The Seven Waves of Immigration in Taiwan

The following essay was written by Ma Ying-jeou, who is the presidential candidate of the Kuomingtang (Nationalist Party).

(China Times)  The Seven Waves of Immigration in Taiwan History.  By Ma Ying-jeou.  June 14, 2007.

[in translation]

If we look at the history of Taiwan from the viewpoint of globalization, we can get a more expansive historical view.  As a result, "the Taiwan consciousness" and "the Taiwan person" will assume completely different meanings.

Taiwan was the homeland of the aborigines.  But just as the American Indians had their fates changed during the seafaring era, the Taiwanese aborigines (either living in the flatlands or the mountains) saw their fates changed.  The critical geographical location of Taiwan and the continuous influx of immigrants changed Taiwan into something different.

Getting back to original question: What is Taiwan?  What is "local"?  If "local" represents the "original Taiwan," then the Minnan dialect, the Hakka dialect and the putonghua are all foreign languages.  The Dutch, the Spanish, Cheng Ch'eng-kung, the Qing dynasty, Japan, the Kuomintang and the Democratic Progressive Party are all "foreign government authorities."  If all "foreign government authorities" should withdraw and all Han descendants should withdraw from Taiwan, what is left in Taiwan then?

Who is a "Taiwanese"?  How long must you live in Taiwan in order to become a "Taiwanese"?  From the Ming dynasty or the Qing dynasty?  In the case of Hsieh Hsueh-hung, her father immigrated to Taiwan as a tenant-farmer and so she is the descendant of a person from an outside province.  Is she a Taiwanese?  If the fourth-generational child of the people who retreated with the Kuomintang government to Taiwan in 1949 cannot be called Taiwanese, then who is a "Taiwanese"?

We cannot reverse history, but we can try to expand our vista.  From the grand narrative of globalization and the mass immigrations of population, we seek to find the history of how present notion of "Taiwanese" is formed in order to get to the root of the problem.

Generally speaking, Taiwan has gone through seven waves of immigration.  The formation of the local culture in Taiwan is part of this grand history of immigration.

Strictly speaking, the first wave of immigration was during the era when Cheng Hsieh'hsieh (鄭燮寫) wrote "The Study of East and West" and before the Dutch and Spaniards arrived.  The first wave of Han people who arrived brought farming implements, iron tools, clothing, jewelry and other items to trade for deer skin, deer meat, gold ore, sulfur and other items.  These Han people were fishermen, wanderers and business people running away from the chaos at the end of the Ming dynasty.  A small number of them stayed behind in Taiwan.

The second wave of immigrants was the Dutch and the Spaniards.  This was the seafaring era and they used Taiwan as the base to establish global trade (or piracy).  But they did not come for the purpose of a prolonged occupation of Taiwan.  They only treated Taiwan as an overseas colony to be exploited, or as a short-term supply port and seafaring home base.  There were not many immigrants and their contributions to Taiwan were very limited.  Once they were defeated, they withdrew completely.

The third wave came during the time of Cheng Ch'eng-kung in the Ming dynasty.  A large number of military soldiers and Ming dynasty survivors came over.  The fourth wave was the large number of immigrants that came during the various stages in which the Qing dynasty alternately banned or encouraged immigration to Taiwan.  At the time, the mainland was overpopulated and land was scarce.  This immigration wave was the biggest in history.  The Minnan and Hakka populations of Taiwan came during this era.  This led to fights between the Minnan and Hakka people to control the land and resources, leading to the Chang-chew armed conflict.

The fifth wave was the Japanese people during the era of Japanese occupation.  They ruled for fifty years and they left impact on the society, culture, economy and political system.  The immigrants were sent back to Japan after the Second World War.  Like Holland and Spain, the number of immigrants was insignificant, but they left their marks in terms of history.

The sixth wave of immigration came after 1945.  These are the people sent by the Kuomintang government to take charge of government as well as the 2 million or so refuges that came after the Kuomintang retreated from the mainland in 1949.  They came from all over mainland China and they brought various dialects and culture.  But because of the War of Resistance Against Japan and the Civil War, they were sent to Taiwan.  For reasons of national security, the Kuomintang set up military camps and family residence compounds around various places in Taiwan, and this led to impact and clashes with the overall culture.

These displaced persons were travelers who were like Ulysses being carried by the tide of history of China without any opportunity to return to go home.  They can only try to find comfort among those who came from the same hometown.  Thus, the food tastes, the living habits, the artistic creativity, the local character, the linguistic accent and popular culture of Taiwan became a synthesis of these traits with a tolerant characteristic.

Without doubt, this wave of immigrants brought the most important influence.  After the Second World War, Taiwan was brought back into the cultural and economic sphere of China.  The Cold War of the 1950's took Taiwan into the camp of capitalism and a long period of martial law.

More interesting is the fact that martial law regime of the Kuomintang also brought in liberal intellectuals such as Hu Shi, Lei Chen, Yin Hai-kuang and others and their associated idea of Free China.  During the Japanese occupation, there were only two types of resistance movements.  One of them were nationalistic in nature (such as the Taiwan People's Party) and the other was socialism (such as the cultural associations and farmer cooperatives).  At that time, liberal ideas can only be said to be reflected by petitions to the parliament and they were really lame and weak.

Liberalism in Taiwan arose thanks to the relocation of the Kuomintang government and "Free China."  History is so unpredictable, because the liberalism brought in by the Kuomintang would become inspire the opposition movement later and it also formed the theoretical basis of the opposition which eventually led to the Democratic Progressive Party.

But when the Democratic Progressive Party starts talking about localization, they are forgetting about their own mentors.  Liberalism had been brought over during the sixth wave of immigration of the Kuomintang.  When they speak of de-sinofication, they are forgetting about their own origins!

The seventh wave of immigration began in the 1980's.  At the time, Taiwan allowed its citizens to visit their relatives in China and they allowed foreign workers and foreign spouses to come to Taiwan.  Thus came a new wave of immigrants to Taiwan.  At present, there are more than 300,000 mainland Chinese and foreign spouses in Taiwan.  For every eight children in Taiwan today, one of them has a foreign spouse as the parent.  For those spouses that came when the opening was first made, their children have graduated from university and entered society today.  There will be more and more such people and they will be a major force in Taiwanese society.  This is the seventh wave of immigration.

So what does it mean to be local?

Being local is actually the sum of the seven waves of immigration.  All the traces and memories of their lives have become a part of Taiwan.  Hung Jung's songs contain the sorrow of Japanese songs; Bobby Chen's songs have the freedom of rock music as well as the easiness of the aborigines; Jolin Tsai's song and dance contain hints of Japanese singer Ayumi Hamasaki; Jay Chou's songs are the combination of American hip-hop and traditional Chinese music; Wu Bai's Taiwanese-dialect song "Made in Taiwan" was able to express the combinations of all of the local flavors of culture.  This is "local," no matter what you want to call it.

The Matsu and Kuan Kung in the temples of Taiwan originated from mainland China; politically speaking, some of the Democratic Progressive Party people calling for "de-sinofication" got their ideas originally from "Chinese intellectuals" such as Hu Shi, Lei Chen and Yin Hai-kuan.  Who can say that "Free China" was not the most authentic history and most local philosophy in Taiwan?  How can the people in the Democratic Progressive Party purge their minds of the influence of Chinese ideas?

Let us look at Jiufen.  This was the "mysterious gold mountain" that the Dutch and Spaniards kept looking for.  But it had to wait until Liu Ming-ch'uan opened the railroad before some Cantonese people returning from America were able to discover it.  The Japanese exploited the place for 50 years and left behind the numerous legends and stories as well as a maze of underground tunnels.  All of that was in the past.  But thanks to director Hou Hsiao-hsien's movie <A City of Sadness>, Jiufen has re-emerged as a famous tourist scene.

The Ketagalan, Liu Ming-ch'uan, railroad construction workers, the stories about gold mining, the movie by Hou Hsiao-hsien, the tourist site of Jiufen and the recently opened art cafes there ... which one of these is not "local"?  None of these can be excised separately, because they continue to live, they grow slowly and they keep creating culture.  This is what is local.

The "local" is therefore not a static definition.  It has a life.  It is a continuous process of re-birth and re-creation.

Looking from the viewpoints of globalization and the seven waves of immigration, the conflicts over provincial origins and ethnic group memberships should become clearer.

When conflicts are created over "ethnic group membership" and "provincial origins," this history of immigration shows that the Democratic Progressive party is trying to capitalize on the power struggle between two different waves of immigration.  This is the conflict between the Qing dynasty immigrants and the Kuomintang-era immigrants.  This is the so-called conflict between the fourth and sixth waves of immigration.

But within the fourth wave of Qing dynastic immigrants, there is also the conflict between the Minnan and Hakka immigrants, leading to the Chang-chew armed conflict.  To put it in simple terms, the so-called "localization" of the Democratic Progressive Party is just "Fukinese chauvinism 福佬沙文主義" that has not shred its contempt of Hakka culture, never mind any respect or equality for any other cultures.

We can obviously say that the members of the sixth wave of immigration (the Chiang Kai-shek regime that retreated to Taiwan from mainland China) monopolized political power (during the two authoritarian regimes of the two Chiang's) and caused the people to be discontent about the lack of democracy.  But from the other side, the colonial government during the era of Japanese occupation (the rulers of the fifth wave of immigration) also deprived the right of the Taiwanese people to participate in government and they were much more brutal in oppression and massacres (estimated to be 400,000 persons) and that led the Taiwanese people to rise up and resist.

So why do the people in the Democratic Progressive Party and the Taiwan independence movement not criticize Japan?  Do they not know that the Japanese colonial government were even more vicious in killing the Taiwanese people?  The reason is obvious.  Japan does not hold any actual power in Taiwan anymore, and therefore it has no ability to conflict directly.

The conflicts between new and old immigrants are ultimately unavoidable.  Under the authoritarian regime, this could have been suppressed temporarily, but it stayed as a source of social instability.  After the democratization of the 1980's, universal suffrage was implemented.  There is no more authoritarian rule or any other problem with the monopolization of power by a small number of people.

But this only pertains to the political realm.  The ethnic clashes and cultural contradictions between old and new immigrants continue to occur.  A certain government official in Taiwan said: "We must not let the foreign spouses have too many children, because that will lower the quality of the population."  That is the typical "ethnic discrimination."  We must be very careful in not letting the ruling Democratic Progressive Party become a "fourth generation immigrant body" which monopolizes power and then oppresses the seventh generation of immigrants.

The various slogans of the Democratic Progressive Party right now about clashes over provincial origins, outside political powers, the elimination of Chiang Kai-shek and so on are actually actions that they are taking because they believe that they represent the fourth generation of immigrants and they want to rewrite the history of oppression under the fifth generation of Japanese colonizers and invoke the old history of contradictions with the sixth generation of immigrants in order to win the battle so that a small number of people can gain personal interests and political power.  These fights are basically against the common interests of the seventh wave of immigrants in this new era.

Yet all these symbolic signs about clashes over provincial origins and government authorities coming in from the outside no longer have any ability to explain contemporary society in Taiwan.  When the villages of Mei Nong have numerous foreign spouses living there and the rural villages of central Taiwan have Filipina maids shopping and bargaining for prices in the traditional markets, who cares about what happened sixty years ago?

For the younger generation who are under 30 or 40 years old, they no longer ask about provincial origin when they first meet each other; instead they only ask which city in Taiwan you come from.  Yet the political figures remain divorced from this reality and continue to bicker over the ancient "false issue."  They are merely trying to protect their own interests ...