When Japan’s foreign minister suggested recently that Taiwan’s high educational standards were a positive legacy of Tokyo’s 1895-1945 colonial rule, the reaction from China was fast and furious.
Such passions found little echo in Taiwan, however, where the public and government appeared largely untroubled by Mr Aso’s remarks.
Frank Lin, a Taipei insurance company representative whose parents went to an elite teacher training school set up by the Japanese, says there is no denying the colonialists created a “very good” educational foundation for Taiwan.
“The mainland reaction is too extreme,” says Mr Lin, 63. “It is an expression of nationalism – and nationalism and reality are different things.
Evidence of enthusiasm for things Japanese is easy to find in Taiwan. Many elderly Taiwanese express nostalgia for the more orderly days of the colonial period. Japanese imports and food are highly popular with consumers of all ages.
China’s Tsingtao Brewery has even used kimono-clad actors singing Japanese songs to promote its beer in Taiwan – a strategy that would be seen as arrant treachery on the mainland, where memories remain fresh of the death and destruction caused by Japan’s brutal 1931-45 invasion.
Tokyo played a very different role in Taiwan, which it wrested from weak Chinese control after victory in the 1895 Sino-Japanese war. In the following half century, Japanese governors laid many of the foundations of a modern economy in Taiwan, raising literacy levels, building essential infrastructure and establishing modern agriculture.
That is not to say Taiwanese uniformly approve of Japanese colonialism. Few are unaware of the violence used by imperial forces to suppress challenges to their control, especially from Taiwan’s aboriginal population.
Under Japanese rule, Taiwanese suffered economic and political discrimination: opportunities for higher education, for example, were largely limited to relatively safe studies such as medicine or agricultural science.
The Japanese increased literacy rates and built agriculture . . . [but] they did this for their own purposes,” says Mr Lin.
Many older Taiwanese contrast the discipline and order of Japanese colonialists with the arrogance and unpredictability of the troops and officials of the Chinese Kuomintang government that took control of the island following Tokyo’s 1945 surrender.
“You can say that Taiwanese saw the Japanese as dogs; but at least a dog will protect your property . . . a pig just makes a mess,” says one Taipei resident. “Many older people have good feelings towards the Japanese but not towards mainlanders.By Mure Dickie
Published: February 9 2006 00:22 | Last updated: February 9 2006 00:22
When I first came here 18 months ago I thought that if China takes over Taiwan it's OK," says Chang Chieh, 24. "But now I think that the Taiwan government cannot allow such a thing to happen. It would be a terrible thing for our people."
But interviews with Chang and others among the around 300,000 Taiwanese professionals who have come to live in China as a result of thawing relations suggest the gap between the two sides is substantial, going beyond China's one-party rule and Taiwan's democracy.
"Taiwanese people think differently from people on the mainland," Chang says. "In China it's been a real struggle to survive. So people are a lot tougher here. If you put a Taiwanese child down in China, he'll be eaten up alive."
Opinion polls in Taiwan say only about 10 percent of its 23 million people want immediate reunification with China. About 15 percent support formal independence, while the remainder favor maintaining the status quo.
China, in its push for China-Taiwan reunification, is increasingly attempting to win over Chinese citizens as well as Taiwan leaders by portraying Japan as a common enemy, Asia scholars say.
But political analysts say the Beijing rhetoric is not working, because Taiwan people do not dislike Japan as Chinese do.
Japan, though it occupied Taiwan from 1895 to 1945, helped it modernize toward the end of occupation. Taiwanese also have more freedom than Chinese citizens to visit Japan or import its culture, bringing the two places closer.
"Senior Chinese officials would like ordinary citizens on the mainland to see Japan as an aggressor that wrenched Taiwan away in the Sino-Japanese war, but unfortunately for Beijing, the attitudes of many Taiwanese undercut that view," said Gordon Chang, author of the 2001 book " The Coming Collapse of China."
"You've got to look at history and look at reality. Most Taiwanese people see things that way," said KMT spokesman Chang Jung-kung recently.
Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party espouses independence from China and does not criticize Japan. Meanwhile, hot springs, hourly-rate love hotels, Hello Kitty merchandise and other signs of Japan are common around Taipei.
Given the intensification of hatred toward Japan among Chinese from 1982 onward and given the rise to power of Lee Teng-hui and the DPP, both of which had friendly feelings, as do most Taiwanese, toward Japanese culture, the Communist Party anger at Taiwan and the rage at Japan began to meld together," Friedman said.
Lee denounces China as `slave state'
INCENDIARY: In the latest speech on his US visit, the former president attacked Beijing, saying it enslaved its people and should be the target of new sanctions
AFP , LOS ANGELES
Sunday, Oct 23, 2005,Page 1
Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) on Friday accused China of running a "slave state" that uses the false promise of its booming economy to dupe the free world into appeasing its tyranny.
Lee accused the West of using a double standard in the way it engages communist China, compared with its isolation of the former Soviet Union that ultimately contributed to its collapse.
"People in the West believed that Soviet human-rights violations and threats to neighboring countries should be stopped.
"But they believe that China's violations of human rights and threats to neighboring countries are `special Chinese characteristics' that can be tolerated," he said.