Double Tenth celebrations on both sides
This week, Chinese on both sides of the Taiwan Strait celebrated the 100th anniversary of the fall of China’s last imperial dynasty, which collapsed after an uprising on Oct. 10, 1911, and gave birth to the Republic of China, Asia’s first republic.
While Taiwan and mainland China remain politically divided, both revere the leader of that revolution, Dr. Sun Yat-sen.
Sun is called the Father of the Nation in Taiwan and is known as the “great precursor of the revolution” on the mainland.
Historical ironies abound. When the Republic of China was formally proclaimed on Jan. 1, 1912, it designated Oct. 10 as its National Day ― a date referred to as the Double Tenth Festival.
At the time, the Communist Party had not yet been founded and Taiwan was a Japanese colony. Japan gave up Taiwan in 1945 after its defeat in World War II.
The Chinese civil war broke out soon afterwards, and the People’s Republic of China was proclaimed in 1949. The defeated Nationalist government retreated to Taiwan, which became the only area held by the Republic of China.
In the last few years, there has been speculation that the centennial year would provide an occasion for the two sides to demonstrate their shared history, such as having leaders from both sides take part in joint celebrations.
But this was ruled out by President Ma Ying-jeou several months ago. As he put it, “we will not join the mainland” to celebrate the centenary of the 1911 revolution. “It is the 100th National Day of the Republic of China that is more important for us.”
This is an event to which the Taiwan leader had looked forward to for years. On his inauguration in May 2008, he said: “The Republic of China was reborn in Taiwan. This democratic republic, the very first in Asia, spent a short 38 years on the Chinese mainland, but has spent nearly 60 years in Taiwan. Dr. Sun Yat-sen's dream for a constitutional democracy was not realized on the Chinese mainland, but today it has taken root, blossomed and borne fruit in Taiwan.”
While both Taiwan and the mainland held meetings and conferences to mark the 100th anniversary of the 1911 revolution, the themes were different.
On the mainland President Hu Jintao, in a major speech on Sunday, emphasized that the revolution had epitomized the longing of the Chinese people for “national independence and revitalization.”
He urged Taiwan to work with the mainland for the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” calling that the cherished goal pursued by Sun.
Hu did not dwell on the issue of democracy and human rights, which is very sensitive on the mainland, especially this year when there have been calls in Tunisia and other countries for a “jasmine revolution,” calls that were echoed in China itself.
China’s sensitivity is reflected in the cancellation of a debate on the 1911 revolution involving 16 Chinese universities, apparently for fear that the debate might raise questions about the legitimacy of the Communist Party itself.
In Taiwan however, Ma, speaking at Double Tenth ceremonies openly urged mainland China to move in the direction of freedom and democracy. To him, Taiwan shows that it is possible to have democracy in an ethnic Chinese society.
“The Oct. 10th uprising is a memory and heritage shared by both sides of the Taiwan Strait,” he said. “I wish to take this opportunity, therefore, to remind the mainland authorities: In commemorating Double Tenth Day, it must not be forgotten that the aspiration of our founding father Dr. Sun Yat-sen was to establish a free and democratic nation with equitable distribution of wealth.”
To China, the 100th anniversary was an opportunity to call for closer relations with Taiwan, which hopefully would lead eventually to peaceful reunification.
To Taiwan, the centennial celebrations were an opportunity to strengthen its separate sense of identity as the Republic of China rather than as an appendage of the People’s Republic.
Beijing, of course, is not interested in shoring up the legitimacy of the government in Taiwan. In Beijing’s eyes, the Republic of China ceased to exist in 1949, when it was replaced by the People’s Republic.
To Ma, Taiwan’s democracy is a model for the Chinese mainland. But having the mainland infected by Taiwan-style democracy is the farthest thing from Hu’s mind. His goal is to confine Taiwanese democracy to the island through the formula “one country, two systems.”
Frank Ching is a journalist and commentator based in Hong Kong. Email the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @FrankChing1.