Naming Taiwan: Democracy and Transitional Identity in Post-War Taiwan Presidential Inaugural Addresses

Jonathan Benda

The island of Taiwan has had a conflicted relationship with its name at least since the end of World War II. Since Chiang Kai-shek's Chinese Nationalist (KMT) party took over the island of Taiwan after the Japanese gave it up at the end of the war, what came to be known as "the Republic of China on Taiwan" has faced confusion and conflict over its national identity. Unique among transitional democracies, Taiwan's democratization has been accompanied by a loss of nationhood in that the government, while still calling Taiwan "the Republic of China" (ROC), has admitted (at least domestically) that it does not represent China. This admission came as a result of international derecognition of the ROC government in favor of recognition of the People's Republic of China (PRC) government as representative of China. The loss of this status created a crisis of legitimacy for the KMT government that eventually resulted in the ending of a forty-year period of martial law in Taiwan. Taiwan's changing historical position--from U.S.-protected "Free China" to its current status as a powerful economic force that lacks internationally recognized statehood--has also significantly influenced the rhetoric of democratization there. The changes in Taiwan's identity have been both reflected in and shaped by the rhetoric of the island's leaders.

This paper will analyze nine presidential inaugural addresses from the Republic of China on Taiwan from Chiang Kai-shek's 1954 inaugural (the first ROC inaugural speech given from Taiwan) to Chen Shui-bian's 2004 address. Making use of the original Chinese versions of these inaugural addresses and interpreting them in their historical contexts, I will trace the shifts in how the speeches conceive of the citizens of the ROC/Taiwan. I will argue that the audience Chiang Kai-shek invoked in his 1954-1972 inaugurals was largely a populace constructed as representative of the citizens of a once and future Republic of (mainland) China. To varying extents, this audience has been invoked in inaugurals until Chen Shui-bian's address. As the island came out from under the shadow of martial law and began to democratize in the late 1980s, the inaugural addresses of Presidents Chiang Ching-kuo, Lee Teng-hui, and Chen Shui-bian attempted to deal with Taiwanese people who in many respects were finding themselves more and more detached from the "Chinese" cultural and national identity that had been mandated by the KMT regime. The inaugural addresses participate in a transformation of national identity that raises important questions about the ethical considerations involved in the process of naming the people during the process of democratization.