jeou (left), Hsiao Chia-chi (second left I think) along with Jiang Yi-huah (I assume). Cant' read the sign on the far right because the writing is too small - but one can assume its something appropriately bombastic.
What looks like a wanted poster featuring the country's beloved president taped to a punching bag, ironically enough with a poster decrying police violence below it: Police brutality; Dictatorial governance; Democracy stained with blood" with a woman boxing Ma's face with a boxing glove. Voodoo counts as violence!
An eager student draws a sunflower on a sign which says 「太陽花理法院」in what I assume is an intentional misspelling of 立法院 (Legislative Yuan), although the significance escapes me.
A banner screams "Protect Democracy", with the famous mask from V for Vendetta and a dove, alongside the English Peace Forever.
Ma Ying-jeou holding a club - meant to represent the party whip - bullying KMT members into voting for the pact - ie jumping into a mass grave. And who said the students were being over dramatic about the pact? Beside the cartoon there is a sign which questions, why the panda pictured is also opposed to the pact? One can only assume that Taiwanese are willing to overlook its Chinese heritage. The comic is by Hunter (lieren).
To the left we can see immortalized the moment when Chow Mei-ching (Ma's wife) let her guard slip and shouted at her husband while press were watching, saying "你很奇怪耶你!" or "You're so weird!". In the centre is a picture of Ma Ying-jeou with the word "mummy's boy" beside it (Mabao) and a picture of King Pu-tsung, former ROC representative to the US, now Secretary-General of National Security Council of the Republic of China, with a homonym for "mummy's boy" which means "President Ma's darling", a reference to tabloid speculation that the two are lovers.
These photos of the clearing of the Executive Yuan with water hoses in the Apple Daily (which incidentally is the only paper which has been consistently selling out in 7-11s over the protest period) has the headline, "Police steal back the Executive Yuan" - below the newspaper page is a sign which says "Police brutality: dictatorial governance!".
Another mock-up magazine cover to the left, called Tragic Record, announces that "As soon as the trade in services pact passes, we can say goodbye to the Taiwanese people", under the poster of the sunflower is President Ma with deer horns (The deer references come from what the highly educated elite that are internet users see as an unforgivable lack of common sense from President Ma Ying-jeou: he thought that the term "lurong", which are young deer antlers used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, referred to the fine hairs inside a deer's ear) inside a black box (standing for the opaqueness with which the students feel the pact was passed) with the words "Take back the trade in services pact, oppose the black box."
This was one of the more interesting posters from the movement. The depiction of Christ on the cross is accompanied by a flippant "Do you believe in God!? Why not just come to the student movements instead!". The bottom poster is a flattering portrait of Ma Ying-jeou himself, with "Let the people come to the student protests!!! I'll pretend to be blind and deaf and betray the public!!"
Ma Ying-jeou is pictured here with the term for the leader of the Hong Kong SAR zone (teshou), a reference to the fact that many of the student protesters fear that Taiwan will "become the next Hong Kong".
Another flattering antler sporting portrait of Ma with Makarong written on the top, (The deer references comes from what the highly educated elite that are internet users see as an unforgivable lack of common sense from President Ma Ying-jeou: he thought that the term "lurong", which are young deer antlers used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, referred to the fine hairs inside a deer's ear. The second character "rong" is then combined with Ma (the president's name) into a word that sounds like Macaroon (which are for some reason ridiculously popular in Taiwan). The bananas in the bottom right corner, refer to a mistake by commentator Chiu Yi, who mistook the sunflowers students were holding in the legislative yuan for bananas supplied by the DPP as part of their secret conspiracy to... supply the students with bananas.
The largest sign says "The country belongs to the people, the people shouldn't fear the government, the government should fear the people." Along with a cheeky "Oppose black box" (a reference to the opaqueness with which students believe the trade in services pact was passed through the legislature), and a "protect democracy".
The top sign says "goods" and below it says "save your own country".
"Are you still human?" asks this poster of President Ma, bedazzled as he is by a Chinese flag which has infected him and turned him red, with a starry crown.
The official seal of Du Wenqiu (1823-1872), Sultan of Dali, Yunnan Province, and leader of the Panthay rebellion
I. A trip into the hills
On a bright July day in 2013, not long after I arrived in Taiwan, I decided to go on a cycling trip. I was told that if I went a little down the busy Chongde Street from the Liuzhangli roundabout, it would quickly become a quiet street, then a lane, then a track rising into the hills and from there on to the massive Liuzhangli Cemetery. Sure enough the traffic thinned, small grocery stores and shrines replaced the 7-11s and noodle shops and in less than ten minutes I was in what I would call the countryside.
Stopping for some water at a temple on a bend in the road I saw a very familiar but incongruous sight, on black marble and in gold calligraphy:
And those who believed will be admitted to the Gardens of Paradise beneath which rivers flow, abiding eternally therein by permission of their Lord (Qur’an, 14:23)
Not since my time in the Middle East had I seen this phrase, the standard epitaph for a Muslim grave. Amongst the hundreds of shrines and the grand whitewashed red-roofed ossuary was this blast from the past. I asked the temple guardian why this was here and kept hearing the same reply: Huizu (回族)
Getting back on my bike I rounded the corner to see a whole hillside of such graves and, at the top of the hill, a vast dome with a crescent moon. Climbing up the steep steps past rows and rows of these graves and religious epitaphs it seemed to me that compared with the surrounding Daoist and Buddhist graves, these ones were not as well kept. Some graves had fallen over, the ornamental trees, plants and flowers that had once shaded the headstones had withered and the soil turned to dust.
In the outer sections the forest had begun to claim back its ground, snaking over the graves with roots and tendrils. The final resting places of dozens of souls had been hidden behind dark brown expanses of bark. Nearing the dome I found that this too showed signs of damage. The concrete was crumbling in large pieces from the curved roof, the Islamic arabesque designs cracked and broken, reducing the ornate symmetry to only jagged patterns. By the entrance to the mausoleum was a rusting can of Taiwan Beer, and a pomelo tree long escaped from its circular plot of soil.
An inscription- the bronze letters had fallen off, but I could still read from the indentations on the marble- “General Bai Chongxi, he earned the love and respect of all.”
The heat of the day prevented any further explorations and I climbed down the hill, got on my bike and cycled back towards the city, in a state of confusion about this mysterious, forgotten place I had stumbled across. Taiwan, I remember feeling, is a country of many secrets, forgotten stories and many ghosts. A ghost island. The road turned busy again, and these thoughts were lost in the traffic and noise, and negotiating my way home past scooters and buses and pedestrians.
Back in Taipei I decided to go to the National Chengchi University, the only place in Taiwan that has an Islamic Studies department, the Centre for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies (CMEIS). In the courtyard of that building, perhaps built incidentally to match the type of courtyard houses I had seen in the Middle East, surrounded by trees and plants, sat a man who turned out to be the Islamic Studies professor. We began to talk in Arabic about my life in Taiwan and our shared experience in the Middle East and elsewhere- he had spent a lot of time in Jordan, but even longer in Leeds, my hometown.
That evening the Arabic students were hosting a barbeque party by the riverside, and Professor Lin- his name- invited me along. He told me that I could find out a lot of information about the Hui, meet lots of interesting people, and speak a lot of Arabic.
I could see the smoke even before I crossed the Daonan bridge. The gathering consisted of 70 or so students and professors. A group of girls were excitedly roasting squids on a barbeque. Next to them sat another group of students, wearing keffiyehs and smoking nargile, the men with their beards grown long. Most of the students who were in their third or fourth year of the Arabic program had spent years abroad in Kuwait, Jordan or Syria and we could speak very comfortably together in Arabic. Most simply wanted an edge in the Taiwanese job market and hoped to work in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or in international trade, but a few of them had converted to Islam and studied Arabic for religious reasons. I had a very good time, but discussed absolutely nothing about the cemetery, or the Hui.
II. A professor’s study
I agreed to meet Professor Nabil C K Lin the following week for a more in-depth discussion. I went to his office at NCCU. Professor Lin completed his thesis on the Islamic movement in Fujian province that took place at the end of the Qing dynasty. He has written several book chapters and articles in academic publications related to Islam in Taiwan. He is also a member of the Muslim Taiwanese Study Group. His small room was a warren of books on every conceivable subject concerning Islam.
According to the Professor there have been three major waves of Chinese Muslim migration to Taiwan. The first was at the end of the Ming dynasty (around 1661-2), when Zheng Chenggong (Koxinga) came to Taiwan with his troops- a number of them certainly Chinese Muslims- expelled the Dutch and Spanish settlers, and set up his own loyalist government in Taiwan. The second was in 1949, when as many as 70,000 Muslims who were in the ranks of the KMT retreated to Taiwan with Chiang Kai-shek from the mainland. The third was in the 1970’s and 1980’s, when KMT loyalists who had retreated from China to Burma and Thailand began to come to Taiwan, many of them Chinese Muslim.
China’s Muslim population has a long history of service in the military, and it was no surprise that Muslims played a major role in both Sun Yatsen’s rebellion, and the Chinese civil war. Indeed, Sun Yatsen was a vocal supporter of the Hui in China, and it was his successor Chiang Kai-shek who, in 1938, approved the foundation of the Chinese Muslim Association, which moved to Taiwan in 1951 following the retreating KMT troops. Many Hui had taken the KMT side in the conflict because it would not have been acceptable in religious terms to be governed by the Communists, who were atheists. Others retreated to Taiwan because they feared religious persecution in China if they stayed. In Taiwan, the KMT continued to give generous support to the Chinese Muslim Association and under the government of Chiang Kai-shek, a disproportionate number of Hui Muslims held important political and military positions.
Hui from the first migration have, explains the Professor, lost their hui-ness. A few do not eat pork, and often Qur’ans and other Islamic artefacts have been incorporated into their family shrines, but essentially they have completely adopted Han folk culture. This same amalgamation is happening now with the second and third waves of Hui into mainstream Taiwanese culture. What is more, this is in complete contrast to their families in Fujian , Xinjiang and other places in Mainland China where despite the fears of repression, communities have actually recaptured and expanded their sense of Islamic identity.
To understand why this is, we have to look at the concept of Hui that arose in the Mainland, one that is distinctly different from that in Taiwan. From the beginning the Communist authorities treated the Huizu as an ethnicity (minzu) rather than a religious minority. Whereas there was some of the feared political repression, the Huizu were given greater economic and cultural independence through the establishment of Hui autonomous zones and accorded privileges based on their minzu status. In Taiwan however, the Hui remain a religious, not ethnic minority, thus they are treated like any ordinary Taiwanese citizens. The result is that the Hui in China feel a stronger bond as they are tied by a sense of shared ethnicity, as well as religion.
“The problem (in Taiwan) is that the younger generation has no concept of Islamic identity” says Professor Lin. In Taiwan the Hui are a tiny minority. Because of their military background they are spread thinly all over Taiwan. In some ways it is inevitable that the community structure they had in the Mainland would be compromised. However, Professor Lin also argues that more could be done internally to provide a cohesive framework, especially for the younger generation. “There is no basic Islamic education for them and as a result they don’t think Islam is important for them at all.”
This pastoral role was fulfilled in the past by the Chinese Muslim Association. Under the leadership of General Bai Chongxi, who was Director General of the Association from its inception in 1939 until 1959, it continued to receive generous government funding. In 1960 the Association finished the rebuilding and extension of the mosque in Taipei to become the Taipei Grand Mosque. The Association was also given land by the Taipei City government in Liuzhangli to use as a cemetery. With the help of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs the association also funded over 200 of its members to study abroad in the Muslim world, in order to impart their learning to Taiwanese Muslims, but with the implicit assumption that a certain number would also help the government of Chiang Kai-shek to gain legitimacy for the ROC in the Islamic world. However, by the early 1970’s most Muslim countries had accepted the legitimacy of the PRC and the Hui were no longer needed. “He (Chiang) just used them, basically” says the Professor. After that, the influence-and funding- of the Association was reduced, and the cohesion it provided for the Hui community in Taiwan was lost.
The clearest evidence of this decline is the Hui cemetery in Liuzhangli. “For the past five decades the Chinese Muslim Association never gave proper attention to the cemetery” says the Professor. “And now Taipei City Government is threatening to take back the land.” Part of the problem is that many of the cemetery’s graves are those of KMT soldiers that came from the Mainland alone. The ones who did not marry a benshengren (local Taiwanese) wife had no family in Taiwan to upkeep their grave. A lot of the graves have now become unknown graves, and so the rights to the land and the responsibility for their upkeep is unclear.
As for the grave of General Bai, it has simply been forgotten. General Bai is known as a key strategist and confidante of Chiang Kai-shek in the war with Japan. However, his role in the Hui community and promotion of Islamic education has been completely overlooked. Even General Bai’s son, the novelist Bai (or Pai) Hsein-yung, like many of Bai’s children, turned away from Islam. “The young generation (of Hui) have no idea about General Bai” says the professor, as we flick through family photos of the Bai family. “Even back then, see how secular they were, so sinicized.”
It is for this reason, says the professor, that there needs to be a similar collective effort amongst the Hui in Taiwan to re-engage with their Islamic identity, as is happening in the Mainland. He mentions a list held by the Taipei Grand Mosque of over 100,000 names of Hui who should be contacted and, if they have lost touch with the community, reintegrated. He talks of oral history projects, a collection of artefacts and an ambitious project to renovate and expand General Bai’s grave to become a tourist spot. But he laments that “there is not the enthusiasm amongst them to do this”.
For Professor Lin, Hui means “Muslim Han Chinese”, and they are a religious rather than an ethnic minority. This separates the Hui from the Uyghurs, the Salars and other Muslim Chinese who are ethnically different as well. So in Taiwan Hui is a religious and not an ethnic term. However, due to the ethnicization of the Hui by the PRC there are some younger generation Hui in China who are starting to say “I am Huizu but not Muslim”, an assertion the Professor strongly disagrees with. Indeed, as a Muslim, he distances himself from the Hui label altogether. “My view of Islam is rather more universal and global. I do not confine myself to the Hui identity. The Hui identity and the global Islamic identity are very different.” he says. Through his work in the Muslim Taiwanese Islamic Studies society Professor Lin is trying to qualify these concepts through research, and a series of public lectures.
Over lunch in a local speciality rice noodle restaurant he also mentions that he is helping to organise an exhibition of Islamic life and Culture at the National Taiwan Museum, in order to make Hui culture more familiar to Taiwanese people. As we part ways I am left thinking about the contrasts and contradictions in the figure of the Professor himself. Dressed in a traditional 唐件 (tang jian) jacket, with his love of green tea and rice noodles, and his belief in a global Islamic revival.
III. A meeting at an exhibition
The opening ceremony of the Exhibition of Islamic Life and Culture at the National Taiwan Museum took place on the 13th of January 2014. It was a grand affair and, apart from the press area, everyone was in formal dress. Aside from the main organisers- the Taiwan Association of Islamic Studies, and the Department of Arabic Language and Culture at National Chengchi University- there was official help and support from trade organisations representing the Sultanate of Oman, Turkey, Indonesia and Malaysia, and the list of invitees included ambassadors, trade representatives and cultural figures. The audience was treated to a darbouka drumming performance and a Qur’anic recitation from Chinese Muslim children, followed by a headline speech by the Minister of Culture Dr. Lung Ying-Tai.
However, towards the back of the hall, were a small number of prominent members of the Taiwanese Hui community. Most were elderly men, some with beards and caps, but others, like Ni Kuo-an, wearing a suit and tie. Ni Kuo-an is 86 years old. He came to Taiwan from Henan Province, Mainland China, with the KMT army when he was 19, and was sent to Hualien to work with the ordinance unit. He worked up the ranks of the military to become a Major General, and after his retirement from the military was Director General of the Chinese Muslim Association from 2002 to 2006. When he came to Taiwan, he said, there were almost no Hui from the older migrations from Fujian province who had kept their Islamic faith. “They did not eat pork, that was it.” he said. As there was no mosque (the first was built in Taipei in 1947) he and other Hui officers used to meet in each other’s houses for Friday prayer.
Benefitting from the aforementioned government grants from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, many of his family members and friends went abroad to Libya, Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia for study. As other mosques began to be built across Taiwan (Kaohsiung 1951, Taichung 1951 Taipei-rebuilt- 1960, Taoyuan 1967) they were staffed by these returning Hui, who also gave Islamic instruction to the next generation. Meanwhile, in his military career Ni Kuo-an’s Hui status put him in contact with senior figures such as Bai Chongxi, who in fact acted as witness at his wedding.
Ni Kuo-an’s pride in his family’s and his wife’s family’s mixed Chinese-Persian heritage demonstrates that Hui is not a completely ethnic-free marker. However, like the Professor, he does not believe that Hui can be an ethnic identity either.
“Actually it was the Communists who gave us the name Huizu” he says. “They have 10 Muslim (ethnic) minorities and one of them is Huizu. But we look Chinese, whereas the others look different.”
Confusingly the word Hui, he says, actually has its origin in the word Uyghur 維吾爾, now recognised as a completely different-and definitely ethnic- minority. Before, he says, Islam was called Hui-jiao 回教 or, approximately translated, “Hui teachings” or “Hui religion”, but then, in the mainland, they started to use the more modern term Islam-jiao 伊斯蘭教.” In Taiwan Huijiao is still used to mean Islam, and for Ni Kuo-an the two terms are interchangeable. And despite the completely different treatment of the Hui by the governments of the ROC and PRC, Ni Kuo-an asserts that “the Hui in China and the Hui in Taiwan are completely the same.”
For him, a key constituent of Hui identity-whether in the Mainland or in Taiwan- is Professor Lin’s feared amalgamation with Han Chinese Culture. “I am Muslim, but I am also Chinese, and Chinese people have Chinese traditions.” he says. So while celebrating Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr may be religious duties, giving red envelopes, eating zongzi on Dragon Boat Festival and sweeping the tombs of his relatives on Qingming Festival are cultural duties he feels are almost as important to his identity as his faith.
Readers in China can watch the video here.
Even so, he concedes that the Hui in Taiwan today are facing many problems. “Now Taiwan is so mixed up. Catholic, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, all are one family! And young people are not so loyal to their faith anymore.” For the Hui, marriage between two members of their community was the easiest and simplest way to pass down their faith and traditions. In the modern age, mixed marriages are very common, even the norm, amongst the Hui. A mixed marriage thus severs the transference of faith and cultural heritage to the next generation. However, the age of globalisation also means that many Chinese Muslims he knows have found partners from Pakistan, Morocco, and other Muslim countries and are continuing their Muslim heritage in that way.
IV. To be continued….
The study of Islam in China is a relatively new discipline, and is heavily biased towards contemporary sociological research. This research is itself biased towards areas such as Xinjiang- a Uyghur autonomous zone-, where because of the recent unrest it has become of interest to funding bodies and foreign governments, and something of a trendy topic for PhD students. Research on the Huizu “ethnic” group has, as far as I know, been almost exclusively focussed on Mainland China.
(Photo from the 2013 Asia-pacific Chinese Muslim youth summer camp)
This research shows that here, in the remote western provinces, the Hui population have for a long time lived in their own exclusive communities. So, irrespective of whether -scientifically speaking- the Hui constitute an ethnicity separate from the Han, the concept of a Hui ethnic identity is accepted both among the Hui themselves, but also among local Party officials. These officials are ineffective and unreliable in the resources they provide. Furthermore, they distribute these resources unevenly, giving preferential treatment to Han areas. Discrimination on perceived ethnic grounds, of course, only serves to strengthen the concept of a Hui identity.
Given these circumstances, the Hui community in Mainland China has had to become self-reliant not only economically but also culturally. Distinct Hui cultural traditions, whether ancient or modern, are a touchstone to come back to at times of trouble, and Islam is always a rallying call in any instances of division within the community. The Islamic identity of the Hui has become more outward- most obviously in dress- and more oppositional with regards to the surrounding Han population. Even though the Hui areas often have their own Muslim ganbu officials and are still integrated into the centralised system of government, the relationship between the Hui and the PRC seems to be developing into one of conflict.
Taiwan, when it is mentioned in this research, appears only as part of a list of other places with significant Hui populations. The fact that the Hui in Taiwan have developed in a completely different fashion from their relatives in the Mainland has been overlooked. Indeed, the search for the Hui in Taiwan has been a frustrating one. As impressive as the Exhibition of Islamic Life and Culture was, hardly any attention was given to the history of Islam in Taiwan, and the term Huiwas never used. It seems that in Taiwan -peaceful, secular, religiously tolerant- there is no impetus for the Hui to form a strong collective counter-identity. In the absence of any resistance from central authorities, a Hui-or even Muslim- identity struggles to find relevance and has faded almost completely out of significance.
As I have seen from the handful of interviews already completed, concepts of Muslim identity in Taiwan are by no means uniform. There are those such as Professor Lin who seek to transcend or even supercede their domestic cultures to find a connection to the global Islamic identity. Or, like Ni Kuo-an, there are those who feel their Muslim identity and Chinese identity to be constituent parts of their being. Both of these concepts of identity need to be recognised as forming a part of the greater Taiwanese identity.
Historical study on Islam in China is comparatively sparse, but a few hours of background reading turns up some fascinating details that are essential to understanding modern Chinese and Taiwanese identities. For example, that in the 1910’s Sun Yat Sen was actively exploring a political and cultural alliance between the ROC and the Islamic world, that factions within the Chinese Muslim Association were planning to use their influence within the KMT to carve out an Islamic future for China, and that for a time Japan and the ROC were locked in a battle to win the hearts and minds of China’s Muslim population.
We are running out of time. Many of the Hui who came to Taiwan in 1949 have died, and with them died invaluable first-hand information. But this information would not just be of value to historians. There are many young Hui today who are searching for an identity that for one reason or another was not passed down to them by their parents. Many of these individuals are attracted to the idea of a global Islam, while some try to reconnect with their Hui roots in the Mainland, a conflict which in itself would be an interesting topic of study. Furthermore, there are many new Taiwanese converts to Islam who, given the lack of domestic support, are increasingly looking abroad to countries such as Saudi Arabia to provide funding for Islamic activities. This is a worrying trend given that in countries such as the UK this funding has led to the radicalisation of some Bangladeshi and Pakistani Muslim communities. This younger generation must find a way to balance their Chinese and Islamic identities, as the Hui have been doing for many hundreds of years.
Some contact has been made with the Chinese Muslim Association, but at the time of writing there has been no response to our proposal to conduct comprehensive research on the Hui population of Taiwan.
By Fabrizio Bozzato and Tatiana Komarova
Russia's takeover of Crimea represents the checkmate of a geopolitical chess game between the Kremlin and the West. The game was opened by Putin's decision to give a safe haven to US whistleblower Edward Snowden, and then continued with the Syrian crisis - seeing Moscow outsmart and outplay the Obama Administration - and culminated into l'affaire Ukraine, in which Russia has carved for itself, rather than found, the opportunity for recapturing Crimea after sixty years of separation and, by doing so, finalizing the first annexation of another country's territory in Europe since World War II. Vladimir Putin has won. Thus, now there are but two significant questions: 1) what is the prize of victory? And 2) what is the price of victory?
The most important trophy of victory is Crimea itself. Controlling the peninsula is a geostrategic essential for Russia. Leaving Crimea's sentimental value aside, the region hosts the Black Sea Fleet naval base, from which Moscow can project force into and throughout the Mediterranean. Notably, the majority of the Black Sea coastline is held by NATO allies except for Georgia, which is keenly pursuing NATO membership, on the east and Ukraine in the north.
Therefore, for Moscow, losing its naval base in Crimea would be akin to military emasculation. By incorporating Crimea into the Russian Federation, Putin has thus secured Russia's enduring status as a Eurasian great power. Also, Russia's assertiveness in protecting its Crimean naval base might result in Moscow establishing a substantial military presence in a key Asian theatre. In fact, Hanoi might decide that allowing strong-willed Russia to have its navy operating permanently from Vietnam's Cam Ranh Bay would be a very effective way to counterweight Beijing's increasing activism in the South China Sea.
Second, by showing uncompromising determination and effectively rattling his saber in Crimea, Putin has conveyed a sturdy message both to the West and to the former Soviet republics seeking to join NATO or other 'Western arrangements'. Namely, Russia has geopolitical imperatives and is going to affirm and defend them with any means it will deem necessary.
The Kremlin has also made clear that it considers any intrusion in the Federation's near abroad a strategic threat to Russian independence. Simply put, Russia means business. In addition, Putin has exposed Western impotence in a Europe still on holiday from strategy and further questioned the diplomatic resolve and martial credibility of the Obama Administration. From now on, Europeans would be better off to think strategically and be aware of their vulnerabilities when dealing with Moscow. Washington, for its part, must realize that Russia has learned to use the democracy and 'responsibility to protect' rhetoric in as Machiavellic a way as the US - and that the Russian President is a leader that thrives in confrontation, is now widely popular at home and, in a growingly multipolar world, has several supportive friends. Especially in Asia.
Third, on the domestic front the retaking of Crimea in spite of Western opposition has boosted Russian pride and nationalism. As a result, Russians are going to weather sanctions and diplomatic retaliation with their chins up. Actually, the US and the EU governments might find it difficult to put together - and cogently implement and sustain - a cohesive sanctions package. Because of their energy dependence on Russia and concern about losing contracts and economic links with Moscow, the Europeans are inclined not to be too heavy-handed with the Kremlin. Economic sanctions might end up hurting both ways, as people in Europe need to stay warm in winter. Besides, the Russian Federation is a large country with extensive resources and diversified trade partners. So, in key EU countries, the industry is lobbying vehemently against imposing sanctions on Russia. As for political-diplomatic sanctions, they are probably going to be generally ineffective. No doubt, Putin is going to wear the exclusion from G8 as a badge of honor at the next BRICS summit.
However, acquiring Crimea comes at a price, one that is both economic and diplomatic. The peninsula used to be umbilically reliant on Ukraine and the Russian government has acknowledged that the Crimean economy "looks no better than Palestine." Therefore, bringing the region in would require massive financial and infrastructural investments from Moscow. Anyway, even if all of these investments added up to US$ 20 or 25 billion, it would still be small change for the cash-rich Russian government. This said, the combination of international enmity and punitive decisions might significantly impact on Russia's economy and international standing. For example, Moscow will not be invited to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development any time soon, and will have to abandon any hope of including Ukraine - which has just signed an association agreement with the European Union - in the Russo-centric Eurasian Economic Union. Also, foreign investors could become more hesitant about risking capital in Russia and Russian companies could find it more difficult to obtain credit from Western lenders.
More importantly, Russia's relations with the West are going to enter in a new phase marked by mutual distrust and confrontation. "If it is the price of greatness regained" might remark the Kremlin, "we are ready to pay it." To Moscow's advantage, the Cold War era is unlikely to return. History does not repeat itself. Today's global political and economic ecosystem is one characterized by polycentricity and the tyranny of interdependence. Thus, envisaging a world which is once again neatly divided into two monadic blocks would be nothing short of unrealistic. Equally, to keep pursuing a vision of unilateralism in Europe would be detrimental both to the West and Russia. Time will tell whether the seizure of Crimea has been a masterstroke or a counterproductive move for Russia. If Moscow will be able to develop Crimea and turn it into a success story, it will prove that Russia is as responsible as it is resolute, and shift the burden of proof to the West, which has now the moral obligation to stabilize Ukraine and make it prosperous. Such is the price of Europe being geopolitically fluid again.
Map source: Wikimedia Commons
First published on The World Security Network
Fabrizio Bozzato ( 杜允士 ) is a political analyst with a keen interest in Pacific Studies. He holds an M.A. in International Relations (University of Tasmania, Australia) and a Master in Political Science (University of Milan, Italy). He also attained a Grad. Dip. in International Politics with high distinction (University of Tasmania, Australia). Fabrizio lives in Taiwan, where he is an Associate Researcher at the Taipei Ricci Institute. He has also worked at the Centre for International and Regional Affairs at the University of Fiji (Fiji Islands), where he served as Adjunct Lecturer. He is presently pursuing a Ph.D. in International Affairs and Strategic Studies at Tamkang University (Taiwan) and is an editor for the World Security Network Foundation. Fabrizio believes that the currents of the global ocean are shifting from the Atlantic to the Pacific Rim, and especially Asia. He is trying his best to follow Lao Tzu's advice about knowing honor, yet keeping humility.
Tatiana Komarova is a PhD Candidate and Research Fellow at GIIASS, Tamkang University (Taiwan). Tatiana is specializing in international politics, strategy, and Russia-Taiwan-China relations. She has worked as research assistant at Eurasia Studies, Chien Hsin University (Taiwan); and as teaching assistant at GIIASS. She holds a MA in International Politics and Graduate Diploma with Honors in International Affairs from the State University of Nizhny Novgorod (Russia). Her MA thesis is entitled "Pros and cons of the 'Cultural Revolution' in China."
In May 2013, the first stage of the cause for beatification of Matteo Ricci was completed in Macerata, Ricci's home diocese. The file is now with the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in the Vatican. Calls for the beatification and canonization of Ricci have been recently amplifying.
That Ricci amply deserves to be canonized constitutes a fact that is beyond doubt. The rectitude of his character, the unwavering patience, perseverance and humility he showed all along his Chinese journey the fruits reaped from his mission - all this amply testifies to the sainthood of a man who is very much respected and even loved by many Chinese.
The question is: should he be beatified alone, or does his cause open up opportunities for a new approach on such matters?
Ricci started his Chinese pilgrimage by publishing a little booklet entitled "On Friendship.' His beatification process should reflect the spirit under which he conducted his missionary endeavor.
In other words: do not beatify Matteo Ricci without beatifying Xu Guangqi at the same time.
There are three reasons for uniting the two friends into a common cause. First, Xu Guangqi is also a man whose life speaks of sainthood. Second, this will change the way missionary history is ordinarily presented. Third, this is by far the best gift Rome could make to the Chinese Church and China proper.
Xu Guangqi (1562-1633) is known in China as an outstanding scholar and public servant, the author of an encyclopedic treatise on agricultural techniques, a patriot who was witnessing the progressive weakening of the Ming dynasty and trying to defend it against aggressions, and a mathematician and astronomer. Still, these humane qualities would not been enough for proclaiming him a saint. So, what else does he have to show for himself? First, let us note that Xu fully involved himself into practical pursuits only after his conversion experience, the depth of which seems impressive: his baptism, in 1603, was prepared by long meditations over the Chinese Classics, repeated experiences of failure and grief, a dream, in 1600, of a temple with three chapels, interpreted in 1605 as an image of the Trinity, and deep-felt emotion when seeing an image of the Madonna with the Child in Nanjing. Once baptized, he brings his whole household to the new faith – not only relatives and servants depending upon him, but his own father as well. His descendants, especially his granddaughter Camilla Xu, will protect and foster the Shanghainese Christian community.
During the thirty years that separate his baptism from his death, Xu Guangqi continuously protects, advises and even guides the missionaries, while developing a spiritual life anchored in self-examination and dialogue among traditions. Among other testimonies, we possess the one of Longobardo, a Jesuit who was quite opposed to Ricci's acculturation strategy: through a kind of "counter enquiry" on Chinese converts' orthodoxy, Longobardo unwillingly lets us appreciate the depth and inner freedom of Xu's spiritual vision.
Moreover, the way Xu translated his faith into courageous and practical plans of action reminds us of Ricci's moral character: both men are less prone to write about their feelings than to engage into what they sense to be their calling. This may also recalls us of the beginning of the "Contemplation for attaining love" in the Spiritual Exercises: "Love ought to show itself in deeds over and above words – and love consists in interchange between two parties ... So that if the one has knowledge, he gives to the one who has it not." Such style of interchange nurtures the friendship that Xu developed with Ricci and inspires his attitude throughout his career. If Xu did not experience martyrdom, as Saint Thomas More did, his style, courage and achievements are very much reminiscent of this other great lay Catholic saint.
The joint beatification of Ricci and Xu would therefore change the way missionary history is often told – not a history of passive reception but rather of active collaboration. It would show that the first converts displayed exceptional openness and fortitude when working with missionaries in the building of the local church. It would also show that these converts brought in from the start the riches of their traditions. It will tell the faithful that all charismas are needed and must associate when grounding a Christian community into the life of the Spirit.
Finally, a common beatification would be much more meaningful for contemporary Chinese people – including Chinese Catholics – than the one of a lone missionary would be. It would send a message of friendship, collaboration, and spiritual equality. Even more importantly, the multifaceted figure of Xu - one of the "three pillars of the Chinese Church" (along with Li Zhizhao and Yang Tingyun) - can operate reconciliation among all sectors of the Church as well as between Church and society. Besides, the association of Xu and Ricci will speak of a Church that strives towards universality in the midst of a dialogue between local cultures and in the variety of life experiences.
It remains true that the present difficulties met by the diocese of Shanghai make the cause of Xu's beatification much slower and more complicated than the one of Ricci. But these very difficulties should prompt Rome to instruct the case with even more diligence – and there are many roads through which such case can be advanced. More than four hundred years have passed since Ricci went to Heaven. I am convinced that he would willingly wait a few years more, so as to be recognized Blessed and Saint in the company of his friend Xu Guangqi.
Also read eRenlai special Focus on the Legacy of Matteo Ricci : http://www.erenlai.com/en/focus/2010-focus/matteo-ricci.html
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