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Assessment for Taiwanese in Taiwan

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Taiwanese in Taiwan, 31 December 2003, available at: [accessed 25 November 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Taiwan Facts
Area:    35,980 sq. km.
Capital:    Taipei
Total Population:    21,293,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

Taiwan has evolved into a highly democratic civil society. While collective political action is common, protestors do not now advocate separate interests of the Taiwanese and the Mainland Chinese. There has been no rebellion among either the Taiwanese or the Mainland Chinese in the last half-century. The absence of rebellion is most likely to continue in the future because Taiwan has a democratic regime, and therefore the government is likely to be responsive to both groups in reforming and improving its policies. Moreover there are no significant armed conflicts over ethnic issues in adjoining countries that might have spillover effects on Taiwan. And virtually all Taiwanese share a common interest in maintaining their autonomy vis-a-vis the Peoples Republic of China, which overrides any residual concerns about communal differences.

Analytic Summary

"Taiwanese" refers to descendants of ethnic Chinese immigrants who came to Taiwan from Mainland China in the 17th century (TRADITN = 2); whereas "Mainland Chinese" refers to those who settled in Taiwan after 1945, many of whom came with General Chiang-Kai-Shek's Nationalist Party (KMT) forces in 1949, following their defeat by the Communists on the mainland (TRADITN = 4). Although many Mainland Chinese continue to live in veteran communes, both groups are widely dispersed on the island (GROUPCON = 0).

In the first 40 years of KMT rule the Taiwanese were excluded from political participation; only the Mainland Chinese had political access and privileges. During this period the Taiwanese and the Mainland Chinese were divided into separate and mutually resentful political camps and social communities, a division reinforced by the political repression used by the Mainland Chinese to control the Taiwanese majority and the groups' leaders.

With the end of the Martial Law Era in 1987, and the final lifting of martial law on May 1, 1991, the Taiwanese were freed from political restrictions. In early 1990s the emergence of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), a party that advocates Taiwanese nationalism and separatism, both challenged and balanced the power of the Mainland Chinese. The Taiwanese, given that they have gained greater economic status and the fact that they far outnumber the Mainland Chinese, reversed the situation and took control of the island's politics. Today native Taiwanese are the majority in the KMT, DPP, and People First Party (PFP, established in 2001), while the Mainland Chinese are a majority only in the New Party, a marginal entity in Taiwanese politics. Taiwanese face no political or economic discrimination (POLDIS00-03 = 0, ECDIS01-03 = 0).

There also is an ongoing shift in Taiwanese identity, whereby half of the Taiwanese have come to identify themselves as "Taiwanese" rather than the "Chinese"(COHESX9 = 5). The same trend is evident among Mainland Chinese. In contrast to their traditional identity as "Chinese," some have now begun to identify themselves as Taiwanese" (COHESX9 = 3). This tendency was highlighted during the election campaigns for parliament and local offices in 1998, when, four days before the election, KMT chairman and then-President Lee Teng-Hui - himself a Taiwanese - called the Mainland Chinese Taipei mayoral candidate Ma Ying-Jeou a "New Taiwanese." The advocacy contributed to Ma's close victory over Chen Shui-Bian, the popular Taiwanese DPP incumbent. Use of the concept of New Taiwanese has become an indicator of reconciliation between the two groups. Although identity remains the most controversial issue in politics, social and cultural differences seem to have dwindled over time. In addition, the enhancement of the Taiwanese's economic status and intermarriage also help reduce the discrepancies between the two groups.

Correlating with the search for a common identity and the quest for international recognition of the country, the major grievance of the Taiwanese concerns "Taiwanization," that is, the promotion of Taiwanese lifeways and culture, which is believed by more and more Taiwanese to be distinct from Mainland Chinese culture. The promotion of the Taiwanese dialect (in contrast to the official language, Mandarin Chinese), or other ethnic dialects, is the most obvious instance. Further, promotion of the

Aboriginal Taiwanese culture has become a way of emphasizing the distinctiveness and particularity of the Taiwanese culture by contrast with Mainland Chinese culture. Critics regard these policies as tools used in order to compete with Mainland China, but the government rejects this.

The main grievance of the Mainland Chinese, on the other hand, lies in the desire to preserve Mainland culture. It must be noted, however, that the two grievances are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Demands for benefits for one group only while intentionally excluding the other are rare. The increasing coherence of the society, taking the Taiwanese and the Mainland Chinese as a whole, will determine their future relationship to Mainland China.


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