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Asiatic Research Institute of Korea University
ARI Working Paper Series No. 1
Date : 2009.11.02 (Mon) Hit : 10685

[ARI Working Paper Seires No. 1]

History, Ethnicity, and National Identity: The Development of Taiwanese National Identity 

by Fu-chang Wang 

(Associate Research Fellow of Institute of Sociology, Academia Sinica)

Fu-chang Wang received his Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Arizona, in the United States in 1989. He is currently an Associate Research Fellow of Institute of Sociology, Academia Sinica in Taiwan. He also teaches part time at National Chengchi University and National Taiwan University. His research interests include ethnic relations, social movements, and nationalistic politics in Taiwan. He is now working on a project to explore the emergence of “ethnic concept” in Taiwan in the 1980s.


Previous literature of the origin and development of Taiwanese national identity predicts that as a discourse of multi-ethnic national nationalism rose to replace that of an ethnic nationalism, the role of ethnicity in Taiwan’s politics will eventually wane. This paper tries to show that while national identity in Taiwan has basically developed in the ways they predicted, the salience of ethnicity in politics seems to persist. The ineffectiveness of the multi-ethnic nationalism which was proposed as a way to resolve ethnic conflicts in Taiwan during the early 1990s can be better understood by the source and nature of ethnic conflicts and their relations to the competition the Chinese national identity and Taiwanese national identity in Taiwan before 1990s. To substantiate this argument, this paper re-traces the development of Taiwanese national identity in the postwar era by dividing it into three stages: 1) 1950-1980, when the Taiwanese national identity was developed by Taiwanese exiles oversea after the 2-28 Incident of 1947. The Chinese migrants to Taiwan, the mainlanders, were not considered to be part of the Taiwanese nation in most time during this stage as the Taiwanese nationalist discourse was being constructed outside Taiwan by re-interpreting the relation of Taiwan with China in the history. There were no organized advocates of Taiwanese Independence in Taiwan before 1980s. 2) 1981-1992, when the opposition camp in Taiwan began to discuss and to publicly promote Taiwanese independence, first in a de-facto sense and later in a de-jury sense, mainly as a strategy to counteract an ethnically discriminatory political institution justified by a Chinese nationalist argument and national crisis. Although the Taiwanese national identity was quite successful in bringing about the democratization transition and in diminishing the past ethnic inequality, it also created new ethnic conflicts in Taiwan given its nature of ethnic nationalism. 3) 1992- : the multi-ethnic nationalism was proposed by the DPP as a way to settle ethnic conflicts mainly under the protest of Hakka Taiwanese, and to a less degree, the aborigines. However, as the rise of China has posited a new problem for Taiwan in deciding its future relations with China, different historical experiences and past connections with China among different ethnic groups had contributed to the persistence of ethnic conflicts over nationalist issues.   

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