No.055, May - June, 2007

Taiwanese Identity and Democracy: The Social Psychology of Taiwan's 2004 Elections
By Olwen Bedford and Kwang-Kuo Hwang. New York, N.Y.: Palgrave, 2006. 235 pp.

In Chinese

The two authors of this book both have degrees from top universities in social psychology. This background and their expertise allows them to analyze the particular environment in Taiwan when the DPP government headed by President Chen Shui-bian was re-elected for a second term in 2004. The authors make it clear that the reasons for putting together this study on the social psychology of the Taiwanese at the juncture of an important national event is to try to understand how the Taiwanese view politics, the parties that lost the elections and the issue of national identity that has become ever stronger as Taiwan goes through its democratic process.

"Of particular importance is the issue of national identity and its relation to Taiwanese consciousness, a topic of growing interest in recent years," the authors say in introducing their book. Olwen Bedford holds a PhD in socio-cultural psychology from the University of Colorado and Kwang-kuo Hwang holds a PhD in social psychology from the University of Hawaii and teaches at National Taiwan University. The issue of national identity is a hot topic at every election in Taiwan because voters have a clear idea as to who among them are native Taiwanese and who are from mainland (waisheng), a distinction that sometimes determines the voters' choice. Native Taiwanese consider waisheng Taiwanese to be communist supporters, and the latter react by accusing the former of stirring up ethnic differences. National identity became a key issue in the 2004 elections, partly because of the growing military threat from China's ballistic missiles pointed at the island. But the authors say that when politicians talk about ethnic differences, what they really mean is national identity. The questions often asked are: is Taiwan a part of China? Or is Taiwan a sovereign nation? The issues of Taiwanese identity and sovereignty are often conflated and cannot be separated, and the authors say they are emotional issues, so discussions about them are intense.

Some native Taiwanese oppose the perceived policy of unification with China by the Kuomintang-led government that governed the island for 50 years. Those natives demand independence. But the authors point out that there are waisheng Taiwanese who identify themselves with the native ones and support independence, while, on the other hand, there are native Taiwanese who call for unification with China. National Chengchi University's study said the proportions of people who identify themselves as Taiwanese increased from 20 percent in the early 1990s to 57 percent in 2004.

China's growing military threat against Taiwan contributes to the increase in demands for political steps towards independence and international support for it. But there are also those who want to emphasize psychological steps to support Taiwanese independence. The term "Taiwanese consciousness" applies in such a case, as it means Taiwan as a separate nation as opposed to being a part of China. Taiwanese consciousness has spread among the population, boosted by the island's economic growth and political reform.

The authors explain in the book that the pan-green bloc (meaning the DPP and supporters of independence) and the pan-blue bloc (the KMT and PFP) interpret Taiwanese consciousness differently. They say the KMT supports the idea of all people in Taiwan as "New Taiwanese," that the Taiwanese consciousness does not equate to Taiwanese independence and that not all Taiwanese people support independence. The DPP and TSU (Taiwan Solidarity Union of former President Lee Teng-hui) regard Taiwanese consciousness as part of the growing nationalistic movement on the island. In consequence, the pan-blue, which lost the presidential elections in 2004, has been in a difficult position to support either independence or unification.

This book provides a study of the pan-blue coalition and their leaders after they were defeated by the DPP in the 2004 elections. The authors make wide use of Confucian principles to explain the political behavior of party leaders as they compete for power in Taiwan. The KMT refused to admit defeat in the elections and still pursues the idea that it was cheated.

"'The sky cannot have two suns,' as Confucius said," the authors write in discussing issues of identity and culture in the book.

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