Thursday, 8 March 2012

Essay For "Far-East Nation & History Review"

"The History of Taiwan has been a Constant Struggle for Independence."
This is the subject title on which I was invited to express my "views and opinions" on last month for the "Far-East Nation & History Review" by Jan Fell of "Free Taiwan". The invitation followed a few comments I had made at the "Free Taiwan" blog both prior and subsequent to the presidential and legislative elections in January. I have a limit of 450 words, and I'm starting this the night before the deadline, so I'll try to knock out something decent in a couple of hours.


Last Sunday, I was sitting on a make-shift raft dripping a mixture of half sweat, sunblock and fresh water, fondling a shallow wish to be back ashore already. Although I sat in irritation at my sun-burned shins and aching shoulders, my mind was nonetheless awander; with passing glances at the tree top canopies, sloping down earthen shoulders into the undisturbed water, I toyed fatuously with a memorized image of Robert Swinhoe exploring the southern waters of Taiwan in a canoe. It was late afternoon and the light still indulged every green corner of the peninsulas and islands in which Taiwan's oldest reservoir sits. I had spent the previous four hours or more expending a week's worth of push just to get a single profile shot of Yoichi Hatta's dam and spillway for an essay I had been writing. This far removed from common sanity, even the eagles seemed to have words for me.

Independence is not something that can be "struggled for". It is a natural characteristic - a man is either independent in body and mind or he is not. What can and must be "struggled for" is freedom, which is the social condition in which the necessities of human cooperation occur upon the unspoiled waters of voluntary sanction alone. Much of the political history of Taiwan, as elsewhere in the world, is a disordered snarl of war, theft, massacre and servitude. But what must not be lost among the "who, whom?" waves of blame and retribution is the fine, fragile reflection of freedom: freedom motivated the Dutch arrival on Formosa; freedom drove Koxinga's flight to Formosa; freedom allowed the flourishing of British trade; freedom was behind the Seediq insurrection; freedom drove the democracy movement in the 1980s.

Centuries of intellectual practice on the water was required for only a first draft of institutional design. That "first draft" - the constitutional republic - is evincing the stresses and strains of enduring the weather of human frailty, concerted sabotage and brute error. As it begins to leak, we must redesign second drafts; rafts more watertight than the one we all cling to now. Yet in reflecting on the push of those who came before us, we must not forget that their ventures capsized eventually - there is no guarantee that we too will not be dragged under by the wake of human malice.

I recall coming to the conclusion of an essay while floating on the Danube in Vienna back in 2003:
"...when we have given up worrying whether or not history will justify us, then one day we may succeed in getting power under control. In this way we may even justify history in our turn. It badly needs a justification.”

That'll have to do; it's not exactly a scholarly treatise on the history of Taiwan, but it does express my "view" and it is exactly 450 words long and it is on time.

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