Time hasn’t diminished Charles Yang’s deep attachment to his native land.
Half a century after moving to Canada, the internationally trained and now-retired doctor is as passionate as anyone about the rightful place of Taiwan in the world.
“It’s virtually an orphan, and this goes on because all the strong nations tolerate that,” Yang said with disappointment.
When the former president of the Taiwanese Canadian Cultural Society spoke with the Georgia Straight at his Richmond home, he invited community leaders to come.
“Taiwan has its own defined territory, taxation, a democratically elected government,” Yang declared at the gathering. “Everything that a sovereign nation should have, Taiwan has.”
Canada is home to more than 200,000 people of Taiwanese descent, according to the federal government. But like most countries, Canada doesn’t have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
One of the world’s most prosperous nations, the island state of 23 million people is claimed by China as a province. It has no seat at the United Nations.
“Everybody is so afraid to offend China because of its big market,” Yang said. “It’s a rising power. It’s simply not acceptable.”
Taiwan’s history is one of immigration and colonization. First inhabited by aborigines, it was occupied by the Dutch, Spanish, and Japanese, with intervals of Chinese imperial rule.
People from China came to Taiwan starting in the 17th century during the Dutch occupation, Yang noted.
When the Japanese lost the Second World War, control over Taiwan reverted to China. A civil war in China soon saw Chiang Kai-shek and his ruling Nationalist Party (aka Kuo-mintang) defeated by Mao Zedong and his fellow Communists.
Chiang and his followers retreated to Taiwan in 1949, hoping to someday unify China. Meanwhile, the Kuomintang, or KMT, ruled the island with an iron fist until 1987.
According to Yang, the people of Taiwan “had nothing to do” with the civil war between Chiang’s KMT and Mao’s Communists but suffered under the hands of the KMT.
When he was taking medical-specialist training in the U.S., Yang decided not to return. He came to Canada in 1964.
Taiwanese-born James Chou also disliked the KMT and its repressive rule. He was also studying in the U.S. when he decided that he was not going back.
“This kind of resentment brought us to a different experience in North America,” Chou told the Straight in a phone interview. “All of a sudden, we enjoyed the freedom of the open society, and at least the respect of fundamental human rights, which is so refreshing.”
Chou and his wife came to Vancouver in 1976, becoming part of a wave of Taiwanese immigrants who arrived in Canada in the decades following the Second World War.
Another wave rolled up during the 1990s amid fears about what might come next after China’s takeover of Hong Kong and Macau from the British and Portuguese, respectively. In 1996, nearly 13,000 immigrants from Taiwan arrived, according to Statistics Canada.
Jason Wang’s parents were part of this latter exodus. Now a Vancouver lawyer, he was still young when his family moved to Canada. These immigrants were wealthy and successful in Taiwan, but were “concerned about potential complications with Hong Kong being returned to China”, Wang told the Straight by phone.
Taiwanese immigration to Canada since 2000 has remained steady. In 2011, close to 2,000 immigrants from Taiwan arrived in Canada.
Over at Yang’s Richmond residence, the retired doctor and his visitors also talked about the evolution of a Taiwanese identity that has native, Chinese, and other foreign influences but is distinct from that of mainland China.
“Whenever we can, we always say we are Taiwanese Canadians,” said Pang Liang Chang, lead adviser of the Asian-Canadian Special Events Association.
In Taiwan, the Taipei Times reported on August 13 about a survey showing that 96.5 percent of respondents in Taiwan identified themselves as Taiwanese. The paper also reported that 60.9 percent indicated they do not support unification with China. More than half (52.3 percent) said Taiwan should eventually become a full-fledged independent nation.
For Yang, “any person who regards Taiwan as his home or her home is a Taiwanese, no matter where you come from.”
Following its electoral defeat in 2000, a resurgent KMT returned to power in Taiwan in 2008. President Ma Ying-jeou promotes a policy of rapprochement with China.
Yang isn’t happy about this direction: “They put Taiwan under martial law for 38 years…and did terrible things in the name of…anti-communism. But now, after decades,…they want to be buddy-buddy with the Chinese mainland.”
Also present at Yang’s home was Ben Tseng, president of the Society of Taiwanese Canadian History in B.C. Tseng noted than an end to Taiwan’s international isolation would correct a “mistake of history”.
Another visitor, John Tsai, boiled it down to a few words. The president of the Greater Vancouver Taiwanese Canadian Association said: “Taiwan is Taiwan. China is China.”