Taiwan's 'Chinese-ness' can serve as an example: The China Post

Two women visit their deceased relatives to mark the Qingming Festival at the hillside cemetery in Taipei, Taiwan, on April 4, 2016.
Two women visit their deceased relatives to mark the Qingming Festival at the hillside cemetery in Taipei, Taiwan, on April 4, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

In its editorial on April 5, the paper argues that the Taiwanese brand of culture can serve as an example of a mature society

In recent years, as worries over mainland China's influence has met with the rise of nativism, the rejection of Taiwan's Chineseness has become fashionable throughout the nation.

Yet while Taiwan, like many nations in the world, is home to peoples of different cultures, the cultural origin of most of its population is beyond denial.

It is especially true on days such as the Tomb Sweeping Day, when millions of people in Taiwan follow the traditions of the Chinese people of gathering with family members and cleaning the tombs of their ancestors as a way of remembering them.

The Chineseness of Taiwan, however, is not just the continuation of inherited cultural practices, but new developments of the old. Modern-day tomb sweepers, for example, are using new ways to burn joss paper - such as centralized burning or even burning e-joss paper offerings - in order to better protect the environment.

As this newspaper has maintained in this column, to accept Taiwan's Chineseness entails not subjugation to any one political power but rather the recognition of one of the nation's strongest assets.

It is the denial, rather than the recognition of Taiwan's potential in its Chineseness, that is a sign of the country's weakness. For in such denial, the nation forfeits its claim to be the leader in the Chinese-speaking world.

In their long history, the Chinese people have been inclined to define their culture in a retrospective and inward-looking fashion, resulting in the view of Chinese culture as the accumulation of the past glories of the Han Chinese people.

The rapid economic, political, social and cultural development of Taiwan's society in the past decades, however, has shown the world a new possibility of Chinese culture as a forward-looking way of living in which people embrace their cultural traditions without being encumbered by them.

Taiwan's open, democratic society, has demonstrated to the Chinese-speaking world that Chinese culture has no innate incompatibility with universal ideals such as democracy freedom and human rights.

In a particular example that showcases how Taiwan's "new Chinese" culture can be a beacon for the world, the courageous calmness of the mother of a 4-year-old, whose death in a random attack shocked Taiwan, as well as her thoughtful appeal to the people against impulsive responses and her recognition of her role in society even in the most difficult moment of her life, show the traits of a rational, civic-minded and responsible member of Taiwan's society of whom all Chinese-speaking people can be proud.

The emphasis in Taiwanese society of respecting and protecting the members of ethnic, cultural or social minorities also points to a new direction for Chinese culture in Taiwan. Efforts made in recent years to give new life to aboriginal cultures that have been lost to Sinicification and Japanization serve not only to correct historical wrongs but also to allow Taiwanese society as a whole to learn from these cultures.

It is no surprise that Taiwanese movie stars and musicians remain a fixture in mainland China even at a time of extraordinary growth for its entertainment industry, or that the Taiwanese way of life has become increasingly attractive to people in metropolitan Chinese cities such as Hong Kong.

In its uniquely noisy, hard-working and not always smooth fashion, Taiwan has come a long way to become the world's only Chinese nation with a functional democracy and an open society.

At a time when saber-rattling nationalism, ethnic rivalries and civil unrest have resurged to be the main sources of uncertainties in the world, Taiwan's brand of Chinese culture can serve as an example of a mature society to all.

* The China Post is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 22 newspapers.