Taiwan Communiqué No. 103 December 2002

A new flag debate

WTC flag
One of the new proposals: the World Taiwanese Congress flag

"ROC" flag
The old "Republic of China" flag

A new debate on the national flag has erupted in Taiwan. It started on 11 November 2002, when Prof. Chen Shih-meng, Secretary-General to President Chen Shui-bian, remarked in a Q&A session with legislators that "the ROC flag does not equal the nation".

The flag Prof. Chen was referring to is the white sun on blue background on a crimson field flag, which was developed by the Chinese Nationalists before the 1911 Chinese Revolution. It became the ROC flag in 1921 and was brought over to Taiwan by the Kuomintang after Japan's defeat in 1945. After that it was used by the Kuomintang in its losing fight to "recover China."

Below we present two articles:

An international perspective

A new debate on the national flag is taking place in Taiwan. The battle lines are predictable: the old Kuomintang and James Soong's PFP are clinging to the old flag, brought over from China in 1945, while the TSU and significant parts of the ruling DPP are in favor of a new flag that represents the new, democratic Taiwan.

It is therefore good to take a step back, and see how this issue is perceived by the international community, and particularly from the United States and Europe. Overseas observers, governments and parliaments see Taiwan in a positive light because of its recent democratization, but the US and Europe can't bring themselves yet to normalize relations with Taiwan because of pressure from China.

This pressure from China is deeply-rooted, primarily in the Civil War fought from the 1920s through 1949 between the Chinese Communists and the Chinese Nationalists of Chiang Kai-shek. To the Chinese, the Kuomintang and the ROC flag became symbols of that decades-long conflict.

Taiwan went through its democratic transformation in the 1980s and 1990s, which culminated in the election of DPP-President Chen Shui-bian in March 2000. However, the new government took on the shell of the old system, including its symbolisms, such as the 1947 "ROC" Constitution, the 1911 "made in China" flag, and the equally outdated anthem, a 1928 Kuomintang Party song.

It is clear that those symbols have little to do with present-day Taiwan: they are left-over attributes of the Kuomintang's days in China. While it is perhaps understandable that the Kuomintang old guard wants to cling to them in a fast-disappearing sense of security, it would be wise for Taiwan to move expeditiously to a new set of symbols.

The reasons are as follows: as long as Taiwan clings to symbols that are associated with the old Civil War, it is a reminder that this Civil War is not quite finished. For closure, it is necessary that these symbols are buried.

An even more important reason is to find a new flag, anthem and Constitution that truly represent the present-day, new Taiwan. This process may take a few years, but it is an essential part of becoming a "new" nation. In the case of the United States, it took 11 years _ from the 1776 Declaration of Independence to the 1787 Constitutional Convention. The US national anthem, the "Star-Spangled Banner", wasn't written until 1814.

The old symbols only represent the Kuomintang which came over from China. Present-day Taiwan is made up of aborigines, the Hakka and Hoklo-speaking population, as well as the mainlanders who came over after 1945. For Taiwan to survive, they all need to identify with the new Taiwan, and evolve into a new identity that is truly Taiwanese in nature.

From the international perspective, it is also necessary to develop a new Taiwanese identity:

as long as Taiwan continues to present itself as "Republic of China", the international community will be forced _ by the force of the "One China" dictum _ to continue the line that only informal, economic and cultural ties are possible.

Only when Taiwan states clearly and unequivocally that it distances itself from the old "ROC" identity, and presents itself as a new and democratic nation, "Taiwan", will it be possible to open the doors towards full recognition and diplomatic relations. There is no easy -- or fuzzy -- way out. A fair and open debate about the national flag and anthem would be a good start.

Taiwan needs a flag to call its own

This editorial appeared in the Taipei Times on 16 November 2002. Reprinted with permission.

At a campaign rally last Sunday presidential advisor Alice King said that she found the sight of the ROC flag offensive. And so do we. And so should anybody who supports democracy in Taiwan and self-determination for the people of Taiwan. The ROC flag is a piece of KMT self-aggrandizement masquerading as a national icon. It is the symbol of the one-party state the KMT intended the ROC to be.

The white sun and blue background motif was a logo adopted by Sun Yat-sen's Society for Regenerating China in 1895. The crimson background was added to the society's flag before the 1911 Chinese revolution. The society became the KMT in 1919 and proclaimed its flag to be the Chinese flag in 1921. Until that time the ROC had used an entirely different five-colored striped flag, each color supposedly representing the five major ethnic groups in China.

So let it be clear, the flag the ROC uses is not a sacred symbol of the Chinese revolution — and of course we might argue what the revolution itself has to do with Taiwan, at that time a Japanese colony — it is a sacred symbol of the KMT. Is it fitting to have such a symbol in a democracy? Imagine if the US Republicans sought to replace the Stars and Stripes with a large elephant in a red white and blue background. It seems laughable; actually it's contemptible, and it is the reality of Taiwan's so-called national symbol. Actually the message of the current flag is quite clear, and that is that the ROC was meant to be a one-party state, ruled forever by the Leninist KMT. How in these democratic days can anyone countenance such a thing?

Of course the ROC flag is one of the world's more unusual — in that it is rarely allowed to be flown outside of the ROC. Such is Taiwan's international isolation that all it usually gets to show is the equally ridiculous plum-blossom flag, which is also, incidentally, adorned with the repulsive KMT symbol.

If the flag wasn't bad enough the national anthem is even more of a disgrace. One gags on the first line: "The Three Principles of the People is the goal of our party." Of course it's not surprising that the anthem sounds like a KMT party song; it is a KMT party song, adopted as such in 1928.

The assumption behind the flag and anthem, as the luckless Presidential Office Secretary-General Chen Shih-meng pointed out earlier this week was that the KMT was going to rule China for ever. Such a sentiment can hardly be appropriate in these more democratic days.

Countries do, of course, change their flags when their circumstances change. Many of the countries of Eastern Europe remodeled their flags after emerging from Soviet domination. Russia itself changed its flag when the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991. Should Scotland ever separate from the UK, no doubt the Union flag — one of the world's most readily identifiable — will also change.

Yesterday TSU Legislator Chien-Lin Hui-chun said that the flag should be changed "to better reflect the truth." What is that truth? For many years it was that Taiwan was a territory illegally annexed after World War II by the so-called ROC and ruled as a colony thereof. This is no longer the case. It is separate, an independent country and it is time that it developed the symbols to stress this.

In this light it is a wretched shame that the president in his lack of wisdom saw fit to stamp down hard on the debate that Chen Shih-meng opened up this week. The longer this administration lasts the more it feels like a KMT administration in all but name.

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