‘Only Taiwan’ holds any reins on China

Confucianist leaders use soft power

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A small island in the shadow of a giant neighbor that claims its territory, Taiwan nonetheless holds a key to shaping China’s meteoric rise, Taiwanese officials say.

Taiwan is “the only force on Earth that may have an impact on the future political development of China,” said Steven S.F. Chen, formerly the island’s envoy to the United States and now an adviser to its president. “Not, I’m afraid to say, the United States, not Japan, not any another country. Only Taiwan.”

Mr. Chen and others argue that Taiwan can play such a role through the strategic use of soft power – the cultural leverage that comes with a shared history, language and geography.

Taiwan, which broke away from the mainland in 1949 after the Communist Party took power in Beijing, is a modern Western-style democracy, with a bicameral legislature and a directly elected president, like the United States.

But its culture and people are steeped in the 2-millennia-old traditions of Confucianism – the guiding philosophy of China’s governing classes through centuries of imperial rule.

The principles of Confucianism “are the center of Taiwan’s education system from the third grade,” said Lung Yingtai, Taiwan’s minister of culture and a respected author and intellectual.

“The Germans quote Goethe a lot. We quote Confucius even more,” Ms. Lung said. “You breathe it in every day. There is no place in the world as Confucian as Taiwan.”

Although the philosophy was developed as a guide for the administrators of China’s vast empire, Ms. Lung said, Confucianism and liberal democracy are compatible.

“They merge perfectly,” though with imperfect results, she said in a speech during a visit to Washington in September.

According to Confucius, every official from the lowliest clerk to the emperor should be “kind, upright, courteous, temperate and magnanimous,” Ms. Lung said.

Building a democracy in Taiwan is “an ongoing process with trial and error,” she said.

Because it has continued to foster Confucian principles, Taiwan is a center of gravity for the Chinese diaspora, especially on the cultural level, where Taipei’s vigorous book and movie industries often publish works banned on the mainland.

“It is no accident that [the Chinese minority in] Malaysia produces large numbers of the best Chinese-language novelists and poets who find Taiwan their incubator,” Ms. Lung said. “It is no accident that Taiwanese filmmakers, songwriters and composers enjoy a very prominent position in the Chinese-speaking world.”

She said the overrepresentation of artists from the relatively small Taiwanese and diaspora populations is a result of their freedoms.

“A democratic system with guaranteed freedom of expression has given rise to a creative and culturally vibrant society in Taiwan,” she said.

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About the Author
Shaun Waterman

Shaun Waterman

Shaun Waterman is an award-winning reporter for The Washington Times, covering foreign affairs, defense and cybersecurity. He was a senior editor and correspondent for United Press International for nearly a decade, and has covered the Department of Homeland Security since 2003. His reporting on the Sept. 11 Commission and the tortuous process by which some of its recommendations finally became ...

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