Friday, November 16, 2007

Taiwan, history and the meaning attached to words

Reading the newspaper, I found a small story about the refusal of the Chinese Government in Beijing to accept mail from Taiwan carrying a postmark supporting Taiwan's membership of the United Nations. I was struck by the careful wording of the story, the references to Taiwan as a "self ruled island."

That got me thinking about the way in which geo-politics affects language, not just the words used, but the overlay attached to the words. It also sent me off on a quite distracting web search into the history of Taiwan, distracting because I found all sorts of fascinating things that I had not known.

If we just look at language first, at the end of the Second World control over Taiwan or Formosa was returned from Japan to the Republic of China. So we had the Republic of China with Taiwan as a province. Then, with the success of the communist uprising on the mainland, we had two China's: the Republic of China with its headquarters in Taipei, the People's Republic of China with its capital in Peking.

Initially, the western world recognised the Republic of China as the continuing legitimate Chinese Government. Then from this we moved to two China's, China (Taipei) and China (Beijing). Then, more recently in popular usage, to Taiwan and China. Throughout all this, the carefully crafted language of diplomacy has changed as it tried to accommodate the two entities, including the power shifts between them.

The thing that gets lost in all this is that Taiwan has its own independent history, a history influenced by but distinct from that of China. Current developments between Taiwan and China reflect that history in a way that I had not properly recognised.

I do not have time to write about this this morning, but will put something down for interest a little later.

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