The 2-Minute Thought: On National Identity

Image source: Wikipedia

Image source: Wikipedia

What makes a German identify with being European as well?   Why did Corsican separatists lose their passion for independence from France after European Union?  Do the youths of South Korea identify more with being citizens of South Korea than they do with being ethnic Koreans (in North or South Korea)?  For their parents, with a much stronger sense of being ethnic Korean, it seems the opposite is true – which says something about how the point in history one comes of age makes a difference. 

Questions of identity can be fascinating, as political and cultural indicators, and in and of themselves.  That’s why it’s interesting that a record number of Taiwanese now prefer to identify themselves as “Taiwanese” rather than “both Taiwanese and Chinese” or only “Chinese.” 

A survey by National Chengchi University, which has been conducted since 1992, recently asked Taiwanese respondents if they identified with being “Taiwanese,” “both Taiwanese and Chinese,” or “Chinese.”  A record 60.6% identified themselves as Taiwanese only.   Only 32.5% identified themselves as both Taiwanese and Chinese, versus 47.7% in 2004.  And a fairly miniscule 3.5% identified themselves as “Chinese” only -- down significantly from 26.2% in 1994.

The rise of a Taiwanese identity is completely congruent with the recent victory of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the one known for standing up to Beijing more.  But it’s not the same thing as wanting independence from China.  Only 5.9% of survey respondents said they supported immediate independence, while 18% said they would like to keep the status quo.  In addition, 9.2% said they would like to reunify with China. 

Still, it does look like Beijing is failing to win the hearts and minds of Taiwanese.  What’s worse for the mainland is that a similar trend is taking place in Hong Kong.  The number of Hong Kong Chinese who identify themselves as only “Chinese” has fallen from 39% in 2008 to 18% in December 2015.  The number who identify themselves as a “Hong Konger” has gone the opposite direction, from 18% to 40%.

In both Taiwan and Hong Kong, it’s the generation under age 30 that has the strongest sense of separate identity.