Trials and travails of a Taiwanese-American kid in Taiwan

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Politics of Chinatown

It's been a short visit back to Taiwan, but eventful nonetheless, first the elections, then backpacking around northern Taiwan. After ten days of enjoying myself at home, I find myself on the way to grad school with a six hour layover in San Francisco. San Francisco occupies a bit of a soft spot in my heart. As a kid born to one of the many students Taiwan sent abroad in the 70s and 80s, my parents would often take me up to The City on weekends.

Taking BART up from SFO, I only have time for a quick walk from Union Square up through Chinatown. It's a route my folks used to take me on a lot as a kid. Chinatown hasn't changed much from what I remember from the late 80s and early 90s - tightly packed buildings with small stores selling everything from groceries to souvenirs, Cantonese voices floating through the air, what smells like a strange mix of fragrant spice, exotic stir fry, car exhaust, something rotting, and the salty breeze from the Pacific.

I never noticed it much as a kid, but politics is alive and well in Chinatown. Walking down the main throughfares one sees a growing number of buildings flying the Five Starred Red Flag of the People's Republic of China, while the Blue Sky White Sun and Red Earth of the Republic of China flutters above others. Most prominant amongst the latter is a large white building located on Stockton Street, just outside the Stockton Tunnel, which borders the southern edge of Chinatown. This is the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall of San Francisco. Emblazoned in traditional characters on the front of the building are words "Chinese Kuomintang U.S. Branch". A new banner "Celebrating the election of Messrs. Ma and Siew as the 12th President and Vice-President of the Republic of China" hangs prominently on the front of the building.

Yet this KMT is distinct from the KMT of Chiang Kai-shek - led by what some call the Shanghai-clique that spent the years after the 1911 revolution fighting first against successive northern warlord governments, then the Japanese, before relocating to Taiwan where they vowed to reconquer the Mainland. It certainly bears less and less resemblance to the KMT of today, based on the islands of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu whose candidates were just elected to the presidency a little over a week ago. The party headquarters sitting in the oldest Chinatown in North America is the final remminant of the original KMT - the Cantonese speaking quasi-secret revolutionary society turned political party, funded by overseas Chinese, responsible for the 1911 revolution that overthrew the last emperor, establishing the Republic of China - the state that those of us from Taiwan still (nominally at least) owe our allegiance to. Party members here still cling to the hope that China will one day be ruled again under the KMT flag. I remember once helping an elderly gentleman in Los Angeles put up what so many of us simply refer to these days as the flag of Taiwan. "This" he said proudly, "is the flag of China".

I wonder how many KMT members living in Taiwan today still believe that.

Back at SFO, amongst all the newspapers on sale in the terminal, is the latest copy of The World Journal (世界日報) - a daily traditional Chinese language newspaper serving the overseas Chinese communities of North America, affiliated with the United Daily News - one of the largest KMT leaning newspapers in Taiwan. Like most of the papers in Taiwan, the news is still dominated by coverage of President-elect Ma, reflecting perhaps the excitement of the KMT at being so close to regaining control of the executive branch after 8 years.

The main headline covers the unrest in Tibet. The second front page story is on the latest from President-elect Ma on cross-strait politics and mutual non-denial. The title reads: "馬:我是台灣的總統" ("Ma: I am the President of Taiwan").

Tags:, , .


阿牛 said...

Same to you sir! You do a great job here and I appreciate your work. You've had some very thought provoking posts lately.

nostalgiphile said...

Just to say I think this is a great blog and wish you'd post more!



Haitien said...

Thanks for the encouragement, I'll try to post more in the future!

Taiwan Market Report said...

Chinatown hasn't changed for many, many decades. I grew up in the City in the 60s and 70s, and even today very little has changed. Even many of the shops are the same ones I remember as a kid.

THe KMT HQ is, I believe, one of the oldest KMT outposts. It was opened in the 1940s.

It might not suprise you to know that there are othe KMT dinosaurs still manning their international posts, who have never been replaced or recalled (ex. the rep in Paris, France).