Writer's Block

The USA is the place I was born. Canada is the place I was raised. Taiwan is the place in my heart.

Friday, July 26, 2002

I just read this interesting article in the Taipei Times about the Taiwanese "emigrant complex":

Taiwanese have an emigration complex

By Wang Sumei

Tuesday, Jul 23, 2002,Page 8

Last week one of my colleagues decided to quit and move to the US. Everybody in the office felt envious yet they threw a farewell party for her. Earlier this month one of my junior-school classmates got married and invited me to the wedding. He left Taiwan when he was 15 and the wedding was also a ceremony to celebrate his becoming a permanent US resident.

I am always wondering why the Taiwanese admire the US so much? Is it because we are economically poor, or afraid of a possible war between Taiwan and China? Is the lack of a sense of security embedded in our culture?

"Come to NTU, then go to the US," was a popular saying about National Taiwan University during the 1960s. At that time, young people studied with the purpose of earning a chance to get into the US. Most students wouldn't return home even after they got their US doctorates.

In those early years, Taiwan was not a very good place to live. It was not only that the standard of living that was bad, but also the limitations put on self-expression. Most students who went abroad and accepted the idea of democracy couldn't stand the ruling KMT, so they voted with their feet -- by staying in the US. And for those who were left in Taiwan, the US remained a holy country with giant power and wealth.

Today, people in Taiwan are richer than before and have freedom of speech, but the US is still a dream land in most people's minds. Some worry that the worsening cross-strait relationship may lead to war. These people want to move for the sake of security. Some want to leave because of disappointment with the government, especially after Chen Shui-bian was elected president.

Those who emigrate to other countries do so freely. However, I wonder how much of this idea that the US is like heaven is fact and how much of it is just a part of Taiwanese mythology. Some scholars believe it is part of a complex that is rooted in our cultural background.

Many of our ancestors came from China 300 years ago. But they were ruled by a succession of invaders. This Dutch ruled Formosa until the famous Ming Dynasty general Cheng Cheng-kung defeated them in order to create a base on the island from which to attack the Qing Dynasty. In the 50 years that they ruled here, the Japanese used Taiwan as a base from which to attack Southeast Asia. Following the end of World War II, Chiang Kai-shek came here after he lost the Chinese civil war to the Communists.

This means that, over the past 300 years, the rulers of this island never saw Taiwan as their destination, but only as a temporary home. These people had planned to leave the moment their boat came in. That might be the reason for the lack of identity and confidence that Taiwanese suffer from -- everybody tends to dream of a wonderful heaven which may be somewhere out there, but that heaven could certainly not be their own country.

Now the question arises -- will US citizenship bring immigrants the absolute confidence they need? The answer is surely negative. They will be part of a minority group for the rest of their lives. None of the US' "greatness" will have anything to do with their contribution.

I am not a follower of narrow-minded nationalism, but I would never emigrate. Yes, Taiwan's government officials are awful and the whole system is a mess. However, this can only be changed through my participation. History can't determine our future.

I hope all Taiwanese can get rid of the "emigration curse" and realize that Taiwan is truly home. In the end, I went to neither the farewell party nor the wedding. I certainly bless the wedding, but I cannot congratulate an emigrant. There is no reason to celebrate when our friends leave.

Wang Sumei is a journalist based in Taipei.

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