When Dragon Boat Festival has come around in recent years, it has been accompanied by the idea, popular in some circles in Taiwan, that we shouldn’t celebrate “Chinese” holidays.

But if you ever try to prod into the reasons why celebrating Chinese holidays is controversial, you are often met with responses like, “It’s our right to celebrate what we want.”

But this doesn’t address the heart of the matter. How should we approach the vestiges of Chinese culture in Taiwan?

We might take the relationship many in the United States have with St. Patrick’s day as a comparative case. No one is accused of being a traitor, spy, or somehow un-American for celebrating this holiday. The crosses, shamrocks, and religious, foreign symbols of the holiday are embraced by believers and atheists alike, Irish and non-Irish. The holiday has its own meaning in the U.S. now, completely divorced from its religious and Irish origins.

We should keep this in mind when we discuss China and Taiwan. The Chinese government, Chinese people, and Chinese culture are separate entities. The same applies for our government, people, and culture in Taiwan.

端午節前夕  民眾買粽子

Photo Credit: CNA

Rice dumplings on sale in Taipei, June 24, 2020.

Taiwan’s culture today, regardless of how we feel about it, has been influenced by its Western and Japanese colonizers, its indigenous peoples, and yes, by various peoples who came from China. This is what constitutes Taiwan’s pluralistic society. It’s what makes us unique.

Every culture is made up of a multitude of influences and subcultures. Class inequality, linguistic, and generational divides ensure that there’s no such thing as a homogeneous national culture. If we ignore and downplay the different influences upon our contemporary identities, yes even the Chinese elements, it’s throwing out the baby with the bathwater. We must remember not to conflate a cultural tradition with a nation, country, or government.

To acknowledge the presence of Chinese culture in Taiwan doesn’t have any bearing on one’s position toward the Chinese government. This is in fact what the Chinese government wants to do, to claim Chinese culture as their own. No government has exclusive rights on representing the variegated popular and elite traditions that constitute Chinese culture.

Those who try to deny the Chinese influence on Taiwanese identity have much in common with the Han chauvinists who sought to suppress Taiwan’s Hokkien culture, seeking to impose in a top-down manner an idea of Taiwanese culture at odds with most people’s lived experience.

Those who care for Taiwan should care for the uniqueness of its cultural heritage. By forsaking any connection with China, we leave this tradition to be claimed by a government that doesn’t share our values.

So this Dragon Boat Festival, don’t feel bad about marking the occasion.

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TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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