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  • Writer's pictureWei Azim Hung

Tsai's Double Ten Speech and Underlying Identities

Updated: Oct 13, 2023




Executive Summary

The brief explores how Taiwan’s national identity is discursively reshaped through presidential speeches as part of a wider strategy of reimagining the nation. The overview surveys how different actors understand the existence of the Republic of China (ROC). Moreover, it probes relevant themes from Double ten speeches, in which politicians gesture their orientation of conceptualizing Taiwan's identity. By referencing President Tsai Ing-wen's presidential speeches, the brief illustrates how rhetorical strategies mask ideological preferences in presidential speeches.

Introduction

On every tenth of October (commonly referred to as Double ten or ten-ten), the Republic of China marks its National Day celebration commemorating the Wuchang Uprising, an armed rebellion led by the New Army influenced by the revolutionary ideas of Tongmenghui (中國同盟會), founded by Sun-Yet-Sun. The uprising was the primary catalyst for the Xinhai Revolution, which overthrew China's last imperial dynasty, the Qing dynasty. Subsequently, the Qing dynasty was succeeded by the Republic of China (ROC), popularly known by the international community as Taiwan.

Overview

Today, the ROC, now based in Taiwan, legally considers itself a continuation of the Chinese government initially located in mainland China. From the perspective of the CCP, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has succeeded the ROC. Thus, the latter effectively ceases to exist as the legitimate government post-1949. From the KMT perspective, the ROC regime merely, though unfortunately, relocated to Taiwan. Hence, the ROC as the legitimate representative of China continues to thrive on the island of Taiwan, existing post-1949. On the other hand, the DPP's stance on ROC remains intricate. Despite denouncing the ROC's legitimacy throughout the Tangwai movement, ever since the ascension of Chen Shui-bian to the ROC presidency in 2000, and Tsai Ing-wen in 2016, the party has somewhat struck a reconciliatory tone between 'Taiwan' and 'ROC'.


The KMT's stance on ROC has been, for the most part, consistent and predictable. Contrastingly, the DPP's attitude and overall discourse have, to say the least, euphemistically "evolved" threading on a political tightrope. For example, Chen Shui-bian has centralized the symbols of Taiwan towards the “center” while crowding out ROC-related representations. Tsai Ing-wen, too, initially adopted a Taiwan-centric rhetoric but later also included elements of ROC in her speeches. The reason for these includes a myriad of factors ranging from the necessity to cement legitimacy internally to repel external factors, such as military pressure from the PRC and political pressure from the United States. It goes without saying how the boundaries and imagery of a 'Taiwanese' national identity remain contested by socio-political forces from within and outside Taiwan. Consequently, questions such as how a ‘Taiwanese’ identity is understood and how the border of such identity is categorized, challenged, and redrawn are relevant themes to note from the Double ten speeches, in which politicians gesture the general direction of conceptualizing Taiwan's identity.

A Site of Ideological Contestation

In the construction of national identities, names and symbols are loaded with legitimizing effects due to the unique historicity and ideological preference registered to names or symbols. When Taiwanese politicians invoke ROC or Taiwan with national consciousness, they do so deliberately according to pan-blue or pan-green logic. However, in recent years the line between ROC and Taiwan has also become increasingly blurred, reflecting the necessity of balancing conflicting voices concerning Taiwan's national identity.

Examples of how Taiwan’s National Identity is Reimagined

In her Double ten speeches, Tsai Ing-wen distinguishes between ROC and Taiwan as separable entities. For example, she figuratively said ROC set foot (came) to Taiwan in 1949. Again, this was reiterated this year (2022) when Tsai began her speech with ‘since ROC’s arrival, this is its 73rd National day celebration in Taiwan (也是中華民國立足台灣以來的第七十三個國慶日). A closer examination of Tsai’s speeches shows that whenever she evokes the concept of ROC, the meaning could vary depending on the sentence structure and what it references or contrasts with. Specifically, ROC here refers to a foreign entity to Taiwan, that is, have arrived (立足). However, later in her speeches, she also redefines the meaning of ROC with Taiwan, giving a reconciled appearance of the nation.


Furthermore, Tsai begins counting the ROC calendar from 1949, when the ROC relocated to Taiwan. For her, Taiwanese history does not begin from the mainland period but from Taiwan. The implication is that Tsai severs the first 38 years of ROC’s history, which occurred in mainland China. Rhetorically, this suggests a break away from the past. Moreover, such discourse engenders currency for imagination, allowing the listener to reinvent and reimagine how they understand their national identity.


Unlike her predecessors, Tsai has the tendency of audaciously referring to the official national title of the country as the Republic of China, Taiwan (中華民國台灣). The merging of the two seemingly incompatible concepts remains controversial and has created tensions amongst conservative DPP and KMT supporters. But this demonstrates Tsai's attempt to synthesize domestic ideological factions and forge a national identity capable of transcending the ongoing political polarization between green and blue supporters. Another notable rhetorical strategy from Tsai’s speeches is her predisposition to replace ROC (中華民國) with the neutral term State (國家), showcasing her ideological preference for minimizing ROC’s presence. This year, Tsai mentioned the ROC 3 times, in contrast to Taiwan which was mentioned fifty-one times. Lastly, ROC, Taiwan, was mentioned three times.


However, comparing Tsai’s speeches to her earlier speeches has displayed a shift of tone towards the ROC spectrum, both rhetorically and concretely (e.g., visiting the Chiang Ching-kuo Library). One suggested reason for this was the pressure the Democratic Progressive Party faced after its 2018 electoral defeat. As a result, Tsai had to pander not to the deep green but to the pan-blue voters. Furthermore, sources within the DPP policy circle have recommended that even if the DPP antagonizes deep-green voters (such as by withdrawing the candidacy of Taoyuan mayor Lin Chih-chien), deep-green voters will still vote for the DPP. On the other hand, should the KMT aggravates its supporters, a substantial amount of its voters would refuse to vote for either party. Perhaps best displayed through the mandarin phrase '[we] will refuse to vote, unless candidate X' (非[X]不投).






Cover image: REUTERS/Ann Wang

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