We have followed Taiwan since the 1960s, having lived there for 15 years between us, ridden the trains and buses, and pedaled bicycles around the country, albeit years apart.
The Taiwanese nation that we have witnessed is a dramatic example of economic, political, and social evolution. Its people have built the quintessential “economic miracle.” As successes mounted, they jettisoned the Nationalists’ statist economic model, which fed inefficiency and corruption, in favor of a vibrant, increasingly socially responsible one.
In politics, the Taiwanese feel that, in addition to building a democratic culture, they have worked hard to coexist with the Chinese among them and across the Taiwan Strait. Except in isolated incidents in the aftermath of the “2-28 Massacre” in 1947, in which thousands of Taiwanese died, the mainlanders have never been attacked or even harassed. The Taiwanese have voted for mainlanders, including President Ma, when they campaigned on pro-Taiwan platforms.
This is the pattern for Taiwanese – humiliation to which they respond with patience. In a remote hamlet of eastern Taiwan in 1968 with no inns, a Taiwanese family offered an American cyclist a bed for the night, but the police said the foreigner had to leave – until a mainlander next door volunteered to take him in. The Taiwanese family was deeply embarrassed, but they gracefully gave way to the mainlanders.
Taiwanese children punished for speaking their native tongues in school have over time accepted Chinese as the official national language. When the deadly SARS virus spread to Taiwan from China in 2003, and China blocked Taiwan’s participation in international meetings about it, the humiliation was profound. But Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian channeled all energy into overcoming the crisis.