It’s hard to be a Historian in Taiwan

The Five Represents - snapshot of the Academia online poll by Lianhe Wanbao / Bonaparte

The Five Represents - snapshot of the Academia online poll by Lianhe Wanbao / Bonaparte (click on this picture for full article)

Conducting opinion polls may not be a core task of an institution which officially records a republic’s history, and to conduct an online opinion poll is not scientific.  But this alone didn’t exact   Taiwan’s Academia Historica president Lin Man-houng‘s (林滿紅) head, in December last year. What really finished her were the emerging results of the Academia’s “vote” on the Republic of China’s top 100 most influential figuresMao Zedong was ranking third in the category of political leaders – more than one position ahead of Chiang Kai-shek –, and Deng Xiaoping ranked first in the category of military leaders. That Sun Yat-sen was still at the top of the list of political leaders didn’t really placate KMT legislators and members of the government. Lin had to go. As she resigned, she said that it had been inappropriate to include Mao and Deng in the poll as the purpose is to celebrate the 100 years of the founding of the ROC, but insisted that “Mao and Deng were definitely among the most influential people in the history of the ROC”.

Chinese citizens wouldn’t confuse the ROC’s history with the PRC’s that easily. Chances are that not a single Chinese citizen who attended school for one year would rank Deng Xiaoping or Mao Zedong higher than Sun Yat-sen, when it comes to the ROC’s history. (Where you would find Chiang Kai-shek on their list may be a more complicated question.)

That most Taiwanese “voters” on the Academia’s “poll” blended Deng’s (military) career with the Republic of China’s history probably has a lot to do with the fact that “China”, to many Taiwanese, is a foreign – and hostile – country, and that Taiwan isn’t China. On the other hand, the Republic of China is close to the hearts of the KMT’s leaders.

But let’s not jump to unscientific conclusions. The online poll hardly justified the uproar it provoked. Deng “won” the Republic of China’s top job in the military category with a score of 90 votes, if we may believe Bonaparte‘s or Lianhe Wanbao‘s*) snapshot. Sun Yat-sen came first in the political category with 2,666 votes. That’s hardly a meaningful database.

But anyway, Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) might have taken some pleasure in the results, even if only inwardly (for filial piety): at the time when Lianhe Wanbao looked at the online poll, he bested Mao Zedong (3), plus his father Chiang Ching-kuo [correction, Feb 5: Chiang Kai-shek – JR] ( apparently 4), and came in second only to the Republic’s founding father Sun Yat-sen.

Lu Fang-shang (呂芳上), Lin Man-houng’s successor as the head of Academia Historica, warned in January that Taiwan was risking the loss of its right to interpret the history of the Republic of China.

He said that the many seminars held by China recently to commemorate the Xinhai Revolution of 1911, the last and most important of a series of uprisings led by R.O.C. founding farther Sun Yat-sen that led to the end of the Qing Dynasty, have “carried the purpose of united front operations” against Taiwan,

wrote the China Post.

“It’s predictable that the chronicles compiled by Beijing say that the R.O.C. no longer existed after 1949, and term the R.O.C.’s history after that time as just local history, which are things definitely unacceptable to us,” the historian said.

The claim that Taiwan would be Chinese at all is contested. Japan’s ambassador to Beijing, Uichiro Niwa, highlighted the issue last summer, when he pointed out that Japan had never recognized Taiwan as part of China. As Maysing Yang (then the DPP’s foreign affairs director) and Phyllis Hwang, a lawyer, wrote in a letter to the International Herald Tribune seventeen years earlier,

“After World War II, the Japanese empire was dismantled but Taiwan was never legally reincorporated as part of China. The 1951 San Francisco treaty, in which Japan relinquished its sovereignty over Taiwan, did not specify to whom title to the island would be transferred.”

That, of course, isn’t the KMT’s party line.

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Note
*) Lianhe Wanbao (Evening Post) is a Singapore Press Holdings’ paper, as is Lianhe Zaobao (Morning Post)

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Related
Hsinhai – a Revolutionary Opera, December 2, 2010

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