What you need to know
Should we respect the history of the ROC flag, or should we discard it and move on? Whatever your view, the debate over its existence reflects the strength of Taiwanese democracy.
On Aug. 27, 2018, veteran Captain Gerald Fitzpatrick of the British Army, who served during World War II, passed away at the age of 99.
In 1942, he and his unit were surrounded by the Japanese army in Burma (now Myanmar), but a small group of Republic of China (ROC) soldiers out-powered the Japanese army in a David and Goliath battle, which led to the great Allied victory of the Battle of Yenangyaung. This event stayed with him for the rest of his life, as he felt indebted to the ROC army for saving the beleaguered British troops.
When Fitzpatrick was still alive, he paid many visits to Taiwan after the conclusion of World War II. On one occasion, when he was invited to the National Revolutionary Martyrs’ Shrine to honor those who sacrificed their lives in the Battle of Yenangyaung, he expressed his desire to have the ROC flag draped over his casket at his funeral.
Fitzpatrick had published a book to lay out the historical facts of the Battle of Yenangyaung. He mentioned how fearless and selfless the ROC army was in the face of danger and praised their sacrificial spirit.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense granted his wish and sent an honor guard to place the ROC burial flag atop his casket at his funeral in Leeds, UK.
When this story hit the news, many Taiwanese internet users instantly expressed their appreciation of Fitzpatrick’s lifelong gratitude. Many others wondered why, if a foreigner can identify so closely with the ROC flag, why so many Taiwanese people despise or want to renounce it.
However, much of this online discussion ignored the context behind this question. It ignored the fact that the British troops saved by the ROC army during World War II in Myanmar and the current crop of Taiwanese opposed to the ROC flag are two entirely different groups from different eras.
It does raise the question, however, of whether we as a society should collectively acknowledge the flag of the ROC.
For the embattled British troops of 1942, besieged from all directions and trapped by the Japanese army in Burma, both the ROC flag and its army were like guardian angels. The flag represented the brave forces who rescued them from certain death. Naturally, they regarded the ROC, its army, and its flag as harbingers of salvation.
In contrast, much of the Taiwanese population has drifted away from identifying as the ROC and towards a wholly separate concept of Taiwan. The ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), for instance, refuses to recognize the so-called One China Consensus and embraces an emergent identity of a Taiwan that may one day be a recognized independent nation, separate from the ROC and its territorial claim over what is now the People’s Republic of China (PRC). For them, it makes no sense to acknowledge a flag representing a bygone era.
The difference in these two viewpoints, of course, is part of what makes Taiwan unique. The country is an island of democracy in a largely authoritarian region with strong commitments to freedoms of speech, expression, and the press.
Regardless of how you feel about the presence of the ROC flag, the debate over its continued usage only strengthens the vibrant democracy it now represents. Some, like Fitzpatrick, associate it with the bravery of ROC soldiers during World War II who fought alongside Allied forces and fended off the Japanese. Others associate it with decades of martial law, an outdated territorial claim over the now-PRC, and a philosophical era best left in the past. But no matter your political affiliation, your stance on independence, or your overall vexillological tastes, the openness and legal safeguarding of these debates is something to treasure.
This article originally appeared on the Chinese-language Taiwan edition of The News Lens. The original can be found here.
Translator: Zeke Li
Editor: Nick Aspinwall (@Nick1Aspinwall)
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