By the Numbers: Is Taiwanese Identity Declining or Thriving?

Rumors of the demise of ‘Taiwaneseness’ may be greatly exaggerated.

The News Lens
Date: 2019/02/12
By: T.Y. Wang, Asia Dialogue

Credit: Depositphotos

The results of Taiwan’s 2018 local elections shocked the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and came as a surprise to some. In a total of 22 mayoral races, the DPP only held on to six seats, down from 13, while the opposing Kuomintang (KMT) won 15 seats, an increase of nine compared to four years ago. The DPP even lost to the KMT in the mayoral race in the southern port city of Kaohsiung, where the DPP had been in control of city hall for 20 years.

Also unexpected was the voters’ rejection of Referendum 13, which proposed that Taiwan participate in international sporting events under the name of ‘Taiwan’ in place of the former (though obscure) ‘Chinese Taipei’. These results have led some commentators to speculate that national identity and the demand for greater autonomy from China might be declining in Taiwan. However, as has been demonstrated elsewhere, such a conclusion underestimates the general trend towards ‘Taiwaneseness’ on the island.

Data source: Trends of Core Political Attitudes. Election Study Center, National Chengchi University.
Figure 1 presents the widely familiar survey data collected by the Election Study Centre (ESC) of the National Chengchi University in Taiwan. It shows that an increasing number of island residents have identified themselves as Taiwanese during the past two-and-a-half decades, with the proportion increasing from 22 percent in 1994 to about 60 percent in 2018. During the same period, the proportion of Chinese self-identifiers declined substantially from 30 percent to less than four percent. The proportion of those identifying with a dual identity, i.e. seeing themselves as both Chinese and Taiwanese, also witnessed a significant decline from 50 percent to less than 40 percent.

Consequently, very few Taiwanese citizens today subscribe to a Chinese identity alone, while more than 90 percent of them now consider at least part of their identity as being Taiwanese. The decline in Chinese identity has been accompanied by a growing view that Taiwan is an independent country separate from China, as Figure 2 shows. Close to 70 percent of the island’s citizens currently consider Taiwan and China as two separate states, and only 20 percent of them view the two sides of the Taiwan Strait as being part of the same country. Thus, a Taiwan-centered identity has become dominant among the island’s citizens.    [FULL  STORY]

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