Translated and compiled by Bing-sheng Lee
According to a survey conducted by United Daily News (UDN), 73% of people living in Taiwan consider themselves “Taiwanese,” setting the highest record in history. In addition, 85% of the young people (aged 20 to 29) surveyed view themselves as Taiwanese, which is the highest percentage among all the age groups.
On the other side of the spectrum, people who think of themselves as “Chinese” account for only 11%, which has been the lowest since 1998. Another 10% of the survey participants proclaim that they are both Taiwanese and Chinese.
In terms of political stances, the poll shows that 19% of Taiwanese support instant independence while 46% are for maintaining the status quo and only 12% want unification with China. Compared to statistics last year, the pro-status-quo group has seen a 9% drop and the pro-independence side has garnered the highest percentage of support since 2003.
20 years ago, only 44% of people in Taiwan called themselves Taiwanese and more than 30% regarded themselves as Chinese. Since then, the number of people identifying with being Taiwanese have increased steadily and fewer think of themselves as Chinese. The group that has grown the most in percentage is those who stand by “maintaining the status quo,” which produced an increase of close to 30% over the last two decades.
Direct presidential elections and democratization boosting the change
Taiwan held its first direct presidential election in 1996 and five more have followed in the last 20 years. These elections accompanied by the accelerated democratization are the two major catalysts leading to the alterations regarding the Taiwanese self-identity.
Su Chi, former secretary-general of the National Security Council, says that the direct presidential elections have played a significant role in shaping the Taiwanese people’s self-identity. While the majority of the Taiwanese wants to maintain the status quo in terms of the political relationship with China, more and more people start to consider themselves Taiwanese instead of Chinese.
Chang Jung-kung, director of the Kuomintang’s Mainland Affairs Committee, says former president Chen Shui-bien had a great impact on people’s identity. During his tenure from 2000 to 2008, Chen promoted the “de-sinicization” movement, which aimed at eliminating the Chinese influence in every aspect of the society. This movement accelerated the shift of people’s identify to recognizing themselves as Taiwanese.
This change is best exemplified by today’s younger generation that no longer regards China as part of their identity and grew up under the government’s comprehensive de-sinicizationing efforts.
Su also says that as times goes on, the influence of the older generation, who is more likely to support unification, is diminishing. As a result, the number of people identifying with being Taiwanese has been growing by 2% annually.
Su also says that the less military threat China poses to Taiwan, the more willingness Taiwanese people demonstrate to support independence.
A survey conducted by Emerson Niou, professor at the Department of Political Science at Duke University, shows that if there is no risk of war, more than 80% of the Taiwanese would support independence; whereas if military risks do exist, less than 35% of the population would stand behind independence.
Edited by Olivia Yang