One day, furious at the scenes of the Legislative Yuan occupation on the TV before him, my father-in-law said to my wife, “They’re clearly breaking the law. They don’t have permission to be there. The president should send in the military to force them out and lock them up.” She didn’t respond verbally, knowing a man who periodically praises the forcefulness of the Communist Party despite never having been to China is not to be argued with, but a chill ran down her spine as she thought, “I was just there with them. You would send the military after your own daughter?”
The Sunflower Movement exposed similar disagreements nationwide in the households of the ethnic Chinese who moved to Taiwan after World War II, also known as waishengren (外省人). (Literally, this term means one came from an “outside province” of China.) Ever since the Republic of China central government moved to Taiwan, the waishengren made up 10-20% of the population and dominated the elite ranks of society, the government, and the KMT. By voting as a bloc, they’ve swung numerous elections both at the ballot box (i.e. giving Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) the Taipei mayoralty and presidency by supporting insurgents of their own rather than the KMT’s candidates) and in the nomination phase (i.e. blocking Wang Jin-pyng’s (王金平) presidential campaign by refusing to vote for it a few weeks ago). But the massive political generation gap within their ranks has hobbled Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) KMT administration while ensuring this bloc will gradually vanish.
For decades, official language, ancestral household registration, and connections were among the means used to enforce implicit apartheid in Taiwan, such that a disproportionate number of famous Taiwanese entertainers are waishengren, including Wang Leehom (王力宏), David Tao (陶喆), Wilber Pan (潘瑋柏), Ang Lee (李安), Hou Hsiao-hsien (侯孝賢), the late Edward Yang (楊德昌) and, yes, Teresa Teng (鄧麗君). That also includes a huge proportion of TV hosts—gatekeepers of the social conversation—such as Tsai Yung-kang (蔡永康) and Dee Hsu (徐熙娣) whose show Here Comes Kangxi (康熙來了) was considered (or made) a bellwether. Hsu is known as “Little S;” her older sister Barbie Hsu (徐熙媛 or “Big S”) was the star of the classic 2001 drama Meteor Garden (流星花園).
Waishengren predominance even applies to Taiwan’s expats, as they made up the majority of Taiwan’s (back then considered officially China’s) emigrants to the US In the three decades after World War II. They had the means and connections to get visas and were already rootless, after all. Former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao’s (趙小蘭) father was a shipping magnate who assisted the ROC military in the 1949 Battle of Guningtou in Kinmen. Michael Chang (張德培) is the grandson of a former ROC diplomat. Jeremy Lin’s (林書豪) mother’s family was from Zhejiang. That Eddie Huang’s (黃頤銘) family identifying as Chinese in Fresh Off the Boat should have come as no surprise: that’s where his parents’ family were from. The ROC used its overseas organs to keep connections with its expats—and keep tabs on them.
What’s true of entertainment is even truer of the government and military, of course. Every premier until Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) (1997-2000) was born in China, for example. Today, besides Hau Pei-tsun (郝柏村) and the other veterans, the first-generation waishengren (whose formative years were spent in China) have now left public life (and this mortal coil), but the parameters of blue politics are defined by the second generation. This group, which grew up in Taiwan but under the KMT party-state, identifying as Chinese in a milieu that strongly affirmed that choice, includes James Soong (宋楚瑜) (born in 1942), Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) (1948), Jason Hu (胡志強) (1948), Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) (1950), Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) (1952), Ting Shou-chung (丁守中) (1954), Wu Yu-sheng (吳育昇) (1958), and Eric Chu (朱立倫) (1961).
In the 1980s and 90s, Presidents Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) and especially Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) sought to “Taiwanize” the KMT by giving power to members of other ethnic groups, but President Ma has reversed that current. Four of his five premiers have been waishengren. The current one, Mao Chi-kuo (毛治國), was born in Fenghua County, Zhejiang Province, just like Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and Chiang Ching-kuo. One can guess from his first name (治國, literally “govern the nation”) that his parents somehow had plans for him to someday hold the post he does now. What goes for the premier also goes for the ministers. Eight of the past nine winners of the Executive Yuan’s National Cultural Award were born in mainland China. And Ma is thought to have led the campaign to block Wang’s presidential nomination.
But the Ma administration has performed poorly, and a big reason is his blockading the talent pool of an already small country by limiting leadership positions to the remaining members of the old ethnic networks. The instinctive affinity for China that officials possess also explains the lack of balance and rationality of some current policies.
The future is now narrowing quickly for the Chiang-era networks. The elites have already sent their children to America: Ma’s and Soong’s children are citizens there, for example, and giving up one’s green card is now a rite of passage for those who do come back to enter Taiwanese politics. The second generation has already spent most of its political capital, and the third is so far defined by national punch-line Sean Lien (連勝文) (1970) (by waishengren standards the Lien family is Taiwanese, but the clan spent the ROC’s formative years in China). In the latest city council elections, the DPP had 18 candidates elected who were born in 1980 or later, and the KMT just five; the deep-blue New Party made a point of running four men born in the 1980s or later but all of them lost.
Even more importantly than the erosion of the top waishengren ranks, the political unity of the waishengren base—the less-privileged, iron-blue voters who have controlled the KMT by abandoning it whenever it strayed too far from their Chinese nationalist identity—is becoming a thing of the past. Most of the third generation have practically assimilated, and they call themselves Taiwanese. Few of the fourth generation will identify as waishengren at all.
For the first- and second-generation waishengren, voting is an expression of personal identity, because in an alien and often hostile society, the KMT and Chinese nationalism united them, looked out for them, and gave them an identity. One would assume Chen Shui-bian was the politician they’d hate most, but no: Lee Teng-hui was worse for temporarily taking the whole party away from them, and then there are the “race traitors” like Ko campaign director Yao Li-ming (姚立明) and New Power Party legislative candidate Neil Peng (馮光遠).
Their preferences have not passed on. The third generation began to enter the world in around 1970; the later after that you were born, the more democratic and Taiwanese an environment you grew up in. Odds are only one of your parents is waishengren, so to preserve family peace political discussion in the household was more muted, meaning you were less grounded in blue ethos. Even if both of your parents were waishengren, unless you were rich you still grew up surrounded by native Taiwanese and came to identify with them and with the only home you’ve known. Your family’s environment has been so different from China’s for so long that the Chinese tourists who visit, no matter from which province, feel like foreigners to you. You probably identify as neutral rather than green, but a democratic and independent Taiwan, not the retaking of the mainland, is your dream for the island. Meanwhile, the KMT has turned its focus to the powerful so much that you no longer consider its priorities the same as your own.
As a child, my wife sang in the New Party choir. Now she regularly performs on behalf of deep-green organizations.
Of course, this assimilation is predicated on integration. The third generation did not experience the same hostility and hatred their parents did. The youth of all ethnicities reject the ethnic-struggle rhetoric not only of old blues but of old greens as well. Famously, deep-green future Sunflower activists put their lives on the line to protect waishengren veterans during the forced demolition of the Huaguang military community, which the Taiwanese of their parents’ generation were told to stay away from because dangerous waishengren were there. If a DPP administration were to lead a surge of “go back to your home country” ethnic score-settling, integration would be set back years.
While about 10% of all waishengren (and they were likely mostly youth) did vote for Chen Shui-bian in each of his presidential elections, the real political turning point for the third generation was last year. The Sunflower Movement, but also the endless series of scandals, made voting on the issues appear more important than ever. In January 2014, a cousin-in-law had already proclaimed he was sick and tired of the KMT “nurturing conglomerates” and that he would vote for Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) for Taipei mayor. Just as importantly, in the last campaign the DPP and Ko abjured ethnic conflict, instead advocating for “one city, one family” and bypassing traditional rhetoric from the blue and green camps. They were inclusive, and it paid off. In my in-laws’ family, the whole second generation voted blue, and the whole third generation voted green.
The generation gap between waishengren expats and their children is more muted but still visible. For some years to come, those who emigrated from Taiwan will ensure good numbers at any KMT events abroad. But if you were born abroad and still identify with Taiwan, it is by choice, and knowing what China is like (either from your own travels or other countries’ media) and how different it is from Taiwan, you’re naturally more predisposed to supporting Taiwan’s independence. This will be especially true if the US-China relationship continues its current trajectory of increasing antagonism. Nominally, you probably don’t identify as green—especially given all you’ve heard about them—but practically you are. It’s not uncommon to hear someone say he or she identifies as blue and also supports Taiwanese independence. Even if you assimilate entirely and forget Taiwan, you’re out of the KMT’s reach, diluting its international influence.
The concept of waishengren identity could very well be a subject of the 2016 election. Based on this week’s news, it seems likely the presidential race will feature the following three candidates: Tsai, an ethnic Taiwanese who has led the “beyond-blue-and-green” era and affirmed Taiwan but kept herself a great distance away from Hoklo nationalism; and two contrasting second-generation waishengren, Hung Hsiu-chu and James Soong.
Hung defines herself as a true blue; she used that to win her legislative races in the multi-member district era, when holding a small base of support was enough to see one through. In 2007, she ran for the party chair against Wu Pu-hsiung (吳伯雄), a Hakka, and lost 87-13. She has often said she’s married to the KMT, and in the past the party has turned to her for fiery anti-green rhetoric. One can imagine what statements from her the media will find in its vaults when they make the time to look.
Soong, meanwhile, was once the nation’s top waishengren politician and commonly appeals to the Three Principles of the People, but he’s always sought to appeal to voters of all ethnic groups and famously supported Lee Teng-hui’s accession to the presidency. Moreover, in the last couple years he’s become a trenchant critic of the present administration on social justice grounds, even tacitly supporting Ko Wen-je. Will the third generation choose Tsai, Hung, or Soong as its leader? How much or how little will they identify with Hung and Soong, and will Hung in particular have a lasting effect on their image of the KMT?
Until just now, we were also on our way to a fascinating contest between two waishengren candidates right in the heart of Taipei, with Liang Wen-chieh (梁文傑) (1971) of the DPP facing Chiang Wan-an (蔣萬安) (1978) of the KMT, the grandson of Chiang Ching-kuo and great-grandson of Chiang Kai-shek. Liang, who as a waishengren member of the DPP (considered a Hoklo nationalist party by Liang’s own family, who thinks he betrayed them) already makes overturning traditional identity politics a big part of his appeal, had this to say when he heard Chiang had a great chance to be his opponent:
“There are many kinds of waishengren: senior KMT officials, Jiangsu and Zhejiang plutocrats, junior civil servants, military veterans, Bamboo Union [gang] members making a living across the seven seas…Chiang Wan-an is a prince of the highest-class waishengren of all, while I am the lowest-class waishengren of all: I am the descendant of a fisherman from Dachen Island, Zhejiang, and the son of a female factory worker and a sailor. If I had been born 20 years earlier, I wouldn’t have had the chance to compete with him on a level playing field. One upper-class, one lower-class. One blue, one green. An election fight between the two of us would be extremely fun.”
Chiang, who gave up his green card and a law practice in the US to run, has drawn power from his family name and the connections of his father, a legislator in the district. But he has also claimed the mantle of representing a new generation and party renewal, and he’s said the Sunflower Movement signals youths’ desire for new politics. Chiang will have to explain how much his ideals differ from those of his forefathers’ and what his image for a new KMT is. This is definitely something to look forward to.
Liang v. Chiang would be a fascinating contest that could inspire a lot of reflection about the connection between one’s ethnicity and one’s politics, especially for third-generation waishengren living in the city.
Unfortunately, pan-green hero and former DPP chair Lin Yi-hsiung (林義雄) appears to have derailed this opportunity by repeatedly, bizarrely and perhaps maliciously attacking Liang for running while still serving a city council term, which Lin now (unlike when he was chair) considers “a violation of basic democratic principles.” Feeling unable to continue in the face of this onslaught, Liang has asked out of the race, but I hope the party will stick with him. Even if he doesn’t run, I’m sure we’ll see another all-waishengren race like this in the future.
For now, the DPP and pan-greens align more with third-generation waishengren’s values and will reap the dividends. The KMT might just reform to compete for them more strongly in the future; and in the long run, the inclusiveness the parties are learning today will be a prerequisite to win over another new ethnic group which will emerge a decade from now: the children of Asian immigrants to Taiwan, so little represented in today’s culture and politics but already making up more than a tenth of current schoolchildren.
(Feature photo of current KMT politicians, clockwise from top left: James Soong, Ma Ying-jeou, Eric Chu, Lien Chan, and Hung Hsiu-chu, on Wikicommons)
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