Language continues to be as much of an issue in Taiwan

5:26pm, 7 December 2007. Image from
5:26pm, 7 December 2007. Image from

Rectification of names by the new administration of the Taiwanese (ROC) government continues. The blog David on Formosa managed to get several snapshots of the old slogan over the entrance to the square surrounding Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall, which was a reference to CKS’s chosen name for himself (Zhongzheng), and then followed up a few months later with some photos showing that the Hall itself had in fact been returned to its original name (i.e. CKS Memorial Hall) after a brief period of renaming as Democracy Memorial Hall under the Chen Shui-bian administration. As a comprimise, the KMT Ma Ying-jiu administration accepted keeping the new name of the square, which today is still labeled 自由廣場 (Liberty Square), while returning the old name of the Hall itself.

During my recent 3 week trip to Taiwan, I kept meaning to stop by the Hall, but simply never had the time. I did notice, however, the new “Liberty Sqaure” signs while driving past it. I also happened to be in Taiwan around the time that Taiwan Post, former Chunghwa Post, was again being renamed to Chungwha Post. I actually passed by one post office which just said “______ Post”, with a big empty space where the first word of the name should be. Unfortunately, my camera was in my bag at the time.

At the same time, there has apparently been another controversy over whether to use the name Taiwan or China, this time in a particularly comical place-the nation’s bird watching association.

The renaming of BirdLife International’s Taiwan chapter from Wild Bird Federation Taiwan to the Chinese Wild Bird Federation has caused an uproar among some of Taiwan’s bird lovers, with the founding president of the Wild Bird Society of Penghu, Lin Chang-hsing (林長興), saying that he will call for members to resign from the Chinese Wild Bird Federation.

Apart from refusing to pay yearly membership fees to the Chinese Wild Bird Federation, Lin said he would invite fellow bird enthusiasts to set up a new federation for wild birds using the words “Taiwan” or “Taiwanese.”

There are also at least two more serious developments that have made the news recently though. First is a decision by a Geneva, Switzerland court declaring that Taiwan (ROC) “is an eligible plaintiff in the case on the grounds that it possesses all the elements of statehood and that its government holds and effectively exercises sovereignty over its territory.” While I believe that this does not necessarily have any effect on formal diplomatic recognition by the Swiss government, it certainly seems like it could open the way for it. And most significantly, the court simply recognizes that Taiwan/ROC is a state, without particularly caring what it is called, or about anything related to the “one China” issue. This seems to mean that the Swiss court has effectively opted for dual recognition of China/PRC and Taiwan/ROC as separate and independent states. As a further wrinkle, the actual case involved a lawsuit filed by Taiwan/ROC against the ISO (International Standards Organization) “emanding that the organization correct Taiwan’s designation from Taiwan Province, China to Republic of China (Taiwan) in the ISO 3166 country codes list.” While the current administration certainly has no desire to force the ISO to change the designated name to a simple “Taiwan”, there seems to be no reason why it would not be possible. If Taiwan/ROC prevails in their lawsuit against the ISO, it would open the door for a future DPP administration to request a name change from Republic of China (Taiwan) to simply Taiwan.

And finally, in a move which ideologically could be considered as pro-China, but in practical terms is a victory for simple common sense, the government has finally declared that Taiwan will standardize Mandarin Chinese romanization on Hanyu Pinyin in 2009. Unlike in the PRC, Taiwanese themselves simply do not use Pinyin, and it exists on signs solely for the benefit of foreigners. While the cacaphony of mutually incomprehensible romanizations throughout Taiwan do have a certain charm, the fact that the same name or word may be romanized upwards of a half-dozen ways throughout the island is doing no favors to the visiting (or even resident) foreigner. Ma implemented Hanu Pinyin as an official system during his term as mayor of Taipei, and so this move is far from a surprise. It might be a minor victory for the pro China side in Taiwan’s culture war, but as a practical matter this is simply a good idea.

Oh, and on a more tangentially related note, it appears that the US has dropped Taiwan from the proposed list of visa waiver countries. I guess they didn’t want to piss off one of their largest creditors during the economic meltdown.

3 thoughts on “Language continues to be as much of an issue in Taiwan”

  1. I don’t think the Swiss court’s decision will have much of a bearing on diplomatic recognition. Any rational court would reach the same conclusion about the ROC’s standing as a sovereign. Recognition does have some legal effects, such as regarding the succession of ownership of state property (that dormitory you blogged about before), but it is not what makes a state a state for legal purposes.

    On the visa waiver program, my understanding is that many (most?) Chinese in the PRC are considered ROC citizens and eligible for passports, even if they have no right of abode in Taiwan. So the US may be keeping the ROC out of the VWP in order to limit abuse of the system by potential illegal immigrants and other undesirables. Pure speculation, though.

  2. I also don’t see any reason to expect that the court ruling would change the official diplomatic stance taken by Switzerland, but you never know. Perhaps the ruling could serve as some sort of precedent in other European countries with similar legal systems, or in the EU courts themselves? I have no idea, but I would be very interested to get an opinion from someone who knows more about the actual case, and the courts/politics over there.

    As for the visa waiver program, mainland Chinese are considered ROC citizens only in the most theoretical sense, in which the entire mainland China area is also theoretically considered part of the ROC. In reality, however, the theoretical ROC territory is divided into the areas actually controlled by the ROC and those which aren’t. In fact, the constitution has actually been amended to make this distinction, here is one example:

    The president and the vice president shall be directly elected by the entire populace of the free area of the Republic of China. This shall be effective from the election for the ninth-term president and vice president in 1996. The presidential and the vice presidential candidates shall register jointly and be listed as a pair on the ballot. The pair that receives the highest number of votes shall be elected. Citizens of the free area of the Republic of China residing abroad may return to the ROC to exercise their electoral rights and this shall be stipulated by law.

    Made more clear by article 11:

    Article 11.

    Rights and obligations between the people of the Chinese mainland area and those of the free area, and the disposition of other related affairs may be specified by law.

    Basically under current law, any PRC citizen is disqualified from receiving any of the benefits of ROC citizenship. In practice, in this area (as in most areas), Taiwan and China are treated as two entirely separate countries. There’s really no way granting a visa waiver for Taiwanese (ROC) passport holders could let in people from the PRC unless they had forged documents-which is always a risk anyway.

    And if a visa waiver for Taiwan passports could let in PRC, don’t you think Sino-phobic Japan would have thought about that before implementing their own visa waiver for Taiwan?

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