Just a few days ago, investigative journalist Guo Yukuan published an article titled Be Wary of “Becoming Xinjiang Independence’d” (an awkward translation, but the best I can do to capture the semi-satirical use of 被 in 小心“被疆独”.), which turned out to be a thoughtful commentary produced in response to the controversial sentencing of Uyghur journalist Gheyret Niyaz to 15 years in prison for speaking to a Hong Kong magazine about the Urumqi riots. Guo begins his discussion from a unique angle, namely, the birth of “Taiwan independence” sentiment in spite of or, as Guo argues, even because of the Taiwan Nationalist government creating the label as a blacklist term to encompass all Taiwanese who were simply calling for greater political freedom or local rights.
Xinjiang issues are frequently seen through the lens of “Tibet issues” but it’s definitely valuable and worthwhile to consider Xinjiang discontent through the trials and travails of Taiwan, which has undergone a remarkable transformation from the authoritarian vice-grip and politically-motivated massacres under Chiang Kai-shek to the opening culminating in the election of Lee Teng-hui, and back again to the politics-as-usual shenanigans and election-season brawling of the recent decade.
I’ve read through the article and there is much to praise and much to criticize, and so I’ll publish them with some commentary in sections, going along with the four sections Guo himself has divided his article into. At any rate, it’s refreshing to see some unique thoughts coming from the Han Chinese world and it shows that when such an egregious violation of freedom of speech occurs like with Gheyret Niyaz, even Han social commentators may be moved to think up new angles and solutions to the problems posed by Xinjiang.
In Part 1, Guo recounts a visit to Taiwan where he asks Taiwan independence leader Lin Zhuoshui why he, despite being a Mandarin speaker and of Fujian heritage, considers himself Taiwanese and not Chinese. In the later parts, which are forthcoming, Guo ties his observations to the persecution of Uyghur intellectuals and his experience talking with Uyghurs and trying to understand their discontent.
Be Wary of “Becoming Turkestan Independence-ed”
Sharing ideas with people who hold different worldviews is a unbridled mental habit of mine, doing this can be very rewarding. If I manage to talk for a period of time and the other person replies, “Oh, that makes sense,” I tend to feel a sort of unfulfillment that is hard to describe, and even online I’m always trying to find someone to criticize what I say, the sharper the criticism, the better.
Wherever I go, I always seek out interesting locals to speak with, and, in my eyes, the most interesting people are those who have views different from mine.
I detest the “Cultural Revolution” and the “Mao Zedong Line,” and so in India I especially sought out the “Maoists” who were carrying out guerrila attacks in the jungles.
Even today I have a significant degree of culturally meaningful “China sentiment,” and this idea of “China” can even go beyond territorial boundaries. And so when I was in Taiwan I especially sought out “Taiwan Independence” activists. Originally I couldn’t understand how Taiwanese who spoke the same language and had no cultural conflicts with the mainland would painstakingly articulate how they were not “Chinese.” Local friends told me that Lin Zhuoshui was the spiritual leader and most articulate defender of the Taiwan independence movement, and so I went out to find him.
I asked Mr. Lin, “Your familial homeland is also in Fujian, we don’t have any cultural divisions between us, where did your thinking on Taiwan independence come from?” Lin Zhuoshui told me that he and his Taiwan independence associates were also taught from childhood that they were Chinese and and truly believed that they were indeed Chinese.
But they were helpless, because those years even as Taiwan residents they nonetheless lacked channels to participate politically, as the members of parliament all belonged to that “Perpetual Congress” consisting of individuals who had come from the mainland in 1949. Moreover, at that time President Chiang was all about “Counterattacking the mainland, liberating our compatriots on the mainland,” and so anyone in Taiwan who called out for democracy, and everybody who brought in issues of local interest or protecting local autonomy, all of these were accused of being “Taiwan independence elements.”
“Alright then, we might as well be for ‘Taiwan independence.’”
All different types of separate localities were making complaints, and in the beginning they were given the label “Taiwan independence.” Later, they joined together as one, and figured that they might as well adopt Taiwan independence as their banner, and over time formed into a true Taiwan independence movement.
One could call this process “To be Taiwan Independence-ed.”