CEFC Files: The identity kaleidoscope of the first 'Taiwanese' generation

by on 週一, 26 九月 2011 評論

Dr. Tanguy Lepesant is an assistant professor at the National Central University, Chongli and a visiting researcher at CEFC Taipei. As part of our series of interviews with the team of researchers at CEFC Taipei,  Tanguy talked to us about his research on national and ethnic identity and nationalism of young Taiwanese born in the 1980's.Tanguy first came to Taiwan in 1997 when he was posted to the French Institute for 9 months, where as a political science doctoral candidate he quickly became interested in the political situation in Taiwan and changed his directions of study towards questions of Taiwanese identity and nation building. Tanguy chose to do his fieldwork on young Taiwanese born in the 80's as he felt they could form a "political and social generation" because they had been "socialised in a very different context to their parents". Here he introduces his research:


National consciousness without nationalism

This generation of Taiwanese born in the 1980's is indeed a generation with particular characteristics. A large majority of this group, around 4/5ths, have a Taiwanese national identity. However, this integrated national identity does not translate into nationalism. This means that they want Taiwan to be independent, but does not mean the rejection of a future connection with China, even an eventual unification. This is very interesting, as political studies about Taiwanese identity and Taiwan political future tend to put unification and independence up against each other, when in fact for this generation right now, independence is already a basis for them to be able to decide their political future, which could include unification with China. For about 2/3rds of those surveyed, if China reached the level of econmic development of Taiwan, and China became a democracy, which is of course a big 'if', then they would consider a repproachment and potential unification with China, in a manner that would still have to be defined.

Thus most of the time I think it is necessary to disconnect Taiwanese national consciousness and Taiwanese nationalism since most of this young generation already think about themselves as Taiwanese in a political way. They believe they belong to a Taiwanese nation state, meaning a Taiwanese territory, independent and sovereign, for which they have a right to decide the political affairs and future. However they won't translate this into political action, or nationalism, they won't take to the streets to protest their national identity. This point is interesting because in European or World history of nationalism the youth have always been the core driving force in nationalist movements, but that is not the case in Taiwan.

Are the youth willing to fight for Taiwan?

How strong is the will to fight for Taiwan among the younger generation? It is difficult to answer to what extent they would fight because its an extreme case and you do not know what you would do in an extreme case. For example what you would do if your parents were killed by a Chinese bomb etc. Nonetheless asking this question is a useful way for us to assess and evaluate the force of national identification. So if people think they are ready, even if it is from a theoretical position, if they think they are willing to fight and die for the nation, it means that the connection to the nation is quite strong. However in most post industrialist states, such as France, the emotional connection to the nation and to the military is not as strong as before. More and more people are not willing to die for their country, and if they are willing to die for their country it is under certain conditions only, not unconditionally. In Taiwan it is basically the same thing, we are in the process of nation building, and there are a lot of young people in Taiwan thinking about themselves as Taiwanese in a political way, however at the same time they are also influenced by the post-national framework, globalisation and post-industrial values; which means that while the nation is still important in the building of the self and the building of identity, it does not play as central a role as before. The nation is now only one part of identity, which is now more centred on the individual. I distributed a questionnaire in 2010 regarding the will to fight and the answers show very clearly that most Taiwanese are not willing to fight and die for their country. About a fifth said they were willing to fight and eventually die for Taiwan, about a third said they would follow what the government said. The rest of them would flee or hide or take care of their families. But this is of course only theoretical, after all you are on an island so if you are attacked by a country as big as China, how do you flee? This is a problem with the question, but the question is nonetheless important as a way of assessing the feeling of national identity.

Redefining boundaries of ethnicity and identity

I'm interested in the different aspects of identity. There is national identity and ethnic identity. What interested me was to question these boundaries. Normally in Taiwan we talk about the four big ethnic groups (四大族群) : Mainlander, Hoklo, Hakka and Indigenous peoples. This analytical framework has been working for about two decades without being questioned with regards to social change. My hypothesis was that, maybe with social change and democratisation, perhaps these categories would not work as an analytical framework anymore, because the young generation would not identify with Mainlanders or local Taiwanese Hoklo and Hakka anymore. In Taiwan, normally you are considered as a Mainlander, because your father or your grandfather was a Mainlander, so this identity is transmitted from father to son. This is because we are in a very strongly patrilineal, patriarchal society. But with the injection of new values and gender studies maybe some people would now disagree and say 'no' their father is a Mainlander, but their mother is a Hoklo or a Hakka and they could then present a double identity, or no identity at all; whilst others would nevertheless present themselves as specifically Mainlander, Hoklo or Hakka. Thus the point of departure was to question these boundaries:

The full results and compilation of Dr. Lepesant's research and can be found in the book "L'Esprit de défense de Taiwan face à la Chine. La jeunesse taiwanaise face à la tentation de la Chine," coauthored with Jean-Pierre Cabestan. The videos and text in this article are extracted from the interview conducted by Cerise and Nick.

Tanguy Lepesant (劉柏桑)

Dr. Tanguy Lepesant is an assistant professor at the National Central University, Chongli and a visiting researcher at CEFC Taipei.





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